Tag Archives: Transport

Scrap Book Project – Cycling Proficiency Test

In the 1960s before families had two cars most of us went to school on our bikes.  This was a much better arrangement than today when every school morning and evening the roads are clogged up with cars taking lazy kids to school.

Everyone had a bike and every school had a row of bike sheds and with so many on the road the Government was concerned about highway safety and in 1967 along with a load of other boys I took my Cycling Proficiency Test.

Cyclist training began in 1947, although its roots stretched back to the 1930s when cycling organisations were pressing the Government to include cyclist instruction in the school curriculum and finally in 1958 the Government funded the introduction of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Cycling Proficiency Scheme and cycling instructors came to the school to prepare us for the test.

Tufty Roadshow

RoSPA by the way was also responsible for the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code and were completely detached from reality because we had all been out on the open road for years on our bikes and had already perfected some of the finer points of cycling, such as riding backwards or with no hands for example.

Most of the ‘training’ took place in the safety of the school playground where we had to demonstrate our biking skills by cycling between bollards, learning the Highway Code and how to maintain our machines in good mechanical order.  Once we had done all of this to the satisfaction of the instructor there was a final road test under the watchful eye of the examiner.

I don’t think anybody ever failed the Cycling Proficiency Test and at the end there was a certificate and an aluminium badge to attach to the handlebars so that everyone knew just how safe we were. I was awarded my certificate and badge on 19th May 1967.

Car Number Plates

France was the first country to introduce the licence plate with the passage of the Paris Police Ordinance on August 14, 1893, followed by Germany in 1896. The Netherlands was the first country to introduce a national licence plate, called a “driving permit”, in 1898. It might seem to be a rather odd and random date but the first number plates were introduced in England on 23rd December 1903 and began with the series A1.

My dad’s first car was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55, registration SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation.  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer.

After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and big chrome front grill and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.

Hillman Avenger

Tallinn and Russian Railways

Tallinn Russian Railway Engine

We needed some beers and a bottle of wine but we didn’t pass any shops so as it was still early Mike S and I walked around the city ring road in search of a mini market.  The route we chose took us towards the railway station and this wasn’t any real surprise because is a railway man by profession and enthusiasm and after about a kilometre or so we were outside the ticket office and an impressive Soviet Steam Engine, the L2317, a 2-10-0 locomotive built in 1953 in Russia at a factory in the Moscow railway suburb city of Kolomna.

The Russian L-series locomotives were one of the more advanced steam locomotives built in the former Soviet Union. They used stocker to feed coal and had a relatively low axle load of eighteen  tonnes to be compatible with the clapped-out railroads of post war Eastern Europe.  It was a mighty black iron beast with red wheels of almost ninety tonnes that really deserved a name rather than just a number, which during its working life pulled mostly freight trains between Russia and Estonia and after it was decommissioned was rather ignominiously used as a static boiler to heat nearby houses.  It has been externally restored now and sits tall and proud outside the railway station, which was where we went next.

We were now in the working part of the city and a long way from the Christmas market and the students dressed in medieval costumes and the overpriced restaurants.  The station felt tired and past its best and next to it was a tram station that conjured up images of the old days of the Soviet Empire and what was surprising was that the passengers on board looked grey and tired and firmly locked permanently into a 1960s Tallinn time warp.  The trams whirred and screeched and sounded bells to warn of their approach as they drew up and pulled off, setting down and picking up and clattering away again between the rows of old wooden houses and out towards the proletarian flats of the city suburbs.

Driving Test and Family Cars

Like a lot of families in the 1950s we didn’t have a car and had to rely instead on public transport.  Dad leaned to drive in 1962 when he took lessons with Terry Branston’s school of motoring.  Terry lived opposite to our house and well as being a driving instructor was a professional footballer who played for Northampton Town.  He was a tough tackling centre-back who helped Northampton achieve the impressive feat of moving from Division Four to Division One in three successive seasons in the early 1960s. Terry died on 10thDecember 2010.

Dad failed the driving exam the first time but once he had passed his test at the second attempt he bought his first car, an old fashioned four door white Austin Cambridge A40 saloon registration number SWD 774.  The Cambridge had been introduced in 1954 and was kept in production for two years.  It had a straight-4 pushrod B-Series engine with a maximum power output of 42 brake horse power and at 4,250 revs per minute an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour.  Power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a four speed gear box controlled with a column mounted lever.

