Germain Street School, in Chesham, would be where I'd spend the next couple of terms. It was an all-boys school. I caught the bus down and found my classroom, 2-D (D for dunce?). As I went into the room, the first person I recognised was Alf. As Alf and I playfully sparred about and shouted our happiness at being together again, I noticed that there were a few other mates that I'd known from my early schooldays. I soon relaxed after the anxieties of starting a new school again.
2-D was what I called the 'yobbo's class'. The pupils were mostly uneducated, lazy hooligans. I fitted in well!! The very first lesson that I attended was to be conducted in a hall about half a mile away from the main school. It was called Hinton Hall and I'm sure that we were sent there so as to give the rest of the school a break from our noise.
The weather was quite cool that morning as I lined up in the playground ready to walk around to Hinton Hall. Then a very tall, thin man with a handle-bar moustache appeared. He was very military-looking and he started to shout at us as if we were a group of recruits on a parade ground. As soon as he started shouting, the other boys began to mill around like a load of lost sheep. The teacher was soon racing about as he tried to get them back into line. His legs seemed to go in all directions as he danced around in his efforts to get the boys settled. When I see John Cleese in a panic on the television now, it always makes me think of that teacher.
I'd never seen such disrespectful behaviour by children, it was worse than the Saturday morning matinees. The teacher looked as if he was fighting a losing battle when, all at once, he flew into a rage. Pushing and shoving the boys, he started to call them 'Scums of the earth' and his knees were almost coming up level with his face as he pranced around in his fury. The boys must have sensed that they'd pushed him far enough and started to sort themselves into some sort of line. I'd stood there open-mouthed and amazed at the spectacle.
That was my introduction to 'Jazzy' as he was called by the boys. I remember his real name but, like a few others in my story, it would be better if he remained anonymous. Of course, the people that were there would know who I was writing about. But then, they saw the incidents anyway.
Jazzy finally managed to get us into some sort of order and he marched us in ragged lines, out into Germain Street, past the Embassy cinema, and over the Amersham Road to Hinton Hall. Like a gang of mad dogs, the boys crashed into the classroom there and, with much scraping of chair and table legs on the floor, finally settled down for the English lesson that Jazzy was supposed to give us.
But those English lessons were unlike any English lessons I'd ever had before. Sitting back in my chair next to Alf, I was soon listening to Jazzy's words as he read from a book called 'Swords and Assegais' (I can't remember the name of the author). I asked Alf if we were going to do a test on the piece that Jazzy was reading out and he told me that Jazzy never made them do any work
And it was true. Every English lesson was spent lounging around as Jazzy read to us from that book which was about the Zulu uprising against the British in Africa during the late nineteenth century.
Jazzy was a decent chap who just couldn't handle a class of boys. The boys took advantage of this failing and led him a merry dance. He'd tolerate their cheek and insubordination for so long, then he'd explode, calling them 'Degenerate animals' and 'Scums of the earth'. And so I became one of the 'Scums of the earth' along with the others.
But there were other teachers at that school who would stand no nonsense at all. The boys would be like little angels in their classes.
This was the first school that I attended where each subject was taught in a different classroom and I came to know the other teachers quite quickly.
We called the head-master 'Nutty' or Mr. Nutt to his face. He was a fair bloke to the boys and always had a ready smile on his face.
Then, there was Mr. Gabb who was nick-named 'Gabby Hayes' (I was surprised to see him teaching, I'd always associated him with the St. Vincent De Paul Society as he was one of the Society's members who came to visit us at home. I hadn't realised that those good men worked as well). Mr. Evans was a Welshman and had the typical nick-name of 'Taffy'.
There were hot-water pipes running down each side of Gabby's and Taffy's classrooms and, on cold winter days, everyone fought to sit beside these luxuries. Those fortunate enough to get these seats would lounge against the wall with their arms wrapped around the hot pipes. One day, somebody had the great idea of sticking their unwanted bubble gum on the blind side of the pipes. Forgetting that he'd done this, he later wrapped his arms around the pipes and was soon covered in the sticky mess, much to our delight. It wasn't long before the chewers were chomping away like mad so as they could deposit bits of bubble gum at other strategic positions. After that day, nobody in our class wanted to sit next to the pipes, but there was plenty of evidence out in the playground that boys from other classes had. Bubble gum sticking all over clothes was a common sight for a while.
Then there was 'Dennis the Menace', What else could we call Mr. Dennis? He was a very strict maths teacher and he kept me in quite a few times because I was so useless at that subject. Mr. Ayres was our sports master. He always wore a pair of racing bathers out on the sports field that were said to be made of genuine shark-skin, we called him 'Airy Legs' (Hairy Legs). Mr. Heath was our science teacher, and we called him 'Enoch'.
Mr. Heath was a great guy and showed us many experiments in the lab. I remember him telling us that a man would definitely land on the moon in his life-time. We scoffed but, as it turned out, he was right.
We did art with Mr. Penny, who was nick-named 'Tuppence' (two pence). There was also Mr. Jones who taught religion, but, as a Catholic I was excused from his class and had to stand out in the corridor for the lesson. And there was Mr. Wright and Mr. Harper who I didn't have much to do with during the first term.
These were mainly the men who had to try and sort out the mess of my education. There were other teachers who helped, but I can't recall their names now.
Alf and I were soon good mates again, fights and old scores were forgotten as if they'd never happened. He kept on about a man called Geoff and all the great things that he and some of our other mates were doing with this man. A few evenings after starting at the school, Alf took me along to meet him.
Geoff Angliss and his wife (I think her name was Kathy) were, I believe, a childless couple who did a lot, in their own way, for the young boys of the not so wealthy families in our area. They owned a grocery shop in New Road and I should imagine that all their profits went on the very generous things they did for these boys. They owned a Ford 'Zephyr Six' and I knew times when it was so packed with boys that there wasn't room to breath.
Geoff and Kathy came from Morecambe, Lancashire, and they both had the typical Lancashire accent. The boys told me of some of the wonderful trips that they'd been on with Geoff up to London and down to the coast. I was invited by Geoff to go on the next trip. But Mum, quite rightly so (although I didn't think so at the time) refused to let me go. I remember how suspicious she was about the whole thing. I knew that my friends wouldn't get mixed up with any 'funny' types of people and I was a bit sad that she didn't trust me in that respect. She told me that it was very easy for innocent children to get 'trapped' by devious people. In the end, I accepted her decision and went back to the shop to tell Geoff that I wasn't allowed to go. He said that he understood how Mum felt and was glad that she was thinking of my interests. Alf told me about the great fun they had on the trip but, I don't remember worrying about it too much. I still had plenty of things to do that kept me occupied.
I recall that Mum gave me the money to go and see 'The Dambusters', a film about the RAF attack on the great dams in Germany during world war two. 'The Dambuster's March' became the latest tune that we whistled and 'The Man from Laramie' (by Jimmy Young) was the latest song that we sang.
Then Guy Fawkes night was approaching once more. Our spare pennies were spent on fireworks called 'Bangers' that were like little bombs. We used to light one, place it under an up-turned empty tin and watch in delight as the tin was blown up into the air like a rocket. When we had the devil in us, we'd throw them into people's door-ways where they'd go off with an echoing bang. And anyone who had old cabbages left in their gardens usually found that a few of the heads had been blown to bits by our bangers. Of course, if the bangers could blow a cabbage head up, they could also make a mess of people's bodies, and I knew a few boys who were injured by these fireworks.
The 5th November arrived but there was no family firework show that year. I was out with Alf and some other mates, doing the rounds of other people's displays until it was seven thirty and time to go home.
Then it was my thirteenth birthday and Mum threw a wonderful party.
All my local mates attended the event as I began my teens. Mum allowed me to go out for a while after the food was demolished and half a dozen of us headed down to the Plannie. One of the group had a packet of cigarettes and we all tried a few puffs. But I didn't like the horrible taste, it was as bad as the 'Old Man's Beard' that I'd tried to smoke with Stuart at Rickmansworth. The lad with the cigarettes had only bought them for my birthday as a laugh, nobody that I knew smoked at that time amongst my friends.
Mum had bought me a pair of soccer boots for my birthday. I'd never been interested in any ball-games but, we were encouraged to play at the school and I'd asked Mum for the boots as I was genuinely interested to try it out properly.
As pleased as punch, I went to school with my new boots. But, I had a very bad cold and Mr. Ayres refused to let me play. I was standing in the hall feeling very disappointed when he came back and took my nice new boots for somebody else to use. I protested but it was no use. Fuming with rage, I set about sweeping the hall floor as I'd been instructed to do, wishing all the time that I'd left the boots at home. I never saw those boots again. Mr. Ayres couldn't remember who he had lent them to. He suggested that I looked in a big tea-chest filled with old boots to see if they had been put back there, but, they were not in there. When I complained to him, all I got was a shrug of the shoulders and the matter was closed.
From then on, I was the worst pupil at sports in the whole school. I became very rebellious against Mr. Ayres due to the way he'd forced me to hand over my boots and had not even bothered when they were lost. I knew that Mum had scrimped and saved for those boots and, I also knew that she couldn't afford to buy me another pair.
