(a short? Magical mystery tour)
Part 1 The journey
So how and where did it start? A good question. For the author (bless his cotton socks) has become vaguer with the passing years, but bear with him, for a little journalistic licence may be the answer for all of us.
In the beginning there was this group (it was not a gang because they possessed only part of a gang’s equipment, like leather jackets, and winkle pickers, but certainly not knuckle dusters), and it must have been approximately 1958 or 1959, but before The Beatles. The gang (sorry group) had spent the previous week of their hols terrorising (sorry again I mean enjoying) the delights of a small holiday camp in Devon, Dawlish Warren in fact to be exact, which for most of them, could have been compared to a foreign holiday, as the majority of this group had not ventured outside the confines of their village which was called Edmonton (except on Mondays when The Royal in Tottenham was visited for added excitement).
Anyway, this first week of their holidays (this was the era when only 2 weeks was thought sufficient for their labour) were over, and what to do with the second week was uppermost in their minds, although it could be true to say not much else was in there. Now the commodity of cash being in even shorter supply than today, the ownership of transport like a bike, was a vital ingredient towards further adventure, which could not be achieved by the limited amount of cash required for a second week of outright pleasure. So, it was obvious that with almost every member of this group having ownership of the said transport the only choice to be made was, where do we go? Now I can’t quite remember who suggested Lands End, but I’m damn sure the Burke who had suggested this destination actually never turned up on the Monday morning raring to go, he just wasn’t there.
Now it has to be said that out of our 4 Adventurers 3 of them were actually bike riders of some repute and thought of this did not deter them as much as it should have done. The fourth member being 2 years younger, and a little less mature than his elder brother, was convinced by him that his hand me down bike (everything was handed down in those days to younger brothers, because of this lack of cash mentioned previously) was going to do the job now facing him, was less than convinced. Even though his mum had given him her permission she was relying on his elder brother to see him safely through this ordeal, he was still not entirely convinced that he should be there when the other 6 were not.
We had arranged at the normal place which was at the junction of Silver St and Angel Rd, at an outdoor outfitter called Pollocks (yes, I am correct in this spelling, as we always met there on every occasion, and it was a definite P at the beginning). In fact, some members of this group had purchased rolled up lightweight sleeping bags for this very occasion at the said Pollocks. We knew the quality of these goods were assured as the salesman, a Mr Chamberlain actually lived opposite 3 of our group in the same street where they resided, and surely, he would not have sold these goods with the knowledge that a knock on his front door would emanate, had these goods been less than satisfactory. This was our thinking at the time, and had sufficed for our generation, because we hadn’t realised a different world was about to be unleashed after Rock n Roll had finished (did it finish?). Had we known that only 4 of this group out of a possible 10 had actually purchased these green bags, the 4 that did turn up would not have been so surprised and saddened by the 6 that didn’t turn up, so much for the camaraderie and comradeship, these 4 thought the other 6 had.
But it was now 8-30 am, and a decision to go or not was paramount with the peak rush hour receding (this was 1958) the 4th younger member did not want to lose face, despite his youth he wasn’t going to let this exalted company get the better of him, even though 2 of this group were his closest relatives, so against his better judgement he opted to venture into the North Circular Rd with gay abandonment (that he has regretted ever since).
I suppose at this juncture we should introduce these 4 young riders in order of age (not importance). First up was Macleans No.1 followed by Macleans No.2 then Hetchins No.1, and last but not least the hand me down Norman Invader. There were no double chainrings, with only 5 sprockets at the rear, although Macleans No.1 sported a Campag gear (he had a paper round) there was more hope than engineering expertise to see this group through the tour they had now embarked upon.
The route to Lands End had a strange connotation to it because our 4 riders, after traversing the North Circular Rd, made their way onto the A4, their destination “Bristol”, an odd way to reach their end result you may be thinking, and you would be correct in thinking this. Let me try to explain their thinking behind making “Bristol” the first port of call after leaving “Pollocks”, in order to inform you of this strange behaviour, we must go back in time when the whole group visited Dawlish Warren the previous first week of their hol’s.
It was amongst the sand dunes of this idyllic Devon paradise our group met with another group, and unlike the Mods & Rockers of a later era, this meeting did not transpire into an almighty punch up, but just a friendly challenge to a football match in the said dunes.
Our group believing that because all lived within half a mile of the Spurs football ground this would give them the edge, because Spurs were in the top echelon of this sport, and they were supporters of the highest mode. We didn’t know whether this group even had a team to support, because that’s right you’ve got in one, they all came from “Bristol” this was going to be a pushover.
