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On wheels of fortune

Last Wednesday, as you know, was National Bike to Work Day which was no novelty for yours truly. The family’s chorus of ‘Get on yer bike’ sees me off to the Herald Express headquarters six days a week.

Well, that Wednesday I was on the saddle before 7 o’clock. The sun shone and the high-flying swifts were a guarantee of good weather. Negotiating the familiar Torbay switchback it didn’t take me long to reach Harmsworth House where I checked out the sparrows and starlings at their breeding sites before going inside to deliver the copy.

Around 8.50am I pedalled through Hele, past the neighbourhood rookery and on towards Castle Circus. It was hot, with June living up to its flaming reputation.

Teignmouth Road dumped me in Lymington Road which was getting a new tarmac surface. Traffic speeding through the loose gravel kicked up a haze of white dust.

Rubbing my sore eyes I swung into Castle Circus where street pigeons were braving the traffic. Then I was cruising down Union Street as far as MacDonalds where anyone biking to work between 7.30am and 9.30am could get a free breakfast.

It wasn’t long before the Mayor of Torbay, John Turner, and his wife, Linda, the Mayoress, arrived by bike to give their support to the occasion. Complete with cycle clips and his chain-of-office John had bowled down from the Town Hall, 300 yards away, without any ill effects from the journey.

It was good to see him there, advocating ‘Get on yer bike’ as the way forward in a polluted environment. I hope he and his entourage enjoyed the breakfast.

I had eaten at the Herald Express office and was happy to push on down into Market Street for the start of a great urban hill climb. As the traffic din faded I could hear the screams of the swifts way up in the blue. Few summer sounds have that impact on the emotions of townspeople.

Soon I was in Ellacombe where it is good to be among the old neighbourhood backwaters, yards, lanes, isolated parks and terraces of small houses.

A local squirrel had been tyre-pressed to the road and I wondered how St Francis would have coped with the 20th Century, its traffic traumas and wildlife tragedies. I could imagine the holy man from Assisi pedalling past the corner pubs of suburban Torquay, pausing once in a while to listen to the jackdaws jangling as they line-danced on lawns or garage roofs.

Butterflies greeted me at Plainmoor. The row of shops would have excited my mother and I slowed down to capture that urban cameo.

The towers supporting Torquay United’s floodlights dominated the townscape, the screaming of swifts was faint, elderly citizens were on the move, shop by shop, and moments later I was on the tree-lined road pedalling into St Marychurch.

The crowded pavements spoke volumes for the popularity of the local shops but I was more interested in the sweep of parkland above Babbacombe Model Village. Gulls, daws and a gang of up-tight magpies flapped about over Torquay Golf Cours.

Then it was down and up and down again into Watcombe. Brunel Woods were on the right and the primary school and community park were on the left.

Apples were firming on trees, cuckoo spit blotched the fuchsia, cats were sprawled out, sun-drugged, and songbirds indulged themselves with snatches of musical, verbal abuse.

Up in Barton a blackbird sat silently, probably knackered by the hard work of parenthood, and I came downhill with the traffic in a sweeping freewheel descent to pick up the homeward trail at Hele. My thirst was Homeric.



22/06/99



Re-printed by kind permission of the Herald Express newspaper, Torquay Devon. Their website can be found at:
http://www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk








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