Saturday, 31 July 2010


It was a youth Club night, Eric bounced in our quiet room to disturb us at a critical point in our card game of brag, the betting was getting heavy.

“ What do you reckon to that?”

Eric asked as he dropped a photograph under our noses on the makeshift card table. The photograph showed a very large houseboat, it was a chalet type building, built on a pontoon. It had a flat roof and open balcony’s at either end and sported colourful window boxes at each window.

“ Very pretty.” Someone remarked.

“ I have purchased it; it is moored at Trent lock.”

We remembered above the lock at Trent lock on the Erriwash Canal along its banking was a string of these colourful floating homes.

“ How much did that set you back Eric?”

“ Five shillings.”

We fell about laughing and asked what the catch was.

“ It needs a bit of doing up.” He replied, we could see he was in need of volunteers. He did not need to look any further.

“ I’ll take you to see it at the weekend.” As he left he said, and as we continued with our game of cards,

“ By the way bring your swimming trunks and a towel.”

“ I’ll raise you a shilling and bet you five bloody pounds the fucking boats on the bottom,” my friend Alan remarked.

Eric picked all of us up in a big van, which was towing a small dingy; the van was laden with sheets of hardboard, bits of rope, lengths of timber and tools. We arrived at Trent lock and we expected to follow the road that runs adjacent to the canal, but Eric headed in the opposite direction to the main riverbank. We scrambled out of the back of the van and stood looking across the wide river. On the opposite bank was the sad looking houseboat hanging on its side from the banking half submerged? The story was the owners were moving it up the river to a boatyard where it was going to be put up for sale, they had decided to leave the house boat tied up for the night on the river bank, over night the level of the river fell by about five feet, the poor owners had left it on very short but strong mooring lines, not good practice on moving water. The boat clearly tipped on its side, river was now up again at high level.

“ What did I tell you?” Remarked Alan.

Eric started to shout out the orders of the day,

“ Right get that dingy in the river and load up those sheets of hardboard.”

The dingy was around three foot six inches wide and six feet long; the sheets of hardboard were eight feet by four feet. Once loaded the dingy disappeared underneath the load with the sheets of hardboard dipping in the river on both sides. Two brave lads jumped on top of the boarding and they drifted hopelessly out of control into the fast current spinning round and round as they attempted to paddle. They were unable to paddle or maneuver, it was time now for us all to change in to our swimming trunks and diving in after it. Once we were all across the river and after reading the warning notice from the British Waterways Board that was stuck to the side of what was once a floating home. The notice stated the craft had no license and would be removed in fourteen days, Eric bellowed out more orders as he handed out hammers and nails.

“ Right lads take a sheet of hard board a hammer and some nails into the river and fasten it over the windows.”

We believed we could do it so in we went, the sheet of hardboard were difficult to put in place as they wished to float around, a deep breath under we went, nail in place, swing the hammer! Slow motion took over; for it is impossible to swing a hammer under water.

Not to be put off Eric ordered us back across the river as he had brought some large tractor tire inner tubes’ and a foot pump. After an afternoon of blowing up inner tubes, which were, fasten to the houseboat we only succeeded in making them look like a string giant black puddings and the houseboat had not moved an inch. It was now the lads turn to make a suggestion,

“ We’re going to the pub.”

Eric desperately seemed to want to own a boat, he had approached the British Waterways who said for a price they would re-float the houseboat but pointed out it would be hardly worth it as the craft was fairly rotten and in the same breath said the craft would be removed anyway on the following Friday evening.

“ Why cant you ask them if you can have it after they move it,” we suggested, “ its worth a try.”

The Friday evening came along we stood on the banking, across the river was a workboat tied up along side of the houseboat, the workmen were busy aboard. We wondered how they were going to shift it but had assumed we could have the houseboat after they done so it if we wanted. Eric waved to attract the attention of the workmen, he was ignored, the workboat pulled away from the houseboat with all the crew aboard and headed down river, after some distance it turned around and faced up stream and hovered in mid stream with its engine ticking over. We stood there wondering what was happening, we did not have to wait long, BOOM, the houseboat exploded, disintegrating the mass of the craft into thousands of little pieces, the workboat and its crew slowly started collecting the larger pieces of the boat with boat hooks as it gently drifted past them. The houseboat was worth every penny of five shillings for the entertainment value. Several years later I was pleased to help Eric fulfill his dream.


I had stopped being in a hurry to loose my virginity and tried to be laid back as far as possible as girls were concerned. However at the age of fifteen I was still very naïve and told my friends I was an expert in the art of love making and could keep an erection for hours, how far from the truth could that possibly be?

One night, one of the lads came bursting into classroom come card room at the youth club.

“ You lucky bastard Roger,” he shouted,

“ What do ya mean?” I enquired.

“ I’ve just been talking to Susan, she told me Wendy fancies you,”

“ Not the sultry Wendy who hangs about with the older guys?”

“ Yeah the very same,”


I did not believe him and was sure Susan must have been having us on. Wendy was a natural blonde who had a classical sulky high cheek boned face, she was a super model, an untouchable as far as I was concerned, she had an exotic air about her and hardly said a word or smiled for that matter, I wondered why she ever came to such a youth club except to look very appealing sitting on the forms in the hall for most part on her own and only occasionally talking to her friends who were mostly going out with the older lads. Clearly most of my friends found her very attractive too but they felt like myself that she could have her pick of any boy in the club and we felt sure she had no interest at all of any in our peer group.

“ I’ll go and find Susan she can tell you,”

With in a short time he was back with Susan in tow,

“ Yes its true Roger she would like to meet you.”

I asked Susan to tell her I will leave early and will meet her at the entrance, my plan was to get away quickly with her, as it was rumoured the older guys did not like you taking what they considered their group of chicks, not that we ever did, but I felt there was a first time for everything. I met up with Wendy outside the club; we walked to the bus stop. She was truly a lovely looking girl, she had beautiful long creamy blonde straight hair that came half way down her back, she had a slight but shapely figure. She nearly always seemed to dress in black which heightened the agreeable appearance of her smooth pale skin, she also always wore exceptionally high stiletto heeled shoes at the end of her lovely long legs, she suffered for her passion for fashion as these shoes used to dig into her heels make holes in her stockings, then taking off a layer of skin so for most of the time she wore discrete plasters on her heels to protect them. She told me were she lived; it was way past my own home. I asked why she came so far to the youth club, she said she had one or two girls friends and her farther suggested she should get out with them as she spent a considerable time in the home. The girls she knew were also beauties, they had been quickly snapped up by the older more mature lads, I could not understand why the older lads had no interest in this particular beauty of nature and wondered why she was not spoken for and wondered why she wished to have a date with myself. However I clearly was clearly flattered and a very happy chappy.

Virtually a daily meeting started to take place between us, she had a job working in the Co Op Seed Factory, I started to meet her on my pushbike every morning and if time permitted I would walk with her part way down the factory drive before I set off to work. Each time I saw her I saw her beauty I could not believe my good fortune. Soon I was to be introduced to a wonderful family, who made me welcome. Her farther was a talented engineer, he had a great sense of humour and was a good mate to his son and had made him on his lathe at work a great set of training weights, her mother was a caring person, and they all did not seem to mind me, I was dumb struck by my luck.

With the help of her and my friends I started to learn how to dance the jive a little better, but really I couldn’t wait for the slow romantic records to come on so I could hold Wendy tight, in what we called a creep, it seemed we both were enjoying youth. So it was a few dates to the cinema, nights at the club, meeting her after night school. We continued to see each other on a regular basis. She had however very little to say for herself and I could not find out what she was most interested in, she had no ambitions as for a career as far as I could find out, I thought at times maybe she just wanted to get married and start a family, but we both were far too young for that. I was having trouble making conversation with her but probed and probed to find some common grounds with her to build on but this was of no real importance. She did help me become a more trendier dresser, we were told we had become a handsome couple, I was the envy of many a friend and always enjoyed having her on my arm as if she was a proud trophy and I certainly loved to show her off when out socializing.

