With the full days and evenings of my short army career behind me, life became almost like a holiday. It was good to be able to relax and know that I wasn’t under pressure any more, although I’d probably added to that pressure by taking the army way of life too seriously. While my mates in our platoon went out in the evenings and enjoyed themselves, I had stayed back and worked hard to try and be perfect. But, although I never saw any of those lads again, they had probably all passed-out and gone on to their regiments with no problems. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of all the lads concerned with that platoon, and the experience, so it was well worth it. It was almost the end of winter, spring was just around the corner, and I had to ‘feel’ my way back into ‘civvy street’ once more.
At that time Carl Denver had ‘Wimoweh’ up in the charts, along with Pat Boone’s ‘Johnny Will’. The Shadows were there as well with ‘Wonderful Land’, and Carl Denver followed ‘Wimoweh’ with ‘Never Goodbye’. Also up in the charts at that time was ‘The Theme From Z Cars’ by Johnny Keating. This was the title music from a television series about police and their work around the Southport area. It was a big hit, and one of the episodes was actually filmed around the school in Raans Road that Val and I had once attended.
Just before I had finally come home from Honiton, Mum had bought a nice little car. It was an Austin ‘A 40. Devon’ and she told me that I could use it within reason. Now that I was free from the bonds of army life, I was determined to get a job to pay for my keep and some petrol for the car.
I didn’t look around too much. Just up the Oxford Road a bit was the Co-op milk factory and I managed to get a job washing milk bottles there. It was mostly a morning job as, when the quota of bottles were washed, I could go home. That suited me as a start until I could get settled in again and find something better.
Mum had taken in a few new boarders while I’d been away and one of them, a lad named Joe, decided to take me under his wing. He told Mum that he was going to teach me the ‘facts of life’. Mum wasn’t very happy with this statement, but nevertheless, I thought that I needed a new friend and he seemed a good chap. Joe told me that he was ‘good with the girls’ and, under his guidance, my shyness with most girls would soon be gone as I gained confidence. Well, I didn’t really think that I was all that shy with girls, but I did need a mate.
Off we went one evening, down to the ‘Witch’s Cauldron’, a cellar club in Duke Street. As we paid the small entrance fee and went down the stairs into the brightly-lit room, I could hear music coming from somewhere towards the back wall and the chatter of friendly voices. I liked the atmosphere of this club straight away, although at that time, I hadn’t gone out of my way to frequent such places.
The ‘W C’ (as we called the Witch’s Cauldron) was a cellar club for young people who wanted somewhere to go other than to pubs or dance halls. The cellar room was quite large, with a coffee counter along one wall and a juke box over in the back corner. There were seats all around the remaining walls, and a couple of tables in the corner opposite the juke box. The middle of the floor was reserved for anyone who felt like dancing. This club was run by a very pleasant, short, fair-haired lad who always seemed to be pleased to see youngsters enjoying themselves. It was a members-only club and no trouble-makers were allowed in
As Joe and I walked across the room, he was saying hello to girls on all sides. He seemed to be very popular and I tried to keep in his shadow as we found a seat and he introduced me all around. I was very conscious that my hair was still quite short, due to the army regulation haircut. I had felt a bit out of place at first.
But they were genuine young folk down in that club, not false like some people are after a few drinks but strictly themselves. I soon settled in with them as I listened to their chatter while the juke box played the latest hits and it wasn’t long before I was one of that happy group of youngsters.
Meanwhile, I packed in the bottle washing job and got a job with one of the local family businesses, C. & G. Ayres, who had a large furniture storage warehouse and lorry yard in Friar Street. Their bright green lorries were kept busy moving furniture, general haulage, and coal around the country, and many Reading lorry drivers gained their experience while working for that company.
As well as the furniture removal, general haulage, and coal sections, that firm also had the local railway parcels delivery contract. The parcels arrived by train at a platform on the north side of Reading General Station, and were sorted out on that platform, which also served as a loading dock. On the northern edge of the platform was a cobble-stoned area running down the length, and about four feet lower than the top, of that platform. This was the lorry loading dock where the parcels were put onto trailers for delivery around the town.
The little prime movers (we called them ‘tractors’ in those days) that hauled those trailers were three-wheeled Scammel ‘Mechanical Horses’ with the old Scammel-type couplings. The trailers were only about fifteen feet long so couldn’t carry much of a load. The driver would pick up a loaded trailer, deliver the parcels to businesses and houses around the town, park the trailer back at the dock for reloading, pick up another loaded trailer, and so on until it was home-time. All day there would be a procession of C. & G. Ayres’ Scammells going in and out of the goods yard, and the little green articulated vehicles (Artics) were well known around the Reading town area.
I became the driver of one of these little Scammells, and at first that small lorry felt very wide and high. Apart from a bit of upholstery on the seat, there were no trimmings inside the cab. Everything was all hard, cold metal that rattled and screeched even while driving over the smallest of bumps in the road. The engine cover beside the driver didn’t even start to cut down the noise of the engine, the whining gearbox, and the banging of worn couplings. The driver’s seat was placed over towards the engine bonnet and I personally had to stand up and lean over to the right to give a decent hand signal out of the window (there were no flashing indicators in those days). Just as bad was the fact that the seat was very low, causing me to have to stand up when I wanted to get a better view out of the windscreen. The position of that seat probably helped to create the feeling that the little lorry was very big and wide. It was like sitting in a large barrel and just being able to see over the brim.
But those Scammells were tough little machines and took a real bashing from the lads who drove them. I had to get used to the problems of driving an ‘articulated’ vehicle, and a couple of days after I joined the company I had my first lesson.
It had been raining, the cobble-stones in the railway goods yard were very wet as I picked up a loaded trailer and headed towards the George Street exit. I began to slow down as I approached the weighbridge (loads were weighed in and out of the yard). I only touched the foot-brake, but that was enough on that wet cobbled surface. Before I knew what had happened, the world suddenly spun around me as the little trailer ‘jack-knifed’ and pulled the cab around as the weight of the load took over. The next thing I knew was that I was sliding backwards, completely out of control. Through my inexperience at the time, I froze in that cab with my foot hard down on the brake and clutch pedals (experienced artic (semi) drivers will laugh at this!) as the vehicle skidded, trailer first, towards the weighbridge and the shed beside it. All I could do was brace myself and hope that the weighbridge operator would see me coming and get out of the shed before trailer and load demolished it. I couldn’t warn him as my horn wasn’t working (Murphy’s law?).
It all happened very quickly. One second I was driving happily towards the weighbridge, the next I was expecting to hear the scream of the operator as he was crushed to death when the trailer smashed into the shed. But his time hadn’t come yet, fate steered the runaway lorry and saved us both from a nasty situation with, what I called at the time, a minor miracle.
The vehicle finally slowed and juddered to a halt. Feeling thankful that there had been no crunching bang from the rear of the trailer, I very shakily climbed out of the cab. As I looked along the side of the trailer, my eyes nearly popped out of my head in extreme amazement. The lorry had come to rest on the weighbridge in exactly the same spot as if I’d driven it on for weighing from the other direction. What’s more, I don’t think that the operator had even noticed my backward flight onto the steel platform, for he asked me if I’d forgotten to weigh the load and had come back into the yard to put things right. To save any complicated explanations (and, probably my dignity), I nodded and was soon on my way again, feeling very thankful and driving a lot more carefully.
As the summer approached and the weather warmed up, I gradually got used to being my own boss again after the experience of just being a number in my short army spell. I didn’t wander far from home at that time, except to go down to the cellar club most evenings and weekends. I was fairly happy living in the twilight-zone type atmosphere of the place and wallowed in the friendship that I found there. Coffees, cigarettes, and even a person’s last shilling were shared with those less fortunate down in that club and I very rarely saw any nastiness. The girls were always eager for a dance and we would dance away to such new releases as ‘Nut Rocker’ by Bee Bumble and the Stingers, ‘Love letters’ by Ketty Lester, ‘Come Outside’ by Mike Sarne, and ‘Ginny Come Lately’ by Brian Hyland. We’d all sing these songs as we danced and our frustrated teenage emotions would be dissolved as we put everything into our warbling voices.
With the help of all that friendship (and my hair growing back to normal) my confidence soared, I became one of the regular and popular persons myself, and it wasn’t long before I was dating some of the lovely young ladies that I met there.
Shirley (not her real name) was the first girl that I took out from that club. She was also the only one that would cause me any real problems, except for another young lady that will come into the story later. Shirley was an excitable young girl who enjoyed life to the full and loved to go crazy while she did the Jive. But, she was also an old friend of Crystal and had known me while I was going out with her. I was still in love with Crystal, and it seemed that Shirley was trying very hard to help me get over that love. Little did I know that Shirley was going back to Crystal and bragging about everything we did. It was fortunate that Crystal had another boyfriend by that time and she wasn’t overly worried.
Very often, a gang of us boys and girls would meet down the town and go to a cafe or for a walk along the river before the club opened. Sometimes we’d go somewhere different in the evening and I recall a beautiful trip that we all did on a barge up the River Kennet. It was a glorious evening and the narrow boat chugged along through the green countryside as we danced away on the deck or drank coffee. As the sun set and we headed back down-stream through the warm, darkening night, we sang and laughed until our throats were sore and our sides were aching.
As I regained my independence, Joe and I gradually drifted apart. His popularity, I discovered, was mostly in his own mind and, although he was friendly enough, not all that many people liked him. I began to avoid him and sometimes even had to sneak out of the back door so that I could meet the group on my own now and again. I knew that he wasn’t very happy about it, although I hadn’t been the one that had started the discontent which the group then felt toward him. But, if I’d had any guilt feelings about what was happening between Joe and the group, they were soon dispelled (as far as I was concerned) when Shirley and I broke up.
Through a chance meeting with Debbie (Crystal’s friend) I learned of how Shirley was gossiping about our friendship to Crystal, Debbie, and other friends of ours. Debbie said that it was almost as if Shirley was bragging in front of Crystal. I discovered that some of the tales were entirely untrue and I wasn’t very happy about Shirley’s thoughtlessness and tact.
I wanted to try and forget Crystal and I suspect that Crystal wanted to forget about me. I thought that Shirley would respect both our wishes and it seemed like that until I met Debbie that day. Feeling very angry, I confronted Shirley about what I’d been told and, after an exchange of words, I told her that I didn’t want to go out with her any more. That was the end of the incident as far as I was concerned.
But Shirley obviously didn’t like being 'dropped', and over the next couple of nights she tried hard to get us back together again. I tried just as hard not to get involved any further with her. Then she decided to bring Joe into the picture, probably knowing that there were already mutual jealousies and dislikes surfacing between Joe and I.
A few evenings after the break up with Shirley, Joe called me outside and delivered an ultimatum. He told me that, if I didn’t want to go out with her anymore, then she had promised him a wild night where he could do all the things to her that I hadn’t done. He started to tell me about some of the things they had planned to do together, until I cut him short. Straight away I couldn’t believe that Shirley would have stooped so low to try and get her own way, and I was turned off by the very thought. I knew that Joe wouldn’t have said such a thing without her backing and I suddenly felt nothing but contempt for them both. I told Joe that he could do what he liked with her for all I cared. With real venom in my voice, I went on to tell him that I thought he was making a proper fool of himself as she was probably only using him to get back at me. He didn’t like that and, once again, I found myself in the situation where I expected to get a hiding from a larger person than I was. But, I was angry and wouldn’t have backed down if he’d been twice my size, I’m sure.
We stood on the pavement blazing hatred at each other (by then we’d walked across the Oxford Road and into Russell Street). Joe’s eyes bored into mine and my eyes bored back into his. I don’t know how long we stared at one another like it but, all at once his eyes dropped and he stormed off, shouting about how he would have the last laugh, and throwing in a few curses for good measure. Feeling the need for a bit of decent company, I took off down to the club where I was left alone to enjoy my other friends and a few dances. I don’t know if Shirley and Joe got together for their evening of fun (and I didn't care), but things were about to come to a head between Joe and I that very night.
Still a bit upset and shocked about the incident, I wandered home, said goodnight to Mum and John (who were still up watching the tele in the front room, which was down in the basement) and made my way up to my bedroom where I settled into bed. I’d got into the habit of having a read before I turned out the light and went to sleep. This habit may have saved me from a nasty situation when Joe and another chap, that I’d never seen before, suddenly burst into my room wielding knives.
As usual, I had been laying naked in bed, and that night, confronted the two knife-wielding fools, I jumped up on my bed without a stitch on, under the full glare of my bedroom light. I was instantly like an enraged bull at the very thought that they’d dared to come into my room and threaten me in such a manner. As they hesitated just inside the door, I looked down at Joe and hissed at him to come and do his worst. I then promised him that, if I got hold of a knife, I’d inflict more damage than I received, even if it took the rest of my life. They were about to cut me to shreds, but all I could think of was getting my revenge on Joe after. The thought never even crossed my mind that I might have been fatally wounded by the two thugs. I had passed all reasoning as I advanced down towards the bottom of my bed, urging the fools to come and get me, and trying to keep balanced as I felt my feet sink into the springy mattress. I can imagine (and laugh heartily about) the sight now, although it wasn’t very funny to me at the time.
