Gwen Cook: cycle trainer
Feeling the wind in my hair, smelling the smells and hearing the birdsong
"I can remember exactly when I started cycling, it was in 1952. I had been desperate to ride a bike, but as I hadn't got one, that desperation just got worse. Then one day, I came home and I saw a rusty old bike leaning up against the wall where I lived. It had two flat tyres, a very rough saddle, and was rusted all over. When I got upstairs, I discovered that my dad had bought it – for me! I was thrilled."
But it wasn't just a matter of jumping on and riding it; as Gwen soon discovered, fixing it was to be her job, alone.
"Dad said to me 'right, get it sorted and learn to ride it by Monday or else it's going back'. Well, I had no choice in the matter and it really was just a question of getting on with it. He must have come out from time to time to oversee what I was up to, but that's all the help he gave me. Once I had fixed it, I still had to learn to ride it, but I was determined to do it, and I did."
By Monday, the bike looked good, but Gwen's hands had taken a bit of punishment.
"My hands were red raw from scrubbing the rust off with steel wool. They were so sore. And my knees were like cauliflowers where I'd been kneeling down for long periods at a time. But I had managed to sort it out as he'd told me. Most importantly, I'd also learnt to ride it. I went up and down the road again and again until I worked out how to balance and steer. Then I pedalled and braked and I kept at it all day. By Monday morning, I'd cracked it and Dad let me keep the bike!"
From that early beginning, Gwen has never looked back as far as cycling is concerned.
"I have never been seduced by the attractions of a car or motorcycle. I don't know if it was because I'd worked so hard and almost made my bike, but it became something that I just lived my life around. When it finally gave up the ghost, I got another, and carried on riding."
It remained her primary means of transport through out her working life and in later years.
"In the 1960s I worked as a tourist guide and it was very rare to see another cyclist in the city. If you saw one, you would always wave quite excitedly. Then in about the 1980s, somebody invented the mountain bike and cycling became popular again. I was delighted!"
"I spent most of my working life as a lawyer of some description. I worked all over London and travelled everywhere by bike. There were many times where I would cut it a bit fine and had to dash into court with a bike pump in one hand and a sheaf of legal papers in the other. I packed up work in 2003."
During her cycling 'career' Gwen became quite adept at maintaining her bicycle.
"I had to really, particularly as it was how I got out and about. I wouldn't describe myself as a mechanic but I'm quite competent at keeping a bike on the road in good condition. I did have a bit of a baptism of fire!"
Although she officially finished work in 2003, Gwen was soon back at work, this time as a Travel Plan Advisor, working to get children cycling. Eighteen months later, she replied to an advert for cycle instructors.
"That was in Acton, run by Cycle Training UK, and as a result, I worked as a cycle instructor for three years. I loved it. I was getting paid to ride my bike."
"It’s something I love doing – that feeling of not needing money to travel around, feeling the wind in my hair, seeing and sensing so much more, smelling the smells and hearing the birdsong. It's lovely, and I think that's really what cycling is all about for me."