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Banjos, Blues, Bikes and Boats.

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Where Were Thee in Fifty Three?

The Year of the Coronation.

"Nineteen Fifty Three, the year of the Coronation, turned out to be rather remarkable in that I discovered four interests which have continued for fifty years.

Back then I had a bedside radio and early on Sunday mornings I used to listen to the BBC programme 'As I Roved Out'.
This was presented by Peter Kennedy of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and consisted of field and studio recordings of traditional musicians and singers from all over the world.

Having been fed a diet of Lita Rosa, Pearl and Teddy Carr, Mantovani, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Hymns Ancient and Modern, this programme was a revelation.

My favourite listening, via the visits of John and Alan Lomax the US collectors, was the music of the Appalachian Mountains - in particular, the old time fiddle and banjo music.

Getting hold of old instruments, restoring them, and learning the styles of playing was a long hard job - especially for the neighbours.
Fortunately 1 now live in a detached bungalow and have improved.

The radio dial was also twirled to pick up Hilversum, the American Forces Network, and our own jazz Club. If my luck was in I'd pick up the distant scratchy sounds of King Oliver's Creole jazz Band, jelly Roll Mortons's Red Hot Peppers, Bix Beiderbecke, and Armstrong's Hot Five, and others from the 1920s.

Most grownups believed that this music was sinful (the words of some blues were decidedly naughty), and that you could ruin a piano by playing jazz on it, so 1 had to listen undercover.

Rather like the Europeans during the war who listened for the messages - The daffodils are colourful this month, or Jaques will mend his puncture.

Talking about punctures, this was the year I discovered the bike. The Daily Express (no socialist papers in our house) was sponsoring the Tour of Britain and a daily report with pictures appeared, and Reg Harris was on the cinema newsreels.

Then I subscribed to the weekly "Cycling" magazine and the excitement of the Tour of France gripped me. Louison Bobet won the first of his three consecutive Tours in 1953, the first rider to achieve this gargantuan feat, so my bike had to be modified.

My Raleigh Sports ("the all-steel bicycle") lost its mudguards, dynohub, lights, and Sturmey Archer gears. On went fixed wheel and toe clips, and pocket money was collected for the day when derailleur gears could be purchased.

Despite parental protestations that that saddle will cut you in half I persevered, and actually saw the Tour of Britain.

A frantic effort to the stage finish in Newcastle after school was rewarded with a close up view of a high speed bunch sprint down Claremont Road. Gleaming racing machines, and the riders - dust and sweat stained, staring eyes, and heaving chests. 1 can still manage that, but at a much reduced pace.

Thinking about the future, I decided that shipbuilding was for me, for my interest had already been whetted by visits to Neptune shipyard, and old paper prints brought home as drawing paper.

Apart from sketching on the back, I also carefully examined the plans, so by the time I left school the next year construction, rigging plans, and accommodation.

We used to make frequent visits to Newcastle quayside to see ships unloading their cargos from all over the world. Apart from European ports, many of the vessels bore the names of romantic and exotic locations - Bombay, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

To our parents watching Charlie Chan films, and growing up with the novels of the fiendish Fu Manchu, the quayside was definitely out of bounds.

I spent many hours just watching the ships load and unload, and was fascinated by the races who inhabited these steel travel machines. I was never chased by knife wielding Dacoits, and no Thugee ever pursued me in and out of the warehouses.

The adventure was imagining where these ships had been, and were going next.

Light engineering was not for me, for how can anyone relate to a washing machine or a ventilator unit? Ships are real, living things.

So what with banjos, blues, bikes, and boats, I never got further than B and now there's Beamish."



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