LIFE IN THE NORTH EAST OF ENGLAND ( 69 )

Rod Adams

When we were kids we called them “Butcher’s Bikes” not “Carrier Bikes.” Remember them? Constructed out of heavy steel tubing with rod-operated brakes and a seat that would grace a tractor? Sometimes the front wheel would be smaller to accommodate a bigger basket on the front. It certainly wasn’t to give you any more manoeuverability as they had all the handling characteristics and grace of a double-decker bus! Turning on them was an acquired skill. Acquired by the process of continually falling off until you eventually got the hang of it. You turned the handlebars and the front wheel went the right way but the basket was a touch slow in following. Was it not! Despite their drawbacks they were much in demand amongst the younger pigeon fraternity who would try to beg, borrow, or (more usually steal) one at the drop of a hat.

They were our prototype transporters. Hacksaw off the top carrier-holder plus the front two vertical bars and any size pigeon basket could be made to fit. It beat the hell out of riding an ordinary bike with your basket behind you “secured” by a rope slung over one shoulder and resting on the saddlebag holder, rear mudguard or at a pinch on the seat, as you stood and pedalled for all you were worth. The “White Walls,” some big, conspicuous dry-stone farm walls, was always my first toss with the youngsters. Less than two or three miles away into what was then the open countryside, it was a flat run, except for the last few hundred yards which climbed steadily upwards to the “Walls.”Many a time I had to get off my bike and push it but it was worth the effort. You could watch your batch all the way home losing sight of them only as they dropped behind the pit wheel.

Those were the days. Energy unlimited. Even on a “Butcher’s Bike!” I know of only two of these bikes remaining in my area so I set off  to go get a photograph of them. Re-visit my youth if you like. Go see “The Whitey Walls” again. They are still there, but the view is now obscured by urban sprawl and the pit of course has long been gone, but I did see the bikes. One decorates the village butcher’s shop in East Boldon and the other one a florists in Boldon Colliery. The latter made my day. Boldly chalked on the advertising panel under the crossbar were the words “DELIVERIES WORLDWIDE.” Imagine!

The following story was written and given to me by a man called Tom Beldon from Northumberland which he got from his father. “At the race marking (circa 1911) for the longest channel race, my uncle Tom (the six foot five inch giant) had put our first bird through. Dr Morris, GP for Bedlington, arrived with his team including his good White Hen. When he saw my uncle he asked him if he could arrange a side-bet, his White Hen taking on any others. My uncle went home and related the above to my grandfather who saddled up his horse (he was a hawker) and went to the station, whereupon Dr Morris offered to bet 1 guinea, 5 guineas, or 20 guineas. My grandfather asked if he was betting against our bird or grandfather’s pocket. However the bet of 5 guineas was struck, White Hen vs. Blue Hen. The result was 1st. Federation Blue Hen, 2nd. Federation White Hen. Later on J. W. Logan visited Bedlington and Dr Morris and bought the White Hen. Could this be one of the forerunners of the White Logans?” Well?

 Tom gave me this story at a moot I was on last Friday up in Ashington, an area forever linked in my mind with Taylor & Son and the famous Blue Boy (NEHU 56X33738), but which has a rich history of pigeon racing long preceding that era. It was a good, well-attended and orderly moot at which the questions put to the panel were outside the normal run-of-the-mill stuff that is often the case.


I had always thought that I knew everything that pigeon men get up to when they go to the Blackpool Show, and believe me they get up to some very strange and dubious tricks, but getting married while you’re down there?  The man told me so himself. Thought it was a good idea. They’d lived together for 17 years he said, and they always went to the show with the regulars on the bus, so they’d  arranged in advance to get married at a registry office while they were there. Now that is what I call an understanding wife! It must be a formidable partnership, whatever club they fly in!

When somebody leaves you four of their rings for the forthcoming season attached to a winning prize card from last season you get the feeling they’re trying to tell you something! My friend did just that. We swap four youngsters every year and have done so for a long time. He usually leaves me some of his rings and I normally forget to give him mine, so I invariably end up with  “foreign” rings which I have to transfer. He laid the card carefully on the table, face down, and ignored it until I picked it up and turned it over. Bright red of course. “First Prize, Liege.” “Oh” he said “have I used a prize card? I’ve got so many you see that I must have picked it up by mistake.” Some mistake.  

It’s a strange feeling when you are sitting up there on a panel facing 50 or more pigeon men and one of your fellow panellists, who you have only just met, mentions the name of a dead man, once was a very good friend of yours, as the source of his best pigeons. It sends a shiver up your spine. The deceased and I got on well together. A gentleman, in the true sense of the word, we got to know each other when he reported a lost youngster of mine. At the time, about 30 years ago I would guess, he worked for British Maltsters, lived in Lincolnshire and was married to a woman who came from Ashington in Northumberland. Memory says he fiddled about with old motorbikes as a second hobby besides racing pigeons.

Eric, for that was his name, did the leg work required for me to visit Louth and give an illustrated talk on eye-sign or wing theory, I don’t remember which, and I stayed the weekend with him in his home. I distinctly remember us walking around the town after closing time and thinking to myself “is this a ghost town or what” because nothing at all was happening. The town was closed for the night. The streets were empty and all the house lights were off.

Coming from South Shields, where things don’t start to liven up until after midnight, it was a bit of a culture shock I can tell you! His loft was squeezed into his backyard as I remember it, maybe not, but regardless of that, what a nice gentle, polite man he was. We kept in touch for years and I got some excellent “samples” of barley sent up to me but I didn’t hear of his death until well after the event. Gone perhaps, but not forgotten. As I said to my co-panellist and to the audience, I am not surprised that he got good pigeons from Eric, because, when you bring new pigeons in to your loft they are only as good as the man selling them is honest. Eric was an honest man. It made my night to hear his name once more and to know that someone else found him exactly as I did. A man worth knowing.

It seems to me that these days there are an awful lot of critics about who have taken to airing their views, as is their right if they wish to do so, in the fancy press instead of either keeping their opinions to themselves if they are unsure of the facts, or directing them instead to the appropriate quarter if they have a valid point. I can’t for the life of me see what good it does washing one’s dirty linen in public. Not when the sport is shrinking and changing as it is.

Criticism is basically nothing more than fault-finding. Constructive criticism is to be welcomed. Uninformed, destructive criticism, is not. True knowledge of all the facts is a pre-requisite that critics must possess before venturing to comment, especially in public! This piece of verse sums it up admirably.

Would-be critics please take note:-

 “ Bullfight critics ranked in rows,

   Crowd the enormous plaza full:

   But only one is there who knows,

   And he’s the man who fights the bull!”

This was written by a Spaniard, Domingo Ortega, and was translated by the poet and scholar Robert Graves.

That piece of verse was actually quoted by President John F. Kennedy at the time of the Cuba crisis in October 1962.

When half the world was holding it’s breath. The other half were his critics!

 

ROD ADAMS.