Was it hell! We were thoroughly thrashed, and serve them right for feeling so superior, but when the game was finished (it couldn’t come quick enough) both groups seemed to click, and Bonhomie was the order of the day. So, when addresses were swapped at the end of the week, this was not the start of the homosexual era (because it was already there albeit under wraps, and we didn’t know it even existed), but the outcome was that both groups promised to look each other up, if and when they were in their patch.
So down, or in fact westward to be exact, along this A4 our intrepid travellers rode knowing it must lead to “Bristol” because all the road signs said so, and road signs are never wrong are they? But concentration was becoming lax for late in the afternoon there was a slight build-up of traffic at the next road sign, which Macleans No.2 had not anticipated, and in turning around to his erstwhile companions advising them to continue along the A4 went slap bang into the back of a car. Which had stopped because everybody else had, except of course our hero Macleans No.2. Luckily the pace was not high due to it being late pm, and all 4 were on their last legs, so no mechanical mishap transpired, not even a small front wheel buckle could be seen. The strange thing was that the driver of this obstruction to our group, didn’t even get out of his car to peruse any damage done to either his car (There wasn’t) or Macleans No.2’s condition, and quickly moved away as the traffic freed itself up. Our hunch was, that looking in his rear-view mirror at these 4 unshaven (sorry I mean 3 because the Norman Invader by virtue of age hadn’t even started) figures gesticulating at this signpost denoting Bristol this way, must have thought discretion the better part valour, and stayed put in his car.
If anyone was in this vicinity of the A4 signpost to Bristol in August 1958 and can remember this incident I can assure you this is the definitive version, and no good will come of trying to resurrect this case, as Macleans No.2 has completed his penance, just as Henry 2 the second has completed his about the Thomas Beckett affair.
By now a little further down the road, with dusk about to gather around our champions (although all 4 had lights) a conflab took place as to how far Bristol was, and would any of the Bristol group be up at approx. 10-30pm to welcome us with open arms, plus tea and biscuits, with a plea from this desperate group of hopefully a bed for the night? The answer was a self-evident “No”.
The solution to this situation was settled within a mile, as just after a bend in the road Macleans No.1 shouted with glee (as he often did, that’s why he was the unelected leader of the group also the eldest by 3 months) there it was a damn great haystack in the corner of a field beckoning us to rest awhile. I don’t know if any of you readers have slept on a haystack, but it is not as heavenly or adventurous as you may imagine it to be, but our “Pollocks” rolled up sleeping bags relieved some of the discomfort, and after rearranging the lower bales and keeping the 4 bikes close by, our tired and exhausted group went out like a light, of which by now there was none.
It would be difficult to know at what time they awoke, except that the awakening was indeed very noisy, turning out to be the farmers dog who had found us, and apparently did not consider us to be friendly along with his owner The Farmer whose haystack we had adopted for the night. Despite Macleans No.1’s protestations about our plight the previous night, and that his haystack had probably saved our lives just seemed to fall on deaf ears (as they often did, but he was still our unelected leader). So, a quick hasty exit was the order of the day, back on the same road to Bristol, only to find just up the road a signpost stating the desired destination only 13 miles away, which meant our champions had ridden the previous day further than they had ridden ever before, and probably since.
This information seemed to buoy the group up, and the haystack incident was soon forgotten, as the 4 sped on their way to see if the Bristol boys were indeed alive and kicking (as they been the previous week). Although they had a couple of addresses it wasn’t as easy to find as they had imagined (don’t forget this was before postal codes and even Sat Navs) looking back it was the simplicity of youth with all of its exuberance which made the task appear simple. Eventually about mid-morning one of the addresses was found, (if they remember correctly, they think it was a first floor flat) and our group stood nervously at the front door, pondering at the enormous feat of endurance and stamina, which had bought them all this way just for hopefully Tea and Biscuits. They needn’t have worried, as the door opened, and before them was indeed one of the Bristol Boy’s Mum, who excelled in all the characteristics only a good mum can. She informed us that all the lads had gone back to work that week (unlike our group who still had a large of riding to complete that week) but offered to visit her boys place of work and see if he would be allowed home for this momentous occasion. Although they had come a long way on the chance of meeting with one of their old friends (of at least a week ago) it seemed a bit over the top, and just tea and biscuits would suffice for the inconvenience they may have caused.
