Friday, 21 March 2008

#082 - 1968 - Tour of Morocco

I had two invitations from the BCF early in 1968 to manage the team, one for the Tour Of Morocco and one for the Peace Race, Berlin-Prague-Warsaw. The team for the Moroccan tour was
  1. Geoff Wiles,
  2. Brian Jolly,
  3. Dave Nie
  4. Andy McGee.
  5. Pete Smith
Masseur would again be Neil Walsh, my mate Bert Humphreys was coming as mechanic. Early in March we arranged a training weekend in the Lake District, Geoff Wiles came up from Kent and stayed with us at Toton.
1968 - Brian Jolly, Pete Smith, Geoff Wiles, Alf, Dave Nie and Andy McGee

On the Saturday Geoff and I set off and  picked up Pete Smith and Brian Jolly who had been in a race at Newark, then on to the Lakes where we were  staying with Mrs Edmondson at Wolloway Farm, near Penrith. Neil Walsh and Andy McGee joined us  from Glasgow. Mrs Edmondson welcomed us  with a drink of wine whereupon Neil produced a bottle of Scotch for the lady and himself (Mrs Edmondson was a native of Arbroath) Neil poured her a large ‘noggin’ she asked should she put anything in it, No said Neil just put your finger in it. We had dinner at a local hotel called the “Sportsman” taking Patsy, Mrs. Edmondson’s daughter and her friend Mary with us.

We had entered in the “Red Rose” Grand Prix” starting at Maryport the next day, the course took us round part of the Lake District and the team pulverised the opposition by taking all four places. We returned to Wolloway for a mid-day meal, but on our way back from Maryport the 1800 Austin blew its top hose. We could not get a replacement anywhere, we did a temporary repair, Alf Edmondson gave us a 5 gallon can of water, and we stopped religiously every 20 mile to top up the radiator and limped back to Long Eaton. Still  - we had a good weekend getting to know each other.

The details of the race were late coming, to speed matters up I rang the Moroccan Federation, I got the phone operator to interpret for me, and she informed me that tickets and all information were waiting for us at Charles de Gaulle Airport. As the race was due to start in a weeks time I rang all the lads, Neil and Bert, then I rang the BCF, they had known all along that our documentation was at  Charles de Gaulle Airport but had  forgotten to tell us! (after all, we were only riding in the race).

The BCF arranged flights to Paris where we joined up with the rest of the international crowd. The charter plane was late getting in to Casablanca, after customs we were herded in to two coaches, accommodation had only been arranged for 4 teams and so the French, Belgian, Russian and DDR teams were dropped off at the swank Atlantic Hotel, our coach then went round hotels in Casablanca to try and get accommodation for us, the Poles and Yugoslavians, eventually finishing up in a Arab Hotel near the Kasbah, a good start we thought. However this hotel turned out to be very clean, the food was good and they found a nice bright room for Bert to work on the bikes.

The race authorities came round to see us, saying they had found another hotel for us, we liked it at this Arab Hotel and the three teams elected to stay there. A young Arab lady was in charge of the hotel and she spoke impeccable English (it appeared she had been on a student exchange visit to Llanidloes in Wales and had been treated very kindly by the family she was boarded with) she reciprocated this kindness by helping us. First she asked to see the route the race was to take, on looking at it she stated that food would be in short supply especially in the mountain region. She advised us to buy tinned chicken, cheese, jam and tinned fruit, this we did and by God was she proved right. An amusing incident happened before the start, we all went to the bank to change money, we all changed £20 (as we were in Morocco nearly four weeks) except for Andy McGee the Scotsman – first at the counter he said much to our mirth that he had better change a lot whereupon he changed £5, this was to last him a month.

We were introduced to our Arab driver, he was a royal looking Toureg, six feet tall with flashing eyes, every inch a gentleman. He had a Peugeot 404 Diesel - ideal for  Moroccan highways, which we would discover  later. Just before we left our hotel to go down to the start, an Englishman came to see us, he had been unable to find us before because we were in the Arab hotel. His name was Mr. Frank Barber OBE. Legion d’ Honour, (Italian) and he was a prominent local business man with an export/import and insurance company, he spoke fluent French and Arabic.  

He had been awarded these prestigious decorations for helping the then recent disaster  that had struck the ‘Lacania’ – the liner had caught fire near the Gibraltar Straits, the survivors being landed at Casablanca. Frank had arranged for passports and clothing at his own expense, for both Italian and English passengers. 

We were the first British sportsmen to compete in Morocco and Frank was eager to introduce himself and make our acquaintance. We arranged to see him on our return to Casablanca in fourteen days time.

