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THE MAGIC OF LIVING.
Chapter 21.
Another girlfriend, and more wanderings.

I had no transport to get me up to those mountains at the time and, although I drooled at the thought of another trip up there as soon as possible, I had to contain myself somehow. Nevertheless, my imagination had been fired in that direction and I went down the local library to borrow, and begin reading, every book that I could find on mountaineering and rock-climbing adventures. But another change of job had helped to break the monotony of the town life that had seemed to become even more dreary after that great trip.

I arrived at work one morning about a week after that Easter break, only to be told that my relationship with Lucy was affecting her work output. It was suggested to Lucy that she should find employment elsewhere as further problems could arise if we both tried to carry on in the same place of work.

I couldn’t believe it. The very person who had first encouraged the relationship now seemed to be bent on putting barriers up. I didn’t see anything wrong with the way things were going, I hardly saw Lucy at all while I was working around the factory, she worked upstairs and I did most of my work downstairs or out on the road.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to see Lucy out of work on my account. She had to travel in from Mortimer each day and just that alone would have helped to make it more difficult for her to find other employment in Reading. With no more ado I gave a day’s notice and left that same evening. They soon had another driver for the faithful old Bedford (the new Bedford TK never did appear) and Lucy continued with her work. I managed to get another job the next day with the Co-op bakery delivering bread for the Peppard branch of that company. But the writing was on the wall for Lucy and myself.

She had talked about us getting engaged and she began to press me further on the subject, saying that now we didn’t have the fleeting glimpses of each other at work we should make ourselves more secure by getting engaged as soon as possible. In the end I agreed to do it as I felt that we needed a bit of a boost to our morale.

I bought a diamond and gold ring for ten pounds and, on the following Saturday I met Lucy off the bus and we spent the evening at the Majestic dance hall. At the end of the evening we sat in the Reading General Station buffet having a cup of coffee while we watched out of the window for her bus to come along Victoria Street. This was the usual way that we ended our evenings together. When her bus appeared, we’d dash across the road outside of the station, Lucy would get on board, and I’d wave until the bus disappeared.

That night we were distracted a bit. Lucy asked me if I’d bought a ring as I hadn’t mentioned anything about our plan to get engaged the whole evening. She kicked me under the table as I produced the ring from my pocket, and I laughed when she told me off for leaving it until the last minute. Within seconds she had the ring out of the box and was admiring the look of it on her finger.

Suddenly I glanced out of the window to see the bus pulling up at the bus stop. In panic (it was the last bus that night) we raced out of the buffet door and across the road as the conductor rang the bell for the driver to proceed. Lucy grabbed the handrail above the back step and tried to swing herself aboard. But she missed the step and the next second she skidded face-down into the gutter, while the bus conductor’s eyes shot out like organ stops at the sight before he reached for the bell and stopped the bus.

Thinking to make light of the situation so that Lucy wouldn’t feel so embarrassed, I grinned as I helped her up and asked if she was alright. But she wasn’t alright, she was furious. She had no injuries that I saw, but she was livid that I’d dared to laugh. That caused me to grin a bit more as I desperately tried to calm her fury down and explain that the accident couldn’t have been helped. The truth was that the bus had stopped a few metres on, and the conductor and passengers were watching the scene with great interest. Lucy had been extremely embarrassed by the accident, and on top of that she still had to board the bus and face the other passengers. I had also been embarrassed to see those passengers and the conductor peering back at us, but my way of coping with that embarrassment was to make a joke of the whole situation and hope that it would all blow over sooner.

As Lucy finally climbed aboard the bus and it began to move off again, she tore the ring from her finger and threw it down into the gutter where she had been lying a few minutes earlier. Then she turned her back on me as she walked towards the front of the bus to find a seat, and the bus was soon out of sight.

That was the end of another romance. I later learned that the new driver of the little old Bedford had successfully fought a fire at the factory and he became Lucy’s new love. They finally married and were very happy together the last thing I heard. As the bus had vanished out of sight that night, I’d picked up the ring and wandered home, funnily enough, not feeling too worried about our breakup. On the Monday afternoon I returned the ring to the shop and got all my money back.

Meanwhile, on the music scene, Gerry and the Pacemakers had ‘How Do You Do It’ in the charts, along with ‘Let’s Turkey Trot’ by Little Eva, ‘The Folk Singer’ by Tommy Roe, ‘Pipeline’ by the Chantays, and The Beatles with ‘From Me To You’.

Lucy and I had regularly gone down to the cellar club each Wednesday evening when she stayed in Reading for our mid-week date, and my friends there were very surprised and concerned when I turned up without her that first Wednesday after our breakup. Of course, when I explained how I’d been engaged for two whole minutes before Lucy had gone her way, it soon became one of the best bits of fun gossip around the place.

But I had the last laugh when I turned up the following weekend with a beautiful blond hanging from my arm, and the two of us only seemed to have eyes for each other, with no explanation to my friends who were dying to know where I’d found her, and who she was. But, although I didn’t let on to those friends for quite a few weeks after that night, the explanation of ‘Dave’s secret young lady’ (as she became known for a while) was simple.

As would happen in any town, young people who have gone out with each other in the past, and who are still living in the same area, are bound to occasionally meet up over the following years. I had planned to go down the club for the Saturday evening and was passing a bit of time by looking around the shops until the club opened. I was feeling a bit bored at that enforced idleness when I suddenly looked up and there was Crystal right beside me.

It was just as if we’d only last seen each other the day before. There were no explanations nor excuses, we just linked arms and wandered off for a coffee. I recall that Crystal was curious as to why I couldn’t take her to the usual cafés that had been our old haunts. I couldn’t bring myself to explain how Alan and I had been banned from those cafés, and I’d just steered her down a side lane to a quiet little café behind St. Mary’s Church that was usually frequented by university students. Alan and I hadn’t ‘done the dirty’ on that café and I’d often gone in there with friends from the cellar club. Crystal and I chatted happily over our coffees and, as the time arrived to head for the cellar club, I asked her if she’d like to join me for the evening. And that’s how I came to be down the cellar club with that beautiful blond young lady.

But it wasn’t all that it had seemed. There weren’t really any deep romantic feelings between Crystal and I any more. Like old friends we’d chatted together at our little table and had the occasional dance, but that was it. As the evening drew to a close, Crystal told me that I’d changed so much. I hadn’t asked for any details, I knew that I was a lot more confident and carefree than when she and I had gone out together and I was content to leave it at that. There were plenty of young ladies that I could take out at the time and I hadn’t been trying to get her back. It had just seemed natural that I should invite her down to the club for the evening.

Years later, after she had married, I would bump into her for the final time, almost at the same spot in town as that last meeting. She was with her husband and two young children and I was delighted to meet them all and see that she seemed so settled down and happy. But for me, in the late spring of 1963, it seemed that I would never settle down and ‘live happily ever after’.

As an emergency stop-gap, the bread delivery round was an easy little number. Each morning I’d drive the red Morris van up to Peppard, about three miles north of Reading, and load up. I soon got to know the round and a lot of my customers. I’d normally be finished by early afternoon when I’d be free to go home. On Fridays I was always finished by midday and, as there was no Saturday work, it gave me a good start to the weekend. Alan, as usual, was ‘on the dole’ at that time so he was free as well.

The late spring days were quite warm and I began to get itchy feet again. Alan and I hadn’t done any hitch hiking for a while so I suggested that we try our luck once more. Alan was all for it and we decided to go to Portsmouth and Southsea the following weekend.

It was the usual thrown-together affair with blankets, an old white cotton tent with no ground-sheet (could it have been the same one that I’d used in Amersham and Somerset?), a change of clothes, and a bit of food, all squashed in old ex-army back-packs. The tent poles were long gone so we had to make two more out of four bits of wood. We took no cooking gear, relying on sandwiches and uncooked porridge (which is quite nice with milk and sugar). Finally our preparations were complete and the hour arrived.

I was home just after one o’clock on the Friday afternoon and we set off. As I had the tent, Alan offered to carry the poles. The four bits of wood were fairly long and he placed them across the top of his pack under the top flap. They stuck out on either side and he had to be careful that he didn’t poke anyone in the eye. We caught the bus down to the town, then another bus out onto the Basingstoke Road where we began hitch hiking. Within minutes a car had stopped and we loaded ourselves in.

That first lift took us all the way down to Chandlers Ford. It wasn’t really the direction we had planned, but the driver was a great chap and we had such a laugh with him that we were at Chandlers Ford before we realised it. Nevertheless, we soon gained our right road and reached Portsmouth. I was keen to spend another night up on Portsdown Hill as I had when I’d gone there a few years earlier on the cycle. Alan didn’t mind so we caught the bus back out of Portsmouth and climbed the hill to the same spot as I’d camped before.

With the tent pitched and our ‘beds’ fixed up we sat and watched the sun set on our right. Down below in front of us the city lights began to come on as the daylight faded. Soon it was just as I had remembered it, with the brightly-lit streets, the quiet roar of traffic and the clatter of the passing electric trains wafting up, a few dogs barking nearby, and the lights reflecting off the sea in the distance. It was great to be up on the side of those downs again, looking down on that scene and hearing the noises, and yet seeming to be strangely detached from it all. I was reminded of the recent experience I’d had up in the mountains of North Wales when I’d looked down the valley and seen the bright fertile plains of ‘civilization’ way off in the distance. It had been nice to be so remote from the humdrum of daily life.

As that thought came idly into my mind, I suddenly had the idea of hitch hiking up to those Welsh hills. Full of enthusiasm at this exciting idea, I put it to Alan. But, much to my surprise, he wasn’t in the least interested. He said it would be too far, and that he wasn’t keen to go up to any mountains. I’d felt a bit deflated by his response at first, but then I had become determined to give it a go and told him that I was going to try it, with or without him. He seemed happy with my decision and we got on with the present mini-adventure.

