The life of a middle child can be somewhat solitary, especially when your brother is nine years older than you and your sister not yet old enough to be an interesting playmate. I found my own amusements, one of those learning to ride a bike and being able to venture forth alone into the wider world. Most of my early years play was on my own, my only company my own imagination. One day, probably about the age of six, I was investigating the darkest corners of our old overcrowded shed, when my curiosity rested on Mum’s old bike resting in the corner.
The bike and I weren’t complete strangers. When I was much smaller I’d travelled around town with my mother, perched in a tiny seat above the back wheel behind her. At first she’d pick me up and place me in the seat, but eventually I preferred climbing up on my own without her help. My instructions were clear when riding in that seat – hold on tight to the seat and don’t let go. There were no child safety restraints in the 50s. I must also sit still, very still, otherwise my mother might wobble and we’d both crash to the ground. So I sat in obedience, part terrified, part thrilled by moving effortlessly through the air, my feet far above the ground, my feet resting on little footrests to avoid them straying into the spokes.
The risks seemed high – mangled feet, falling from my perch, or movement that caused my mother to wobble and crash – all enough to keep my four year old body rigid with fear. Yet the excitement was even greater. I felt so grownup to be moving on wheels and so envious of my mother’s riding skill. I’d laugh and declare to the world that I was king of the castle.