It was a big heavy thing, hard to handle, I imagine, and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing thirty miles to the gallon or so but with a gallon of leaded petrol costing only five shillings (twenty-five new pence) this really didn’t matter too much.  I can remember dad pulling into a garage where an attendant put four gallons in the tank and dad handed over a crisp green one pound note!  I wish I could do that!  Dad always insisted on buying Shell petrol because he thought it possessed some sort of magic ingredient but at one point we successfully nagged him to buy Esso so that we could get the gold and black striped tail to hang around the filler cap to show other motorists that the car had a tiger in the tank!

On the outside it had a voluptuous body shape, lumpy and bulbous, chrome bumpers and grill, round bug-eye lights with chrome surrounds, the Austin badge in the middle of the bonnet and the flying A symbol on the nose at the front.  It was a curious shade of white, a bit off-white really but not quite cream with ominous flecks of rust beginning to show through on the wing panels and the sills.

SWD 774

I would like to be able to take a drive in it now to fully appreciate how bad it must have been and with narrow cross ply tyres it must have been difficult to handle.  Dad obviously had some problems in this department because he had two minor accidents in it.  On the first occasion he misjudged his distances when overtaking a parked car and clipped a Midland Red bus coming the other way, he was upset about that especially when he got a bill to pay for the damage to the bus.  The second occasion was a bit more dangerous when a car pulled out on him from a side street somewhere in London and, with no ABS in those days, dad couldn’t stop the car in time and did a lot of damage to the front off side wing.  Fortunately this wasn’t his fault and someone else had to pay for the repairs this time.

Having an accident like this in 1964 was potentially quite serious because cars didn’t have seat belts and in a crash passengers could be tossed around as though they were in a tropical tsunami.  Drivers and front seat passengers were not compelled to wear seatbelts until 1st February 1983 by which time the Department of Transport estimated that thirty-thousand people a year were being killed or seriously injured in road accidents.  It seems bizarre now to think that there had been a long running row over making front seatbelts compulsory which had been going on for fifteen years with eleven previously unsuccessful attempts to make it law.

And it wasn’t just seat belts that the A40 lacked because in the interior this was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as a radio, air conditioning or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets and the seats were made of imitation red leather that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer if the car had stood out in the sun for too long.  For the driver there was a big skeletal steering wheel, column mounted gear stick and a hand brake that was adjacent to the steering column on the left hand side.

The controls consisted of a simple dashboard display with a basic speedometer with warning lights for oil and water, headlamps and indicators.  The ignition key was in the middle of the dashboard alongside the manual choke and the knob to control the windscreen wipers.  There were clumsy air vent controls for the driver and the front seat passenger, a long open shelf for keeping miscellaneous motoring clutter and a glove box for the AA book and important membership details.

Dad only had the A40 for a couple of years and after that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and flashy chrome grill.  Then he had a two tone blue and white Ford Cortina Mark I and he must have liked the Cortina because after that he had first a blue one and then a white one.  Sometime in the early 1970s he traded up from a Mark I to a Mark II and had a model in a curious duck egg green.  These were all second hand cars of course but then in 1975 he had his first brand new car when he paid £800 for a metallic gold Vauxhall Viva, which he kept for four years before selling it to me.  After that he had a succession of red Ford Escorts before finally downsizing to Ford Fiestas, and back to his favourite blue again.

Cycling Proficiency Test, Badge and Certificate

In the 1960s before families had two cars most of us went to school on our bikes.  This was a much better arrangement than today when every school morning and evening the roads are clogged up with cars taking lazy kids to school.  Everyone had a bike and with so many on the road the Government was concerned about highway safety and in 1967 along with a load of other kids I took my Cycling Proficiency Test.

Cyclist training began in 1947, although its roots stretched back to the 1930s when cycling organisations were pressing the Government to include cyclist instruction in the school curriculum and finally in 1958 the Government funded the introduction of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Cycling Proficiency Scheme and cycling instructors came to the school to prepare us for the test.  RoSPA by the way was also responsible for the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code and were completely detached from reality because we had all been out on the open road for years on our bikes and had already perfected some of the finer points of cycling, such as riding backwards or with no hands for example.

Most of the ‘training’ took place in the safety of the school playground where we had to demonstrate our biking skills by cycling between bollards, learning the Highway Code and how to maintain our machines in good mechanical order.  Once we had done all of this to the satisfaction of the instructor there was a final road test under the watchful eye of the examiner.

I don’t think anybody ever failed the Cycling Proficiency Test and at the end there was a certificate and an aluminium badge to attach to the handlebars so that everyone knew just how safe we were. I was awarded my certificate and badge on 19th May 1967.