Although it was quite cool up on the downs as the night breeze blew under the walls of the old tent, we slept well and awoke to a misty morning. But the mist soon cleared as the sun began to warm up and by the time we’d made our way back down to Portsmouth the day was clear and bright. I’d been told that the diving-board in the Portsmouth swimming baths was thirty feet high and I was very keen to try it out. After going to the station to leave our sacks in the left-luggage office for the day, we set off with our swimming trunks rolled up in our towels, and eventually found the swimming pool.

The diving-board was high and, as I stood on it, I thought that the water looked a long way down. It wouldn’t be any worse than diving off Reading Bridge into the River Thames, but I suppose that being able to see the bottom of the pool had helped to make that board seem higher. Then I dived, made a perfect entry, and there was nothing to it. After another two or three dives it was old hat and I could see that Alan was getting restless down at the shallow end. But there was a diversion near at hand.

I dived in again and was swimming along the pool towards Alan when I suddenly felt my leg being grabbed and pulled. I swung round to find a very nice young lady holding my leg with a surprised look on her face. She’d been playing a game with her friend, I’d come swimming through and she’d grabbed my leg instead of her friend’s leg. She didn’t seem to know what to say or do until I asked if I could have my leg back. That broke the spell and the three of us were soon laughing at the mistake. Alan came over and we eventually invited the girls to join us for the day. They accepted and went off to change.

I wanted to do one more dive off that board and so, with Alan telling me to hurry, I climbed the steps, walked along the board, and launched myself off.

I suppose that I’d been thinking about the chance meeting with the girls, or it could have been that it was Alan rushing me to get changed. In any event, I slipped off the edge of the board and hit the water at an awkward angle. A sharp pain shot up my back and I could hardly swim to the edge of the pool. I couldn’t pull myself up out, and had to go along to the steps where Alan was impatiently waiting, and grumbling at me to stop messing around or we would miss the girls. I recall thinking to myself that, after all the efforts to get him interested in a girl, he has to choose this time to suddenly become enthusiastic.

At the time I couldn’t have cared less if we missed the girls or not. I was hardly able to stand up straight, let alone hurry. Alan helped me to dry off and get dressed after he had realised that I was really hurt, then he threw his own clothes on and we made our way towards the exit. He wanted to meet the girls at all costs, he didn’t have the nerve to meet them without me, so all I could do was to hope that the girls hadn’t bothered to wait.

But the girls were still waiting for us and, feeling a bit of a weakling, I explained what had happened. The girls were quite concerned and fussed around as we made our way along to Southsea. By then, through being young and fit along with the exercise of walking I suppose, the pain had almost gone. After a couple of hours around the fair that evening it was as if I hadn’t hurt myself at all, except for a dull ache in my lower back, and we had a ball.

Alan and I had to get back to Portsmouth station in time to get our packs out of the left-luggage office where we’d stored them that morning. When we explained this to the girls, they were tickled pink to find that we were camping out and asked us if we’d like to camp in their back garden, adding that their parents wouldn’t mind. I didn’t want any complications and told the girls that we preferred to camp up on Portsdown Hill. Imagine our surprise when the girls said that they lived up on the side of Portsdown Hill themselves. What was more, we discovered that both girls lived near each other, in the houses immediately below our camping spot.

They took us to ‘my’ girl’s home, where we met her parents who extended the offer of camping in their back garden. But Alan and I still declined, explaining that we wanted to camp up higher so that we could get an early start towards home the next morning. The explanation was accepted and we were given a wonderful tea. Finally, after thanking the parents for their hospitality, the four of us made our way up to the camping spot where the girls watched with interest as we pitched the tent again and set out our ‘beds’. For a while we all sat and watched as the sun set and the city lights come on down below. Then it was time for the girls to go home.

I hadn’t really thought of any romance. As far as I’d felt, we’d all just paired up for a bit of fun and friendship. But, as we were about to take the girls back home, the leg-pulling girl gave me a smacking kiss on the lips and asked me to visit her again soon. Alan had received no kiss, but ‘his’ girl had also asked him to visit again. Saying that we’d call on them the next time we were down that way, Alan and I walked the girls down to ‘my’ girl’s home, where I received another smacking kiss on the lips, before the two of us headed back up to the tent with the girls shouting further ‘good-byes’ as we gradually vanished into the darkness above them.

The next morning we got up early and walked along the top of the downs until we reached the Alton road where we began hitch hiking again. We were still standing at the top of Portsdown Hill a few minutes later when a motorcycle and sidecar came chugging up the incline towards us.

I remember the motorcyclist so clearly. He pulled up beside us with a shuddering stop and, in a loud laughing voice, asked us where we were going. We told him and he offered to take us as far as Basingstoke if we didn’t mind the wind in our faces and hair (there were still no regulations regarding the wearing of helmets at that time) and we gladly accepted his kind offer. Amid more cheerful laughter from that man, Alan got into the sidecar and we piled the two packs on his lap. The rider climbed on the cycle and I climbed onto the seat behind him. With a terrific jerk that actually lifted the front wheel off the ground, and almost tipped me off the back, we shot away towards the brow of the hill just ahead, with the man laughing heartily.

As we went over the top of the hill and began descending to long hill down the other side, I thought that the man would settle down a bit. But I was wrong. With another bellowing laugh, he started singing at the top of his voice while the motorcycle roared and rattled at an alarming pace. At first Alan and I were glancing nervously at each other, both of us expecting that any minute the whole lot would go off the road and kill us all. Then we began to grin as the happiness and joy, that the man seemed to be experiencing, rubbed off on us. By the time we shot up through Waterlooville we were all singing and laughing with the thrill of it all.

We raced along to Alton, screamed left on to the Basingstoke road, and roared on up to Basingstoke itself. The man took us over to the Reading Road where, still laughing out loud, he insisted that we roll a cigarette each, and have a smoke together before we went our ways. Finally he took his leave, roaring off down the road, yahooing and laughing loudly as he vanished into the distance. Alan and I stood there helpless with laughter for a while, as much from relief that we were still alive as from the infectious happiness of that man. Shortly we were picked up by a car driver who laughed almost as loud as the motorcyclist had as we told him about our last lift while he whisked us on up to Reading.

Over the next few days I worked with every determination towards collecting up the gear that I thought would be required for my second trip up to North Wales. I was still reading every book on the subject of mountaineering and climbing that I could find in the Reading libraries (pathetically little in those days - I’d exhausted all the West Reading library books on that subject, and had joined the main Reading Library which had little extra) and I’d worked out the minimum requirements for going up into a mountainous area without actually climbing the peaks. In spite of Alan’s refusal to accompany me on the venture, I was still going to attempt the long hitch hike up to those mountains.

I obtained a thick, yellow oilskin coat as protection against any bad weather. I made up a survival kit consisting of a torch, some bandages and plasters, a notepad and pencil, a whistle (Mr. Greer had carried a whistle, although I didn’t know why at the time), a compass, and, if I got there I was going to buy a one-inch ordnance map of the Snowdon area. I had already began studying how to read maps, etc. through a book that I’d borrowed from the Reading Library.

My food consisted of a large box of porridge, sugar, tea (loose in a paper-bag, there were no tea-bags to jiggle at that time, although I think that the idea may have just been coming out on the market), a pint of milk (I’d buy more milk as needed), and some fruit. I also had chocolate, raisins, and nuts to nibble (Mr. Greer had explained that these last items of food were very important for energy).

Along with all the above, I had a saucepan for cooking (over an open fire), a spoon, mug, and dish, a flannel, toothbrush, and towel, extra clothing, a woolen hat (bought at Brennan’s), a couple of army-blankets, and the faithful old tent. My work boots doubled up as walking boots.

It was a fair amount of gear to cart around, especially as I was relying on other people to help me get to my destination and back. As far as I was concerned, everything had to be neat and tidy - especially my backpack. I packed and repacked it on the Thursday evening, but I still couldn’t get everything in so that the load looked compact. In the end I tied the tent and blankets in a neat roll beneath the pack, and tied the poles up one side. These adjustments helped to make my load look so much neater. Nevertheless, it was still a far cry from the neat ‘sacks that I cart around now in the mid-90s.

By the time that I finished work on the Friday afternoon, everything was packed and ready. All that remained, after a shave, bath, and change of clothes, was to walk across to the other side of the road from our house and begin hitch hiking towards Oxford. I remember that Alan was watching out of his upstairs bedroom window with, as he told me later, the hope that I wouldn’t get a lift.

But Alan hoped in vain. A chap soon gave me a lift up to the Oxford bypass, another took me to Stratford-on-Avon, then the next dropped me off on the Shrewsbury by-pass. Almost two thirds of the journey in three lifts, and the rest of the way straight up the A5 trunk-road to the Ogwen Valley - not to mention that wonderful mountain, Tryfan. Within minutes of being dropped off on the Shrewsbury by-pass I was given a lift right up to Capel Curig.

Through the help of those good drivers it had been so easy, and I recall laughing to myself at the thought of Alan being stuck down in Reading for the weekend while I was free to roam those wonderful hills. But, at the same time I was very apprehensive as to whether I’d be as lucky with lifts when I headed for home. Just as I had so many times before when I’d gone beyond the accepted limits, such as my wanderings from the Beech Barn camp, the old familiar feelings came to me as I thought that I might not get back in time for work on the Monday morning. That thought quietly nagged in the background of my mind, but I was determined to get something out of the trip before I set off back down south.

