Due to myself doing trips on my own, and getting settled down in the new job, Alan had felt a bit neglected by me for a few weeks. With the warmer weather back once more, he suggested that I might like to go over to the Isle of Wight again. I knew that we hadn’t done much together lately and forced myself to try and forget about those Welsh hills for a while and go along with his suggestion.
It was decided that we’d hitch-hike down to Portsmouth, catch the ferry over to Ryde, then take a bus right across the island to Freshwater. I suddenly became determined to see Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob this time and we made our plans with that in mind. Even so, when Alan, still out of work, asked me if I would take the Friday off so that we could make a long-weekend of it, I refused. I was happy in my new job, and I didn’t want to miss any days unless it was for something really worth-while (like a trip up into the hills). I told Alan to be ready on the Friday and I’d get home as soon as possible.
But, as if fate had stepped in and taken over, I arrived at work on the Thursday morning to be told that my lorry would be going in for a full service all day Friday. At the time, the spare lorries were being used, so it was suggested that I could either go out with another driver for the day, or work in the sorting and baling area, or even take the day off without pay. If I hadn’t planned the trip with Alan, I would have gone out for the day with my new work-mate, Colin. We got on well and I knew it would have been a great day of laughs. But, instead I asked if it would be possible to just work for the Friday morning, then have the afternoon off. The Boss was happy with that arrangement - and so was Alan! After a boring morning of helping to bale waste paper, I got my pay at mid-day and raced home to collect my gear. Then the two of us set off towards the south.
I wonder how different both our lives would have gone if, firstly, Alan hadn’t asked me to go over to the Isle of Wight at that time, and secondly, our timing had been different!
Once again the drivers were good to us and we made excellent time. The May sunshine shone warmly, summer was just around the corner, and the drivers were in a happy mood as we chatted and joked with them. Three or four lifts later we were in Portsmouth. Even at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I was still excited about catching the ferry across to the Isle of Wight. It had been quite a few years since the last time I’d crossed that stretch of water (with Auntie Eun) and old memories crept back into my mind from past ferry trips. As the ferry had made its way across The Solent that day, I’d been quite happy to lean on the rail, watching the sights slide by and thinking of those other days long gone by. I’d come out of my daydreams as the ferry berthed at the end of Ryde Pier. Alan and I walked along the pier (I recall Alan mumbling something about the fact that at least we could say we’d walked the whole length of Ryde Pier) and, after waiting for a bus, we were soon on our way over the island towards Freshwater.
We had gone upstairs on that green, ‘Southern Vectis’ bus and, sitting a few rows in front of us were two young ladies. There were only the four of us up there, but neither Alan nor I had taken much notice of the young ladies as I chatted to him about other times when I’d caught a bus across the island with Auntie Eun. All at once, I became acutely aware that one of the young ladies kept looking around and glancing in our direction, then turning back and whispering something to her friend.
She was a slim. very pretty, dark-haired, young lady and my pulse quickened a bit each time she glanced around at us. Her friend was a bit on the plump side, but younger-looking. Feeling that the girls had obviously been interested in what I was telling Alan, I trailed off into silence as I watched the girls whispering together. Then, as if a decision had been made, the young lady turned around again, looked straight into my eyes, and asked me if my name was ‘David’.
Immediately I’d melted under the stare of her dark eyes, and had wondered how she knew my name. But I’d quickly got over my surprise and answered that it was. She replied that she had thought so, and asked me how things were going.
I began to feel a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable. The young lady had me at a disadvantage. Although I searched her face, I didn’t have a clue who she might be, nor where she could have known me from. Having recognised this fact herself, and, as I now know, being the type of girl not to miss a trick, she decided to have a bit of fun at my expense. A twinkle came into her eye and she told me that, not only did she know my name, but she knew my Mum, Val, John, my Grandparents, and Jim. I racked my brains as she continued, reeling off Uncle Frank, Auntie Joyce, Kay, Shirley, and Brian. She even knew where I lived - ‘in the big house, on a corner, along the Oxford Road in Reading’.
