My First Bike

 Clearly nothing much is happening in New Zealand swimming. Steve Johns hasn’t got around to thanking me for the assistance Swimwatch has generously provided. Bruce Coterill waved and smiled in my direction at the pool the other day. I’m delighted he’s pleased with the performance of the sport under his care. Gary Francis is nowhere to be seen, but that’s not new. Even when he’s there, he’s absent. For Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) the highlight of the week appears to have been the Annual Awards Dinner. It is difficult to know how to react to this event. I am torn between admiration for those who achieved and contempt for the sport’s administration. I guess it’s appropriate that the two most hugely deserved awards should go to someone who was too busy at a swim meet to be there, Clive Power, and someone whose career has ended, Lauren Boyle.

So I thought I would tell you the story of how I bought my first bike.

I bought the bike when we lived in Horopito. My step-father and mother were the only teachers at the Horopito School. In those days Horopito had the school, a post office, a railway station, the William’s dairy farm and old-man Weir’s sheep farm. But the premiere attraction was clearly Bill Cole’s car yard. It was huge. I am told it was the largest in the southern hemisphere. The business was later to achieve fame as a centre piece of the New Zealand movie “Smash Palace”. There were acres of wrecked cars. My parents bought our first car, an Austin A40, from Bill Cole. One of my earliest memories was the negotiations that went on between my step-father and Bill Cole over the price for that car. It took some time. Bill was one of those laid back guys who took a long time to say a very few words. Finally he shook my step-father’s hand and said very slowly, “Well—-I—–suppose—-that’s—-a—–deal—–then.”

In spite of his appearance Bill Cole was not a man to be crossed. He had won a New Zealand light-weight boxing title. An angry customer once said to him, “That car is so crap I’m going to knock your head off.”

Bill frowned slightly and replied, “Well—-if—-that’s—-the—-way—-you—-feel—-there—–is—-not—–much—–I—–can—–do.”

Fortunately the customer realized there was a problem and backed away from physical violence.

I was seven when I asked my parents for a bike. They offered to buy me a second-hand model from Bill Cole’s one hundred wrecks. But that wasn’t good enough for me. I’d seen a brand new model in the Farmer’s Department Store catalogue. That was the one for me. The problem was price. The Farmer’s bike cost was not much less than Bill Cole’s A40. Finally though a deal was done; if I could save half the price my parents would come up with the other half.

Of course the problem in Horopito was, how does a seven year old earn money? Killing is the answer. My parents bought me five possum traps. The government was paying two shillings for every dead possum as part of a national eradication programme.

I set my five traps in the bush slopes of Mt. Ruapehu. It was a bit of a struggle. The steel jaws of a possum trap are hard to open and difficult to set. But it would be worth it. A new Farmer’s bike would soon be mine.

My first day of trap clearing was a disaster. No possums but, in trap two, one of old-man Weir’s prime ewe’s was caught in my trap. I ran home to get my step-father’s help. Fortunately the trap had only caught the hoof and the freed sheep ran off unaffected by the experience. Trap two was moved.

Skilled possum trappers can kill with one blow of a tomahawk axe. At seven years old it took me five or six blows to cause the same damage. It was a bloody business. My knife was never sharp enough to easily remove the ears (they are called a token) required to prove the kill. Gradually, however, the number of tokens grew. I forget how many were needed to get my half of the bike but it took more than a year.

I was eight years old when the bike was ordered and shipped by rail to the Horopito station. Late one winter’s evening I went to the station to collect the new purchase. This was not something to be carried home. This had to be ridden. Why else did it have a shining new stainless steel light? The wrapping was torn off. I’d never ridden a bike before. However I wasn’t too bad on a horse. This could not be all that different.

I mounted the bike and rode it off the station platform onto the main line railway tracks. The front wheel was bent and broken. The bike could no longer be ridden. My parents showed their kind side and ordered a replacement wheel. When that arrived I learned to ride on the school field before attempting the main north road. But soon I was the envy of Horopito with a new bike from Farmers. Even Bill Cole thought it was pretty flash.

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