And so, I became the sports dunce, not that I was anything special anyway, but I did like running, high- and long-jumps, cross-country runs, physical training, and using all the apparatuses in the gym. My fury and annoyance burned and I decided not to even try. In races I just sauntered along, in the high jump I jumped a few inches after a fast wander up to the bar, in soccer I missed the ball on purpose, on cross-country runs I took short cuts and still wandered in with the last runners, and I defied all attempts to get me to do any good in the gym. I was actually caught taking a short cut on a cross-country run by the assistant sports master and given the slipper but, I was past caring about such minor details. I felt that I'd been cheated by Mr. Ayres and I promised myself that I wouldn't do a thing for him again.
At this time, Rock 'n' Roll was fully established in our lives. Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' took us all by storm and every lad wanted to be a 'Teddy Boy', that is, someone who wore Edwardian-style clothes. Soon we started hearing about drain-pipe trousers, long drape jackets (with velvet lapels), lace ties, and 'brothel creepers' (thick-soled canvas shoes). All the boys had a Bill Hayley 'kiss curl' dangling over their forehead, and flick-knives were carried by a few of the meaner hooligans.
A curious thing about myself and all the hundreds of songs
that were churned out through my teens and twenties was the fact
that I learned those songs so easily. From David Whitfield,
through the Presley era, and past The Beatles, I would know the
words and music of songs after hearing them only three or four
times. And yet, I found English, Maths, History, etc. so hard to
digest and take in. As I write this at fifty three years of age,
I can still recall all the words and music of hundreds of popular
(and many not so popular) songs that were released over the
years, but, my English and History subjects are still bad.
Of course, if a person is really interested and wants to learn then that person will. I proved that to myself in my late twenties when I did a maths course and came out tops because the job I was after required a firm knowledge of mathematics and I wanted that job (I got it). But, there was no such response to my English and I felt jolly lucky to be able to sit back and listen to Jazzy read from his book. Only once did he try to make us work while I attended his class and it almost caused a riot.
There'd been the usual problem of him trying to get us lined up and marching with the, by then, familiar 'Scums of the earth' and the temper exploding again. In a real bad mood (who could blame him?), he told us that there would be no story that lesson and asked us to get our books out.
Now, we'd had a fair go and most of us appreciated the fact, but there were half a dozen boys who refused to do any work. In his fury, the poor man grabbed for a black-board pointer which was laying across the supports of two easels that were standing side by side supporting a blackboard each. As he pulled the long pointer from between the boards, he accidentally knocked both boards onto the floor. The spectacle as he did this and dodged away on those long prancing legs of his was hilarious. The whole class of boys went into uncontrollable fits of laughter.
If we had thought that he was furious before, we'd seen nothing. His face twisted into a real mean look and he started advancing towards us with the pointer held in his two hands like a knight holds a heavy sword. In a flash, he'd cracked one of the boys across the side of the head. Then, as he advanced towards us again, he caught an ink-well, that was in a hole in one of the desks, and flicked it, spinning right across the room, ink splashing out all over desks and boys. The next second we were diving for our lives. Boys were throwing chairs out of the way in their efforts to avoid the raging man, others were leaping over the tables, and a few were hiding under those tables. Then, while madly swinging the pointer around his head, Jazzy accidentally let it slip out of his hands. The pointer went spinning towards the front of the classroom with a clatter. Alf was nearest to Jazzy as this happened, and was grabbed by him and dragged out to the front of the room by the scruff of his neck.
The mad screaming and laughing suddenly ceased as we watched, ready to go to Alf's aid. Jazzy started to shake Alf vigorously and Alf tried to move away. Jazzy followed him and then they were going around in circles, as if they were a couple dancing a jig together. Alf was laughing so much that we could see tears rolling down his face. We were soon laughing as well, and cheering him on with great enthusiasm.
Without warning Jazzy fell to the floor and sat there, as if he was drained of energy. Freddie Page, the class prefect, took the opportunity to get us all out of the hall and head us back to the main school.
Jazzy caught us up and led us all into the corridor outside of Mr. Nutt's office. He stormed into the office and shortly we could hear him screaming at Mr. Nutt about the incident. Now and again, Mr. Nutt's quiet voice could be heard trying to calm Jazzy down. Freddie was called in to give his version of the incident and he told the truth exactly as it had happened. Finally, we were sent back to our classroom and that was the end of it as far as us boys were concerned.
Then, there were only two days left at school before the Christmas holidays. Alf and I had started spending our bus fare and were walking to and from school. Once again, I was to pay for this deceit. While going to school on the first of those two days, Alf and I had spent his lunch money and our bus fares on a large box of green Turkish Delight. As we wandered from the shop, up the road and into the playground, I helped him eat some of that delicious delicacy. How we enjoyed it as well! Our first class that morning was the usual English lesson at Hinton Hall with Jazzy. We'd carried on having these lessons as if the 'riot' of a couple of weeks previous had never happened. We still played him up, and he still read the book to us.
As we lined up ready for the march to Hinton Hall, I could see a funny light just to the side of my central vision. As I looked at my mates, the details of their faces were very distorted. I couldn't work out what was happening to me at all. I couldn't remember some of my mate's names, I couldn't work out why I was standing in the playground, and I couldn't seem to think properly. I had the feeling that I was having a relaxing dream, and that it didn't really matter if I couldn't remember anything. By the time we were half way along the road to the hall, I was in a terrible state.
As we went into the classroom and I thankfully sat down, a severe pain started in my left eye, crept over my forehead and down the left side of my face. I felt very ill. Noticing how white I looked, Jazzy asked me if I was alright. As he said it, I suddenly felt dreadfully sick. He almost carried me into the toilet at a fast trot, where we arrived just in time for me to vomit up a horrible-looking green mess. Even through my agony I heard Jazzy gasp, it must have been a shocking sight to him.
Jazzy was very understanding and stayed, with his arm around me, until I'd finished. But the sight and colour of my vomit must have had him thinking that I'd gone rotten inside (I don't think that it would have surprised him as I'm sure that he thought that we were all rotten anyway). In the end, I managed to splutter out that I'd eaten green Turkish Delight that morning and the poor fellow had relaxed a bit. Then he decided to send me home with no more ado. Knowing that Alf lived near my home and that we were friends, he told him to go with me.
Laughing at his good fortune of missing a day of school, Alf dashed out into the street telling me about all the good things we were going to do on the way home. But, I was far too sick and only wanted to get home. We'd spent our bus fare but, I couldn't face the prospect of walking all the way home feeling as sick as I did. I decided to take a chance, get on the bus and hope that the conductor would see how ill I was and let us ride for nothing. We got on the bus but were chucked off at the next stop. And so I had to endure the misery of walking home while I felt so ill. I don't remember much about that walk, only the occasional feeling of being so miserable and wishing that it was over. Then I was thankfully home in bed and Doctor Howell was there.
I'd had a severe attack of migraine, possibly triggered off by the green Turkish Delight. Within a couple of days I was well once more. I never saw jazzy again. He left the school at the end of the next day. As I have stated previously, he was a good sort, he just couldn't handle a class of boys.
As for the migraine problem, I'd go for another thirty years before it would strike again. Then it would be triggered off by my weakness for cooking chocolate which I'd have a craving for at the time. Since then I have also discovered, through personal experience, that oranges, and wine, will set it off.
As soon as I was better, there was the mad rush to get the Christmas tree branches and holly so as we could decorate the living room again. It wasn't long before the room was looking Christmassy once more and the festivities had begun.
Mum's friend, Mrs. Swift, treated Val and I to a show at the Chiswick Empire Theatre in the West End of London. We all went up there by coach and had a wonderful evening. Alma Cogan, a popular singer at that time, and a singer/comedian called Dave King, were the stars of the show. They were supported by a Christmas spectacular that left us all breathless. We all rode home in the coach after, singing a song called 'Christmas Alphabet' (released on record by Dickie Valentine) over and over again.
To me, it was the usual magic time of year and, on Christmas morning, the stockings that were hanging from the mantelshelf were just as exciting as ever. The presents were opened with the usual squeals of delight and, as seemed to be our habit after the Christmas roast, we relaxed with our new toys, games, and books.
Mum had saved hard to buy me a watch that year. I was thrilled as I'd never had a watch before. I wasn't allowed to wear it while playing, or at school, but I didn't care, I had my own watch and could wear it when I went visiting. Not being used to having a watch, I broke the glass on the first day that I wore it. But, Mum soon had it fixed and it lasted me for years.
The year of 1955 passed and we slipped into 1956. Upon starting school again, I was surprised to find that the powers that be had decided to promote me to a better educated class. I walked into my old class 2-D, only to be told that I was now a pupil of class 2-C. I was annoyed to be leaving Alf and my other mates but, there were more friends from my younger school days in this new class.
Mr. Wright was the form master of 2-C and turned out to be a good type. One of my old school friends, John Sawyer, became my class-mate and I soon settled in. I still travelled back and forth to school with Alf.
