When I was about 3 years old my parents bought me a car!
Not a real one with an engine as I’m sure you realise but it was made of sheet metal, fitted me perfectly and was operated by a pair of foot-bars which turned the back wheels via metal rods. The steering wheel worked, it was a dark red in colour and had the word “Thunderbolt” written along each side in white.
I was extremely fond of it for a couple of years – until I started school probably – and my mother has a photograph somewhere of me sitting in it, smiling broadly.
While it was fine for pootling up and down our back garden and even cruising along the pavement of the cul-de-sac we lived in, it didn’t have the speed capability to keep up with Mum (plus my little sister in her pushchair) on the mile long walk to and from school.
So I traded it in for something faster!
Actually, I didn’t really do that!
I think that Thunderbolt was stored in Dad’s capacious shed and eventually got transferred across town for use by my younger male cousins but whatever the course of events it was replaced by a two wheeled Triang scooter. Not one of those currently in vogue with tiny 4 inch wheels – this one had wheels at least twice that in diameter as well as a foot operated brake and a spring-loaded kick stand so I didn’t have to lean it on things when I got off it.
Over the next few years – probably up until we moved house when I was 10 – I developed quite a turn of speed on it. I was even able, when going flat out, to lean forwards pressing my lower body evenly against the handlebars and go NO HANDS!
I don’t remember ever crashing!
I did not use the scooter for the school run after Mum stopped escorting my sister and I – there was no such thing as a school cycle shed to park it in – but would regularly be sent to the shops near the school on a Saturday morning pick up items such as “three pounds of potatoes and half a pound of mince” for dinner that day.
I don’t remember whether that scooter actually made the move from Bourne Bridge to Broke Hall in January 1964 as by then I was getting too tall for it and the solid rubber tyres were wearing out anyway.
However long it lasted, my next transportation system moved up to eight wheels – roller skates. This wasn’t too successful as while the pavements around the new estate were well laid and smooth, they also seemed to pick up an inordinate amount of gravel from somewhere and with the very small wheels of the skates it only took one piece wedged under them to bring me to a very sudden and sometimes painful halt! If I was lucky I could throw myself onto a grass verge but I don’t think I have ever suffered so many skinned knees as I did during that period.
I really wanted a bike but a new one wasn’t possible so I had to learn to ride my mother’s around the estate. There was no way I was going to Secondary school on a girl’s bike so for my first year and a large part of the second year I went to school on foot – it was, after all, no further than I used to walk to either of my two junior schools!
I have already told you about the break and lunchtime races from the annex to the main school and that I was usually knackered by the end of the day – a bike would have made a great difference – but it wasn’t until the completion of the new school buildings that my paternal Grandfather decided he was never going to cycle anywhere again and gave me his heavy, ancient Raleigh. It wasn’t new or even remotely modern but at least it had a crossbar so I didn’t get ribbed about it.
While it regularly got a red “condemned” tag from the policemen who periodically checked the cycles in the school cycle sheds, that bike lasted me through school and for many a cross-town trip to various Boys Brigade football matches on Saturday afternoons. Until the day in early 1970 when it finally got past the point of reasonable repair and was consigned to the dustbin.
Fortunately the demise of that bike coincided with my getting a substantial (from £6.85 to £8.50 per week) pay rise so I decided I could now reasonably buy a small motorcycle on credit and my dear little Honda C90, ODX83H, came into my life for 18 monthly payments of £6.00.
The freedom! I was now able to whizz about town without having to worry about the hills and could explore the pubs in the surrounding villages as desired. No-one seemed to worry much about drinking and driving in those days and as long as you didn’t fall off or hit someone it didn’t seem to matter – just as well as far as I was concerned!
That motorcycle lasted for about 5 years and around 30,000 miles and in the last couple of years I enjoyed taking my fishing tackle and “English Law” by Smith & Keenan to Felixstowe on it and spent my Institute of Bankers’ study leave reading the book AND fishing on the pier! I passed the exam!
As I was commuting by rail to and from work from 1976 to 1979 I had, luckily, no real need of independent transport but on my transfer to Norwich I bought a Suzuki TS250 Trail bike (street legal but with limited off-road capability) for my trip to work and to see Faith in Chelmsford at weekends. I kept this, as I have mentioned elsewhere, until just before our first child arrived when it was considered appropriate that I pass my car test and sold it on via the local paper.
And that was it for two wheels until we moved to Cambridge in 1988 – when I bought my all-time favourite bike. This was my silver-grey Vespa T5 which I enjoyed for a mere 18 months before an idiot Cambridge Taxi driver u-turned in front of me without warning and I stuck the poor scooter in his driver side door, writing it off and skinning my shins in the process!
After that it has been cars and pedal cycles ever since and although I would really love another scooter, it may be that the nearest I will get to it is one of these bicycles with a built in electric motor – and THAT along with a new mobile phone and a new laptop computer, is what I am saving Christmas and birthday money for at present!
You may be wondering what has prompted this strange little discourse, apparently out of nothing, and it was thinking fondly about that Vespa T5 from nearly 30 years ago that touched it off.
I was then reminded of a true story of one of my work colleagues from a job I had a couple of years before I retired. I’ll call him “Bob” (which wasn’t his name) and he was what he considered a “real biker”! That is to say he rode an unnecessarily powerful motorbike of the sort where you almost lay along the fuel tank and had a contempt for almost any other form of road transport especially those that had the fuel tank under the seat (which of course describes both my Honda 90 and the Vespa)!
He also had a computer desktop display bearing the words “Scooters are ridden by men who like to feel the wind on their vaginas!” which you will not be surprised to know I found more than a little offensive.
Until, that is, I found out that his main hobby was collecting large scale “Superhero action figures”. I found this out because on one occasion he had a couple of them delivered to the office and I had to sign for them.
I could not resist taking a measure of payback for the remark about scooters by calling out very loudly “Bob! Your dollies have arrived!”
Revenge was sweet!