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CYCLING TO CROMER, CHEESE ROLLS AND CRUSTY CHEWING GUM



For those who don’t know the story, one summer’s day in 1981, a 17-year-old Peter told his father he was going to cycle the 80-mile journey to Cromer. His father asked him if he knew the way and Peter assured him that he could get definitely get himself to Lowestoft.


Ever pragmatic, Peter’s father said, “Well, keep the sea on your right, boy, and you’ll find Cromer.”


Peter has never forgotten those words or the experience of setting off early one morning on his four-speed bike, wearing shorts and a tee-shirt and fuelled by Mars bars and two cheese rolls.


The young Peter arrived in Cromer, bought some fish and chips, sat on a bench above the sea and surveyed the scene below. Realising Cromer was “full of old people” as he so poetically put it, he quickly got bored, glued his well-chewed gum under the bench and cycled home.


Peter has always wanted to retrace that 160-mile round trip and we have talked about it for several months. On June 16th, on quite possibly the hottest day of the year and a bit more sedately (and with neither Mars bars nor cheese rolls to weigh us down), an eclectic quartet of cyclists left Suffolk to accompany Peter in tracing old memories.


The four comprised: Peter (raring to go on his single speed bike), Teresa (now a fully converted cyclist with a selection of lycra to prove it), Peter’s old school friend, Mark (still sporting an impressive array of injuries from various accidents) and me (still lacking any directional or mechanical skills but fuelled by a Peter-driven enthusiasm). Integral to all of this was Tracey (Mark’s partner) who drove to Cromer with our luggage.


We had booked two nights at a B & B (The Greenhouse in Thorpe Market - thoroughly recommended for anyone heading up that way) and were going to spend the next day in Cromer, before cycling back the following day.


Taking care to keep the sea on the right (and steadfastly ignoring any navigational input from me) we reached Cromer by the late afternoon.


The next day we trooped down to the beach and Peter found the bench he had sat on all those years ago. The chip shop was now an Indian take-away but there were many other parts of Cromer which Peter remembered well.


And, a surreptitious grope under the bench for Peter yielded an interesting discovery: a small but well compacted mound of chewing gum was still clinging doggedly to the bench. We’re not sure if it was the same gum Peter had deposited all those years ago but, curiously, no one was prepared to taste it or to bring it back to Suffolk for a DNA test. Before you tut-tut us for our negligence, let me say we are happy to support Peter in his madcap schemes but the support only goes so far!


The weather for the trip home was appalling and so, older and wiser than the 17-year-old Peter, and having forgotten to pack either snorkels or swimming costumes, we caught the train back to Saxmundham.


However, the main objective had been achieved and we had accompanied Peter in recreating what had clearly been a nostalgic adventure for him.


Mark summed it up for us all when he said to Peter: “Thank you for letting us be part of your old and new memories.”


But I don’t think I had really appreciated what an emotional moment this journey had been for Peter until he said,

“I sat on that bench next to the young me. How many people get a chance to do something like that? I recreated something from forty years ago. And, you know, I looked at the young me and I felt quite moved.”

“What would you have said to the young Peter?” I asked. I was curious to know.

“I would have looked him in the eye and told him that the future would be ok; yes, I would have told him that the future would be absolutely fine.”


As ever, I leave you with Peter’s words as to the real importance of this trip because only he can capture this moment in such a Peter-esque way.


“I was able to harvest a moment from the past and that’s so important as I can’t sow the seeds for the future.”


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