We bade fond farewells to our lovely Bristol boys mum and headed for the Clifton Suspension Bridge which they knew existed because they had seen it in photos and pictures of the travel brochures (our group were no fools at the business of travelling) and indeed it was on the way to Lands End. What they hadn’t bargained for was its height, narrow lanes, and the wind, which precipitated a walk across the said bridge rather than traverse dangerously across it on the bikes. Even today they still believe it was the best decision they had made, considering their youth, and the promises to their respective mums to be careful.
Once across safely it was bike mounting time with a new destination in mind “Minehead” with the hope of reaching it before Butlins Holiday Camp destroyed the said township. The journey approx. 40 miles was uneventful in respect of what had transpired up till now, and Minehead was reached late afternoon with no mishaps. The 4 immediately set about riding up and down Minehead’s side streets looking for a one-night stand (sorry I mean a bed and breakfast) in order to avoid another haystack incident. This I believe they eventually found and parked their classic steeds in a secure place of this establishment and headed for the beach.
Because paddling was a national pastime, whereby swimming was normally a freezing experience. This was best left for the foolhardy, and those lucky enough to be able to participate in this exercise within the warm Mediterranean forever known as the Med. Anyway, they had not packed any swimming trunks known in those days simply as cosies (I have no idea why).
After the paddling exercise our lithesome 4 walked back to the wooden seating area, at the back of the beach only for Hetchins No.1 to let out an exasperated cry that his watch was missing which we assumed had been attached to his left wrist (he was left-handed, and in fact still is). Now you may wonder why a 15-year-old lad actually owned a watch, but you have to realise like Macleans No.1 he also had a paper round (not the same one), and it becomes apparent that the way to success in those days was to be attached to the paper trade in some way or other. On the other hand (not the one with watch) the other 2 had never been able to acquire one of these paper rounds and were looked upon as being somewhat poor relations therefore being watch-less and Campag-less, you obviously had to be in the know to be in the paper trade. Luckily the missing watch that had caused so much concern to Hetchins No.1 (and in fact all of them) mysteriously appeared, after approx. 40 minutes, washed up on the shore, surely this was a sign from above, that the Giant Corporate Paper Magnets were shining on them.
This incident with the watch bought the 4 into another conflab about their end destination, and it became reasonably obvious (that without further intervention from those Paper Magnets, which couldn’t always be relied upon) that with the amount of time left to get back to their allocated mums at the end of the week, a train journey to Newquay would be the answer to the problem.Therefore, early the following morning saw our super group standing outside Minehead Railway Station, with their paper round money at the ready in order to procure the appropriate tickets. The siting of the classic steeds into the guard’s van proved no problem as there was ample room, and the 4 made their way to the passenger seating for a nice comfortable journey all the way to Newquay. All of a sudden there appeared before our gallant heroes a man with what looked like a strange hat (yes it was the guards van man) and he was not a happy man. Are you the owners of those bikes in my van he asked? Being that no one else on the train looked remotely like us, the answer had to be! Yes officer, what appears to be the problem. Well, you can’t travel on this train with those bikes, without them being labelled was the stern reply, so you’ll have to remove them or travel without them. Can you supply these labels for us they asked? No again was the reply, we only transport people and goods with the appropriate certification, but we’re not in the game of mollycoddling people with actually supplying the said labels, we’re not a private enterprise anymore, we’ve been Nationalised.
It was at this juncture our unelected leader suddenly rose from his seat and proposed that we were all of to the toilet for a meeting where an answer to this situation would be found. The guards man so startled by this scenario taking place, made no attempt to obstruct the 4, and just stood idly by as they all trooped into the toilet. Where a toilet roll was partly torn into 4 pieces, and each rider wrote their names and addresses on the allocated strips and attached each strip to their finest steeds. Striding back to their seats, and addressing the somewhat subdued guardsman by now, asked him whether this action would suffice to alleviate the situation now facing both parties. Mumbling under his breath somewhat discernibly, that it would cover the problem he had encountered for the moment but would check later to see that the strips were still attached and proceeded to amble off in the opposite direction from whence he had first appeared. He was not seen again for the rest of the trip, and we can rest assured this was one of Macleans No.1’s finest moments, but it was still not considered for him to be officially elected, until the whole journey was completed.
