NIGEL THORNTON: Sad side to a great city character

Thornton on Thursday column with Peterborough Telegraph's deputy editor Nigel Thornton - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

Thornton on Thursday column with Peterborough Telegraph's deputy editor Nigel Thornton - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

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The name Voldimar Kornejus won’t mean much to many people. But say the name Walter Cornelius and most Peterborians of a certain age will instantly react, more likely than not with a smile.

For Voldimar, or Walter as he was better known, was a character. A character in the days when it took more than a funny haircut or a gift for rudeness to earn that accolade.

His crazy stunts and wacky feats earned him headlines across the world not least when he attempted to “fly’’ across the River Nene, launching himself from the old Brierly store before plunging straight into the water.

Now Vivacity, the city’s leisure trust is planning to create a memorial to Walter in the shape of a weather vane at the Lido where Walter worked for many years and where he helped many city youngsters learn to swim. He saved a few as well.

Not surprisingly given his exploits, Walter was very well known (and very well liked) to the Peterborough Telegraph photographers – a bunch of people notoriously difficult to impress.

David Lowndes is the last ‘‘surviving’’ snapper from those days and he has a host of stories about the strongman who fled after Nazi soldiers killed his parents and sister at his home in Latvia.

A popular, big-hearted and well humoured man, David revealed there was another side to Walter that most people never saw.

Walter lived in an old blue Commer van near the old bowling alley on London Road. In the winter it was bitterly cold and the strongman succumbed to the black dog of depression. On one occasion, David recalls, Walter even attempted to take his own life but with typical flamboyance left the business card of David’s uncle’s press agency on his chest.

It read: “If it’s news don’t delay, ring this number straight away.’’

In an act of kindess David’s uncle let Walter sleep in the agency’s dark room in Dogsthorpe Road which was much warmer than the van.

On one occasion it proved to be a mutually beneficial arrangement when a burglar broke in and had the shock of his life. He disturbed Walter who promptly grabbed hold of the raider and effortlessly hurled him over a 10ft high wall.

Walter was, recalls David, a gentle giant, who was adored by children (he appeared on Blue Peter once) and “lived for publicity’’.

He had no family and his habit of eating a raw onion for breakfast scuppered any chance of romance, reckons David.

If he was around nowadays Walter might have carved out a lucrative career on the celebrity circuit, but he never had money while he lived.

He died in 1983 and friends set up a trust fund to pay for his funeral at St Augustine’s Church in Woodston before he was buried in Eastfield cemetery.

It seems to me a memorial to Walter is long overdue.

Law AND order

There were some interesting comments from Cllr Nick Sandford in the Speaker’s Corner column last week.

He revealed police had written to him to say the current cycle ban in Bridge Street is not a priority and is unenforceable .

That smacks of police abdicating their responsibilites.

The police work for us, or at least they should do, and if residents want the ban enforcing the police should do just that.

Ironically, within an hour of reading Nick’s comments I witnessed a two-wheeled yob nearly hit a pedestrian on Bridge Street. Fortunately, the “victim’’ was a young man and able to take the necessary avoiding action. If it had been an elderly person or a child the outcome might have been different.

It has been pointed out there hasn’t been a single reported cycle related accident on Bridge Street in the past five years.

I would suggest the police’s attitude to low-level nuisance law breaking is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Opinion hated?

City councillor Peter Hiller riled residents including members of Peterborough Civic Society when he dismissed those who dared to express an opinion about the proposed south bank development with the words “it’s very easy to be an armchair critic.’’

It might be, but it should also be “very easy’’ for an elected councillor to show respect for the democratic process.

It is the right of voters, some might even say a duty, to express their opinion.

Perhaps Cllr Hiller should take a leaf out of his council boss John Holdich’s book who in his PT column often asks for residents’ views about everything from Bridge Street cyclists to budget cuts.

Perhaps we should have a public consultation on whether public consultations are a sham?

Diary Of A Bad Dad

Routine, we are told, is the key to good parenting.

I’m all for it even if Toddler T and, increasingly Baby T2, routinely ignore everything daddy says.

Toddler T and I have added a new routine to our Sundays – the weekly supermarket shop. I won’t name our local store but if you see a precocious three-year-old ordering about a stressed middle aged man then you know which one it is.

Toddler T loves it, particularly as it means she’s guaranteed some of her favourite things. Strangely the items she insists going in our trolley are quite random. Last week it was baby sweet corn and the week before it was six bottles of red wine (no, Mrs T didn’t buy it either).

It now takes me twice as long to complete the shop as I also have to buy imaginary items for Pargy her little toy dog. So on my list have to go dog carrots and dog cheese.

The check-out is a drawn out battle. As Toddler T charms the cashier I’m left exasperated as she picks the items she wants to put on the belt and the ones she wants to put in “her’’ bag at the other end (and they’re never the same).

It’s like the Generation Game from a parallel universe except I don’t get to win a cuddly toy, which is a shame as I could feed it carrots and cheese.