“Hooray! … Hooray! … Hooray!” Cheers carried upon the breeze from Tawa School yesterday afternoon reminded me of younger days when I too experienced that exciting moment when school was over for the year. Six glorious weeks of Christmas Holidays were ahead of us. No more school until February.
The last day of school was an important day. Plans to meet friends from more remote locations had to be put in place in advance. As we walked across the soccer field toward the college bike sheds, arrangements for expeditions and forays were made. We all knew that the next few weeks would be busy with family stuff but, once those baking hot January days arrived, there would be bike trips to Gray’s Bush, day trips out to Hexton along the back Ormond Road crammed in the back of a mini van if a driver could be bribed, forays out to Valley Road, visits to mates in Kaiti, soccer games to be watched at parties in Childers Road, expeditions to the gun emplacement (and later the observatory) on Kaiti Hill.
The making of fruit wine would be experimented with. My peach and apricot concoctions usually went mouldy but, with the enhancement provided by many years of memory, I recall one talented fellow-brewer making a stunning beetroot wine that rivalled a modern-day pinot noir. Electronic projects would be built, letters written, books and magazines read and exchanged.
Our trusty bikes would get us about Gisborne and its environs. For many years I had a super-modern Fireball with smaller wheels, banana seat and “easy rider” handlebars. This was the ultimate in style, with funky racing-car gear lever mounted on the main bar, and whitewall tyres. The carrier was mounted on the front, and steering was heavy when the saddlebags were loaded with loot for a day’s outing.
The banana seat was set far back to produce the “easy-rider” effect which had its downside in wet weather. The rear tyre pumped a jet of water up the back of the bike and, with a tail-wind, the jet sometimes overtook the rider at intersections. One of the first modifications was the attachment of a mud-flap to reduce the “camouflage” effect given to my back by muddy water on wet days.
The bike was so popular that everybody wanted to ride it, including the mother of a mate over in Kaiti. Until that time, I had thought her a friendly but sedate lady. Not so. When riding my Fireball round her backyard, this 50-year-old would whoop and carry on like one of us kids. I remember her first attempt to ride the thing – sitting far back on the black banana seat wobbling about the yard, with her husband collapsing in a heap shouting “Wooo mama, what’s that thing sticking out the front?”
Bleeding edge technology has its down time, and the Fireball had its share of gearbox troubles. On those occasions, being vertically-challenged, I’d requisition an old black lady’s bike from the stables so that I could keep up with my mates. Her name was Henrietta and she had amazing balance. One of my favourite tricks was cycling along Gladstone Road at high speed, arms folded, wobbling the seat. This would set up slow oscillations in the two diagonal bars to the front forks causing the front wheel to waver this way and that. My own private roller coaster. Young and bullet-proof, and there were no cycle helmet regulations in those days!
Henrietta, though an old model, had the remarkable innovation of a fork lock. Depending on how the handlebars were set, once the lock was engaged any miscreant stealing her could only travel in a straight line or circles. She was never stolen on any of our outings! The bike’s long gone, but the fork lock key NGN30 still survives.
Though my parents frowned on the practice; at the end of a long bike trip, or any bike trip for that matter, it was always necessary to speed up as I rode up the driveway, hurtled down the side of the garage, bounced over the storm drain and skidded to a halt on the earth floor of the stables. Henrietta had her own stall, the horses were long gone.
As was Judge Jones’ buggy which had lived in the coach-house adjacent to the stables. That was the woodshed in my day. A place of labour, where wood was stacked, later to be collected for the fires inside the house, and the kindling was chopped. These and other chores were the source of pocket money which financed a steady diet of Kwench bars, boots and shoes, aniseed wheels and hard jubes. More durable booty was often hidden somewhere in the woodheap to escape the predations of brothers who were experts at finding caches of goodies in more orthodox locations.
Happy holidays. 🙂