I am accident prone and wont to make snap decisions. At fourteen I bought my first bicycle, second-hand, for a pound, and learned to ride it. It was a heavy, characterless brute, with only one gear. A month later I went on my first real journey, to visit an aunt. She was out, so I thought the Crystal Palace is only a little further, six miles in all. After the Crystal Palace, I went on, and to cut a long story short, I found reasons every time I reached the goal to go to the next one, until I found myself on the beach at Hastings, 50 miles from home, at about two in the afternoon. I celebrated by sitting on the stony beach for an hour. I recall a marvelous name from the journey, a village called Peas Pottage. On the return, Pole Hill and River Hill were like crawling up the side of the Eiger. Twice I fell asleep standing on the pedals, going up the hill, and finished in the gutter with the bike on top. I arrived home near midnight – my reception was ambivalent, but I now had a taste for long rides on the bone-shaker. Today I would have been run over on that hill.
My first cycle accident was bizarre. Cycling up a steep hill, the handcart in front of me pulled out to pass a parked car; I pulled out to pass the cart, a taxi coming behind pulled out to pass me, we were strung out across the road like washing on a line. A cyclist coming down the hill at speed, shot out into the centre of the road to avoid hitting the cab head on, instead he chose to hit me. I flew over my handlebars, his handlebars and landed up the road. My front wheel was a mess. On the second accident, seated on my bike, supported on one pedal on the kerb, feet on the handle bar, waiting for a friend, an idiot on a racing bike, his hands on the low grips, cycling head down, ran straight into the back of me. I got his address, met his mother and that was that – a shut front door. No 3. Crash was on a wet morning with the rain teeming down. Stopped in the middle of the High Street, waiting to turn right, with a tram in the distance coming towards me, suddenly I was hit from behind by a motorcycle and I skated along the tramlines like a stone in the Scottish game of curling, until I was brought up against the cow-catcher device on the front of the tram which was shuddering to a halt.
The Bizarre World Of The Hospital There was one accident which outshone all the rest. I had a ‘new’ one-pound bike with three gears – a flying machine! Two friends and I set out. They were putting new bikes through their paces, mine needed servicing. Unfortunately my brakes were almost non-existent. >From the top of a hill, coming down at speed towards a major cross road, the others stopped at the junction; I went on, and on, until I was brought up short by the handle of the rear door of a car against my head behind the ear. That was the last I heard until I awoke in hospital. Apparently I lay in the road saying words I could have been expelled for, being given brandy, and when I came to, a policeman was beside the bed asking me what had happened. I was able to tell him that I had been hit by a motorcycle,. That ended police enquiries. A distraught mother, hat askew, scarf equally awry from her hurried departure from home, informed me I had broken my back, and I was on boards and not allowed to move. In fact I had a week in hospital with a cracked skull, a broken collarbone, a cracked arm and concussion, beside minor contusions. In a fracture ward full of characters, the atmosphere between the patients and the nurses was a little like prison where the old lags know the warders and all the dodges – then. broken legs could mean months in hospital. The familiarity was an eye-opener to a fourteen year old. The man in the next bed, run over by a lorry loaded with bricks, had separated his chest area from his pelvis. It was greeted by all as a miracle that he had lived, let alone that he could now walk with only a slight limp, because one leg was shorter than the other. Then there was the bookmaker who was wheeled from ward to ward as a living and breathing reference to the skills of the staff and the surgeons in particular. They ignored the fact that it was also a demonstration of what could happen to a welsher at Epsom Downs. Of course he may ‘have seen the light’, people often do under those circumstances. Apparently at the closing of a bad day, he had been sneaking off when someone thrust a knife into his heart and the surgeons not only got him from Epsom to Tooting, they took the knife out of him and sewed up his heart. I think some of the men tried to embarrass me to pass the time, their stories were pretty lurid, especially about the night nurses, but I had been brought up to respect women, I was surrounded by them, so I took the jokes in the spirit intended. In short order I was put in a cot on the balcony, overlooking a square of grass, with windows opened every day and life totally transformed from the ward. There I met a man who had to stand considerable banter because he had fallen on ice on the front steps. of a brothel. On leaving, after breakfast, he slipped on the steps and broke his leg. The flood-gates really opened when the ward heard that little tit-bit. My education in barely a week was enormous.