Coronavirus Cycling

We are pleased that our house overlooks what is unfortunately known as the Suds Basin but which has a circular cinder path around the so-called basin. As the playpark for the kids has been shut due to lockdown, this has become a popular area for the children to ride their bikes round.

suds basin

And round and round they go; some are super confident and have races with each other, the smaller siblings trying desperately to keep up with the older ones. But it’s the toddlers on their balance bikes that I love watching, from their first tentative attempts at pushing them along to eventually whizzing down the slope just as fast as the older brothers and sisters. These bikes apparently teach them how to balance quicker than  ones with stabilisers so that they can graduate to pedal bikes at a younger age.

balance bike

The first bikes at the start of the nineteenth century were like that, and known as hobbyhorses, with the young gentlemen scooting along the highways just like today’s toddlers. But as they were heavy on the shoe leather, Doc Martins being unknown then, they did not prove popular. Then in the 1830’s the pedal bike was invented; some claim that Kirkpartick Macmillan from Dumfries was the one who should be credited, and cycling really took off with women also learning to ride.


My own experiences of learning to ride a bike were rather fraught. My parents rode a tandem so in order that I did not curtail their outings, my father acquired an old sidecar from a motor bike and affixed it to the tandem. I did not enjoy the view, six inches from the ground, of two pairs of muscly legs, one decorated with immense  varicose veins, going like the clappers. Looking back, it’s a wonder the sidecar did not separate from the tandem as they rounded bends or rode across Glasgow’s tram lines.

tandem + sidecar c1948

I graduated eventually to a red tricycle, second-hand of course, which I had for many years until I eventually mastered the art of riding a two-wheeler. My method was to prop the bike against a wall and try to climb on putting both feet on the pedals before actually moving. If I had been able to do that, I’d have joined the circus!


Today’s children are so much more confident and it’s a great way to use their hour of exercise this way. Their parents are also joining in so maybe after lockdown eases, we’ll have many more bikes on the road and a lot less cars.

If you’re interested in what it was like growing up after World War Two, then read A Scottish Childhood, a compilation of the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories.

A Scottish Childhood: Growing up a Baby Boomer.

I’m delighted to announce my latest book, A Scottish Childhood: Growing up a Baby Boomer has now been published. I’ve collected together all the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories, before, sadly, it closed. A Scottish Childhood

I’ve added an introduction and more photos that my father took of us growing up in the West of Scotland after the Second World War. He was a keen amateur photographer, winning prizes for his work and publishing photos in newspapers and magazines. One of his pictures was also used for an advert for bicycle saddles!

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light. The marriage broke up and eventually I decided that I wanted very little to do with him as I blamed him for the distressing circumstances we found ourselves in. It was only after his death when my brother handed over photographs and journals which my father had compiled that I was able to reappraise the man he was and learn to my astonishment that he too, had been a writer.

As I looked through the photographs which he had taken, it brought vividly to life happier times in my childhood and this book celebrates those days.

The book is available on Amazon.

Some Scottish memories…..

I received my copy of the August edition of Scottish Memories magazine today in which I have two articles; one on youth hostelling when I was a child and the other on my early schooldays which I loathed. They’re illustrated with some of the many photographs my father took of me and which served to jog my memory about events in the fifties. Photos are a great starting point for all sorts of writing – poetry, short stories, articles, anything at all can be triggered by them.

I’ve used old photos a lot for my articles for Scottish Memories but unfortunately they stop when I was about 8 or 9, which was when my father left us, but that’s another story.

However, I did find stashed away at the back of a cupboard, his photojournals written in the 1930’s when he was a young single guy in his twenties, and illustrated with his own photos. They tell of his trips round the UK on his tandem with his new girlfriend who eventually became my mother. I spent last summer transcribing his words – all 26,000 of them – as they were written in a white ink on the black photo album paper and were suffering the effects of age. But what do do with them? They provide a fascinating glimpse of a time leading up to the second world war as well as making me reassess my opinion of him, much coloured by his actions when I was a child.

Here’s a taste of them:

The Modern Magic Carpet 5th October 1937

Many people who have looked at my previous efforts at photography have kindly(?) remarked ‘You must have a very good camera.’ Although my tandem is to be seen in most of the pictures, it occasions little comment other than the usual ill informed ‘Cycling must be hard work!’ As the bicycle has been so much taken for granted, one tends to forget just what a wonderful invention it is. A collection of steel tubes, wire, rubber, leather and other materials, fashioned by a master hand can yield a steed capable of carrying its owner (probably 5-10 times its own weight) to the ends of the earth or merely along the street for a newspaper, according to his (or her) fancy. Bicycles can look very similar. Only when under way does the ‘class’ machine show its inherent superiority. Materials can be copied but brilliant workmanship cannot.

So at the commencement of this album I pay tribute to F.H. Grubb, the man behind the making of my tandem. Now well into its third year, it has carried me over 12,000 miles, as far north as Fort William, south to Cornwall, Wales also has passed under its rolling wheels, through fair weather and foul, speeding along smooth tarmac or bumping across desolate moors devoid of track, whatever the conditions we have emerged triumphant and always ‘arrived’. I can think of no higher praise than that bestowed by its maker when he christened it ‘The Grubb Pullman’.