She was to me a beautiful possession I adored but I wanted more, so started pushing for a sexual encounter. It was time I took her home and show her where I was brought up. A seduction there could now be possible for my aunt had got too difficult to care for, the family needed a break, she was packed off to the City Hospital, my aunts worst fear, as she had never put one foot in a hospital in all her life she was afraid of them. I thought this would kill her off and it did. The hospital took over her pension book and her life savings some six thousand pounds, she died within the two weeks respite care, her bank book was never returned, I wondered where my family’s share of that money was after seven years of caring for her, this is the heavy hand of the hidden establishment, hopefully her money went to help somebody else who needed it. In hind sight we should have painted the front room all white given her a metal framed bed, and possibly should have dressed up as doctors and nurses and told her she was now in hospital, for my family could have done with just a little of the money at that point in time. At least now she was gone we had our front room back where I at least could entertain my friends.

I loved the winter time when you are trying your best to seduce a girl, the dark nights, curtains drawn, lights off, music on with a big fire glowing in the hearth while you cuddle up together, you cannot do the same on a summers evening indoors, I tried it once; I drew all the curtains, lit a fire, got a sweat on when a neighbour called round to see who had died, when I told her nobody had died she said, “Oh I see now your not so well me duck, you’ve got a really high temperature, get yourself off to bed.” If only I could have!

The scene was set and the house was empty, the front room cleaned, the fire was laid ready for lighting, the music was prepared ready for my seduction; my hopes were raised for a sexual encounter. I met Wendy at the top of the main road; we walked hand in hand to my home. I had planned everything in my fantasy I could think of, I made her a drink and suggested we go into the front room; I could not wait to get my hands on her. I put a match to the fire put on the seductive music, dropped on to the sofa and pulled her down next to me, gave her a passionate kiss and whispered,

“You look stunningly beautiful tonight.” Indeed she always did.

She drew back and held my head in her hands, looked at me longingly and tipped her head to one side and said,

“You’ve got blackheads Roger.”

She then proceeded to squeeze these out from around my nose with her very pointed red painted fingernails. She really got down to the job of removing them one at a time, she pulled up her tight skirt higher to her waist showing off her smooth beautiful bare thighs above her nylon stocking tops, she sat straddled across my knees then pinned my head to the back of the sofa. I thought at least I could look at her breasts while this punishment was being administered, but she pushed my hands away from her top buttons so she could get the extra leverage to pop the next blackhead out, I slid my hands to her sides around her waist, underneath her black cardigan, I felt, there was not a blemish on her super soft skin, she had a waistline to die for, I could nearly span her waist with my hands. She did not move my hands as I think she was concentrating hard and had come across a particular blackhead that was difficult to remove, so I moved my hands slowly upwards pushing her bra up placing both of them on her breasts I desperately wanted to kiss her and her breasts.

“ My dad gets blackheads as well.” she exclaimed,

My moment of passion evaporated as immediately thoughts came of her sitting this way on her dads lap doing the same thing to him. I remarked most of us that work in engineering have this problem.

I purchased every chemical the chemist had to rid myself from the dreaded black spots. I wanted to make love to this exquisite creature, I tried and tried many many times to seduce her to no avail, I failed miserably always my blackheads were too over powering for her when we were alone on the sofa. My nose felt like it was about to part company from my face.

Communications on the subject of sex were difficult, as she did not share her view; clearly she did not physically take any lead to allow me to venture any further, which is clearly fair enough and how it should be. It would seem she was far wiser and not as eager as I to explore the unknown. Regrettably I wrote her a rather stupid irresponsible letter to try and tell her of my love and sexual feeling towards her. It read I would do anything for her which included me running around naked in the front room for her so she may find out if I had blackheads elsewhere on my body that she could amuse herself with, and if she took her own clothes off as well it may be great fun, and explained that we did not have to go all the way, I used parchment paper feeling it would be more romantic, then drew fine flowery adornments around the lettering, finally burning the paper around the edges, it ended up looking like the directions on an old treasure island map, and the X’s marked the spot where hidden treasure’s could be found and enjoyed, it was tied up with a red ribbon and was presented to her inside an old wine bottle. My friend Alan thought I had completely lost the plot, he was absolutely right.

The very next day in the real world I was sent to work at the foundry where her farther worked, I smiled and waved to acknowledge him across the foundry floor, he however scowled back at me, the hatred in his eyes told me the worst news ever, I guessed he also had read the deadly scroll, I lowered my hand and was ready to run but he turned his back on me and walked away. He forbid her to see me again, who could blame him, she did not return to the youth club, my beautifully gorgeous girl was lost and gone forever, I sadly missed her on my arm and missed the intense passion of the hurried chase to loose my virginity.

After a short time I heard her new boy friend was the foreman gardener at the seed factory, he was some eight years her senior, she had often talked about him and told me she often spent time with him at his front garden gate where no doubt he planted many seeds in her head, it seemed no time at all before they were married. I was saddened and was only ever to see her once more many years later when out shopping in the posh end of town, she was now in her late thirties she looked just as attractive, she was dressed in a top shop swade suit that hung to her superb figure, she still wore the very same style high heels, she was gliding and floating around the superstore as if on a cat walk wearing that very same striking look with the natural waves of her lovely blonde hair framing her beautiful sulky sultry face. We came face to face with our shopping trolleys but never spoke. I had weathered beyond possible recognition and besides she was more interested in the contents of the cold cabinet than this man staring at her. I felt she surly would have forgotten all about the persistent advances of a naive fifteen year old virgin that sent her a message in a bottle and in that moment of time I bet to myself, her husband would be blackhead free, and that this true beauty of nature had a well kept garden and I wondered what kind of seeds they had sown together and what had fully blossomed in their lives.


The newfound younger workmates always went out on the town on Friday nights for a pub-crawl, they encouraged me to go along with them although I was three years too young to drink legally. I looked of age, even at thirteen I did have to pay full fare on the buses, when I asked for half fare the conductor usually would threaten to throw me off if I declined to pay the full adult fare, so getting into a pub presented no problems for me, the encouragement given was not needed. If they’re ever was a raid on a pub by the police looking for under age drinking’s, most landlords would know about it before it happened and those under age would quickly disappear. I was brazen and daft enough to stick it out; the worst that could happen was a ticking off from the landlord and police. Today no doubt the landlord may loose his license and the young person would get an ASBO and yet the government wonders why at eighteen plus young people go binge drinking and are unable to handle it. Their answer to that is to put the price up per unit of alcohol, yeah I am sure that will do the trick, what a load of bollocks.

Now I was working and had money in my pocket for the weekend, this however would not last long as all would be spent by Sunday night then one would have to wait again for Friday to come around for another pay packet. My parents still supported me in those first few years of my working life. Everyone was now at work in my household except for my very old aunt who was retired and financially loaded, but didn’t know it.

I had been through the rituals of the Saturday afternoon trips to town with the lads from the club, where it seemed each week, one or the other of us was buying a suit on tick from the tailors. We would all meet together to catch a bus into town then head to our favorite tailor, we would stand around and watch the lucky guy of the day pick out his material, black with gold fleck, white with silver, or other fashionable colours of the day. We would point out our choice of linings to help the guy out. The assistant then would take over and start to take the measurements while asking the usual questions, “ Half drape or full drape, velvet collar or plain, one button or two buttons, fourteen inch bottoms or sixteen inch, turn ups or no turn ups.”

After a deposit was paid we then headed of to the shoe shop for another lad who wanted a pair of beetle crushers with one inch soles, then off with someone else to buy a cut back collared shirt in light blue with a lace tie to match, then on to the barbers shop for a blow wave for some of us, then we would wonder down to the Co-Op record bar to buy the latest extended play hit record. Here I managed to get a date with the sales girl who had the very latest tulip cut hairstyle, which wasn’t the norm. The relationship did not last long her milkman father chased me from her front door step on several occasions and I got fed up with the hassle from him. Finally however our group would all finishing up at the Baccico coffee bar for an American express coffee. Week after week we trod this addictive path until all of us were fully kitted out. As we walked around the town, I say walked, most of us were trying to swagger, as if to get into an unheard rhythm. Sometimes as we tried to walk the walk, but we did not quite manage it and fell over our own blue swade shoes. The older general public usually made way for us on the pavement I expect we did look a frightful sight. I dare say today some of the same guys who will be now drawing their pensions will now be making way as they see a group of shaved headed youngsters who have tattoos and body piercing coming towards them, but it is now their time to enjoy youth and their fashion.