As it was dark, I decided to find somewhere nearby to camp for the night, then see what the morning would bring. Feeling safer with my memory of the road from Capel Curig to Nant Gwynant, I walked that way until, just past Plas-y-Brennin, I left the road and made my way down to the shore of Llynau Mymbyr. Soon I’d pitched my tent and settled down. It was one-thirty in the morning and the journey of roughly two hundred and fifty miles had taken almost twelve hours.

But the thrill of waking up beside the mist-covered lake that morning was well worth it. The mist was fairly thick and I could only see a short distance. It was quite eerie, there seemed to be nobody else in the world but me. What a transformation, one day I’m in amongst the crowds, the next I’m all alone in a mist-covered valley. Marvelling at the thought, I packed my gear away and walked back up to the road.

Having already started along the road towards Nant Gwynant the night before, and feeling that I only had myself to please as long as I saw ‘something adventurous’ while I was there, I decided to continue on along that road. That decision gave me a unique and ‘magical’ mountain-view to remember, the first of hundreds that I’d see during my wanderings around the heights.

After walking along the road for a mile or so, the mist suddenly thinned, sunlight burst through, and I could see the mountains of Snowdonia up in front. It was a beautiful sight, the mountains were framed by the surrounding mist, almost as if I were looking through a golden tunnel at the view. For a few seconds I just stopped and took in that wonderful sight. Then I walked on and the world came alive as I went out of the mist and could see hills all around. Happily I plodded on, gazing around at the views and hearing the quiet roar of distant cascades, along with the bleat of sheep. It was like stepping back a few weeks to when I’d been there with Mr. Greer and his lads.

But this time I was on my own, with no friendly lads, no helpful information, and no transport to whisk me easily to the places of interest. Nevertheless, all the drivers who gave me lifts helped to fill those gaps. To me now, it’s amazing how I can remember so many of their faces and the conversations I had with them. Another amazing thing that I’d discover was the fact that, up in the hills, not only would males give me a lift, but females would help as well. There seemed to be a lot of trust shown by drivers of both sexes when it came to giving climbers, fell-walkers, and mountaineers a lift in those days. If a person carrying a ‘sack walked along the roads in amongst the hills, very few cars would pass by without the driver stopping and offering a lift unless the car was already full. The help and friendliness received from others up in the hills, especially the locals, whether climbers or not, always made me feel very humble and extremely gratified. I gradually came to feel proud that I was meeting such people, even if I was the ‘beggar’, and never forgot how I was helped out when I had my own transport and was able to give something back. Naturally, as already written about, there were drivers all over the country who would help somebody get to their destination at that time. But, around towns the lifts were longer in coming even though many cars were passing by, whereas up in the hills you could almost guarantee that the first driver to come along would willingly help out.

That was how it was. I wonder if it’s still the same in these uncertain days of the middle-nineties!

But back to that morning, and soon after walking out of the mist I heard the sound of a car coming from behind. Even before I had stuck my thumb out, the car was slowing down and I could see the driver leaning across to unlock the passenger door. That driver was going down to Llanberis and I asked him if he would take me into the Llanberis Pass to the spot between the two huge rock-faces, called ‘Dinas Something’, that were situated, one up on each side of the valley. He knew where I was talking about and told me that I was to be dropped off ‘at the Cromlech Rocks, between Dinas Cromlech and Dinas Mot’.

The few miles passed quickly as we chatted. We turned onto the Llanberis road and pottered up over Pen y Pass. I told the driver how Mr. Greer had tricked me into going up into the hills, and he thought it was a good tale. We wound on down through the Llanberis Pass, and I watched with mounting excitement as we came closer to those great rocks. Finally the driver pulled up beside the road and told me that we were at 'The Cromlech Rocks'. He pointed to a grassed-area just across the road, already occupied by a few scattered tents, and told me that I’d be able to camp there and meet some of the rock climbers.

Thanking the driver, I went into the grassed-area , found a quiet corner and set up my tent. It was still fairly early, but a few of the other campers were beginning to move about. With my tent pitched, and a handful of nuts and raisins to nibble on, I sat on a nearby stone wall and idly watched those other campers prepare for their day.

The campers were those people who dared to climb the sheer walls of rock that was a part of the mountain areas. I saw them sort out the gear that they used - ropes, small loops of rope, a ring of jingling pegs, a hammer, and some steel oval-shaped rings that seemed to magically clip onto the loops of rope. With this gear slung over their shoulders, and a length of short rope wound around their waists three or four times and tied up like a belt, those people wandered off in dribs and drabs towards the high rocks. Their clothes seemed to give them a very professional look, helping them to stand out from the tourists that stopped on the roads to watch them in action up on the rocks. Woolen hats, huge jumpers, trousers with legs cut off at the knees, long thick socks, and huge boots, seemed to be the required dress.

As my eyes followed each party up the winding paths, I could only speculate about how I would feel if I’d been going up there with them. I had thought back to how terrified I’d felt up on Tryfan when I’d been on the short rock face above that huge drop. I’d been scared out of my wits, and yet, I’d felt a strange tingling excitement once I had the safety rope on and was climbing the last metre or so up to Mr. Greer.

There were no climbers up on Dinas Cromlech, but I could see somebody climbing up on Dinas Mot. As the path up to Dinas Mot looked less steep and safer for an unaccompanied non-climber such as myself, I decided to go that way in an effort to get a bit closer to the action. Soon I was sitting on a rock near the bottom of the face, and watching those folk as they made their ways up the faces. It was through sitting there and chatting with the climbers as they approached the rock face or left, that I began to learn a bit about their exciting pastime.

I learned that, for safety reasons, climbers never climb alone, they use their ropes in a special way that minimizes the risk of falling to the ground. The pegs were used as anchor points to help secure, and protect, the climbers as they make their way up the faces. And I was shown how the oval rings (‘krabs’ I was informed) had a sprung gate so that they could be used for joining ropes together, etc. I heard of such things as belaying, hand-jams, lay-backs, mantle-shelving, aid-climbs, abseiling, pitons (the pegs), Italian-hemp ropes, nylon ropes, and being gripped (terrified). All these strange words were used, along with many others, as the friendly climbers stopped to chat with me while I lazed around (‘festered’ was what a lot of them called it - sitting around rather than climbing).

A few of them offered to give me a go up an easy route. But I refused. Those cliffs looked far too formidable for my liking. I recall being surprised by their offers, as I hadn’t expected that those people would be willing to give others a go at their pastime.

But I did play on a couple of large boulders that were just beside the road near the campsite. Later I would discover that the boulders were called ‘The Cromlech Rocks’. With a few short walls and a couple of problems, they were often used by climbers as a bit of practice, and for a warm-up before heading off up to the real thing.

It was the heights that scared me. I’d climbed many high trees, but there always seemed to be a fair amount of security caused by the enclosure of the branches and leaves all around. On the rocks there was just that great space above, below, behind, and to the sides. I would have liked to have had a go with those climbers, but I was simply too scared.

I thoroughly enjoyed that Saturday down in the Llanberis Pass as I lazed around and watched the climbers. The weather was great and there was a balmy breeze blowing through the valley. As I rolled up in my blankets and settled down that night, I listened to a group of those climbers as they sat around a fire and sang songs. They were having such a great evening with their laughing, joking, and singing that it was hard to realise that only a few hours ago they were risking their lives up on those cliffs. Somehow, I wasn’t sure how, I wanted to have a go at their pastime, but I couldn’t see myself being so carefree about it as those climbers seemed to be.

On the Sunday morning I got up early, had a watery bowl of porridge (I’d run out of milk), and packed up. Even though I knew I only had that day to get back home, and I didn’t know how my luck would go with lifts, I wanted to at least see Tryfan before I set off. With this in mind I walked out to the road.

The first car to come by gave me a lift to Capel Curig, and from there I got a lift on round to the Ogwen Valley. Again my excitement mounted at the sight of that beautiful peak appearing over the shoulder of the hill on the left as we approached, and I was wishing that I had somebody with me so that I could climb up to its summit again. The driver dropped me off at the bottom of the mountain, and I wandered over to the car park to sit with my back against a stone wall where I could look up the slopes. From that position, the mountain looked more like a craggy hill than the steep, thrusting peak that could be seen while driving down the valley. But I wasn’t deceived, I knew that the path was very steep in places, even without the added fun of trying a bit of rock climbing on the way.

I watched a few parties set off and gradually dwindle away to nothing up on the distant slopes. If I’d been a bit more experienced, I’d have known that any of the parties would have let me tag along with them, most mountain people are always willing to give a beginner a go.

I also walked to the bottom of the nearby Milestone Buttress, which Mr. Greer had pointed out to me as we’d passed by at the start of our climb, and watched a couple of climbers work their way up a series of cracks and slabs. They had made it look so easy and I envied them for their skill and daring. There seemed to be something screaming at me to give this rock climbing lark a go, and yet I didn’t have the guts. I recall that I had made up the excuse to myself that, as I lived so far from the crags, without any transport, there wasn’t much point in being too interested in such a pastime as I’d never get the chance to gain any experience.

So I contented myself with just watching others, and admiring the scenery, until noon, when I began the long trip back towards home.

I hadn’t wanted to leave, I would have been willing to spend all night travelling back if I’d been sure of getting home in time for work. But I couldn’t take the chance. Nevertheless, my luck held better than I would have imagined for I was given a lift right down to Oxford, only twenty five miles from Reading, and another lift saw me dropped off right outside my door.

With the willing kindness of all those drivers that were good enough to help me, I had another wonderful weekend slotted into my memory to look back on in later years. I was very grateful to all the drivers who had helped. If it hadn’t been for their kindness I would have spent another lost weekend around the town. I had been lucky to get up and back so easily, I wasn’t always that fortunate and I never took hitch-hiking for granted.

