In 1946, though accepted, it was touch and go whether I could afford to go up to Oxford. My family were extremely poor. But somehow, with support from Hampshire County Council plus £50 per annum from the Government of Sarawak and £15 per term from my parents, I made it.
Ah. But another snag: I’d never owned a bicycle. However, my mother located a secondhand specimen for me. For £5. It was a beauty! 1926 Lady’s model, sit-up-and-beg, with a basket in front and a back carrier, a gear or two, and with strings radiating from rear mudguard to hub to prevent one’s skirts from getting tangled in the spokes. (Unfortunately I removed them, thinking my short wartime skirts made them unnecessary — and then the New Look came in with its ankle length garments.)
I christened it Amalia.
Amalia had several adventures. One day she had to go in to the bicycle shop in Broad Street for a minor repair. When I went to collect her she was nowhere to be seen. In vain we searched every room. Finally we went down to the cellar. There she stood, among the penny farthings.
Another time I bicycled with my cello on board to a rehearsal in the Music Room. It was a bitter cold night and snow lay in frozen ridges along the roads. Just outside Keble College, Amalia tipped over. My cello tobogganed ahead into the darkness. Miraculously, it was unhurt.
My most worrying time was when Amalia was stolen. Now I should mention that the handlebar had a tiny snib that one could switch up to lock it so that it could not turn to right or left. I habitually did so. I was very sad to lose my essential and beloved transport. But about a week later, lo! Amalia reappeared outside my college. In the basket was a note saying ‘This is the worst bicycle I have ever stolen. You can have it back.’
Amalia travelled many miles — even around the Dordogne on a family holiday. We five were a hybrid lot: two Moltons, one Raleigh, and Amalia with me on the saddle and our little daughter on the back carrier. Progress was leisurely, as by then the brakes were worn out and the rear wheel rim crumbling. We had to walk uphill and walk downhill.
In 1987 a house move necessitated an end to a happy relationship. That gallant old lady was for the dump. However, she was rescued by an antiques dealer who rushed to the rescue and who paid £5 to charity.