Monday, December 16, 2013

Rolling Back The Years

At the time, 80’s music wasn’t my thing. Behind the times as normal, I was more a prog rock man, flicking through Melody Maker in search of articles about Genesis, Peter Gabriel and others. My mate Gary and I would play Yes and Pink Floyd albums, even stretching to a bit of ELO, if we felt a bit mainstream. Time is a very good album, you know.

It’s not like we spent the whole time gazing thoughtfully over gate-fold album sleeves. Forced by the Brixton Riots to find something other than normal Sea Cadet activities, we’d find ourselves sat around listening to Kool And The Gang or Michael Jackson. Later we’d drive to the pub after sailing practice listening to Thriller, and I still remember selling burgers on Brighton seafront dancing to KC And The Sunshine Band. But you’d often find us stood beneath walls of record covers and glossy posters, flicking through racks deep with albums and singles, reading the sleeve notes, or maybe handing an album through a cloud of smoke, asking the bloke in a black tee-shirt behind the counter to play a track from some record or other. We’d go to Beano’s, a second hand record shop near Croydon market, where we’d search in vain through tatty covers and clear plastic sleeves for Happy The Man by Genesis or Mr Blue Sky on blue vinyl to see if mine was worth anything.

Next to the barbers, near where I lived in Whyteleafe, there was a shop called Enquire Within. Dark inside, it seemed to sell everything, and I remember a fusty smell, a brown paper bag kind of shop, no branding, just stuff. Though not a bike shop, at the back was a workshop where the odour of bicycles, grime, oil and rubber hung in the air. My bother and his cycling friends would spend time there. It was memorable, real, there was atmosphere and soul, one of the dim corners perfectly representing the grittiness of the sport it represented.

I was in Sheffield earlier this year and ended up in the Planet X Bikes showroom. It’s lovely in there, airy with well spaced, light wood shelves stocked with everything from pedals to bib shorts, frames to chamois cream, the whole environment is designed to make bicycle kit look fashionable, desirable and the highest quality. It might have been the time of day, but it was nearly empty, the only smells new wood and coffee, it was pristine, spotless and utterly soulless. It’s not a bike shop, just a shop selling bikes. It could have sold women’s clothes, furniture. Anything.

The whole New Romantic thing passed me by so, even if Gary Kemp is be a keen cyclist, there’s no chance I’ll be buying his music, even if I've grown up a bit. Nowadays I have a few songs from the 1980’s on my phone: a bit of XTC, a couple of Specials songs, some synth pop, Human League, OMD, I even downloaded some China Crisis the other week. And that’s the point: I downloaded it. 
Just finding a record shop these days is a challenge, today’s youth will never flick through albums, visit friends with a box of vinyl, no more wading through hidden gems on a B-side, just sterile downloads and streaming; an empty, transient experience so different from mine.

Even if some are hanging on by the greasy, stained fingertips of mechanics hidden in unseen workshops, the local bike shop remains. Constantly fighting the internet onslaught of Pro Wiggle Reaction, they're invariably cleaner, more sterile than before, the best are delightfully cluttered with promise and desire, still places to pass the time of day, or ask advice without fear of ridicule. 
So, unless you want buy your kit like your music, from a computer not a person, value your local bike shop before you and cyclists of the future lament its passing. 

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