But Joe’s mate thought it was funny. His eyes nearly popped out of his head at the spectacle of me advancing naked down the bed towards them. He suddenly cracked up in a fit of laughter (no wonder I’ve never been into a nudist camp!), his knife dropped out of sight as he doubled up with uncontrolled mirth and I quickly turned my attention to Joe. With an undecided look on his face, Joe was looking from his mate to me and back. I was almost upon him when he turned around and raced back down the stairs, followed by his laughing friend.
In a flash I had my trousers on and was chasing down the stairs after them. I hadn’t heard the main front door open and shut so I knew that they had carried on down to the kitchen or the front room, which were both down in the basement. An outside door led from the kitchen, up steps to the back garden, and a similar door led from the front room, up steps to the front garden and out into the Oxford Road. So, they could have gone out of either of those doors and vanished into the night. I suspected that they had gone out of the kitchen door as I could plainly hear the television and guessed that Mum and John were still in the front room watching it. I slowed down as I left the main hall and advanced down the last flight of stairs towards the basement. Concentrating more on looking into the kitchen, I flicked a quick look through into the front room. Even as my eyes were moving back towards the kitchen, the scene in the front room was photographed in my memory.
Mum was in the armchair nearest to me and John was on the sofa next to her. Both had their backs to me. Joe’s mate was sitting beside John, and Joe was sitting in an armchair over by the front door. Due to the boarders going in and out of the front room, Mum and John hadn’t taken much notice of Joe and his friend as they walked in and sat down. Being one of the boarders, Joe was allowed to have a friend in for the evening just the same as all the other boarders were. It was good for business, as the friends sometimes became boarders themselves when they saw the relaxed atmosphere that we all lived in, and there was plenty of room in that big four storey house.
As I stood in the passage just outside the door, I saw Joe turn and look my way. My fury mounted as he gave me a smug look. Mum and John didn’t realise what was going on, or that I was standing in the doorway behind them. Not wishing to cause any more upsets in front of them, I went back up to my room, after a silent taunt at Joe, and waited for the next charge (which I expected after Mum and John had gone to bed).
I waited behind the bedroom door. My plan was to let Joe get into the room, slam the door into his mate’s face, put a couple of hard fists into Joe’s head, and hope that he’d go down before his mate got back into the fight. I’d pushed the bed clothes up so that it would look as if I was back in bed, turned off the light, and had hoped that any light from the landing would do the rest as Joe slowly opened the door and peeped in to see if I was asleep.
But I waited in vain. I heard Mum and John tidying up and going to bed, then the house fell silent save for the occasional roar of traffic from the Oxford Road out front. I stood behind that door for what seemed to be hours, listening for the slightest sound from out on the landing, but I heard nothing. Finally, I decided to go and look around.
I fully expected those thugs to be waiting somewhere in the house for me but, after checking the front room, kitchen, and Joe’s room, I found that they had gone. I knew that it would be no good going out to look for them and that I might just as well go back up to my room to snatch a bit of sleep. But first I needed an alarm in case they came back in the early hours. From the kitchen I took a few empty tin cans, found a piece of string, and grabbed a knife.
Back up in my room once more, I tied the tin cans together, stuck the blade of the knife into the gap between the top of the door and the door frame, and hung the tin cans from the handle of the knife. I’d read about this form of ‘alarm’ in a book once. As the door was opened, the knife dropped out and the tin cans fell to the floor with a clatter. Feeling a bit safer, I left the bed clothes humped up as if I was still there, and went to sleep on the floor in the corner beside the door. I was still going to try and get Joe in the room on his own, so I’d be right behind the door if he came in and the tin cans woke me.
The sun was up when I did awaken after a fitful sleep on the floor. The tins were still in place and, after removing them, I raced to Joe’s room with the idea of waking him so that we could sort the matter out. But his bed was empty and his clothes had gone.
I never saw Joe again after that incident although I fixed the ‘alarm’ up on my door for quite a few nights just in case. I heard a rumour that he was going out with Shirley, but it proved to be untrue.
As for Shirley herself, I’d see her once more, treat her very coldly, and we’d both go our own separate ways.
The summer was barely upon us when, about a week after this incident with Joe, I was surprised to see Alf standing at our door dressed in an army uniform. He'd tracked me down after going to the old house, finding I wasn't living there any more, and getting my new address from Brian. That was the first knowledge I'd had of Alf having also joined the army, and at the time he was on a genuine leave pass.
But the army life hadn’t suited Alf either. As we roamed around Reading that evening, him in his army uniform and myself in civilian clothes, he kept indicating how lucky I was to be out of the forces. I recall mentioning how I'd recognised that army life hadn't been my 'cup of tea', so I'd got out while I'd had the chance. But apparently Alf wasn't able to get out so easily - I can't recall if he didn't have the money, or if he had already finished his training (which would have then cost him 250 pounds to buy himself out!). After a couple of days Alf took off back home, leaving me with a longing to go over and visit my old haunts in Amersham again.
Deciding that I needed a holiday anyway (but not being entitled to one at my workplace yet) I quit the job a few days later and set out on the road for Amersham. After searching around for a few old friends (things were beginning to change by that time as some of my old friends were 'flying the coop'!) I discovered, through one of the lads that had shot at me those few years earlier, that Alf hadn't gone back to his army unit and was in hiding down near Chesham. With promises not to tell anybody where he was, the address was given to me and soon I was excitedly asking Alf what was going on.
As mentioned previously, Alf hadn’t been able to buy himself out of the army - So he’d deserted. When I arrived on the doorstep of his 'hideout home' he was already on the run. I was amazed to see that he had dyed his hair and was sporting a large moustache. With his round face, he looked like a typical Mexican bandit. Naturally, there was no way I'd felt that he shouldn't have done such a thing (it was quite exciting to me really) and soon we were making all sorts of plans together so that he could earn a living and continue to evade being captured by the army. How long we expected to do that was never thought about at the time!
Mum hadn’t allowed me to take the Austin (our car). I’d hitch hiked across to Amersham, but Alf said that he had some transport. In the garden of the house where he was living (he couldn’t stay at his own home for fear of being caught) was an old blue Ford Poplar van. He told me that he was looking for a driver for the van as he’d built up a small business selling pre-packed potatoes around housing estates. The van had a faulty clutch but I crunched it into gear and we shot off for a ride.
I spent a week or so with Alf, helping him to sell his potatoes and struggling with the gears of that old van. Ray Charles had a song up in the charts called ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and we sang this song at the tops of our voices as we raced around the countryside. Also up in the charts at that time were Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’, and Bobby Vee’s ‘Sharing You’.
Alf was really keen on fishing at that time and a nice trout or two did wonders for his diet. Most evenings we’d drive out to Little Missenden, drop baited lines into a private stretch of the River Misbourne, and go to the local pub for an hour. Then we’d sneak back to our illegal lines, pull them in and race off with our catch. We cast three lines each and all of us caught at least two trout each evening I went on these poaching trips.
A bit farther along the road towards Aylesbury was a place called Deep Mill. The road passes under the Metropolitan Railway line at this point and beside the railway line is a beautiful little lake. Like a lot of the good fishing waters in that area, this lake was in private grounds and well stocked with trout. Alf and a couple of other mates crept up to the lake’s edge one evening and did a bit of spinning just to see if there was anything worth eating there.
They’d only been there a few minutes when Alf caught an enormous Rainbow Trout. This fish put up a devil of a fight before Alf had to struggle through the reeds to land it. They all rushed back home with the great fish and, when it was weighed, they realised that it was a record weight for a Rainbow Trout.
The ‘News of the World’ newspaper was running a competition at that time where very expensive fishing gear was being given away each week to anyone who caught a record-sized fish. Someone suggested that Alf should write up and claim that week’s prize. Full of excitement, he began to write a letter to the newspaper while somebody else arranged to get a camera and film. Alf as good as had that new fishing gear in his hands, then, in one fell swoop, he saw the prize go out of the window.
He was writing a brief outline of how and where he had
caught the monster when it suddenly dawned on him that he
couldn’t let on where he’d fished as it had been on
private land and he’d been poaching. He had to content
himself with having his photograph taken while holding the fish,
before it was finally cut up and eaten.
I didn’t see the fish, but I did see the photograph. In the picture Alf looked as if he was struggling to hold up the huge fish - and it was a real beauty!!
Was this another case of 'the one that got away'? I don't think so, the fish that Alf struggled to hold up was a huge brute!!
We took one evening off from fishing to go up to London. It was then that I discovered that the dear old steam trains had been replaced by new electric trains, and that the lines had been electrified as far as Amersham. Never again would I ride the grubby steam trains from Amersham to Rickmansworth and watch the change over from steam loco to electric. A piece of my young life had gone and I didn’t even realise it at the time, I was too busy exploring the modern A6O stock where we could walk the whole length of the carriage rather than being stuck in single compartments. The trains were similar to the red underground trains, but the outside bodywork was an unpainted aluminium. We called these trains ‘Silver Ghosts’ and their unpainted finish made them look very modern.
Little did I know that, over the next four or five years, steam trains would virtually vanish on Britain’s main lines, and diesel and electric would take over. Due to a new interest in life, I’d miss the change and a chance to say goodbye to steam. The diesel era would be upon me and I’d begin to feel the pangs of, what was to become known as, ‘steam nostalgia’, before I'd realise the fact. Lucky for me, due to the hard work of many others who ‘saw the light’, I would be able to capture some of those old steam memories through Preservation Societies, steam films, videos and books. Meanwhile, on that evening during the summer of 1962 and blissfully unaware of the great change, Alf, Mick, myself and a couple of other friends headed up to London on the ‘Silver Ghosts’.
It was the usual ‘lark-about’ trip. Straight to the Soho district, look into the entrance of ‘The Cafe De Paris’, Ogle at the pictures outside of ‘The Windmill Theatre’, have a meal at ‘Leon’s’ (I loved his spaghetti bolognese), go to the ‘Newsreels’ for half an hour then walk around Piccadilly before heading off home. There was always plenty to do up in London.
The ‘Newsreels’ at Piccadilly deserve a mention as they became another part of a good night up in London. I seem to recall that we could cross the busy intersection (the statue of Eros was in the middle of this intersection) via subways and these subways joined up with the Piccadilly Underground station. I feel that there were a couple of these Newsreels in the Piccadilly area and, as they were below ground, we had to go down the subways to enter them.
Those Newsreels were like small cinemas and we could go into them any time we liked as the show was continual. I think that originally the Newsreels were for broadcasting the news in the days when the television wasn’t in every Londoner’s home (there used to be a news section in the ordinary cinemas as well when I was younger). The show was usually made up of a couple of cartoons, maybe a Laurel and Hardy or Charley Chaplin film, and a few other bits and pieces. Then we’d sit through the latest news, just a film clip on each subject with the voice of the commentator blaring excitedly from the speakers, then the whole show would begin again. I believe that the programme was changed weekly and it was the kind of place where you could take your family or friends for an hour of laughs to help make an evening up in London more full.
In the hustle and bustle of London trips over the next few years, I often went to the Newsreels as part of the entertainment offered by that city. But, in the very early 1970’s I went to one for the last time to find that the happy atmosphere had gone and the films had changed to seedy ‘B rated’ sex movies. That would be the end of the Newsreels, leaving me with more memories of something else that was gone forever.
Finally, after that short ‘holiday’ in 1962, I decided to return home. Although the fishing trips with Alf had mostly been illegal, I had enjoyed the ‘sport’ and was keen to try my luck in the rivers around the Reading area. I’d already fished in the River Thames and the River Kennet, but it had only been a half-hearted attempt as something different to do when we had first moved to the town. Now I wanted to buy the right gear and learn how to fish properly. I had wondered if fishing was the ‘something’ in life that I was looking for.
On the following Monday, I managed to get another driving job. This time I drove a delivery van for a shop called ‘Canning’s’ up the Shinfield Road. It was a pleasant job and I soon got to know the staff as they were a very friendly group. I particularly remember Nora and Greta, two of the shop assistants, and Terry the Butcher.
As I caught the Shinfield Road bus from the town up to the shop on my first day, I watched a lovely little blonde walk past and sit in a seat just in front of mine. She was a real ‘corker’ and I couldn’t take my eyes off her flowing blonde hair. She got off the bus at the same stop as I did and my eyes followed her as she walked across to Canning’s shop, I was thinking that I’d really like to meet this young lady. As I walked through the shop doorway, I could see her standing at the counter and I resolved that, if she was a regular customer, I would make it my business to get to know her. The manager spied me, called me over to where he was standing with the blonde girl and I was surprised when she and myself were introduced to the rest of the shop staff. It turned out that the young blonde had also started work at the shop that morning.
The young lady and I had two things in common that helped me in my quest to date her. The first was the fact that we were both strangers to the other shop assistants and this brought us together a bit (although the others had made us welcome and soon had us feeling at home). The second was that she came from Somerset. Having lived in Somerset myself, I could relate to some of the places she’d been to in that county and understand her broad Somerset accent. On top of that was my determination to date her and, having used all the charm I could muster, it wasn’t long before she was my girl.
