Sites: New Life Upholstery and The Cycle Centre
Location: Cross Street and Bear Street Arcade
Date: 10 October 2011
SiB Team: CD and SB
Images: Light and Leaf
Perhaps it says something about both of these places that they are known not by their business name, but by the name of their sole-proprietor. We met both Mike and Gordy on a grey day in mid-October. Mike was waiting for us in his tiny workshop, which is wedged in under the wing of a former church, now antiques shop. The sign out front said 'Upholsterer, Mike Tulk', in white on red. And other teapot-shaped sign said 'Tea Room: Sorry no tea, but upholstery gladly done'. Mike was having a slow week, his 'bread and butter' business of recovering motorbike seats having temporarily dried up. He showed us the tools of his trade: a pair of pincers to loosen the seat cover staples, a screwdriver to pry them out, and two venerable sewing machines. The one in the image above is a crank-operated Jones model from the 1930s. Mike has fixed a £1.99 torch onto the working end so that he can see the piping foot clearly as he stitches up seams, but the light flickers and fades. He thinks it may be the damp in the stone-floored room.
Gordy's work space is also occasionally damp, though it's a damp of a different order altogether. He works outside, in all weathers and all seasons, on the pavement in front of a shop premises so clogged with bicycles and bicycle parts that there's only a tiny clear space left by each door. Gordy has been fixing bicycles in Barnstaple for 47 years. He started out at the age of 11, after the Lynmouth floods left an array of parts and bicycles strewn along the riverbank when the waters receded. He taught himself how to assemble a working bicycle, and took on an apprenticeship in a Barnstaple shop when he was 15. Now the local 15 year-olds hang around his en plein air workshop on their bikes, watching Gordy fix other bikes. A collection of frequently-used tools leans against the curb, and a leaf drifts down to keep a ball bearing company.