|The Irchester Wheelers|
I have many photos which appear to have been taken from various outings and tours that the club undertook and will endeavour to include this on this site. Mileage was no restriction in those days and I have it on good authority that in 1936 at the age of 21 Jack Carr cycled to Great Yarmouth and back, setting off at 6am and returning in time for pub opening at lunchtime, presumably the next day.
A Cycling Proficiency TaleCycling was a big part of life as I grew up. I can recall my first bike which was a second hand blue framed kids bicycle. It did not have stabilizers and I had to learn to cycle in the limited space of the back yard to the family home. This was soon replaced by a larger lads cycle which I believe was purchased from Espins in Queen Street. I always remember the distinctive smell of Espins shop. It just oozed bicycles.
In those days, despite the roads having a lot less traffic than in modern times, I was not allowed out on the main roads until I passed my Bicycle Proficiency Test. This was duly arranged over at Higham School on the corner of Warf Road and Saffron Road during the summer school holidays. In order to get over there my brother and myself were given the privilege of being allowed to cycle along the main A6 over Higham Hill, the first time either of us had undertaken such a monumental journey on a busy highway.
On arrival we found the playground had been marked out with cones to indicate various road structures. The days schedule included a rigorous training routine followed by the final test after which we would be declared fit for the road and given the freedom of the highway. An honour that was eagerly anticipated. There must have been about 20 kids altogether and not one of them was known to either myself or my brother. Nonetheless, the day went well, the mornings training simple and fully understood by all involved.
There was a break before each of us was individually put through the final test after which we would receive our official certification. I was one of the last to undertake the test and I distinctly remember the final part of the procedures which was to undertake a right turn at a junction. The school yard was marked out as a T-junction complete with chalked road markings and I was asked to proceed up to the junction and turn right, performing the actions that we had been taught during the mornings training. This seemed simple enough. Make sure all was clear behind. Indicate with confident outstretched arm as to the manouvre you were about to conduct. Move out to the middle of the road and stop at the junction. Then, if all was clear, proceed across the road. I knew all this. It seemed simple. We had done this very procedure during the mornings training so it was still fresh in my head and the logistics fully comprehended.
The instructor gave me the cue to perform the task. I pushed off on my bicycle and steadily headed towards the junction. I looked behind. As expected, there was no traffic on this marked out road. I stuck out my arm and moved to the centre of the road, my arm staying stiffly perpendicular to my body as I slowed the cycle and pulled up to the junction. I think it was at this point that I realised my mistake. It was embarrassing and I knew I had done it. No-one was laughing. There was no word coming from the examiner, and I dare not look at him in case it gave away my guilt. I pushed off and turned right in full knowledge of my mistake, somehow hoping the examiner had not seen my error. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was over confidence. I really do not know for sure. But I knew that when I stuck out my left arm to turn right that it was not the action the examiner was looking for.
The final results of the days effort were announced when the instructors gathered all of us kids together. They did not announce any failures. Only the names those who passed who were asked to come forward and be awarded with their certificate. My name was not included. I think I was the only person to fail the test that day. I was probably the only person to ever fail the Bicycle Proficiency Test. I have certainly never met another person to admit to the fact.
I dejectedly had to ride home without the certificate that all the other kids had earned. Even my brother did not taunt me which was unlike him, as I think he must have felt a little sorry for me. We cycled back over Higham Hill and up Washbrook Road and home and there I had to own up and pass on the sad news to my mum. I think it must have been out of sympathy that after listening to my story and my explanation of the course of events she said I would still be allowed to ride on the main roads despite not having gained a pass.
From that point on I cycled everywhere. Miles and miles. My best cycle was a metallic blue Carlton Corsa racing cycle which I covered literally thousands of miles on. My favorite journeys were always the customary family holiday at Houghton Mill when my dad would take the car loaded with tent and canoes and the rest of the family would cycle the 25 miles. Great fun and it gave us the freedom of the cycle for the weeks holiday. I still do not possess a pass certificate for the Bicycle Proficiency Test
And finally a picture of my dad cycling along Hayway, Rushden back in the early 1950's or late 1940's. One last anecdote is a tale from my dad which he always related to me whenever we drove the road through to Harold. The road is only a country lane and winds its way past the villages of Wymington, Poddinton and Hinwick. Before it starts heading up the hill to Harold there is a sharp double bend, first to the left and then to the right. Prior to this it is down hill and I can attest to having got quite some speed up before entering this bend on many occasion. Well, my dad always said that it was at this point, on one of his time trials, that he hit this corner at such a speed that he missed the bend and ended up in the ditch opposite!