On the way to Newquay there was an unexpected stop at a strangely named place called Par, for what reason cannot be remembered by this group, but it was long enough for a quick walk to the beach (making sure their hastily made labels were still securely attached). The national pastime of paddling previously mentioned, would have been on the cards, if it were not for the appearance of what can only be described as a mighty effluence of bubbles, and a distasteful smell, stretching the whole of the small beach about 4 feet high, making the entry of the briny sea impossible. This would have been before our entry into the Common Market, and the nasty sight of this beach with all its effluence, could possibly have been the reason for our precipitation into it, we will never know, but for now a quick retreat back to the Newquay headed train with all its valuable cargo in it was the order of the day.
Upon alighting at Newquay station late in the afternoon, our 4 travellers proceeded to search for (no not a haystack) somewhere to lay their unshaven heads for the night, but Bed & Breakfast at this popular surfing seaside town was out of the question, because there were no vacancies. Even if there had been it’s unlikely our cheapskate group could have afforded their prices, despite two of them owning a part time paper round each. A solution to this scenario came unexpectedly, as on their way down to the cove in the small bay constituting Newquay’s famous surfing beaches two seated shelters (we assumed were made for older people, mainly because old people were sitting in them) were spied. This looked like the answer to their problem, but what to do with occupants, who in the main appeared to be in a worse state of health than they were. Hetchins No.1 said it didn’t seem right to just park themselves , and bikes in front of them , and stare them out , as he and the other 3 were not bought up that way, so it was agreed that a walk back up to the town for window shopping and perhaps light refreshment was the best idea .
The problem of what to do with their bikes was solved quite easily by allocating the Norman Invader the job , because he being the youngest had less cash to spend , despite his eldest brother being forced to sub him each week out of his apprenticeship low wage , by their shared mum .This time spent window shopping didn’t take too long as most shops were geared for the surfing brigade , and although most of it was appealing and cool for that era , the thought of at least 2 surf boards being transported by 4 bikes seemed a bigger obstacle than even they could handle .By this time with dusk falling again , the group felt it prudent to retrieve the accommodation they had found earlier , and make themselves as comfortable as possible which was not easy with the surfing waves crashing onto the beach below every 5 minutes . At least the old people who had vacated the premises by now, were all probably in a better position tucked up in their beds, than this unfortunate group on the seafront.
Earlier morning awakening was the order of the day, not by choice, but because a large section of the surfing population had to pass by their bedroom on their way to the surf, and those big boards were making a very noisy clatter on the railings, even before our heroes had drawn the curtains. It was probably just as well they vacated early, in case that group of older people trooped down from there B & Bs to retrieve their allocated seats (they weren’t looking for trouble) despite their appearance. Luckily for our riders an early start was what was required, for they had decided to make for “St Just ” which was reasonably close to their end destination Lands End, and also hosted a Y H A youth hostel. Our boys knew this to be true, because prior to their journey they had all joined ( being amateur youths ) , and at that time the YHA was not applicable to other travellers who didn’t arrive either by foot or bike. So, with the appropriate handbook in their possession, and after a quick wash and brush up (and boy did they need it) in the public toilets situated nicely at the top of the steps from their part time bedroom, our newly cleaned up boys mounted their classic trusty steeds.
Looking back now at the map (yes, a map remember them?) the ride to St Just was approximately 40 miles, which doesn’t seem so far in today’s terms, but the terrain was unknown, and our boys were not speed merchants in the truest sense of the word, so approx. 40 miles was thought to be adequate for the day, plus they had promised their mums not to go silly with speed. As far as they can recall they must have travelled the A 30 until it reached St Ives (there is a conglomerate of Saints in Cornwall for what reason I do not know) whereby you can branch off along the coast road to St Just (see what I mean), but before this our super group were feeling quite famished. Luckily for them what could only be described as a transport cafe appeared on the road (it had probably been there some time) which from memory was most likely to alleviate the hunger knock known in those days as The Bonk.
After securing the bikes, they all trooped in and approached the counter, which offered an array of fry ups, and crusty rolls filled with various combinations destined really for younger teeth. I note this only because in the 50 s, the types of older people frequenting sea fronts, and cafes mostly would have been sporting false teeth, or in fact no teeth at all, as was the case in many families of the time. Upon reminiscing about this observation, it is my belief that the success of today’s Tea Shops filled with lovely cakes, with so many types of tea, and especially coffee variations, is down to the accommodation of many mouths with fillings, and of course implants (for the well-heeled) so that crusty rolls and fry ups, have mostly disappeared from our menus.
