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Made in Britain

The hill – memories of a cycle ride

I was aged 10 and my brother was aged 11.  We both had good solid bicycles. And, we had lots of things to help us with our cycling: lovely leather saddle-bags and gloves with holes in, and, capes to keep off the rain. We had school-books and a sandwich box filled with sandwiches – and each day we had to cycle 7 miles to school.

But the real challenge was the hill. Beacon hill.

The long approaches to Beacon hill began at Crookham crossroads. The road edged along some desolate army barracks before passing through a short tract of wooded land. My brother and I cycled on and on, steadily and silently, as the road climbed gently towards the hill.

Then, as we passed the lane that led to Butler’s farm, the road began to rise steeply; it curved upwards: and we began the ascent of Beacon hill.

We did not dare to look towards the summit. We had to concentrate on standing upright and looking no more than a few yards in front of us. We had to find a rhythm; we could not speak to each other; we knew we had to keep our momentum going as we fought the unforgiving hill.

We stole a glance at each other; we both wondered whether or not the hill would break us or we would break the hill. We went on and on. In our imagination we heard the voice of our father urging us to keep going, urging us not to give in. And through his voice we refused to let the hill defeat us. It took us about five minutes to get to the top and then we coasted along for more than a mile until the trembling in our legs had ceased and we could, again, breath easily.

Sometimes, when we misbehaved at school we were made to write out the lines from Kipling’s poem ‘If’. My brother and I liked the poem because we knew that every time we ascended the hill we had done even more than ‘60 seconds worth of distance run’.

In a way, we were made in Britain.

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