#081 - 1967 - Scottish Milk Race

I found it hard to settle down to normal life after being away for so long, but seeing Kathleen again was a real bonus, and not able to see each other as often as we would like – the telephone became our life line. Honda motorcycles were selling well especially the smaller machines; Triumph, BSA and Norton were holding their own in the larger class and a possible reason may have been that they were doing well on the race tracks with a new Triumph 3 cylinder called ‘Trident’ and BSA ‘Rocket 3’, they did not hold this position long  though because Yamaha produced a water cooled 350cc twin with transistor ignition, which when ridden by the great Finnish rider Yano Saurian was unbeatable on most circuits.

The organiser of the Scottish Milk race, Len Rankin, had been over for the first four days of the Peace race (Czech section) to get idea’s for the smooth running of his race, we  got to know each other quite well and he gave me an invitation to do the “Blackboard” job in his forthcoming July event, he said he would write me on his return to Paisley in Scotland. I dismissed the thought but sure enough on my return to Long Eaton there was the invitation. Len also required a further motorcycle marshal and a general race mechanic.

Late July and the Scottish Milk race soon came along, I had asked my head motorcycle mechanic Robert Sandford to go as the additional race marshal that Len required, and invited a local journalist/cyclist Andy Marshall for the race mechanic job, (he was practising changing wheels for weeks, but little did he know what an exacting job he had undertaken). The race - a four day event - started on a Thursday. We had in the shop a BSA A65 twin carb ‘Lightening’ model with the new 12v alternator system, which we had just taken in part-exchange and I could use and Andy came on the pillion with me whilst Robert rode a Triumph he had borrowed from a pal of his. We left Long Eaton early Wednesday morning, Robert then lived in Bonsall Street, Long Eaton. Andy and I called for him, we had discussed the route to take the night before, (the M1 only being built as far as Alfreton), we then joined the A1 near Retford, up to Scotch corner, over the Pennines on the A66 to Penrith,  Carlisle and so on the A74 to Glasgow. We were stopping at the YMCA near the station in Glasgow.

Robert in his wisdom shot off and left us on the M1 - we were not see him again until later that night when my brother brought him up in our Ford van! It appeared he got lost near Mansfield, he waited for us but we had taken the arranged route. Unfortunately for him he blew the motor up on his Triumph and had to ring our shop for someone to fetch him in. On his return to the shop he stripped the Triumph down and fitted a service exchange cylinder with o/s pistons, two new inlet valves etc. He did well in the time he had and was brought up to Glasgow in the van by Ernie arriving at 9.30 p.m. Ernie had a quick meal then returned back to Long Eaton.

The Scottish Cycling Union had a meeting in the YMCA the evening before the start, we found that there would be only one more race marshal who would arrive the next morning. Robert and I were novices for the big ‘job’ we had volunteered for. The ceremonial start of the race left George Square with a police motorcycle escort, they then left us to our own devices at the city limits. Robert and I and this new young man had  discussed our tactics when we met up before the start. They were to cover obvious cross roads etc. I worked as an outrider getting traffic past the riders as well as taking time checks. There were no radio equipped team cars, so I worked hard to give each team car information on my blackboard. Usually the ‘blackboard’ man rides pillion on a motorcycle, but John Cooper a joiner friend of mine had made the blackboard  to be held on my back with a single elastic luggage strap captured at one end,  with a open hook at the other, enabling me to do the job solo.

This first stage went from Glasgow to Arbroath via Aberfoyle, Dukes Pass - quite a hill, then across to the east coast to finish on the seafront. The Dutch national team were very prominent (they were to win a gold medal the following year at Tokyo Olympics in 1968) Rene Pignen winning the stage. Andy Marshall had performed very well in the general service team car. He was complimented by the race director, a Pole from the Peace Race and I and the two marshals were also complimented on our particular jobs. The communal evening meal was a great success and our accommodation in a council flat with a young couple was excellent. We joined the early morning “routers” for a drink after dinner, we did this every day because without these gentlemen, who positioned the directional arrows, we as marshals would be lost.

This was the first stage race where I was free to walk the town in the evening, having on all previous tours been a hard working mechanic. My friends the Belgian, Dutch and French mechanics were on the race and I went along to see them, they were envious of my new job, but they could not say anything detrimental as I had done their type of work for some twelve years. 

