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My biking days

PUBLISHED: 12:49 27 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:58 16 September 2010

IT MUST be 40 years since I last rode a bicycle, a decade after my previous excursion on one, and it was a scary experience. In the interim, traffic had increased considerably, seemed to be driving at Formula One speed, and kept forcing me into the gutter by passing within a few inches of my right elbow.

IT MUST be 40 years since I last rode a bicycle, a decade after my previous excursion on one, and it was a scary experience. In the interim, traffic had increased considerably, seemed to be driving at Formula One speed, and kept forcing me into the gutter by passing within a few inches of my right elbow.

To be honest, I was relieved when I safely pedalled back to Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston, tossed my bicycle clips into the dustbin, and vowed to stick to my car thenceforth (all long before carbon emissions and global warming came on the agenda, of course).

It was all a far cry from the years before I learned to drive when I covered many miles on my Humber sports model, either for pleasure, or to deliver greengrocery for shopkeeper Fred Mitchell in Bells Road (I hated his wobbly, big-panier trade bike so used my own machine), or to cover a widespread area as a reporter in Thetford for a couple of years in the 1950s.

My newspaper company allowed me to charge the princely sum of half-a-crown (12½p in decimal currency) a week for cycle maintenance, pocket money because there is little expenditure on running a bike. In those days 2s 6d was very welcome to a junior reporter.

Public interest in the sport of cycling received an enormous boost with the gold medal achievements of the British team in the 2008 Olympic Games in China; and this summer there has been plenty of media coverage of the annual Tour de France race.

Throughout this summer, the Mercury has published umpteen reports about cycling events, many of them for charity.

In the 2010 Tour of Britain next month, competitors will include Briton Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic triple gold medallist, and no doubt Yarmouthians and their holidaymakers will be looking out for him when the riders pedal furiously into the borough at the end of the Norfolk stage of this prestigious event on Thursday, September 16.

For the uninitiated, the eight-stage race is ridden not over a continuous course as one might expect, but in eight separate stages in various parts of the country, involving overnight travel between legs.

An example is the King's Lynn-Great Yarmouth stage: after finishing at Glastonbury in Somerset, the riders, cycles and all the entourage will have to be transported no fewer than 245 miles to start the 179-mile Norfolk leg on which they will pass through Hunstanton, Sandringham, Holkham Hall, Sheringham, Norwich, Hoveton and Horning before reaching the finishing tape on South Beach Parade in mid-afternoon.

Some reports claim that 2010 is the first time Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex have been included in the itinerary, but I am positive that these three Anglian counties were part of the race in the past - exactly a half-century ago, in fact, when I believe it was called the Milk Race because of its major sponsor.

But in that 1960 tour, there was an embarrassing situation when Yarmouth was the stage finishing post.

So, what happened?

Well, the competitors pedalled the 146 miles from Nottingham but, because they made far better time than expected on a long stage, there was only a handful of early-bird spectators waiting on Yarmouth's North Drive when they arrived three-quarters of an hour early.

The Town Hall had kept in touch with the progress of the race, and the civic welcoming party managed to reach the finishing line just in time for the first competitors to race through, with the cyclists and VIPs probably as out of breath as one another.

But there was no means of telling the general public about the early arrival, and spectators who came at the announced time expecting to see the leading cyclists in an exciting finish instead saw only the stragglers trail through.

The cyclists had taken more than five hours at an average speed of 27mph.

Fifty-nine racers left Albert Square the next morning, heading for Wembley 118 miles away.

We must hope that there will be no recurrence of the bloomer so there are no civic red faces this year.

What else happened in the borough a half-century ago?

For one thing, Peacocks Bazaar on the corner of Market Row and Howard Street was acquired by Bretts as a furniture showroom, but Bretts closed a few years ago and the old Peacock part is now converted into social housing, I believe.

A new filling station for Watson's Garage was built on the corner of Southtown and Station Roads; it is now a car showroom.

The Gallon Pot public house was built on the site of the old Burrough's Wine Lodge on the Market Place.

The restoration of the war-damaged Yarmouth St Nicholas' Church was finished. St Andrew's House on South Quay, home of the Church of Scotland, was closed. The premises were used by Scottish fishermen working from Yarmouth in the autumn herring fishery and was busy because they observed the Sabbath and stayed in port every Sunday.

The 1960 herring fishery was the victim of a double whammy: gales kept the fleet in port, then there was a dispute resulting in the Scottish drifters not sailing to seek the shoals. An organisation called the Close Brethren refused to participate in a payment pool scheme operated by the Scottish Herring Producers Association.

A new United Jazz Club opened at Caister Old Hall with a full house. In Yarmouth “house full” notices were regularly displayed at the Penrice Arms in King Street for the weekly jazz sessions.

Plans for a 100-room hotel on North Drive land fronting the Yarmouth Grammar School playing field were announced, but never materialised.

Mothers of school age children should be forbidden by law to take employment except in exceptional circumstances, declared Miss Margaret Bobby, headmistress of the Herman Infants School in Gorleston and a Yarmouth magistrate.

She made the controversial statement to delegates at the Yarmouth conference of the Association of Superintendents of Education Welfare and Attendance Departments.

Local taxi drivers were angered by rogue unlicensed private cabbies muscling in on their livelihood on summer Saturdays when holidaymakers travelled to and from their accommodation and railway stations and coach parks.

The death took place at 77 of Percival Hurry Palmer, of North Drive, chairman of Palmers department store for 51 years.

He was of the third generation to be associated with the business, founded in 1837, joining in 1903 after a visit to the United States.


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