Romance in the gutter


Allin’s bike shop was my favourite of the two that Croydon had to offer the serious cyclist. Run by Stan and Anne Butler, he a former racing star, this store was an Aladdin’s cave of wonderment. It wasn’t in the smart end of town, if Croydon had such a thing, and it wasn’t a smart shop. But you could always get the vital left handed widget that you needed; it would just take a few minutes for Stan, Anne or the enigmatic “Ching” to rummage through the workshop and you’d be all set.

Even a small shop such as Allin’s holds a huge amount of stock, and the accounts hold surprisingly large numbers, though Heaven only knows how the books were reconciled as the “till” consisted of a wooden draw and a paper roll on which all sales were hand written. On a busy summer’s day it could take 20 minutes to get into the shop, with the queue extending some distance down the road.

Cyclists being cyclists, this would be treated as a social opportunity as we’d exchange views about the latest two wheeled news, gadgets and gizmos. Indeed it was in one such queue that my chum Andy and I were approached by a chap who enticed us to join the Anerley Bicycle Club, and hence my racing began.

At one stage in my illustrious career I ended up working at Allin’s. Stan and Anne had retired, selling to John and Ray; I was bored with my job at the time, and thought it would be a fun thing to do, to work in the bike industry. And it was, for a couple of years, but then I had to find some other area in which to build my career, Lisa seduced me and I was away.

However whilst working in Allin’s I met many wonderful people, some odd balls as cycling seems to attract more than its fair share of characters, but all fine people. One regular customer was an enthusiast, not a club cyclist, but nonetheless keen and of course his custom was most welcome. Alas I forget his name now, though I’m certain it wasn’t Zeus, however his daughter’s name was Helen and she did indeed make quite some impression on me.

It turned out that Helen lived not so far from me, indeed every day I cycled past the road down which she and her family lived. I took quite a shine to this blonde torch and rather felt that the feeling was reciprocated; lots of eye contact, smiles and that indefinable, powerful, know no bounds, earth-shattering chemistry that seems to occur between two people that are attracted to each other.

So, one Friday night, as I cycled home on my trusty Whitehorse fixed wheel steed, I thought I’d seize the moment - carpe diem and all that and with a swipe of my credit card I left the florist’s with a fine, bold, colourful, beautiful bouquet of flowers. If this wasn’t going to melt Helen’s heart and make me her Menelaus, then nothing would.

As I approached the turn off that would lead me to her house, I must have started to lose concentration as wildly improbable images filled my mind. The anticipation of an assignation with my ship-launching beauty was just too much to bear and as I negotiated the sharp left hand turn into her road I lost control of my bike.

To this day I still have no idea what happened; I just can’t explain it. All I know, all I recall, is that there was a wobble of monumental proportions and I suddenly found myself flying through the air, over the top of the bars, and torpedo-like I landed in the gutter, bike clattering down on top of me. Fortunately, mid-flight, I’d had the incredible presence of mind to throw the bouquet away from me so that I wouldn’t land on top of it.

Once I’d extricated myself from my less-than-trusty Whitehorse steed, dusted myself down, picked myself up and ensured no laughing witnesses, I took stock and noticed that my new jersey had been shredded on my left arm, and there was a dark damp patch that was slowly spreading through the fabric. oo, that’s gotta hurt. (Five stitches. I still have the scar).

I hobbled over to my love’s only ever so slightly damaged gift, gingerly remounted and safely but slowly negotiated the final fifty yards to my date with destiny.

The door opened, though it wasn’t my golden haired princess that answered, but her mother, possibly called Leda. She was only somewhat startled to see me there and assured me that Helen would be thrilled with the flowers...

...once she got home from being out with her boyfriend.