But for Maclean’s No2 it was not the menu that had caught his eye, but the lying high up on the shelf behind the counter was the most wonderful Top Hat one could imagine. This was a must have acquisition, and all thoughts of crusty rolls took a back seat, whilst he stood there ogling this type of clothing apparel. To this day he cannot explain why after much bartering with the cafe owner, he acquired this Fred Astaire commodity, we can only assume that it appealed to his zany, and misplaced top of his head humour, (excuse the pun) much later bought to the public eye by the likes of the Goon Show, and Monty Python. After departing from this establishment fully refuelled and clutching this Top Hat for all that it was worth, the problem of how to fit this on the bike became apparent, for although not as cumbersome as a surfboard, it wasn’t going to be easy. The problem was overcome simply by transporting some of his junk into his younger brothers’ saddlebag, and then putting his rolled up yellow (they were yellow in those days) cape into his saddlebag attaching the Top Hat with toe straps on top of it. As the group moved off it was it was difficult to know how they appeared to the general public, for with their black leather jackets and black Top Hat swinging in the breeze, they could be envisaged as a specialised funeral mourning group on their way to the parlour (Dave Allen comes to mind.).
Part 3 The magical mystery bit
I promise you dear reader the spirit of the story is about to unravel as the mystery of this epic journey was about to enter St Just, and not before time.
Upon reaching the street (as they recall only the one) of St Just it became obvious that the YHA hostel was not in the town, as apparently most of them weren’t, but situated the other side of town lying close to a wooded area, with a grassed area in front of it, with no obvious pathway leading to it. Although the lads had not pre booked, there was bound to be room, wouldn’t there? I mean who would travel to a desolate old mining town like St Just, and voluntarily stay in a run-down old YHA.hostel for the fun of it, even in the middle of August! Before they entered the grassed area, for some reason (I know not what) it seemed prudent to leave the bikes outside, with one member guarding this valuable merchandise. While the other 3 made their way into the actual hostel to book their accommodation and find out what chores would be allocated to them the following morning. Did I not mention that this was the norm for most YHA hostels? whereby to offset the price of accommodation, and meals, every occupant was told what that chore would be allocated to them, anything from washing up, make the beds, clean the floor etc, would be expected of them. This exercise I presume allowed the YHA to run on an economic basis whereby the warden, and usually his wife were able to run an establishment with very little help from an outside workforce, despite the usual moans and groans emanating from its occupants when they were designated these tasks. Our gallant 4 needn’t have worried about this, because the Warden when approached mentioned that there was no room at the Inn anyway, but they were at liberty to bed down on the grassed area as best they could. This was followed by a severe warning from him that there were wild dogs in the area, and he could not be held responsible for their safety, and of course they would still have to complete those onerous chores.
When this warning had sunk in especially the chores bit, our 3 thanked him for his understanding of their situation (which was not an easy task). and proceeded back over the grassed area from whence they came, to meet with Hetchins No 1 who had mysteriously offered to guard the bikes. Along with Hetchins No 1 stood an apparition commonly known as a young girl, whom we will describe as an ” Angel of the Morning ” because unto this day her name was never mentioned in passing. It now became clearer as to why Hetchins No1 had volunteered for the guarding job, but it could never be proved, and anyway we were all taken aback by this beauty before us, Macleans No 1 was even temporarily speechless.
Those 2 words now used so easily, Testosterone & Oestrogen were not common in the 50 s, and our super group just thought that being young and feeling sprightly was normal. But it was apparent that Hetchins No1 had an abundance of this chemical (although I’m convinced his mum didn’t know) for although he didn’t have the appearance of a ” Ricky Nelson ” look alike, and was smaller in stature, it didn’t hold him back in the chatting up stakes he was awesome, and he must have thought he’d scored.
Our ” Angel of the Morning “(although it was late afternoon) listened intently, about our tales of woe with great empathy, which added to her mystic and beauty, but our majestic chauvinist super group by now were quivering with excitement. Especially Hetchins No 1 who had to be held back by the other 3 in case he slipped up and gave away his real intentions. The ” Angel ” told them her Gran lived in the woods nearby, and she could possibly accommodate a young group like them for a period of time without cost, and more importantly no chores. This appealed to our excited group as a possible answer to their predicament, and when ” Angel “offered to show them the way through the woods in case they got lost (they had no O S map of the woods) there quivering became worse. So, off this group of 5 went with obviously ” Angel ” in the lead, through the narrow paths of these woods, which was not easy, walking and tripping over their bikes as they meandered the paths trying to keep up with ” Angel “, who was a fast walker (maybe because Hetchins No 1 was still quivering).