The next day was a long stage from Arbroath to Aberdeen via the toll-bridge at Dundee. We had trouble with the bridge toll-collectors here, they wanted to stop the race to collect fees from the competitors (all following cars and motorcyclists were issued with the correct toll money by Len Rankin before the start) the queue to pay caused a bit of bother for us but we did get the riders through  without hold-up. To rousing cheers we passed through Aberdeen city centre to finish on the northern esplanade. I cannot remember the stage winner but the Dutchman was still leading overall. Accommodation  for the riders was at the University, the communal meal and accommodation for officials and us was at the magnificent “Tree Tops Hotel” easily the best on the tour. 

Friday morning saw the race moving south to Edinburgh, a tough hilly stage passing through Banchory to Ballater, Blairgowie to Perth then down the very busy A9. Our two marshals had quite a job on. I also had difficulty getting heavy traffic to pass the main group, and especially marshalling cars etc past any breakaway groups. It was more important to keep the traffic down at the rear of the break as any chasers could latch on to the cars.

Between Perth  and Edinburgh and ‘off the back’ I came across the race leader, Rene Pignen, on his own and on an unfamiliar bike, Rene speaks English very well and he told me that he had crashed and a bystander had handed him this bike, only two gears worked and he was losing time. Against all rules  I pushed him  up to the tail end bunch team cars, then rode up to his Dutch car and explained to the manager where Rene was. They stopped and gave him a team bike (I was not to know that he would win the stage). 

On approaching the Forth Bridge I went ahead to the other side and there at the island stood two police motorcyclists, I stopped to discuss the race’s progress through Edinburgh and they said that they had been told the race finished at the Forth Bridge! According to the race manual the event finished at the site of the new stadium for the 1970 Commonwealth Games which was under construction. Good job that I had gone  ahead of the race and was able to put them wise! These two policeman were terrific, they  said ‘leave it to us’ -, meanwhile a break by Billy Bilsland and Rene Pignen had occurred with the main group in hot pursuit, we careered  along the Edinburgh main road  with these two mad coppers stopping all the traffic and shutting off the traffic lights they were absolutely wonderful. Our two marshals helped and I stopped traffic coming towards the race. The finish was hilarious, the riders had to bump up  a kerb and finish in the middle of a building site, chaos reigned when the main bunch arrived. Rene Pignen beat Billy Bilsland in the sprint and held on to his yellow jersey. We all stayed at the University at Pollock Halls, where we had dinner too. Rene came over to thank me for helping him, he eventually won the race. (After the Tokyo Olympics he turned professional and became a prolific six-day bike rider) His  team mate Zoop Zoutemelk also won gold in Tokyo and was to win the “Tour de France in the future.

The next stage started in Princess St, processional until we hit the de-regulation speed sign on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The two Scottish policemen were there again, we had chatted with them the night before, the race organiser inviting them to the Dinner and Prize presentation, Len mentioning them in his speech. These traffic policeman  were very interested in my BSA ‘Lightening’, they were on BSA’s but when their radio was in operation neither the lights nor the horn worked, they had noticed that my horn and lights were brilliant. I explained to them that my bike had a 12volt alternator fitted whereas they only had six volt. They challenged me to a race to the official start and we were doing nearly 90mph on the main road out of Edinburgh, they were great men. (We were to meet them in several races in Scotland in the future, and as a result of my bike demo, the Scottish Police Authority ordered new BSA motorcycles).

We left Edinburgh en route for Dumfries via Biggar to Moffat and through Lockerbie lovely country. I do not remember any major happenings on the way to Dumfries, apart from a breakaway that  had over ten minutes, and I had a job with time checks and traffic. The race finished on the quayside with many twists before the finish, our two marshal’s did a great job there.

The dinner in the evening was  taken in two sittings as no place in Dumfries was big enough to feed the whole race. Riders were fed first, then the officials. The venue was a restaurant above a cinema, we had come on our bikes as the accommodation was quite a good way off.  A  queue had formed on the  top of the stairs, when one bright spark said quite casually “there’s a motor bike on fire down there” – Robert’s dual seat had slipped down causing  the battery to short - hence the fire, he soon rushed down and sorted things out with no damage.

It was a lovely evening so after dinner we sauntered down the road to view Robby Burns cottage, quite interesting. There were two Milk race girls on the race doing a PR job, Rene Pignen fell for one and they eventually married after his return from Tokyo. Doug Dailey courted the other one for  some time, (talk about romance on Tour).

The final day arrived, the race route passing through New Galloway and its (then) coal mines to Dalmellington finishing on the sea front at Ayr. The prize giving and dinner was held at the Ice Rink, we three motor bike men and Andy were given  a standing ovation. We did not stay in Ayr but decided  to start our journey home, we stayed at Mrs Edmondson’s at Penruddock in the Lake District, then a nice steady ride home on the Sunday.

