I never had a bike when I was a kid, I always assumed it was because my mother couldn’t afford to buy me one (get your violins out) but I asked her about it recently and she told me it was because she was worried about my safety and didn’t want me racing around the London streets on one. Nice to know she cared, though I don’t know what she thought I was doing in the summer holidays when she was out at work but I certainly wasn’t safely at home playing Ker-Plunk.
I actually didn’t need a bike of my own to risk life and limb on the road when I had plenty of mates who did and were only too willing to give me lift on theirs, either perched on the handlebars or the back seat. My mum would have had kittens if she’d seen me squeezed onto the back of my cousin Martin’s Chopper bike, facing backwards and legs akimbo, while he peddled wobbly along major traffic death traps like Hammersmith Broadway and Fulham Palace Road, narrowly avoiding cars and buses left and right. Needless to say we didn’t wear helmets or any kind of safety gear (had that stuff even been invented in the 1970s, and if it had would we have worn it?) but when you’re a kid you think you’re indestructible and just bounce from one scrape to another without a second thought with your elbows and knees permanently covered in grazes and scabs.
London was literally our playground back then and we’d go all over the city on our own, all we needed were some bikes or a 25p all-day Red Rover ticket for the bus. The idea of a gang of grubby little boys tearing around London all sounds a bit “Lord Of The Flies” compared to how children are raised these days when “responsible” parents aren’t supposed to let their children out without an armour of protective padding and a grown-up to hold their hand (if they go anywhere at all that is) as the news would have you believe there’s a bogeyman lurking around every corner and behind every hedge. Obviously my mum did care about our safety (or she would have bought me a bike!) but there was a level of trust that seems to have gone now, not just trust in us, but trust in the outside world not to do anything to us. Not that I didn’t get into trouble, there was a fair bit of window-smashing and shoplifting mixed in with all our innocent tearaway fun, but nothing really serious — I never stabbed anyone for their mobile phone — and what’s childhood without scabby knees and the occasional talking to from a Copper?
I do have a bike now, my wife bought me one a few years ago (one of the best presents I’ve ever got) and when I take it out now I’m too chicken to ride on busy roads and get nervous when a car goes by me, but I still don’t wear a helmet and when I go fast on it I get the same sense of happy freedom I had when I was a scruffy young tyke bombing around London on the back of my cousin’s bike. Only now I’ve finally got my own.
Download: Bike – Pink Floyd (mp3)
Download: My White Bicycle – Tomorrow (mp3)