Often ” Angel ” would disappear around the many bends in the path, only to reappear on the path further along it. By now the sensible 3 of the group had calmed down somewhat from their original excitement, to an anxious state of mind, because this house should have been in view by now as ” Angel ” kept saying ” it’s just around the bend “. After about what seemed to be a mile of walking, and what must surely be the last bend leading to Grans house, ” Angel ” disappeared yet again, but this time never reappeared further along the path. She just seemed to vanish completely into thin air, and despite frantic shouting from the group, Hetchins No 1 shouting the loudest, because even his quivering had ceased, no sign of our ” Angel ” could be found. What to do now? although only a mile had been approximately travelled through this wood, the wood itself had taken on a more sinister atmosphere, and did it look as though dusk was falling, it was hard to tell at this stage. A plan was what was required, and Macleans No 1 ever the optimist suggested that we gave ” Angel ” the benefit of the doubt. Surely such an apparition would not stoop so low as to lead them into a strange wood, then disappear never to be seen again, so he suggested they should continue along the path just to establish their sanity that Grans house did exist. Another half a mile down the path, and then as if by magic, a small, detached house completely on its own, and if memory serves them right it was a thatched cottage giving it a mystic atmosphere much beloved by Alfred Hitchcock. There was no apparent garden around it, leading our group (by now quite bedraggled), to fantasise that it could have been dropped from the sky, for some unknown purpose, or even the headquarters of a mysterious occult of which they had no knowledge. It was so quiet with no sign of life, not even our ” Angel of the Morning ” was there to greet us, with an explanation of why she had disappeared. Hope was beginning to fade as to what this group were doing in the middle of this wood (although Hetchins No. 1 secretly hoped all would be well, in order to act out a Ricky Nelson song, but the only one that came to mind was ” Poor little Fool “). The silence was deafening until Macleans No 2 spoke up suggesting they should walk to the back of the house which they could see from the path, and just peep into the kitchen window to see if anyone actually lived there.
Macleans No2 was not renowned for his bravery, perhaps it was the presence of his brother, and the fact he would tell his mum how brave his elder brother had been in this situation, but I don’t think so, it was probably the acquisition of that Top hat which had eventually gone to his head. As he stepped up to the window, and gazed inside, at what appeared to be the kitchen, he sighted what was a great big pot containing a large ladle inside it, plus on the walls there were numerous shelves with bottles of all different sizes and colours, which certainly could not be construed for cooking purposes, there was only one explanation; they were potions. Turning to his companions who were very close by (your right he wasn’t very brave at all). suggested they all took a gander to corroborate what he had seen, should they continue to search for the elusive ” Angel “. The answer was a definite ” No ” we should scarper before the situation got worse, and we even became victims of abduction or witchcraft.
It didn’t seem to take so long to trace there steps back up the path, and the sanctuary of the YHA hostel, where they had first met their ” Angel of the Morning “, perhaps it was because they were all running. Returning back into St Just to look for accommodation seemed pretty futile as it appeared like a morgue when they had ridden through earlier, and anyway who would wish to stay there by choice, for it was certainly not a tourist trap.
No there only one thing left open to do, despite being by now 8 pm, and that was to ride across the county from north to south, Penzance their destination where surely some type of shelter and sustenance would be found. So, on went the bike lights, to travel in the dark towards Penzance, which was probably only 10 miles away, but it felt longer. Mainly because of the lack of light, and all that trauma that had precipitated them with their quivering; they had spent their energy for that day.
Upon reaching their destination at about 9-30 pm they did a strange thing and went straight to the local Police Station commonly known as the ” The Nick “. Probably because their mums had always told them ” if you get into trouble ask a policeman, but on this occasion the Nicks constabulary were less than helpful. The desk sergeant after being told about their plight, stated that he did not know of a nice place to stay, and suggested we took a hike with our bikes somewhere else, rather than treat his treasured Nick like a boarding house agent. ” Thanks Mum any other good advice “? was on all of their lips, as they all trooped out into the night. Were the old peoples beach shelters available for accommodation, and did they actually exist here.?. The beach was not hard to find, because it was situated (where they all are) at a place where the road runs out to be confronted by the sea, simple really.
At last luck was with them, for there were many of them, funnily enough all facing the sea, with the other side all facing the road, enabling them to be described as Private and Public, which ever suited your purpose. No trace of old people could be found either, which had to be a plus, so after 4 bags of chips were found and consumed, and a couple of bouts of indigestion, the 4 unrolled their magnificent Pollocks sleeping bags owned by all, to settle down for the night.
