Unfortunately, my attempts to instil bravery into my tangled being were somewhat overwhelmed by thoughts of people going over the falls in a barrel, having just had a close-up views of such a place in the movie Niagara, in which, surreally, Marilyn Monroe plays the villain.
But there was another equally stunning lady of the hour in my mind—Sophia Loren in her wild-eyed exotic general-purpose village girl days, in this case a Greek island village in the little regarded (except by me) Boy on a Dolphin.
You can tell the movie was mostly an excuse to cart the Cinemascope cameras to the glorious Technicolor possibilities of the Aegean Islands. Loren is awesome playing a simple-minded sponge-diving girl who discovers a priceless antiquity at the bottom of the sea, and is torn between selling it and making her impoverished village rich, or handing it over to the authorities in acknowledgement of her ancient heritage. The delightful Clifton Webb plays the dealer, tempting her with finery and baubles, but the whole show is badly let down by the miscasting of runty Alan Ladd as the American archaeologist, bent on preserving Greek heritage in Greek museums. It is plain that Ladd does not believe in his character one little bit, and the suggestion that the magnificent Loren might find him attractive is ludicrous. The utterly dreadful final scene makes it gruesomely obvious that the film-makers were all too aware that their central love interest story wasn’t working in the least.
Be all that as it may, what I got from it was the image of a boy riding on the back of a dolphin, and the idea just exactly how difficult that would be. Surely those shiny skins were impossibly slippery and to try and stay mounted while ploughing through the waves seemed to me to be quite out of the question. And as such, it provide the primary image for my efforts to learn to ride that infernal bicycle.
It is not an easy task to try to explain to you more normally proportioned people how something so apparently elementary could for one individual become so seemingly impossible. I was in no way physically handicapped, although there were some dissenting opinions on that point. It was just that I possessed markedly overlong limbs, arms and torso, all coupled to a brain that would concern itself with bringing complex physical operations under control only with the greatest reluctance. Conjure a picture of a giraffe on ice or a man on stilts in a gale. For this reason, I endeavoured to remain as immobile as possible, especially when there were objects about that could be bumped into, dropped, or knocked or fallen over. Traversing any room at any time, I proceeded to a chorus from agitated onlookers of ‘watch out!’ and ‘be careful!’ and ‘now look what you’ve done, you great lumbering fool’. I had learned by sorry experience to endure a life lived under such circumstances and was invariably careful to avoid placing myself in positions inherently awkward whenever possible. But sometimes there was no other option, and bicycle riding was definitely such an instance.