The other day I saw a boy of about eight cycling on his own down the street where I live. Nothing unusual about that, you might say – but when did you last see such a sight?

It was for me yet another indication of how much our attitude to children has changed over the years.

In those days after the Second World War, most youngsters could ride bikes by the time they were eight and many of them did.

The decline in numbers of children cycling started when cars became more common in the Fifties and has continued ever since.

But there are signs that it has come to a juddering halt and I wonder if this will continue.

The lockdown helped greatly with its emphasis on exercise and decline in motorised traffic.

Sometimes I see old pictures in papers of kids with their shabby clothes, skinny frames and precious possessions such as bikes and they look almost feral.

Yet I was one of them and I remember it well. From a very young age, children were given freedoms which would seem impossible today.

They were expected on most days to go out by themselves and not return for several hours, even whole days. They got up to all sorts of things such as running round bomb sites and playing street cricket.

These kids gained an extensive and useful knowledge of the local area and I still carry much of it today. My friends had an equally broad knowledge which rescued them from many scrapes.

Most of them carried little or no money and no means of getting in touch with their parents in case of trouble.

Sometimes they would go out together but as often as not would slope off on their own, frequently covering great distances. Here are just a few things I did which were not regarded as abnormal but which would lead to parents being prosecuted now.

I had a full-size second-hand bike so big for me that when I stopped I had to fall to one side or the other. On this crate I rode through Hyde Park Corner, then said to be the busiest junction in London, just to see what it was like. The answer was perfectly OK because there was always a traffic jam which I could safely bypass.

A rare possession of mine was a Canadian wagon which I pulled along before jumping in it to take advantage of any slope.

Once I found I’d reached Northolt airport a good ten miles from my home and there was no alternative to push it back the same ten miles home.

I cycled to my grandmother’s home near Oxford when I was ten and later managed to walk there.

My younger brothers undertook equally enormous walks round and no one ever queried whether this was wise.

Like many children I quite often went to stay with various relatives in places ranging from Worthing to Plymouth.

I went on my own, lugging a heavy suitcase on to a bus to the station and buying a ticket before the journey which all seemed quite normal to me.

My mother gave me a warning about dirty old men. But she neglected to tell me what they might do and how I would recognise one. This did not matter much as I already had a pretty good idea from approaches made to me in parks and on pavements.

The only time I was at all worried was when I stopped for a pee in a particularly insalubrious pubic toilet attached to a pub. When I went in I found it fully occupied by a huge ferocious Irishman who was extremely drunk. I nipped out swiftly but he followed and almost reached me during that first sprint. But I drew ahead and used my favourite hidey hole to stop in as he went lumbering by. To me and my streetwise friends it was another adventure but parents today would be horrified to hear it.

Children are now protected to an amazing degree. I know of youngsters who have never been on a bus. They don’t travel anywhere on their own.

Look at children’s playgrounds and they are full of mothers and fathers keeping an anxious eye on their offspring.

The thought of these kids venturing out by themselves or going on long walks would fill them with horror.

There’s often a lot of friction between parents and grandparents over how much attention should be paid to children. Certainly in my family some sort of compromise has been been reached in which youngsters are neither wrapped in cotton wool nor left at the mercy of every passing paedophile.

And I can already see changes in attitude which may mean a boy on a bike is no longer a rarity.