“How would you like a bike for your birthday?” my dad enquired over Sunday tea.
I was so surprised, I nearly dropped my winkle. However, I managed to hold onto its shell, my position frozen, pin poised in my other hand.
“Oh. Yes. Yes, I would like that very much!” I beamed. Wow! Getting a bike for my 13th birthday! How brilliant!
Of course, I had an old bike I’d learned to ride on when I was 7, my dad taking time to leg it round the council green outside our house, holding on as I pedalled furiously, hoping he wouldn’t let go. Then, one day, as I forced the pedals around, wide eyed and sweaty, I heard my dad behind me say, “You’ve got it!”I was riding a bike!
It was one that I kept riding around the estate for the next few years. As a bicycle, it was very low maintenance. No unnecessary gears (well, no gears at all), a front brake and most importantly, solid tyres, which meant there was none of the trouble I now get with punctures. On the minus side, the ride was rather robust. Riding over a bump or kerb jolted every bone in your body and woe betide you if you were sitting on the saddle when you did. After that experience I’m surprised I ever had children.
So, the prospect of getting a new bike was very exciting. Many of my mates already had bikes that they could ride further than the council green. Ossie had a bright green racer, with drop handle bars and ten gears.
Budgie owned a chopper, with a long, comfy back rest and a huge gear stick in the middle of the crossbar. This was the sort of bike I coveted.
My dad smiled, peeling a prawn and dipping it into his salad cream.
“Good,” he said, taking a bite of the shellfish.
I thought about asking what sort of bike he had in mind, but knew it would be impolite to do so. In our family, it would have been considered a sign of being spoiled, but the mere fact that I was getting a bike, a brand new bike, was proof itself that I was already spoilt.
For the next two weeks leading up to my birthday, I told my friends that I too would be joining their ranks, being able to race off to different parts of Borehamwood and beyond on adventures, having timed races, building ramps and obstacle courses. What colour would it be? Red? White? Blue? How many gears?
My birthday was on a Sunday, a weekend, which meant all the family could be there to see the unveiling of my new mean machine. After a cursory visit to the bathroom, I dressed and clattered down the stairs. Mum had prepared breakfast, expecting my sister Janet, her husband and my young niece Suzanne. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t long before the doorbell rang and after receiving my cards and gifts from Janet, we all sat around the table in the kitchen for some bacon and eggs. The anticipation was immense, but I managed to stay patient, coming from a family used to deferred gratification.
“Right,” said my dad, rising from his seat, “come and have a look at this.”
I followed him to the door into our back porch. Under a heavy, dark grey blanket was the unmistakeable bike shape. It appeared to have long, sit up handle bars – a chopper!
Dad pulled the blanket off the bike for a dramatic reveal. I looked in disbelief. This is what I saw.
“There,” he said, “what about that? A Raleigh Small Wheel! It has 3 gears – Sturmey Archer – all changeable on the handle bar.”
My mind raced. My inner self shouted WHAT IS …THAT!
But not my real self. My mum and dad had saved for this bike. Mum wanted me to have ‘a sensible bike, not one of those silly ones that Teddy Boys ride’. (I hadn’t ever seen a Teddy boy. They’d disappeared from general circulation about a year before I was born and as far as I knew they didn’t ride bicycles). I had been brought up to be grateful. I swallowed hard, my heart sinking like a stone in a deep, deep loch.
Mum and dad were looking at me intensely. I gathered myself and gave them a big smile.
“Thank you!” I said, going over and giving my mum a kiss and a hug, something that was usually quite formal in my family at the time. Dad ruffled my hair.
“I told you he’d like it,” mum said to dad, pointedly.
I looked back at my new wheels. There was an enormous basket on the back.
“Ideal for getting errands,” my mum explained to me later on.
I did go out on my bike. To the tremendous credit of all the kids on my estate, none of them laughed at me. In retrospect, that may have been because a) it was too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel, b) they all felt so tremendously sorry for me they couldn’t bring themselves to take the piss or c) I was obviously so mentally disturbed to ride around on a shopping bike in my teens that if they did take the piss, they feared I would appear in the middle of the night and murder them in their beds.
In fact, I even tried a couple of long distance cycles, but having only three gears and very small wheels, it was a bit of an effort and I only managed a 10 mile journey at most. Oh, and forget ramps. I was unlikely to get up enough speed to reach the top of one. Especially when I was carrying mum’s shopping on the back. It’s difficult with a bag of spuds weighing you down and if I cracked her eggs there’d be hell to pay for.
After a while, the bike began to be left in the cupboard under the stairs, becoming a hanger for my dad’s overalls and mum’s old dusters and tea towels.
Mum and dad still hoped I would ride it though. In fact, many years later, they phoned and asked if I wanted it.
“It might be handy for getting around town,” mum said.
“It’s Ok, mum. Maybe you should try and sell it.”
I was 25 years old and newly married by this time.
So, the bike was photographed and put up for sale in the local newsagent. Within a couple of weeks, an older man called round and bought it. As far as I know, he wasn’t a Teddy Boy.