We, Robert and I were back at work Monday, a big rush was on because this was the first time that new registration numbers came out on August 1st luckily we had sold a lot of new bikes. Kathleen and family were on holiday in Cornwall it was lovely to see her when they came home some ten days later with a magnificent tan, she looked super. 

Late in 1967 my brother-in-law Keith came round to our Toton house about 2 pm, he wanted me to play football for a team he had challenged but he was three men short. Owing to my clubfeet I had never played football but he had seen me playing five-a-side in the gym. After much persuading I succumbed and played centre forward. My right foot is turned outwards due to many operations, but I could kick with the inside of this foot quite accurately and hard, so long as the ball came to me directly about a yard in front I could shoot, I scored three goals. I played for four years after that and practised shooting at a wall with both feet, also trained in dribbling skills. I quite enjoyed it until I damaged my knee again, that put paid to that.

#080 - 1967 - Peace Race

On our arrival in Warsaw we were met by Ian Steel , he soon made it clear that from now on he was in charge. I gave him the baggage and bike dockets and left him to it. On the bus trip to the hotel we were miserable, our team spirit had disappeared. We arrived at the now familiar (to me) Hotel Warsaw to find that Ian had lost three cases. Ironically we had travelled from London in all sorts of transport and lost none. After a search round the hotel I found them. A meal was ready for us, a communal effort with all teams in this large dining hall. It was in this hall that I heard the dreadful news that my Czech mate Milan had died and also my Russian friend Sevette, to compound my grief I also learned that ‘our’ German driver had suffered a fatal heart attack the previous week and had died in Frankfurt on Oder. I went alone to my mechanics room and quietly wept.

 1967 Peace Race Leipzig Stadium

I very soon settled down to race routine, sorting out the menus with Ian and getting him integrated in to the great team we had, however this proved difficult as at a meeting  with the riders it was decided to share any monies won, but Ian who was in demand (owing to his 1952 Peace Race win) did not share his T.V. and radio appearance monies with the team. I suppose we were fed up of hearing about 1952 -  it was brought up with every meal, Ian’s success was a great achievement but it got a bit much after a while. I should have taken him on one side and asked  him to tone it down a bit. But as we entered another  country the whole rigmarole started again. He had of course deserved the adulation.

1967 Peace race, Billy Bilsland enters the Liberec Stadium with a lap to go

Unfortunately I kept no record of the route taken in this 1967 Prague-Berlin-Warsaw. The team rode well, quite a few days finishing in the first twenty (prizes were awarded from 1st to 20th place). The highlight for the team was Billy Bilsland beating the great Russian rider Saidchushin (overall winner 1962). Billy beat him in a two-up sprint in the huge stadium at Liberec Czechoslovakia. The hilly terrain suited our ride, but the weather was shocking, it rained all day. The rest of the lads finished well up and we won the Team award for the day. (a  large cut glass flower vase which they presented to me). Neil was doing his usual great job in the massage room. We did not see a lot of Ian, he was with the UCI people.

1967 Peace race, Billy Bilsland receives the laurels

The race finished in Prague  and Ian got really drunk at the final dinner, he mislaid his prizes too and never did find them. The only other thing remembered about our return to Heathrow, was we were met by several of the boys wives or rather at that time girl friends, journalists and BCF President. We collected our bikes and luggage at South Kensington air terminus, then as we had done in Paris we bundled Neil Walsh in to a taxi and we had a race to St. Pancras station - I won the sprint up the hill to the entrance of the station (Neil had done a “job” on my feet, I was walking on air, his occupation in Glasgow as well as masseur was Chiropody). We had already said our goodbyes to Geoff Wiles who  lived in Kent and Dave Mitchell left us to go to Euston Station. Roy Hempsall Danny Horton ,Billy Bilsland, Neil Walsh and I were on the same train. Alan Lloyd had ‘packed’ in Poland saying that he was a little boy in a mans race. The break up of this team was sadder than usual as we had been together for almost seven weeks .

#079 - 1967 - Circuit of Sarthe

1967 - and I had been 13 years on stage races, World Championships and Olympic games trips seemed to be reserved for top men on the BCF Committee. The familiar brown envelope containing International cycling invitation duly arrived. This time the invite was for two events. The first one was in France to be held in late April this was to be the famous “Circuit of Sarthe” following which we would fly direct from Le Bourget, Paris to Warsaw. I had to give this invitation a great deal thought as we would be away about a month. After much sole searching and with the help of Ernie, it was decided I could go. Then came details which almost caused me to cancel - I was to be team manager and mechanic in France, with Neil Walsh from Glasgow as masseur. But on arrival in Warsaw for the Peace Race I would revert to mechanic with 1952 Peace Race winner,  Ian Steel  flying in to take over management. After much recrimination I decided to go, at least I would manage one team.

