Club Magazine, No. 8, February 1953.

“Wantage Story”

My story begins on the eve of our return from Cleeve Hill Youth Hostel in November 1951.On the previous day I had realised that my chain was slack, but had taken no notice of it, saying to myself “Oh, I’ll see to it when we get to Cleeve Hill”. On arrival at the hostel after a hard day’s ride, the chain was furthermost from my mind; all I was concerned with was a good meal and the prospect of a comfortable evening spent in the warmth of the common-room. So I decided to leave the chain until the morning.The evening turned out to be every bit as comfortable as I had expected, and I stayed up late with Alan playing a game of darts, the result being that we went to bed about half an hour later than everyone else. On entering the dormitory we found that the electric light bulb was missing. After much staggering around in the dark, I found my bunk. Yes, you have guessed it: the bunk was there but minus the bedding, just the bare springs! After a few more minutes of diligent searching I reclaimed the blankets and sleeping bag. After remaking the bed, I looked for my pyjamas but couldn’t find them anywhere, so eventually decided to sleep without them. Just then some ‘wit’ pointed them out – hanging forlornly from a beam. After retrieving them I settled down and was soon in the arms of Morpeus.[it is times like this you find out who your real friends are!].

We woke on the Sunday morning to the sound of the wind rattling the dormitory windows, and we saw that the valley below us was enshrouded in a mass of swirling white mist. After a wash (in cold water) and a good breakfast, we set about the routine hostel jobs. At least I managed to get a sweeping job, generally considered to be a ‘cushy number’!

Roger (‘Boris’) Bingham and I decided to leave the hostel in advance of the club as the homeward run was usually fast and hard, and we did not want to be dropped in the rising head wind. We packed our saddle bags and in the hurry and bustle of getting our machines on to the open road, I again forgot about the slack chain, much to my cost as you will read later. However, we set off and swooped down into Cheltenham, climbed up into Charlton Kings and then up on to the Cotswolds. We continued on through the old villages of North Cerney and Baunton to Cirencester. We passed straight through this old town, along through Ampney to the Ivy café at Fairford where we sat down to an excellent and most welcome dinner. After about half an hour the rest of the club arrived so there was no need for Boris and me to leave early. It transpired that the club had stopped for elevenses at Cirencester.

It was drizzling as we left the café, so we donned our capes and pushed on to Lechlade and Faringdon over the undulating Cotswold country. It was forty-five miles to the tea stop at Reading. This ride is always hard, but this time it was even more so, with a rain-laden head wind blowing our capes out like sails. We ‘iron men’ with single fixed wheels were green with envy for those with multiple gears. Several miles out of Faringdon we approached the summit of a small hill …… remember my slack chain?

As we descended the hill I was oblivious of my chain jumping furiously. Half way down the hill my transmission locked solid and I went into a skid. Everything then went slack and wobbly and I bumped to a stand-still. When I dismounted to inspect the damage I found that my loose chain had jumped off the rear sprocket and jammed itself between the sprocket and the rear wheel – and in the process had ripped out 12 spokes! My rear tyre was flat and the chain was also badly twisted. In fact the machine was unrideable. The club was very sympathetic, but there was I, miles from nowhere, on a country road on a cold, wet, November afternoon!

Club Magazine, No. 9, March/April 1953. “Wantage story, part 2”

Well, there I was, on my own, the club having departed homewards leaving me to my own devices [Actually they were most sympathetic. A ‘whip-round’ has held which raised about £2 to add to my own ‘reserve’ 10/- note. They then reluctantly continued: what else could they do?].

After thumbing several cars unsuccessfully I managed to stop a bus which was going back to the depot. The conductor informed me that he could take me into Wantage which was about 5 miles away. This wasn’t very far but I was grateful for small mercies, so I bundled my damaged ‘iron’ into the back of the bus. About three miles short of Wantage, however, the conductor changed his mind and turned me out, saying that he would not be going any further. This was a catastrophe, but I soon managed to get another lift in a small van. I put my bike in the back and sat myself down on a sack of potatoes. The driver was a sporting type, dressed in jodhpurs and his features were adorned with a large handlebar moustache. He took me into Wantage and also told me what he thought of cyclists in not too pleasant terms.