The first thing that I remember about that classroom were the hundreds of pen-nibs, with little paper flights that bored boys had made and placed in a slit at the blunt end, that were stuck into the ceiling. But that's where the similarity with 2-D ended. The boys were hard-working and I rarely saw any disrespectful incidents all the time I was a pupil in that class.
Then the snow came and it wasn't long before we were having snowball wars up in the playing fields. Walls of snow were built, the 'enemies' faced each other, then snowballs were soon raining down upon the defenders on each side. I of course, was in amongst a group of 2-D and 2-C boys, with Alf, helping to defend our snow 'castle'. Snowballs were going both ways over 'no man's land' in their hundreds. Nobody on our side escaped the barrage. I recall that I copped one in the ear, then another in the mouth as I was yelling my 'war cry'. They were hitting us everywhere and it wasn't long before we were all soaked. It was wonderful fun.
After a while, we discovered that a few of the snowballs coming from the other side had lumps of ice hidden in them. We didn't think that this was very sporting and decided to attack them. We got down behind the wall and quickly made half a dozen snowballs each. Another volley of snowballs came over, this time they had stones inside. Very unsporting! As soon as the next barrage sailed over, we jumped up with our snowballs cupped in the crook of one arm against our chests, and attacked the enemy behind the other wall, throwing snowballs as we charged so as to keep them pinned down. We dived over their wall and the close combat began. Faces were rubbed into the snow, yells and screams became rife as lumps of ice were forced down the back of necks and trouser-fronts, and boys from both sides were rolled in the deep snow-drifts. I didn't get off scott-free any more than anyone else. We were all evenly matched and I went back into the classroom with slushy ice down my back like a few of the others, knowing that I'd given as good as I got. But, it had been great fun and we had a snow war each playtime until the snow finally melted.
Not content with all the fun at school with the snow wars, I started to get up to mischief with Alf, Mick, and a few other friends in the evenings.
In the dark early evening of the winter nights, we'd station ourselves in the street at the beginning of a row of houses. Half a dozen snowballs would be made by each of us and cupped in the crook of our non-throwing arm. Once we were ready with our 'ammo', we'd race along the road and throw these snowballs at the lighted windows. There'd be two or three 'plops' on each window as we flashed by, caused by our snowballs, then, as soon as we were out of 'ammo' we'd rush across the road, hide in the shadows, and watch the people come rushing out of their doors all up the street. Giggling and laughing in our breathless excitement, we'd see the people looking all around then wander back inside again. We'd wait until the coast was clear then move on to another street and do it again.
Somebody showed us that, if we threw a snowball high up
onto a sloping roof, the snowball would roll back down, gathering
snow from the roof and growing in size, until a very large
snowball finally rolled off the roof and dropped onto the ground.
We decided to use this in another 'game'. Armed with a couple of
snowballs each, we'd position ourselves in the neighbouring front
garden of a suitable looking house with a window in the front
One of our group would creep up and knock on the door, then quietly run back out again. We'd wait until the hall light had been turned on and we could see, through the front door window, that the person was about to open the door. Then, we'd throw our snowballs up onto the roof above the door and dodge down low enough to see but, hopefully, not be seen. By the time the snow-balls had rolled down the roof, the hapless house-owner had usually come away from the shelter of the doorway to look up and down the street for whoever had knocked their door. Time and time again we had to make a bolt for it as we burst out laughing to see the loose lumps of snow drop down onto those unfortunate people. It was just as funny for us to see them jump in fright as the snow dropped with a dull thud in front or behind them. We'd race off down the street shouting with uncontrollable laughter.
We never thought of how annoying (or frightening for some) it could be. We didn't know anything about heart attacks, we just thought it was jolly good fun. If we had been caught, we'd have probably taken our well deserved punishment, either from the house-owner, the head-master at our school, or the police, knowing that we'd earned it through our mischief.
Of course, none of us wanted a clout from any house-owners anymore than we wanted to be reported to our head-master, and we definitely didn't want to get into trouble with the police. All the policemen that we knew were very friendly towards us boys but we knew that they'd deal with us very sharply if we ran foul of them. I had known a couple of boys that had been clipped around the ear by policemen, they hadn't gone back for second helpings and it certainly helped keep us on the straight and narrow at the time.
The little pond in the garden had been stocked with goldfish again during the previous summer and, once again we'd been caught by the cold weather. Mum was really annoyed and told Val and I that we wouldn't be allowed to have goldfish again. Imagine our surprise when, after the snow had melted, we found that, this time our fish were still alive. From then on we kept them inside. All I can say is that they must have been very hardy fish.
And so, we started heading towards warmer weather. Alf told me that the school had started giving swimming lessons and I shuddered at the thought. The weather was still too cold for my liking and anyway, I was still terrified of deep water. But Alf went and told me it was great.
Then Alf's dog became sick and needed an operation. Mrs. Baker couldn't afford to pay a vet but, we were lucky to have The Blue Cross Animal Hospital in nearby Chalfont St. Peter where the operation would be done free of charge. It was decided that Alf and I would take 'spud' (Alf had thought that 'Spud' was a wonderful name for his dog) on the bus to the animal hospital so as the operation could be performed.
It was a sunny but cold morning as we caught the bus to Chalfont St. Peter. We left Spud at the hospital and were told to go back for him in the early afternoon. Whilst wandering around the village, a young girl latched onto us. Clearly, she'd fallen for Alf's good looks and, when she found out that he'd never had a girl friend, she took it upon herself to teach him how to kiss. Of course, Alf was all for it and, like a gooseberry, I followed them around. It was decided that we'd go into a cafe and spend our bus fares on a cup of tea each.
It was all good fun at the time but, when we left the girl and returned to the animal hospital, we found that Spud was heavily bandaged and still very groggy from the anaesthetic. Expressing our thanks to the Blue Cross staff, Alf hoisted Spud up into his arms and we went outside, faced with the prospect of carrying the heavy dog over five miles before we reached home.
Cursing our stupidness for spending our bus fare, we started off in the direction of home with Alf carrying Spud in his arms. But, those arms didn't last very long and soon I was carrying the dog. Then it was my turn to have aching arms, the dogs weight sapped our strength very fast. We began taking it in turns to carry Spud the length of the road between two telegraph poles. Finally, even that short distance was too much for our tired arms and we could only carry the dog for half that distance.
We still had a couple of miles to go when I noticed a piece of board laying in the garden of an empty cottage. We laid Spud on the board and carried it, stretcher-style, taking it in turns to lead. It was a lot easier but, our arms still tired quickly and we had to have many rests. As the late winter darkness spread across the land, we staggered into Alf's home and Spud was soon recovering in front of the warm fire. Once again, I told myself that I'd never spend my bus fare again, not for any reason. Alf went to visit the girl at Chalfont St. Peter a couple of times but, the novelty soon wore off.
While on the subject of dogs, an incident comes to mind involving our own dog, Muffin. It was around about this time, and I'd just taken him for a walk. Upon our return, for some reason, I tied his lead to the metal dustbin lid handle so as he wouldn't run away. Muffin strained against the lead and pulled the lid off of the bin with a clatter. The noise gave him a terrible fright as the lid hit the concrete path and he jumped away. Of course, the lid followed him, scraping along the ground. I could see his problem but, before I could get back to him, he'd panicked and was racing up the path towards the gate with the lid banging along behind him. I ran out into the road, calling him and was just in time to see his tail and the dustbin lid vanish around the corner at the end of the close. It was three days before we found him, badly bruised and battered and still with a bit of the broken lead hanging from his collar. But, we never saw the dustbin lid from that day to this.
Like Spud, Muffin was taken ill that year. It was towards the end of summer and Mum had him taken for an operation. But, unlike Spud, Muffin died on the operating table. He was a lovely dog to us and we missed him terribly.
But, back to the spring of that year. With the snow gone and having nothing better to do with ourselves, we started going 'door knocking' in the still dark evenings. Door knocking ('Knock down Ginger' we called it) was where half a dozen of us would creep, through the darkness, up to a door each in a row of houses. At a signal, we'd each knock our particular door then, run quietly across the road and hide in the shadows of a dark garden previously picked out, We'd watch with glee as the occupants of each house came out then started to look around when they discovered that there was nobody at their door. Words would be exchanged over fences, a few curses would be heard, then the doors would bang shut. We'd shout with laughter and race off to try another street.
As we grew more daring, we invented a 'game' that we called 'hedge-hopping'. This was a fairly dangerous game (especially if one was caught). The idea was to position ourselves behind a fence at the end of a long row of back gardens. At the signal, we'd leap the fence, race across the garden, and leap the next fence (or hedge) into the next garden, and so on, all along the length of gardens without stopping or abandoning the run. Laughing, cursing, pushing each other, and being pushed, we'd go like mad, each hoping that people or dogs, that might be in one of the gardens, would get someone else and not himself. It must have looked like some mad horse-less steeplechase as we dived over fences and hedges and raced over the gardens in the darkness. I thought it was a fantastic game and never tired of the exhilarating feeling as we dared the unknown of each garden.