Meanwhile, I was still keen to go fishing and I soon had some good fishing tackle, a few pointers from my mates, and had learned of a couple of ‘good spots’ along the River Thames. My new girlfriend wasn’t allowed out every night so I had plenty of time to pursue this new pastime. For a while my life took a turn for the better as I settled down a bit with this new diversion.
Even so, I still found time to spend a few evenings a week down at the club, where my new girlfriend was soon accepted as one of the group. The name had been changed from the ‘Witch’s Cauldron’ to ‘The Casablanca’. We called it ‘The Caz’. But it still had the friendly atmosphere of a place where young people met to share their happiness, sorrows, and loves. It was a very ‘clean’ place and no alcohol or brawling was allowed. The taking of drugs was unheard of by any of us in those days, so we didn’t have that sort of problem. Most of us smoked cigarettes, but very few of us bothered with alcohol. On the occasional times that I went to a pub, I’d just have a glass of Coke or lemonade. Alf and Mick were my only friends that liked a beer at that time and I never saw them have more than a couple of pints in an evening. I suppose that we didn’t need drugs or alcohol to help us struggle through our teens. But then, to be truthful, if drugs had been as available to us as they are in the 1990’s, then we may have probably dabbled in them as the youngsters seem to do now.
On some of the weekends I started going fishing, first along the Thames and Kennet then farther afield. My favourite place for this sport was Cookham Weir. Alf had told me about a fish called a ‘Barbel’ (a fish similar to a Catfish) that he’d caught there and I fell in love with the spot on my first weekend trip to that weir. In the next few paragraphs, I shall relate the story of my first trip to Cookham Weir as an example of the glorious weekends I spent there through the middle of that summer.
It was a beautiful summer’s Friday evening when I caught the train to Maidenhead with my fishing gear, a blanket, worms and maggots for bait, a loaf of bread, and a lump of cheese (also for bait but doubling up as food for myself).
At Maidenhead, I caught the little steam train along to Cookham station where I got off, walked along a short street, crossed over a river bridge, carried on over some pleasant parkland (it was I think, an island) and arrived at the weir. The water was deep and slow above the weir but, below, the water tumbled in turbulent waves before settling down again to wind away between high wooded hills on the left and low water meadows on the right. A small slow flowing stream, with green trees overhanging its banks, joined the main river on the right just below the weir. On a piece of ground between this stream and the weir was a long park bench and that became my bed. I fished (without catching anything) until it was too dark to see. Then I rolled up in my blanket, using my coat as a pillow, and slept until dawn.
The dawns at Cookham that summer were always a beautiful sight. I awoke to the roar of the weir and sat up to see the golden glow of the sun just touching the tops of the trees on the high slopes across the river. The water was a cold looking blue and silver with, here and there, a golden cloud of midges moving and pulsating up in the air. It was one of my delights to sit and watch those dawns unfold as I ate a breakfast of bread and cheese.
The next two days were spent fishing for Barbel in the weir or Chubb under the trees in the slow flowing stream. Then I packed up and caught the two trains back home with a feeling of contentment and ready to face another week of work and evenings at the Caz.
Occasionally I’d try something different for a change. I had a go at night fishing along the Thames and around the beautiful village of Sonning. Twice I went over to the Rickmansworth Aquadrome for the week-end, but, as Mum wouldn’t allow me to use the car on these weekend trips, it meant that I had to catch a train up to London’s Paddington station, ride the Underground over to Baker’s Street station, then get another train on to Rickmansworth. It used to take a long time to journey there and back, although I did enjoy the train rides.
One thing that I did do on the first fishing trip to the Aquadrome was to purposely swim out across the weeds where the unfortunate man had drowned all those years before. I suppose that, in a way I was testing myself. From the little beach, I did a half-circle out across the weedy area and returned back to the shore feeling very triumphant and content.
During this time I had a terrible craving for very thick custard. Mum tolerated that craving of mine and there was always plenty of milk, custard, and sugar in the cupboard. As soon as I arrived home, she’d get the ingredients out and leave me to it. I wouldn’t let her make it as I thought she made it too thin and runny. I still had plenty of room for my other meals. It’s a wonder that I didn’t stack on the weight. But during that time, and indeed, over the years, I’ve stayed at a pretty constant weight of ten stone, seven pounds.
Meanwhile, the music world was still churning out some good hits. Bernard Cribbins had released ‘Right Said Fred’, and Tony Newley was doing well with a song called ‘That Noise’. Both these songs were funny, we were soon singing them and getting a laugh as we picked on the lines that were our favourites. On the more serious side, Elvis had ‘She’s not You’ up in the charts, along with Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Pick a Bale of Cotton’, and Brian Hyland’s ‘Sealed with a Kiss’. Little did we know that ‘Sealed with a Kiss’ would be a hit number for another singer (who was not even born then) in the early nineties.
All those hits could be heard late at night on the wireless through ‘Radio Luxembourg’ on two-o-eight metres, medium wave. It was a hard station to listen to as there was always a lot of interference, and every couple of minutes the sound would fade to noisy static then gradually return until it happened a couple of minutes later. With straining ears clapped to our radio, I’d listen for the songs that I liked, and curse to myself each time the static drowned out the music. Not until ‘Radio Caroline’ (a station on a ship that broadcast pop-music from the North Sea) would there be a decent station for the youngsters other than the fading Radio Luxembourg. We could listen to the top twenty on, I believe, Sunday afternoons through one of the regular stations. But this wasn’t enough music for the youngsters in those days as far as we were all concerned. The juke box down the Caz helped a lot, although it was costly to keep the music going all the evening. I even knew of some evenings when none of us had any money to spare and the juke box stayed silent. On those nights we’d chat and joke while each of us nursed a half-cup of cold coffee. At least we were in the company of our friends and all in the same boat.
My last date with the little blonde girl was when I took her and four of her friends on a day trip by coach to Bognor by the sea. I’d asked her to go with me for the day, and she asked if she could bring a friend. I agreed and then she asked me if she could bring three more friends. Thinking that four friends was the same as one friend, I told her to round them up ready for the trip. With the five girls to pay for on the coach, around the fair and for food, it cost me a small fortune. The little blonde acted a bit stupid in front of her mates and that was the end of that.
As the weather cooled and autumn approached, I packed in my job once again and began a bad period of my life. A good job, the little blonde hanging from my arm, good friends at the club, and wonderful days beside rivers had not produced that satisfying feeling that I was looking for. I gradually slipped into a less than acceptable lifestyle.
Mum allowed me to use the car on weekday evenings and I took to sneaking over to see Alf and Mick. A cafe had been opened in Chesham’s Waterside Road called ‘The El Bevo’, and this had become the local hang-out for the youngsters in that area. Unlike the owner of the Caz, the chap who owned The El Bevo didn’t mind seeing a good brawl now and again. In fact, he encouraged them, and I saw, and was involved in, some real ‘humdingers’. On top of that was an ongoing rivalry between the customers of a cafe in High Wycombe and the El Bevo customers.
It was like the Medieval days when Kings brought their armies of knights to storm each others castles. The High Wycombe mob would arrive outside The El Bevo in an old works bus. Within seconds they’d smash the place up (and a few faces) then be gone into the dark night before anyone could form themselves into any kind of defensive group. Amid broken glass, cups, chairs and tables the owner of The El Bevo would rally his customers and plan the strike back. A few nights later, his customers would be carted over to High Wycombe in an old tipper lorry where short work was made of the rival’s cafe and anyone found there. The High Wycombe mob would retaliate a week or so later, and the Chesham boys would strike back, only to have it happen all over again. If I remember rightly, both places were finally closed down.
Just before I started going over to the cafe, the old Chesham Town Hall was burned to the ground. The shell of the building was bulldozed away, leaving a bare patch amongst the shops where the hall had stood. I was told who had done this senseless deed and how the fire had been started using materials such as a nail, a piece of string and a candle. Even though I was a young ‘yob’ myself at the time, I still couldn’t understand why someone would do such a thing as to burn an old building to the ground for their kicks.
Another useless and potentially dangerous act that I was told about was the pouring of paint all over the inside of telephone boxes. A lot of people couldn’t afford to have a telephone in the home at that time, and relied on public telephones to call up assistance during emergencies. It must have been very disheartening to have your house on fire and race off down to call the fire brigade, only to find that the telephone was out of order. Of course, it would be the same if you wanted a Doctor, the police, or an ambulance.
These, and other stupid acts were all instigated by the same person, who was old enough to know better. I wasn’t involved in them and wouldn’t have let myself go that far, but I did get mixed up in a bit of petty thievery at that time.
My up-bringing and nature had kept me fairly clear of a life where crime was involved. If I couldn’t afford something then I went without. I wasn’t rich and went without many things that I would have liked to own. But that was a part of normal living to me and most of my mates. Occasionally we’d be lured off the straight and narrow and I wasn’t any exception.
I arrived at the El Bevo one evening and it wasn’t long before eight of us lads, including Alf, were crushed in the Austin while I drove around the Chesham streets. Apart from the amount of passengers squashed into the car, everything else was performed legally as I never did broadsides, wheelies, or burnouts, I couldn’t afford such idiotic ‘luxuries’.
We were enjoying ourselves as we waved and shouted to the local girls, when I suddenly noticed that the petrol gauge was reading almost empty. Knowing that I had no money for any more fuel, and that I wouldn’t have enough to get back home, I was forced to ask my mates for some petrol money. With a laughing whoop of joy, the gang in the car told me not to worry as they’d have my tank full before I left for Reading.
With no more ado, they directed me around to one of the local car parks. The stealing of petrol must have been a regular occurrence for those lads. A large drum was located from the car park perimeter hedge, along with a length of hose and soon they were happily ‘milking’ a big posh car of its petrol.
But I wasn’t happy, I was terrified. Although the petrol was to help me get back home, I couldn’t stay there with the lads while they milked that car. In panic, I offered to go up to the car park entrance and keep watch, and I was very relieved when someone said that it was a good idea. Feeling a bit better about the situation (although not much better) I hurried away from the scene of the crime.
But I didn’t feel better for very long. I’d barely been lurking at the entrance for a couple of minutes when I spied a policeman riding his cycle along the dimly-lit street towards me (the police had plenty of foot- and cycle-patrols in those days). A shiver of despair ran up my spine and I dashed back to the group that were still gathered around the posh car. In absolute panic now, I hissed that the police were coming.
Much to my surprise, nobody else panicked. The hose was withdrawn from the posh car’s tank and put away in its hiding place under the hedge, the lid was screwed onto the drum, and the drum, to my sheer horror, was placed on the floor of my car with the lads squashed all around it. I felt wretched, but the lads calmly told me to drive out of the car park and head off up the road until they told me to stop.
I felt a bit better once I was out on the road, except for the few moments as we came up behind, and passed, the policeman (who had gone straight by the car park entrance). Then we were out on an open country road and I heaved a sigh of relief. After about three miles, the lads asked me to stop at the top of a short hill and reverse into a field entrance so that the stolen petrol could be transferred into my car’s petrol tank. Wanting to keep clear of the road and passing car head-lights, I backed about fifty yards up into the field. The lads were in no hurry, and they larked about in good spirits as they began to slowly fill the tank.
But again I was terrified at the thought of being caught at the scene of the crime, and once more I was given permission to go and keep watch. They must have thought that I was a real weakling, but I didn’t care, all I wanted to do was get out of that situation as quickly as possible. This time my fears were proven to be well founded.
As I went out into the dark road and looked down towards the bottom of the hill that we had just come up, I caught sight of a cycle headlamp weaving from side to side as someone struggled to pedal up the slope. Once again I raced in blind panic back to the lads and hissed that somebody was coming.
Within seconds the can had been thrown into the hedge that surrounded the field, the bonnet of the car was lifted, and a spark-plug lead was pulled off. When the light appeared through the entrance from the road, we were all gathered around with our heads under the bonnet. We couldn’t see into the engine compartment but we were pretending to feel around in the hope that we would find the problem that had caused the engine to ‘pack up’ on us.
The cycle lamp flickered out as the cyclist stopped by the entrance and I recall thinking to myself that the lamp was dynamo powered. Then the light was flickering dimly over towards us and I knew that the person was pushing the cycle our way. My car side-lights were on and, in the soft glare of them, I suddenly noticed a vertical row of shiny buttons flashing from the dark form that was approaching beside the flickering headlamp. With a jolt at my heart, I realised that the cyclist was a policeman. If it was the same policeman that we’d seen earlier, he must have pedalled like a maniac to be at that spot so quickly and I wondered if he suspected anything. There was the thick smell of petrol in the dark night air, and I could still hear the ‘glug, glug’ noise of the petrol pouring out of the can as it emptied itself over in the hedge. We were doomed and that was for sure.