After he drove off, I was alone again in the deserted streets of Wantage and I started looking around desperately for a cycle shop. After a while I found a small shop down a side street. It didn’t look too hopeful but I knocked loudly on the side door. There was no answer so I knocked again. I still could get no answer so I wandered round to the back yard. On looking into a shed I saw a small boy amongst piles of old bikes, cartwheels and old tyres. He informed me that ‘Dad’ was around at the garage. When ‘Dad’ heard my tale of woe, he said that he’d soon fix me up with a dozen spokes, so with raised hopes I followed him back into the shed.

My hopes were soon dashed, however, when it appeared that he had never heard of 27 inch wheels and only stocked 26 inch. I walked off dragging my ‘iron’ behind me, thanking him for his trouble in a small voice. I then started to walk down the road in the direction of Reading, hoping for another lift. I think that I was quite willing to walk all the way to Reading and the nearest station of any size, however long it took me!

I hadn’t the faintest idea where the rest of the club was by this time, but I hoped desperately that they were behind me. They were and they soon caught me up. After a long discussion in which they convinced me that I had no hope of walking to Reading, they persuaded me to walk back into Wantage and try to get lodgings for the night, even if it was at the local police station. Anyway, armed with their donations of cash, I pushed off into the gloom. I lifted my bike onto my shoulder and started to walk back into the town I had just left, wondering what a night in a cell would be like.

Just then a small Ford car pulled up alongside me and a voice said “Can I help you?”. I felt like showering him with kisses, but I just poured out my profuse thanks. He tied my bike on the back of the car with yards and yards of string, then I climbed into the seat beside him and off we went in the direction of Wantage. It appeared that my ‘Good Samaritan’ was himself an old cyclist, and had been in such a predicament himself. He asked me where I wanted to go, so I told him the nearest railway station, so we set off towards Wantage station.

Wantage station is some two miles to the northwest of the town and can only be classed as a ‘halt’. We couldn’t find the entrance and ended up in the goods yard. We climbed out of the car and crossed the lines to the platform. The whole station was deserted, the only signs of life being a board on which was chalked “Train to London – 1.30”. As it was now 5.30 p.m. it looked as though I’d had it as far as catching a train goes.

My new-found friend then offered to take me on to Oxford which was another 10 miles along the road, even though he lived in Faringdon and was going out of his way. On reaching Oxford Station, he saw me on to the platform and then departed. I bought a ticket to Slough, then ‘phoned my parents telling them of my plight and to ask them to provide some sort of transport for me at Slough.

The train drew in, I parked by machine in the guards van, then found a vacant seat in a packed compartment. My face and knees were spattered with mud and my hands were covered with black grime. As I was receiving many disgusted glances from my fellow travellers I went along to the toilet, washed myself and changed my shorts for a pair of long trousers that I had in my saddlebag. Looking a little more respectable I returned to my seat: I don’t think the other occupants of the compartment realised I was the same person.

I was hanging out of the window as the train pulled into Reading and to my surprise saw Ken Meredith and his wife with their tandem. It appeared that the ride was too much for them and they decided to carry on with British Railways! On arriving at Slough, I waited about an hour for my ‘transport’ [Since we had no family car, my parents had persuaded my sister’s boyfriend Ken to get his brother Vernon to come to my rescue!]. Once again my bike was tied up with yards of string on the back of the car and we headed for home and bed.

It was along the road from Slough that I saw Ken Dopson slowly making his way up a hill. It seemed that he had gone out to tea at Reading to meet the club, but they hadn’t turned up at the appointed time. After waiting until 6.30 he pushed off home. The remainder of the journey was uneventful but it had an amusing conclusion – I arrived home long before the club. Considering that at one time I had no hope of reaching home that night, it was even more amusing.

[The sharp eyed reader will notice that I claimed the full distance for the weekend – 198 miles – even though I covered much of it by train and car. But then I think that I deserved that, don’t you?]