The team selected was:

  1. Bill Bilsland
  2. Danny Horton
  3. Alan Lloyd
  4. Dave Mitchell
  5. Geoff Wiles
  6. Roy Hempsall

A good young team with a fair amount of stage race experience in the ‘Milk Race’.  My - by now - standard  letter regarding their equipment was sent, but this time – in my managerial role - had advise on what should be included  in their own personal kit, Kathleen helped me by writing to Ryka Ltd of Loughborough who kindly agreed to donate Super Plenamin multi-vitamin tablets, Radium massage cream, and Crookes Iodine Oil for wet weather. (This firm was to supply us with these same items for every tour I was to manage in the future. For African countries they also recommended a  medication for use in the event of  diarrhoea). This firm was very helpful indeed and Kathleen, now involved with my preparation to go away, would drive to the factory and collect the carton for me. We also had help with equipment from Holdsworth and Ron Kitching. (we never forgot their kindness and always sent an autographed card from the races we were on).

We met up first at BCF London headquarters, then we bundled Neil Walsh in to a taxi to take him, with our baggage, to Victoria station en route for Southampton and the boat to Le Havre, we rode our bikes to Victoria station. We had a good laugh in the canteen, Neil Walsh being a super comedian and I could see we had the makings of a great team here -  something I had missed since Stan Brittain days. We made it to the  boat OK, I had the tickets for all of us, a pile about 3” deep, good job I had bought my brief case (a present from my first Peace race). I had in my safe keeping –

  • 8 train tickets from Victoria to Southampton,
  • 8 boat and berth tickets from Southampton to Le Havre,
  • 8 train tickets from Le Havre to Le Mans inward.
  • 8 train outward tickets from Sable to Paris
  • 8 air tickets to Warsaw.

A Frenchman met us off the train  at Le Mans and took us all in his van to Chartres were the race was to start on the next day. The entry for this event was tough for us, mostly French professional teams and one other amateur team from Norway. First day was a circuit round Chartres and Alan Lloyd won 3rd prize, a very good effort. The rest of our team were together in the next group.

The Team knitted well in this very tough  Pro/Am “Circuit Sarthe”, we did not pull any trees up but as amateurs we acquitted ourselves very well. We did win a fair amount of francs, and it was fortunate that we did as the expenses given me by the BCF in no way covered our food etc. The race finished at Noyen s Sarthe a beautiful spot. We were billeted at the Chateau Verdrelle, an old building on the bank of the River Sartre but in its own large grounds with a drive up to the front doors.

We were slightly overawed at the magnitude of this historic chateau. The owner, Madame Tercinier showed us to our quarters and they were luxurious, she being kindness itself. We were directed to the large dining room which had been set for dinner with silver cutlery, red and white wine, gold cutlery stands to use between courses. Danny was given the  bridal suite complete with four poster bed! Before dinner the team had a bath in pairs because dinner was ready and this would save time – we thought! Unfortunately the bath had no small drain hole near the top so every so often the water overflowed and leaked on the floor. The first indication of this was when Madame Terciniers’ niece ran up stairs grabbed me by the arm, her limited English failing her, and took me in to the dining room and pointed to a big stain that was appearing on the ceiling, I ran back up stairs and put right the problem. (Some years later when taking Kathleen on a visit, and later with David and Alan, the stain had been left - all the rest had been decorated. Written on the stain was “Equipe Angletterre Cycliste” Tour Circuit Sarthe 1967,  - fame at last).

We were treated like royalty at the Chateau, food etc first class, the race organisation had paid for our two days accommodation there, and as we had 5 training days before we left for Warsaw with no arrangements for lodgings made, we decided to stay on at the Chateau. Once the local cycling bodies knew we were at the Chateau, they arranged for us to ride in their annual “Victory in Europe” celebration events, they  provided a van for the bikes and cars for the riders, Neil and I. Danny Horton won all four of these events with rest of the team well up, we won quite a lot of money which came in very handy to pay for our stay at the Chateau.