Part 4 The last part and the moral of the Journey
Awakened early in the Penzance morning not by seagulls as you might expect, but by a uniformed policeman; was we going to get nicked for establishing ourselves into the old people’s accommodation without permission? Or had the desk sergeant the previous evening taken umbrage at treating his nick like a boarding house, and sent a special constable to move us on wherever we were? The answer was much simpler, because this officer now standing before us, had sustained a puncture on his bike whilst travelling to clock on at the Old Nick, and could we help him out as he carried no tyre levers. Our group didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed at this intrusion upon there sleeping habits, but luckily showed no emotion, and proceeded to help him with his puncture, at which the said officer was most grateful for, and then proceeded on his way to the Nick
After this incident our heroes still bleary eyed from this rude awakening, considered their plans for this new day opening up before them. Two options it seemed were open to them, being as it was now Friday, they could catch a train back to Paddington, and call it a day, but not making it to Lands End after all their efforts would be a bitter pill to swallow. So, the second option which meant putting their saddlebags and luggage, plus the Top Hat, into the Railway stations left luggage facility temporarily. This would enable them to ride the 15 miles round trip to Lands End unhindered and be back to Penzance in time to catch a later train to Torquay, where they could review their situation for the last day.
Without no more ado this option was actioned, and at about 9 am our heroes were astride their classic steeds heading for Lands End. Although by this time the Norman Invader was having second thoughts, believing the first option would have been his preferred one, and after all he still 2 years younger than the rest, but he never spoke up.
Lands End was reached fairly quickly being only a 7-mile journey, and it occurred to them that the Pollocks sleeping bags might not be as light as they had imagined and could possibly have been a handicap with their previous journeys, but life would have been a damn sight colder. It’s a good job our group had not used Lands End as an overnight stop, for there wasn’t really anything there, apart from a small cafe, and a dirty great signpost, which could be manipulated to show where you came from anywhere in the world. Which was duly used by our group as being a momentous record of their exploits in black and white, but not exactly in Vista a Rama. Having been to the end of our land, and found all you could see was actually sea, it was time to turn around, and go back from whence they came.
Now on the return ride back to Penzance, Macleans No 2 memory of it is firmly etched into his brain for reasons I shall explain, because never having been renowned as a speed merchant (especially on the hills) he found that even without trying he was off the front of the group, and after continually looking back could see no sign of his companions. The thought that mechanical mishaps like the dreaded puncture could have happened to them, never occurred to him. Just the one niggle permeated through his brain, what would his mum say if she found out that he’d left his younger brother in the lurch, despite the fact that the other 2 mature riders were with him. But unadulterated speed is an exhilaration in itself, and never having experienced this situation before, these thoughts soon disappeared over the horizon, as did he, to arrive back at the station, not sure what he had experienced, but one he has not experienced since. It was only many years later he found that all Lands’ End to John o Groats records took place starting at Lands End because (. your right) the wind was mainly behind them. Then the penny dropped, and he realised what had happened, that it was just not his physical well-being which had been the cause of his momentous ride, but this was his 15 minutes of fame, and he lived a large part of his life on it.
In reality it was only a couple of minutes before the other 3 of the group turned up, and after retrieving their luggage and Top Hat from their lockers, boarded the train heading backwards to Torquay the paradise riviera of the South West. No exploits of this train ride come to mind (mainly because there weren’t any) even labelling of their bikes cannot be recalled. Perhaps the other guards man encounter with them had been a one off, and British Rail in its many guises, considered that only employing one of these types of employees per region was quite enough for the public to endure.
Upon alighting at Torquay probably late pm, the same scenario faced our group, which was where to stay for their last night on this spectacular journey without spending their return fare the following day. Torquay’s bed & breakfast prices were considered out of the equation, despite their sumptuous appearance which nearly swayed the group to reconsider otherwise, and I feel sure if credit cards had been available there would have been no further rough sleeping. But not the usual outdoor facilities would have to suffice, and Torquay’s bandstand by (they think the small pier) was considered the most likely place to lay their heads later that night, as long as there was no late-night matinee for the band to play.
You would have thought that having achieved their goal of reaching Lands End, that the group could easily have stayed on the train all the way to Paddington without losing face. I have to inform you that this didn’t happen, because for some reason after another conflab it was partially agreed to ride over part of Dartmoor in a type of circular tour back to Teignmouth, and then catch the late-night train home, to arrive in Paddington early Sunday morning. Whether this idea was formulated under intoxicated conditions I cannot say, for only 3 of this group could have taken part in it, being as the Norman Invader was under age, and being the only sane person present, he would have simply been overruled.
