(For Margaret, as requested)
'Cheap to run and easy to maintain,' the salesman told the gathering crowd. 'And so safe you could let your granny ride it. She couldn't come to any harm on a three-wheeler.' He was demonstrating the Ariel 3, a new kind of motorised three-wheel machine, bright orange, with a basket at the front. The man said the contraption was designed with women in mind and, by the interest shown on the onlookers' faces, the ploy was working. Maddy Fox was wide awake by this time, having travelled in by train in a half-conscious state due to the late night she'd had. She didn't remember alighting at New Street or being transported up the escalator, in fact she might have stumbled over the rope barrier had the salesman not shouted a warning. He was a real loud-mouth, and he'd made her feel such a fool dragging her across the display area and inviting her to sit on the orange machine until she'd fully recovered.
She had to admit the seat was comfortable and her feet easily touched the ground, and she was quite taken with the idea of travelling to work on the cheap, but could she afford it?
'Money back in no time,' the man said. 'A gallon of petrol is nothing compared to the cost of travelling by train five days a week, and you'd get the extra benefit at weekends. And think of how nippy it is. No parking problems or waiting in traffic queues. Take my word for it, a whole new world would open up.'
A week later Maddy bought one. She had asked several friends what they thought of the new invention and they viewed it as a worthwhile buy. So, since the consensus of opinion was that these machines would become fashionable, she bought one. She had never ridden anything like it before, and before long she knew she would never ride anything like it again.
The Ariel 3 had a mind of its own. It had no problem travelling without a rider, and often did just that, but, when Maddy mounted, the thing refused to budge. She would turn the ignition key and pedal like crazy, but it wouldn't start, then when she climbed off to see what was wrong, the stupid little brake lever would disconnect and the contrivance would take off. As an added exasperation, on the rare occasions she got it going, the spark plugs furred up, yet remained in perfect condition on its solo performance. Nevertheless she persevered, and discovered that if she cleaned the plugs the night before all would be well.
Bernice and Margaret, the two girls Maddy worked with, were impressed, and both were brave enough to have a go. Accordingly, at lunchtime, they gathered in
Church Street for a
trial run, Maddy starting the machine and quickly alighting so that Bernice
could hop on. Without fail it took off before she could hoist a leg, careered
mutinously down Church Street,
and eventually glided to a halt in a vacant parking space. Bernice slapped her
thigh and declared it to be the funniest thing she'd ever seen, but Maddy was
overcome by embarrassment, feeling she was doomed to be forever making excuses
for the machine's devastating conduct.
One wet and windy evening, a month after taking possession of her flashy tormentor, Maddy, with a good deal of trepidation, kick-started the bike and heaved a loud sigh when for once the thing jerked into life. She quickly set off for home, cutting down the side road which led to
New Street. She took the corner
carefully, giving pedestrians the right of way lest the machine chose that
moment to romp, then prepared to take off. Sadly, her trouser-leg caught on the
pedal and the bike tipped her onto the road, then shook itself upright and
advanced up the congested street amidst buses, cars and taxis, launching itself
directly at the traffic lights, where it crashed, unharmed and in complete
control of its own destiny, while Maddy viewed the new invention with all the
hatred she could muster.
For two days, as if sensing her disapproval, the bike functioned precisely as it should and Maddy was endowed with a confidence hitherto lacking in their relationship, finally consoled that her money had not been wasted. Almost in celebration, she removed the basket from the handlebars and affixed a square case to the back, more in keeping with her role as city traveller and less likely to strew the contents on the ground. Securing the case with colourful spiders, an added precaution since her handbag, knitting, and lunch box were inside, she donned her helmet and journeyed home, exhilarated for the first time to be handling her newfangled, dutiful machine.
It was Friday and the traffic was bumper to bumper on the steep hill where Maddy lived, but she didn't care. Gleefully she wove slowly in and out, overtaking big cars and small ones, occasionally encouraging the Ariel's progress with a toot on her horn. But half way up the hill, as she was debating the purchase of fish and chips, she heard someone yell, 'Hey, blondie, your bag just fell off.'
Over her shoulder, Maddy saw the blue case bounding on its corners down the hill. Hurriedly she parked the bike and ran to retrieve it.
The demon machine took off.
Maddy's hands flew to her face, watching with horror as it crossed the road and mounted the pavement, then rode the railway station's brick exterior like the wall-of-death, before turning an expert somersault and landing upright on the footpath. But it wasn't over. The impetus drove it back up the wall and sent it spiralling through another somersault before crashing down and narrowly missing a band of teenagers who watched with captivated expressions.
It had to go, and next day it was returned it to the garage from whence it came. Maddy demanded her money back, but was persuaded by the manager to try another machine. She did, and bought a Honda 90. Silver coloured and peaceful-looking.
Her friends, Bernice and Margaret, liked the look of the Ariel so much they each acquired one. Only Bernice had trouble, when her machine drove backwards through the Queensway tunnel - on its own.
Maddy wondered ... but it wasn't possible. Her bike was locked in a garage.