Another former professional cyclist's potted history
Following my recent reading of Ian Cammish's provisional cycling life I thought I would start to write mine.
I started as did many war time children with a tricycle made by my grandfather out of an old lawn mower.
I have a splendid photo of me riding it on V.E. day with a big Union Flag on the handlebars. (I lived with my
grandparents as my father was fighting the Germans in North Africa and my mother was fighting the
I learnt to ride a two wheeler on my grandfather's bicycle but the handlebar broke. Then I moved to my
mother's as it did not have a cross bar and was less painful when I fell off. I started work when I was 5 or
6 my first job was picking the black peas out of the dried peas to make mushy peas. I also used to pull
the handle on the hand chipper.
When I was about 11 I had a Hercules Safety Model single gear and rod brakes. By then I was living in
Market Harborough town centre and wanted to ride to my grandparents in Newark for the school holidays.
Newark is 50 miles from Harborough, through the middle of Leicester and along the Foss Way. My father
said it was a daft idea and I would either get lost or get run over so he encouraged me to go.
I had a really nice ride and it only took 5 hours so I was really pleased.
Having realised my potential as a cyclist I wanted to go out with my friend George Halls but his bike had
drop handlebars and gears so I could not keep up with him. However I had a very good offer to become a
professional cyclist. The wet fish shop opposite needed an errand boy. The first time I took out a load I fell
off because when you turn the bars the basket still pointed straight on. I soon found that Mac Fisheries
did not have a trade bike so I started taking their fish out as well.
Then the butchers started giving me goods to deliver. I was very puzzled as to why I had to keep
delivering small packets of fish to a big house on Northampton Road several times a day, often on my way
to school. I later learned that the fishmonger was also a bookie and I was taking bets to the main
The fishmonger went bust and as he owed my father some fish (we used to help each other out) He went
and took the trade bike in lieu. I kept it until recently, even rode a Bejaoss Wheelers Christmas event on it
and won a prize. I then used the bike to go to the station every morning to fetch the fish. I could carry
6 stone if someone held the back down as I got on. One day some one opened their car door just as I was
passing, there was fish all over the road, but it ripped the car door off. On Fridays and Saturdays I had to
run the mile to the station with a sack barrow as we had over 12 stone of fish on those days. I was very fit.
I used to wash up in the Cafe on Friday and Saturday evenings and peel and chip potatoes on Saturdays
and during school holidays.
When I left school at 4.15 I started serving in the Cafe at 4.30. One evening a strange
group of people in shorts and dirty shoes came in the Cafe I found that they were a
cycling club from Kettering. They said that I could join their club if I had a racing bike.
After meeting the scruffy bunch of cyclists in the cafe and as they started to come in
every week on what they called "evening club runs" I decided that I needed to buy a
bike with drop handle bars. I was not actually short of money with my delivery work on
the trade bike and working in the cafe (my father paid me a bit) but the best bit was the
tips. I used to wear a little white apron and ladies of a certain age used to put their
hands up my apron for some obscure reason, actually one or two men did the same I
never could understand it but I was always grateful for the sixpence tip.
By now I had saved up enough money to buy a "racing" bike. We did not have much
choice in Market Harborough but I bought a Phillips Jaguar with alloy bars stem and
seat pin and 5 speed Cyclo Benelux gears. So I was set to go on my first club run. I
had been told that the club left Mick Harvey's house in Desborough at 9am. So as it
was 5 miles to Desborough I left home at 8am. Unfortunately as I got out of the saddle
to get up Clack Hill on the A6 the back wheel spun on the ice and I fell off. I found that
I had bent a crank and had to pedal the remaining 4 1/2 miles just turning the one
pedal half a turn.
My next problem was I had neglected to ask where Mr Harvey lived, but on entering
Desborough I notice an electrical and other goods shop with the name Harvey and
Son so I asked a paper boy where Mr Harvey lived. He told me the house and I
nervously wheeled my bike onto the drive. The small collection of cyclists seemed to
find it very funny that I had fallen off, but Mr Harvey soon took the crank off and hit it
with a big hammer a few times and when it had been replaced I was able to join them
on the club run. I was able to keep up but got a bit hot and sweaty in my raincoat and
school trousers tucked in my socks.
After a few hours we stopped for lunch in a wood. I had brought spam sandwiches which I could get from the shop for nothing. I was amazed when the others produced a large primus stove and a big cook pot. Every one had brought a tin of something which they opened and poured into the pot. As there was no co-ordination all the tins were different. Some were soup, several were beans some with sausages in them, corned beef, and even tins of peaches and other fruit. Before the "food" could be
dished out it started to snow really heavily so the whole lot was picked up and a mad rush was made to find shelter under a large tree. They all sat round the primus and ate their meal which I learned was called Chow and was what cyclists ate. I sat quietly and ate my spam and drank a bottle of Tizer.
I was very late getting home and in trouble with my parents over the condition of my school trousers shoes and mack. "in those days we did not have jeans"
So that was my first club run with The Kettering Amateur cycling Club which I had joined and my career as a professional cyclist was ended.
My friend Frank at work ... the fishmonger's friend too!
Reaping the rewards of another professional win ;-)