The policeman reached us and asked what was going on. Alf told him that we’d reversed into the field to turn around, the engine had stopped, and we couldn’t start it again. I could see, by the light of the car side lamps, that the policeman was looking at each one of us in turn. But Alf wasn’t going to give him time to get suspicious and quickly asked the policeman if he could shine his cycle lamp onto the engine so that we could look for the fault. The policeman said that he couldn’t help us as he had a dynamo-powered lamp. I was amazed when Alf offered to turn the pedals if the policeman would lift the cycle up and direct the lamp beam down onto the engine. I was even more amazed when the policeman agreed to Alf’s suggestion.
With the policeman struggling to hold the heavy bike up while Alf turned the pedals like mad, I pretended to hunt for the problem and finally find that a spark-plug lead had come off. That policeman couldn’t have known much about cars (which wasn’t surprising, and lucky for us, as not many people could afford to own and run a car in those days) because the engine would have run on three cylinders, albeit a bit rough. He seemed satisfied and, as I started the engine, he waved and rode off into the darkness. With great relief I drove off in the opposite direction.
The lads were laughing and full of high spirits at the way
they’d fooled the policeman, but I wasn’t happy about
the whole affair.
Naturally, now that I'm a lot older and more mature, I can only feel sorry for that policeman who had made such efforts to get the 'stranded' lads out of trouble!
As I headed home that night, compliments of the anonymous donor’s petrol, I resolved not to go over to the El Bevo again unless I had more than enough fuel in my car. I kept to that resolve although that wasn’t the end of my ‘pilfering’ days.
I never went on the ‘dole’ or received any benefits at all. I earned a few bob here and there by doing odd jobs like window cleaning, tidying gardens, a bit of driving, and other such work. Mum and John kept on at me to get another regular job, but I didn’t bother to look to hard.
Then Alf moved over to stay at our place in Reading. It was great to have him on my ‘home ground’, we became a real pair of rebels and had lots of good fun together. That fun began the very first weekend when Alf was treated to one of the best laughs he’d ever had at my expense. Needless to say, although the laugh was on me, I went into fits of uncontrolled laughter as well, and this next story is one that I’ve related many times at good fun social gatherings.
Amid great happiness and excitement, Alf and I took off for a weekend down at Portsmouth and Southsea. On the Saturday we wandered mostly around Portsmouth, chatting up the girls in the cafes, and taking in the sights around the docks. Towards the late evening, we headed over to Southsea, and spent the night sleeping in the sand under the pier.
The next morning, we had a breakfast of hot dogs then
sauntered into the sea-front fair ground as soon as it opened. It
wasn’t long before we were riding the ‘Wild
Mouse’, ‘The Whip’, ‘The Dodgem
Cars’, and other such rides. Then we spied ‘The
This ride was a very large drum that spun around at a fast enough speed that the body was forced against the sides of the drum through centrifugal force. Once the speed was reached and the body was clamped to the wall like an iron filing to a magnet, the floor was lowered and the body was left hanging high and dry with quite a drop below. Alf and I decided to have a go on this ‘novel’ ride.
Full of young confidence, we climbed the outside stairs, paid our money, brushed aside the warning to watch the centre post if we felt a bit queasy, and entered the drum through a door high up on the drum’s side. With the floor in its raised position the ride didn’t look too frightening and we stood there with an air of expectancy as the door was closed from the outside.
Slowly the drum began to spin around while Alf and I stood inside with our hands in our pockets and an unconcerned look on our faces. A few faces peered over the rim of the drum where people were sitting in a viewing gallery placed around the top for that purpose. As the drum gathered speed, I felt my body being drawn towards the outer wall. My hands shot out of my pockets as I leaned over towards the centre pole to try and keep my balance. Suddenly I couldn’t resist the forces anymore and I staggered across to the wall as if I was drunk. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Alf doing the same. The sound of laughter was coming down from the viewing gallery above.
As my body gradually became used to that stuck-to-the-wall feeling, I started to look around. I could see the faces whirling up above the rim as they peered down at us and then I looked over at Alf, seeing him as a fly on the wall now that the floor had dropped away. Then it hit me, the floor had dropped away. With a bit of a shock, I looked down and the floor seemed a long way below. I was stuck to the wall like a fly as well and I didn’t feel at all safe. But the feeling didn’t last long and I was soon laughing with Alf and joking up at the whirling faces above.
All too quickly the machine started to slow down and things came into focus once more. The floor had risen back to its original position and, with a final jolt, the drum stopped rotating and the door was opened. Amid a hoot of laughter from above, Alf and I staggered over towards the door and climbed out. We were so off-balance that we could hardly manage to climb down the stairs. This brought more hoots of fun laughter from those that could see us from that side of the gallery.
Feeling very disorientated and queasy in the stomach, the pair of us wobbled and zigzagged off towards the fair ground exit. As we reached the gate, first Alf, then myself, fell against the perimeter fence and emptied our stomachs of the morning’s breakfast. Both of us were having very dizzy spells and our stomachs felt as if they were being torn to pieces. The sickly feelings persisted and we decided to call it a day and head off home earlier than we’d originally planned. Of course, if we hadn’t been so cocky we would have heeded the warning to look at the centre pole inside the drum. Apparently, looking at that pole helped to ward off any sick and dizzy feelings. Alf and I had gazed around at each other, the whirling faces above, and the spinning roof above them. We only had ourselves to blame for not listening to the instructions, and we were paying for it by feeling so sick.
But by the time we’d got back to Portsmouth and were on the train heading back to Guildford, then Reading (Mum hadn’t allowed me to use the car), we felt a lot better, and were ready for a good laugh again. That laugh wasn’t long in coming.
The train pulled into an fairly deserted station and stopped. As I idly looked out of the window at the opposite platform, I noticed two gorgeous young ladies come out of the booking office and walk towards the edge of the platform just near our compartment. With a nudge at Alf, I leaned out of the window, with Alf squashed in beside me, and tried to ‘chat’ the girls up before the train started moving again. Those young ladies joked back, asking us to get off the train and go with them for an afternoon by the sea. Without warning the train jolted into motion, and all I could think of doing was to shout out my telephone number in the hope that the girls would remember it and give us a ring so that we could arrange a future date. It was then that the incident happened that would have us laughing for weeks, and has caused many a good laugh as I’ve related the story over the years.
The train was just moving and I shouted the number past Alf’s face at the slowly receding girls. Suddenly my top denture plate came adrift, shot out of my mouth, and fell down onto the sleepers of the railway line between us and the two ladies.
For a second we were all too surprised to react. I saw both girls’ eyes nearly pop out of their sockets. My hand flashed over my half-empty mouth then I snatched a look down at the little white patch that were my teeth gradually fading into the distance. I felt Alf beginning to shake beside me as he went into one of the most uncontrolled fits of laughter that I’d ever known him to have. Another quick look at the two young ladies showed me that they could hardly stand as they collapsed into peals of shrill laughter. Then I was laying on the seat, holding my stomach and ribs as I fought for breath while I roared with laughter myself. Never mind that I’d just lost my top dentures in such a way, and that the laugh was on me.
With red, tear-stained faces, Alf and I kept looking at each other then going into a frenzy of more uncontrolled laughter as the train headed for the next station. This, to us, was a real funny situation and we just couldn’t help making the most of it. Probably it was what we needed after feeling so sick earlier on. We had no control over our urge to laugh and were still almost helpless when we got off the train at the next station and caught a train back to the scene of the incident. Even though I was laughing so much, I was hoping that the two young ladies would be gone before we got back there.
Upon arriving back at the station I made Alf wait until the train was just about to leave (just in case the girls saw us as they were getting aboard) before we jumped off. The girls had gone and, as the train vanished into the distance, we walked along the platform and finally spied my top dentures down between the rails. A call over to a porter soon had my teeth back in their rightful place after a good wash under a tap.
Although Alf and I were still laughing like mad, we collapsed anew when the porter, with a straight and serious face, asked me to sign a ‘lost property’ form for the dentures. He was joking of course, but the thought of it appealed to me and I agreed to sign his form. His face suddenly creased up and he threw his head back as he laughed heartily. In between our sobs of laughter, I explained how I had come to lose my teeth and the porter tried to write the story down on tear-sodden paper. No sooner had I signed the form when a train approached going the way that Alf and I wanted to go.
We all raced across to the other platform and the last time that I saw that porter was as he was trying to tell another porter, in between bouts of laughter, about the incident as we boarded the train to continue our journey. One last peep back at the station from the carriage window showed the second porter going into raptures of mirth, then Alf and I were left alone to nurse our painfully aching ribs and stomachs while we laughed again and again at the thought of my top teeth shooting out past Alf’s face, and the look on the young ladies faces.
Needless to say, we had no telephone call from those two lovely young ladies. But we didn’t really care, the laugh had been more than worth it.
I wasn’t one to normally drive around like a maniac with my foot hard down, but Alf didn’t think that the car engine had enough power. He suggested that we give it a ‘de-coke’ (as he called it) and so, during the next few days, and under Alf’s guidance, I did my first engine top-overhaul. He had already helped with a few of his other mates’ cars, but I’d never done such a thing before. Nevertheless, we did a good job and I was surprised when the engine started almost first time. From then on I became interested in tinkering with car engines. I’d never bothered before, but that first top-overhaul gave me a lot of confidence.
With the car back together and running again, Mum let me know that she was anxious for me to get a job. But, I still wasn’t keen and, instead of looking for work like we should have been, Alf and I would go off for rides then tell Mum that there was no work around. I recall one of those rides that has always stuck out in my memory, and gave us another great laugh.
It was a cool October day with low cloud and a scattering of rain now and again. Alf and I had gone up to London for a look around. I always found it very exciting and satisfying to drive along those busy London streets that had seemed so bewildering and complicated when I was younger. There was a quiet feeling of triumph and contentment that I was able to find myself around the West End of that city by then. I was happy to go up there at the slightest excuse or chance.
After a ride around Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, we headed back down towards London Airport (Heathrow). The Great West Road/Bath Road was a dual carriageway in those days and the M4 motorway was still only a short stretch around Maidenhead. We were in the outside lane as we passed through Feltham, and were overtaking a line of slower traffic. In this line of traffic was a large, shiny Rolls Royce and, as we came abreast of it, we could see that the back seats were occupied by three or four sombre-looking Arabs, complete with Eastern-type clothes and head-wear. They looked like they might have been Arab diplomats or some such similar dignitaries.
Alf could be very quick sometimes and, as he spied the Eastern gentleman in the back of the Rolls Royce, he jumped up and stuck half of his body out of the passenger window. With arms raised high, he bowed deeply and shouted, in an Arab-sounding voice, “Excuse pliz, Sahib? Pliz you tell me the way to the Labour Exchange, pliz Sahib?” The Arab gentlemen just looked at him and didn’t even bat an eyelid.
But, it was nearly the end of us. We were doing fifty miles an hour at the time (well over the speed limit of thirty miles an hour for that section of the road), there was plenty of traffic around, and quite a few intersections controlled by traffic lights to pass through. To see Alf half out of the passenger window and bowing deeply, his shoes slipping on the floor as he fought to keep balanced so that he wouldn’t fall out of the car completely, then to get absolutely no reaction for his dangerous stunt, was too much for me. I collapsed in helpless laughter and, within seconds I was half blinded by my tears of mirth, and doubled up as I fought for breath. The road and cars in front of me were just wavy shapes as I tried to look through my water-filled eyes and avoid having an accident. The more I tried to calm down, the worse I became. In the end, Alf had to lean over and grab the steering wheel out of my hands and steer us to safety. It had been a narrow squeak, but once I had control of myself again we roared on down the road with no more thought to the danger we had put ourselves, and others, in. We were young and carefree at the time.
To get money for these jaunts caused us to take on some part time jobs, but they never lasted long. The jobs were usually the type that nobody else wanted because they were very hard or low paid. But Alf and I weren’t afraid of a bit of hard work as long as we could get a couple of bob to help pay our way.
One job that we did was to dig a deep, long trench in thick clay for a sewer pipe. There was no room for a back-hoe to get into the area, so we had to use forks and shovels. One contractor had already started the job before giving up. It was very hard work but we finished the job within a week and, with a bit of a ‘thankyou’ bonus thrown in, we earned ten pounds for our labour.
Another hard trench-digging job that we did was in the Royal Ordnance Factory at Burghfield. Again it was a contract job and I recall that there were many security restrictions including not being able to take our sandwiches and cigarettes into the area where we were working.
The job lasted a week, and for most of that time I operated a pneumatic drill as the trench had to be dug right across a concrete apron. Due to the fact that we were surrounded by high-explosives magazines and dumps, we had to have a fireman, with an extinguisher in his hands, on stand-by with us all the time, in case a spark from the drill set anything (like the grass) alight. I well remember how I envied that fireman and his easy job as I operated that heavy drill with agonies in my back from lifting it out of each section of broken concrete and dragging it along to the next section to be smashed up.
That job was expected to take three weeks, but Alf and I worked like mad and finished it in one week. As there were no other jobs needed to be done at the time, we were paid off with the promise that we’d be the first to be called if anything else turned up that needed doing.