After a race one day we arrived back at the Chateau to find Madame Tercinier and her lovely 19 year old niece trying to wallpaper the bridal suite ceiling, we took over and they were delighted to let us as they had difficulty in moving the heavy furniture. It was hilarious, and I’m surprised anything got done.  Alan Lloyd said he would write to the BCF on his return to state that all issue track suits should have pockets in the front to hold wallpaper brushes. We could hardly work for laughing but the finished job looked good.

Meanwhile Neil Walsh and I had formed a terrific relationship, everything was carried out with no fuss or bother. Madame took us all to the Motor Museum at Le Mans and afterwards drove us round the circuit of the famous 24 hour event in her big Citroen car, we felt as if we were in the race. Eventually came the day of our departure from Noyan, but before we left the Chateau Madame Tercrinier produced a big heavy book, in it she wished us to sign our autographs which we did, we looked through this book and found that General De Gaulle and Marshall Leclerc had stayed there and some years before that Napoleon Bonaparte, we were suitably honoured.

And so we made our tearful goodbye to Madame Tercinier and her niece Geraldine (when David and I visited the family in 1982, I was to speak to Geraldine on the phone, now married and living in  Rouen, she was overjoyed that we had not forgotten her - how could we anyway). Madame Tercinier loaned us her 2Cv van to take the luggage and bikes down to the railway station.

We  had not booked our luggage on the train, only registering our bikes because we were getting low on funds, we sat on our luggage in the train corridor which made the ticket collector irate, but we made out that we could not understand him. The BCF had booked us in to a small hotel in Paris. We did our usual, Neil in a taxi with the bags, the rest following on the bikes. The night before our departure from the  terminus in Plac de la Concorde, we weighed in our bikes and bags thus saving us time the following morning, we had an early start to catch the metro to Le Bourget for the flight to Warsaw. We boarded  an Air France flight which was luxury itself, and were given a very good in-flight meal.

#078 - 1967 - H E Buttler Motorcycles

The business expanded its franchise  and signed   up to sell Yamaha and Suzuki motor cycles, we still stocked all the English models i.e. BSA, Triumph, Ariel, Norton, James Francis Barnett, Royal Enfield and Excelsior motor cycles, but Honda was still our best seller. The English manufacturers had their head in the sand not to realise that these Japanese would put them all out of business by 1971. Two shops  opened in Long Eaton in opposition to us, but we seemed to go from strength to strength. One firm advertised in all the local and national press, and customers came from far and wide to their premises for parts which they could not supply, consequently most of these new customers came to our shop. Queues to get in our shop on a Saturday were amazing and this went on most of the day. We had to set on part time staff to cope with helmet and clothing sales and of course spare parts.

We had a peculiar incident happen one year regarding Norton parts. Annually, in early October, the Goose Fair is held in  Nottingham and is famous in the Midland area or even further a field. Rides and sideshows there were astonishing (this is before theme parks like Alton Towers were popular). A black leather dressed young man came in the shop who was going to the Fair  and he asked to speak to me, he said he could obtain any Norton parts right up to a complete engine at much cheaper prices. I dismissed any thought of buying any as they were obviously stolen. Two days later a detective constable mate of mine Mick Rose, who was with Stolen Vehicles, came in the shop for a chat and in conversation he happened to say he was going down to Norton factory in Andover to investigate theft of complete engines. I told Mick about my conversation with this chap the weekend before, whereupon Mick asked if I would go down with him to Andover and visit the works. It was rumoured that a possible suspect worked on the “track”, perhaps I could recognise the man? Of course I agreed to go with him and we had a pleasant drive down.

We were introduced to the works manager who I had met before when he worked at Triumph, we started to walk round the works and I soon spotted the man in question but of course did not make any comment until we were out of sight. I then pointed the man out to Mick who  affronted him – and a confession followed. From there Mick had to report to the Stolen Vehicle Centre  at Hendon. It appeared some men were stealing the same mainly luxury class cars three times. They would steal a car, put on false number plates, spray it etc then sell it on. The same car would then be stolen again and the whole procedure repeated. The Insurance Companies lost thousdands of pounds. The Police at Hendon had evolved a plan which they revealed to  Mick for him to implement in Nottingham. All top secret cloak and dagger stuff.

The gymnasium was progressing favourably with a good, hard working turnout every week. An ‘over 40’ class was started in the grammar school basketball hall and that was also well attended, it was taken by a schoolmaster pal of mine Duncan Syson. My number one football team, Derby County FC with manager Brian Clough, had won promotion to the 1st Division and on Wednesdays my friend Gordon Woodward, Duncan  and I would travel all over the country to the away games - i.e. Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle, Sunderland, Sheffield and Leeds. We would pick Duncan up after school at Breaston which meant we did not leave until after 4 p.m. to go to these places, but with the  M1 to hand we seldom missed ‘kick-off’.

