Thursday, 20 March 2008

#068 - 1960 - Rome Olympics

Late in 1960 we had bought a new Vauxhall ‘Cresta’ car with 6 cylinder engine (long stroke) fitted with 3 speed column change gearbox and two higher gears overdrive, maroon and silver was the colour. The front seat was a bench seat so it would carry six people with ease. We still had the tickets for the Olympic games so after a little heart searching (money wise) we decided to take the plunge. Carol and Jean didn’t have passports, so I rang the head Passport Office at Petty France in Kensington and was told to be down at the office the following morning 9 a.m. and the passports would be issued. I then organised the “Green Card” insurance etc through the RAC and tickets for the channel crossing - we were to sail from Folkestone on the midnight boat to Boulogne.

We travelled down to London the previous evening booking into a ‘bed & breakfast’ hotel. Whilst waiting for our passports we took a trip round the city of London and in Trafalgar Square we saw a travel shop, I went in and much to our surprise was able to arrange a package holiday which included several trips, accommodation in a monastery and a concert in Rome. We collected the passports and so drove on to Folkestone where we had a few hours on a local beach, and then at 11 p.m. we boarded the boat. An uneventful crossing, the sea being dead calm, we drove off the boat heading through the Great War battlefields were my Dad had been during the First World War. Arras, Bapaume, Menin Gate Amiens, Chateau Thierry and so down to Dole then to Dijon and so over the Jura Mountains in to Switzerland. The weather and the scenery impeccable. We descended in to Lausanne where at a fork in the road i.e. left to Neufchatel and right for Brega and the Grand St Bernard Pass, we managed to get super accommodation on the interchange. The people here made quite a fuss of us and a big crowd gathered round the car.

Early risers the next morning we travelled alongside the lovely Lake Leman to Montreux, Sion and Brig then over the stupendous Grand St Bernard Pass with its lovely view of Mont Blanc with the Monastery and small lake in the foreground. The descent was a bit hairy but we soon found ourselves in the majestic busy City of Milan. We seemed to be lost, when I espied a very small sign which said Autostrada, we followed these signs which eventually put us on the “Route de Sol” I thought the road had been completed to Rome, but it disappeared at Bolonga. We then inquired the way from an Italian, and with all sorts of signs and markings on the map, we were to instructed to travel to Forli on the Adriatic, then turn right going through Assisi, Perugia and so on to Rome.

Whilst on the lower slopes of the Grand St Bernard Pass a Vespa scooter came careering towards us obviously out of control with a ‘wheelie’. On this machine were two Welsh girls, they just missed us and fell off in front of a rented Ford with three Australian lads who were also going to the Olympics, luggage was all over the road, and a wallet with money. One girl had a large ‘egg shaped’ bump in her forehead, she obviously would have concussion. The other girl had cut her arm and leg. We had a good first aid kit with us and were able to administer aid as best we could. Meanwhile the Australian lads had, with great present of mind, managed to stop a small flat bottom farm vehicle, the Swiss driver could speak English, he picked up the bike (which strangely enough did not show any sign of damage) promising us that he would take the girls to the nearest Hospital and then take them to the nearest YHA. We said goodbye to the Australian “threesome” and by coincidence we were to see them in the stadium at the Opening Ceremony they sat in the next seats to me. I have often wondered how these Welsh girls fared because we forgot to take their addresses.

We arrived in Rome early in the morning, what a busy city - cars, motor bikes, mopeds, scooters and bikes by the thousand. After several mistakes we eventually found the Monastery, it was in a beautiful spot on a wooded hillside near to the Forum, we pressed the doorbell and a big oak door opened with compressed air, we explained our visit to the Sister who readily had us park the car in their private square, then took us in to the Monastery and gave us a splendid meal. We were then taken up to our dormitory where we had a family room. The other people staying here were Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australian and Americans, we had a great time with them.