While working on these jobs, Alf and I were happy to share the hard work with the easy stints. None of us tried to be the boss. If a decision had to be made, we made it together and got on with it. Each of us knew the other’s temperament and we didn’t try to take advantage of each other. The money that we earned was split down the middle and shared between the two of us. Alf was as honest with me as I could have wished him to be, and I was the same with him. This was well demonstrated on one job that we had when I did most of the work, but Alf got the money.
We were contacted one afternoon and asked if we could help collect a car from a place called Queensferry, just across the River Mersey from Liverpool we were told (Queensferry is actually situated just west of Chester) and we would be paid ten pounds if we did the job. Ten pounds was a good wage for a day’s work at that time, so we agreed to do it.
But the chap who was hiring us only wanted me (as the driver), and he wanted me to leave that evening. I told him that I didn’t mind going that evening, but Alf and I were a team and we worked together on all jobs. I asked him if he’d mind Alf coming along as well and he agreed. I had thought to myself that, if Alf had shared the hard jobs with me, then he could share the easy ones as well and, although I would do most of the work, we’d still share the money as usual.
As the chap drove us north in his van, the late autumn night fog grew thicker and thicker and our speed gradually slowed down to a crawl. I was forced to lean out of the passenger window to try and see the roadside kerb at times and I recall that Chester was a nightmare of dim shadowy vehicles creeping around under the glare of yellow street lamps. Finally, in the middle of the night we reached Queensferry and collected the other car.
We began the long, slow trip towards home, with Alf in the car with me, and the chap in his van in front. But, by the time we’d reached Chester, the chap had taken Alf in the van with him so that Alf could lean out of his window and watch for the kerb like I had done on the way up. Alf earned his half of the money after all. Just as dawn was breaking, we arrived home feeling very tired and the man promised to bring our money around later that day.
But, the chap didn’t bring it around and, after a week of ringing him up to enquire when he was going to pay us, I gave up and wiped that night’s work off as a bad deal.
Three or four weeks later, when Alf and I were wondering where the next penny would come from (things on the work scene had gone a bit quiet), Alf came in one evening and asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema. I laughed at his joke until he handed me the ten pounds for the Queensferry job. He’d gone up to the chap’s house and got the money out of him because he didn’t think that it was fair for me to drive half way up the country and back for nothing. Alf could have kept the money, I wouldn’t have known any different. We went to the cinema, bought a packet of cigarettes each, and paid off a few bills.
When we were really short of money and dying for a smoke, we resorted to petty pilfering that consisted of creeping around the rear of a pub, pinching a heap of empty bottles, and taking them around to the front of the pub to get the money back on them. I didn’t really consider this as stealing at the time, more a bit of a lark. I’d never have dreamed of breaking into a house or robbing somebody on the street to try and get some money. We were never that desperate.
As well as going down the Caz we frequented other cafes in the area, the most notable in my memory being a cafe on the Wallingford/Didcot road where there was a large juke box with a great selection of pop music to listen to.
The ‘Telstar’ satellite had been launched in July of that year and a group named The Spotniks released an instrumental called ‘Telstar’ in its honour. This tune was well up in the charts. Little Eva was up in the charts with her version of ‘The Locomotion’, and Tommy Roe was doing well with ‘Sheila’. ‘Sun Arise’ by Rolf Harris had us all singing in a wavering nasal voice, and Marty Robbins’ ‘Devil Woman’ caused us to sing seriously again. To up the tempo a bit we had ‘It’ll Be Me’ by Cliff Richard, and Carol King released a nice, easy-flowing song called ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’.
Meanwhile, the world was holding its breath for it seemed that the two great super powers were on the brink of a nuclear war.
America, under President John Kennedy, had put a blockade of ships around the island of Cuba to stop the USSR from landing ships, loaded with missiles, on that island. Mr. Kruschev wanted to set up some missile bases on Cuba and Fidel Castro had agreed. But President Kennedy wasn’t having a missile base so close to the American mainland, hence the blockade. Finally, after a week or so of threats from both sides, the Russian ships turned for home with their cargoes still in the holds.
America and Russia were in the grip of what was called ‘The Cold War’ but, luckily for us all, each side kept its head, things settled down and the threat of a nuclear war receded a little.
While this world crisis was unfolding, Alf and I were enjoying a nice little ‘holiday’.
Alf had an Uncle living in the North Devon town of Bideford. This town is situated on one bank of the River Torridge, just before that river meets the River Taw and flows out to the sea. The resort of Westward Ho is only three miles away. On a previous visit to his Uncle’s home (his surname was Starkey), Alf had been impressed by the fishing boats moored along the river banks. He’d been told, at the time, that the town had a thriving fishing industry. With that impression in mind, Alf suggested that we could go down to Bideford and try to get work on one of those fishing boats.
Thoughts of stormy seas, yellow sou’ westers, and thousands of wriggling fish in the nets seemed quite exciting to me and I agreed to give it a go. We made our plans, quietly packed our cases, and were ready for the off almost, it seemed, within a couple of minutes from the first suggestion. Having very little money, we’d decided to try and hitch-hike down to Bideford.
I still wasn’t really happy at leaving Mum. Her face, when I used to tell her that I was going away for a few days, always made me feel very guilty. I took the easy way out this time and we crept out of the house, with our packed cases, very early in the morning.
By the early afternoon, we’d hitch-hiked as far as Taunton, in Somerset. But we were dropped off on the wrong side of the town. We decided that there was nothing for it but to walk right through the town and start hitch-hiking again when we were on the Barnstaple road.
All this time Alf had still been on the run as a deserter from the army. He’d changed his name and, being forced to carry all his worldly goods around with him, he had his army clothes hidden under his ordinary civilian clothes in the great suitcase that he lugged about. It must have been pure luck that saved Alf from being caught a few minutes after we’d been dropped off on the wrong side of Taunton.
Barely had we walked away from the spot when a police car stopped beside us and four or five policemen got out, demanding to know what we were doing. We explained that we were moving from Reading to Bideford in search of work. We were asked for our names and any identities. I produced my licence, Alf slipped up and gave his real name. Then we were split up, Alf being taken up the road about ten yards away, and each of us were asked to go into more detail of how we came to be there.
I was told to open my case and the policemen in my group searched it thoroughly. What they expected to find, I never knew. I glanced out of the corner of my eye and could see Alf’s case lying open on the pavement amongst the legs that stood around it. I had a doomed feeling that I’d be making my way home without Alf in a very short time.
All at once, the policemen were saying goodbye and getting into their car. They drove off, apparently satisfied that we didn’t have the crown jewels, or a case of stolen money, or whatever it was they’d been looking for. As I re-packed my case, Alf was laughing out loud. I asked him what he was laughing about and he explained that, although the policemen had gone right through my case, the three that were with him hadn’t even lifted the top layer of clothes in his. Of course, if they had, they would have found his army clothes and could have made an arrest. Giggling to ourselves at the narrow escape we’d just had, we lugged our heavy cases on through Taunton until we found the Barnstaple road. But the police hadn’t finished with us yet.
Barely had we reached the Barnstaple road and put our thumbs out, when there was a screech of tyres and the car load of policemen skidded to a halt beside us again. They shouted Alf’s name and quickly surrounded him. I groaned to myself and cursed Alf inwardly for giving his real name to those policemen. He’d asked me not to reveal his real name at any time, and now he’d been the one to slip up. Not only would I miss out on that great fishing boat job, I’d have the added torture of carrying my heavy case all the way back through Taunton.
One of the policemen looked at the form that he held in his hand and suddenly realised that it was my name written down, not Alf’s. The policemen surrounded me and Alf, the real ‘villain’, was abandoned. I thought that Mum had reported me gone and had got in touch with the police to get me back. But then, I dismissed the thought as, although Mum was always sad when I took off on my jaunts, I always went back on my own accord. So she would only have to sit and wait and I’d turn up like the proverbial ‘bad penny’. As the policeman stood in front of me and studied his form, I wondered what terrible deed I’d done, and all sorts of possibilities rushed through my head.
Of course, the only one that I could think of was the stealing of petrol from the Chesham car park. Had the theft been reported? Had the policeman that ‘helped’ us put two and two together and traced me through the car number? That form could be a warrant for my arrest. Then I thought about the empty bottles that we’d pinched from pubs so that we could re-sell them for a packet of cigarettes. Could I have been recognised and reported to the police? These thoughts raced through my mind as the policeman studied the form and glanced at me now and again, as if he was trying to stretch out my apprehensive misery and make me squirm. If that had been his plan, it worked well. I could see Alf laughing in the background, but I didn’t feel happy at all.
Finally, the policeman with the form drew himself up to his full height and asked me, in a deep, rough voice, if I’d ever been to the seaside resort of Blackpool. Surprised and wondering what was coming next, I answered that I had been there, but that I couldn’t remember anything about it. He looked at me knowingly and told me that I wouldn’t remember doing a ‘moonlight flit’ from a hotel up there and not paying my bill then? He said that he had my name, and that I answered the description that was on the form so he advised me to come clean.
At that point, I felt a lot better. The police didn’t want me for stealing petrol, pilfering empty bottles, or because Mum wanted me home. They’d mistaken me for someone else who had the same name as myself.
I explained to the policeman that, when I said that I couldn’t remember being in Blackpool it was because I’d only been about a year old, and I hadn’t been there since. At first he and the other policemen laughed, but in the end I managed to convince them. At last they drove off, leaving Alf and I laughing nervously but relieved. We were glad when a few minutes later we were given a lift and left Taunton and its policemen behind.
We spent a week with Alf’s Uncle in the beautiful town of Bideford. Sadly, the fishing trade had gone down hill and there was no work in that direction. Nevertheless, we had a lovely early winter’s holiday there and Alf’s Uncle kept us amused in the evenings by telling us some good stories of his war days and showing us the many metal puzzles that he’d invented as a hobby.
These puzzles were made of either bits of wire, wood, or large nails and they each came to pieces in some mysterious, but easy way. Most of the time Alf and I thought that the puzzles were impossible, but finally his Uncle would show us how to do them and the solution was always fairly simple.
Another thing that I recall Bideford for was the traditional run over the road bridge that crosses the River Torridge from the Bideford side to the East-The-Water and Barnstaple side. Alf’s Uncle had told us that, on a particular summer’s day a large crowd of runners would line up at the Bideford end of the bridge. On the first stroke of twelve noon from a clock-tower just behind them, the runners would race across the bridge, trying to reach the other side before the last stroke of twelve.
Alf and I were standing below the clock-tower at the first stroke of twelve noon the next day. We tried to imagine somebody racing across that long bridge before the twelfth stroke, but imagining and doing are two different things. We toyed with the idea of trying it at twelve midnight, when nobody was around to see us, but we never got around to it. Chances are that we would have failed miserably anyway.
Not being able to get any kind of work at all in the Bideford area, we decided head back to the greener pastures of Reading. At the end of a week we said our goodbyes to Alf’s Uncle and returned home. Our passage through Taunton was without any interruptions from the police and soon it was as if we’d never had the week at Bideford, apart from the memories.
The following weekend, Alf and I decided to go over to Amersham and bring Mick back to Reading for a couple of days. It was late by the time we left Amersham with Mick and, due to a terrible early-winter night’s storm, I had to drive very slowly in the Austin as there were a lot of branches blown down onto the roads. Somehow, we missed our road and became lost. The black, stormy night seemed even more eerie then, until the rain stopped and there was only the strong wind to remind us that we still had to drive carefully, just in case there were still some branches down on the road. Little did we know that one of those branches was waiting for us, a large one.
We were driving down a narrow lane with high banks on each side when, in the beams of my headlights there appeared a cottage at the bottom of a short hill, just back off the road and with half a dozen cars parked outside the front. As we passed the cottage, Alf suddenly shouted excitedly that he’d seen ‘something interesting’ and he wanted to go back and look closer at whatever it was.
At the first opportunity, I turned the car around and we slowly drove past the cottage again while Alf and Mick leaned out of their windows and looked at the cottage through the darkness. A couple of windows were lit up and there appeared to be a party in progress. We could hear the sound of music and laughter over the quiet purr of the Austin’s engine.
Alf wanted an even closer look and suggested that we park up the road and walk back down to the cottage. He wouldn’t tell me what he’d seen that had caused him so much excitement, but I would soon find out. I drove on until I was able to turn around again, and we quietly went back and stopped about fifty yards before the cottage was reached. With the lights off, we left the darkened car and walked down to where the cars were parked outside of that cottage. Then Alf went straight to a brand new, posh car and explained that he was going to take the seat belts if it was possible to get at them.
In sudden realisation of what we were doing there I groaned inwardly to myself as Alf tried the car door and found that it was unlocked. Even so, I’d never seen seat belts before that time and I leaned over Alf in the darkness to try and see what they looked like, and how they worked. I had just wanted to satisfy my curiosity then I was going whether my friends followed me or not. But, in my eagerness to have a quick look at the seat belts, I pushed Alf onto the horn button and nearly collapsed with pure fright as the horn sounded loudly.