#077 - 1966 - Peace Race

The usual BCF invite came through, I was refused the managers post once more, very disappointing, especially when they chose Bob Maitland whom I had been with to Tunisia in 1960. The team was again young and inexperienced i.e.

  1. Ken Kipping.
  2. Dave Nie,
  3. Ray Barker,
  4. Billy Bilsland,
  5. Barry Lawton
  6. Bill Townsend,

masseur was Dennis Agnew. For once the riders were fitted with the same equipment, I only had  to do the usual wheel interchange before the start.

The route was new to me, Prague-Warsaw-Berlin, this year going right up to Northern Poland - Danzig, Gydynia and  Stettin all of which were new stage towns to me, food and accommodation in Rostock (north DDR) was in a Seaman’s Hostel and it was absolutely first class. In Berlin too the “Digs” had changed from a poor college to the Hotel Berliner which was a new skyscraper building. I cannot remember much about this particular tour, except Billy Bilsland rode well he being only 19 years old, Ray Barker finished well, Ken Kipping finished although well down, (he had suffered with  bronchitis nearly all the race). Barry Lawton in his first International also finished but Dave Nie on his second Peace race retired. Bill Townsend succumbed after the first four days in Czechoslovakia, he was completely out of his depth.

The night the race finished and after our dinner Ray Barker and I  decided to go over to look at West Berlin, we were close by Check Point Charlie, the DDR guards were very kind and efficient. When they knew we were on the Peace Race they enquired of the well-being of Stan Brittain, Ian Steel and Bill Bradley, that’s how big the Fridensfaht is in DDR. We crossed the bridge to the American sector and we were treated to some harsh questioning  by a young American soldier, he was calling DDR all the names you could think of and I politely asked him if he had visited there and to my amazement he said no. We had a quick look at the shops and returned, quite an experience really.

The race finished in Berlin, the Race Dinner and dance being held in the Sports Halle (Hitler and Goebells made many speeches here). The famous woman pilot Hannah Reitsch flew an early helicopter inside  this hall, so you can imagine the size. I was mysteriously presented with a Gold Medal by the President of DDR. – which to this day I don’t know what it was for. During the dance Tave Schur came over with his wife to congratulate me, I was overawed. (Kathleen and I were to meet Tave and family at their home in Magdeburg in 1973), This night at the Sports Halle was the best I ever experienced in Germany, it was wonderful, we danced the night away, Ken Kipping disappeared with his ‘new’ girlfriend and we did not see him until early the next day.

Also staying in the next hotel to us on Frederickstrasse was Ipswich Town F.C., they had just won the 1st Division Championship in England and were celebrating with a ‘footballing holiday’ in DDR. They had played in the stadium where the race had finished the previous day. They were going out that night asking me to meet them at their Bulgarian Hotel, I didn’t have much deutschmarks with me. As I have previously stated -  each team member and official is presented with a book containing tickets for meals and dockets for beer. As none of our party had used any of the drinks dockets, I tore them out and they were taken as money for any drinks consumed, naturally I was  in good books with the team. It was a treat to meet their chairman Mr. John Cobbold and the players Phillips and Galsworthy etc.

We finished drinking in the hotel and I was about to leave them when they decided we should all go to a night club a few doors away. This turned out to be quite a good place, the interval came along and much to my astonishment when the band retired, some of the Ipswich Town players took their places, accomplished musicians they played ‘Glen Miller music’ and it was terrific. The original band was irate and after a few numbers they were turfed off. I got back to our hotel with half an hour to spare before we caught the plane home. Luckily I had got the bikes and bags already to board the transport for the airport. I saw the bikes on board this snazzy British Airways flight (we were going home via Copenhagen) and I slept all the way to our destination where we changed in to  a Pan American “Clipper”. Bob Maitland said I was in no state to check anything and he would take over seeing the baggage and bikes on to the American plane, I could not care less. When we had settled down in the plane the air hostess introduced us as the English Cycling Team arriving from Berlin with such a tone  of disdain as though a Communist country had the plague. We arrived at Heathrow O.K. but Bob had lost two bikes, Dave Nie’s and Barry Lawton. It took a fortnight to get them from Copenhagen.

So ended another trip to the “Peace Race” , this being  my sixth, but unfortunately the English teams were getting worse the reason being that the best riders were being selected for the British Milk Race, - I said before it is still and honour to finish in this Great Race.

#076 - 1965 - A year at home!