To me, in these days of the mid-90s, it’s a very sad and unfortunate thing that hitch-hiking has become such a dangerous way of travelling around to see the world. It’s was a fantastic way to see countries and learn about people. I never forgot how I was willingly helped out. Once I became established with my own car (and also through lorry-driving), I gave hundreds of lifts and even made some good friends that way.

The next day I was back at work, whistling and singing to myself as I delivered bread, buns, and cakes to my customers. I couldn’t stop thinking about all those climbers who seemed to be enjoying themselves so much up in the mountains that weekend, and I gradually became determined that somehow I was going to have a go at climbing myself. It was the type of pastime that grabbed at my imagination, and I wanted to feel the fear, then relief, as I had done on the short rock face upon Tryfan with Mr. Greer. With that new determination I began to make my preparations.

Meanwhile, I was already enjoying the happy friendship of my customers. Most of them liked to have a chat on the doorstep and I seemed to be laughing about something at every house I went to. Those friendly ladies helped to brighten my working days no end. I, in return, tried to help them as much as I could.

I recall one little old lady who used to ask me, twice a week, if I’d dash back down the shop (which wasn’t far from her house at that point) and buy her a packet of cigarettes. She was unable to get out herself and, at first I'd drive back down to the shop and get her a packet. Later I took a packet with me on the days that I was calling at her house.

Another customer (who I’d never met up to that point) shouted down one day that she was too ill in bed to get up. I shouted up at the window to ask if there was anything I could do and was amazed when she answered that all she wanted was a cup of tea. She shouted that the back door was open, then explained where the makings were once I was inside. I recall feeling very uncomfortable at being in a lady’s house while she lay in bed upstairs, but I persevered and took her up a nice ‘cuppa’. To see the gratitude on her face was well worth it. She explained to me that she hadn’t lived there all that long and didn’t really know anybody yet. I could see that she wasn’t well at all and I told her that her neighbors were very nice people, and that I would ask them to get the Doctor. As soon as I explained the situation to my customer next door, she went straight round there full of concern. The Doctor was called and, with the help of the Doctor and her good neighbors, the lady soon recovered.

Naturally, I was on my best behavior all the time and I think that this caused another of my lady customers to see me as a prospective Son-in-law. Her daughter was one of the prettiest girls that I’ve ever laid eyes on. I happened to mention this to the lady and a few days later she asked me if I’d like to take her daughter out. I was very surprised by her offer, but had to explain that I didn’t have a car to be able to take her daughter anywhere. The next thing I knew was that the lady had hired a car and arranged that I’d take her daughter down to the coast for a day. Of course, I was happy to be behind the wheel with the open road in front of me, and the daughter was happy to be taken out for the day. We went to Bognor and Littlehampton, on the south coast, and had a wonderful day. But, in the end, nothing romantic had developed between us, we’d just both been very content with our day out together.

I was still getting down the cellar club on weekday evenings. I never thought that I’d ever stop going down there for something to do during the week as long as I lived. There was still the original happy crowd and a few new people had joined. The little dance area was always full of gyrating bodies now, and the juke box was kept going all the evening.

Gerry and the Pacemakers’ record of ‘I Like It’ was a favourite that was played half a dozen times during the evening at that time, and we wore out the record of The Dakotas’ tune called ‘The Cruel Sea’. Freddie and the Dreamers’ recording of ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ was another favourite at that time, and for a bit of light relief somebody would put on Benny Hill’s recording of ‘Harvest Of Love’.

It was summer, the days were warm, the nights were short, and I thought that it was perfect for another attempt at hitch-hiking up into the mountains. I suggested to Alan that he might like to attempt it with me this time, but he was only interested in going down to see the girls at Portsmouth. I wasn’t all that keen, there didn’t seem much point in going all down there when there were plenty of girls around Reading. I suppose it was a bit unfair of me to expect Alan to go where I wanted and not fall in with his plans. But at the time I couldn’t see any romance developing with the girls when we lived so far away. That excuse was similar to the one I’d made about the mountains. I suppose that if there had been any crags to climb near Reading, I wouldn’t have been so eager to hitch-hike up to the hills. Alan would soon go his own way for a while.

I carried on with my preparations for the next trip up to North Wales. But, those preparations were suddenly held back for a couple of weeks when another girlfriend entered into my life.

They came down the stairs into the cellar club, a dark-haired girl and a red-headed beauty. As I watched them stand at the bottom of the stairs, as if they were undecided what to do next, I saw that these girls were new to the club. If new girls came to the club without a boy, that usually meant that they had no boyfriend. I liked the look of the red-headed girl and this chance was too good to miss. Even before they’d had time to get settled with a Coke, I went straight up to her, introduced myself with all the charm I could muster, then asked her for a dance. She seemed attracted to me almost immediately and I shared my dances between her and her friend for the rest of the evening. In this narrative the redhead’s name will be Diane and her friend’s name will be Carol.

Diane and Carol live at Wokingham, about six miles from Reading (and, I might add, easier for hitch-hiking to than Portsmouth). They were both free of any boyfriends and I hoped that I could fix Carol up with Alan.

At the end of the evening I saw them both on the train for their ride back home, with the promise that we’d meet in the cellar club on the following Sunday afternoon. And that was how my next attempt to reach those mountains was delayed for a while.

Excitedly I raced home and told Alan about Diane and Carol, suggesting that he might like to make up a foursome on the Sunday evening. But he didn’t want to know. I feel that he still wasn’t too happy that I didn’t want to go all the way down to Portsmouth every couple of weekends. But there was somebody else that was very interested.

A couple of weeks earlier, Mum had taken in an Irish woman and her two sons. We called the woman Mrs. Mac and she became Mum’s friend and helper. The elder of the sons, Jim, was my age, and his younger brother’s name was Sean. Jim and I had quickly made friends and it was he that I invited down to the cellar club to meet Carol in Alan’s place. They had only been over in England a few days and Jim couldn’t believe his luck at getting invited out to meet a young girl so easy.

The Sunday afternoon was dull and overcast as Jim and I waited with a group of others outside of the cellar club. I recall thinking to myself that it was probably just as well that I hadn’t gone up to the hills that weekend as it looked as if there was plenty of rain about. We were all too early and the young manager hadn’t arrived yet. I was looking forward to seeing Diane again and hoped she hadn’t changed her mind. But first we’d all have a good laugh just to put us all in the right frame of mind.

There were about eight or ten of us waiting outside of the door, when two lads came along Duke Street, from the direction of London Street (it wasn’t a one-way system in those days), on a motorcycle. They stopped right beside us, and the lad who had been riding on the pillion seat got off while his mate stayed on the motorcycle with the engine ticking over. The lad swaggered through our waiting group, tried the door of the club, then kicked it when he realised it was locked. With a snarl, he swaggered back to the waiting motorcycle and climbed onto the pillion seat. The driver gunned the engine, as his passenger settled back with his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. He was real tough, that lad, but he was just about to have his downfall!

The driver let out the clutch lever, as he showed off in front of the girls in our group, and the motorcycle shot off up the road with a roar. The only trouble was that the driver and the motorcycle left that cocky passenger behind.

It was a sight to see. The motorcycle shot from under the passenger and he was left, for a split second, still in the sitting position with legs apart and his hands in his jacket pockets. That split second scene was recorded in my memory for life before the lad crashed down onto the hard road.

Of course, we all collapsed into great fits of laughter. The lad, probably feeling very stupid, picked himself up and limped on along the road to try and find his mate, who had turned into Broad Street without even noticing that he’d lost his passenger. We never saw the pair again and we were glad of that, we didn’t want those type of people down our club. But the incident gave us a great laugh and another story to talk about while we chatted and danced the evening away.

Diane and Carol arrived later on, and Carol had soon paired off with Jim. All four of us danced and laughed through the evening and had a wonderful time. Along with her good looks, Diane was also good fun. We laughed and giggled as we jigged around the small dance floor, and I felt very relaxed with her. It wasn’t long before we both knew that something had clicked between us. All too soon it was time to take the girls up to the station. Suddenly, it had seemed, Jim and I were standing on the dimly-lit platform waving to their train as it vanished off into the darkness.

All the way home to our own home Jim couldn’t stop talking about Carol, and how lucky he’d been that Alan had refused to go with me that night. Secretly, I had realised that, when it came to girls, it had been refreshing to have a mate along who I didn’t have to worry about. Jim had the confidence to do things for himself. He was good-looking, with black curly hair and laughing eyes. He was a very charming lad, but he could be very nasty when he wanted to be (although he was never nasty with me). He enjoyed a good laugh and we had some great times together.

But, just like Alan, Jim wasn’t interested in going up into the mountains. I was still reading everything that I could get on the subject from the local libraries, and I couldn’t get those beautiful hills and crags of North Wales out of my mind. As the summer progressed towards autumn I hitch-hiked up there twice more on my own. As usual the drivers were good to me and I seemed to get up there and back very easily.

Through plenty of lifts and plenty of walking, I began to slowly explore the area a bit more minutely. I circled the whole of the Snowdon massif in short lifts, asking to be dropped off at any villages or interesting spots. And I also began to walk up to some of the more accessible tracks near the roads. I recall that I spent a whole afternoon wandering up the Miner’s Track to Glaslyn and back. This track began at the Gorphwysfa car park, where I’d been tricked into climbing Yr Wyddfa by Mr. Greer, and wound up into the center of the Snowdon Horseshoe. It was a safe walk to undertake, and I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having the hills closely thrusting up all around. It would have taken very little effort for me to carry on up to the summit from Glaslyn, but I didn’t dare do it on my own.