In a mad panic, I took off up towards the Austin with Alf and Mick giggling at my heels. Fear lent wings to my feet as Alf hissed that somebody had come out of the cottage behind us. Over the noise of the roaring wind and our running feet, I imagined that I heard people shouting. I reached the car first and wrestled the door open. Then I realised, with sheer horror, that the car was facing down towards the cottage. I’d have to turn the car around in that narrow lane before we could get away, I didn’t dare drive towards the cottage with all those people coming up the road.
I already had the engine going as Alf and Nick scrambled in, and I threw the wheel over to try and do a three point turn. But, in that narrow lane, it took about five shunts to turn the car around, and I did it with no lights as Alf had suggested that I leave them off so that my number plate couldn’t be seen. Alf and Mick were shouting at me to hurry as they could see our pursuers running up towards us. The clouds had gone by this time and a bright moon was bathing the dark countryside in its silvery light. Down between those high banks, I could just make out the lightness of the road as I fought to turn the car.
It was a real ‘Laurel and Hardy’ affair. As I raced over to the right, my front right-hand mudguard crunched into the opposite bank. As I reversed and threw the wheel over, I slammed the rear of the car into the other bank. Alf shouted that the people were almost upon us, I was too scared to look. In blind panic, I shot forward and rammed the other bank. Then I reversed into the left bank again, demolishing the rear off-side mudguard. I was almost facing the way that I wanted to go. With the engine roaring like mad, I forced the wheel over hard and took off, determined to make it this time. The left side of the car scraped and crunched along the bank, then we were free and zigzagging up the road.
While all this was going on, Alf and Mick were having a thrilling time of it. The excitement of seeing me panic and crunch the car into those banks had made them laugh like a couple of maniacs. Through his gasps for breath, Alf managed to screech that there was a car following us, then he went off into peals of more laughter. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road so I had to believe him.
After about a hundred yards, I was forced to put my headlights on. It was either that or come to grief and be caught anyway. We were racing along just after turning the headlights on when, as we rounded a sharp bend, almost on two wheels, we suddenly saw the great branch that had fallen across the road.
There was no time to stop. With a spray of dead leaves and bits of twigs exploding up in front of the windscreen, the front wheels hit the main trunk of the branch and bounced over. The three of us were thrown up out of our seats and our heads crashed into the roof. My foot thumped back down onto the accelerator and we continued our forward rush. With another crashing bang, the rear wheels hit the big branch and, once again we were thrown up into the roof. Mick was almost thrown into the front with Alf and I. As I fought to control the car, Alf and Mick fought for breath as they went into new raptures of laughter. But I didn’t feel like laughing. I was scared and very miserable.
I was also dreading the time when I’d have to look and see what damage I’d done to the car. I wondered if the people had managed to read my number plate, it was a very easy number to remember and I can still recall it all these years later. I knew that I’d leaned into the posh car, as I tried to look at the seat belts, and to me, that was a crime in itself. I’d actually been in someone else’s car without permission, knowing that the seat belts were going to be stolen by one of my mates. Yes, I felt very guilty and scared of the outcome of all this.
We raced on through the dark, windy night, completely lost in the little country lanes that were unknown to us at that time. Eventually, we came to a small town that, in the darkness, I didn’t immediately recognise. There was a one-way system around the town centre and we did a couple of laps around it before I realised where we were. I’d already passed the Reading road so we had to go around the system a third time. As I drove down the main street, a policeman suddenly appeared in front of us, waving his flashlight, and holding up his hand to tell us to stop.
As I saw the policeman, I was overcome by a terrible feeling of despair. I felt trapped and wanted to break out. It flashed through my mind that I’d wished I’d never gone out that night. I didn’t want to get caught for what I’d done. As we closed in towards the policeman, I told my mates, in a fearfully desperate voice, that I was going to keep going. Even as I shouted the words, I knew that the policeman would still be able to read my number plate by the light of the street lamps. I’d already backed off the accelerator when Alf was hissing at me to stop and see what happened. With a stomach-wrenching feeling of doom, I managed to pull up right beside the policeman.
The policeman shone his torch at each of us inside the car, then asked us what we were doing riding around that town at two o’clock in the morning. As usual, Alf had an answer and told the policeman that we’d hit a fallen tree earlier and that it had taken a long time to clear up the mess and get the car going again after pulling out the worst of the dents. The policeman shone his torch at the damage on my side of the car, then flashed the light back into my face. He studied me for a few seconds then asked me if I knew the car number. I told him the number and he walked to the front and checked to see if I was right. After another quick flash at all of our faces with his torch, the policeman finally told us to get on home before we hit any more trees. I didn’t need telling a second time and, with a miserable feeling in the pit of my stomach, I drove the battered car on through the windy night to Reading and home.
some of the damage done.
Alf and Mick had laughed throughout the whole incident. They thought it had been hilarious, and they had great delight in telling me that they’d had no intention of stealing the seat belts, and they hadn’t seen anybody come out of the cottage at all. They’d been pulling my leg all the time. Although I laughed at their trick now that we were safe at home, I did think that they could have told me the truth before I’d hit the banks in my panic. Luckily, the car wasn’t too badly damaged and I was able to knock out all the dents and have my first attempt at filling and painting a car body. But Mum wasn’t very happy about the state of the car when she saw it and wouldn’t let me use it much after that.
For months after this incident I worried that we might have really been seen, reported, and connected with the three youths in the Austin caught doing laps around a country town. The policeman would surely have remembered the car number. But, the years have passed and I’ve never heard any more of the incident, except when I’ve related the ‘Laurel and Hardy’ story at get-togethers.
But, I’d had enough and learned my lesson. I decided to never get into that situation again. I quickly went back to my old policy of ‘leave other people’s things alone’. That policy has saved me a lot of worry and trouble and I’ve stuck to it ever since. We took Mick home on the Sunday and I decided to look for a regular job on the Monday. I suddenly had the feeling that I needed to settle down a bit or I would be in real trouble.
On that Monday, I got a job driving for the ‘Golden Twin’ crisp and peanut factory, which was situated on the corner of South Street and Gosbrook Road in Caversham. The vehicle that I was to drive was an old, snub-nosed, ‘O type' Bedford with a Luton-type body. The Luton was an extension of the box body that continued over the top of the driver’s cab. If I recall rightly, the Luton was so named because the hat makers in the town of Luton had thought up the idea so that they could carry more hats in their vehicles when delivering to shops.
The Bedford was fairly old, coach-built, and painted a dark-green colour. It had no heating system, and the headlight reflectors were green with age, matching the livery of the vehicle, and giving me about three candle-power each to see with during the dark hours. In light of what was to come, I might not have been so smug about getting that job. The winter of 1962-63 was about to descend upon us, and it was a horror as far as I, and many others, were concerned.
The Golden Twin Company was a fairly happy place to work and they employed quite a few women, of all ages, as well as three or four male labourers. The boss was easy-going as long as the work was done, and there was a forewoman instead of a foreman. The whole process of making crisps (potato chips) was carried out in that small factory, from the peeling of raw potatoes, right through to the finished product. The company also boxed salted peanuts. It was mostly these peanuts that I delivered, three or four times a week, to a sweet manufacturing company called ‘Baird’s’, up in East London.
Alf came along for the first trip that I did in that old Bedford. It was a miserable, rainy day, we didn’t start out until eight o’clock in the morning, and we caught all the rush-hour traffic into London. Although we knew the West End of London fairly well, neither of us had been to the East End. Baird’s factory, if I remember rightly, was in Romford Road, Forest Gate, E7. Having no map, we were forced to keep on stopping to ask for directions as we crept through Central London and moved up towards the East End. Finally, we found the factory, delivered the peanuts, crawled back through a wet London and splashed on home to Reading. The trip had taken us nearly all the working day. But I soon got to know the route well and could do it easily in a morning if I left earlier.
The following weekend, Alf was caught by the army and charged with desertion. His Mum was the cause of his capture, not that she could help it, she did what any mother would do in the circumstances.
Alf and I had decided to sneak over to Amersham for the weekend. He touched up his hair with dye, and we set off. As I wasn’t allowed to use the car any more, we had decided to hitch-hike.
We got a lift as far as Gerrards Cross and were walking through the town so that we could continue hitch-hiking on the Amersham side. Suddenly, we heard a sharp tapping noise from a bus that was passing beside us. As we looked at the bus, we could see Alf’s Mum behind one of the bus windows, frantically trying to attract our attention. She hadn’t seen Alf for months and, as he never wrote to her, she didn’t know how he was getting on or where he was. Naturally, she was thrilled to spy him as she passed by and, without thinking, she got off the bus at the next stop and ran back to greet her son.
But, sharp eyes were watching that scene and, while mother and son were catching up on a bit of lost time, two men, with a large German Shepherd dog beside them, approached and asked Alf who he was. Alf tried to bluff it out and his Mum tried to pretend that she didn’t know us. But the men had obviously seen the happy reunion and put two and two together. In the end, Alf gave himself up. He was quickly arrested, taken over to a car that was waiting nearby and driven away. We hadn’t even had time to say goodbye, but I had heard one of the men say that they would take him to a certain army barracks not far from Gerrards Cross. With his tearful Mum in tow, I made my way to the barracks, where we were allowed to see Alf for a while and give him some money and cigarettes before saying goodbye. I was a bit sad as I hitch-hiked back home on my own that day, I knew that I would miss Alf and the good fun that we were having.
I never knew whether those two men were following Alf’s Mum in the hope of catching him, or whether it was just a coincidence that the men, who just happened to know that he was a deserter, were in the right spot at the right time (or, in Alf’s case, the wrong time). But nevertheless, I believe that Alf was given a dishonourable discharge from the army and set free a few weeks later.
Little did I know at the time that we were about to go our separate ways and hardly see each other after that incident at Gerrards Cross. Alf would shortly meet a lovely young woman, marry her, and settle down to raise a family. I would find new adventures and friends that would take me off in other directions. In 1981, I’d track down Alf and spend an evening with him and his family. As we’d chat together about some of the stupid ‘fun’ things that we did, I would secretly marvel at the way Alf, once a young rebel, had changed for the better. He was buying a house and running his own business so that he could support his growing family who, to my eyes, obviously adored him. I would never have believed that such a thing could have happened nineteen years earlier.
As for Mick, I don’t think that I ever saw him again after that fateful weekend of the ‘Laurel and Hardy’ affair. He married the sister of an old school friend and settled down as well. The last that I heard of Mick was that he and his wife were managing a cafe in the small town of Wendover, near Aylesbury. - But now, during this update and adding of pictures to my site (1999), I am back in touch with him.
With Alf gone, I settled down and concentrated on my new job. It didn’t take long to feel at ease with my new workmates as they were all very friendly and, as I only did the three or four trips to London a week, I could spend the rest of the working hours helping them out in the factory. I often helped the young lad who operated the potato-peeling machine. He was a good singer and knew all the latest songs just like I did. The pair of us sang with gay abandon and the girls in that section soon put their shyness aside and sang along with us. It was good entertainment and helped the day to pass.
The charts were full of good songs at that time. Songs like ‘Lovesick Blues’ by Frank Ifield, Susan Maughan’s ‘Bobby’s Girl’, ‘Sherry’ by The Four Seasons, ‘Dance with the Guitar Man’ by Duane Eddy, ‘Let’s Dance’ by Chris Montez, and we could all practice our yodelling when we tried to sing Del Shannon’s ‘Swiss Maid’.
That month of November, 1962, was also memorable for my first introduction to a group who would take the world, and myself, by storm, although it would be a bit of a time before I really went under their spell. That group was The Beatles and I first heard ‘Love Me Do’ down the Caz during that month, although the song had been released in October. I didn’t know who the group were, and I’d fall under the spell of their songs long before I’d wake up to the fact that they were four English boys from Liverpool, not Americans as I had originally thought they might be. Meanwhile, ‘Love Me Do’ was just another song on the juke box.
Once again, I started going down the Caz every evening where I’d dance with the girls to all these songs as they were played on the juke box. Then I’d go home and listen for those songs through Radio Luxembourg until I dropped off to sleep.
My twentieth birthday passed, again with no recollections. The weather turned very cold as winter took its icy grip on the land, and it was good to work in the warm factory occasionally and know that I didn’t have to go out in the cold until home time.
But, to beat the London morning rush hour traffic on the days that I did a trip up to Baird’s, I started leaving Reading at four o’clock. It was very cold at that time of the morning and, before I’d reached the start of the M4 motorway at Maidenhead Thicket, my feet and hands were usually frozen numb. The dim lights on the Bedford didn’t help much either, causing me to have to lean forward as I strained my eyes to see the road. I soon got to know the route through London quite well and, after unloading the boxes of peanuts (and getting a bit of warmth back into my body by doing so), I began going back home by different routes.
Sometimes I’d go back via Tower Bridge and along the South Bank. The first time that I passed over that bridge, I stopped just down the road and walked back for a better look at it. I was amazed to see and feel the two great bascules (that raise up when ships pass through) actually move two or three inches out of line when large lorries pass over the span.