For some reason the BCF did not respond to the invitation to ride in the Peace Race  This lead me to have full year attending more to the business.

Brother-in-law Keith and I were still doing a little walking. One particular Sunday we decided to climb Bleaklow hill, the summit of which is near Strines Moor and the TV mast at Holme Moss, Carol and young Alan came with us. The day dawned to a cloudless sky and we  left Long Eaton early travelling by the beautiful Derwent Dams  (the last one to be finished was witnessed by us in 1942). We left our van in a lay-by on Snake Pass, walking up the path the map showed we had to go near a farm. When we meandered near  the farm a woman came running out brandishing  a pitchfork and mouthing all sorts of oaths at us. It appeared from her “mouthing” that we were on their private road, with difficulty we calmed her down and explained that we had mis-read our map, apologised and asked if we may return by the same path to which she agreed.

The route up Bleaklow follows a stream, several parts of this stream (a raging torrent in winter) have pools forming. At one of these we stopped for our lunch, after which Keith casually remarked  to Alan that he  wondered how deep this pool was. Alan who had donned his rucksack bent down to look, lost his balance with the weight on his back and promptly fell in. He disappeared, we had no idea of the depth of this pool, but he came up spluttering saying 

“By crikey, it’s deep in there, Carol”, 

Water was pouring out of him and his mug tied to his rucksack, we were helpless with laughter. We stayed there about an hour swimming in our underpants turned back to front. We eventually carried on to the summit which is all boggy ground, not really worth the effort, on our descent the woman at the farm was very amiable and sold us eggs.

In business discussions with Ernie, we decided that we should enlarge the College Street shop and in particular the sales area. Ernie would take over my house, all the ground floor being absorbed into the shop and  the upstairs converted to a quite large (5 bed roomed) flat. We - Jean, Carol and I bought a house in Toton, what a  fantastic house it was, we were living away from the business for the first time in years. As well as the new house we bought a Austin 1800 car and a new Ford 15cwt van. In spite of this, relationships at home were not good, we should have been happy but  Jean was hard to please and always wanted more. A major problem was my bad time keeping for meals, Jean unable to see that I could not always get away on time, she would have prepared dinner and I was not there to eat it. A prime reason was that the shop not only provided a service, but it was also a meeting place, a social scene and difficult to disperse – the ‘Royal Oak’ public house directly across the road didn’t help either! Jean never took an active roll in the business and rarely visited it, even though my mother lived there.

College Street alterations were going well, although the costs were high and the extra expense caused us to increase our overdraft facilities just at the wrong time, as the bank lending rate was rising. In hindsight we would have been better off  taking out a separate loan to pay for the College Street alterations. Trade in the Tamworth Road shop was on the increase, how much easier it would have been if we’d have  had one of to-days personal computers and with all the knowledge we have now, it wouldn’t have solved our troubles but they would have been eased).

We must have been feeling well of financially in 1965 for we were to buy a riverside wooden bungalow by the Trent at the rear of the ‘Harrington Pub’, Old Sawley. The  bungalow was built and owned by a builder friend of ours, George Leivers. He was asking £500 for it but we got him down to £400 which included a boat. We had some nice times there (the M1 motor way was in the future so it was still quite and peaceful there). I would stay there on my own  sometimes and Kathleen, who by now worked at Draycott Hospital about 3 miles away, would join me during her break. Access was by a gate near the Harrington, over the flood bank  to enter a field then a track ran across the field for about ¼ mile to our bungalow. One early October night Kathleen came to see me, after ¾ hour she opened the door to leave but a thick, dense fog had descended and  even with me walking in front with a torch we could not find our way across the field to the gate for an ½ hour at least. The hectic times we had. (on another occasion after we had met down Whites Lane - a mere track then - Kathleen reversed her car in to the field to go home but neither of us had noticed  that the field had been ploughed – her car sank up to the axle ! fortunately I was able to free it by ‘rocking’ the car with the gear box. Kathleen was very impressed and another disaster and possible exposure was averted……)

The 1945 birth rate bulge had now reached the age for us to sell many Honda Motor Cycles, we had set another man on in the office hire purchase forms taking up a lot of my time. Honda also sent their dealers an entry form to fill in what sales of Honda Motor Cycles were sold over a  certain period. The top four in Derbyshire were to win trips to Japan, unfortunately our man failed to post off the form, so although we could have won the trip hands down, we lost out. The competition was held early in 1966, Neville Copestake of Derby and Lionel Minion of Derby went and had a very interesting time. I was to go on a trip with them to Majorca and Amsterdam some years later (both Honda Sales Competitions).