I also spent an hour on the Capel Curig Pinnacles, just up behind the Capel Curig church. I suppose that they were only about fifty feet high, just a jumble of rocks sticking up out of the turf, but I scrambled to the top in true mountaineering tradition, then played on some of the short easy faces.

I became fascinated with the local folk lore, the whole area seemed to be steeped in mysterious traditions and history - the Roman Occupation, King Arthur and his Knights, wars fought with the English, castles on hilltops, slate and copper mines, narrow gauge railways, shepherds and sheepdogs, famous mountaineers, the Welsh language itself - there was so much to discover and explore. One of my favourite stories, which I shall give a brief description of here as an example, was the story of how the village of Beddgelert had supposedly got it’s name.

The story goes that while Prince Llywelyn went off to do battle, he left his infant son in the charge of his faithful dog, Gelert. Upon his return, the Prince was horrified to find the place in much disarray, the dog covered in blood, and no sign of his infant son. Thinking that the dog had eaten his son, the Prince drew his sword and killed the dog. As the dog died, there was a small cry from amongst the carnage and the Prince found his son very much alive. Upon looking further, the Prince discovered the body of a huge wolf, which had tried to get at the son only to be killed by Gelert. The Prince was so mortified at what he’d done to Gelert that he gave him a royal burial nearby and marked the spot with tombstones. The village is named after this incident - Bedd is Welsh for grave, therefore Beddgelert is Gelert’s Grave. The burial place of Gelert can still be seen at Beddgelert.

Diane wasn’t all that happy about not seeing me during those weekend wanderings away. She had complained that she didn’t see me enough as it was. Finally, obviously having discussed this with her parents, I was invited over to their home (probably in the hope that the family would accept me, and I’d be encouraged to visit during the week). Diane was delighted to have me there. I met her parents and sister, and soon became one of the family. It wasn’t long before I was going over there a couple of evenings a week.

More new songs had entered the charts by that time. ‘Twist and Shout’ by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes was in the top-twenty, along with ‘Sweets for my Sweet’ by The Searchers, and ‘Wipeout’ by the Surfaris. The Beatles released ‘She Loves You’ and I finally became one of the millions around the world who fell under their musical spell. I have never tired of listening to their songs ever since.

Meanwhile, On the 29th August of that year (1963), Val and Derek were blessed with a second daughter, Tracey.

In the late summer of that year, I packed in the Bread delivery round and got a job with one of the local electrical wholesalers, Young & Wildsmith. I was fed up with doing the same rounds each day and the new job would enable me to go further afield, with a bit of variety at the same time. The company had three or four Austin vans and I’d been employed to do the ‘northern run’ which suited me as it was the area up towards Amersham.

Most of my new workmates were a bit younger than myself. They wore suits to work (to drive a van and lug refrigerators about?), and went as a group to posh dinner clubs at weekends. They were very cliquey, bopping around together in the storerooms as they sang the latest songs by Billy J Kramer, Brian Poole, and The Searchers (‘The Beatles?’ they had scornfully sneered, ‘Yuk!’), and I, in my old jeans and jumper, stayed an outsider.

But I didn’t care. I wasn’t the type to go around in a suit all day, I didn’t like posh clubs, and I wasn’t all that keen on Billy J Kramer, Brian Poole, nor The Searchers. I was happy to do my own thing and let those lads get on with their own type of life. Apart from loading times in the morning, I didn’t see much of them as I was out on the road for most of the day.

It didn’t take long to get to know my new customers. I’d do all the local deliveries, then head off north to do the ones further afield. Sometimes I got the chance to pop in and see my Grandparents when I had deliveries over that way. It was a good little job and I was fairly happy, except for the fact that I had to work on Saturday mornings. That put paid to my hitch-hiking trips to the hills for a while.

But it didn’t stop Alan and I hitch-hiking over to the Isle of Wight, and having a bit of a fright, one weekend in late September.

Alan had accepted that it would not be any use in asking me to go down to Portsmouth now that I was going out with Diane. He even mentioned that he regretted not going to meet Carol. Regardless of how much he’d grumbled at me, he never did go down on his own to see the girls at Portsmouth again anyway. But he’d obviously been missing the fun of hitch-hiking and, as I arrived home on the Saturday lunch time, he’d asked if we could do a bit of ‘hitching’ again. Within minutes I’d changed my clothes and we were on our way.

Alan hadn’t really thought of anywhere to go. I had arranged to meet Diane on the Sunday, so we couldn’t go too far. But we needed somewhere different to head for, somewhere that would be worth going to, somewhere that would give us a decent challenge in the time we had. As we went down towards the town discussing this, I suddenly had the idea that we could try for the Isle of Wight. I hadn’t been there since I’d spent that wonderful time with dear Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob. I had suddenly thought it would be great to go over there and see them, and the old haunts, after all those years. Alan accepted the idea and soon we were hitch-hiking south again.

Once more the drivers were good to us and we easily made the trip down to Lymington, where we caught the evening ferry over to Yarmouth. But, by the time we’d walked into Freshwater, I knew it would be too late to go and knock Auntie Eun up.

The late evening had turned rather chilly, and I suggested to Alan that we go down to Freshwater Bay and sleep under one of the many boats that, I’d remembered, were left upside-down on the shore while not in use. My suggestion was accepted and we took off down to the bay where we chose a boat and settled down for the night.

But the cobbles were too cold to lie on with nothing for protection but jeans and a shirt, and the cold breeze blew in under the sides of the boat. After half an hour we decided to take a bit of a walk up Tennyson’s Down in a effort to get warm again. With this in mind, we passed a few houses then began slogging up the dim path, barely able to see it in the darkness of the night.

Suddenly, Alan gave a blood-curdling shriek which made me almost jump out of my skin. He pointed up into the darkness of the down and screeched that he could see a ghost in front of us. Even as I looked in the direction that Alan was pointing, he’d turned-tail and raced back down the path in terror, abandoning me to my fate.

Half ready to run myself, I peered up into the darkness and, sure enough, there was a tall, white form just ahead. As I looked, the white form seemed to move and I backed away a bit. The more I watched, the more the white thing seemed to move. I suppose that Alan had put the suggestion into my head and I became sure that it really was a ghost, seemingly to be moving silently down the slope towards me. The muffled boom of the sea down below the cliffs had helped to add a feeling of dramatic shipwrecks, drowned sailors, and their spirits wandering around the cliff-tops (it was almost at the same spot that I’d watched the breeches-buoy rescue practice with Auntie Eun). I was up there all alone with ‘it’. In the end, I did the only thing that any sensible chap would do - I, just like Alan, turned-tail and ran for it, feeling that the ‘ghost’ was clutching at my back in its efforts to get me.

As I raced back past the houses and into the road, I crashed into Alan who’d been waiting there. Feeling a lot safer now that we were together again, I suddenly decided to play a trick on him. The ‘ghost’ was nowhere in sight, but I shouted to Alan that it was chasing right behind me. With a bellow of pure fear, he shot off up the road with me trying to keep up with him as I laughed at the fun of it all (never mind that I myself had just turned-tail and run in fright).

But my prank back-fired. Although I shouted at Alan that I’d only been joking, he wouldn’t listen and kept on running. He raced back up through Freshwater town and out onto the Yarmouth road. How he remembered the way had me baffled. Fear must have lent wings to his feet, for normally I could beat him in a run easily, But this time I was left behind, and I’d been a bit worried that he might have got lost. By the time he’d calmed down a bit, and I’d caught up with him, we were almost back to Yarmouth.

I thought that he’d be really annoyed with me for playing the trick on him, but he laughed in his usual good-natured way (probably more with relief than anything else) and we stopped in an open bus-stop shelter for a rest.

At first we were sweating freely as we sat in that shelter, but gradually the sweat turned cold in the early pre-dawn cold wind and we began to shiver once more. We were both quite tired from the trip down, the walk over to Freshwater Bay, and the run back again. On top of that we’d had no sleep all night. We tried to do some exercises to get warm again but, as the dawn showed its grey light in the eastern sky, the wind had been knocked out of our sails. We decided to abandon our plans and head for home.

We caught the first ferry back to the mainland, the drivers looked after us as usual, and we arrived back home just before lunch time. It had been an exciting twenty-four hours. Alan was lucky enough to be able to go straight off to bed, but I had to stay up so that I’d be able to meet Diane that evening as arranged.

I discovered later that the ‘ghost’ had been nothing but a large concrete post, and the phenomena where staring at things in the dark seems to make them move had done the rest.

‘If I Had a Hammer’ by Trini Lopez was everyone’s favourite song by this time. It was up in the charts along with ‘I’m Telling You Now’ by Freddie and the Dreamers. These songs had replaced some of the less popular songs on the juke box down at the club.

Happy at play and with my work, I set off to do the delivery round a few days after my trip down to the Isle of Wight with Alan. There was a small electrical shop on my list that I hadn’t been to before, and I duly arrived there in the early afternoon.

As I entered the shop to inquire whether the delivery should be made through the shop, or around the back, I heard an exclamation of "Oooh!" and saw a woman standing beside the counter smiling at me. She told me that I was a ‘nice-looking young man’ and gushed all over me as I made the delivery. I hadn’t thought too much about her comments, I’d just laughed and got on with my work, then drove off.

A few days later I had some more goods to deliver to the shop. As I entered the front door, my arms full of boxes, she swooped on me and told me that I had ‘beautiful blue eyes’. This time I was a bit embarrassed. She seemed to be rather too sincere to be just having a joke. I quickly got my docket signed and left.

