Pedalling tales of council yard raids

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Oh how the clock turned back around noon on Tuesday when I spotted an emailed press release from Scottish Borders Council.

The headline wasn’t greatly inspiring: “Bike enthusiasts sought for new scheme”. But when I read it, I smiled and drifted back more than half a century to the days when boys were boys and did boys’ things. Those carefree days when the nights of spring, summer, autumn or winter provided challenges and fun.

Plundering for apples, plums and goosegogs; sitting by the trackside watching the steam trains and occasional diesel go by; putting pennies on the line to see them flattened by those mighty locomotives; playing rap-door-run; leaping from one garage roof to another – I wasn’t very good at that and landed first on the ground and then at Peel Hospital with a pretty sore wrist.

We raked phone boxes with their A and B buttons for pennies and, shame on us, cheated the Post Office (who ran the phone system then) by tapping the cradle to make contact with the few people we knew who had phones.

But back to this press release from the cooncil which revealed proposals for a scheme called Just Cycle – an idea to make use of the metal parts of scrapped bikes that are taking up expensive space on what were once rubbish tips, but which are now known as landfill sites.

The council states : “Recycled bike schemes are good news for the environment, our communities and our health. In all areas where these exist, the take-up of cycling has increased.”

Wonderful. A great initiative. But it’s not new. We did it more than 50 years ago and others did it before us. And we got chased for doing it. In Galashiels – and, of course, it happened all over the Borders – it meant finding a way into the council yard where the rubbish was stored. In Gala it was known as the Corpy Yard and was in Huddersfield Street, just down from the TA Hall. And it was also pretty close to the police station at the Burgh Chambers.

If you were bold enough you made a frontal attack on the maroon-coloured gates and clambered over – usually it meant squeezing between a building and a wall, and either under or over a few tiers of rusty barbed wire.

And the target, of course, was one of the concrete bunds that contained the scrap – bike frames, wheels, hand bars, brakes and saddles.

The object was to make a bike. They weren’t very bonnie, but in the most they were functional, although the brakes were often a bit dodgy and often the chain or the front forks were, what we now say, past their use-by date.

And it wasn’t just bikes. We built bogeys. Big bogeys, wee bogeys, fast bogeys and cumbersome bogeys.

Pram wheels were much sought after. Big ones at the back and wee ones stapled to a steering board at the front – the hole for the bolt burned through with a hot poker. Sometimes they had brakes and even seats.

Yes, we were in at the early days of recycling – and we got chased for it.

Nowadays you’d get a medal – a recycled one, of course.