Geordie the Fixer

Geordie fixed things, all sorts of things, but for us kids growing up he was the main man for fixing bicycles. There was very little he didn’t know about bikes. He worked from a rather ramshackle lock up in Spinner Street just off the Falls Road in Belfast. At one corner of the street stood a hardware […]

Geordie fixed things, all sorts of things, but for us kids growing up he was the main man for fixing bicycles. There was very little he didn’t know about bikes. He worked from a rather ramshackle lock up in Spinner Street just off the Falls Road in Belfast. At one corner of the street stood a hardware shop and on the other was the famous Dolphin chip shop renowned for delicious pies and it’s sit in booths known locally as boxes that were popular with couples after a night at the nearby Clonard Cinema.

Geordie’s workplace was a shrine to his trade. Wheel rims / hoops from long forgotten cycles hung from rusted nails along the side walls. There were nuts and bolts, spare brake blocks a plenty and oily chain links. On the top of his chaotic workbench he appeared to have amassed a selection of spanners for every conceivable occasion.

He worked at the front of the lock up, almost on the street. Very rarely would he venture into the murky depths of the lock up where bits of bicycle frames had been discarded until a use could be found for them. Nothing it seems was ever thrown away. Redundant sprockets, chains and the occasional worn saddle adorned the walls waiting for redemption.

Geordie himself was a painfully thin, angular man and it was only when he stood up from his low stool at the workbench that noticed how tall a man he was. His grey wispy hair was covered by a cloth cap set at an angle and he kept a cigarette dangling from his lips for such a long time that the ash curled before falling off.

Geordie didn’t like fixing punctures unless you were a girl for he was of the opinion that any male worth his salt was capable of this simple chore.

When you brought a problem bicycle to Geordie he had the annoying habit of shaking his head and almost mutters audibly as he diagnosed the problem and mentally decided how much the job was worth although I was convinced that he knew all this on his first sighting and the delay only added to the cost of repair. It was because of his pricing I came to the conclusion that there was much of this maintenance I could do for myself provided I had the tools and know how gleaned from watching how Geordie had tackled similar problems. When so young it never occurred to me that Geordie was in business and was not my personal charity whose sole purpose was to keep me on the road.

Usually repairs were completed quickly and you would be up and running within a couple of hours at the most. Sometimes he would send you away yet at other times he would be glad of the company.A bicycle would have to be in really poor condition for Geordie to want to keep it over night in the lock up.

I watched one afternoon as Geordie re-spoked a damaged wheel. He was a master craftsman at work. It was fascinating. Like a true artisan he made the whole process look so simple while using his body so effectively. He held the wheel rim between his knees, used the nimble fingers of both hands to hold and fit the spokes in place, conversed casually with anyone who was nearby and smoked his cigarette incessantly without inhaling. There was no doubting the fact that Geordie was an excellent fixer’ His repairs were top notch but he was a man for a particular time and as our post war society prospered demand for his skills declined rapidly and regretfully another era had passed us by.

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5 Responses to Geordie the Fixer

  1. ben November 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Geordie was my Granda, I remember his shop well and have learned the trade from his son Jim who worked in Spinners Street also. Was great reading this on the internet, Geordie was a true gent :-)

    • Brendan Mc Dade November 21, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Hi Ben
      Glad to see that you enjoyed my article. As you can see there are a large number of gaps as often happens when delving back in time. I would love to learn Geordie’s surname; whatever happened tonhis premises; when did he pass away; and any other reminisences about his life and times??

  2. Brendan McCallum November 25, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    A most interesting tale and a most true one at that, I also spent the odd day there, he cycled to work every day no matter what the weather, and worked till in his 70’s… he was a quiet man but a busy one, had thirteed children and since then the family has multiplied like nothing on earth,,,, I have fond memories of my Grandad, kind thanks for both locating and posting this little slice of our lives…

    Rgds’ Brendan.

  3. Ben McCallum December 1, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Hi Brendan, apologies for delay in reply – a mere year! This is the first time I have checked this page out since. Geordie was born in 1900 and as Brendan McCallum ( My brother! ) stated he cycled to work well into his seventies – and all the way from Corby Way. He fixed just about everything – and back in the day when you didn’t throw things out he repaired many a handle on a pot or pan. There was no electric in the shop. Instead of a drill he used obo nails to put holes in steel. He also rented bicycles out , and painted a lot of bikes he ‘ did up’ in a colour he made up by mixing silver and red – he called it the Healy colour. Geordie was the brother of Leo Healy, the man who apparently had the last working horse on the Falls Road. Geordie, before his business in Spinners Street worked in Sevastopol Street where I’m told he repaired and sold cars.
    And you are right in saying he hated fixing punctures; his son, my uncle Jim, who helped out in the shop usually got the job of doing these! The shop closed in the late 70’s. My uncle told me it was broken into too many times and much of the stock stolen and unfortunately had to be closed. It ‘almost’ made a comeback a few years later, but I myself carried on the trade in a business with my brother in Ballycastle in the nineties. I moved back to Belfast again and restore old bikes just for a hobby now, and have a collection of old Roadsters, which Geordie would have loved. He was a wizard at spoking a wheel, and repairing Sturmey Archer 3 and 4 speed hubs. You could be right in saying he smoked a cigarette, but my memory is always the smell of Condor Long-cut! He died in 1983 and his widow Peggy lived on until 19th May 2010, reaching the same age as her mother, which was 103 years old. I have a fake Spinners Street sign in my garage and have had quite a few people over the years who, when showing my bikes to, remark on it remembering the old street, sadly now gone.
    Great work keeping all these memories burning! God bless Brendan.

  4. Linda March 4, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    Thankyou that was a lovely tribute to my hardworking granda, so precise