But on the third occasion that I had to make a delivery to that shop, she asked me to put the goods into a store-room at the back. I’d barely had time to pass on through to the darkened room and put the boxes down, when she pounced. It reminded me of the time when the young girl from Val’s drama class had trapped me in the back garden of our house when I was going out with Crystal.

This woman’s arms snapped tightly around my neck, and she kissed me hard on the lips. I struggled to get free, but she was hanging on like mad. She told me that she ‘fancied me’ and had done since she’d first seen me walk through the shop doorway.

But, just like that time before with Val’s friend, I told this woman that I was very happy with my girlfriend. And, just like the time before, the woman said that I was to go and visit her if ever I was free. With that, she let me go and I scooted thankfully out of the shop.

When I arrived back at Young & Wildsmith’s, I mentioned the incident to one of the drivers. He laughed and shouted to our other workmates that I’d met ‘Getaway Gertie’. I didn’t quite know what he was going on about, but those lads seemed to think that my problem with the woman was hilarious. Finally, they were able to tell me that they’d all been cornered by the woman at one time or another. A few drivers (not there any more at that time) had succumbed to her advances, and she was now known affectionately as Getaway Gertie. I was told that she would be quite harmless provided I was firm with her, which I was. I, personally, had no more trouble with that woman.

But it wouldn’t be the end of my meetings with that type of woman and the funny names that had been bestowed on them by drivers that had been their way, or were ‘in the know’. Over the years, I’d hear about such ‘famous’ (to the lorry-drivers of that time) ladies as ‘Ethel Anyway’, ‘Desperate Diane’, ‘Maul ‘em Maud’, ‘Manchester Maggie’, and ‘Floppy Flo’. And I actually met dear old ‘Winnie the Gobble’ (Haven Café on A1 at Scotch Corner - she was 60 years old if she was a day) and ‘Paraffin Lil’ (Café just north of Oxford on Chipping Norton road). They were a lively lot and gave us lorry drivers many a laugh as we told the stories, at over-night stops, of our encounters with any of them.

But, in the autumn of 1963 I’d only had ‘Getaway Gertie’ as an example, and I had thought that it would be just a ‘one-off’ incident.

The weather turned cool as we advanced through the autumn and on towards winter. I recall that the days were quite sunny and warm, but the nights were becoming bitterly cold once more. Diane had gradually become used to the fact that I could take off on any weekend, and she seemed happy about it as long as I met her on the Sunday evenings, and went over to her home through the week.

During the month of October that year, I had three experiences of sleeping out in the bitter cold of those early winter nights.

I’d been keen to visit Guildford, my birth-place, and, one Saturday afternoon of that month, I talked Alan into hitch-hiking over to that town. It was a warm, sunny day and the pair of us were only dressed in suits. We reached Guildford, and wandered around a bit, but I couldn’t relate to anything as I’d been too young for memories when Mum and I had moved away. It was night time and fairly cold by the time we began to hitch-hike back towards Reading. A driver gave us a lift as far as Bracknell, and that was the last lift we got that day.

The night gradually became freezing cold as we stood beside the Wokingham road at Bracknell. Our light summer suits and thin shirts didn’t even begin to keep the cold out. As cars became fewer, due to the lateness of the hour, we finally decided to walk towards Wokingham in an effort to try and get a bit warmer. But, we were walking into a slight freezing breeze, and even the effort of walking briskly didn’t help much as that breeze cut straight through our thin clothes. Then something like a miracle, to us at the time, happened.

We were on the Wokingham side of Binfield, and a thick frost was already covering the roadside grass and hedges. I happened to glance over one of the hedges and noticed a red glow across the other side of the field that the hedge bordered. I pointed it out to Alan and, even as he looked a shower of fiery sparks shot up from the lower part of the glow. Thinking that a building was on fire, we crashed through the hedge and ran like mad across the field.

But it wasn’t a burning building. Somebody had cleared a few trees from a bit of land, then piled the trees into a heap and set fire to them. Although there were no flames, the heat was intense. Every now and again the logs would settle down a bit, throwing up a shower of sparks. But, to Alan and I, that fire was a blessing. We laid down on the ground, as close to the heat as was possible, and dropped off for a bit of a sleep.

But, it wasn’t a deep sleep. For the rest of that night we alternated between having a frozen back and a hot front, or a frozen front and a hot back. As soon as a part of our body was turned away from the heat it cooled down rapidly, and we’d wake up for just long enough to notice the cold and turn over. Before the freezing dawn had began to lighten the sky, the pair of us were well awake and standing beside the fire, shuffling around in circles on the spot so that our bodies kept fairly warm all over.

In the end we were forced to leave and, even before we’d crossed the frost-covered field, we were very cold again. Luckily a car picked us up within a few minutes of stepping through the hedge and we were soon back home. I promised myself that I would think twice before racing off like that again.

But I didn’t keep that promise for, on the very next Saturday afternoon, Alan and I set out to hitch-hike over to Amersham.

The cold weather must have kept all the good drivers indoors that day. We managed to get a lift through Slough to Stoke Poges, and then our luck ran out. Again the evening was bitterly cold and, although this time we were wearing jumpers under our jackets, we both shivered. I suggested that we walk along to Gerrards Cross in the hope that we could find some shelter. But, we were tired and became bored long before we reached that town. Finally the pair of us curled up under a thicket of bushes in the hope that we’d get some sleep.

Although I was shaking with the cold, I did fall asleep for a while. But, when I awoke I was frozen. Hoar frost had covered one side of my face and it had gone numb. The frost had also covered my suit all down one side. Alan was already up and doing vigorous exercises to try and get his circulation going again. I stood up and we sparred with each other, slipping and sliding on the white, frosty grass in the early morning darkness. Again we abandoned our plans and set off at a brisk pace towards Slough and Reading.

Once more I promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught out in the cold again. But, on that same Sunday, after Alan and I had returned home from spending the cold night near Gerrards Cross, I again broke that promise. My trouble was that I quickly forgot the hard times (or maybe I felt a sense of ‘adventure’ there somewhere). Nevertheless, it was one thing to make plans while the day was warm or I was sitting in front of a roaring fire at home, but it was a different matter when it was cold and there was nowhere to go. This time Jim and his younger brother, Sean, would be my companions.

It was the Sunday lunch time and, upon our return from the abortive attempt to get over to Amersham, Alan had gone straight to bed. But I wasn’t going to waste the afternoon on sleep. I had arranged to meet Diane down the club that evening and Jim had suggested that, as I’d returned sooner than expected, we could go down the club early and ‘get in the mood’. I’d agreed to his suggestion and we’d got ready.

But, while Jim and I were tidying ourselves up, Mum was downstairs hatching out a different plan for our evening.

Fed-up with running the boarding house in Reading, Mum had begun to look at alternatives. Finally, she’d come up with the idea that she would be more fitted to running a guest house by the sea. As it was almost winter time, and the holiday season was well past, she felt sure that there would be some seaside guest houses up for rent somewhere along the south coast.

As Jim and I trundled down the stairs after tidying ourselves up, Mum called out and asked me if I wanted a week off from work for a holiday. Upon my asking what she meant, she explained that she wanted me to go along the south coast and inquire at all the estate agents if there were any guest houses for rent, and if so, I was to send those details up by post each day. She promised to ring Young & Wildsmith’s to let them know that I wouldn’t be in for a week, and she offered to pay for my fares there and back.

While Mum was explaining all this, Jim kept on telling me that I was a ‘lucky blighter’, and how he was wishing that Mum had given him the opportunity to do such a thing. I wasn’t all that keen, until Mum suggested that I could take Jim along with me, and offered to pay his fare as well. All at once I sensed that there might be a bit of a laugh in the project, and I agreed to go the next morning.

But Mum wanted us to go straight away, explaining that we’d waste a day travelling down there unless we went that afternoon. I wanted to see Diane that night, if only to let her know that I wouldn’t be seeing her for a week. But Mum persisted, I gave in, and Jim and I went back upstairs to pack our bags.

While we were packing, Sean came in and asked to go as well. His mum offered to pay his fare and I agreed that he should come along. Feeling a bit like ‘the more, the merrier’, I tried to get Alan to come with us as well. But he was too tired to take in what I was trying to explain, and in the end I gave up.

Mum had written down our instructions while we were packing and, with no more ado the three of us set off with a bag of spare clothes and an army blanket each.

From the Reading Southern Station we caught the train across to Guildford and on down to Portsmouth. Portsmouth and Southsea would be the starting places for our search. As the train took us through Wokingham station, I thought of Diane getting ready to catch her train at that very station to go into Reading for our date. I regretted my hasty decision, but it was too late by then.

The evening was getting on by the time we reached Portsmouth station, and we all went straight into the station toilet to change into our older clothes that we would sleep in. My plan was to sleep in one of the sea-shelters at Southsea, as I had done three years earlier when I’d rode the cycle down there. Jim and Sean were happy with my plan so, lugging our heavy bags, we left the station and headed towards Southsea. Little did we know that trouble was literally just around the corner.

We were happily wandering along the pavement when, all at once a woman rushed from around a corner and almost collided with Jim. To our surprise, she gave a scream, quickly turned and raced back up the road shouting for the police. We stood there in astonishment as the woman glanced over her shoulder, saw that we were not chasing after her, and stopped just long enough to shout back that she was getting the police on us for attacking innocent ladies. With that she turned again, raced on up the road and was gone.

Jim and Sean were all for racing after her and trying to explain that she was mistaken. But I felt that their idea would only cause more problems, making it look as if we really were chasing her, even if it was only to tell her of the mistake she’d made. I thought that the better way was to go straight to a police station ourselves, and let the police sort it out. Jim and Sean agreed to this safer plan.

