Josie Dew's tribute to her Dad

Josie Dew's father on his bike in 1939
Cycling UK's Vice President remembers how her father really encouraged her to ride a bike and have the confidence to go on cycling adventures.

The Christmas before last my dad suddenly died. One minute he was here, merrily singing Christmas carols with my three young children, and the next he was away with the fairies – or somewhere like that. It felt odd without him. Apart from the decades I had spent cycling on and off around the world I had always lived very close to him.

Dad was born in London in 1934 into a family of builders based in Earl’s Court. The building firm, Lewis Frank Dew & Son, was run by his grandfather and his father Frank, a boxer in his spare time, was a respected bricklayer. At the outbreak of war Frank was recruited into the fire service which is where he stayed, saving countless lives, until he retired in his sixties.  

When I was growing up I remember Dad occasionally cycling his father’s old Raleigh Wayfarer but he was much more a motorcyclist than a cyclist (he had spent years thundering around the country on his ramshackle BSA Bantam). Later he got into cars (old MGs, Triumph Spitfires etc) so my love for cycling definitely didn’t come from him. Or from mum, a pianist, for that matter. Between the ages of one and three mum occasionally took me out on her purple and pink step-through-frame Bermuda bike. It had a rusty metal child seat on the rear (no straps or padding) which I only fell out of once.

Despite his lack of cycling Dad was a constant presence in my life for exactly 50 years. Whether I was in this country or on the other side of the world he always liked me to ring as often as I could so he knew how I was and where I was. I have a thousand things to thank him for but one of the main ones was allowing me leave school at 16. Although he believed strongly in a good education (he was the first in his family to have one – all his relations had gone straight into the building trade or similar as children) he never once tried to persuade me to go to college or university. When I was 15 and set up my bike-delivery cooking business he was enthusiastic to help in any way he could. When I was 17 and had made a bit of money and wanted to cycle off across Europe and North Africa he never tried to discourage me.

I had been smitten by the bike bug when I was 10; all I wanted to do was ride my bike all day every day. Mum and Dad allowed me go off alone for a few hours riding here and there but by the time I was 11 and 12 things had improved and they tended to let me spend the whole day out on my bike. It was at this age that I remember well a conversation that Dad had with his father Frank. Grandad had been living at home with us for several years ever since his wife Doris had died. I was in the kitchen when Granddad, (who was normally always in jovial spirit) suddenly turned uncharacteristically serious and said to Dad that he didn’t think it was a good idea at all to let me go cycling off around the country lanes by myself.

This, I think, had been spurred by an awful story that was in the news at the time: the disappearance of Genette Tate. In the middle of the afternoon of the 19 August 1978, Genette, a 13-year-old school girl, was cycling in a quiet country lane within sight of her home village in Aylesbeare, Devon. She had been delivering newspapers on her bicycle when she suddenly disappeared. Her bicycle and scattered newspapers were found lying in the middle of the lane by two friends with whom she had spoken minutes earlier. A maroon car had been spotted in the lane around the time of her disappearance, and police believed she had been abducted. She was never found.

When I heard Grandad express his concerns about my cycling alone I got very worried thinking dad was going to clamp down on my freedom. But instead he said a breezy, ‘Don’t worry, dad. She’ll be alright!’

The amazing thing about Dad was that he never seemed to be too worried about all the years I spent cycling off alone (whether it was around the lanes when I was young or around the world when I was older). He seemed to have this positivity and confidence that I would be fine.

Josie Dew, Cycling UK Vice President

The amazing thing about Dad was that he never seemed to be too worried about all the years I spent cycling off alone (whether it was around the lanes when I was young or around the world when I was older). He seemed to have this positivity and confidence that I would be fine. When I was much older Mum told me that while she lay awake at night with a knot in her stomach hoping and praying I would be alright, Dad always slept like a log.

Dad had some funny foibles. Before I headed off alone on my bike to some distant land or continent he had a habit of handing me a bundle of cuttings from newspapers about murders, riots, disorder, uprisings or some gruesome story that had just happened in the country I was about to ride across. The day before I left to cycle across America dad gave me an article he had cut out with the headline: Murder Toll in U.S. Hits 24,000. This murder toll was ‘the highest in U.S. history...the record carnage will continue to skyrocket in the days, months and years ahead...’