Now this last statement was untrue as we had moved from that house quite a while ago, but at least I had something to work on. She’d obviously been to that house, and all I had to do was think of any girls that had been there, and who would know my whole family. There was only one girl that I could think of who fitted that description - a skinny wisp of a funny little girl named Sheila, Auntie Doll’s daughter from the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight!! We were on the island at that very moment, Sheila would know all my family, and I’d last seen her in the house on the corner up the Oxford Road. To me, although this pretty young lady was nothing like the scrawny little girl who had visited us, it was the only answer. She’d certainly changed, but, the more I looked at her, the more sure I became that she was Sheila.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of seeing me recognise her. It had quickly dawned on me that she was having a game, and two could play at games. Soon Alan and the other girl were watching open-mouthed as I reeled of dozens of female names, pretending to Sheila that girls with those names had visited us at the house in Oxford Road. And not once did I mention her name. In the end, she had looked quite upset that her week’s visit to us hadn’t even warranted a bit of my memory in amongst all the other girls whose names I had reeled off. Of course, I had remembered alright. I recalled the first time we’d met when, as small children we had played on the steps of Auntie Eun’s old house. I thought back to the time I’d got into trouble with Auntie Eun when Sheila had insisted on scraping her shoes down the back of my heels when we were walking to Colwell Bay, and we still had the photograph of her and myself, taken in front of the old caravan when Crystal had been so worried that Sheila and I had been long-time sweethearts.
Finally, she told me that she was Sheila, and, just to be a real rotter by twisting the knife now that I had it in and could see her squirming, I said “Sheila who?” I let her ramble on about her side of the family, which were my relations as well (she was my Nan’s sister’s Granddaughter), before I pretended to grudgingly admit that I could just remember our previous meetings. Then at last, Sheila caught on to the fact that I was having her on in return.
Alan and I moved up the bus to sit with them, and, after giving me a friendly punch, Sheila introduced her friend, Cynthia, and I introduced Alan. Soon we were all chatting away like mad. Cynthia was far too young for Alan but the two of them chatted quite happily while Sheila and I caught up on the latest news of each other’s side of the family.
Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob, Sheila informed me, had moved from the little cottage at Afton and were now living in Freshwater. Her parents, Doll and Bert, were on the mainland and living in Petworth. Sheila herself was living on a farm, just north of Portsmouth, with her Auntie and uncle, some of our other relations. Cynthia was the daughter of one of the farm-hands, and she and Sheila were best friends. I told Sheila that we had moved closer to Reading town, and that Mum was still taking in boarders. She was surprised that I hadn’t married Crystal. She had remembered how crazy I’d been over her. And all the time I was watching Cynthia and Alan getting deeper into their own happy conversation together. They seemed immediately at ease with each other. I hadn’t seen Alan take such an interest in a girl as he was with this one.
As we neared Freshwater, Sheila suddenly asked me if we had planned to stay at Auntie Eun’s house, as she and Cynthia had already made arrangements with Auntie Eun to stay there, not knowing that we would be turning up on the doorstep. She explained that the house wasn’t all that big, and that, if we were staying there, then she and Cynthia would have to see if they could find somewhere else to stay. Naturally, I assured her that Alan and I hadn’t planned to stay there, nor put anybody out, and were quite happy to find somewhere to camp for the night, then go and visit Auntie Eun the next day. But, just as the bus was pulling into Freshwater, she had remembered that the house did have a small box-room where she was sure that we’d be able to bunk down for a couple of nights. Not wanting to put anybody out, I wasn’t all that keen, but Sheila had persisted and, as I wanted to see Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob anyway, and find out where they were living now, I decided to go along with her suggestion and see how things went. It wouldn’t take me long to recognise any problems and find somewhere else to stay. Upon leaving the bus, Sheila guided us to the house.
The door opened to our knock and there stood dear Auntie Eun, looking exactly as I’d remembered her. But, I was just about to find out that there was one difference, and Sheila hadn’t thought to enlighten me to the fact. Before any of us could speak, Auntie Eun asked who we were. For a split second I was a bit confused as I felt that she should surely recognise Sheila, who, apparently, had only been there a few weeks before. The sudden question that had began to come to my mind was answered by Auntie Eun herself as, after a short pause, she said that she was sorry, but she couldn’t see us because she was blind. Immediately I had felt as if I’d been hit in the head by the shock of hearing those words. I was absolutely stunned. I couldn’t believe that such a thing could happen to her. When I’d lived with her and Uncle Bob, she had seemed so fit, healthy, and happy, with no hint of such a terrible thing happening. She’d been such a good person to all of us, I’d enjoyed that wonderful stay with her, she’d been so vibrant in my eyes, and now this! It didn’t seem fair, and I felt for her.
While I was standing there in speechless shock, Sheila went forward and gave her a cuddle, before explaining that Cynthia was there as well. Auntie Eun asked them to come in, but Sheila told her that there was also someone else who had come for a visit. I saw a puzzled and inquiring look come across Auntie Eun’s face, then Sheila told her that I was standing there. The face had changed to astonishment, then to a beaming smile as she reached out for me. Suddenly I was being crushed as she clung on, seeming not to want to let me go. I had nearly bawled my eyes out and, if the girls hadn’t been there I probably would have done. Eventually, Sheila was able to introduce Alan, who got a firm hand-shake. Poor Alan, he must have really felt the odd one out! Then, cuddling Sheila with one arm, and clutching me with the other, Auntie Eun led us inside the house.