We all had learnt how to prepare ones self for our Friday night out, it was an art form, but at least we did not have to screw ironmongery into our noses eyebrows, ears or any other part of our anatomy.

The first job after putting a rock and roll record on the gramophone was to press your trousers which were known as drain pipes due to the narrow bottoms, this was done with a hot iron and a clean damp tea towel pressing very hard, then finishing the pressing with some brown paper, if you could cut your finger on the crease you had done a good job. Next you iron your shirt, leave laid out while you have a scrub, practice isometrics while washing under the arms, screw corner of the flannel up to poke ears out, clean your teeth, shave off the bum fluff on your chin, straighten sideburns while always wishing they were longer, borrow dads cologne, dab under arms, cut finger nails as you might get lucky. Find clean kecks and yellow Florissant socks, steam swade shoes over boiling kettle, and finish off with small wire brush. Squeeze feet through narrow bottoms of drainpipes, put shirt on, take out melted or damaged plastic pieces of shirt collar stiffener and replace with two matchsticks or cherry sticks. Find large buckled belt and thread through trousers. Select Slim Jim or lace tie. Buff up white metal skull tie piece toddle on the back of the settee, thread lace tie through and place round the neck, find matching cuff links, buff the same to add to shirt, put on slightly damp shoes, take the drape of clothes hanger and slide in to it, now face the mirror checking all points, sponge the velvet collar lightly with damp cloth to remove spec of dandruff or your girls friends face powder, clothes brush jacket. Then apply a liberal coating of brycream to hair, if you have run out of this use liquid paraffin, however this will come off on your pillow in bed bringing your hair colour with it, if neither of these two is available a light mixture of soap and water will get you by for the night so long as you do not bang your head cracking the hard crust or it is raining hard. Now spend the next quarter of an hour getting every hair in place finishing off with one good straight slice down the back of your head for the perfect DA. Check with another mirror, a slanting ducks arse will not do. Place comb in your inside pocket then wash your hands carefully. Dig out matching scull ring from the soap dish, rinse and place on little finger. Place expanding bracelet watch on wrist taking care not to trap hairs when flicking it into position, put a clean handkerchief in trouser pocket, the less endowered guys can roll them up to elevate their manhood. Undo the new packet of ten fat Senior Service cigarettes and place them in the empty twenty packet you saved from the week before when you splashed out, or better still borrow your old mans silver cigarette case to make an even better impression. Then when you are in company you can flip it open with one hand remove a cigarette, tap it twice on the closed case lid before bringing the cigarette slowly up towards your mouth before throwing it the last few inches and catching it with your lips, then you can slide the cigarette case smoothly back into your inside jacket pocket, but to continue, place a clean handkerchief in the top pocket if you haven’t got that piece of cardboard cut out with three points wrapped in handkerchief material that came with your new suit, place one piece of chewing gum in your mouth, pick up your money, put your last thin Park Drive cigarette in the corner of your mouth, don’t light if your using liquid paraffin until your outside, stand back from the mirror dance up and down on the balls of your feet, point at your refection, click your fingers and you are ready for a night on the town.

As usual no body was in on Friday nights so I made my Aunt a sandwich, banked the fire up for her with slag and coal dust to make it last the evening, then fastened the fire guard on tight with some twisted wire, then put the radio on for her, kissed her forehead and said,

“ I’ll see you babe.”

She then would ask me again for the third time, “ Are you a bell boy now George?”

After catching the number 31 bus into town, it was straight off and into the doors of the Royal Exchange pub. Here I was to meet not only my new work mates but also old school mates and youth club members. One such mate was Jack Smith an exceptional lad who had been brought up in a violent family surrounding, he and his elder brother used to get pasted by their bully of a farther, both boys were very handsome and had strong physiques, I had seen their farther take a poker to Jack and whip him on the back with it. Both lads had now grown much bigger and much much stronger and they had both put there farther in his place, for now he was the old cockerel and was broken man and was to lurk in the corner of their sitting room, we use to see him twitching on the occasions we called for Jack. Jack was loud and confident and now was a womanizer and had to date one child somewhere and was to spread his seeds around many times in the future, when Jack left school he took a job on the bread round and was to soon learn how to drive a electric bread van he moved on to a three toner and finally to a heavy goods vehicle by the age of twenty one. He always earned more money than myself, I did expect to catch him up and earn more than him at the age of twenty-one after I had finished my apprenticeship. This was not going to be the case as our society changed, as people could earn more money putting on one car wheel nut on a production line, day in, day out, than a skilled mechanical fitter, who could build the whole damn car himself, so much for consomerization. We were to take Jack to the seaside a few months later he had never ever seen the sea before, he ran in fully clothed he was like a five year old. Jack eventually was to finish up running his own business, stripping out blue asbestos from factories; nobody asked him where he got rid of it. He was later to become the first millionaire to come out of class M4. One night we asked him how he managed to pick up so many girls, while others and I were struggling,

“ You just sniff them out go and ask them, you see those two over there, I’ve had my eye on one of them.”

At that he was off across the pub like a terrier as if one of them were on heat, we watched him chat, we watched him get a slap, and he returned, “ No good there,” he said, “ She is waiting for her husband.”

We laughed at him. Two other girls came into the pub he was off again chasing and chatting to them before they reached the bar. To my utter surprise they even bought him a drink. He was doing something I could never do. In a short while he was back at our table for his half finished drink he had left.

“ Do you know them,” I asked.

“ No never seen them in my life before, but I am in with one of them.”

“ Which one,” I was interested to know.

“ The one on the left.”

I said the other one was prettier,

“ Don’t care about that,” he said, “ all I want is my tail away, I’ll see you lads later.”

He scampered off again and joined the girls.

He was soon to make his way back to our group.

“ The other girl fancies you Roger,” he announced, the group cheered me and pushed me forward. I walked over with Jack; he had told them I was the strong silent type.

At last I thought I had found a way to find girls without saying much and I was determined to build up such a reputation. So from then on through out my teenage years it worked a treat. I did not have to small chat or embarrass myself with what I had said. I let the lads do the running for me. On Saturday evenings at the cinema no sooner we were in the lads were off around the stalls before the film started chatting up various parties of girls, inevitably one lad would return to where I was sitting saving their seats, he would say that a girl over there fancies me, I would tell him to send her across. When they came over with the girl I would stand up shake her hand and say, “ Hi I’m Roger.” push the seat swab down next to me, and keep hold of one of her hands if I liked the look of her then take it slowly from there.

The two girls in the pub were older than Jack and I and they were well into Rock and Roll, they suggested we should take them to see Rock Around the Clock at the Cavendish cinema the following Saturday, it was the first rock film to hit Derby. We all agreed and Jack was off with his new conquest. I had been left with this pretty girl after a couple more drinks with her she asked me to walk her to the bus station, as we waited for the bus she put her arms around my neck, I leaned down and kissed her teeth, shock and horror went through me, she kisses with her mouth open, fortunately her bus arrived, I promised to meet her outside the Cavendish cinema the following Saturday night. I rushed back to the pub, the group howled with laughter at me when I told them she kisses with her mouth open.

I spent the whole week practicing kissing the back of my wrist,

“ What you doing?” my mum would ask.

“ Sucking a spot.” I replied.

I had come into true Rock and Roll era at the latter years; most teddy boys were older than I and my own group of friends, we all were trying to catch up with them. There was talk about Teddy Boy fights and flick knives and knuckle-dusters, in general we all had a bad reputation, the public were weary of us no matter what our age was. Most of us who had flick knives would casually take them out of our pockets hold them at the tips of our fingers and thumb press the catch to flick the blade open and enjoy the click as the blade locked in place then we would clean our fingernails with them, it was just silly youthful showmanship.

