TALES FROM OUTSIDE THE UNDERBRUSH
"Tales From Outside The Underbrush" is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside "The Underbrush" of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This "outside world" is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.
This month's entry continues the tale.
CAPERS ON A CCM - Part 1
This little essay is dedicated to Lisa, who inspired me to write the story.
"I tell you, we are here on earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different."
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
That indeed may have been the philosophy of a ten year old boy growing up in post-war Montreal. I had reached that ten year threshold in 1949 Canada, a country in the process of shaking off the severe and debilitating wounds of World War Two and looking for ways to restore its prosperity, as well as learning to have fun in life again. For me of course, there had been no war, merely an early period in my life when strange people in strange uniformed dress had shown up at my crib, making comical faces designed to either frighten a baby to death or make him gurgle with laughter, while at the same time murmuring unintelligible but allegedly cute gibberish no more intelligible than my own but apparently designed to sooth kittens, puppies and small babies, if not necessarily in that order. There had been the process of pulling down all window blinds at night, a practice that held some mystery for me until I was old enough to comprehend what a blackout was designed to do at the time. I also seem to recall that my mother could not always buy what she wanted at the grocery store, or in the quantities she desired, and that for some things she had to trade what looked like postage stamps for those certain items. Understanding food stamps in a time of war would only come to me later and when it no longer mattered.
Then came the second half of the nineteen forties when people seemed to be more carefree and did not gather around the radio at every opportunity to listen to the news or eagerly scan the newspapers for the latest war box scores. Box scores became once more the nearly exclusive property of baseball, and the quality of hockey in Canada, the only major sport that Canadians really cared about at the time, started to regain its former glory as those who had survived the war gratefully turned in their rifles and bullets for hockey sticks and pucks. Post war Canada was a vibrant place in which to live, and especially Montreal, the liveliest of cities in the country, and whose lifestyle I was still too young to fully enjoy, but would do so in the following decades. My hard-working parents, she a stereo-typical housewife and mother of the era, and my father, with limited education but lots of resolve, and who had worked his way from immigrant janitor to a supplies purchasing position for a major cigarette manufacturer, finally started to enjoy a few modest rewards for their assiduous efforts to create a life for themselves, and of course for me, their darling………ha! ha!........little son! My father's first and used car was not to come until well into the nineteen fifties, but in the meantime I was to become, at some forgotten time before the age of ten, the recipient and owner of my own very special form of transportation, at least equivalent to a car in my own mind, maybe even a truck…………and that was, a genuine, full sized, two wheeled bicycle!
Given that I swear I see kids driving around in cars that look like they are ten years old, the kids that is, getting your first real, i.e. two-wheeled bike may not seem to be such a big deal these days, but believe me, at the time it was enough to make the buttons on one's shirt pop, and was also to become a very important ingredient in my lifestyle for some years thereafter. Indeed, and as the saying goes, "what goes around comes around", in the declining, if not reclining stages of my present life I still possess a bicycle……not the same one mind you………..and yes, still a two wheeler o ye of little faith; and on which I spend a considerable amount of time when weather permits, the latter of which I must admit I have become fussier about as it determines my mood to bike, play golf or otherwise partake of the great outdoors. Today, I regard my bike is a vehicle whose principal use is to aid in the preservation of some sense of good conditioning of my aging body; to be respected, the bicycle that is; to be kept in good running condition, the bicycle that is; and to be kept under lock and key all times, definitely the bicycle that is, in reflection of the apparently insatiable desire by a seemingly large segment of the population to unlawfully abscond with said bikes for purposes equally mysterious since hundreds of stolen bicycles are found and annually auctioned off by the police in my present home town of Vancouver, British Columbia.
To an eight year old or thereabouts however, getting one's first real bike represented the most important development in my life to that time. It was to be treasured, cared for and even taken to bed, if possible. While my bed-mate concepts and yearnings have undergone material change since that time, my new bike was then my greatest possession, definitely better than having a sister or brother, of which I had neither, and even better than bubble gum which I was not allowed having anyway. My new bike was the product of the iconic manufacturer of same in Canada at the time, CCM, or the Canada Cycle & Motor Co, Ltd. I am unsure where the "Motor" part came into the picture, since to my knowledge the company never manufactured any cars or even "motor" bikes. Perhaps it refers to the legs that drove the bicycles they manufactured. So entrenched was the brand name, that referring to a "CCM" was the same as referring to a bicycle.
