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Richard Longstaff: Beyond Watford - disability arts online
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My brother builds a bicycle / 14 May 2014

We were so poor that in the winter we would wait until my father ate a extra strong mint and then we would sit around his breath to keep warm. Okay, things weren't that bad but money was tight. Things had to last; shoes, clothing. You got a new toy on your birthday or at Christmas and very little in between.

If you wanted a bicycle, well you wanted the earth. It wasn't a case of nip off to Halfords and spend a hundred quid. Then a few months later when the thing was knacked replace it. Bikes became a status symbol on our council estate. If you had a bike it meant your parents had money. Our parents had little.

My brother decided he would build a bicycle. Not one for picking up a book or writing a few lines he was gifted in other ways. I remember him fixing the neighbours car aged only twelve. He has a real mechanical skill.

So for a pound he bought two old bike frames and began to put together all the things he would need to build his dream. It took weeks to get the puncture kit, inner tubes, brakes. Each week he would save up his pocket money and then buy parts. He would ask friends for spare pieces he couldn't afford.

In the cool air of May he would sit on the back garden and work on the bicycle. I would watch. A few hours here and there over weeks and he had his bike. A crudely painted red frame; paint my father got from the stores at the coal mine where he worked. My brother built every single part of it.

I shall never forget his face as he rode it for the first time. It worked and his pride knew no limit. Then he told me to jump on the back and off we went around the estate, grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats. It was fantastic.

In our throw-away world we have forgotten what it’s like to make things for ourselves. My brother did because of poverty, but it gave him skills he still has today.
From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

My brother builds a bicycle

The old frame, upside down on handle bars
And worn leather seat,
With care wire wool removes small crusts
And scabs of rust.
Hands force fingers to each and every curve
Making the dull shine,
Circles of silver, marks made by nuts on the
Forks show
It’s age. With home made crude cross
Tattoo he seeks the puncture,
Bucket bubbling, inner tube dried he takes
The chalk and glue.
Patch applied, hang it on the back door and
Begin to study the chain,
Rear wheel, universal spanner and the red
Cheeks of force as
He gives it a spin. Face distorted by the
Flicks of spokes,
Cog teeth take the links, pedal spun in
Reverse.
Now the jolt and pause, click and the
Smooth speed,
Slight smile, nod of head before the task
Of fitting brakes
And black rubber blocks. Oil squirt from
Long nozzle,
Drip, drop, small bolt lined up with the
Focus of one eye.
Turning over to take his seat, smears on
White grips,
Around the lawn, upper body pushing to
Produce speed, my brother built a bicycle.