We found a police station (Southsea police station I believe) and walked through the door. But the woman had also gone to the same police station to report the terrible attack upon herself by the three thugs wielding heavy bags as weapons. When she saw us walk through the door, she almost fainted with fright. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head and she shouted at a policeman, who was standing behind a counter, to protect her from us. Not quite knowing what to do for the best, I stopped just inside the door with Jim and Sean behind me. Then two other policemen came through a side-door and motioned us over into a corner.

One of the policemen asked what was going on and the policeman behind the counter told them about the woman’s complaint. While the woman continued to talk to the first policeman, our two policemen grilled us. Jim and Sean were happy to let me try and sort things out, so I explained exactly what had happened, and why we’d decided to go to the police station ourselves. The policemen must have believed us for they told the woman that she was obviously mistaken. Asking us to wait, they were able to usher the woman out of the door. Even then she was still shouting at the policemen that she expected protection from thugs who roamed the streets at night (later, us three would wonder why she herself had been wandering about the streets so late if the city was as ‘thug-infested’ as she seemed to be making out). One of the policemen, secretly winking over to us, had told the woman that she would be safe now that we were in the police station, and with that she had finally walked off.

The policemen then turned their attention back to us three. They apologised for the incident, then asked, ‘just to be on the safe side’, if they could look into our bags. We had nothing to hide and the policemen went right through our bags with a fine tooth-comb. We had to explain why we were there, so far from home at that time of the night, and what our plans were. Then the policemen let us go, although they were not very happy that we were sleeping out. With a sigh of relief each, we left the police station.

A few minutes later, still discussing our ‘narrow escape’, we had reached the sea-front at Southsea. Suddenly, that, by then, familiar woman’s voice screamed out again, and there she was, just across the road and shouting for the police once more. This time I didn’t hesitate. Shouting to my mates to follow me, I took off along the sea-front. My friends raced along behind me and soon the woman’s shouting receded into the distance. We didn’t stop until we were safely inside the Eastney sea-shelter.

We were all fairly tired after the excitement of the last few hours, and I hadn’t had much sleep while laying out in the open the night before. As we rolled up in our blankets on the benches, I suggested that if the woman should stumble upon us there, we would all pretend to be fast asleep. With that I settled down, thinking about the last time I had slept there, until I dropped off to sleep.

It only seemed that I’d barely been asleep for a few seconds, when I was awakened by a sudden roar and lights filling the shelter. It had been very cold, the one blanket hadn’t really been warm enough and I’d pulled it right over my head in an effort to try and conserve every bit of body heat as was possible. The sudden roaring noise caused me to pull the blanket down and peep out to see what was going on. As I looked down to the opening at the far end, I could see that a policeman had ridden his motorcycle right into the entrance. Although the motorcycle headlight was glaring towards my direction, the policeman and his motorcycle were easy to see due to the fact that another policeman had ridden a second motorcycle into the opposite entrance just by my head. Even if we had done something wrong, this ploy had effectively blocked off any chance of escape on our part. Sleepily, Jim, Sean, and I sat up, each wondering what was going on.

It turned out that, when we’d accidentally stumbled upon her a second time, the woman had rushed straight back to the police station, with complaints that we’d deliberately followed her again. The policemen had remembered that we’d planned to sleep in the sea-shelter, they had decided to check up on us, and at the same time ask for an explanation to this further accusation from the woman.

The two motorcycle policemen questioned us, and I told them of our second accidental meeting with the woman, and of how we had run off to avoid further complications. Finally, the two policemen warned us that we had better be careful in the future and rode off. Very apprehensively, us three settled back down and I eventually dropped off to sleep again.

We never heard any more of that incident. But I refused to ever go into the Eastney sea-shelter again after that. Twice I’d slept in it, and each time I’d had a visit from the police through no fault of my own. Even though I was innocent, I thought that I might not get away so easily next time.

For the rest of the week we did our best to carry out the job for Mum, and slept rough in the cold sea-shelters along the coast. We spent two days around Portsmouth, as that was the largest centre with the most estate agents. Each afternoon we’d post off our findings to Mum, so that she’d receive them the next morning. Then we’d go off and search for somewhere to sleep for the night. It was icy cold sleeping on those sea-fronts, even if we were in the shelters and wrapped up in a blanket. On the second night we slept in the Southsea shelter instead of the Eastney shelter. I recall two more incidents from that week that stand out in my memory.

The first one was while we were in Littlehampton. After finding our sleeping place for the night, we took a walk around the resort to see what entertainment was on offer for the youngsters during the winter evenings. Our explorations finally came up with an extremely pleasant club called ‘The Top Hat’ and we decided to spend a few hours there, if only for the warmth.

Leaving our bags in the cloakroom, we paid the entrance fee and wandered into a room similar to the one in our own cellar club at Reading. Youngsters were dancing to the latest music blaring from the jukebox, and groups of people were chatting happily together. Everyone was very friendly and the three of us managed to get a few dances in with the local girls.

Then it was the end of the evening and someone shouted out that the last record of the night was about to be played. Within seconds, the three of us had been grabbed by different girls and dragged out onto the dance floor.

I remember that the young girl that I partnered for that dance was dark-haired and wore a tight-fitting black dress. She’d wrapped her arms around my neck and laid her head on my shoulder, as if she’d known me for years instead of seconds.

The jukebox whirred into action, there was a thud as the needle hit the record, then the voice of Gerry Marsden (of Gerry and the Pacemakers) flowed out of the speakers with his version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

The girl and I smooched around the dance floor as if there was nobody else in the whole world, and she clung on as if she would never let me free. It was a magical few minutes, shared with an unknown person who seemed to want to get the most out of the occasion of that last dance without any complications. I recall that I had suddenly felt very good inside to realise that us two complete strangers could share such a wonderful few moments together, with no further expectations either way, and trusting that neither was going to hurt the other or take advantage.

After the dance was over, the young lady thanked me for ‘ending her evening so beautifully’ and went back to her group of friends. Jim and Sean came back off the dance floor and asked me where I had met the young lady before. They were amazed when I explained that we had been, and still were, complete strangers. Both of my friends had agreed that the young lady and I had looked very intimate as we danced that last dance of the evening together.

The young lady waved to me as we left the club a few minutes later and, with that wave she popped out of my life, leaving me with the memory of a few very pleasant moments shared, and appreciated I feel, by two young strangers. I never saw the young lady again, although ‘The Top Hat’ became a favourite haunt when I was down that way over the following years.

Gerry and the Pacemakers’ version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ became a firm favourite on the jukebox in our own club. It was soon climbing the charts along with ‘Do You Love Me?’ by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, and Roy Orbison’s ‘Blue Bayou’.

The second incident was while we were in Brighton. The evening was extremely cold and, as we walked along the sea-front looking for somewhere to sleep, Jim nodded over towards a row of posh, sea-front hotels, and mentioned how nice it would be to spend the night in one of them. We chatted about what luxury it would be to sleep in a proper bed, and Jim and I laughed at how our mums would be sorry to think of us sleeping out in the cold, when we were actually snuggled under warm blankets.

But Sean didn’t think it was very funny. At that point we had already spent five nights of sleeping out in the cold, and it was beginning to knock him about a bit. All at once he asked me if I knew how much it would cost to sleep in one of the hotels for a night. He had sown the seed, and Jim, as the thought of a warm bed hit him fully, suddenly suggested that we could at least find out how much it would cost. Giggling at the thought, we checked our money to get an idea of what we could afford, then we set our sights on one of the hotels.

But we didn’t just pick on any old hotel, we unwittingly picked on one of the best - the ‘Hotel Metropole’. Although we were still dressed in our day suits, they were beginning to look a bit scruffy after the five days away from home with no way of keeping them ironed. We didn’t actually look like the type of rich holiday-makers that would usually be found walking into such a posh hotel.

I think that the hotel receptionist must have had the same idea as he spotted us coming in through the main doors. I was in front and just had time to feel the thick-pile carpet under my feet and glance around the huge reception area, when things began to happen quickly. I saw the receptionist, who was behind a counter on the far side, click his fingers to somebody out of sight on our right. The receptionist came around from the counter and, as he walked towards us, two other men came out of a side room and joined him.

Us three had stopped just inside the doors as we saw the receptionist click his fingers and come over towards us. Flanked by the two other men (they looked like what we would call ‘bouncers’ now) he barred our way any further and asked what we wanted. Politely, I explained that we were wondering how much a room for the night would cost. The receptionist replied that he was sorry but all the rooms were taken. Although I hadn’t thought that the hotel would have been full as it was out of the holiday season, I thanked him very much and turned to go. As we were about to pass out through the door, the receptionist suggested that we could try the hotel again next time we were in Brighton. I thanked him once more, and we walked out into the cold night air.

As soon as we were out of earshot, the three of us collapsed into fits of laughter. It had really struck us funny that we’d been thrown out of a posh hotel. Of course, we hadn’t really been thrown out, the receptionist was probably displeased with our appearance at first, then had obviously realised that we were genuine and not looking for any trouble.

I had never really bothered to go back and visit the Hotel Metropole since that night, but now in 1997, I have checked it out on the Internet. ‘Strakis Hotel Metropole’ is classed as a four-star hotel with 328 luxury bedrooms. It is also the largest combined hotel, conference and exhibition venue in the UK, which probably explains why all the rooms were taken, even out of the holiday season. Considering our shabby dress and the standard of the hotel, I feel that the receptionist was as fair as could be expected on that October night in 1963!

Soon we were wrapped up in our cold blankets for another night in a sea-shelter, still giggling at the thought of being chucked out of the posh hotel, until we all finally dropped off to sleep.