The following Saturday I met up with Jack and a few other friends with their girl friends, our little gang thought safety in numbers was the best policy as we too were still weary of the much bigger much older lads. The big teddy boys did not seem to mind or notice our teeny bobber presents. The crowd outside the cinema was huge I wondered if we would all get in, the scene was very colourful as everyone was dressed up for the part, the boys and girls were having a competition on whose hair styles could stick up the highest. All the girls, each in a hundred and one petty coats of multi- coloured fabrics .The girls we had met turned up we joined the long queue, we managed to get good seats in the stalls. The film started, eventually the music of Bill Haley and the Comets started to play, everyone was up and started bopping in the isles, my girl grabbed my hand and started pulling me out of my seat, horror struck I had not learnt how to dance yet, I was dying on my feet what was I to do? I just got into the isle when the film was shut down and the lights came up, I thought there was going to be a riot, the doors where flung open by a mob of policemen with truncheons drawn who started pushing people back into their seats. We watched the film with a row of policemen at the back of the cinema; I was saved from the embarrassment. When coming out of the cinema, my girl met up with an older ex- boyfriend that she was pleased to see; he was much older and much bigger than I. So I did not argue with him when he asked her to leave with him and asked me if I had any objections as he held my lace tie up under my chin in his fist.

I had however figured Friday nights was not just necessarily a drinking night out with the boys, it was a girl hunt as well, so I continued being laid back and enjoyed practicing to be a strong and silent type and waited patiently for someone else’s lead.

Friday, 30 July 2010



It was another night at the youth club, with my close knit group of the friends, we were standing around watching a game of snooker, when Eric popped in to put a proposal to us, Eric stood about five foot ten he had a strong physic, a hansom face that was toped out with a wavy mop of hair. Eric was a laid back character, as a young man he attended Loughbourgh University here he gained his teachers qualification specializing in physical education. He worked in a hard school where pupils were difficult to manage he did the two evenings a week at the youth club for extra cash. I learnt a lot about life from this man, he and myself were to cross paths in our lives several times, I always will be grateful in knowing him. He lived in his own world, he was not really interested what you had to say to him, if you tried to talk to him you could usually only get about three words in. Tonight was not going to be the exception.

“ Right lads we are going to be Guinea pigs for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Mobil Camping on Horse Back in South Wales, we are going to see if this is possible, get your names down we are going at Whitson half term holiday.”

He was gone before we could ask anything. Ten of us agreed to go, we hoped one or two girls might be joining us, but all the girls at the youth club declined. We were told to meet up at the Railway Station on the Saturday morning of that weekend with all our camping gear and food for four days, Eric had informed us that two other lads who were older would be joining the group, they were police cadets.

That Saturday came around, the motley crew poured out onto Derby railway station platform. We all decided to wear the appropriate headgear; we had five Cowboys, one Davy Crocket, a Daniel Boone, one Indian, a Confederate soldier and one Union cavalry officer. To top it off Eric the Sheriff turned up with two Mounted Police Cadets, the posy was all-together. We boarded the train and headed to the Welsh hills.

Late afternoon we arrived at a small remote Railway station above Hay –on- Wye, it must be one of the most beautiful views seen from any railway station in the country, the River Wye runs along side of the station, the view across the valley was breath taking. We were greeted by the broad smile of Ronnie Miller, a ruddy-faced chap with bushy eyebrows who was no bigger than a jockey. He wore an old ratting cap pushed to the back of his head and a worn out wax jacket and downed an extra large pair of Wellington boots that he could possibly drown in.

“ Welcome boy o’s.” he said in a broad Whelsh accent as he pushed his hat further back and scratched the top of his forehead, I bet he wondered what he had let himself in for.

Outside the station was Ronnie’s mode of transport an old series one Landrover that looked like it had seen better days. We threw all our gear in to the back of it; off it went in a cloud of blue-black smoke. We started off walking up the lane after it. On and on we walked, the only marked difference in the lane as we made our way up was the gradient which got steeper and steeper, after an hour we eventually reached Ronnie’s Farm and our camp site high up in the Brecon Beacons.

The tents were quickly erected as the evening was drawing in. It was Pub time, but nobody was looking forward to another walk. We walked down the lane past the Farm only to meet up with Ronnie again; we persuaded to get him to give us a lift to the closes pub. Ronnie reluctantly agreed, so all thirteen of us plus Ronnie managed to get aboard. We climbed in it, on its bonnet, on the roof and we were hanging on the back opening of this short wheel based Landrover. The engine started and consumed us all in a cloud of black smoke. The Landrover struggled to get out of the farmyard on to the lane, but what the hell it was down hill all the way.

We arrived safely at The Thee Horseshoes Pub and piled in for a nights drinking session. Most of us were under age drinkers apart from the leaders, all but two of the group and the two police cadets had been regular drinkers in our local pub back home. We had learnt how to be brazen enough to order our pints, in these establishments. I remember my first time in ordering a drink I was twelve, I had gone with most of the group I was here today with on a school trip to London to see the schoolboys final at Wembley Stadium to watch England play Wales. None of us was interested in football so we sold our tickets outside the stadium to a ticket tout. We hung around outside until the game had finished then boarded the awaiting coach to take us to the next venue, which was the London Palladium. We had one-hour free time before the show. Our little group headed of to find a pub. We sheepishly entered a pub; I was pushed to the front because I was the tallest. All the names I could think of was Guinness and mild.

The barman snapped, “We have light an heavy”

“Oh we’ll have heavy.”

To my surprise over the bar came my order, even though most of our heads were not much higher than the bar. The barman asked where were we off to; I said,

“We’re just killing time before the show at the Palladium.”

“Where are you from” he enquired,

“Derby.” shouted one of the lads.

“Oh,” he said. “ I thought you were from Epsom I thought you were jockeys.”

We got away with it. At that time I couldn’t think why adults drank this liquid, as it tasted pretty foul to me. Now I had acquired the taste and was enjoying it.

Our group was made welcome in the Three Horse Shoes, the hours rolled by and we were soon in lock in time.

“What if the local copper comes by,” someone asked Ronnie.

“He will,” he replied, “any minute now.”

At that moment there was a knock at the door, the landlord went to unlock it, in stepped a round ruddy-faced policeman.

“Busy tonight Dye.” He remarked as he removed his helmet and made his way to the bar, where a pint was waiting for him.

The two police cadets were trying to make themselves inconspicuous, which was pretty hard for them to do as Steve was six foot six and Dave was not much shorter. They were obviously worried about putting their careers into jeopardy. The two smallest lads in our group had magically changed their drinks to lemonade. It turned out the landlord had exchanged them while they were not looking. Eventually we said our goodnights and thanked the landlord for his hospitality and returned to the Landrover and climbed aboard. The Landrover chugged into action the fumes made us all cough, it painfully crawled its way slowly back up the hill to the campsite.

We were up bright and early in the morning, after breakfast we were to be introduced to our mounts. We were all given a piece of rope with a loop in it; apparently this is called a halter. Once you have got this round a ponies neck it supposedly stops. We went into the next field each horse or pony was pointed out in according to our body size, we were told to keep an eye on the one allocated to us. The names of the horses and ponies rolled off Ronnie’s tongue, they match our dress Trigger, Smoky, Thunder, Silver, Rusty, the only name that came out that didn’t match was Lollipop. We were told to herd the ponies and horses into the corner of the field while trying to keep an eye on our own mount. We headed towards what seemed to us a wild pack. We edged them into the corner as one horse headed to freedom, our line broke and the others followed it. Ronnie told us to hold the line and not be frightened of them. We were to try again in the bottom corner of the field. We had cornered them again when Ronnie took a sweet from his pocket and rattled the wrapping paper, over came lollipop for his treat the halter was on hand, the pony was handed to my friend Alan, Alan smiled while leading his pony away to the next field. One down fourteen to go. The line broke again, two hours later after many times up and down the field we had caught the last pony. Now we were going to have to learn how to tack them up.

I was to learn about these animals quickly, you are in charge or they are, the horse kept dropping the bit every time I put it in, the horse was having me for a fool. Eventually I mastered this operation. Next to come was the saddle, first on with the blanket, off came the blanket as the horse shook. On again, off again.

