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Your Comments about Mrs Deene, George, and their cyclists’ Guesthouse

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The piece we ran recently by reader John Day about staying with Mrs Deene in Belgium aroused a lot of interest on social media but it was spread over a number of different pages and apps.

We thought it would be a shame to let some fascinating and funny comments go to waste so we pulled a selection together for you.

Mrs Deene
Mr and Mrs Deene. Photo©Dave Mitchell

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Paul Kilbourne

“Thank you for the article. 

“Mrs Deene was an institution and a huge part of many people’s development. 

“My understanding is that she met George in Tenby – she was “on the buses” for the war effort, and George was working on something a bit hush hush in communications for the allies.

“They originally lived in Gent, close to “Grandma”. 

“When the World Expo came to Brussels the authorities encouraged people to offer accommodation, and the Deenes responded. 

“After one cyclist who spoke English tracked her down looking for digs more swiftly followed. 

“They bought the house in Zomergem some time later – with Barry Hoban serving as caretaker until the Deenes moved across.

“That house was demolished a few years ago – supposedly unsafe, but word is the locals still had bad memories of it as a Gestapo HQ during the war.”

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Mrs Deene
Steve Douce.

Steve Douce

Former multiple British Cyclo-cross Champion.

“I remember we asked Mrs Deene where to put our ‘cross bikes.

“She said ‘in the conservatory’.

“Upon opening the door we discovered no glass and true Belgium weather; pissing down with rain!

“Great times – it would make a great film, everybody that has ever stayed there telling their stories …”

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Karl Brookes

“I stayed at Mrs Deene’s one summer and rode some local kermises.

“The plan was to win as much prize money as possible and stay out there for the season.

“Luckily I took a load of cash with me or I could of been on the ferry back home the following week!

“I had great fun at Mrs Deene’s and met some really decent road riders who were trying to get noticed.”

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Peter Murphy

The man behind Kingsnorth the club which gave so man ‘Anglos’ their introduction to racing in the Flatlands. 

“I loved them like a mum and dad.

“I stayed from 1979 to 1990.

“I have so many memories.

“Great riders stayed and never complained about anything.

“It was the lesser performers who mentioned that the bedrooms could be a little ‘fresh’ in winter but Tony Doyle would stay in his early Six Day career.

“ANC were there with Joey McLoughlin, Phil Thomas and many other great riders.

“The Deenes were a great loss to cycling.”

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Chris Nowell

“I remember staying there in 1978 with my dad and Bob Swailes.

“I think the late Paul Sherwen or Graham Jones organised it for us.

“We went out for a few rides with Paul and Graham and got battered in every race we rode. 

“I got lapped by Eddy Planckaert a few times and then realised I was never going to be a ‘hitter’!”

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Hugh Rainbird 

Mrs Deene
Ferdinand Julien.

“A great piece of reminiscence which brought back many of my own memories of lodging at 5 St Michielstraat in the first half of the 1970’s with the Polhill Racing Club.

“The first time I went with the club we arrived from the Ostend ferry late in the evening, just beating “Granny’s” ten o’clock curfew. 

“And if you went out to ride an “avondcrit” [‘nocturne’ or evening race, ed.] and expected to be back late, it was as well to let someone else know, so they could open the latch for you if Granny had retired for the night. 

“We had one of the front bedrooms, and early the next morning I was woken and nearly shaken out of bed by a thunderous noise in the street. 

“I thought the Nazis had re-invaded, but it was just the first tram of the morning trundling its way out to Mariakerke. 

“The trams stopped running a year or two later, but the tramlines still lurked in the cobbles of the street to trap the unwary cyclist (like myself) and throw them over the handlebars. It happened to me on the way out to Gentbrugge at the start of a training ride, and I ended up in the Akademische Ziekenhuis having stitches in my chin.

“Nowadays the Sint Michielsbrug over the Leie is pedestrianised, and the main Post Office on the far side where we went to send postcards to assure those at home we were still in one piece or in celebration of an occasional placing in the top twenty, is now a postal-themed “Boutique Hotel”

“You didn’t mess with Granny – even the hard “Aussies” knew that!

“After all she was a heroine of the Belgian Resistance during the War, and had a framed document from The King of the Belgians to prove it, so dealing with a handful of bolshie bikies wasn’t going to put her out!

“I do recall the rather quaint habit she had of using the water the breakfast eggs had been boiled in to make the tea with afterwards, but I guess she’d seen hard times, and nothing went to waste!

“In fact after Granny passed away, in 1975, my last year of Flemish Kermiskoersing, Mrs Deene took out a lease on a smaller place, an old baker’s shop premises around the corner in Oude Houtleie, and an English cycling couple looked after it when she went home in the evening, but I don’t think that lasted for long,

“We stayed out at the Deene’s house in Guido Gezellestraat in Zomergem -“Marlinspike Manor” as it was dubbed by a Tintin-minded co-equipier of mine – when we went early in the year to “Het Volk”, or at the end of the season to go and watch the pro “Sluitingsprijs” at Putte-Kapellen. 

“Barry no longer lived there, having married Helen Simpson, but the flat was occupied by a number of British pro’s after that.

“We had the attic. It was freezing! We waited downstairs in the warmth of Mrs Deene’s kitchen until the last minute, then hurried up the three flights of stairs as quickly as possible, to don all the warm training gear we had before slipping between the icy sheets!

“In contrast, at “Saint David’s” in mid-summer, it was so hot and humid, that I often slept with just a sheet over me, laying me open to being feasted on nightly by the deadly mosquitoes that inhabited the stagnant water of the canalised Leie outside. They were so tough they just laughed at the insect spray we bought at the Grand Bazaar and sprayed around our room, and carried on sucking our blood!

“I remember some of the professionals who stayed there, or at the self-contained flat around the corner coming in for some of their meals; the Stonham Brothers, Ron Pannell and Mick Coward were