There are some people you meet in life and you know, whatever happens, you will always remember them. Yesterday, I met one such person, Pete Vickery (Vicko)who is Bude’s Citizen of the Year, though I have been told (by him) that the award is not about Pete, but about Bude SLSC, so please hold that thought..
If asked to describe Vicko, I’d say funny, self-deprecating and that with that rare quality – he is very kind /good-hearted.
It’s the first time I’ve interviewed someone to find them surrounded by friends and family, but by the end of our discussion, I could see why Pete Vickery is so well loved. This is the man who has a breakfast named after him at Rosie’s Kitchen, where he is a regular: Vicko’s Sunbeam Breakfast – and is also a man who oozes contentment. People say wonderful things about him and he has achieved a great deal in life, but is probably best known for his 60 years of work with the Bude Surf Life Saving Club (which has been – and still is – celebrating 60 years this year). So, he’s been there from the start.
Vicko will soon be 70 and is Bude born and bred, having only left living in the town for a three year stint in Australia when he went out on the £10 ticket in 1969 to Wollongong, SW Australia. He has some wonderful stories about his time working in the Bush and, not surprisingly, made many friends whilst there, given his friendly, positive and adaptable nature.
Born at Flexbury Chapel, Vicko says there was no Nippers or Juniors at the Surf Life Saving Club when he was a boy, so by the age of 10, he started hanging around, carrying stuff for the adults and “making a nuisance of myself”.
It will probably surprise no one who knows him, to hear that Vicko was rather mischievous at school. A farmer’s son, he attended Bude Primary and Stratton Secondary Modern. He recalls how the Bude Primary Head used to give pupils the cane with the door open so the whole school could hear. Vicko was caned a lot, but he’d heard that the cane would hurt less if he put soap on his hands, so he tried it. For one caning, the Head could smell the soap and thus caned him on his backside instead. At Stratton School, he once stuck a drawing pin in a lead pipe of the toilet, causing a leak, and also speared a goldfish with a pen. Attempting to throw the goldfish out of the window to cover his tracks, it stuck to the glass, just as the teacher came in……“Vickery, what is that goldfish doing stuck on the glass?“, boomed the teacher, which earned the reply “I don’t know, sir, but it isn’t swimming”. Vicko tells me he retrieved the goldfish and it was perfectly healthy after some mouth to mouth – ahem! We can see where his lifesaving – and yarn spinning – tendencies come from then….amazingly, he went on to become a fine, upstanding citizen….
After school, Vicko went off to Camborne Technical College where he studied horticulture and agriculture and also achieved his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. However his Dad owned farmland, as far as Northcott (Maer Farm) and he had to return to help on the farm. He has fond memories of his first pig called George. He raised it, sold it for slaughter and “drank the proceeds”. In those days, the slaughterhouse was by the railway station and pigs were returned to the farms for salting to keep over the winter.
Pete met his lovely wife, Denise, to whom he has been married for 40 years, at the Surf Club and also at the panto. He said she was the leading lady and he was the “back end of a horse”, a match obviously made in heaven. He met Denise in his early 20s and mainly courted her at the cinema. They also played squash and tennis, Denise often winning which Vicko was not too keen on (she says). As Denise, a keen tennis player in her youth (and pretty good at it, too) explained, courting in those days meant going out once a week , which allowed them plenty of time for their other activities/interests, and little opportunity to get bored with each other. Vicko liked playing football though reckons, while enthusiastic, he was considered “cr*p at it” and rugby, at which he much was better. He played for Bude in their first ever game while Denise cheered on, and later, in Australia, joined the Shamrocks, the first Pom to play for them. Since then, they’ve had a further 15 or so rugby players from Bude.
When he suggested to Denise that they go to Australia, she felt they should get married first, which they did. They caught the Royal Blue bus from the Strand and flew out. Three years later, complete with a baby, Sophia, they returned home to Bude for a visit – and never returned. Both of them reckon they didn’t see going to Australia as a big deal at the time. They’d heard Aussies talk about the place at the Surf Life Saving Club and it sounded good. They took loads of stuff with them as they had very little money, and settled in very quickly. Their journey home was to show off their daughter to her grandparents (they also have a younger daughter called Jodi born here) and to go camping in Rotterdam. Instead, they bought a house and Vicko got a job up at Cleave.
He is fatalistic about it, saying “we had everything in Oz, and no plan to come home but I believe things happen for a reason”. Denise found it harder to adapt, saying she felt returning to Bude was, at the time, something in an anticlimax. She had gone to a new country, set up home, had a baby and was at the “what’s next?” stage. She never imagined for a moment it would be returning to Bude.
Pete said goodbye to his Shamrock rugby pals before leaving Australia and lots had travelled from the outer suburbs to Sydney to see them off on the ship. He says it was a very emotional leaving, and he suddenly wondered, despite planning to return, if he’d ever see those people again. Luckily, many have come across to visit and they still exchange letters/ cards, though the Vickerys have never returned down under. Their Australian friends took them to their hearts and became lifelong friends. As Denise said “I couldn’t get over their friendship”. Daughter Sophia has since been to visit her birthplace.
