Howard Croft column: Era when ‘two on a bike’ led to swoop by police

Riding two on a bike was once taken very seriously the police.
Riding two on a bike was once taken very seriously the police.

From time to time my twin sister Denise and I get reminiscing about our childhood. Given that we were seldom out of each other’s company from birth – indeed from before birth, of course – until we went to different secondary schools at 11, it is surprising that our early recollections differ so much. For example, as a toddler Denise tore some electrical flex out of a wall and applied the live wires to her wrist, an incident that she claims to recollect. Although present at this dramatic moment, I have no recollection of it. That it happened is not in doubt; my mother, also present but not paying proper attention, occasionally spoke of it and my sister to this day bears the scars of the electrical burn on her wrist.

This she believes is her earliest memory. My own attempts to conjure up my earliest recollection were usually dismissed by our mother with the words, “He’s making stuff up now, don’t listen to him”. It was only recently that I stumbled upon what must be my first self-conscious moment, and I too have a bodily mark, an imperfection if you like, to bear me out.

It happened like this. I was sitting in the waiting area at York hospital wearing only a short nightie, the type with no back for maximum indignity, and in an attempt to take my mind off what I knew was coming I studied my own knees. My book had been confiscated. Just above my right knee I have a small red birthmark about the size of a 5p piece to which I had not previously given much thought, not being one for admiring my own knees. And it came to me, a vivid recollection from the past of noticing this minor blemish and trying to pick it up and get rid of it. I would, I suppose, have been about two – or, very much younger if my mother’s claims about “the twins’” achievements on the child development front are to be believed.

This realisation led to other memories flooding back.

Do you remember as I do, the importance that policemen – being aware of the importance of political correctness, I suppose I should say “police officers,” although I don’t recall ever seeing a lady policeman from those days – attached to the serious criminal offence of “two on a bike”. Take a passenger on the crossbar, or the rack above the rear wheel, and a bobby would appear from nowhere shouting “Here, you! Two on a bike!”

I didn’t understand then (this was before “health and safety” took hold with its icy grip), and to this day still don’t, why this minor infringement, indeed why it is an infringement at all, was taken so seriously.

The roads around the house I lived in were empty of moving or parked cars, the only powered vehicle we ever saw were electric milk floats; coal, milk, vegetables were all delivered by horse drawn carts – even tea, Rington’s.

It is not as if East Hull was an especially low crime area; indeed there were two murders in the immediate locality – one an early example of killing so beloved of tabloid journalists and termed by them as “gay slayings,” the other of a coal merchant, missing believed murdered, but no body was found, though a case was made if I remember correctly. There was quite a search for him and the two gardens adjacent to ours were dug up by a posse of policemen in dungarees.

Ours was not touched as it was obvious that it had not seen a spade since the commencement of hostilities in 1939. My father, not a keen gardener, was furious to have missed out.

But the police were keen – certainly on bicycle crime. I remember walking across the city, about five miles, wheeling my bike because I was late setting off for home and had no lights. I wasn’t a particularly law-abiding boy I don’t think, but I was timid and the near certainty of being nabbed (a bobby behind every privet hedge it seemed) kept me straight. The penalty was a ten shilling fine, 50p in the new money, and for that kind of money you could have a week in a caravan in Withernsea.

Or, a clip round the ear. Those were the days, eh, officer?