John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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I learn to ride a bike

Early Days

Summer 1962

David Rotheram, school photos, 1962 and 1965
 1. David Rotheram had been in my class at Fleetwood Grammar School for the whole of the school year, from when we started in September 1961 till we broke up in July 1962, so his face and manner were familiar to me; but I don’t recall having any particular relationship of friendship with him during that time. And we didn’t live particularly near to each other, that we should accidentally come across each other out of school: I lived in Fleetwood Road, Thornton, and he lived over two miles away in Cleveleys. So I don’t remember how I came to be round, one summer afternoon, at his house in Bedford Avenue, a cul-de-sac off Cumberland Avenue, near where the latter road crossed the Blackpool to Fleetwood tramway. Other members of his family were also present: his Mum and little sister ’Nita and baby brother Christopher. His Dad may have been at work. Whether his older brother Bob, or the brother about a year younger than he, Raymond, were also there, I don’t remember.

(1950’s map and modern map taken from Lancashire County Council Maps and Related Information Online)
 2. What I do remember is his asking me if I’d like to go cycling to some place or other, which was fine—apart from one problem, as I told him to his great surprise: “Er, I can’t ride a bike!”[1] However, they promptly wheeled a bike out of the shed, and there and then in the street they sat me on the saddle and proceeded to wheel me down towards the blind end of the street, to my embarrassment in front of little ’Nita, who, although she was several years younger than my twelve years, could ride a bike.
 “What are you doing?”
 “Teaching John to ride a bike.”
 To me, in an incredulous sing-song semi-taunt: “What, can’t you ride a bike?”
 Quite soon, they let go of me, and as I pedalled, the bike didn’t fall to the left when I depressed the left pedal, as on previous attempts. It was as if something clicked into place in my brain—something previously missing but, once there, seemed almost as if it had always been there. The art of balancing, once acquired, felt so obvious and easy to accomplish. It felt almost instinctive, and had nothing to do with any conscious effort of leaning to the left when depressing the right pedal, or leaning to the right when depressing the left. It was so exhilarating, sitting on a “two-wheeler” bike, moving along at some speed—rather than toppling over as soon as I touched the pedals. The only problem I encountered was when I reached the end of the cul-de-sac; the handlebars just wouldn’t turn like they do on a three-wheeler. However, I soon discovered the technique of turning corners by leaning.
[1] “…I can’t ride a bike!”: How constructive and affirming of one’s self-esteem was their response to this objection, as compared with Alan Holt’s humiliating, negative and damaging reaction! (See Alan Holt.)
 3. And after that, you just couldn’t keep me off bikes; I may have been making up for all the lost years when most kids could ride bikes but I couldn’t. My learning to ride a bike was Stage One in my “humanisation”. That is how I thought of it. There were several things that other boys could do, and did, that I didn’t or couldn’t do. Riding a bike was one. Swimming was another; I was still using an inflatable rubber ring when I went to Beechwood Baths with Mum and Dad and Steven.
[more] I can’t remember any of the others.[2] But because of these things I felt less than normal; and as each “other-boys’” activity was achieved by me, I felt that I was one step further towards “humanisation”.
[2] Several things… I can’t remember any more: Perhaps they were the items listed by Alan Holt in his tirade—see Alan Holt.
My first bike
 4. My first bike was one that my Dad assembled: where he got the frame and other bits from, I don’t know. I seem to remember that it had a longer-than-usual pale blue frame, and thick, black rubber handlebar-grips. It had a single rear sprocket: it didn’t have the facility to change gear, either Sturmey Archer gears in a thickened hub, or derailleur gears in a block of different sized sprocket-wheels.

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