Memory Lane - The man who rode his bike off the pier

UP early and off for a day’s fishing and swimming on the Skeleton Pier at Old Town.

No posh fishing rods in those days. It was a length of bamboo, a Nylon line and hooks bought from Fred Gent’s in Park Road.

There were two piers, one concrete and the wooden, joined together as one.

Also a small footbridge stretched over to a smaller pier in the bay, commonly known as the Basin.

Water was crystal clear till in later years when it was used as a tip for waste from Barnard Castle.

Nothing seems to have changed a bit further south, with Seaton becoming the biggest dumping ground landfill in the North-East.

Under the wooden structure of the Skeleton Pier was ideal for catching pennick and small whiting type fish. You could actually see the fish take the bait.

Time for a swim.

When the tide was fully in I would stand and wait for a wave roller, then dive off the top of the bridge into the sea.

It scares me now just to think about it, but in those days as a kid fear held no part of what was then to me great fun.

Climbing out to where I left my clothes and back to the fishing.

The sun was shining and the water so still we could see the reflection of ourselves and the pier structure above us.

Then to my amazement a figure appeared on the water, which reflected a bike that went crashing into the sea with the owner on it.

And he was still peddling the bike in mid air.

It appears the ramp joining the wooden pier and concrete pier was wet. He slid off this and hence his predicament.

We dragged him out of the sea, only for him to jump back in to rescue his bike.

Which he failed to do so he sat there till the tide went down, soaked to the skin.

He never spoke a word either, only “me bike,” pointing to the sea and his bike at the bottom of it.

He got his bike out of the sea as the tide lowered and off he went on it, soaked again.

Who he was I’ve no idea. Perhaps, who knows? He may be reading this and remember the incident or just might not want to.

That same day a coble with three men on board came into the basin following a huge shark.

It scared me, and I was safe on the pier. Jaws!

The way it moved through the water was so graceful. The size of it sent a shiver right down my spine.

There was no way I would have gone in the water if I’d known that was about.

Yet I had done so earlier. Perhaps that thought struck me when seeing it.

As a guide I would say the coble was about 14ft long. The shark must have been three feet longer than the boat.

This was the last time I went diving or swimming in the basin or the sea and, no, it wasn’t a basking shark.

Pattison’s wet fish shop in Murray Street used to display sharks on fish boxes outside on the pavement.

This one would have caused some consternation if this had been on display.

I’d caught a few smaller specimens. Nevertheless they went down a treat after gutting them.

My mother dipped them in flour and fried them for supper.

Free food right on the doorstep so to speak.

All from a bit of Nylon line, 6d hooks and a bamboo from Hastings’s in Raby Road.

A few potatoes to make chips in beef dripping, slices of home-made bread with best butter - a feast good enough to place before a king, instead of feeding this scruffy little Plevna Street kid.

I ate the lot as though it was my last meal. In a way it was.

Now time for bed and another day, another adventure.

One thing was for certain though. I may have had the fish but the shark didn’t have me for its main meal.

Times may have changed but people are still the same.

We can never relive the past but we can still remember what it was like then.

Happy, carefree days of long, hot summers and cold winters.

Happy days.

Victor Tumilty,

Collingwood Walk,