Somerset West – the bike and Cyril’s cock

I always wanted a bicycle. I had never ridden one but I had seen plenty of other people, and children younger than me, effortlessly riding around on bicycles. How difficult could it be, I thought to myself? I made a point of making a point of this whenever I could!

While I was at boarding school it was never going to happen, I suppose. We were living way up in Sea Point just below High Level Road and the thought of a bicycle, that hill and me, scared my mother I think!

Shortly before we permanently moved to Somerset West – I think it may have been Christmas 1955 – I got my bike!

Cyril had gone to a lot of trouble with the presentation of it, only bringing it into the house after I had gone to sleep and packing it in a special bike-sized cardboard box he had had specially made. Inside and packed around the bike were a number of other presents.

Of course, when I came out and saw this huge, beribboned box I had no idea what it was so when invited to open it I was stunned to find the long-awaited two-wheeler. As much as was my joy at getting a bike so too was my apprehension because I KNEW I could not ride a bike – having insisted that I could in order to get the thing.

After breakfast, Cyril took me out to one of the more level roads and was dismayed to learn that, in fact, I could not ride a bike! He was both annoyed and disappointed and now, with an adult perspective I suppose I can understand – especially as he had gone to such trouble to surprise me with it.

That, sort of, spoiled the rest of the day.

After we got to Somerset West, I tried and tried to ride the bike. Even with Cyril helping, I did not have enough confidence to develop the intuitive sense of balance. Cyril’s scornful opinion of my bike riding and other abilities did not help in the slightest as far as building confidence was concerned.

Enter Ellis Jackson. How this came about I am still a bit unsure but I think my parents knew Ellis’ parents. One day he was at our place and the subject of riding, or not riding, a bike came up. Ellis offered to help and patiently got me riding the bike, with him helping to balance it by holding onto the saddle behind me. I am not sure how many lessons like this it took but I clearly remember the day he let go.

 

I was talking to him and realised he was not replying. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Ellis standing in the road about twenty metres behind me. In that instant the fact that I was riding solo never entered my mind – instead my confidence fled. After a series of wobbles, I proceeded to make intimate contact with the gravel road.

Ellis had me up and, wise beyond his years (I have learned he is only two years my senior) he encouraged me, got me to dismiss my scratches and get in the saddle again. He pointed out that I had just been riding solo and promised not to leave me to my own devices again. (He did though – let me solo without telling me first – but the scare only lasted as long as it took for the next attempt).

Ellis Jackson kindly sent me this picture of himself in which he thinks he would have been about eleven so it was taken about the time that the cycling lessons took place….

It seemed it was not long before I was soloing on the bike with no one in attendance. Fall I did, many times although it seems – from the distance of years – that it was only a short time before I was riding with absolute confidence. Actually, too much confidence.

One day I came barrelling down Annandale road towards our gateway a bit too fast – and a bit too late on the brakes. The little bump before the gate acted like a pivot and instead of zooming, ramp-like over it the bike catapulted me over its handlebars to land in a heap in the drive. Luckily, a couple of additional scratches and a bruised ego were the only result! I did learn how to ramp that bump though…

Cyril, who was already – and without great success – into keeping rabbits, pigs and sheep for the pot decided we should keep chickens and be self-sufficient in eggs and chicken for the Sunday roast.

Now I am uncertain, all these years later, if the breed I have described is actually the correct one but I do know they were all white. There is a chance the pictures I have chosen will not be correct – to the purists, forgive me.

Accordingly, after some research, a large box appeared in the corner of the dining room containing a hundred day old chicks. Over the box was suspended a high wattage light bulb to keep the chicks warm.

With his usual thoroughness, Cyril then built a large chicken run at the bottom of the plot with a nesting and roosting enclosure in the middle of it, so that the chickens could be closed in at night.

When the cross Australorp/Leghorns (for that is the type of chicken they were) were old enough they were placed in the chicken run and I (read we, my mom and I) had the job of seeing that they had ample water and feed and that the eggs were collected. Oh, and that the cages were kept clean and the enclosure swept and raked from time to time – the sweepings to be used in the garden as fertiliser. 

One day I had gone into the chicken run – a job I disliked because the chickens seemed to be rather aggressive (I may have been approaching my tenth birthday). We had a large cockerel, with a magnificent red comb, that was the bossiest chicken you could imagine and he always intimidated us – mom and myself.

On this day, I think I was putting water in the troughs with the hose, Mr Rooster came buck-buck-ba-cawing over self-importantly, as if to interrogate what I was busy doing. I sprayed him. Bad move.

He fluffed up and spun round once or twice then stepped towards me, muttering in chicken. I sprayed him again. Once again a couple of pirouettes, a couple of more noisy buck-bacaws were followed by more aggressive  steps towards me.

Maybe I kept up the teasing and spraying a bit too long but when I moved to do something else, Buck-Bacaw was right behind me and very vociferous. I moved away from him quickly. This must have encouraged him to think he had me on the run (well, he did I suppose) and he went to peck at my foot. I jumped, he jumped in, I jumped back and before I knew it, the massive chicken had me running around this big chicken enclosure shouting for help.

Mom was in the garden and came hurrying into the chicken run, grabbing a broom as she came. Getting between the rooster and me, she jabbed at him. He flapped up into the air ba-cawing with some anger now and landing closer to us. Darting in at our feet, mom jabbed again. The performance repeated a couple more times but the fowl was now in a foul mood and with much chicken-shouting came flapping in in attack mode.

This time mom swung the broom like a hockey stick connecting the rooster on the head. Down he went, motionless. We tentatively stepped forward to examine the creature and mom gently prodded him with the broom handle. He did not move.

“Oh, my god, Erik,” she exclaimed, “we’ve killed Cyril’s cock!” then immediately started to giggle. I was much too young to realise what was causing her to laugh at this serious incident but she continued, her voice genuinely worried, through her chuckling, “What are we going to do? What are we going to tell him when he gets home?”

She took a tin and threw some water on the chicken’s head. It stirred! It shook its head and scrabbled in the dirt as it struggled to its feet.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling me to the gate while the groggy rooster was still getting its bearings and gathering up its somewhat damaged dignity.

It was to be YEARS later when we were telling someone this story that I REALLY saw the funny and understood why she had been laughing – and, I recall, she would laugh heartily every time we talked about the incident.

Not that they were our favourite creatures but I think the chickens were the only halfway successful FARMING venture undertaken on the plot. We got plenty of eggs and mom and I had no qualms about eating chicken. In any event, they were so anonymous we would never have known which chicken was missing.