One evening, we took along a roll of very thin copper-windings wire (such as can be found wound around radio transformers). We all agreed that it would be a good idea to tie it to someone's door knocker and knock the door from the darkness of a garden across the street. We decided to try it out on Mick's house first and he crept up to his door and tied the line to the knocker. When he was back with us, we used the line to knock the door, then let it loose so that it wouldn't break as the door was opened.
We giggled to ourselves as Mr. Jardine came to the door, saw that there was nobody there, looked around the side of the house, then went back inside. We gave it a few seconds then knocked the door again. Once more Mr. Jardine came out and looked all around. He stood there silhouetted in the light from the door-way for a minute, while we tried to stifle our laughter, then he went inside again. When all was quiet, we knocked for the third time and were a bit surprised when Mrs. Jardine answered the door. I smelt a rat and immediately dived under a hedge. No sooner had I hid, when Mr. Jardine came from the back of the garden that we were in and caught the other boys.
As he had stood at his door after the second knock, he'd seen the thin line tied to the knocker, weighed up the score, told his wife to answer the door to keep us occupied, and had gone out of the back door. Doing a bit of his own 'hedge hopping', he'd worked his way around the back gardens to where he suspected we were and had caught us easily. Grinning in his triumph, he gave Mick a friendly clip around the ear and laughingly told the others off. I stayed where I was, forcing my sleeve into my mouth to try and stop the laughter that was racking my body. It wasn't until Mick got home that night that Mr. Jardine even knew that I was there.
We tried the wire-line method a few more times until I knocked a door with it, from the chosen hiding place, while Alf was still at the door. He only just managed to reach us as the door of the house was opened, He looked hilarious in the half-light of the dim street-lamp as he ran back out of the garden Mumbling about rotten mates. The rest of us laughed so much that we had to break cover and run for it ourselves, with Alf bringing up the rear, cursing us even more, and the shouts of the house-owner following us up the street.
Another game we thought up was 'gate-lifting'. A lot of gates in the Amersham area had the type of hinges that enabled the gate to be easily lifted away from the gate-post. It was easy to lift the gates off but, quite difficult to fit them back on. We'd creep along whole streets and lift the gates, leaning them against the posts. Then we'd race back down the street, pushing the gates down with a clatter as we ran past each drive-way. The gates were nearly always the wrought-iron type and made a terrible noise. We had to run very fast so as not to be caught by the people who lived in the roads.
Sometimes we'd lift dozens of gates on the way home late from the cinema or some such place, and just leave them leaning on the posts. In the morning, on the way to school, we'd go along the streets where we'd lifted the gates the night before, and laugh to ourselves as we watched the owners trying to replace them. Of course, innocence was written all over our faces. We even talked and sympathised with some of the people about the louts that would do such a thing. My hair used to stand on end when I heard what some of the people said they'd do to the culprits if they ever caught them. The same night we'd be at it again, threats of terrible punishments forgotten.
It was all good fun to us boys but, as the winter turned to spring and the nights gradually became lighter, I was forced to miss out on the games due to the fact that I had to mostly be home by seven-thirty. By the time summer arrived and the short nights were in, even the late-night boys had to abandon the mischievous pranks and the locals were left in peace until the end of autumn.
It was a beautiful spring, the type of spring that makes one want to be happy that one is alive. I was happy whether I was at school, at home, or up to mischief. It was the type of spring that made me want to sing with happiness and there were plenty of songs to choose from. Tennessee Ernie Ford's 'Sixteen Tons' and 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' were two of my favourites along with Lonnie Donegan's 'Rock Island Line'. Then I had to go and fall 'in love' again.
As the weather had warmed up, we'd started hanging around Alf's home in Plantation Way. Through Val and Alf's sister, we'd met some of the local girls. If we had nothing better to do, we'd chatter to any of the girls that happened to be around, and sometimes joined in with the street games that they played.
A group of us boys and girls were playing a type of tip-it-and-run game in Plantation Way one Saturday. We were using a real tennis ball and tennis racquet. I'd never held a tennis racquet in my life, and didn't realise the force behind a good swipe at the ball. When it was my turn to bat, I swung at the ball as hard as I could. The ball flashed over a hedge, hit a window, and seemed to bounce back into the front garden. I was standing there at the 'crease' in open-mouthed horror, when I became aware that a young girl was holding my hand and telling me that the accident couldn't be helped. Well, I knew better than that but, it did seem nice to have this girl on my side.
The owner of the house came out as I walked through his gate to face the music. I stammered my apologies and he asked me where I lived. The man hadn't lived in the house all that long and I had to confess that our back garden backed on to the rear of his back garden. He told me to go and fetch Mum and soon she was talking to him and promising that I'd pay for the broken window out of my pocket-money. The man agreed to her offer then asked us to go and see what had happened. Mum said that, if you'd seen one broken window, you'd seen them all. But, the man said we'd never seen a broken window like this one before.
Off we all trooped around to the front of the house to see the damage, the rest of my friends craning their necks over the gate to hear what was going on. We were all amazed to see a perfectly round hole, the size of the tennis ball, in the window pane. There were no cracks at all, just the neat hole. We were even more amazed when the man told us that the ball had come through the window, hit the wall on the other side of the room and had bounced back out of the same hole. He said that, if he hadn't have seen it, he wouldn't have believed it. Well, we didn't believe it until he took us in his living room and showed us the mark on the wall that the ball had made. The ball was found stuck in the branches of the front hedge. It probably wouldn't happen again in a million years, but it happened that day.
That was the start of a friendship between Mum and Julie, the lady of that house. It was also the start of my second 'crush'. Sheila, the young girl who had sympathised with me about the mishap, was, like Gina, a pretty blonde girl. But, that's where the similarity ended, Where Gina had seemed to be happy just to be near me doing simple things like going for walks and sitting on logs, Sheila was more mature and wanted to go out properly. I knew very little about courting girls in the proper manner but, I didn't realise this at the time. She was well into the latest fashions, with her calf-length jeans and bobby-socks, whereas, all my clothes were very old-fashioned. How she even bothered to look my way is a mystery.
I recall that she could be lifted off the ground by her hair. The hair roots must have been very strong and she felt no pain as a couple of us boys would climb up on something and swing her back and forth by her hair alone. Chances are that there are many people who can swing painlessly by their hair, but I've never known of anyone else that could do it. Although Sheila only lived in the next street, I didn't see her every day. But there were plenty of things to keep me occupied when she wasn't with me.
Skiffle, a type of music, had become very popular with us boys. Lonnie Donegan and his skiffle band were firing the imaginations and soon we were building our own double-bass out of a tea-chest, broom handle, and a piece of string. Ray Parsons had a guitar and we'd go into a shed (the 'Den') up the back of his garden to play and sing skiffle songs (and any other song that took our fancy). It was in this shed, during one of those singing sessions, that I received another noticeable scar on my body.
Ray had two or three powerful air rifles. One was the type that was cocked by levering the barrel down and back up again. He was playing with this rifle as I sat beside him one evening while we all happily sang away. He cocked the rifle but, didn't straighten the barrel. As he pulled the trigger, the spring caused the barrel to snap straight and the end of the barrel hit me a real smacker in the face, knocking me clean back off the seat. Blood poured from a deep gash in my right brow, just above the eye, caused by the gun-sight. There was so much blood that all the boys thought that my eye had been smashed out. Ray gave an audible sigh of relief when I got over the initial shock and told him that, if he didn't like my singing, he only had to say. It wasn't long before Ray's Mum had fixed me up and, after a couple of weeks, I had my new scar. Ray had offered to sell me the rifle, but Mum wouldn't let me have it. She said that the money he wanted for it was too dear.
But the cinema wasn't dear and she'd very often treat Val and I to an evening there. At this time we saw such noted films as 'The Man from Laramie', 'Davy Crockett' and 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'. This last film has always been one of my favourites. On the music scene, Bill Haley had just released 'See You Later Alligator', 'Sixteen Tons' by Tennessee Ernie Ford was still very popular with everybody, and the Platters were going up the charts with 'The Great Pretender'.
Alf started riding his bike to school but Mum wouldn't allow me to take mine. I'd walk up to Amersham while Alf pushed his bike. Then, as soon as the bus came in sight, he'd race off to try and beat the bus to Chesham. Sometimes I'd give him my bus fare and he'd ride the bus while I raced like mad on his bike to try and beat the bus.
One morning, I met Alf and he pointed out a pair of cycle shock-absorbers that were fitted to his front wheel. I'd never seen any kind of shock-absorbers for bikes before (nor have I since) and I was duly impressed. They were not too successful and grounded quite easily. By the time we'd reached Amersham, Alf was bored with them and he gave me the chance to have a go with them on the way to Chesham.
I thought that I'd give it a fair go this time as we always beat the bus. I decided to wait behind the bus until it moved off. Val and Sheila (the girls attended 'White Hill School in Chesham) were on the bus with Alf and a group of our friends. They waved out of the rear upstairs window as I struggled like mad to keep up. I'd was just about to over-take the bus as it stopped at the next bus stop, when a car came up beside me and I was forced to brake hard. But, those shock-absorbers interfered with the proper workings of the front brake and I'd lost half my stopping power. I felt a jarring bang, saw a couple of stars and was soon sitting dazed on the road. I had run into the back of the bus. As I got to my feet, the bus conductor looked out of the rear downstairs window, saw that I was standing, rang the bell and I watched the bus driving away with the faces of my friends still peering out of the upstairs rear window.
