Short Story first published in the ACES ‘The Terrier’ magazine in Spring 2010

The President preparing to ride

ACES President rides the Wall of Death

“See death-defying stunts!”

That poster in Carnforth Co-op window was very convincing. It pictured two guys on motor bikes racing around the inside of a giant barrel.  The touring attractions that visited my home town in that immediate post-Rationing but pre-television age of my childhood were few and far between.  But my loyalties lay with Hopalong Cassidy and Flash Gordon and the Saturday matinee serials at the Roxy Kinema.   When you only had sixpence a week in your pocket and your Dad worked extra shifts and Sundays at the loco-sheds to keep a roof over your head, you had to make tough choices.  I never did get to see the Wall of Death … at least, not until recently.

ACES North West Branch Summer meetings are always a treat.  The Members try to pick an unusual and interesting venue, preferably related to a relevant development scheme to generate a speaker on a topical professional subject.   We’d seen Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, Manchester’s Indoor Ski slope, Liverpool One and Carnforth Railway Station regeneration in recent summers. Often the incoming ACES President attends.  This year was no exception.

Those meetings can involve an element of participation. Over the summers I’ve noticed that the membership seems to fall into two separate camps so far as participation is concerned.    There’s the wiser, venerable elder statesmen, like myself and David Gunson, who’ve seen it all before and tend to avoid any involvement with risky activities. Then there’s the others – the crazier, wilder young turks, like Trevor Bishop and Steve Durbar amongst others, who can’t wait to risk their necks on rides like ‘The Big One’ at Blackpool.  And so the pattern was repeated at this year’s meeting.  What surprised and impressed me was the new President’s willingness to ally himself with that latter camp – he couldn’t wait to get involved and, in his eagerness, even offered to leave the meeting early to do so.

The meeting began badly for me.  I was late because I got lost in the rougher parts of east Manchester.  I blame the map supplied by my NPS Stockport colleague, Brian Ormerod, who had organised the venue.  He may well be at home in those drug-infested, graffiti-ridden, boarded-up back passages of Industrial Revolution-age brick terraces which all look like Coronation Street on a bad day, where road signs are melted down for scrap value two minutes after they are erected.  However, a country boy like me either needs a simple map that can be read whilst driving one-handed or the facility to scan the horizon, see which way the sheep are pointing and relate to the angle of the sun to find the way.  Neither the horizon nor the sun is visible in that part of the world and the only sheep were roasting in kebab shops.  By the time I arrived at the oasis that is the Manchester Velodrome the President was already champing at the bit to get his clothes off.

I’d assumed, since he’d come up from Cornwall, that Bob Perry might really be a Cornishman.  I began to have my doubts when he addressed us because I could understand everything that he was saying. When he told us about the £150 per annum likely cost per person for the RICS Valuer Accreditation scheme, we hung on his every word.  Well, Cornishman or not, he’d come a lot further than me and arrived on time so that was an impressive start.  He then exposed his legs, a shade of white that any Northerner would be proud of, to convince me that he might not actually have spent his life surfing and swimming in Cornish seas and that, instead, there might be a bit of northern blood in his veins. When I saw the relish with which he applied himself to the Wall of Death I began to believe that he was truly one of us, or at least one of the young turks variety.

Brian redeemed himself with his choice of speaker.   Paul Hardy of Davis Langdon, the Velodrome Building Services Manager, was so passionate in talking about his involvement with the developing National Cycling Centre that we soon realised that he only did his job because he loved cycling.  It’s always a pleasure to listen to a speaker who loves his subject and Paul had lived and breathed the idea of a Velodrome from long before it ever became a practical possibility.  He was now involved in his next project; a race against the Russians to complete the world’s first indoor BMX track alongside the Velodrome.  That will allow British competitors to train on a facility that will mirror the proposed 2012 Olympic track yet to be built in London and so provide a competitive advantage to enable us to win another hat-full of gold medals to add to the ones we won in China.  Bob was already on the Wall of Death by that time.

Round and round he peddled, lap after lap, white legs pumping like pistons, leaving the young turks wallowing in his wake.  The sweat poured off him, leaving a trail to trickle down the boarded track like a BP oil slick. He shunned the body–hugging lycra of modern times and applied himself to the task kitted-out only in faded T- shirt, khaki shorts and M&S ankle socks.  He even dresses like a Northerner. His only concession to safety was the obligatory helmet, otherwise I’m convinced he would have preferred the traditional knotted handkerchief so beloved of northern cyclists of a by-gone era. Truly the President has a northern soul.  The statue of the legendary Reg Harris looked down from the terraces and silently applauded him.

The great Reg Harris watches in awe

I didn’t think that Bob’s efforts could be surpassed.  However, the afternoon session saw him barred from participation … to allow him and the other young turks to replace their bodily fluids by downing bucket-fulls of the water and fruit juice that accompanied the buffet.  That break allowed Olympic medallists Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny to chase a motorbike at 50 mph around the top rim of the track in three lap bursts.  Perhaps they were a bit higher and faster than Bob but could they run ACES for twelve months whilst also running Cornwall? I doubt it.

And then it hit me. Paul’s choice of location to build the Velodrome became obvious from that afternoon session.  Was this the hidden secret of the Government’s grant-aiding policy? Had they tapped into that natural pool of cycling talent that populates any inner city such as Manchester?  Had they simply reversed what’s happening on the streets – drug-dealing kids cycling ahead of police motorcycles? Instead, build a Velodrome, bring them inside and give them an alternative – let them chase the motorbikes and reward them with prize-winning bling.  Brilliant!  No wonder they’re so keen to bring the Olympics to Stratford.

As I said – ACES summer meetings are always a treat.  I’d seen the Wall of Death and laid to rest one of my childhood regrets.  What’s more, I’d discovered some potentially latent northern credentials in the ACES President through his death-defying display and I’d been privy to the Government’s unpublished anti-drugs efforts.  What great value ACES membership provides.  All that remained was to find my way safely out of Manchester using Brian’s map to tell everyone about it.

©David Lewis Pogson 2010