As we had driven all night we decided to go to bed for a few hours before we tackled Rome. The Opening Ceremony was in the evening and luckily the weather had cooled. Unfortunately, whilst we had three tickets, one was on one side of the Arena and two on the other so we had to part. Carol and Jean to the nearside of the Stadium and me on the other, typical really, when I eventually found my seat who should be there but the Australians we had seen on the Grand St Bernard.

The following morning after a good breakfast we were off on a trip to the Vatican and St. Peters (This was included in the price of the package we had bought in London).We were taken on a coach and had a guide, it was a moving experience and took up all the morning. After lunch we braved the busy city to find the new Olympic Velodrome as we had tickets for the cycling events. The first event on the lavish programme was the 1000 metre sprint for tandems and in the third heat our own Eric Thompson and Peter Brotherton were competing. The stadium was not full but we gave our tandem duo a big ovation, calling their names and making our presence known. After the race and the two were on a ‘wind-down’ lap, they looked to see where all the support for them was coming from – and were amazed and pleased to see us! Eric had no idea we were in Rome and he and Peter came in the crowd to sort us out, we had a long chat and who should join us but Gold medallist from Australia Ron Webb (later to be the great builder of six day wooden Velodromes). It was a honour to make his acquaintance. As the team had no transport other than a lorry for the forthcoming road race, Eric asked if I could come to the village early on the Sunday and take the team to the start. (Before that, Lloyd Binch was competing in the sprints and he won his first heat but went out in the second round to Baski of USSR).

By now I was allowed in the middle of the track and witnessed a row between the manager and Karl Barton. Karl had been informed earlier that this particular afternoon was for training purposes for the 1000 Time Trial and the Open 1000m sprint, consequently he had not brought his higher sprockets. In fact, his event was actually on the same afternoon and so he had to ride in the TT on a lower gear than he would normally, his time was not too bad 1m11secs.. The race was won by an Italian with 1m8secs who also won the sprint the same afternoon, his name Giriadoni.

Days before the road race Jean, Carol and I were taken by coach to Tivoli gardens about 20 mile south of Rome where we had another good day, this package was proving to be the highlight of the holiday. We were also taken to Aosta beach - an old Roman watering place, the trouble was the heat, and one could not walk on the sand. This was the same day the 100km Team Pursuit was held, the heat proving too much for a Danish rider who collapsed and died of sun stroke. We found out later in the day that Anita Longsborough had won a gold medal for England in the swimming - this cheered all our teams up.

The day of the road race soon arrived, I was down at the Olympic Village quite early, Eric met me at the gate and, after explaining my reason for being there we were let in. Eric and I picked up the bikes and gear for the four riders, Arthur Maxfield the team manager went to the road circuit by bus. On our arrival at the famous Car racing circuit, we checked the bikes and the spare wheels then went in to the pits, where a hell of a row was in progress between the race organisers (UCI) and our team manager. An England ladies cycle team had competed in the World Championships in East Germany the week before and had travelled down to Rome as spectators - two of the girls were close friends of the Olympic Team. They were in the pits when Arthur arrived and after greeting each other, the girls asked if they could help in any way. Arthur was pleased to accept and promptly set them. The rules clearly state that no women were allowed in the pits area, and this is what the kafuffle was about. Eric and I listened for a while and then decided to go on the other side of the circuit to the service bay with the wheels and spare bikes. (There was no following service car in those days so service personnel were spaced around the circuit).

The race eventually started and they kept together for several laps but eventually a breakaway formed on a slight uphill gradient, to our delight this contained our own Billy Holmes and Bill Bradley. With three laps to go, the official feeding time commenced – first attempts to pass the mussette to both Bills was unsuccessful so they had to wait till the next lap. So anxious was the helper Joe McLean to succeed this time, he ran out and the mussette swung into the front wheel of Billy Holmes fetching him off, Bill Bradley close behind could not avoid the hapless Billy and so they were both floored!! Bill Bradley was able to re-mount but Billy (Holmes) bike was too damaged. Fortunately an England Olympic trackman was standing close by with his road bike and was able to hand this to Billy, whilst they were both able to finish, too much time had been lost and they finished in the second group and out of the medal places.! I remembered the incidence but not the full details and so – 40 odd years later – I telephoned Billy Holmes to get clarification; Later I was speaking to Barry Hoban and mentioned the incident to him – he suprised me with the added information that he had been that England Olympic trackman and so it was on Barry’s bike that Billy had finished! Our old Peace Race rival Kapitanov of USSR won the gold medal, but it could have been so different. With the benefit of hind sight years, Eric and I should have supported Arthur Maxfield, after all he had hell of a task on his own. (I was to go with Arthur to the “Tour of Poland” in September 1962).