At first, I felt a bit lonely as I watched them go off to school without me. Then I pulled myself together and looked at the cycle. The front wheel was buckled slightly and just needed straightening. Feeling grateful, once again, that Granddad had insisted that I learned to repair my own bike, I held the front wheel up and pushed it along to Hazell's garage. It didn't take me long to borrow some tools, straighten the wheel and take the shock-absorbers off. I arrived at school with a couple of minutes to spare. Although those shock-absorbers were adjustable, the springs were far too weak for any rough handling and Alf never used them again.
While at school, about this time Mr. Heath, our science teacher, had shown us an experiment where we could blow the lid off a treacle tin using ordinary household gas. The lid would rocket off the tin with a bang and I decided to play a joke on Mum by doing it outside the living room window that evening. I set the tin up as I'd been shown, lit the gas, and the lid went off with a bang. What happened next gave me one of those heart-stopping shocks that seem to jolt the whole body.
As I watched the lid fly dimly up into the dark shadows of the upper-house, the whole night sky turned orange. For a split second I thought that I'd somehow set the roof on fire through my prank. Then, a great orange ball, trailing a long tail of flames and sparks, suddenly came over the roof-top directly above where I stood. It was enormous and I was petrified. Without a sound, it passed right across the sky and vanished over the horizon, leaving me quaking in my shoes. I'd seen falling stars before and they had caused me no concern. They'd be just a flash of thin light in the distance. But this great 'meteorite' looked so close and had really put the wind up me. Mum had come rushing out when the lid had banged off but, had missed seeing it. When I told her what had happened, she laughed at how the joke had back-fired on me. I didn't think it was very funny at the time.
Mr. Heath's experiments caused Alf and I to become interested in simple science and Alf came around one evening with a chemistry set. In our garden shed, we tried a few of the experiments that we'd learned at school. Then we decided to try some of our own. Not knowing much about the subject and having no instructions, we became bored and, in the end, we mixed up a bit of each chemical in a beaker and started to heat it on the Bunsen burner.
At this stage, Mum called me in to fill the coal-scuttle. Not wishing to be left out of the experiment, I asked Alf to come and help so as we could do the experiment together after. Reluctantly, he came out of the shed to help me.
No sooner had we walked into the house, than there was a muffled boom. We rushed to the kitchen window and could see that the shed was on fire inside. In panic, we rushed back to the shed and put the fire out, using some old hessian sacks to beat at the flames. Whatever we'd mixed up had exploded. The chemistry set had been blown to bits, pieces of glass were stuck everywhere in the wooden walls, and the fuel from the Bunsen burner had caught fire. Mum was furious and that was the end of our experiments at home.
I still don't know what it was that we mixed up in the beaker, but, Alf's dad had given him all sorts of chemicals for his set and we'd tried the lot. We were very fortunate that day.
Ever since I'd been 'going out' with Sheila, I hadn't taken her anywhere except for walks. Just as with Gina, I'd been quite happy to have Sheila nearby. But, it wasn't enough for her and she wrote me a note telling me that I was 'too slow' for her liking. That was the end of that. I was a bit sad at first and went around singing 'My September Love' (by David Whitfield) to myself, wishing that I knew the correct thing to do that would keep girls happy. I soon bounced back to carry on with my very happy life.
I thought that I'd try the Sea Cadets. Off I went, down to the Broadway in Chesham and soon I was drilling in the hall with other young boys. I quite enjoyed marching around and the 'toughening-up' exercises. I went to three or four meets until the Chief told us that we were going to the swimming pool the following week. My fear of deep water ended that avenue of entertainment.
Feeling annoyed at myself for being such a coward where water was concerned, I headed home that night and, while walking back down Grimsdells Lane, I saw flames and sparks shooting up into the night sky ahead. With mounting interest, I arrived at the spot to see half a dozen firemen trying to put out a bad chimney fire. It was great to see those men in action and I stood across the road to watch. I wasn't there for long as a policeman came from out of the shadows and told me to go home. I moved on wishing that there was such a thing as a fire cadet.
Just after I stopped going to the Sea Cadets, Alf and I rode over to Rickmansworth on our bikes to see my old school friends there. It was a glorious late-spring day and we sang songs as we cycled along until we reached the town. Going straight to St. Monica's first, we were peering through the lead-light windows into my old classroom when Alf suddenly whispered that there was a Nun standing at the door. I looked and there was Mother Maria. It was wonderful to see her again and we had a chatter about 'old times'. In the end, she had to go and, waving goodbye, Alf and I set off towards Mill End.
For some reason, I decided to ride down the sharp hill of Nightingale's Lane. Pedalling like mad to get a good speed up, we swooped down the start of that hill. Just as I was about to free-wheel, I noticed Alf spin around and drop out of my sight. I turned my head in time to see him skidding down the hill on his stomach with his bike entangled around his legs. By the time I'd braked to a halt at the bottom of the hill, he'd stopped skidding and was laying in the middle of the road.
I threw my bike against the kerb and ran back up just as Alf staggered to his feet. Luckily, apart from a few grazes, he wasn't badly hurt. He was a bit wobbly at the knees but, his first concern was for his bike. We went over to it and found that the cross-bar looked as if it had just snapped behind the steering-neck. As Alf had strained for that bit of extra speed and the bar had broke, the front end had twisted one way, the back end had twisted the other, and Alf had gone through the middle. I couldn't believe that a cross-bar would break that easily and, sure enough, when we looked closer, we found that someone had sawn almost through the cross-bar from underneath. There was a clean cut and a ragged edge at the top where the frame had finally broken We were mystified. It had been deliberate and the cut had been covered by a cable clip. Alf could have been killed. But of course, we never found out who did it.
Lucky that Alf was still alive, we straightened the frame as best we could and pushed the bike along to the Blue Star garage on the Denham Road. The owner was a decent chap and welded the cross-bar for us after we'd explained what had happened.
It was fairly late by the time we reached Mill End, but we found Victor and Ronnie at their homes. It was then that I learned that Gina and her family had gone to Australia to live. I had a good chat with my two old school friends about the good times we'd had together then, all too soon, it was time to leave. Alf and I arrived home well after dark but, we'd had no more problems.
Alf lost interest in his bike after the cross-bar affair and started catching the bus to school with the rest of us. I recall another incident when, on the way home from school, Alf and I stepped off the bus at Oakfield Corner in Amersham and spied a cake-board (a round, flat piece of cardboard with silver paper covering it) laying on the pavement. Alf saw it first but, I beat him to it and shortly I was having great fun skimming it along the pavement of Amersham town like a Frisbee. (The word 'Frisbee' hadn't been heard of by us in those days.) Each time I threw it, Alf would try and get to it before me as it landed. But, I was too quick for him and he got annoyed in the end because he couldn't have a go. Finally, I let him have it.
Determined to show me how it was done, he drew his arm back and threw the board as hard as he could. It soared along the pavement in Woodside Road, shot high in the air, then swooped to the left and vanished over a high hedge. Alf was still annoyed with me and said that he'd flicked it over the hedge on purpose because I wouldn't let him have a go. I wasn't really worried as I'd had plenty of throws anyway. As we passed a gate at the end of the high hedge, a man dashed out and stopped us. He was very angry and asked who had thrown the piece of board over the hedge. Alf owned up and the man shouted at him to go and get it. As I looked through the gate-way into what I thought was the man's garden, I could see a lot of people lined along the side of a big lawn. It was the local Lawn Bowls Club ground and, almost in the middle of that beautifully looked after lawn was the cake-board, sticking up out of the flat green felt of fine grass.
Alf stepped from the corner and went to walk across the lawn in a diagonal line. But, the man, now in a real rage, screamed at Alf to go along the side and walk directly across the lawn, picking up the cake-board as he went. Alf had no choice but to obey, the man looked ready to murder him. He went along the side until he came level with the board, walked onto the green under the disapproving eyes of all the lawn bowls players that were standing there, picked up the board, and reached the crowd on the other side. One old lady snatched the board from out of his hand and, with a fiery look, told him never to go near the bowling green again.
By this time I was helpless with laughter but, as Alf turned to walk back along the other side of the green towards the gate where I stood, his face was glowing red with embarrassment and I collapsed to the pavement, all my breath gone in the fit of uncontrollable laughter brought on by Alf's plight. He was livid and, the more I laughed, the worse he became. I could see that we'd be coming to blows soon but, I couldn't stop the laughter. We eventually arrived at Alf's home and he began to see the funny side of it as we related the story to his Mum.