On other occasions I’d drive through Rotherithe Tunnel under the River Thames. Although this tunnel had large ventilation systems in the roof every now and again, the fumes from vehicles used to hang around very thickly. It was also a very narrow tunnel, probably built in the ‘horse and cart’ days I had thought to myself, and it was fairly easy to get a mirror smashed off by oncoming traffic.
After driving along the South Bank and gradually getting to know that area, I’d pass over one of the bridges further upstream and continue my journey home. In this manner I passed over all the bridges that crossed the Thames in London for road traffic. Not only was I getting to know London better but I was seeing the sights as well. It was good to explore that great city and be paid for doing it.
As I passed Heathrow Airport, I’d sneak my eyes over to the left for a glimpse of the planes, then continue my way down the A4 Bath Road, around the Colnebrook roundabout (where the bridge, at that time, was being constructed above for the M4 motorway) and on into Slough. Once through Slough town centre, there was the annoying chore of driving through the many traffic lights that were at the intersections into the Slough Trading Estate. These traffic lights were supposed to be set so that, if you travelled along that section of the A4 Bath Road at the speed limit of thirty miles an hour, the lights would be on green all the way through and you wouldn’t have to stop. I tried it dozens of times but rarely got right through without being forced to stop at a red light somewhere along that stretch. But at least it made me keep to the speed limit and I suppose that was the idea.
From the end of the Slough Trading Estate, at that time, (now M4 junction 7a), we could slip onto the only section of the M4 motorway that was open to traffic and by-pass the town of Maidenhead. After rejoining the Bath Road at Maidenhead Thicket (now M4 junction 9a) it was just a pleasant cruise for the last ten miles into Reading, always being careful to go extra slow around the Twyford-Wargrave roundabout, a lot of loads have been lost through coming down the Floral Mile and going into that roundabout too fast.
It wasn’t only on the Twyford roundabout that loads were lost. I recall one early foggy morning, just before Christmas of that year, as I was passing up the A4 near Heston towards London. Under the misty glare of the yellow street lights, I could see a black pile of ‘something’ in the middle of the road up ahead. I slowed down and discovered that the ‘pile’ had been a lorry, loaded with thousands of eggs in egg-trays. But the driver had been forced to brake very hard and the trays had only been tied down lightly. The sharp stop had caused the load to crush forward up over the cab and shoot hundreds of eggs onto the road in front of the lorry. It was a terrible mess and the driver and Council workers were still cleaning it up as I passed on my way back later.
The Baird’s factory staff were very friendly people and always helped me to unload the boxes of peanuts. It all had to be done by hand (‘handball’ we called any load that had to be unloaded by hand rather than by forklift or crane) as there were very few forklifts around in those days. I was given a large bag of sweets by the boss of Baird’s before I left for home, and jolly good sweets they were to. I recall a huge bag of ‘Buttered Brazils’ that the boss handed to me one morning. The weather was very miserable, with plenty of sleet falling from the black clouds, as I made my way back through London munching on one of those sweets. Suddenly, there was a cracking feeling inside my mouth and I felt something very hard grind between my teeth. Upon inspecting the object, I found that I’d bitten on the Buttered Brazil so hard that a part of the plate on my dentures had broken off. Luckily for me, it was only a bit from the back and I was able to carry on wearing them after filing down the rough edges. My whole family used to profit by those sweets as there were always far too many for me to eat each day. My family and friends always enjoyed them and it was good to contribute to the sweet jar instead of raiding it all the time.
Then it was almost Christmas and our boss put on a Christmas party for all of his workers. An area of the factory floor was cleared and hung with bunting, and a record player was brought in. Food and drink were supplied and we got into the fun of it with great zest. I’d never been to a works Christmas party before and it was funny to see us all dressed in our posh clothes instead of the white coats and overalls that we all wore to work. My whole evening was spent dancing with the ladies, especially a nice little young woman who I shall call Lucy.
Half way through the evening, I realised the Lucy was attracted to me and I was attracted to her. The forewoman kept nodding at me knowingly and urging me to dance more often with Lucy, and I had wondered if Lucy had said anything about her attraction to me in front of the forewoman. From the way that everyone was acting, it did seem that Lucy had been fond of me for quite a while and I was the only one who didn’t know about it. By the time the party broke up, Lucy and I had already arranged to see each other again. Everyone seemed very pleased at our progress, especially the forewoman.
Christmas came and passed with the, by then, usual lost memories and 1963 arrived. This would be the year when I would find that elusive ‘Something’ that I knew I needed to give me an interest in life rather than just floating along.
It was also the year of one of the worst winters that I can remember. Blizzards, deep snow and severe icing conditions brought half the country to a halt and caused some very hard times.
Lucy and I were getting to know each other a bit better and a nice romance was blossoming, much, it seemed, to the delight of the other workers. She lived at a place called Mortimer, about seven miles from Reading (my grandparents had lived there before moving to Beech Barn), and she had to catch a bus into Reading each day for work. As I had no car, she also had to catch the bus in to see me in the evenings. There was nothing to do in Mortimer so it wasn’t worth spending an evening there.
Lucy usually came in a couple of evenings a week and at weekends. I took her down the Caz where she was soon accepted by my friends there. Once a week, I’d lash out and take her to either the Majestic or Olympia dance halls for a good evening out. Sometimes we’d just sit indoors and keep warm beside the fire. On the evenings that I didn’t see her, I usually went down the Caz, if only to listen to the latest music.
At that time, The Shadows had ‘Dance On’ up in the charts, along with Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s ‘Diamonds’. Jet Harris and Tony Meehan were two of the original Shadows, but were trying their luck without Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch. On the reverse side of ‘Diamonds’ was a song called ‘Footstomp’ and that song became very popular down the club as we danced and sang to it at the top of our voices. The Seekers slowed the tempo down a bit with their version of ‘Island Of Dreams’, and The Beatles got us going again with ‘Please, Please Me’. Although I liked the song, it still didn’t make me feel that The Beatles had anything that would last.
Meanwhile, the snow had fallen thick and fast, temperatures had plummeted, and I was having my share of fun out in the old Bedford lorry.
The early morning starts in that bitterly cold weather were a small trial on their own. I used to wear two pairs of thick woollen socks, two pairs of trousers, a vest, a thick shirt, two woollen jumpers, a jacket, an army greatcoat, a pair of gloves, and an old cap, and I’d still be half-frozen in that unheated cab. On most mornings I’d arrive at the lorry to find it covered in snow and thick frost. After scraping the ice off the windscreen, side windows, mirrors, and headlights, I’d usually have to heat up the key with lighted matches so that the hot key would de-frost the door lock.
I never had any starting problems with the engine and, while the engine warmed up a bit, I’d write out my log-sheet for the start of the day, shivering like mad and barely able to hold the pen in my numb and frozen fingers. Then I’d pull out of the park, wheels crunching over the frozen snow and ice on the ground, and head towards London.
Before I’d gone ten miles, my hands and feet would be painfully numb despite gloves and extra socks. Outside in the cold pre-dawn darkness the snow-covered trees, hedgerows, and fields looked so bleak that I seemed to become colder just by looking at them. The only bit of warmth seemed to come from the glow of those two headlights whose rays only reached out a couple of metres in front of the lorry. I kept the wheels on the road by following the two black lines that were the wheel-ruts, in the snow-covered road, from previous vehicles that had passed that way during the night.
With the M4 motorway behind me, at least the road was lit by street lamps from the start of the Slough Trading Estate onwards. But, if it was really foggy, the glare of these lights through the thick blanket could be worse than no lights at all. Another problem was the condensation from my breath that froze on the inside of the windscreen as I leaned forward to try and see out with those dim lights. I used to have to continually scrape and wipe the glass in an effort to try and keep a small hole clear. After a few trips I wrapped a scarf across my mouth and nose, that helped to keep the windscreen clear a bit longer, but it made me feel very closed in.
London that winter was frozen under and looked it. All the cars, lorries, and buses slipped and slid as the drivers negotiated the ice-covered streets and the traffic was forced to a crawl. We all had to be very careful so that we didn’t skid on the ice and run into anything.
The only thing that I looked forward to, as my body gradually froze in that icy cab, was the fact that I’d be sweating and half undressed by the time I’d unloaded the lorry. Of course, the sweat froze on my body by the time that I was on the west side of London again, but at least I’d been warm for a bit.
One morning, in the first few days of the cold January, I reached the lorry to find that there was a solid veneer of ice covering the bodywork and windows. In spite of the cold, there was a soft drizzle of rain falling from the black pre-dawn sky. I scraped away at the ice on the windows but it was very hard to clear. Finally I managed to get going but, by the time I’d reached the Cemetery Junction, I was forced to get out and scrape the windscreen again. Barely a couple of miles later I again had to scrape that windscreen. I’d never encountered this problem before but, by the time I’d reached the start of the motorway at Maidenhead Thicket, after only going ten miles, I’d had to stop and scrape that windscreen half a dozen times and, each time the ice was a solid veneer over the windscreen.
My fingers were so frozen by this time that I could hardly hold the scraper. I had stopped on the emergency shoulder of the motorway so that I could give the windscreen a good scrape, hoping to get along the whole length to the Slough Trading Estate before I would have to stop and do it again. My hands were so numb that I kept dropping the bit of plastic that I was using as a scraper. I was getting a bit frustrated when I suddenly had a brainwave.
The anti-freeze in the cooling system stopped the water from freezing up. I wondered if I could use a drop of that water to help keep the windscreen from freezing up so much. With a bit of rag held under the cooling system drain tap, I opened up and just took enough to soak the cloth. The trick worked and I left a smear over the windscreen to help keep it clear. I only had to do it once more on the rest of the journey.
That was my introduction to, what the papers that day called, ‘frizzle’. Frizzle was a soft drizzle of rain that froze solid upon contact with the cold surface on which it fell. It only took a couple of minutes to cover my windscreen, and wipers were useless as the blades just slid over the frozen droplets.
It was somewhere about this time that the second section of the M4 motorway was opened to traffic. This new section by-passed Slough and all its traffic lights, and ended at what we called the Colnebrook Roundabout, (now M4 junction 5). The overhead Brentford Flyover was still being built at that time and we had to negotiate the roadworks on the A4 below the flyover with great care.
One freezing, foggy morning I headed up to London a bit later than usual. The fog was so thick that I was forced to crawl as I stood up off the seat and tried to see the kerb in the dim glare of my headlights through the thick blanket of fog. The roads were still covered in a layer of frozen snow and ice and the lorry juddered and bounced over the frozen ruts and drifts. It was hard to know whether I was on the road, up on the verge, or bouncing along the roadside ditch. Eventually I reached the M4 motorway and crept along it, peering hard through the frozen windscreen at the tiny dull patch of fog that was lit up by my useless headlights. Occasionally I’d spy a white roadside post through the murk and know that I was still on the motorway.
By the time I’d reached the new part of the motorway, I had the added nuisance of a row of headlights shining through my rear-view mirror from a queue of cars that had come up from behind. These drivers were using my tail lights as a guide to keep them on the road rather than have to drive blind. That wasn’t really so bad but, the leading car driver, who was insisting on driving well out in the road as if he was looking for a clear patch so that he could overtake, had his head-lights on full beam and, every time that I jolted over a rut or drift on the ice-covered surface, those lights flashed into my eyes as I swayed around in the cab.
Almost frozen stiff in my standing position, with my eyes seeming to be sticking out like organ stops as I tried to pierce the grey/dim yellow blanket just in front of the little bonnet, and my nose numbed by the condensation of my breath that had frozen onto the scarf that covered my lower face, I crept along the motorway with the queue of traffic following. None of those other drivers seemed to want to get out in front and have a go at leading.
Suddenly, through the gloom I saw the dim blue glow of a road sign and knew that I was somewhere near the ramp that would take me down to the Colnebrook Roundabout and off the motorway. There were signs and orange cones over on the right to guide us off so that we wouldn’t drive on to the part of the motorway that was still being constructed, but I couldn’t see them although they were only one lane over to my right.
But, the further I went down that ramp, the thicker the fog became. It was just as if we were going down into a thick bowl of dirty grey water. The lights of the following cars were just a faint glow through my mirror although the cars were still just behind me. I threw my side window open and peered out, looking first just in front at the almost non-existent beam of my headlights, then down to the ice-encrusted road then back towards the front again. Every few seconds I straightened up to look across to the left to ensure that I wasn’t driving into any signs or off the road. Time seemed to stand still as I tried to work out just where I was. The lorry was lurching all over the place as I crept onwards, straining my eyes out into the freezing black morning.
Then doubts crept into my mind and I began to worry. According to my feelings, I should have been at the roundabout. The way had flattened out and I felt that I was off the ramp, but I hadn’t seen any light from the street lamps around the roundabout yet. Cautiously I crept on with my eyes trying to pierce that very thick blanket of fog. The cars behind followed closely although I could hardly see the lights of the first one anymore due to the very thick fog.
All at once I felt something holding the lorry back then it surge forward again, at the same time I heard a sharp crack. Something was very wrong, I had felt uneasy for a few minutes and now I was sure that I wasn’t on the motorway anymore. I decided to stop and have a look around.