I said, “ Don’t piss me about you stupid mute.”

Then I prodded with two fingers in her side, to my surprise she rolled her eyes at me and stood perfectly still. On with the saddle blanket on with the saddle, girth strapped up, stirups lengthened, I was ready. I stood back to admire my handy-work then looked round the field, it was pandemonium.

One cowboy’s horse was wearing its saddle on its stomach, another cowboys horse had broke free and a cowboy was in hot pursuit. Daniel Boone’s horse was walking round in circles going backward with its reigns tangled round its front feet. The union cavalry’s horse had found some tip bits inside one of the tents and when he lifted its head took the small tent with it. The Confederates horse had tramped across someone’s remains of breakfast kicking all the cooking stove, plates and pans all over the place. Right at the top of the field was only two mounted riders surveying the scene that was Steve and Dave dressed in full uniform, jodhpurs, black riding boots and black hard hats bearing the word Police. They looked like they were about to set off on riot control duties.

Eventually order was restored; we all set off for a short trek. The majority of the ponies were Whelsh mountain ponies, however some had a different fathers from over seas, they were much bigger and darker they had fiery tempers, mine was one of them called Flash we seemed to be getting on fine after our initial troubles.

On return to the campsite we let the ponies loose in a much smaller field, we were grateful for that. Tomorrow was going to be fun, how on earth were we going to tie all our equipment to these small riding saddles; we thought this was going to be interesting. We decided we would not go down to the pub that evening, as we were not too well of money wise at fifteen years of age. After a meal a campfire was quickly made, we sat around telling stories. Eric however had nipped off to the pub with Ronnie.

Eric was to return later with some beer and another man, a Mr. Norman Pugh, a Wheslh man through and through, he was a big powerful looking man with dark curly hair and bushy eyebrows. He had the nicest Whelsh twang I had ever heard, he introduced himself and in a jovial voice,

“ Helloo you little Englarsh bastards I’m Norman Pugh.” He said as if it was to mean something to us.

He then set us all off singing, we carried this on for the next three hours or so, before creeping off to our tents for a goodnights rest.

I awoke the next morning, the tent was flapping in the wind and the pitter-patter of rain was hitting the canvas. The sound of a primas stove could be heard in the distance, the smell of bacon cooking drifted across my nostrils. Norman broke into song,

“ Oh what a beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day.”

It was time to get up to start the day. Eric had the foresight to bring along with him some bright yellow waterproof yacht stuffing bags, he handed these out with lengths of bailing string. We were to stuff all our belongings into these bags and tie them to the saddle with the string. When all the bags had been packed it looked like there was a giant crop of bananas crowing on the hillside. The lads had figured out a strategy to catch the ponies, we were to walk in a line cornering the ponies leaving a little gap at one end, Alan was to be at the end near the gap, he was to rattle a sweet paper for Lollipop, hopefully she would head up to Alan and the other ponies would follow her to the gap, hopefully lollipop would stop for her sweet and block the gap, we would rush in and catch the closes pony, not necessarily our own. It worked a treat. We swapped our mounts, tacked up in good time, the problem came in threading the bailing string though the only possible place on a riding saddle which was where the stirrups hung from, so we threw the bananas over the ponies shoulders in front of the saddle and strung them on as best we could. We mounted up, we were on our Mobil Camping Expedition with our knees pressing against the yellow banana bags, the ride was uncomfortable, little did we know it was going to take us eight hours to get to our destination. The rain had eased and the sure-footed ponies took us up the mountainside we now had time now to enjoy the views and the experience, with only a few minor adjustments. On our way up to the higher mountains we past several rotting carcasses of dead ponies, which had got the interest of several crows that were picking away at them. The narrow track got steeper the higher we went. It was felt we all should dismount to help the ponies reach the summit. Our troubles then began, once we had dismounted, the yellow bananas started to slip, as it was only our knees that had kept them in position. The heavy movement of the pony’s shoulders as they climbed the steep gradient bounced the bananas all over the place. Strings started to come adrift. The bags began hanging from one side or other of the ponies, other bags hung lower and started dragging on the ground, some split open, scattering the contents out which then proceeded rolling down the mountain side. The posy started falling over the hanging bags they were forced to let go of their mounts leaving them to make their own way to the summit. Two cowboys and the Indian set off running down the mountainside in an effort to retrieve their belongings. Davy crocket and the Confederate Officer were swearing sweet profanities at one another as their bags had got tangled together. I seemed to be OK until I tripped over someone’s yellow bag, Flash walked past me carrying on up to the top on her own. I climbed to the top only to find the Mounties and the leaders sitting on their horses surrounded by our mounts. Apparently they had come up the less steep route and had never dismounted at all. We waited for the rest of them to make their way to the ridge. Last to arrive was Davy Crocket and Confederate Officer who were still swearing sweet profanities at each other, sweat was pouring from under their headwear. It took sometime to sort ourselves out before we could get going again. Once we did we headed down the ridge of the mountain. As we looked down either side it seemed along way to the bottom should we fall off. No one spoke for some time so we moved on in silence. At the end of the ridge we could see where we were heading to, a small hamlet, which supported two farms, a pub and a red telephone box. We zig zaged our way down the mountainside until reaching the open fields at the base of the mountain. The rain returned as the ground flattened out. Alan who was ridding lollipop decided to put on his bicycle cape, he let go off his reins while fumbling in his anorak pocket to retrieve it, he took out a bight yellow cape and gave it a good shake. This startled the majority of the ponies, they had up to now, put up with the yellow bags, but now they had a larger one flying in the air that they did not like. Lollipop bolted at a full speed canter down the long field. Others and I chased after him. Alan was struggling to put his cape on, keep his balance while trying to find his reins at the same time. Only the Famous Five had got their ponies in control. Fortunately the ponies slowed down to a trot, we all bounced around on our Ponies like sacks of potatoes, nearly all of us once again lost our yellow bananas.

Norman came riding past me doing a perfect rising trot.

“ How the hell do you do that,” I asked, as I bounced up and down in my saddle trying stop my teeth from chattering together.

“ That’s a military trot that you’re doing boy o,” he explained, “ squeeze your knees together, lift up your arse.”

In a very short time, he said, “ That’s it, you’ve got it boy o.”

I must say it was a far more comfortable ride. I started to really enjoy myself but felt sorry for the Household Cavalry. I had mastered something today, so I rode past my mates going round and round showing off while screaming out with pleasure. Luckily we were to camp at the end of this long field, which was opposite the pub. We reach the end of the field. I dismounted only to find out I could hardly stand or walk. We removed the tack from the ponies and let them loose in an adjoining field then set off hobbling up the mountainside to gather our gear and belongings.

We spent the next two hour extracting the jumble out of the bags, the primas stove had come out of its container the bits from it had buried themselves into the butter container which had lost its lid, the bacon had come unwrapped and was sticking to the sides of the tent bag, the plastic milk bottle had split and its contents were nicely soaking into my sleeping bag. A large piece of cheese had also come undone it had picked up anything that would stick to it, I took hold of this a threw it across the lane into a chicken pen which was owned by the pub, the chickens attacked it they seemed to enjoy it.

The mess was eventually sorted out, the tents were erected, it was time to make a brew, I went down to the little stream that ran down the edge of the field to collect some water while wishing the pub was open. Alan and I enjoyed a warm drink, we soon had a meal cooked and eaten. It was time to wash the pots and have a wash ourselves, so we collected all the gear together then headed for the stream, did the pots then had a strip down wash. As I washed my face I felt the bum fluff bristles on my chin, I was self conscious of these whiskery hairs sticking out of my face. I had brought a razor with me, Eric had told us about lightweight camping in preparation for this trip. He had told us to cut the handle off them to save weight, in those days all razors were made out of metal. I went back to the tent to get it, and poured myself out a cup of warm water then realized I had not got a mirror but recalled every telephone box had one. I headed to the phone box; I wondered why they put a mirror in them, maybe it was for this reason I thought as I placed my mug on the conveniently placed shelf. I finished my shave, turned around only to find a few lads had formed a small line with towels wrapped around their necks, all were holding mugs of warm water, half way down the queue was a little old lady who wished to make a phone call. One of the lads asked her what time the pub opened.