Another incident I remember from that time happened on a bad stormy day. I went to call for Alf on the way to school. The rain was lashing down from a black sky full of thunder and lightning. Mrs. Baker asked us if we'd dash up to Westcott's shop to get her a packet of cigarettes (I'm not sure whether she had an arrangement with the shop owner to allow Alf to purchase the cigarettes on her behalf, or whether thirteen year old's were allowed to buy cigarettes themselves in those days). Off we ran, through the rain, until we reached the shop in Plantation Road, only to find that the road was flooded right outside the shop and we'd have to paddle through about twenty centimetres of water. We were already wet through from the rain so, a bit of paddling wouldn't hurt. As we came out of the shop, wet to the skin anyway, we splashed through the flood with great abandon and were like a couple of drowned rats by the time we arrived back at Alf's home. Mrs. Baker suggested that we stay home from school for the day, but I said that Mum wouldn't let me. Alf obviously didn't want to go, so Mrs. Baker promised that she'd write me a note to take to school the next day.
And so I 'played hookey' from school for the first time. We spent all day in their house, reading and listening to the wireless. I had to be very careful as our back garden was only a couple of gardens along from Alf's back garden. Mum could look out of our kitchen window and see the whole rear of Alf's house.
Then, in spite of promising myself that I wouldn't do it anymore, we started walking to school again and spending our bus fare. There was a shop in Bois Moor Road (near the Moor) where we'd buy half-penny packets of crisps each morning. These crisps were obviously the dregs from the fryer, that had been packeted to sell off cheap so as not to waste anything. They were crushed up and there was more oil than crisps, but, we enjoyed them and could buy six packets for the price of one ordinary packet.
There was a real catchy tune out at the time called 'The Happy Whistler' (by Don Robertson I think) and we'd whistle this tune everywhere we went. If we were not whistling this tune, we were singing the latest songs. Ronnie Hilton's 'No Other Love Have I' and 'The Saint's Rock and Roll' by Bill Haley were the top favourites at that time.
We always had a bit of fun around the Moor and River Chess on the way home from school. I recall that there used to be an old punt moored beside the river bank, just where the storm-drain outlet was. The first time we discovered this punt, we decided to ride it down the river and abandon it when we couldn't get any closer to home by that mode of travel. In we hopped and, casting off, floated down-stream. Like a couple of well--contented Cambridge students, we lounged about in the boat until we could go no farther. Then, leaving the punt at that spot, we wandered home, thinking that it had been great fun.
The next afternoon, the punt was back at it's original spot near the storm-drain outlet, so we rode it down-stream again. Amazingly, this went on for at least a fortnight. Each afternoon we'd find that the punt had been returned back to its original spot and we'd ride it down the river again. In the end, we thought that we'd pushed our luck far enough and we'd be caught if we were not careful. We left the punt alone after that except for the occasional ride.
One afternoon, we found an aeroplane under-wing fuel tank floating in the river just down-stream from where the punt was moored. It was shaped like a large bomb (without flights) and wasn't very stable. Alf demanded first go and I willingly stood to one side. He straddled it as if he was riding a horse and I pushed him out. Of course, he had no chance of keeping his balance on such an unstable thing, the tank turned turtle and dumped him in the river. Once again, I collapsed with helpless laughter and once again, Alf got mad with me. I laughed all the way home as he squelched along beside me. But, as usual, he was soon laughing as we related the story to his Mum.
Just past the Moor, towards Chesham Bois, used to be the Chesham rubbish tip and we'd sometimes spend half an hour looking through the rubbish, one afternoon, we found a great piIe of old cycle parts that had been dumped. As we pulled the pile to pieces, we each built a complete bike. Of course, we had no spanners, so could not tighten any nuts properly, but that was a small detail.
With tyres and rims rubbing against forks, we pedalled our new 'mounts', straining up Chesham Bois Hill towards home. Suddenly, I heard a loud clatter and looked around just in time to see Alf and his bike collapse into a heap. Once again cursing me for laughing, he picked himself up and rubbed his newly bruised and sore body. We found that his chain had snapped and, as the bike frame had rear-facing prongs where the back wheel axle fitted, that wheel had come adrift due to the loose nuts. As there was a box full of old chains still at the rubbish tip, I went back down and got another for Alf's bike and a couple of spares. Those old bikes became our 'rough riding' bikes and we used them to ride around the scramble tracks in the woods.
If something was going to happen, it would usually happen to Alf. He had terrible luck in that respect. I recall one incident that wasn't so funny at the time but, we often laughed about it after. There was a deep dell in Bluebell Wood with a large tree hanging over the rim. Somebody had tied a rope up in the tree and we used the rope to swing out over the dell. The only trouble was that, if someone hadn't tied the rope to the trunk after use, it hung out above the dell and one of us had to take a long running jump, hopefully grasp the rope and swing back enough to be grabbed by our mates and be pulled to firm ground. It was a dare-devil stunt and a few of the boys were hurt because they couldn't hold the rope and fell to the bottom.
One day, Alf had decided to beat the rest of the group to the swing. He suddenly raced off but, the group was quick to react and we were soon pounding along behind him. Instead of the usual long run-up to the jump, he reached the dell out of breath and tried to get the rope by a shorter run. He launched himself off the edge, missed the rope and sailed, in a beautiful dive to the bottom. The trouble was that there was no water in the dell and he hit the ground with a scream of agony, breaking both arms. For a few weeks after the accident, he went around with plaster casts on both arms, but he had been lucky not to break his neck.
But he was fairly lucky with the girls and, although he never seemed to encourage them, they were attracted to something that he had. Janet was a typical example.
A bit farther downstream from where we abandoned the punt
each afternoon was a disused flour mill complete with a
water-wheel for driving all the machinery, we called it Delaney's
Mill. It was easy to get into this mill and we used to have great
fun crawling along the dark passages, climbing over the
machinery, and sliding down the wooden chutes into the lower
rooms. There wasn't a part of that mill that we didn't
One afternoon, as we played in the mill, we met a young girl. She told us that she'd seen us go in and had decided to show us around. We told her that we didn't need to be shown around but, she stayed beside Alf, clearly attracted to him. The fatal charm was working again and I became a gooseberry once more. For a while, Janet (the young girl), Alf and I went around together. She tried nearly all her persuasive powers on him to get his attention, but he was saving himself for better things and gradually her 'crush' fizzled out.
I wasn't with Alf all the time. Sometimes he'd go off with
other friends while I'd go with different mates. I had not been
with him when he and Ray had been 'leap-frogging' over some posts
and Ray had 'leaped' but not 'frogged', dropping squarely onto
the post and injuring himself badly. I wasn't with them the time
Alf had walked across the plank-bridge above Neptune's Falls at
Latimer, when he'd accidentally broken the trident from the
statue of Neptune that was placed above the centre of the falls.
That trident is probably still laying on the bottom of the river
where Alf threw it before he ran off.
I wasn't worried about missing out on some of the events. It was refreshing and gave me the chance to do things with other friends or even go out on my own.
I remember an incident just after I'd fixed up the old bike that I had half built at the Chesham rubbish tip. I wanted to try it out around the scramble track at the dell near the common. Alf didn't want to go as he hadn't fixed his bike up properly at the time so, set off on my own.
As I was taking a short cut across the common, there was a noisy soccer game being played by a dozen young boys. I idly watched while I rode by. Suddenly, there was a tackle and one of the boys gave a scream and fell to the ground holding his leg. Much to my surprise, the game carried on as if nothing had happened while the boy held his leg and writhed around in obvious agony. I stopped to watch what would happen, but still the other boys ignored the injured lad. In the end, I went over and asked him if he was alright (suddenly realising as I reached him, that he may be playing a trick on his mates). He told me that his leg was extremely painful. I then recognised him as being one of the sons of the people that Mum used to do domestic work for opposite the pond nearby. A couple of the other lads had wandered over but, didn't seem overly interested in what had happened. They were a toffee-nosed lot who most likely thought it was below their dignity to help a mate. But I couldn't leave him there and just ride off so I decided to try and help him to get home.
Dropping my bike, I bent down, put his arm about my shoulder and started to lift him. But he screamed out in pain until I put him back down again. I thought it would be better to ride over and get his parents and grabbed my bike. Then I wondered if it wouldn't be quicker to get him up on the bike and wheel him home. I managed to get the assistance of a couple of the others, we got the lad up on the bike with his injured leg hanging down the side and I staggered off with his arm around my shoulder while I pushed the bike. The game played on. Luckily, his parents were in and, after being thanked for my efforts, I went on to the dell where I had a great time racing the old bike around the track and up over the jumps. Later, I was told that the lad had broken his leg. I still can't understand why the other lads had ignored his plight.
As well as John Barry, Mum had taken in a temporary lodger. His name was also John so we called him 'Little John'. He was a happy little fellow and gave us many laughs. The house became a bit crowded at this time. Little John had a bed in the living room, John Barry was in my bedroom, and Mum and Val were still in the front bedroom
A singer named Elvis Presley had burst into the charts and Val and I nearly drove Mum mad as we sang 'Heartbreak Hotel' all day and half the night. Elvis was an instant hit with us and 'Blue Suede Shoes' soon joined the growing number of songs that I learned so easily, as it was released hot on the heels of 'Heartbreak Hotel'. Pat Boone's 'I'll Be Home' and Tex Ritter's 'Wayward Wind' were also popular with us at that time. The weather warmed up as we slipped into summer then, one Saturday Alf talked me into going swimming with him. He'd been on at me for a long time to go to the Chesham swimming pool and, more to keep him quiet, I agreed.
