Tuesday, 11 March 2014


The first bike I had was really just a baby bike with two extra stabilising wheels at the back that were removed once I got the hang of the thing.  Later I inherited a fairly rusty looking old bike from my father until, in my early teens, I was finally able to save up for a lovely new BSA bike with straight handlebars and three speed gears. It was this bike that I rode out in the country lanes of south-west Hertfordshire and nearby Buckinghamshire.  A lot of the time I was happy enough just to venture out on my own, discovering beautiful villages and views. Sometimes in the summer  I would take a picnic and stay out all day. I don't think I ever quite told my parents how far I had travelled, particularly in the light of the Rover Ticket incident when my parents had been worried sick when my friends and I  had got back so late from our day out with the bus pass.

Later, having the bike enabled me to get over to Oxhey to see Dave and Chris and the Hunton Bridge and Langleybury to visit Harry Barlow. I remember also fitting a speedometer so that I could see how fast I was travelling - up to thirty miles per hour on some downhill sections. Of course there was much less traffic in those days and no suggestion that one should wear a helmet. I didn't even like bicycle clips, preferring to tuck my jeans into my socks.

Sometime before that I also acquired a second-hand bike which I turned into what I called my track bike.  I suppose today it would be called a mountain bike. I removed the mudguards and replaced the tyres with much thicker tougher ones.  This was the bike that I used down in Croxley woods, particularly that section that we called the Dell. The Dell was an old Second World War bomb crater, about twenty yards in diameter around the top of which a few trees had grown.  In effect we had a wall of death ride.  We could race around the top of the crater at high speeds, avoiding the trees - a real adrenalin rush.   Again, if my parents had realised what we were up to they would have had kittens. Fortunately there were no serious accidents.  I do remember taking and passing something called the Cycling Proficiency Test so I  wasn't totally gungho!

I did come off my bike once though and had a nasty scrape on my left elbow as a result.  By then Andy had a bike too and we had returned from a ride out somewhere and just left our bikes on the  drive in front of 29 Watford Road to go inside and get a drink. I remember looking out of the window and seeing a young lad get on to Andy's bike and start to ride it away. I rushed outside and gave chase up Watford Road on my bike.  Turning left onto Dickinson Square I  had almost caught up but, unfortunately for me, the road had recently been re-covered with loose chippings.  As I took the corner a bit too quickly I skidded and slipped off the bike onto the road surface. I must have let out a hideous shriek as this was enough to cause the thief to abandon Andy's bike, making his escape on foot. So although I was injured I did manage to get the bike back. We never left our bikes unattended on the front drive again.

When I started work in Portsmouth in 1972 I initially lived in Portchester, sharing a house with George Bulkley and Tony Flegg. Soon though I moved in with Pauline into a lovely first floor flat on Marine Parade East in Lee-on-the-Solent. While I lived here, and later when we moved to Alverstoke in Gosport I travelled to work on my bike, taking it over Portsmouth Harbour on the Gosport Ferry.  While we were still living in Lee, Pauline arranged to be a leader in a summer work camp in the Netherlands where the students would be clearing the forest floor of unwanted undergrowth. It was only after she had committed herself that she discovered that the itinerary involved travelling to a railway station about twenty kilometres away from the camp where the group would pick up bicycles to enable them to complete their journey and to have their own transport for the rest of their time at the camp. It was only at this point that Pauline confided in me the fact that she had never ever ridden a bike.  Growing up in a house on a hill in inner city Nottingham, the youngest of six children there had never been a strong case for her to have a bike. So out we went onto the back streets of Lee to undertake a crash course in bike riding.  I remember that it did amuse one elderly resident who stood chuckling at his gate as a wobbly rider passed back and forth. Anyway Pauline did it (she does most things that she sets her mind to) although she didn't have to undergo the initial long ride from the station as she went in a taxi with all the luggage.

Before we ever visit Greece we had a holiday in Cyprus. Staying in what was then just the small village of Paphos with only a couple of family hotels we hired bikes to get out and see a bit more of the local area.  The concept of mad dogs and Englishmen looms large in my memory as I  recall us being chased through the streets on our bikes by dogs one lunchtime.

In the nineteen-eighties when we moved to Emsworth I again managed to get out into the country on my bike - this time in East Hamphsire and West Sussex. I would go out through Westbourne to East and West Ashing, to Compton and West Marden. I didn't learn to drive a car until I was thirty-nine so for many years a bike was a key form of transport for me. I'm not sure I would want to be out on the roads of today however, even though bikes are probably now more popular than ever.

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