With that fluttery-stomached feeling you get just before you head off alone on your bike for multiple months in a new land I can’t say these cuttings were exactly what I wanted to hear, but they certainly kept me on my toes which I presume was Dad’s aim.

Before I cycled around New Zealand in 2004 I had never travelled with a mobile phone. Emails and social media had never been available for all my travels over the years. And a good thing too. Life ‘on the road’ was nice and simple. Nothing to try and plug in or charge up. I kept in contact with home via sporadic postcards, letters (those lovely long-distance air letters with the extra thin blue writing paper and the diagonal red and blue stripes around the border), post-restante (where any main post office will hold letters and packages until the recipient calls for it) and keeping a small amount of change that I would use in temperamental phone-boxes that tended to smell like old urinals.

Whenever I rang home I rather hoped Mum would answer instead of Dad. This was because not only was it so good to hear Mum’s huge sense of happy relief in her voice when she answered the phone and realised it was me, but because conversation tended to be less of a format than with Dad. Mum would first ask how I was and where I was. "Jose! How are you? Where are you?" was always her opener.  An answer like "north of Kansas" or "south of Agra" or "east of Nagasaki" or "west of Quito" was enough for mum. What mattered most was that I was alive and happy. We would then cram as much excitable chit- chat in as possible before my coins ran out.

Dad, of course, was always pleased to hear from me too but his conversation was much more matter-of-fact. He would spend practically the whole phone call trying to position me exactly on the map. Pin-pointing, I called the procedure. Dad kept a map by the phone so that he could try and locate my exact position. Sometimes this pin-pointing routine was relatively pain-free. But more often than not, if Dad’s map wasn’t detailed enough which it invariably wasn’t, it was a lengthy trying-to-find-a-needle-in-a-haystack type of pastime. And quite expensive too. As Dad wavered over the map with his magnifying glass time ticked and the telephone ate more and more of my coin-dropping change.

I remember one conversation I had when I was 21. I was in the middle of what I thought might be a 2-week bike trip alone around the Netherlands but which in fact turned into a 6-month 7000 mile round adventure of all of Scandinavia (including Iceland), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland and France. I was in Norway and had not long crossed the Arctic Circle. I’d ridden over multiple mountain passes, survived snowstorms and near-hypothermia when I came across a  phonebox standing all alone among the grandeur of the windblown mountains and fjords. I stepped inside for two reasons: one to get out of the freezing wind and the other to phone home. Dad answered and the following conversation went like this:

‘Hi Dad – it’s me!’

 ‘Jose! Where are you?’

‘I’m still in Norway. I’ve just crossed the Arctic Circle!’

‘Let me get my glasses – then I can try and spot you on the map. Now where have I put them...? I think they’re in the, wait a minute... I think I left them in the bathroom when I was shaving...’

I dropped more money into the box. ‘Is Mum there?’ I asked, hoping I could talk to her instead of paying the silent void while Dad went to hunt for his glasses.

‘No, she’s gone out. Wait there, I won’t be a minute.’

Time ticked and money fell.

Finally, the sound of shuffling, a door closing and dad was back. ‘Right...I’m back! I’ve just found my magnifying glass too! Now where did you say you were again?’

‘In Norway. Near the Arctic Circle. I’m just south of Bodo.’

‘Bodo? Where’s that?’

‘Just north of the Arctic Circle!  On the coast.’

‘Bodo...Bodo...I can’t see it.’

I pushed more money into the slot.

‘I'm near the coast. Can you see Trondheim?’

‘Trondheim? I did see it before. Let me see. Now, where’s Trondheim gone?’

‘If you can’t see Trondheim can you see Tromso?’

Tromso? Where’s that?’

‘About 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. That’s where I’m heading next.’

‘Tromso...Tromso...No, I can’t find Tromso either. Ah, Trondheim! I’ve just found Trondheim!’

‘Phew! Now head up the coast and you should see Tromso.’

‘Tromso. Where’s Tromso? Ahh, here it is! Right, I’ve got Tromso! Are you all the way up there? I thought you were much further south!’

‘Well, I was when I last rang you! Although I’m not actually in Tromso. I’m near...’ And then my money ran out. And that was that until the next long-winded money-eating pin-pointing conversation. But then, in retrospect, these dad-daughter going-round-the-houses conversations were much more memorable and fun than a modern-day matter-of-fact ten-worded text.