As we all trooped into the living-room, there was dear old Uncle Bob sitting in front of the fire. Apart from being in a different house, I could have stepped back ten years in time. If Auntie Eun hadn’t changed over those years, neither had Uncle Bob. He still had his mischievous grin and chuckle, and still talked as if everything was a secret between himself and whoever he was talking to, and his face was exactly the same. Within minutes we were reminiscing about our previous times together, while Cynthia and Alan listened in or chatted between themselves.
After tea had been served and cleared away, we chatted on into the evening until it was time to retire. Auntie Eun had insisted the Alan and myself should stay in the box-room downstairs, while the girls had a room somewhere upstairs. As we settled down to sleep, Alan talked about Cynthia as if he was very keen on her. I had suggested that he shouldn’t be thinking along those lines as she was under-age, and far too young for him. But he had rambled on in excited whispers until I fell asleep.
Not feeling overly happy about Alan’s amorous thoughts towards the young Cynthia, I was a bit relieved when, the next morning, Sheila told me that she and Cynthia were going to spend the day visiting other relatives on that end of the island. She had invited Alan and myself to come along, but I’d declined her invitation. Alan and Cynthia had obviously felt a bit out of it the night before, and that was probably why they had taken an interest in each other so quickly. And now, in spite of my suggestion that he shouldn’t be thinking along those lines, Alan couldn’t stop talking about the young girl. To me, the situation had needed calming down, and that’s why I’d decided that Alan and myself would not accompany the girls for the day. I didn’t want Alan to make a fool of himself, especially where my family and their friends were concerned.
Nevertheless, when we were all back together at Auntie Eun’s home again that evening, Cynthia had moved over to sit next to Alan and they seemed to go off into their own little world again, in spite of myself trying to keep them involved in the happy conversations. As Alan and I settled down that night, I again suggested that he should slow down a bit where Cynthia was concerned. All I got in return was a grunt!
On the Sunday morning, as Alan and I were preparing to leave for the journey home, Sheila had asked if she could write to me, and I gave her my address. Cynthia hadn’t asked for Alan’s address (which was the same as mine anyway) and I’d felt that maybe she hadn’t been as interested as Alan had seemed to be hoping, which was a bit of a relief to me. After saying good-bye to Auntie Eun and Uncle Bob, and thanking them for their hospitality, we set off towards home and eventually arrived safely back in Reading.
Little did I know that I would never see Auntie Eun again. She died a few weeks later, leaving me with many happy memories of the time I’d spent at her homes. Future circumstances would soon give me the opportunity to continue visiting Uncle Bob, until he also died and went to be with his beloved wife.
Within a few days, Sheila had written and invited Alan and myself down to the farm where she lived. She wrote that Cynthia had asked her parents if Alan could be allowed to go down and meet them, and the parents had agreed. Alan was still raving on about Cynthia, and I had thought that, at least her parents would maybe see that he was too old for her and set things right. We decided to go down to the farm on the following Saturday. Sheila had enclosed her phone number, and I rang to accept her invitation, and make sure that it would be alright for that Saturday. She was delighted and told me that she’d be looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, my lorry had been serviced, and once more I was happily heading along the open roads under the beautiful early-summer sun as I went about my work. Then, towards the end of the week I was told that I’d be doing a trip down to Taunton, to leave on the Friday morning and not get back until mid-day on the Saturday. It would mean that I’d have to have the Friday night away from home - the first of hundreds of nights that I’d have away from home through my job as a lorry-driver!
I rang Sheila again, explained that I had to work, and that maybe we should leave it until the following Saturday. But, she and Cynthia had already been looking forward to seeing us again that coming Saturday. After a quick word with her Auntie, while I waited on the phone, she said that, if we wanted to come down on the Saturday afternoon and return home on the Sunday, we would both be put up for the night. This new plan was agreed upon.
At work on the Thursday afternoon, I was given my instructions, and the money to pay for my night away from home (night-out money). My instructions were that I was to drive down to an army supply depot, which was situated just the other side of Taunton, and put on a full load of cardboard boxes. Once loaded, I was to get as far towards home as was possible before my legal driving hours ran out, then find somewhere to stay for the night before continuing on home the next morning.