Why it never closes,” she said.

The queue immediately dispersed.

Eric, Norman and Ronnie had apparently been in there for over two hours.

One entered the pub through a stable door you came to a flag floored sitting room, there was no bars or hand pumps, there was settees and arm chairs scattered about and a kitchen table with chairs around, a half side of pig was hanging from the low ceiling beams the best of all was a large open fire roaring away, beer and cider came out in jugs from somewhere in the kitchen. Alan suggested we should try the rough cider, we were in the company of Steve and Dave the police cadets, we agreed to buy a round each. Four-pint jug of amber liquid with no frothy head on was brought forth; we filled our glasses as we lifted the glasses we noticed bits floating about, but dare not ask what it was. We settled in and laughed about the day’s events. Two little down syndrome children came out of the kitchen to see what we were laughing about, we made a fuss of them, they smiled at us their special smile with their tongues sticking out on their bottom lips. The rest of our party was now settling in for a night of drinking. The news must have got around the area that we were in the hamlet as the pub started filling up with the local population. They were eager to tell us of the history of the area and how the ponies were set loose on the mountains to fend for themselves during the winter months. They told us how they rounded them up in late spring then divided the herd up between four families in the area. They told us how close knit these families were and who was married to whom within this little community. They explained how they broke the ponies in with the use of a halter, how after catching the ponies, they would leave them for days tied up with this piece of rope, until the pony realized it could not escape. They told the tale of Old Sam who last year jumped the hedge across the lane which had a steep banking down to the lane surface. Old Sam who was sitting in a high backed kitchen chair gave us a nod and a smile and told us it was true. We marveled at this old man who was eighty six years old, he told us we could catch trout in the stream we had collected our water from, we humoured him and said we would have a go tomorrow. I ordered another round of cider it was cheap and it was going down well. Norman broke in to song, everybody joined in, and one by one each of us had to do our party piece. After each performer they raised their glass and shouted something like,

“ Yagidar, Yek cum bum sise,”

We all raised our glasses we all repeated it,

“ Yagidar yek cum bum sise.”

The pub now was filling to capacity, as each new comer came in they had more to offer, we had spoon players, bone players an accordion player .The songs went on and on, we would raise our classes and shout in unison,

“ Yagidar, Yek cum bum sis,” and every body applauded and cheered.

The next act to take the floor was the stick man. He looked like he had just stepped of a painting by Lowry. He took the centre stage, all the locals moved back a pace to give him room, they started beating the table in a slow drum beat rhythm, the musicians started playing a different type of music. The stick man took to the floor and started dancing a jig like an old man who thinks he can keep up with the younger generation, he danced round and round to the music he then bent down and pulled the raffia rug off the floor and wrapped it around his body disappearing into a cone shaped matting which proceeded to hover across the floor, first in the largest circle he could manage, as he decreased the size of the circle the faster he went until he stopped with the music in the centre of the room. Cheers went up and it was,

“ Yagidar, Yek cum bum sis,” again the glasses went up in the air.

He called it a Tiger Dance; I was to see a similar dance ten years later in a bush village in Africa. We were now on our third pint of rough cider it was beginning to take affect, Steve said he must go to the privy which was in the back yard, he headed to the door opened the top half of the stable door and walked ahead I just saw his nice shiny riding boots disappear into the darkness over the bottom half of the door which he forgot to undo, he did not return. This rough cider had a strange effect on you, you were all right sitting down but when you stood up you had little control of your legs. I saw Alan returning from the kitchen he was having serious problems balancing three more glasses of ciders on a tray and was losing directions as he attempted to get them over to us. Another song, another player, another Yagidar and another Yek cum bun sise. I asked Norman what yegidar meant in the Welsh language.

He replied, “ Cheers.”

“ So what is Yek cum bum sise?”

“ That’s arse holes to all English men.” He replied with hearty laughter.

A cruel thought raced through my head, had all these Welshmen grown up and learnt to be prejudice towards the English through some misdemeanor of an English government some distant years past or was this inbred, most with in the room were related to one another, I felt they should do what they have done with their ponies introduce outsiders into the fold which would produce better stock that has not got this inbred loathing. I was drunk, I was saddened, was I too to become prejudice now towards them or was it just a light hearted joke at us, at our expense, it was time to leave. The four pints of rough cider had made its mark; I stood up and found I was not in control of my legs below my kneecaps, my lower legs bent in peculiar angles. Alan and Dave were having the same problem, we headed towards the door bumping, banging, and hanging on to people on the way out, who all laughed at our efforts. We made it, the three of us leaned back against the outside wall of the pub, we had now to negotiate the lane and the embankment opposite the pub, we took stock, Alan said, “ Right lads one, two, three go.”

We set off at a wobble across the lane hit the grass slope, crumbled and fell over. We started to climb the slope on our hands and knees.

Dave blurted out, “ How the hell did an eighty six year old man after jumping over the hedge manage to get his pony down this sloop without falling off? ”

“ Because they bloody well strapped him to his ponies saddle.” Alan replied in hysterical laughter.

The more we laughed at this silly remark the harder the climb got. I reached out and put my hand on something soft, “ Oh hello Steve what you doing here.”

“ I can’t get up, so I sleeping here tonight,” said a sleepy drunken voice.

The next morning, Norman, who was still in good baritone voice, woke us up. “ Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”

Alan shouted, “ Shut the fuck up Norman.”

We both pulled our sleeping bags over our heads. Eventually we crept out of our pits, I had the distinct smell of sour milk on me. Alan swore again, as he searched around our small stock of provisions. Most of our provisions had fallen down the mountainside out of Alan’s bag he had not retrieved some of the items, “ We’ve got no bloody food left,”

I told him it was his fault for not packing properly and for not picking it all up.

“ Where’s that lump of bloody cheese you had, we have to make a pack up lunch.” he shouted.

“ I’ve thrown it to the chickens.”

Alan moaned in anger “ I’II bloody well go and get it.”

He stormed off to the chicken run; I thought I better follow him. At the run we could see our dirty heavily pecked block of cheese in the corner.

“ That’s bloody good cheese you’ve thrown away Roger,” he scolded me with more abuses as we entered the pen.

“ And you bloody well smell like vomit,” he added.

The chickens now came under his attack as he booted them out of his way. While he was retrieving the cheese, I stole six eggs out of the nesting boxes and slipped them in my jacket pocket. Alan and I made up, as I made him a bacon and egg butty for his breakfast. We were good friends again our hang over’s were clearing. We took stock of what we had left, a half loaf of sliced bread, two dinted tins of beans, a tin of peas, four packets of dried soup, two packets of Smash dehydrated potatoes, a tub of butter without a lid which tasted like paraffin. We had lost quite a lot of our rations. We made some hard-boiled egg and cheese sandwiches for our pack up, broke camp, re packed our yellow bags then headed to the stream to have a scrub.

As we stood straddling the stream having our wash, a large trout swam between our legs, “Look at that,” I shouted. Alan and I were immediately in hot pursuit. The old man was not having us on. We slowed down and started feeling under each rock slowly moving up this tiny stream.

As my fingers felt a trout, I shouted, “ I can feel one, what do you do next?”

“ Squash the bloody thing, stun the fucker on a rock,”

This I did then scooped it out on the bank. Very shortly after Alan did the same, we were pleased as punch with our catch we both knew what was on the menu that night.

As we walked back to the campsite, we could see there was a meeting going on, Ronnie, Eric and Norman were facing the posse, pointing and waving their arms at times.

“ I hope they have not discovered the pub is six eggs down this morning,” I said.

“ Better put the fish down our tops, we might get done for poaching too,” Alan replied.

“ It’s a good job we didn’t take a bloody chicken.”

Fortunately for us, it was a discussion about the day’s trek and what they were planning doing for the day. Ronnie was to telephone his brother to come and collect the yellow bags in the Landrover and transport them over to the original campsite. For those who did not feel confident they would be taking them back an easy route, for those who were, they would take different route over the mountain. Alan and I stepped forwards volunteering for this party. Norman and Ronnie spoke in their native tongue to each other, frowning.

