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Two Rooms And A View: 21 - Cycling To Work

Robert Owen gets his first bike - and soon has his first brush with the law.

To read earlier chapters of Robert's engaging life story please click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

Back at Reed Street, Addie continued to work at the Ingham Infirmary and used her bike to travel there and back each day. She kept the bike at the top of the stairs and used to carry it downstairs every morning and leave it at the front door for a few minutes until she had finished her breakfast.

One Saturday morning when she returned downstairs, the bike had gone! After unsuccessfully looking around for it, she reported its loss to the police via a telephone in Frederick Street. Within an hour, two plain-clothes policemen called at the house. I remember the incident well because I was sent into the other room and listened to the conversation behind closed doors.

The bike was never recovered but the cycle bag, minus its contents, was found a few days later in North Shields. I thought about this incident fifty years later, when a friend had his 10,000 motor car stolen. He too reported its loss to the police by telephone. He was given a crime number and little hope of the car's recovery.

Addie was a member of one of the many Cycling Clubs that existed in the town at the time. Most Sundays they would disappear into the country to such places as Hexham and Rothbury. She was also responsible for me getting my first bike. It was a very old two-wheeler from Sammy Harrison's, but even at seven years of age, I could generate a fair speed on the quiet car-free roads around the area.

The problem was that I wanted to go on the Sunday run with the Cycling Club but for obvious reasons, could not keep up with them. After much pleading one Sunday, they allowed me to ride with them as far as Tyne Dock Arches. As they disappeared up Simonside Bank, I was pointed in the other direction and told to return home. Deliberately or accidentally, I remember taking the more exciting route home via the shipyards and factories of Commercial Road and again causing concern by returning home much later than expected.

This two-wheeled bike was also partly responsible for my first brush with the law. It happened one dark evening when I was returning on my own after leaving my mother at her friend's house in Taylor Street. There were no lights on my bike, so as a precaution, I rode on the pavement. This was fine until I got near Frederick Street, when two policemen suddenly appeared from the doorway of the Eureka.

One got hold of me while the other grasped the bike. I thought I was for it! They wanted to know my name, address, where I was going and, was the ramshackle old bike mine. My mouth opened but the words would not come. Eventually, they got the necessary details out of me and copied them into a notebook. After a strict warning about riding without lights and on the pavement, I was released. I pushed my bike home rather quickly and kept quiet about my first involvement with the law. I often wonder if I am still on police records from that dark winter's night in early 1942.

During this time, my mother had a variety of temporary part-time jobs which were not difficult to find during the early years of the war, but there was always the problem of looking after me. I had the key to the house,but she always liked to be there when I came home from school. Somebody suggested that the ideal situation could be a residential housekeeper's post, where a child was not objected to. As a result, a suitably worded advert was placed in the Situations Wanted column of the Shields Gazette and Evening Chronicle. She got two replies.

The first, which she accepted, was the post of housekeeper at a large house in St George's Avenue, overlooking Readhead Park. This was a good job with accommodation provided for both of us. It also meant that I did not have to change schools, although I did have further to travel.

I remember walking to the bus stop opposite the Regent Cinema, getting the Tyne Dock trolley bus and asking the conductor to put me off at Barnes Road School. All trolley buses had a conductor in those days. He used to collect fares, give out tickets as well as ringing the bell to stop and start the bus.

We had an hour and a half for lunch so I used to return to St George's Avenue for a mid-day snack. As children could travel anywhere in the town for 14d per journey, I soon realised I could save 10d (about 4p) per week if I walked to school and back. Unknown to my mother, I sometimes did this and enjoyed a new source of wealth.

Unfortunately the job didn't last long and after a few weeks, my mother's employer said that a relative was returning from the war and our accommodation was required. She suspected that this wasn't true, but it was long before any employment legislation.

Fortunately, the second job was still vacant. This was out of town and I recall staying with Jennie one Saturday while my mother went for an interview. She came back all excited and said she had got the job and we were moving to Fence Houses. My reply was, "Where's Fence Houses?"


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