I cannot remember the dimensions of my new bike but I do recall that the frame was slightly larger than average as were the wheel diameters. I am unsure why this was so; maybe it was some size that did not sell well and was on special sale, or maybe my parents were trying to provide for my future physical growth, hoping perhaps that the bicycle might remain my principal mode of transport until I was mature enough to own a car, say when I was around fifty. Who knows? North American bicycles at that time were of the one speed variety. Anything more than that was represented by quite rare and imported three speed bicycles, manufactured in England. While American bikes were largely represented by the fatter-tired Schwinn manufactured variety, CCM bikes, including mine, had tires somewhere between the American variety and the British bikes, and perhaps analogous to today's North American road bikes. But if my CCM possessed only one speed it had a peculiarity in this regard that distinguished it from any other bike I encountered at the time, and which provided me with superior performance as long as my legs, and will, had the strength to take it. For reasons unknown at least to me, my bike was geared at a higher ratio than other bikes, and so while it required considerably more strength and effort to get it going from a standing start, once that was achieved it could be peddled at a considerably faster speed than other bikes, a fact that not only was viewed as extremely important insofar as bragging rights were concerned, but became significant when engaging in the game of chase.
You no doubt have heard of the game of "tag", the playful sport of the (usually) very young whereby an individual is identified as "it" and who initially attains that designation by virtue of a "rock, scissors, paper" process, or some sort of mysterious voting endeavour matched only by our current electoral process, or maybe just as a consequence of good old bullying. The "it" person is required to chase a whole bunch of other youthful idiots all around the school yard, street, candy store, juvenile court or wherever the action is taking place, until such time as "it" manages to "tag" or touch, some other unwashed delinquent. The latter then becomes the new "it" and so it goes until everyone runs out of oxygen, someone cheats and claims to not have been tagged when indeed they were, much like a politician in Parliament during Question Period, or everyone gets called home for their afternoon nap, again much like the politicians in Ottawa. In my day and in my Montreal neighbourhood and with my friends, we played a variation of "tag" called "chase." Simply put, "chase" was tag played on bikes on city streets.
When I think of it now and recall the game and its intensities, I am not sure why I am still around to tell this tale. Admittedly, city neighbourhoods in those days, at least in Montreal, were not as populated with cars or as hectic in that regard as they might presently be. Nonetheless, as perhaps a dozen or so of us careened wildly around the streets at relatively high speeds trying to "tag" whoever was "it", it was wondrous that no one was killed or severely injured in the process. Tagging someone usually meant not a gentle touch on the shoulder, but more likely a heavy shove calculated to upend both the rider and his bike, and was usually successful in the effort.
Collisions were frequent, both between bikes and stationary cars parked on the street, but sometimes with cars in motion. Stop signs were ignored as were those moving cars which were seen to be mere obstacles to steer around and to be used as tactical chess pieces when pursuing "it." I remember one time sliding under one thankfully slow moving car and with nothing more than a few scrapes neutralized by adrenalin on my part, but whose driver was understandably not impressed as I quickly sped away on my two wheeler. Where were the helmets you ask? You've got to be kidding. Such intelligent protective devices were unknown in those days. But survive I did and my bike became not only a source of considerable pleasure, but a means of transportation and a vehicle that helped earn me pocket money as a dry cleaning delivery boy to customers of the neighbourhood dry cleaning establishment.
Walter was a classmate of mine in both the primary and part of secondary schools we attended in the Notre Dame de Grace neighbourhood in the western sector of Montreal. We had both taken up the violin in primary school, for reasons that escape me but may have had something to do with the concept of the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" school of tomfoolery in which juveniles indulge while preparing to subsequently indulge in the same tomfoolery as mature adults (sic). Unlike most of our classmates who had initially done the same, we had kept going at our violins when most others had quit when the novelty had worn off and the need to practice and persist had become apparent. The other thing that Walter and I had in common was our love of bikes and biking. Since Walter lived some twelve or so blocks away from me, our bikes represented the practical means of hanging out together at each other's homes.
To be continued
Copyright © 2013 Ian de W. Semple