Thursday, 31 March 2016

Answers please: What was this game runners called 'rockets'?

* Chasing Sydney Wooderson around Home Park, Plymouth . . .
THIS week I need help with a mystery. Research for my book on Sydney Wooderson has turned up something rather baffling.

Once upon a time – Sunday 16 June 1935, to be precise - a train stood beside the platform at Plymouth station ready to leave for London. Inside were a large troupe of glamorous girls from a touring theatrical company. For ages, apparently, they sat spellbound while a group of male runners opposite performed what is described as an impromptu series of ‘rockets’ to entertain them. 
These were professional dancers, not easily impressed, but what those lads did went down a storm. Unfortunately my source did not (or could not) explain what exactly 'rockets' were!  I wonder can any blog readers out there shed any light on what might have been going on?

Was it a display of gymnastics? Indoor fireworks? Were they breaking wind in spectacular fashion? Was it merely a long-forgotten 1930s parlour game? Whatever occurred, we must assume it was legal, above board and not of a sordid nature - otherwise it would surely have been hushed up and never mentioned again . . .

I feel it is important to get to the bottom of this ‘rockets’ mystery. Maybe it could prove to be a Georgian-era pastime or party trick that could be successfully revived in 2016? It could then be tried on road trips by running clubs such as mine (the mighty Tiptree Road Runners) perhaps?   

To give you the context of what went on, here’s part of the report I uncovered. It features various well-known runners from London clubs, some of whom had just won the prestigious Travers Stubbs inter-club trophy at Home Park, Plymouth, and were returning homeward in celebratory mood:

 “Leaving the trophy in capable hands, we set out for the station. We thought we would sleep all the way up, but a treat was in store for us. Ernie Lotinga’s Theatre Company, bound for London, were with us, including a whole coach load of young ladies. Led by sprinter Tremeer (London AC), we entertained these ‘beautifuls’ to a series of ‘rockets’. This went down well, they had not seen it before.

“Then we loaded up a luggage truck with them and pushed them up and down the platform, Mr.Wiard and Mr.Evan Hunter on board to see that they came to no harm.

“Blackheath Harriers’ Ernie Page came down to see what it was all about, but then had to sprint back to his compartment to avoid being deprived of his braces. The Station Master was relieved to see us go – he seemed quite annoyed at our yelling “All change” when a local train full of day trippers pulled in, causing the platform to become a struggling mass of mums, dads and kids, the latter armed with lollipops and luggage, all yelling ‘Porter! Porter!’  

“The Station Master seemed to take a narrow-minded view of this. The last amusing incident to recount was the resourcefulness of Dondelinger, who had locked the theatrical company’s manager in his compartment during all this.”

So there it is. Noisy young people behaving badly on trains is clearly nothing new then! 

My own recent visit to Plymouth saw another venue ticked off on my tour of Sydney Wooderson race venues (see * below). But the only noisy behaviour I witnessed was from fellow Luton Town fans as we beat home side Argyle 1-0. The pitch was just a few yards from the grass track on which Sydney recorded a hat-trick of one-mile victories for Blackheath in the mid-1930s – the first during that lively 1935 trip described above. 
It seems unlikely Sydney was involved in the horse-play recounted here. He’d travelled to Devon separately from his colleagues, arriving a full day earlier, although it’s possible they all returned together. No doubt his well-organised mum Jeanette, who took a serious interest in his running, urged the early arrival and won’t have been impressed by those tales of high jinks, platform races and ‘rocket’ launching.

Or perhaps I am missing a trick here, and the famously shy and quietly spoken Sydney was a party animal at heart. Perhaps he did try his hand at ‘rockets’ that weekend? I somehow doubt it.     
* ‘Project Sydney’ is more than just my forthcoming book about the running career of forgotten British hero Sydney Wooderson. It also incorporates my 60th birthday ‘challenge’ - to visit and run at 60 of the places where Sydney raced during his remarkable career - all to be done while I am 60! This blog records the progress of that challenge. Conveniently, it will not only help keep me fit, but assist with the research for the book!

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