The bunting that stretched between lamp posts, and the cheering crowd that lined the route were only present in my imagination, but when I wheeled my MoBo scooter up to the top of the street, I felt like Evel Kinevil himself (although the famous daredevil didn’t adopt that name until 1966 – possibly after this event took place).
I had received the scooter as a Christmas present, and it was my pride and joy for a long time. This was the first scooter I had ridden that didn’t have two rear wheels; it was a machine for a boy, not a kid. It was green with a metal footplate and a foot-operated back brake pedal. It even had a stand so I could prop it up and admire it. My friend, Jimmy, had an identical scooter and we went about together on them. There was a special bonding in having identical machines, and I understood at an early age the attraction of groups like Hell’s Angels and (motor) scooter gangs.
Motivated by a motorcycle jump I had seen on television, I hatched a plan to emulate the feat by constructing a crude ramp on the road outside my front door. This structure was nothing more than a drop down door from one of those kitchen pantry affairs that everyone seemed to have back then (it still had the chrome handle attached), resting two house bricks laid end to end.
We did not have the luxury of tarmac on the road like neighbouring streets; ours was little more than a dirt track. As I grew up, my knees and elbows became well acquainted with this uneven, gritty surface, but the road did have its plus points.
When it rained, some of the potholes became super deep puddles for us to splash in, or sail small boats. Over many years going back well before I was born, the flow of heavy rainfall had cut channels into the road’s surface. During such downpours, these ruts became fast-flowing rivulets that acted as child magnets to draw children from the comfort of the fireside. At the bottom of the street, the streams petered out, and this is where my friends and I would try to stem the flow by damming the road with mud.
With half a dozen eager beavers toiling away in raincoats and wellies, the dam was soon complete. It stood only about four inches high, but it stretched almost the entire width of the road, creating an impressive mini lake. It was not entirely watertight though, and before it drained away, we threw stones at it until it burst. There was a keen sense of satisfaction in seeing the wall break and the torrent pour forth, especially for the one whose stone had caused the burst.
On dry days, we would use the edge of a flat lolly stick to scrape away the top layer of dirt, to create roads for our Corgi model cars to drive on.We scraped out a whole mini- town, with T-junctions, roundabouts, lay-bys and a car park. This looked great to begin with, but with a gang of kids crawling over it as their cars went from A to B, the roads soon disappeared and arguments often broke out.
But today was the day of the big scooter jump.
I felt no apprehension as I pushed off on my first daredevil attempt. I built up speed, carefully weaving between the many potholes that pitted the road. I lined up my front wheel with the centre of the ramp, and gave an extra burst of foot power for that much needed accelleration boost. In the moments before lift-off, I pictured myself soaring gracefully through the air before landing perfectly and doing a skid as I slid gracefully to a halt in the manner of a ski-jumper. Here I go, I thought.
I missed the ramp but hit one of the bricks. Far from taking off, my vehicle stopped dead, nudging the brick along an inch. The handlebars went forward, and I followed, landing face first on the road. This was the first time I had been dazed by a blow to the head, and I didn’t like the combination of pain and giddiness.
Issuing a screeching wail that the residents of my street had already heard many times, I picked myself up and repeatedly rang the doorbell at my front door. As I waited for someone to answer, I stood facing the wall with my forehead resting on my forearm. I must have been aware of the potential seriousness of head injuries’, because I began reciting my five times table aloud. When my mother answered the door in a state of some alarm, Stuart informed her of my extra-curricular activity.
My mother ushered me indoors to be patched up, but I had sustained no visible injuries. I had suffered a shock at the new sensation of being dazed. With soothing words and cajoling from my parents, the wails soon turned to sniffles that petered out to giggles.
As I look back on my moment of alarm, I notice that I opted for one of the easier times tables. I would never have attempted the dreaded seven.