Saturday morning was another early one, and after Maclean’s No 2 had used his 6-inch grips to turn on the main water tap, which was probably used to clean the band stand, a quick wash & brush up was taken by all (. but it was damn cold), before they headed for the mountains.
It was harder than they had envisaged, and even Maclean’s No 1 (Campag equipped) was struggling, which compelled him to remain unusually silent, but nobody was actually on top of their game. At this juncture it was thought that the Norman Invader was being pushed by Maclean’ s No 2 on very small occasions, but this was never proved, especially by our Norman Invader whose thoughts were more occupied by whether he should tell his mum when, and if he ever got home. There not sure, but it was believed by the time they reached Princeton (if they ever did again this was never proved) that was where the journey should have ended. The problem being no rail station, mainly because the prison authorities would not allow easy access for those unfortunate enough to be staying there. No, an abrupt turn around was realised as the best way out of this predicament by all 4, and hopefully a more downhill return journey back to Teignmouth with a proper rail station, and a trip back to Paddington just sitting down on proper seats rather than saddles
After something to eat in Teignmouth just to re-establish their sanity of mind having submitted themselves to the most difficult part of the journey, they just sat there, and pondered why they had done the last bit, with no hesitation on their part. It goes without saying, and comes as no surprise, that all 4 have never returned to Dartmoor, at least not with those bikes. The night train was duly caught (on time strangely enough), with our champions taking a well-earned rest, and a certain amount of relief, whilst this wonderful steam (yes steam) train huffed and puffed its way into Paddington in the early hours of Sunday morning.
I mention Paddington but that’s not quite true, because. at Exeter this train stopped, and just by chance one of the transport officials approached us (. luckily not yet asleep) enquiring why they thought they were going Paddington when this train wasn’t. A quick exit scrabbling to get their bikes off this Birmingham bound train, and wait for the proper Paddington bound train, was nearly the last straw for our champions, but relief came with the approach of the proper train to Paddington, whereby all 4 scrambled quickly onto it, thanking their lucky stars that not all train staff were as officious as the one first met in Minehead.
Riding back through the ‘Streets of London’ must have seemed a doodle, compared to the previous day’s epic struggle, because it was wonderfully flat, and felt more like home to them.
Passing the Royal a salute to the coming fun on Monday nights was considered appropriate, also it meant they were only 2 miles from there Mums open arms. The 3 mums (don’t forget one was shared). Were quite relieved to see them home, and more importantly safe, with Sunday Roast Dinners gratefully accepted.
Hetchins No.1 mum never did. find out about his abundance of Testosterone, but I’m sure his dad knew, and didn’t let on.
Macleans No.2 was never snitched upon by the Norman Invader, and their mum just thought they’d both come of age innocently. .
Strangely though Maclean’s No 1 was quite surprised to see him turn up in his cycling gear this Sunday morning, and asked him where he was going. Because she didn’t know he’d actually been away, the reason being she was very hard of hearing, and didn’t hear him say goodbye on the Monday. This was a common occurrence at Maclean’s No 1 flat, as we often couldn’t gain entrance to his flat when he was sleeping in, and his Mum never heard us, but she was a lovely lady as they all were.
To my knowledge no one ever spoke about our “Angel of the Morning ” for fear of reprimand or ridicule apart from amongst our Super group of 4, until now, and the truth is out.
We were duped “
The moral of this story is simple” Don’t go into the woods without an OS map, and don’t forget that everything your Mums know is nearly always pampered with love so it seems “
PS, just as an anecdote to the story I feel I must tell you about the following day at work, (the best laugh I’ve ever had). Working in Station Rd, Wood Green, (With the best fitter in our depot Cyril) in an alleyway between houses whilst running pipes outside. Cyril turned to me and asked how the holiday went. I roughly sketched out what we had done, and where we had been on our bikes. It was fairly obvious he thought I was having him on, and at the end I just casually mentioned that did you know Cyril, you can actually see the lights of Wales from Minehead sea front at night? There was a stunned silence for a second, when he turned to me thinking he’d caught me out and said in all seriousness. Don’t be daft everyone knows that whales don’t have lights. After about 30 minutes of me rolling about hysterically, he threatened to send me back to the yard to be retrained if I didn’t stop laughing.
Strange how the most stupid things stay in the mind for ever.