Norman nodded, “ Go get your ponies.”

The ponies did not run away from us this time we just went over and led them away, they too probably wanted to get home. We had been told it had been a hard winter this year on the mountains with not much good grazing, which accounted for the dead ponies we had seen, Ronnie had a load of hay at his farm and the ponies probably knew it. We were soon tacked up and on our way, Norman said we would have to make could pace and led the way .We cantered down a long track, all the party was once again on a high, we quickly got to the foot of the mountain then started to climb. This time we reached the ridge with ease, we paused here to take in the Mountain View, it was wonderful, this is truly a beautiful land. I thought perhaps the Welsh were right not to want outsiders here, especially the English. I realized at that point the horse-riding bug had bitten me, I would return one day. Over the top we went, we made our way down to a wide track on the other side from which we could see a river running way below in the valley. We could see this track meandering down the mountainside; we could presume it would inevitably come to a bridge or ford to cross the river. Rain had set in; Norman turned off the track then announced we were going to take a short cut. We leaned back in our saddles and headed down to the tree line in the valley. Once in the trees we had to virtually lie on the ponies backs to miss the branches of this thick wooded area, we could hear the river getting closer we weaved our way through the undergrowth that got thicker and thicker, eventually we reached the river bank. Norman rode his mount into the river without any hesitation, we all struggled with ours to get them in, the river was running fast, the ponies were probably feeling like we were, very nervous. I wished I had gone with the other party. We ventured in uneasily following Norman, the river got deeper and deeper. Soon the River was touching our feet then our knees and soon we were nearly sitting in the water. As the animals raised their heads we thought we all would be soon swimming, we never noticed how cold the river was until we had made safe ground on the opposite bank. We made our way through more deep undergrowth and trees we soon came out on a main road, Norman twanged out,” We are going to see Mrs. Evans for a nice cup of tea.”

“Yeah hee,” we shouted, as we trotted, dripping down the road.

I could now feel my already sore knees having their skin taken off them, as they rubbed between my wet jeans and the saddle. I was pleased to see Mrs. Evens.

Mrs. Evans had a proper Welsh Dresser in her house, it was as big as one wall in her sitting room, opposite it was a huge stone fireplace with an extra large fire in it, her husband must have been a coal miner, the hearth supported four large coal scuttles which must have been needed to feed it. Seven of us stood in front of this fire while drinking our tea and eating our sandwiches and at times our legs would disappear in a steamy mist. We thanked her for her kindness, we were sorry to leave her fire. By the time we arrived back at the campsite we had done ten hours on the back of our ponies, the last few miles had been painful, we all virtually fell off the ponies backs on arrival. The ponies too were very tired, after we took the tack of them they never moved, they eased one back leg up to fall asleep. We were very slow in making the camp that night; everything was an effort to do. Every muscle in my body seemed to ache; everyone in our party was well and truly knackered. The only highlight of the evening for Alan and I was our fresh trout dinner topped with peas and creamed Smash potatoes with a hint of paraffin. We were the envy of all those camping.

As young people we had learnt a lot over those few days.

We all slept on the train most of the time on the way back home.

I was glad to get home, I was going to tell of my adventure, but nobody was in, the backdoor key was found under the mat on the back doorstep. I ran a hot bath, eased myself in to it gently and felt the hot water sting my open chafes, I lay back closed my eyes then dreamed of returning to the Black Mountains again. I dreamed of entering the rodeo they have each year, when they bring the wild ponies off the mountainside and have a competition at staying on a wild pony the longest, I dreamed that I would surely win this prize. In years to come I did have a go and lasted four seconds.