As we walked beside the water towards the changing lockers, I was gripped with the usual terror of deep water and kept close to the back wall so as I wouldn't be accidentally pushed in. I spent the whole time there just sitting on the edge, dangling my feet in the shallow end (three feet deep) and crawling back to the wall when anyone came near. I couldn't bear anyone to be between me and the wall. Alf splashed about nearby and did his best to try and encourage me to go in, but I'd have none of it. I was glad to get out of the place in the end.
Mr. Clarke, one of the St. Vincent De Paul members, asked me if I'd like to go to the Police Club that he ran in the police hall at Chesham. I gave it a go but. soon got bored. There was nothing to do and nothing was organised for us to do at all, we just stood around the hall at a loose end. I spent most of the times there up in the loft going through a great pile of junk. The highlight I recall of the half a dozen meets that I went to was hearing Doris Day sing 'Whatever Will Be Will Be' on the radio there one evening.
Another avenue of evening entertainment was the television. Julie and Fred (whose window I broke) very often asked me to baby-sit while they went out for the evening. I was never paid for my services but, they did have a television and I was allowed to watch it on those nights.
I remember a serial called 'The Strange World Of Planet X' that was quite frightening. There was also a serial in the same series called 'The Trollenburg Terror'. I hated going home in the dark after watching the episodes that I saw.
Advertisements were already being shown on television and I well remember the 'Oxo Ads'. The television company was experimenting with colour in those days and they used the Oxo ads to try the experiments out on. I'm sure that there was an announcement before the advert to tell the viewers that they were doing the experiment. Anyway, the adverts came on and, sure enough, there seemed to be a bit of colour other than the usual black, white, and greys that was all we had at the time. The colours were very pale and flickered at a fast rate. Possibly, if I hadn't had known that the experiment was on, I wouldn't have even noticed the pale colours. But, I definitely recall a pinky-red, a yellowy-green, and an almost indistinguishable (against the usual grey and white) light blue. Twenty years later, I'd have my first coloured television and be amazed at the advances made since those experimental Oxo ads.
Another diversion were my white Fantail Doves. I was given two of these birds and re-designed Wilfie's cage for them. I kept them in the cage for the regulation two weeks, feeding them well and spending a lot of time with them. Then I set one free and watched in apprehension as it flew around, fearing that it wouldn't come back. But, in the evening, it returned back to the cage on its own accord. I let the other one out the next day and it did the same. Soon, I could let them both out and they'd be back through the trap in the cage every night. It felt very satisfying to have those pigeons, set them free and know that they'd be there each night.
The summer holidays arrived and with them came the end of my days at Germain Street School. A brand new school for the Amersham area children had been built down Quill Hall Lane, about three quarters of a mile from our home. We would all go to this school at the start of the autumn term. But first, there were the summer holidays to enjoy.
Somebody had given me an old cotton tent. It was a small, white tent, the fabric was very thin and worn, and I only had three pegs but, I didn't care, it was a tent and I meant to use it. I got Mum's permission to go camping and talked Mick and Alf into going with me. It was a real knocked-up affair. With carrier-bags, a suitcase, blankets rolled into bundles slung over our shoulders, and the all-important tent clasped under my arm, we set off on our first camping adventure.
It was decided to go to Ley Hill where we would camp beside the golf course there. With all the gear hanging about our persons, we struggled down past Stubbs Wood, through the echoing bridge, over the Latimer Road and up Blackwell Hall Lane, stopping for a while at the River Chess.
As we strained up the hill after passing Blackwell Hall Farm, the sun was suddenly covered by thick stormy-looking clouds. Without warning, the first few heavy drops of rain started falling. We had no protective coats but, luck was on our side for we spied a tin-covered hay shelter in a nearby field and ran for it. We'd barely reached the shelter when the storm unleashed all its fury upon us. It turned very cold, lightning flickered all around us, thunder rolled across the hills and hail began to hammer on the tin roof of the tiny barn. We couldn't hear each other speak so we nestled down in the hay and watched the storm. A while later, the storm passed over, the sun came out again and we proceeded on our journey amid the steamy condensation caused by the sun heating the water on the road.
I well recall a curious sight in the sky after that storm. There was a dead-straight line of thick cloud going right across the sky from one horizon to the other. There wasn't a break in the cloud anywhere. At the wildest of guesses, I'd say that the line of clouds was about two hundred metres wide by one hundred metres high. It could have been five hundred metres above us and it moved slowly over-head for the rest of the day. (I'd see the same phenomenon (to me) years later when I'd follow a cloud pennant from the summit of Yr Wyddfa, in North Wales, and we didn't lose sight of it until we turned and headed south at Shrewsbury. Unlike the first sighting, I'd have a camera this second time and took a photograph of it which I still have.)
Finally arriving at the Ley Hill golf course, we picked a spot in the rough beside the green and set up the tent. I often wonder if our little tent was classed as an obstacle and made the green a bit harder for the few days it was there! There was no ground sheet and no way of pegging the bottom of the tent to the ground. With only three pegs to our name we used them to tie the front end and used bricks from a brick-yard across the road for the rear end. The thick, tussocks of grass were still wet from the storm but, we laid our blankets out anyway, tied the front flaps together and went off to explore.
When we returned to the tent, it was quite late and we ate heartily into the enormous pile of sandwiches that our Mums had made each of us. The damp of the wet grass had gone up into our blankets and we all shivered until our body heat came to the rescue a bit. The late evening breeze blew under the tent wall and we could look out as the flapping cotton lifted until it became dark. With no lights at all, we could only chat together until we finally dropped off to sleep.
It was very cold and damp when we awoke the next morning. A heavy dew had soaked everything outside and, we were not much better off in that little worn-out tent. We tried to keep warm but the cold and damp chilled our very bones and we were forced to get up. The sun was already shining as we poked our heads out into the cold morning air and we soon warmed up a bit after a few exercises. We chatted happily as we ate a breakfast of sandwiches from our stocks and decided that, from this jumping-off point, we'd walk on to Bovingdon Aerodrome about a mile or so up the road.
It wasn't long before we were standing at the perimeter wire where Mum used to take Val and I for picnics. A few planes took-off and landed, but we soon got bored with the long waits in between. Over to our left was a plane parked on an apron beside a wood. It was on the far side of the aerodrome from the buildings and the small control tower. We thought we'd see if we could get closer.
We walked through the wood until the plane was no more than fifty metres from us on the other side of the fence. I was amazed at its size and thought how wonderful it would be if we could get into it. Alf had the same thought and we decided to take a chance and see if we could get closer.
With my knowledge of aircraft now I'm sure the plane was a Boeing B-I7 Flying Fortress. The whole exterior of it was polished aluminium, but there were chunks of the wings, fuselage, and tail-fin missing as if it had just been on a bombing raid. There was nobody in sight and so, keeping the plane between us and the buildings on the far side of the aerodrome, we climbed the fence and crept over to the plane. Soon we were 'flying' the bomber through the war-torn skies of the world.
Being the type of plane that had a tail wheel (not a nose wheel), the front of the plane was high off the ground and it was easy to imagine that we were up in the sky as we sat in the pilot's seats with the blue sky above but, unable to see the ground below. Shouts of "Bombs gone" from the small perspex dome at the front of the long nose (we'd learned those words from 'The Dambusters' film) mingled with the screaming noise of engines made by whoever was 'flying' the plane at the time. How we were not heard is a mystery to me. We were in that plane for most of the afternoon and, although we kept a wary eye out, nobody disturbed us as we fought to save the world single-handed in our beat-up bomber. In the end, with the world safe from any more wars, we three tired 'heroes' climbed back over the fence and left the plane to the peace of the apron beside the wood.
As we settled down for a second night of damp blankets and chilly draughts, we chatted excitedly about the battered bomber and speculated as to how and where it could have got in such a bad state.
The next morning, we were forced to pack up and head for home. We'd eaten the rest of our sandwiches upon our return from Bovingdon the night before and had no more food left. There was no hurry and we wandered along the lanes, stopping at the River Chess to paddle for an hour or so and climbing a few trees in Stubbs Wood. When I arrived home, I felt that I could eat a mountain. By the time I'd eaten the tea that Mum prepared for me, I thought that I had.
The beautiful summer weather continued, everyone seemed so happy and plenty of new songs were being released by the record companies to keep us amused in that direction. The film 'Carousel' had just done the rounds and the music from that film was being whistled and hummed by everyone. Elvis had us singing 'I Want You, I Need You, and I Love You' and Slim Whitman's 'Serenade' was very popular at that time. As we sat down to our dinner after church each Sunday, we'd listen for our favourite songs on a wireless program called 'Family Favourites', a song request show for the English families with sons or husbands in the forces stationed in Germany.
