Magnetic pull of Rollerdrome

THERE are some telling phrases that provoke us into spells of wishful thinking, often momentary and rueful. One is: “If only…” Another: “What might have been…” Also: “I wish I'd never done (or said, or written) that.

THERE are some telling phrases that provoke us into spells of wishful thinking, often momentary and rueful. One is: “If only…” Another: “What might have been…” Also: “I wish I'd never done (or said, or written) that.”

Very occasionally the thought comes into my mind that probably I would not be sitting here writing the latest Through the Porthole of the thousands already published had I not become obsessed with roller-skating in my teenage years. Confusing? Let me explain.

The recreation dominated my spare time. Even though I was no great shakes as a skater, I relished every moment I was at the long-gone Gorleston Rollerdrome in the company of my friends and fellow aficionados.

I rarely missed a session at the amenity that operated in the post-war winter months at the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp (now a residential estate), the two rinks occupying the summer ballroom and dining hall. Whenever possible I was there most evenings and at all three Saturday sessions, scrounging money to augment my errand boy earnings.

But more important, I ignored the fact that I was skimping school homework, despite parental pressure. I lost interest in lessons, and I did not complete my two years in the sixth form. I had this constant urge to be at that rink.

But for the magnetic pull of Gorleston Rollerdrome, I might well have done much better academically, perhaps gone on to college or up to university and acquired qualifications that could have led who-knows-where.

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That could have resulted in my career heading into other spheres and not into provincial journalism that had long been my ambition. And would I have felt happy and fulfilled elsewhere? Well, for one thing, I would not have had the pleasure of penning this column for decades.

A reminder of my misspent youth was prompted recently by a letter about the Rollerdrome era from one of my contemporaries who also spent many a delightful evening endlessly circling that floor (always anti-clockwise, except for a short “reverse skating” interlude to ensure there the wooden wheels wore evenly).

While most folk just skated round, the more proficient practised their spins and jumps in the centre. Also, there were regular breaks for roller dancing, sometimes accompanied by an orchestra that also provided background music for the general skating, while on others its conductor, Freddie Belcher, played solo organ.

My correspondent was Mrs Joan Barker, of Alexandra Avenue, Great Yarmouth, whom I remember as Joan Ghigi, one of the team of polished dancers produced under the tutelage of professionals Jocelyn Taylor - a Yarmouth resident still coaching, I believe - and the late Frank Martin, among others.

She wrote the letter and enclosed photographs three years ago in response to my column about roller-skating.. .but unfortunately, it slipped through my net until now. Sorry, Joan. But where nostalgia is concerned, what do three more years matter?

Reading that 2005 column “reminded me about happy days at the Rollerdrome - the nostalgia was great,” wrote Joan, Gorleston Roller Skating Club's last secretary.

“Dorothy Morris (nee Richmond) and I often reminisce about one of the coach trips we had with the skating club. One weekend during the Festival of Britain in 1951, a party of 32 went to London for 16s (80p) return.

“In the afternoon some of us went to the ice show at Wembley and at night to the funfair in Battersea Park. We slept in the Clapham deep shelters for half-a-crown (12½p) - we had to be in time for the last lift down at 11pm. Dorothy and her friend Norma went to the Hammersmith Palais and at 10.55pm I was looking out for them on Clapham Common. I felt responsible as I had arranged the outing, but anyway, they just made it.

“On the Sunday we went to the festival, then home in the very early hours of Monday morning, all of us worn out after a wonderful weekend.

“Often we would have a Sunday trip to the Forest Gate skating rink in London.”

Mrs Barker, a widow still working in the family business (Barker Photographic), continued: “I started skating in Derby at the age of five and had Dexter skates with steel wheels on small white boots. War came and skating was forgotten, but on coming to Yarmouth at 15 I started at the camp.

“Postwar, boots were virtually unobtainable (mainly second-hand cricket boots which did not give a lot of support to the ankles). I had to use a pair of my mother's black 1937 boots which were ugly with black pointed toes (probably fashionable today) and laced up to my knees.

“My father, Bill Ghigi, replaced the steel wheels which were on them with wooden ones that were the only type allowed on the floor at Gorleston. Later it was possible to buy ice boots which were much better.

“On one of my father's trips to Derby he managed to buy some ice hockey sticks; the roller hockey team had tried to play with ordinary hockey sticks that were too short for a lot of them.”

Roller hockey took place on one rink, allowing other patrons to continue skating without interruption in the ex-ballroom area. In summer, after an outdoor rink was built, roller hockey matches were staged to entertain campers; the skating club used that rink on Monday nights when the holidaymakers attended shows in Yarmouth.

My 2005 column was added to a fledgling internet website founded by Gary Seeley, from Surrey, who had holidayed at the camp with his parents and found the memories lingered long. I have just browsed the site again, and it has burgeoned, with many recollections posted, plus a splendid number of photographs guaranteed to bring back reminiscences from six decades ago, an era when our simple minds could never have envisaged such a phenomenon as the world-wide web.

Visit it at: www.

Although the holiday camp ran from 1936 till 1974, the Rollerdrome was open for only a few post-war years - still long enough to become a vital factor in my life.

In Mercurys of 2008 I am pleased to read that roller-skating continues in our eastern area, if not on the post-war scale when there were flourishing rinks at Gorleston and Yarmouth Winter Gardens patronised by young people who had limited pleasures other than the cinema and the Saturday night “hop” at the Floral Hall.

Only recently I read of successes for members of the Stalham Artistic, Waveney and North Walsham clubs, the achievements including selection for the Great Britain team in international competitions and winning medals at a major tournament in Kent. I wish them all well in their skating endeavours... but, being a typical old fogey, remind them not to let their pastime jeopardise their future.

Been there! Got the T-shirt!