We eventually left the Frashetti circuit, I think all the team were in the car, we had no trouble entering the village, but I did have trouble finding my way back to the Monastery after I had taken the girls back to their “digs”. We went to an open air concert the evening before our depart, this was also part of the package. A large orchestra played and the vocalist being very good. He sang “Arriverderchi Roma” for his finale, pointing at Carol making crying signs. During our Rome visit we went to several camp sites and Youth Hostels to enquire the whereabouts of brother in law Peter, we were allowed the use of in house tannoy, all to no avail.

We left Rome early and by a different route on Monday morning, going by Siena and Florence, eventually staying the night in the Tirreno Port of La Spezia.We had dinner then a lovely evening walk round the naval area, a Navy band was playing on the sea front. The next morning we went to pay for our stay and food, we found we were out of - or at least had not got enough - Italian currency. In a discussion with the proprietor, we said we would wait until the Banks opened then we would change our English money ‘No’ said the man ‘we will make present to you, for Italia Anglia friendship’, we were overwhelmed by their kindness. I checked the map and decided to take the scenic coast road towards Genoa, instead of the new Autostrada. After being on this scenic road for about 10 mile we saw in the distance a touring cyclist, this turned out to be Jean’s brother Pete, we were all “gob smacked” he was completely speechless. We brewed tea on our calor gas stove, the first English brew he had drunk in months. After swapping stories and filling his saddle bag with food and fruit we bid him farewell (3 month elapsed before his return to England). We managed to bypass Genoa to Allesandria then up the Aousta valley and so over the petit St Bernard then on to the Grand St Bernard, we stayed at the Monastery hostel at the summit. This was another experience - the beds were like boxes, very high off the floor and you really did have to climb in to bed. From there we descended to Lausanne, calling at the same hotel as on our outward journey, the Swiss made us very welcome. We left Lausanne reverting to our outward journey and so home.

I returned to the shops which had again been doing well, priority had to be given to the Purchase Tax returns. The manufacturers and the Tax authorities had come up with a scheme whereas a Dealer paid for the motor cycle in full, the Purchase Tax need not be paid until the motor cycle was sold. A lot of motor cycles had been sold so a big cheque went off to the Inland Revenue. Autumn was soon upon us and this saw us walking in Derbyshire going up Bleaklow and Kindescout.

On the YHA side, regular Sunday (and when able, weekends) trips were made to the Peak District - an annual weekend event was to Ilam for Bonfire Night. A riotous Pantomime was performed by members prior to the fireworks, directed by “Tinsel” Allen wife of famous mountain climber “Nat” Allen and always a roaring success. 7 years previously (1953) and with 15 entrants, Derby Mercury’s annual Cross Country Race was born – originally between the cyclists and walkers of the Derby Mercury Running Club, it was intended to ‘run off’ the excesses of the previous bonfire night. A cross-country course of just under 5 miles, it would eventually reach national acclaim and become known as the ‘Dovedale Dash’. It started at Ilam Hall just before the main gate to Ilam YHA, the course going along side the River Dove to Thorpe, round Thorpe Cloud over the stepping stones in Dovedale and then return to Ilam YHA. The first event was won by that stalwart Ken Broadhurst of Derby Mercury. Now it has grown to a main International race and is run by the Peak National Park. In 2000 the number of runners was a massive 1,200 of all abilities.

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