Sunday was always a good day to listen to the radio if there was nothing else to do. I remember listening to 'Educating Archie', the antics of a dummy called Archie Andrews and the singer Max Bygraves. Billy Cotton's Showband was going strong, and the Goon Show had us laughing for the rest of the afternoon.
While Val and I were living our young lives happily going around with our friends and falling in and out of love, Mum and John Barry were actually falling in love. Through her illness when we were at the Beech Barn camp, she still couldn't barely leave the house due to her fear of open spaces. John would happily sit in with her if he wasn't playing darts up at the Red Lion pub in Chestnut Lane, which was the only pleasure he seemed to have.
We had a family meeting and Mum told Val and I about their love for each other. I wasn't all that keen on the idea, I suppose that I'd had her all to myself over the years and she was always there. I must have seen him as some sort of' threat to our close-knit way of family life. But, she needed something more now that we were spending more and more time away from home, so I had to accept the situation. It didn't take me long to realise how happy she was with John, and so our little family of three became four again.
Then the day came when I finally decided to fight my terrible fear of deep water. A gang of us had gone down to the River Chess. There was a small waterfall just downstream from Blackwell Hall Lane and we played around in the shallow water below it for a while. Two of the boys went paddling upstream from this waterfall, where the water was just above their knees. Then they walked through a dip in the river bed and the water rose up to their chests before they walked back to shallow waters. They turned round and walked back through the dip to the waterfall. I'd watched those boys and suddenly felt a real desire to have a go at trying to end my annoying fear of water.
Leaving the group to play on, I casually walked upstream as I'd seen the boys do. Then the dip was right in front of me and the thick reeds closed in from each side. The river was about two metres wide at this point and I could see the gravel bed through the clear water. I didn't look around to see if anyone was watching or ready to spring to my aid if I fell in and started to panic. This was my own personal battle with my own fears and I was going to conquer that fear or die in the attempt.
Focusing all my attention on the other side of the dip, I began to edge forward. The water crept up to my thighs and my heart started to beat like mad, I had the almost overwhelming urge to turn and run back out. I stopped for a few seconds to regain my courage, then took another faltering step forward. The water was almost at my waist and I could hardly breath for the fear. Stifling the panic that threatened to overcome my determination, I took another step. The water rose up to my chest. The reeds on each side were towering up above my head and I could smell the muddy odour of the water, every nerve screamed in my body and I began to feel very claustrophobic down in that hole and surrounded by those high reeds. Fiercely taking a grip on myself, I decided to go one more step before I turned-tail and, hopefully, get back into shallow water. Gingerly, I felt with my toe to try and find out how much deeper the dip would go, unable to see the river bed properly from that angle. I was very surprised to find that the gravel was sloping upwards in front of me. Leaning forward against the current, I slowly walked up from the dip.
A wonderful feeling of elation swept over me. I shouted my happiness and my friends, knowing of that fear, shouted with me. For a while I just stood in the middle of the river, up to my knees in water, as I savoured my triumph and thought of the new avenues of entertainment that were opened up to me. Then I decided to go back through the dip to my friends.
Once again, I entered the dip at a faltering creep and, once again, the fears clutched at me and made me breathless. But, this time I knew more of what to expect and I forced myself to go slow and careful so that I wouldn't trip and fall in. As I reached shallow water again, I began to realise that, if I was careful, I would soon be on a par with my mates. The thought thrilled me so much that I turned and went through the dip again. It was easy, I wondered why I hadn't done it years ago. But, secretly I knew that I'd been too scared and that was that. As I went for the dip a fourth time, there was no faltering steps, I splashed through almost at a swim, much to the delight of my friends who had come up from the waterfall to watch the fun. Soon we were all playing in the dip and I gained more confidence with each passing minute.
Alf begged me to go to the Chesham pool with him as we were walking home and, full of my new-found confidence, I agreed to go the next day. Little John, our other lodger, wanted to go with us but had no swimming-trunks. Mum said that she would lend him a pair of Val's knickers and, although we cracked up at the joke, Little John agreed to wear them in the pool. Off we rode to the pool at Chesham Moor, swimming-trunks on under shorts and towels rolled up and stuffed down shirts.
This time I didn't sit about on the edge. I climbed down the steps and was soon paddling around the shallow end, splashing about and yelling at the thrill of it all. Little John, wearing Val's old school knickers, swam off into the deep area (six feet) of the pool, and Alf went right around the pool, hanging on to the pipe along the edge as he went. I amused myself by holding the pipe and crouching down until the water was up to my neck, but I wouldn't follow Alf along into the deep end. After a couple of hours, we changed and went home.
The closer to home we got, the more annoyed I became with myself for not going around the whole edge of the pool. I knew that I could do it, I had just been too much of a coward at the time.
Meanwhile, we'd built a 'secret' camp in the thick, lower part of Raans Wood. We cleared an area of about three metres in diameter in among the saplings, pulled the nearest saplings together and tied them at the top, then we weaved the cleared saplings and branches through this frame until we had a wooden 'igloo-type' shelter. It was hidden in the wood, about twenty metres from the top-edge of a meadow that sloped down to the Valley floor. There was a faint path to it, through the wood from the top of the hill but, the secretly-marked path from the meadow below was the only way that I could find it. We had a small fire-pit in the middle of the floor and we often cooked 'dampers' of flour and water on sticks over this fire. They always turned out to be black and burnt offerings, but we ate them just the same.
One lovely Saturday morning, the type of morning that makes one glad to be alive, I walked down to this camp to wait for Alf as he had to get some shopping for his Mum and would be along later. I lazed about in the shelter, watching the sun sparkle through the woven roof and listening to the buzz of the insects outside. It was very relaxing and I was well contented to sit there and enjoy the solitude. After a couple of hours, I heard someone singing in the distance. Thinking it was Alf, I made my way down to the top edge of the meadow where I could look over the Valley floor and also see if Alf was approaching along the top of the meadow.
But it wasn't Alf that was singing, it was somebody down on the Latimer Road. Whoever it was came, riding his cycle, along the road singing Slim Whitman's 'Serenade' and he had a beautiful voice that rang up the Valley. From my vantage point up on the side of that Valley, I watched the man as he pedalled along the tree-lined road, singing the song as if, he too, thought it was a wonderful day and great to be alive. As he passed below, I started to sing along with him. He probably never heard me as he continued along the road towards Chenies, singing away to his hearts content. But, I'd shared a magic moment with someone who seemed to appreciate, just like I did, being alive on such a wonderful summer's day. That cyclist gave me another great memory to treasure. He vanished into the distance and the singing died away but, for a long time I just stood there and drank in the scene of the Chess Valley below. It was a marvellous area for us to wander through and I had such fond recollections of sunny days, sparkling waters, green meadows and thick, leafy trees. Who could have asked for more?
Finally, I had to tear myself away and go and find out what had become of Alf. It was evening before I caught up with him, only to discover that he'd been way-laid by some of our other friends and had decided to go for a ride with them. I wasn't worried, my day had been made by the singer on the cycle who seemed to have been enjoying the countryside so much. Alf told me that he and the others had found a place they had named 'The Lost Canyon' near the brickworks at Ley Hill (where we had borrowed the bricks from to use for our tent guy-ropes). He couldn't wait to show me the place so we decided to ride up there the next day.
It was another glorious day as we rode up to Ley Hill, hid our bikes behind a hedge and walked across a couple of fields. We reached a small wood where the ground suddenly fell away and, sure enough, there was, what looked like, a small canyon. Excitedly, we climbed down into the chasm and walked along until it divided like the letter 'Y' and the two extensions ended after about fifty metres. It was tiny as canyons go, but we thought it was great. I soon realised that it was only the abandoned diggings from where clay had been excavated to make bricks at the nearby brickworks. Nevertheless, it became one of our playgrounds. Feeling a bit like the old Western Cowboys, we ate our sandwich lunch then explored the area all around.
Over the next few months, we often went to The Lost Canyon. Instead of gunfights like the cowboys used to have, we would have mud-wars. The clay in the canyon was damp but not very sticky. We'd stick a lump of the clay to the top of a short piece of wood that was held in one hand. Then, we'd 'flick' it from over our shoulder, the lump of mud would fly off the stick and sail through the air for a fair distance. We became crack-shots with these 'mud-mortars'. We built a fort on the high bank in the middle of where the canyon split into two sections, and it gave us a commanding view of the whole canyon. It was a great game to split our group up and have one half defend the fort while the other half attacked from all around. It wasn't always easy to defend the fort for the attackers could climb nearby trees and rain mud down on the defenders. The trick was to keep the attackers down below at bay, and try and keep them away from the trees along the rim of the canyon as well. There were always a few injuries and bits of clay in eyes, but we were all young and hardy and we soon bounced back. It was easy to be hit by the mud-mortars when there were ten or fifteen boys in the battle.
Sometimes, we'd walk over to the brickworks and spend an hour or two throwing bits of broken bricks into the deep, blue pools of water that were scattered around the area. But The Lost Canyon was the main attraction. It was a great place to go for a real rough and tumble.
All too soon the summer holidays ended and it was time to start the new school down Quill Hall Lane.
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