It was my first day in the real world of work. I was just fifteen and was lucky enough to secure a job in engineering; I was not going into the profession I would have wished for, that would have been to join the police force, unfortunately they would never have accepted me, for it would be impossible for me to take statements from people nor was I to get a job where I could have used my artistic flare. However I felt lucky, so I put this behind me, there were no more worries about school. I was to do one year’s probationary period, and if I was to do all right I was to sign up for a five years indentured apprenticeship in mechanical engineering with W. T. Avery Ltd.
Avery’s, was a weighing, counting and testing machine maker, whose main factory, was in Soho in Birmingham, it was a long established company whose history dated back to James Watt’s time, they had one of his preserved steam beam engines in the factory premises. When one starts to think about weighing, every product in the world or its ingrieance or components has been weighed somewhere along the line, the history of scales dates back over the centuries to the early great civilizations, but my new place of work was a narrow street in Derby town which only dated back some six hundred years. Sadler gate, I think the name gives it away; the Bell Hotel an old coaching Inn started the businesses off at the top of the street followed by butchers, bakers and candlestick makers all the way to the end. Avery’s service workshop and showroom was half way down this narrow street.
As I stood in the doorway waiting for someone to arrive, I was pleased with myself I was early and had figured out the time of the bus I needed to catch but was apprehensive too as I did not know what they expected from me. There were numerous young people rushing around the shops and business premises preparing for the days trading. Most of the businesses had three or four young people not much older than I. The butchers shop across the road had three lads and two master butchers. These big men were ordering around the three lads. One simple lad was being told off for wiping his nose on his sleeve, the butcher cut a piece of mutton cloth off a big roll, gave it to him then clipped him round the ear, then handed him a brush and instructed him to sweep the pavement outside the shop, with in minutes the butcher was outside chastising the lad again for not using the sweeping brush properly, he took the brush off him, demonstrated how to use it, he handed him the brush back with one hand then clipped him again with the other hand. You could see the lad was simple but at least he had a job, I wondered how long he would stay working for this bully. I thought if that treatment happened to me in this job, I wouldn’t last five minutes. My physical punishments were behind me. I need not have worried, as the first person to arrive was a young man of eighteen years of age. He introduced himself he said he was pleased to see me, as he was the youngest apprentice, he had been waiting for three years to pass his job on to someone else. Colin shook my hand unlocked the door saying he would get me a key before the day was out. We walked through the show room into a scruffy mechanic’s workshop, with numerous weighing machines on rows of benches which stuck out at right angle from the walls, on one wall was racking with drawers and shelves that held all the spare parts for a great variety of machines. Colin flicked the light switch on which made little difference to this darkened workshop, Christ, I thought of the next three years in here a daunting prospect. He went through the workshop then up a couple of steps into the back room, to one side was a coke forge and an anvil, the room was full of scales piled up on top of each other, Colin pointed to them he said that they were trade-in’s, he explained,
“ When the salesmen sell a new machine the customer gets a trade in price for their old one.”
To one side I could see an old type range fire. I figured this must have been someone’s kitchen once upon a time. Underneath the window was an old brown pot sink with a little water heater above it. There was a narrow passage through the old and ancient machines to the back door.
“ The bogs out there.” he pointed then opened another door to the upstairs,“ This is where we keep the new stock of the smaller machines.”
The whole of the floor upstairs was stacked with large thick cardboard packing boxes with strange numbers on.
“ You will soon get to know the type numbers of each machine,” he told me, as we turned around to go back down.“ The heavy machines are kept in the entry down the side of the shop.”
We went downstairs and walked out of the backdoor into an old overgrown walled back yard, there was a huge pile of scraped machines broken in to small pieces.
“ We smash all the trade- in's so they don’t get back on to the market. That will be your job now.”
He showed me the covered in entry where they stored all the new large machines, which were in large wooden crates and along side rows, and rows of 56 lb. test weights.
By the time we re-entered the workshop the rest of the workforce had arrived, I was introduced to each one as they all shook my hand. Harry was the working Forman the boss of this small band of men, I had met him before during my interview, Harry was also new to the Derby branch workshop, he was a Sheffield born man and had been promoted and moved here. Ernie was the oldest guy in his late fifties he had been with the company all his working life. Sid was the next eldest, he had been a recognisant pilot during the war, he was to return home to find his own house had been bombed and had recently moved to a council house from the ex-army tin huts built in the Marketon Park, which was home for such families, he had lived there for several years some reward for fighting a war. Tom was a young man in his thirties, Richard followed close behind, then David in his early twenties then Colin an eighteen year old, I liked them all, I think the feeling was mutual, so was a lucky lad, and had escaped being the fodder to big industrial companies of Derby, where I suspected a lot of my school friends to be. There were three other folk who worked here on the sales team Stan and Malcolm and a dizzy secretary Shirley who had a hand shake like a wet lettuce.
Colin said he would show me how to do the first job; we went into the backroom,
“ You will have to make them all a cup of tea or coffee, here’s a list on the wall what everybody has and how many sugars they take, I will do it today and you will take over tomorrow.”
The blokes were sorting out there work for the day and discussing problems and generally chit chatting. They had their brews and were soon gone; they were out on service contracts throughout the whole of Derbyshire, from chemist shops to quarries, from pin makers to aero engine builders from Gold Smiths to Power Stations.
“ Your second daily job,” Colin said, with a smile, “ is to clean the workshop.”
He handed me the broom. I did not need to be told how to use a brush so started sweeping around the benches, I soon realized that this had not been done for some time, but what the hell, it was a job that needed doing.
“ I’ll get some overhauls for you, as my spare pair will not fit you.” Colin stated.
Colin was a short stocky guy, his upper body was muscular, but he wasn’t very long in the leg I was well over be a foot taller than him, he had black curly bushy hair and a great sense of humour. Another brew and Colin said he would show me and teach me how to repair dead weights, dead weights were coal merchants weighing machines, coal was king at that time, there must have been a few hundred coal merchants feeding the fires of every household in Derbyshire, central heating for most, was not installed. Every merchant had to by law to carry one of these machines around with them on the back of their lorries or drays. It would seem that the weights and measures inspectors had a running battle with them, chasing them around the streets of Derbyshire to test their weighing equipment. The coal merchants used to cuss and swear about the inspectors, they told tales of how they had been cornered in dead end streets by the inspectors who had tested their scales and rejected them. Every legal weighing machine carries a lead plug on which is stamped the year of inspection and testing and a royal crown to show it is an accurate measure of weight, should they reject and condemn them the inspector obliterated these marks with a star. Many machines also fell off the back of the lorries sometimes when in hot pursuit by the inspectors. There were always twenty or so machines waiting in the workshop for repair. Colin for the last three years had the job of keeping the pile as low as possible. He had got this job down to a fine art.
Colin told me. “ You can book twelve hours on these for the first six months of your training then they expect you to repair them within nine hours.”
The thought of spending three years repairing these seemed even more daunting. At that time one worked a forty-eight hour week, but within a few months the working week was reduced down to forty-four hours, most in the country were grateful and delighted.
I soon learnt about engineering and how much pressures to apply when tightening up machine screws, at first I broke off several heads then had to learn how to extract the broken bit re- drill and re- tap the thread. With in a short time I learnt how to repair these machines and became known as the two a day and paint them apprentice. Colin was now of out of the workshop working along side one of the other lads. I was getting more time in than I needed and kept the pile as low as possible. This gave me lots of time in hand, so set about cleaning the workshop up, starting with cleaning the windows, painting the walls and finally painting the floor, we all now had a bright workshop in which to work. On occasions mechanics would bring in a machine to repair, slowly I got to know the men personally, they taught me about the other machines. The average wage for a top mechanic was around fourteen pounds a week; my wage was one pound eighteen shilling and six pence.
I was yet to meet the area manager a seven foot three man by the name of Mr. Whitaker, we were at the point in our history were we had slowly started dropping peoples titles, we always showed what I suppose one could call respect, our elders did that also even to their next door neighbours, it would always be Mister and Misses Smith, today it is Tom and Mary.
The day he came in he towering above everyone and everything.
“ How you getting along laddie?” he bellowed.
“ Fine thanks.” I replied.
He went round the back to the toilet; he came back in and stood at the top of the steps up to the backroom, his head was thirteen feet from the workshop floor.
“ Laddie” he bellowed again, “ next time I speak to you, you either call me Mr. Whitaker or Sir,”
“ Yes Mr. Whittaker.” I replied.
He added, “ You can call me what you like when you are twenty one.”
“ Thank you very much Mr. Whittaker.”
He turned to Harry who had just stepped in to the workshop.
“ You have done a grand job here Harry.” he said as he looked around.
“ Its all Roger’s doing.”
“ Well done laddie, get him booked in for college Harry.”
My heart sank not more schooling.
“ Right laddie come with me and bring the sledge hammer,”
We went up to the backroom he started to read the names of customers off his list, I had to find their label on the machines that had been traded in. I asked why they did not send them to undeveloped countries as most weighed perfectly well.
He said, “ We sell them new ones too, Avery’s is developing new ones all the time, we in return can buy as a country off them, what they are good at producing.”
I think he was right. Today that simple kid in the butchers shop could no longer get a job or apprenticeship, as we knew them. The young man who lives down the road from you gets at least fifty pounds a week from the job centre he doesn’t know a great lot except how to use a computer but he is a part of our wonderful flexible work force.
I feel sometimes that the powers that be got it all wrong in the Thatcher years and that greed instead of common sense took over. They sold the whole of the manufacturing base to companies operating overseas, instead of smashing the machinery up, the whole greedy world joined in. We buy today virtually everything from overseas, weighing machines now mostly come from Hong Gong and our Electrical goods from all over and so on and so on, sorry what did you say there is a world recession.
“ What is that Mrs. Thatcher, they don’t want our newly developed looms because they have just purchased a whole factory full of old ones in Manchester at the same price, “ Oh what a surprise.”
The greedy got greedier, the yuppies had a ball. Avery’s were eventually bought out by G.E.C. and the company was asset stripped. Maggie Thatcher called them Captains of Industry and encourage everyone to buy shares in the sold off Nationalized company’s, today most are owned by foreign firms and we are told they are not really foreign as they are part of the European Union.
Out of the forty five kids in class 4B many went into apprenticeships for five or six years with the large local companies, Rolls Royce took the cream, The Loco Works and Carriage Side, Fletcher’s Brothers, Atone pipe works, Parker Foundry, Qualcast, Leys Castings, Brown’s Foundry, The Combustion and many more engineering companies big and small took us on. Their owners were the true captains of industry. The lads knew full well at the age of twenty one only the best were kept on while the others walked out of the gates with a bag of tools as skilled tradesmen. Today the government boasts we have 250,000 apprentices in the country in 1950 and 60 we had that many in Derbyshire alone. MacDonald’s is hardly an in-depth apprenticeship in catering. They said of us comprehensive kids we were near the bottom of the barrel and cheap labour; so it was of interest when visiting friends reunited on internet recently, one-third of class 4B kids had held down some pretty high powered careers in engineering and the like around the world, some turned out to be self-employed creating new work then employed others. Now the cheap labour is not in our country, the corporate companies have transferred the manufacturing base abroad at a great rate. I just heard a toothpaste company has just transferred everything to the Far East that results into the fact we can’t make even something to clean our teeth with. I clearly believe no country can survive economically on service and financial industries alone. The money people believed London would be the hub of European Economics, they got that wrong as well as we aren’t. If we were that good at it British Investment Companies would own German Power Stations not the other way round.
Clearly also the cheaper labour overseas will demand a greater income and the cost of that and higher fuel prices will be past on to us as we import goods into the country. We now have a job finding the engineering skills within the country as less are being trained. In our senior schools today I hear they have a hard job to make a selotape dispenser which incidentally you can get free with Christmas paper let alone good metal work or any building craftwork, but good news I just heard from a teacher at a special needs school, he tells me they are now teaching 12 year old kids how to lay bricks, what’s all that about, a skills catch up program? We are now watching America very slowly struggling with their balance of payment as the world dominating financial and industrial power slowly transfers from the West to the East where they already have more reserved funds, but enough of my cynical old mans ramblings!
In those days I felt, let me smash another trade-in machine into pieces and weigh it in for scrap for beer money, Macmillan is in power, we’ve never had it so good. It’s Friday night, I’ve just got paid and rock and roll is in town tonight. I’m fifteen and want to loose my virginity.