No sooner had I stopped when the driver in the leading car behind started tooting his horn. Feeling rather annoyed with myself for getting lost, I began to get angry with this chap and I was about to go back and tell him just what he could do with his headlights and horn when I noticed a thick clump of course grass sticking up out of the snow just in front of the lorry. Immediately I knew that I wasn’t on the road anymore. Somehow I had missed the roundabout and all its lights in the thick ‘pea souper’ and I thought that I was probably just inside of the field that was in the north east corner of the roundabout and motorway. I decided to turn around and head back a bit, hoping that no vehicles would come racing past the vehicles that had been stopped behind me.
The driver that had been sounding his horn (and flashing his lights by that time) settled down as I skidded on the snowy surface and jolted into motion. Through my discovery I had forgotten about my annoyance with this driver, now I just wanted to get back onto the road. I did a complete U-turn and drove back down the row of traffic, just keeping far enough away in case somebody was overtaking. The fog had thinned out a bit and I was very satisfied to see that leading driver sinking to his axles as he spun his wheels to try and get going. Some of the cars from behind him were already creeping out of the line to turn around. He cursed me as I passed on by but I was too busy trying to see ahead. At least, I had thought, the fog is clearing a bit.
And it had. As if some divine providence had decided to lend me a hand, the thick fog suddenly cleared for about fifty yards and I could just make out the soft glow of the lights around the roundabout. The long queue of traffic stretched right back to those lights. Some cars were already bogged, while others were trying to turn in a confusion of black ruts and skidding wheels. I kept well clear and slowly crept by with the engine ticking over in first gear. By the time I’d turned under the motorway bridge to continue my journey up the A4, the fog had come in again. But I was lucky to have the street lamps, even if they did cause too much glare, to help guide me.
I didn’t realise the full extent of my early morning wander until, on the way home, I drove right around the roundabout to try and find out where I’d gone wrong. I was amazed to see a mess of churned-up dirt and ruts trailing out in the snow across a large field. The ruts were scattered in all directions, obviously caused by vehicles as they’d tried to turn around after following me out there. I also had time to notice that I’d driven through two barbed-wire fences. I hadn’t even noticed the first one right beside the road. The second one had split the large field in two, quite a way from the road, and driving through it had caused me to stop although I hadn’t seen what had caused the sudden slowing or the noise, I was too busy being annoyed with the impatient driver and my efforts to turn around safely and not get stuck myself. I wondered how that impatient driver had got on, chances are that he has probably never relied on the judgement of lorry drivers since!
When I arrived back at the factory, I suggested to the boss that it might be safer to buy a couple of new reflectors for the lorry’s head-lamps. But he said that it wouldn’t be worth it as he was thinking of replacing the old Bedford with a brand new Bedford TK lorry. The Bedford TK series hadn’t been on the market all that long. It had a nice modern cab and I recall thinking that I’d put up with anything for a while if there was a chance of driving such a lorry. The boss told me that I could strip the lamps down and see if I could clean them up a bit, just to last until he purchased the new lorry.
I stripped the lamps down and, after washing the green corrosive material off the reflectors with hot, soapy water, I found that the thin reflective metal had completely corroded away. All I could do was polish the brass of the reflector body. The lights were no better than before, but at least I’d had a go.
Those bitterly cold mornings were a trial. I even tried wearing a pair of Mum’s tights under all those clothes, but if anything they felt colder. I’d been leaving the engine to warm up while I cleaned the windscreen, side windows, and mirrors of ice, and one morning I placed an old blanket, that usually covered the passenger seat (and my legs sometimes), over the grill in front of the radiator. I’d seen this done by another lorry driver the day before. As I scraped away at the ice on the side windows, I began to notice that it was melting. I climbed into the cab and found that it was as warm as toast. I was amazed and wished that I had discovered that trick before. There was an old hessian sack on the floor of the passenger side and I tied this sack over half of the front grill. Once the engine was warmed up, the cab stayed hot all day and I wasn’t cold in that lorry again.
But my evenings were still being spent in the warm fug of the Caz or one of the local dance halls. Lucy would catch the bus back into Reading whenever she could and we’d dance the evening away to the latest music or songs.
In the charts at that time we had Frank Ifield’s ‘Wayward Wind’, Del Shannon’s ‘Little Town Flirt’, ‘Just For Kicks’ by Mike Sarne, and a rocked up version of ‘Swan Lake’ called ‘Saturday Night at the Duck Pond’ by the Cougars.
I wasn’t all that keen on dancing, but at least it kept the girls happy and helped to get my circulation going again after a cold day out in the frozen weather. All to soon I‘d be heading up through the early morning, dark wintry countryside on another trip to London. There was very little to see apart from the barren, white-covered landscape. Even London Airport (Heathrow) seemed very bleak and still, with hardly any aircraft movements.
Gradually, as we headed towards the month of April, the snow and ice began to clear and we came out of that terrible winter. The weather started to get back to normal and the landscape took on a green shade as buds burst open on trees and shrubs. It became the kind of spring that made people sit up and realise that summer was on its way at last.
Cliff Richard must have felt that summer was coming for he released a song called ‘Summer Holiday’ at that time. Up in the charts along with Cliff’s song was Brenda Lee’s ‘All Alone am I’, Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’, ‘Hey Paula’ by Paul and Paula, and Skeeter Davies’s ‘End of the World’. We never missed a chance to sing along with these songs as well as the old favourites from earlier hit charts.
Then Alan came back and I went a bit wild again. Alan, it may be remembered, had moved away just before I’d had a go at the army life. We had moved house since then, but he had managed to track us down after bumping into one of the boarders. Mum had told him where I was working and he walked all the way out to Caversham to meet me as I left the factory.
It was a great surprise to see him waiting there. I hurriedly said goodbye to Lucy then Alan and I set off for home in great spirits. It was a very foggy late afternoon and the traffic was crawling along the streets as we walked away from the factory and crossed over Caversham bridge. I was pleased to have him back and suddenly felt in a real devilish mood. We sparred and larked about as we turned right and walked along the Prom upstream from the bridge, and the fog made us feel that we were the only people in the world. Then we embarked on, of all things, a bit of vandalism, and to this day I don’t know why we did it.
On the Prom beside the River Thames were a few scattered wood and wrought-iron seats. We picked one up, carried it over to the river and threw it into the water. It made a great splash and the pair of us gave a squeal of delight (I was twenty years old, would you believe? Alan was twenty nine years old). We walked along to the next seat and threw that one in as well. Once again there was the great splash and we laughed even more. By the time we’d had our ‘fun’, there must have been half a dozen seats in the River Thames at that point.
Over the next few days we quickly forgot about this senseless bit of horseplay then, when the weekly local paper was delivered (was it the ‘Evening Post’ or the ‘Reading Chronicle’?), the incident had made the headlines. According to the paper, the Council were mystified as to how the park benches had got into the river as nobody had seen the ‘crime’ and reported it. Of course, it was very foggy so nobody saw us do the deed and we were both very strong and easily able to lift and swing a park bench into the water. We didn’t bother to brag about it though.
For a couple of weeks we went on a spree of stupid pranks that almost ended in us both being locked up by the police.
It all began through Alan’s ability to pass wind loudly whenever he felt like it (hence his nickname of ‘The Pumper’ - he could pass wind just by standing on one leg and ‘pumping’ the other leg up and down). Although I couldn’t perform such a trick, I wanted to get in on the act and I decided to go ‘mechanical’. I knew of a device that we eventually called a ‘Mechanical Twister’. This device consisted of a length of coat-hanger wire shaped to a square letter ‘u’ with two eyes bent over, one at each end. A strong elastic band was fitted across the gap, using the eyes to hold it in place. A small nut and bolt, preferably the same size but of different threads, were joined together in such a way that a gap was left between the head of the bolt and the nut. Using the gap to hold it in place, the nut and bolt was fitted into the two strands of the elastic band, half way between the two eyes, and the device was complete. All that remained was to secretly wind the nut and bolt up in the elastic band, place the device in between the chair seat and my bottom and I was ready for action. At my moment of choosing, I’d lift my bottom up a bit, the nut and bolt would spin around and ‘rattle’ on the seat surface in the most realistic manner. Armed with this device I was better than Alan anytime.
It was the local cafes and cinemas that suffered the most from our foolish ‘flatulence’ pranks. To go one better, I purchased many boxes of stink bombs from a local joke shop. These stink bombs consisted of a liquid sealed in a small, thin glass ball. When the ball was broken, the liquid produced a terrible ‘rotten-egg’ smell that even had Alan and I gasping. Armed with these devices, Alan and I took off down to the town for our ‘fun’.
The first to suffer, as usual, was Littlewoods cafeteria. In amongst the crowds of Saturday morning shoppers, we sat and sipped at a cup of tea until a few old ladies were sitting nearby (their faces were the best to watch as they heard the ‘noise’ and the smell wafted their way.)
What the people thought of us, goodness only knows. Right in the middle of their morning tea, a welcome break from the rigours of shopping, then to have their quiet moment spoilt by two degenerate men. I look back now and I’m ashamed of myself, but at the time it was hilarious to Alan and myself. I’d lift my bottom in the most life-like manner, the Mechanical Twister would produce the appropriate noise and I’d drop a stink bomb down onto the floor where the glass ball would break and the terrible stench would waft up into the air, guaranteeing many disgusted looks in our direction, and the vacating of many seats as the unfortunate shoppers were forced to leave. We, of course, had to get out of it as well or face the wrath of angry cafe owners. In the end, there wasn’t a cafe in or around Reading that we could go into anymore.
With all the cafes out of the running, we turned our attention to the local cinemas. The Central Cinema was the first to fall ‘foul’ of our rotten game. It wasn’t all that crowded as we settled ourselves up in the front seats of the balcony upstairs. When the lights went down and the film began, we threw half a dozen stink bombs into empty spaces down below and it wasn’t long before the patrons were heading for the foyer. We, of course, had to leave as well or it would have looked suspicious. The pair of us thought it was great fun.
Then we tried the same thing in the Regal Cinema, over in Caversham and just down the road from the Golden Twin factory.
Once again, we purchased tickets for the upstairs balcony and sat in the front seats above the stalls. I had nine stink bombs and, as soon as the lights went down, we threw them all into empty spaces below. Within a few minutes, the stench was overpowering and, as the patrons began to leave, Alan and I went into fits of uncontrolled laughter. We were still laughing as we finally made our way, at last, down to the foyer. But, we had left our getaway too late. As we walked towards the exit, the cinema manager, who had noticed us still laughing, stopped us just as a policeman entered the building.
We were questioned by the manager and the policeman but we denied (of course) any knowledge of how the stench had been caused. Finally, the policeman, who was a sergeant, led us both outside and tried to talk to us ‘man to man’ without the manager there to interfere with us. The policeman had as good as let us go with a warning when Alan became very angry and went to take a swing at him (Alan hated authority). I just managed to grab Alan’s arm and drag him back. But the policeman had seen the threat and wasn’t very happy at all. He wanted us down at the local police station fast.
With no more thought to the consequences, I dragged Alan away and we took off up the street towards the Golden Twin factory, Alan, having then recovered from his anger, suddenly forged ahead and I was at pains to keep up with him. But, instead of heading up Gosbrook Road as I had expected him to, he entered South Street and I knew that South Street was a dead end. Although I shouted at him to stop, he kept going and I, probably out of loyalty to Alan, followed him. The policeman followed and we were trapped.
As Alan and I reached the end of South Street, Alan realised his mistake and slowed down until I was able to catch him up. He had been determined to get away from that policeman, but I would have rather had the matter sorted out there and then. Grabbing him by the coat, I hung on and explained that I would talk to the policeman and try to calm us all down. Alan relaxed a bit and I turned towards the approaching sergeant.
With every apology, I explained to the policeman that Alan hadn’t really meant to get angry. I appealed to his sense of fairness and even promised that we’d behave ourselves in future. I grovelled to him while Alan stood there and watched in amazement. But my grovelling worked and the policeman told us to move on and not cross his path again. We moved on quickly with me grumbling at Alan for his rash swing at the policeman, I knew that nobody would win but the police in that kind of situation and I didn’t want to be part and parcel of that kind of trouble. I began to worry about where I was heading again, first there was the incidents with Alf involving the police and now the same with Alan. I just wanted to have some innocent fun to get rid of my pent-up frustrations without harming anyone, spoiling their fun, or involving the police. At that time, I seemed to be doing all three of those things and I was becoming very unhappy with myself again. I desperately needed a diversion, ‘something’ that would give me an outlet but, at the same time, keep me out of trouble.
As the long weekend of Easter (1963) approached, fate was already lending a hand as an opportunity was being discussed that would finally show me the way to that ‘something’ and give me all the adventure and outlets that I could have ever asked for.
Meanwhile, nobody had guessed that I was leading a double life, respectable while I was at work and out with Lucy, a stupid fool while I was out with Alan. I was beginning to lead the life of a loser when that fate stepped in and the opportunity to get out of my foolish ways was presented to me.
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