John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Bike rides and the boy at Burn Naze

Early Days

Bike rides
 1. From as early as I can remember, perhaps even from when we lived at 20 Fairfield Drive, Ashton, Preston (1955 or before), there was a little red tricycle with solid rubber tyres. I guess it was regarded as our Steven’s, though later, when a larger red-framed tricycle appeared, with pneumatic tyres, the former one passed to me. Steven and I used to go on what we termed “bike rides”, though I guess, with the “bikes” having three wheels, we should have termed them “trike rides”. I may have been in Class 3 at Church Road County Primary School, Thornton, at this time, so this would be in the 1958–59 school year, and I would be aged around nine. Steven, then, would be in Class 1—or rather, I think he was in Class 1R, the one for people who hadn’t done very well at school—and he would be aged around eleven. He was perhaps a little old to be riding around on a tricycle, but that didn’t seem to bother him, even when one time we encountered mockery by his peers.

 2. We would ride on the pavement
[sidewalk], not on the road; and the sound of the wheels going over the parts that were paved with concrete slabs (as opposed to tarmac-covered parts) has been stylised in my mind to the following pattern:
BUMP bump bump bump BUMP bump bump bump BUMP bump bump bump BUMP bump bump bump
 The farthest we got in a southerly direction was the far end of Poulton Road, at Layton, and in a northerly direction, the point where West Drive joins Fleetwood Road, or perhaps just beyond, where the houses ended.
(1950’s map taken from Lancashire County Council Maps and Related Information Online)
 3. Once or twice, instead of continuing along Fleetwood Road as far as West Drive, we ventured into Burn Naze down Crabtree Road. For some reason Burn Naze has always felt like alien territory, perhaps because of the appearance of the lowering Catholic church down there, or the presence of the ICI chemical works looming ahead—with its smell which brought the words “crab apples” to mind (though I’d never smelt crab apples).
 Or perhaps it is the operation of hindsight which makes me feel this way, because of the incident I now describe.

The incident with the boy at Burn Naze
 4. This was the last time we went on tricycles to Burn Naze, because afterwards I wouldn’t cycle there again.

Click on image to enlarge
(1960’s aerial photo taken from Lancashire County Council Maps and Related Information Online)
 We may have entered down Crabtree Road from Fleetwood Road, or by way of Heys Street from Trunnah Road. There was a playground somewhere along Heys Street, with swings and the like, and we decided to go in it. Presumably we left our “bikes” (tricycles) on the pavement outside. Two boys were there, and just like Steven and me, one was bigger than the other. I think they approached us and said a few words. Then they, or the larger of the two perhaps—he may have regarded it as “his” playground, and us as intruders—started to behave in a menacing way; and it was at that point that I noticed his eyes: one looked normal with a round pupil, but the other was turned inwards and the pupil was large and irregular, as if it had been shattered.

 5. The combination of his aggression, and the shock I felt suddenly noticing his eye, made me panic, and I ran away—horrified—as fast as I could, got to my “bike” and pedalled off. I can’t remember what Steven did; he presumably followed me and caught up with me on his “bike”.

Cooper’s “thing” about eyes
 6. After that, I found that I instantly noticed any irregularities about people’s eyes,[1] and the noticing brought a feeling of consternation. Before that, even though I had observed the fact that David Chamberlain’s mother had one big pupil and one little one, noticeable because both her and David’s eyes were very light blue, it hadn’t bothered me. But now, it did. And when I learned that Rodney Greenhall’s older brother Reggie had a glass eye—he lost his eye in an air-gun accident—I felt nauseated, and dreaded the day when I should meet him.

“David Chamberlain” and “Rodney Greenhall”, from 1957 photo.
[1] I instantly noticed any irregularities about people’s eyes—and not only eyes; see Alison King.

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