One Day In The 90s...
There’s a very fine line between thinking about the past and self-indulgent nostalgia, of which I’ve been accused. Still, though, comparisons with the past are warranted if we’re to have a more objective metric by which to measure or understand the present. Given that I’m old enough to have been cognisant throughout the 90s, I thought it could be interesting to — as objectively as possible — go through a memorable day that I lived long ago. The question on my mind throughout this somewhat experimental exercise is to try and understand if such a day could be lived by a 16 or 17-year-old today. Here, the grand sweep of history which I’ve often pondered over in various formats will make way for the smaller, more intimate aspects of life which, in the end, formulate our identities.
To begin, then, the year is around 1993, and I lived at home, on a council estate somewhere in North Tyneside. A picture of my scrawny and overly moody 16-year-old self would be entirely incomplete without mention of a mountain bike, the solid steel but nigh-on indestructible Peugeot Lazer upon which I seemed to spend most of my waking hours. My free time would be spent on the saddle of this battleship of a bike which was too large because my parents didn’t ‘‘want me to grow out of it’’.
It was a relatively uncomplicated time. I was preoccupied with mountain bikes, exploring every inch of Northumberland’s landscape, and a girl a year younger than me whom I shall call Jennifer. The former being infinitely easier and less stressful than the latter to achieve.
On a particular Saturday in late summer, my usual cycle companion and friend had to cancel a planned expedition up the coastal route, leaving me rather despondent and bored. I decided that instead of allowing the day to go to waste, I’d set off alone and go up the A1 to Rothbury, and from there, into the Simonside Hills. A round trip of about 50 miles. I had tweaked the Peugeot Lazer and I had my tools in a ‘‘bum-bag’’ complete with £1 for a pasty and Pepsi at the butchers in Rothbury.
From North Tyneside, there are far more scenic ways to travel to Rothbury than the A1. I knew about all the back roads which meandered past Ogle, Bolam Lake, and Cambo. Today, however, I wanted to reach the hills south of Rothbury as fast as possible, so I gritted my teeth for the tedious and noisy 25-mile hike up the motorway.
I never wore Lycra, which I thought of as weird and gay, and I never wore a helmet, which I found irritating. My cycling attire was canvas shorts and a baggy Guns N Roses T-shirt, though me being a scrawny lad everything I wore seemed baggy.
It was always a blessed relief to take the left off the A1 and across the river Coquet. Here, finally, the rolling wildness of Northumberland began in earnest. After two hours of cycling, I arrived in what was colloquially called ‘‘God’s Country’’. After stopping at the butcher’s for lunch, I saddled up once more and headed into the hills to the south.
The Simonside Hills hike was just that, a circular hike that peaked at Tosson Hill. The problem, as I quickly found out, was that it was not in any way suitable for bikes, even a sturdy old warhorse like my Lazer. Sunk costs sank in as I began carrying the weighty thing across jagged rocks and boulders. My shoulder took the worst of the battering from the frame and, eventually, at around 1pm, I reached the top and took a break in the heather to the side of the trail — where I promptly fell asleep under the sun.
I awoke somewhat startled with insects crawling across my face and also to the realization that it had clouded over, and the temperature had dropped. According to the relatively primitive speedometer on the handlebars of my bike, I’d slept for about an hour. None of that mattered to me now. Ahead lay the downhill rollercoaster all the way back to Rothbury, through thick pine forests and down fire-breaks and paths. I didn’t stop in Rothbury. A mild wind had picked up and was pushing southwards, the way back home. The good times had arrived, and I knew that I was going to be travelling a good clip all the way back down the A1, which I subsequently did.
It is perhaps worth interjecting at this point that by the time I arrived back home in North Tyneside, I had been gone for approximately eight hours. Nobody on earth knew where I was, neither could they contact me, and given that I’d spent my money on a pasty, I could not contact anyone either unless I reversed the charges, which was frowned upon by Dad. What’s more, nobody would have been particularly concerned about where I was either. I was ‘‘out on his bike somewhere’’.
I rolled into the estate as the sun was setting, finally beginning to feel fatigued. I hadn’t spoken to anyone except the woman at the butcher’s in nearly 9 hours, but that was about to change.