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CHICKENS FRAME EMPORIUM | SCRATCHING A LIVING

Driving towards the Sussex coast with my wipers on full under a slate grey sky, the trees on the side of the A23 are bent double, the unwilling recipients of a summer spanking from Mother Nature.

DIRT ISSUE 129 – FEBRUARY 2012

Words by Rod Fountain. Photos by Oliver Perrott

Scenes like this used to excite me. Ten years ago driving these roads in these conditions would be done with a surfboard on the roof and a wetsuit in the boot because, surprisingly, Brighton in a storm is quite the place to be if you can surf. There are mercifully few times I’ve turned up in Brighton without a board or a bike, but this is one of them. In a brain that hasn’t yet received operational procedures from coffee this trip to the coast is confusing: the surf’s been whipped up by a south–westerly but I have no board and I’m meeting hardtail builder Jon Aston without my bike in a South Downs farmyard just behind the house where my oldest surfing buddy lives and from where many epic surf trips began. As the sea recedes in my rear view mirror and tarmac gives way to farm track my riding present and surfing past collide. I’m here to add the latest instalment to the ‘Handmade in Britain’ series of features, which after the Jubilee and Olympics seems perfectly in keeping with a summer of celebrating the homegrown.

With all craftsmen you can’t separate the product they make from the people they are and the stories they have. In his book ‘Midnight’s Children’ Salman Rushdie describes how we stir our emotions into the food we cook. He writes of the bitterness stirred into a biryani by a lady who’s remembering everything that had gone wrong in her life whilst making it. Maybe this is why food you make when you’re drunk tastes great. If this is true then riding a frame from ‘Chickens Frame Emporium’ is going to be bonkers. The ‘Emporium’, a sea container beside a barn on a working farm, is very much the laboratory of a mad scientist. Jars of dropouts, gussets, headtubes and bottom bracket shells seem macabre in their temporary separateness from the tubes they’ll one day hold together. Mitred tubes litter a bench like amputated limbs and grease stalactites add something of the subterranean top shelf. Blu–tacked to it is the Chickens Frame Emporium mission statement, ripped from the back of a box of something Jon ordered from overseas: “To rank first among similar products. Every styles fully wonderful. Best quality for your selection. Once own nothing can instead.” Read on, you’ll see this is perfect.>>

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