It was blue, a sort of mid-blue. The chrome was a flaking and pitted, with rust spots showing through. But it was my first trike. This was early in 1948. It just appeared one day, presented to me by my father in an apologetic way. He told me it wasn’t new and that trikes are hard to come by and that he’d painted it for me. I may have said at some time that blue was my favourite colour, or it may have been that paint was scarce and that was the only colour he could get. I don’t know where he got the trike from; probably since the ‘30s it had been lying forgotten in someone’s shed. It hadn’t been handed over to make Spitfires, battleships or munitions and had reappeared when the owner was clearing out the shed and decided he had no further use for it, or perhaps he just needed the money.
We moved to Scotland in 1943, a few months after I was born. My father had been invalided out of the navy and after rehabilitation he was sent to Scotland to do essential war work. We lived in a flat in Edinburgh at first, in Corstorphine, near the zoo, then we moved to the bungalow across the Firth in Burntisland. I don’t know if my parents had bought the bungalow or whether they rented it, they never told me. I spent a lot of time riding my trike back and forth on the poorly metalled road outside our bungalow. It was bumpy beneath the wheels of my trike. It may have been that the building programme was interrupted by the war and when the bungalows were built there was neither the time nor the materials to finish the road properly. Not long after I’d been given the trike my brother was born.
It all happened in a calm manner; I remember no fuss. When the midwife arrived, I was in the sitting room and was asked to stay there till later. I’d been an only child for 5 years so was happy with my own company. There was a radio there but I didn’t know how to switch it on and, in any case, I don’t remember ever hearing anything of interest on it. There were some books that I could manage, some mine and some brought home from school. I remember reading and liked looking at the pictures in the encyclopaedias my parents had bought. I don’t remember learning to read and, as this was Scotland, I’d started school when I was just over three. Then there was a little bustle and I was called into my parents’ bedroom and shown this small baby. Everyone seemed pleased and I asked what he was called. They said Alexander Roderick, then they said he needs another name and I could choose one. I chose John and felt pleased. Alexander Roderick John sounded good to me. Then they said I could go. I left the bungalow and went out riding back and forth the along the road on my blue trike.
It wasn’t long after that that my friend Innes disappeared. He was an only child and lived with his mother on one of the upper floors of a tall block of flats nearby. There had never been any mention of a father, Innes had only ever mentioned his mother. There were other children at school, too, who didn’t have a father. Killed in the war they often said. Someone told me that Innes’ mother had fallen from the balcony outside their flat. Innes stopped coming to school and I never saw him again. I suppose he either went to live with relatives or was placed in a children’s home. It made me feel sad but I don’t remember crying. I didn’t know enough then about these things but later, much later, I wondered if she just couldn’t cope and had ended it all.
By 1948 the euphoria of victory had given way to a more realistic idea of what was needed to rebuild a nation battered by war. De-mob, although not complete, was well under way; rationing was to continue for some years yet, but in general there was a feeling things were beginning to recover. We had a car now, a 1938 Ford 8. A year or so later, my father was released from the necessity to contribute to the war effort and was able to look for work elsewhere. Eventually, he found another job, not in Scotland but in Taunton, Somerset and we were to live in Wellington. When the time came to move the plan was that I should accompany my father in the car while my infant brother would travel by train with my mother. We were to stop off in Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester (where I was born) to break the journey, stay with my grandmother and proceed the next day. The car had no heater, only 3 gears and a top speed of around 60mph. I don’t recall much of the journey, which is perhaps as well.
All this was in the future, but I can still remember that early spring day in Scotland when I was given a brother, and my new blue trike.
©Don Oldham 2018
A version of this memoir was published in the Western Morning News on 14th July 2018.