XC Racer Blog Post

Don't be daft...parks aren't for recreational use!

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BY: Jay horton

Published: 25th November, 2013

Oooh, it’s a right quandary. I’m not right-wing enough to write to the Daily Mail, or lonely enough to phone in to Jeremy Vine, but I’ve got an axe to grind and I’m approaching middle age so what would Jens do? That’s right; I’ve an axe to grind. I can hear the British Cycling officials squirming in their seats and notifying their legal departments but don’t worry; it’s not your turn.

Some time ago, or as we say down here ‘back-along’, we set up a mountain bike club for kids in Plymouth, land of the free. Aimed at 12 – 16 year olds, it soon became apparent that parents are incapable of being honest about their child’s age and we were inundated with 9 year olds. Luckily, they were pretty handy 9 year old Janners, so on we go. That’s not my axe grinding by the way. The beauty of not being blessed with the eternal wonder, glory and self-actualisation that is having children of our own is that we are able to dedicate time to other people’s children. In short bursts, within certain parameters and definitely not in a social setting.

When we say we don’t have children of our own, it’s often fun to make up some heart-wrenching reason why this is the case, when in actual fact we can’t manage to successfully raise a house plant, let alone a baby.

So when you run a cycling group, and want to attract other young cyclists, where to meet? In some dingy backwater part of town? Some deserted industrial estate? Hell no, we need to be smack bang in the midst of the action, Plymouth south central, deep in the hood.

In Plymouth, ground zero is Central Park. Massive city centre park, next to Plymouth Argyle’s ‘football’ stadium, bequeathed to the city back-along by Lady Astor, the UK’s first female MP, Mormon and card carrying teetotaller and the reason why it is such a long walk from our house to the local pub. After a lifetime of devotion, Lady Astor was recently voted the 3rd greatest ever Plymothian, behind Tom Daley and Dawn French. I kid you not. The park was bequeathed to the city for ‘municipal use’ and ‘recreation’ i.e. us.

So doing the decent thing, we applied to Plymouth City Council (PCC to their friends, and they’d have plenty more friends if they were PCP) and more specifically StreetScene for permission to use the park. StreetScene -sounds like an Arts Council funded social work / break-dance project. And they refused. Let’s recap –they refused permission for a group of 9 year old cyclists to ride their bikes in the park. Apparently they are trying to keep the park as a Centre of Excellence for indecent exposure, cottaging and dog shit.

Seemingly they also refused permission to Plymouth Argyle’s Community Outreach Team to use the park for voluntary running sessions with local delinquent kids. So the team have to pretend that they are out for a jog and just happened to have a crowd of kids following them, like a health freak Pied Piper.

Now, we are card-carrying members of the mighty CTC. Not the Commando Training Centre, which would have been useful, but the Cycle Touring Club. Quick chat to our local CTC rep, and he’s on the case. Pulling his RonHill Tracksters up extra high, he’s straight in there with a ‘strongly worded e-mail’, which has all the impact of sponge on marble. As courses of action go, it’s not really up there with ‘Release the Kraken!’ or ‘Man the barricades!’ and I can’t imagine Dirty Harry considering it as an option.

Option two is to generate public outrage by writing a letter to our local press, naming and shaming PCC and calling for a mass trespass and dirty protest in the park. Unfortunately any cyclist writing to our local paper triggers every Daily Mail reader and Jeremy Vine listener in the vicinity to crawl out from under their bridge and suddenly it is open season on cyclists again. Not an option.

Next up in our corner is British Cycling, of which we are also members. We like to hedge our bets. Few quick e-mails and it turns out that there is a Plymouth office. What? Where have they been hiding? Normally you can spot the pool cars from a mile away; but that’s a different blunt axe for a different day. Anyway, BC are on the case, so we can all sleep easy tonight.

In the meantime, what are we doing? Carrying on regardless, training every Thursday evening in Central Park, loving every minute of it and hoping against hope that someone tries to throw us off. If you are ever passing between 1700 and 1830 and hear the sound of heavy breathing, these days it is most likely Plymouth Youth Cycling but if not, call the police. 

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Jay horton

Event organiser - Fully Sussed


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