Aces high for sports club

LAST year was a difficult one for Sports Club 88, an organisation for over-50s who for more than 20 years have enjoyed badminton, short tennis, table tennis for two hours every Wednesday and Thursday morning at the York Road drill hall in Great Yarmouth.

LAST year was a difficult one for Sports Club 88, an organisation for over-50s who for more than 20 years have enjoyed badminton, short tennis, table tennis for two hours every Wednesday and Thursday morning at the York Road drill hall in Great Yarmouth.

Then someone in Norfolk County Council, spurred by the possibility of a handsome grant, wanted to oust this club and the other users so the interior could be partitioned into smaller units for occupation by teenagers. As alternative facilities for these sports are severely limited in the borough, many Sports Club 88 members envisaged the end of their club, victim of a council purporting to encourage the elderly to be active while pulling the figurative mat from under them.

There was an outcry, the money was not forthcoming anyway, and Sports Club 88 members and other York Road users hope the threat has receded permanently. Cynically, knowing the local government mindset, it would never surprise me if some other scheme was devised to convert this hall for alternative purposes, allegedly for the greater good.

So for weeks Sports Club 88 members looked worried and perplexed as the campaign continued, but there were also expressions of bewilderment among some for a comparatively trivial - but equally puzzling - reason. As a group of members gathered round the notice board to read the latest epistle, you could hear the muttering like: “Where's that? Never heard of it!”

They were not perusing another update in the battle to save the hall for current users, but were studying a list of the six pick-up points for the club's coach outing to the Norfolk Museum of Rural Life at Gressenhall in mid-county. On that list they were being asked by the organiser, tongue-in-cheek, to put their names down for whichever stop they preferred: among them were Caister police station, the bus depot on Caister Road in Yarmouth, Havenbridge House, Gorleston library and the Sun public house at Bradwell.

The quizzical eyebrows were provoked by the pick-up point listed between Havenbridge House and Gorleston library: the Green Ace Garage. Why? Because it was demolished yonks ago and, although remembered by a few older folk, younger members and incomers to the borough were baffled, not surprisingly.

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The white Snowcem-painted garage, with a large green diamond (ace) protruding from the roofline of its frontage and possessing a spacious forecourt with petrol pumps, occupied a prominent spot at the junction of the A12 Yarmouth-London Lowestoft Road and Middleton Road. In it final few years the establishment changed its name to Blue Star, the green diamond being succeeded by, of course, a blue star.

I think the garage closed around the time of a roundabout being constructed there in 1953. Today the area is dominated by a replacement roundabout where the busy dual-carriageway inner-link road joins Lowestoft and Middleton Roads.

Whoever wrote that tantalising Sports Club 88 notice about coach pick-up spots certainly stirred memories for me perhaps more so than others, for as a little lad I knew the Green Ace Garage well - but not as a customer, of course. Indeed, customers were comparatively few in that era, with only a handful of cars on the roads and their drivers strictly rationed for petrol.

It is a wonder the garage survived through the war and until mounting prosperity brought an increase in car ownership and family motoring.

The Green Ace was a terminus for one of the Gorleston services operated by the corporation transport department - the borough council's blue-bus operation - and it was the place where the Peggotty family boarded and alighted because we lived a five-minute stroll away. For some reason, the buses' destination blinds declared “Gorleston Station” although it was two stops short of the terminus (Poplar Avenue was the other). Later “Green Ace, Gorleston” and “Elmhurst” were alternative names for the same destination.

As regular travellers, we got to know the drivers and conductors working on the route. When I pursued the lonely hobby of collecting car numbers, the peak-capped drivers and conductors shared the wooden bench with me while they enjoyed a cigarette before returning to the “Town Centre” (the Regal Cinema).

I am not alone in living in the past as regards bus stop names. A few weeks ago correspondent Trevor Nicholls wrote from Lowestoft: “It was nice earlier this year when, asking a bus driver for a ticket to Alpha Road, to see that he looked momentarily baffled. Then he said: 'Ah! You mean the Half-Way House.'

“He, like me, could probably remember when the fare from there to South Town Station was three old pence when I started working in Yarmouth in 1965. Now I think it is 30 shillings.” In today's terms, a penny has become �1.50.

I too still refer to the Half-Way House, the pub demolished 42 years ago for road improvements, that took its name from its location midway between Yarmouth and Gorleston. As a regular bus passenger today, thanks to the free travel us passengers enjoy, I discipline myself to ask for “Market Gates” instead of “Regal” (the cinema/theatre demolished in 1989 for replacement by retail development).

In my childhood, my parents' fare from Yarmouth Regal to the Green Ace was 3�d each (just over a penny today). I have never seen a photograph of the Green Ace to remind me of it.

Nowadays, no lad would envisage passing the time so prosaically as collecting car numbers in an era before the derisive term “anorak” was coined for train-spotters. But in those days, as an only child living in a cul-de-sac where children were sparse, it whiled away the time.

Today vehicles are so prolific and index plates so complex that it would be an impossibility to pursue the pastime, but in the war, they were few and far between, and only the occasional car was not already in the book. Military vehicles, from the Army base at the commandeered Gorleston Super Holiday Camp nearly opposite, and vans and lorries, were excluded from my log.

In hindsight, it seems illogical that in those days, when vehicles were sparse, there were three or four garages in the half-mile between the Green Ace and Albemarle Road: there were two more on Lowestoft Road - Sid Page's Beehive opposite Gorleston railway station, and Bernie Hayman's on the corner with Albemarle Road - while the Gorleston Garage on Victoria Road was but a figurative stone's throw away. This latter is the only survivor, unless I have miscalculated and one has slipped through the Peggotty net.