Between the age of seven and nine, only two remain clearly in my mind. The first lasted not more than five seconds, but I will never forget it.
It was my first term, and I was walking home across the village green after school when suddenly one of the senior twelve-year-old boys came riding full speed down the road on his bicycle about twenty yards away from me. The road was on a hill and the boy was going down the slope, and as he flashed by, he started back-pedalling very quickly so that the free-wheeling mechanism of his bike made a loud whirring sound. At the same time, he took his hands off the handlebars and folded them casually across his chest. I stopped dead and stared after him. How wonderful he was! How swift and brave and graceful in his long trousers with bicycle-clips around them and his scarlet school cap at a jaunty angle on his head! One day, I told myself, one glorious day I will have a bike like that, and I will wear long trousers with bicycle-clips and my school cap will sit jauntily on my head and I will go whizzing down the hill pedalling backwards with no hands on the handlebars!
I promise you that if somebody had caught me by the shoulder at that moment and said to me, ‘What is your greatest wish in life, little boy? What is your absolute ambition? To be a doctor? A fine musician? A painter? A writer? Or the Lord Chancellor?’ I would have answered without hesitation that my only ambition, my hope, my longing was to have a bike like that and to go whizzing down the hill with no hands on the handlebars. It would be fabulous. It made me tremble just to think about it.
- The senior boy came riding very fast down the road.
- As he passed me he started back-pedalling.
- I stopped immediately and watched him.
- I will go riding fast down the hill.
- My wish was to have a bike like that.
- It would be very nice.