Finally, the week came to an end and we caught a train back to Reading early on the Sunday morning. We’d sent plenty of information from the estate agents back to Mum, but nothing ever came of her plans to manage a guest house on the south coast.

At first, when I met her down the club that night, Diane was furious with me for not telling her that I was going away for the week. But we soon sorted things out and she said it was really good to have me back.

In fact, she suddenly began to cling on to me as if she never wanted to let me go again, which was something I’d never really experienced so overwhelmingly from a girl before. All at once she was crushing her body close up against mine, and me, being only human, crushed back. The innocent and good-behaved ‘girl meets boy’ thing faded a bit that evening to be replaced with permission to ‘touch’ and some mild ‘heavy petting’ - nothing like the real thing, but enough to feel that a new step had been taken. We both knew the consequences of going too far and, as far as I was concerned anyway, it wasn’t worth all the problems that would eventually arise.

Meanwhile, having given up on the south coast guest house idea, Mum decided to try her hand (or ‘my hand’ I should say) at another way of making money.

Next door to us lived a chap who told Mum that he used to have a window-cleaning business, until he’d been forced to give it up due to losing his vehicle. As the chap had explained that most of his customers would remember him, and have him back to clean their windows, Mum had the idea of using me to help the chap get the business going again. She purchased a second-hand Ford Thames 15cwt van, along with some buckets and cloths, and then sprung the ‘surprise’ on me.

But I wasn’t keen on cleaning windows, nor to work for Mum again. I had a good job, I was independent, and I refused to give the job up. Nevertheless, in the end she did manage to talk me into doing a bit of weekend work, just to see if the job was worth it. In return, I’d have use of the van for the evenings that I went over to Diane’s home - Mum knew how to get her own way!

Although I wasn’t really interested, I gave the project a good try, but things didn’t work out how Mum had planned. The chap did once have a window-cleaning round, and a lot of his old customers did remember him. But they didn’t remember him for the good work he’d done on their windows, they remembered him for the way he’d chatted them up in their homes. Finally, I got fed-up with slaving away on Saturday afternoons and most of the Sundays, while the chap just stood around and tried to talk the ladies into sharing an intimate moment with him (he even had the cheek to call me ‘his worker’, but I soon scotched that idea). I gave up after three weekends, and that was the end of that money-making project.

But it wasn’t the end of the van. In return for doing a few errands, helping out with some handyman jobs now and again, and keeping the van in tip-top condition, I was allowed to use it on any weekday evening that I felt like. The use of that van, even though it was only for weekday evenings, gave me the chance to see Diane almost every evening and she was delighted with the extra visits. Of course, Jim often accompanied me so he and Carol benefited as well.

The weather had turned very cold by this time, and I recall driving home from Diane’s home one night in a blizzard. It was almost like some of the bad conditions that I’d driven the old Bedford through almost a year previously, except that there was no thick frozen ice all over the road.

The next event was my twenty-first birthday party. Many of my friends had turned up to help me celebrate the occasion. I had raced over to get Diane and Carol so that they wouldn’t have to worry about trains, and I would take them back that night. There was plenty of food, plenty of drink (for those who wanted it - neither Diane, Carol, Jim, Alan, nor myself, liked anything alcoholic), and there was plenty of fun and dancing. We all had a wonderful time.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off Diane. She wore a clinging, white dress that seemed to make her even more desirable than usual. The more I looked at her, the stronger my desires for her became. My feelings were becoming so different from the old innocent and casual feelings I’d experienced up until then - as if I’d ‘come of age’ at the right time. But, an incident occurred, almost at the end of that evening, that crushed those thoughts and feelings in one fell swoop.

We’d finished dancing around like mad to the fast music, and it was ‘smooch’ time. It had already been planned that ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ would end our evening. Diane turned around to say something to Carol, and I noticed that there was a dark stain down the lower rear of her white dress. I pulled her over to one side and asked what she’d sat on. Naturally, she became embarrassed and asked to speak to Mum. I called Mum over and heard Diane whisper that she had started her ‘monthly period’ and needed a ‘sanitary towel’. Mum took her off to sort things out and soon Diane came back wearing one of Mum’s dresses.

But something had suddenly happened to me, and the feelings I’d had for Diane only a short time before. Up to that point I’d never connected any of my girlfriends with that ‘mysterious illness’ that Mum very often had to endure. It was kept very hush-hush in those days, especially in our house. My total knowledge on the subject at that time was almost nil, except for a few smutty remarks from friends over the years, which I hadn’t really understood, nor bothered about, anyway.

Now I feel that my inexperience and ignorance had helped to change my feelings towards Diane. I know that it wasn’t her fault. As far as my thoughts on the subject went at the time, women’s problems were something that only happened to mums, not girlfriends. It was a mysterious ‘thing’ that I’d had no cause to get involved with. And now, through that lack of knowledge, I’d been turned off completely as far as Diane was concerned.

Poor Diane must have felt very embarrassed and uncomfortable as I took her and Carol back to their homes that night. I could hardly bring myself to speak, and had just brushed Diane a quick kiss goodnight in my rush to get away.

I was very confused at my sudden change of heart. I would have done better to have been able to talk to somebody about it, but there was nobody that I could approach about such a delicate and ‘secret’ subject. As I drove back towards Reading, I resolved to finish the relationship if my attitude towards Diane didn’t change for the better.

Two days later, on 22nd November, I drove over to Diane’s home with every determination to end our relationship. When I arrived, the whole family was in a terrible panic as it had just been announced on the news that President J. F. Kennedy had been assassinated. That was bad enough, but the whole family were terrified that the Americans would blame the Russians (due to the ‘Cold War’ between the two countries at the time) and start World War 3 in retaliation. I sympathised with them as best I could, then, before I left, I added to Diane’s woes by telling her that we were finished. I must have felt very strongly about the party incident to have been so cruel, but I did it and that was that.

But, Diane would later put me in a spot that would nearly pay me back for my thoughtless and selfish attitude.

Then, a few days later I had an unfortunate brawl with Derek, my brother-in-law.

Mum told me that he hadn’t been treating Val very good (it was only a domestic squabble) and suggested that I go around there and ‘sort things out’. Jim and Sean, hoping to see a good fight, asked if they could come and watch. Derek had always been a decent chap to me and I told them that it wouldn’t come to anything so drastic. But, even though I’d asked them to stay away, they had obviously crept along behind me and hidden themselves in the bushes around Derek’s front garden.

Derek answered my knock and, quite naturally, wasn’t at all happy at to my inquiry as to what was happening between Val and himself. The next thing I knew was that we were brawling on his front lawn.

Derek and I were pretty evenly matched, himself being about my height and size. But, while we were swapping punches, he hit me a good one that knocked me down, and I smashed my head on the edge of a step (another scar!). Shaking the grogginess out of my brains, I quickly got up and advanced towards him again.

A few more punches were swapped, until suddenly Derek shouted something about there being ‘three to one’, whereupon he dashed up the steps into his home and slammed the door. I looked around to find that Jim and Sean, unable to contain their excitement at the sight of us brawling, and the blood running down my face, had come out from behind the bushes for a better view.

Even to this day, Derek maintains that those two attacked him as well, but I didn’t see them do anything. I didn’t know that they were there, and I didn’t see them come out from behind the bushes - I’d been too busy trying to defend myself. Although I was furious with them for interfering, they both denied coming anywhere near us. They knew how much I hated bullies, and that I would surely have had a go at them if I’d seen them interfere. Could I have been too groggy to have seen what was going on? Or had Derek imagined, in the confusion, that the other two had attacked him? Only Jim and Sean really know the answer, and they both swore that they had only watched.

Nevertheless, Derek was now out for my blood!

I had tried to catch him the next evening in an effort to try and sort things out in a more civilized manner, but he had already gone out. Later that night, as I lay, as usual (even in winter), naked in my bed, I suddenly heard Mum shout up the stairs that Derek and two mates had got into the house and were coming up the stairs armed with bottles.

I didn’t need a second warning, I had expected that I hadn’t heard the last of the incident. My room was up on the second floor of the house, but there was a bit of a bank below my window. I sprang out of bed, threw my old army coat out of the window, and jumped out after it. The weather was cold and frosty, I put my coat on over my naked body and ran, bare-foot, off into the dark night.

After wandering around the side-streets for a couple of hours, my feet frozen and numb with the cold, I crept back to the house. As I went into our back garden, I picked up a lump of wood, thinking that one person and a lump of wood was fair against three men armed with bottles. But I need not have worried, the house was all quiet, and my new ‘enemies’ were nowhere to be seen. I heard the full story from Mum the next morning.

Derek had been to the pub that evening, and was probably still fuming over the (unfair?) fight we’d had. He told his mates about it, and they decided to ‘fix me’. Armed with bottles, they had knocked at our front door and pushed past Mum when she answered. As Derek led his mates towards the stairs, Mum had asked what was going on, and Derek had told her that they were going to ‘teach me a lesson’. That was when she’d shouted up at me. When Derek burst into my room, the empty bed and open window told the tale of my flight.

Derek and I were very wary of each other for a long time after that, although nothing further ever came of it. Of course, he and Val patched up their squabble and things got back to normal. But, the incident had taught me a lesson and I never interfered in their lives in that respect again.

There was another offshoot to this incident. Jim hadn’t been very happy at the way I had been furious with himself and Sean for following me along to Derek’s home. Our friendship had already deteriorated a bit after I had stopped seeing Diane, causing our foursome (Diane, Carol, Jim, and myself) to break up. He decided to move on, and his mum and Sean went with him. The only person who was very happy with the outcome of all this was Alan - he seemed delighted to have things back as they had been before Diane (and Jim) came on the scene.

Chapter 22

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