I always assumed surfers, and indeed surf life savers, were all amazingly good swimmers, but Vicko provides counter-evidence, saying he has never been a strong swimmer. When he started surfing, he had a 16ft wooden board. In case he got into difficulty, having good sea sense, he put a washing line from one end to the other to grab hold of. Could this be the first invention of the leash? It’s a nice story and I like to think so, though officially it was invented – or popularised – in 1971 by Jack O’Neill. Vicko, you got there first. Pete loved surfing and went most evenings after working on the farm while Denise waited “for hours”. Surfing is also where the ‘O’ came from in Vicko. Suddenly, on a surfing holiday, everyone’s name had an O at the end, such as his friend, Timmo, and it stuck.
Denise has also been very involved in Bude SLSC and helped start the ladies’ section. In the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine that women were originally not allowed in water-based events and could only do ‘rescues and resuscitation’ on dry land. As in many working men’s clubs until relatively recently, women were considered to be there to make the tea! Denise also notes that the women could not go in public bars, but had to sit in the lounge where their partners would bring them a drink and a packet of crisps (I remember this kind of thing as a child) and they had to be ‘signed in’ at the club. Thankfully, we’ve moved on and times are more enlightened.
Today’s Bude Surf life Saving Club is extremely popular with people having their names down for Nippers at birth. Juniors is also popular and most of Bude’s RNLI lifeguards will have been through the Club. There are fewer senior members because young people have more options these days, and leave for university or work, but the training is rigorous, never forgotten, and stands them in good stead.
Vicko’s dedication has helped raise a lot of money to do the Tuesday night lifesaving demonstrations and other events, but he is keen to emphasise that the Bude SLSC is a team. For example, he’s thrilled that the Club Captain takes on the computer work, paperwork, and covers health and safety and child protection legislation/training, which is much more onerous and rigorous these days. The Surf Carnival is another event which has grown tougher because of following Surf Life Saving Association rules and completing appropriate risk assessments. No longer can it be about a few people, but is people working as a team sharing skills.
60 years is a long time. It is rare for someone to stick with an organisation for so long, especially when so many changes have taken place, so although altruistic and community-minded, what does Vicko get from it in terms of self-satisfaction? He feels his greatest satisfaction is “seeing the youngsters coming through and being better swimmers than me”.
It is well-known at the club that the youngsters will do anything for Pete and are respectful of his knowledge but he reckons the sea is a great leveller. People come in, some more confident than others, but soon learn to work together, and even he has had his come-uppance. When he helped with Nippers he once asked a child his name, saying: “I know your Dad very well”. The child said: “That’s my Grandad”. There are times when the passing of years hit you!
So, 60 years of Bude SLSC, with loads of ongoing events, including, this year, a fund-raising Santa run on the beach, near Christmas. The Christmas Day Mick Moyle Memorial Swim will also take place, though timings may have to change slightly due to the tide. Vicko tells the story of how one year Crooklets was particularly rocky and the tide high so they put some carpet down to make the run into the sea easier. This worked like a dream, but afterwards, the carpets were rolled up and kept in the club’s foyer. After around 6 months, still in situ, the stench of wet carpet was quite overpowering. He also tells of the year when a man turned up from Exeter for the swim. He’d had a row with the wife, and the kids didn’t like their presents, so he bundled them all in the car to go to Bude. It probably saved Christmas Day for that family!
For many people now, the Christmas Day swim is an integral part of the day.
There has been lots of talk over the years about how it would be great to see a Club building befitting the status the SLSC has in the town but Vicko thinks the focus now will be on improving what they have, whilst retaining the club’s identity. Vicko helped to build the club, digging out the foundations. When they were building, a bricklayer on holiday insisted on helping, much to his wife’s chagrin. Afterwards the men would play a rough game of footy on the beach, which she was also understandably displeased with, all part of ruining her holiday. Of course, the man was injured, and of course, his wife had the deep satisfaction of having told him so.
Citizen of the Year is not the first accolade for Pete who has many achievements within surf life saving. He has also been to Buckingham Palace for a Bude SLSC award. And he is still involved with many other aspects of Bude life, including line marking for the rugby club, organising the St Piran’s Day Walk in Bude, and as a volunteer lock-gate operator. He is proud that Bude has the only sea-facing lock-gates in existence in Britain. Typically, he underplays this role too saying that “as a kid they used to let me help push the gates open, so I still do it”.
But he has had his tribulations, too, including cancer of the prostate and kidney; mind you, he even has funny hospital stories to tell. I could go on at length about Vicko’s many stories (he had me in stitches, funniest interview I’ve done in ages) but rather, I’ll end on what Pete says about himself and what others say about him.
I asked, given his belief in fate, what he feels his life purpose is. He was silenced for, oh, all of 20 seconds……
A good friend of the couple, Annie, filling the gap, said:
“To make us all happy, because that’s what he does”.
Meanwhile, Denise pondered and said “ he never has a bad word to say about anyone or anything and never wants anything”. She cites a holiday that they won in Rock. Peter had no desire to go – why leave Bude? – so they gave the tickets away.
Pete says: “I’ve retired in palace I want to retire. I’ve got everything here. Contentment is a hell of a thing and I’m quite content with what I’ve got”.
And maybe that explains his kindness and why I would challenge anyone in Bude to hear a bad thing about this man who is, rightly, Bude’s Citizens of the Year, though as he said (many times): “this is for the Surf Life Club’s 60th year, not me; it’s for everyone involved”.
You might have seen him at the Carnival with the Nippers, rather than in the official car, but if not, you can see him opening the new Lloyds TSB or TSB, or whatever it is, bank, in Bude on Monday.
Vicko: You’re one in a million. I salute you. Good health.