PN: Have you always been a cyclist?
JY: Yes, I started cycling as a young child, when I lived in a rural community. My mum and I particularly enjoyed cycling, and it was our main mode of transport. We lived in Layer Breton, and the bus service was very limited, so we used to cycle up to the old Birch post office on the Maldon Road, leave our bikes there, and get the Maldon or Tiptree bus into town and back. In those days you could leave the bikes unlocked, and they’d still be there at the end of the day. So cycling was an essential link to the regular bus service for us.
PN: Has cycling remained an important part of your life?
JY: Yes, I’ve continued to cycle all my life, although it’s currently more of a choice than a necessity. But in my younger days it was essential. My parents separated when I was 18, and I went to live in Layer de la Haye with my mum. My dad stayed in Layer Breton, so I rode to see him a couple of times a week. And I was a member of Birch choir, so I cycled there regularly too. When I see the congestion in the town centre these days I, like a lot of people, would like to see much more cycling provision to alleviate the need for short car journeys of two miles or less.
PN: How about the rest of the family?
JY: After I got married, I continued using the bike, as we only had one car, and I cycled a lot with the children, the youngest in a seat on the back of my bike. I carried on working after having the first two kids, but we were in Stanway when Keir was born, and I used to cycle with him to nursery in Copford. I encouraged all of the children to learn to ride a bike. Keir took to it when he was really young, he sped off very easily, much to the excitement of the family. They all still cycle. Harriet, my eldest, lives in Brighton and we got her a bike with a basket for Christmas, she rides to the gym and back, with a baguette or two in the basket! And Keir has a bike at University, another Christmas present. We got him a fold-up bike which is really useful to get around the campus, which I think is the biggest in the UK.
At different points in my life, I’ve depended on bicycles, when I was growing up, and before we had a car. It’s something I’d never have considered not teaching my children, it’s like learning to swim, it’s an important life skill. I can’t recall them getting any cycling tuition at school, but both girls cycled to St Benedict’s College every day. For a child, it’s probably their first experience of real freedom, going further than you can by walking, and making a choice about where to go without involving your parents.
PN: So what do you enjoy most about cycling?
JY: I really like the sense of being in the open air, even when I’m cycling in traffic. There’s that feeling of freedom and a real buzz when you’re travelling downhill. But like a lot of people, I probably intend to cycle much more than I actually do.
My inspiration was my mother, she was born in 1925, and told me joyous accounts of growing up at Gatehouse Farm in Birch. She would cycle to a dance at the Town Hall, and if it wasn’t lively enough, she’d cycle to one in Tolleshunt d’Arcy. When we were kids, she cycled with us to Walton or Clacton. So it’s just always been the expectation and experience I’ve had as part of family life.