Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Bicycle - Riding Out With Dad

Christmas, 1967, I was given a bicycle.  Shiny and new with white tyres and the ‘Triumph 20’ logo on the pale blue metallic frame.  It was a wonderful surprise and I loved it. If only I could ride it. If only I wasn’t too timid to learn. I’d had great times with my trusty trike, up and down the promenade, and round all the tables in what we called the ‘Main Bar’, but I’d grown out of it ages ago and now I was twelve it was time for a proper ladies' bike.  No stabilisers, just my dad jogging along next to me, holding the back of my saddle to keep me steady.  All was well until I realised he’d let go, then I’d wobble, fall and cry with frustration at the ‘stupid’ bike. It would be put away until another day.

Practice makes perfect, they say, and eventually I got the hang of it. As I gained confidence, my dad and I went out on longer bike rides. He had a racing bike for serious cycling and a small-wheeled ‘sit-up-and-beg’ bicycle that he used to come out with me. We went on the roads so he could teach me the cyclist’s Highway Code. These trips included the promenade and up Harrowside bridge, which I hated because it was steep enough to hurt my legs. Sometimes that was our turning point for going home, so I would have to pedal up both sides, and remember to use the brakes gently when free-wheeling down. In nice weather we would venture a little further, on to the moss and the back roads towards St Anne’s. We did it all again years later, by car when I was learning to drive and he was brave enough to sit with me.

In my teens I went out cycling with a group of friends, usually to the villages of rural Fylde. We would take a packed lunch, find somewhere pleasant to picnic and no one would mention ‘O’ levels, essays or homework. Happy, carefree times of youth club, Girls Guides and choir, before the bombshell of moving to Cheshire was dropped.

I suppose we all have books and films that we love so much, we know them almost word for word. One of mine is ‘Goodnight, Mr Tom’ and I’m always weeping when William is trying to ride the bicycle that belonged to his late friend, Zach. Of course, he perseveres and succeeds, by which time I’m drowning in my own tears. Always.

Here is another favourite poem, one that makes me think I was around in a long gone era. Perhaps it’s inherited memory, if such a thing exists, rather than déjà vu. It’s the bicycle and the angel-cake.


Kind o’er the kinderbank leans my Myfanwy,
White o’er the play-pen the sheen of her dress,
Fresh from the bathroom and soft in the nursery
Soap-scented fingers I long to caress.

Were you a prefect and head of your dormit’ry?
Were you a hockey girl, tennis or gym?
Who was your favourite? Who had a crush on you?
Which were the baths where they taught you to swim?

Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle,
Black-stockinged legs under navy-blue serge,
Home and Colonial, Star, International,
Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.

Trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle,
Out of the shopping and into the dark,
Back down the Avenue, back to the potting shed,
Back to the house on the fringe of the park.

Golden the light on the locks of Myfanwy,
Golden the light on the book on her knee,
Finger-marked pages of Rackham’s Hans Andersen,
Time for the children to come down to tea.

Oh! Fuller’s angel-cake, Robertson’s marmalade,
Liberty lampshade, come, shine on us all,
My! What a spread for the friends of Myfanwy
Some in the alcove and some in the hall.

Then what sardines in the half-lighted passages!
Locking of fingers in long hide-and-seek.
You will protect me, my silken Myfanwy,
Ringleader, tom-boy, and chum to the weak.

                 John Betjeman

Thanks for reading, Pam x