Full of happiness, I set off on the Friday morning. Being my own Boss as far as the route I took was concerned, I headed across to the A303 trunk road, the road we travelled up and down when my family and myself lived in Somerset. The chance to actually drive a lorry along it was too good to miss. It was while we had been racing back down that road from Chenies, the day John lost his job, that I had first decided that I’d like to be a lorry driver when I was old enough. Now I was one of those lorry drivers, heading down that same road, and I wonder if some young thirteen year old lad saw me drive by and wish he was behind the wheel of my lorry!
The old familiar sights from those days slipped past my window, like the Thruxton race-track and Stonehenge. I remember that I stopped for breakfast at the Willoughby Hedge transport café, just before the village of Mere, then I was off again. Soon I was through Wincanton and had reached the big lay-by at Sparkford, where John had stopped on our first trip to Somerset due to the old Ford car having battery problems. As I passed the lay-by, I noticed a double-decker bus parked there with a ‘café’ sign beside its open rear doors, and I made a mental note to investigate that unusual café on the return journey. Then there was Yeovilton aerodrome on the left, before turning off the A303 and heading across through Langport to Taunton. I had recognised a few spots in Taunton, from the time I’d cycled there from Donyatt, and when Alf and I had passed through there on our way to Bideford and back. I didn’t know where the army supply depot was situated, but I stopped to ask for directions and finally arrived at the main gate.
I was directed over to a large hanger-type building within the confines of the depot where, to my horror, I saw a huge stack of flattened cardboard-boxes, tied up into bundles, that almost reached up to the roof. At first, to me, it had looked as if it would take a whole day just to put the load on the lorry, let alone the time it had already taken to travel down there! But, to my astonishment, the storeman pointed to a forklift and said that I could use it to put the load up on the lorry. Then he walked off and left me to it. I’d never operated a forklift in my life, but, with that huge stack of bundled boxes to load, I was determined to learn very quickly. Even with its help, I could see why the ‘Taunton run’ required a night away from home. It was still going to be a long day!
The forklift was a Coventry Climax, painted army-green and very easy to operate once I’d worked out which levers to pull and push. The boxes, all different sizes, were tied into bundles with one loop of string each. No bundle was the same, they wobbled and threatened to collapse at the slightest chance. I’d realised that the bundles would make a very unstable load if I didn’t stack them on the lorry carefully. Nevertheless, I set to the job with a will, enjoying the challenge that the load had presented me with.
By putting a small stack of bundles on the forks, lifting them up onto the deck of the lorry, and jumping up to stack them there as neat as was possible, I’d managed to get the whole huge stack loaded. It was a good experience to work out how to operate the forklift, and I thoroughly enjoyed the independence of being left alone with the job. Finally the load was covered in the tarpaulins, and roped down securely. I’d taken great care on the loading and securing down of those bundles, using all of the knowledge I’d gained from other drivers over the years up to that point. I knew that the flattened boxes could easily slip out of the bundles and cause the load to list, or even topple off. Feeling that I’d done the best job as was possible, I set off on the return journey. It was late afternoon, but I hadn’t planned to go far.
As there was little difference in distance whether I went home on the Langport road or the Ilminster road, I had decided to return via Ilminster and stop for the night at Donyatt. The village was only a mile off my route and I was hoping to meet up with my old friend, Peter Knight. Although it was illegal, I’d planned to sleep the night in my cab, feeling that I wouldn’t be caught if I was parked somewhere well off the main roads.
And that’s how things turned out. I parked up in a small lay-by just past Donyatt village, on the Chard road. Even that lay-by had brought back memories, as there was an old pill-box there that we used to play in when I’d lived in Donyatt. I used to pass it each time I went to work for Mr. England on the nearby Dunpole Farm. And it had only been about a mile down the road, towards Chard, where the lost convoy had stopped on the way back from Penhale, and I’d poked my nose in after recognizing our location. Peter and I caught up with each other and it was great to see him again, and catch up with how his life was going (he had also taken up lorry driving and worked for a Crewkerne company). I had a good night’s sleep, laying along the seats and wrapped up in a blanket, and I got a nice early start towards Reading the next morning.
Back on the A303, as I passed Ilchester, I remembered the double-decker bus in the big lay-by that had the café sign outside its door, and the promise I’d made to myself that I would have breakfast there. I pulled across to the lay-by, parked up beside some other lorries, then stepped aboard the bus and climbed the rear stairs to the upper deck. That upper deck had been fitted out with half a dozen tables, and the original bus seats had been moved around to enable customers to sit at the tables. I can’t recall if there were any tables down on the lower deck, as I always went up on the upper deck while the bus was there, but I do recall that all the cooking was done downstairs.
The owner of that unusual café was a very hardworking chap who spent his day running up and down those stairs as he served his customers with their meals. It became a very popular stopping place for lorry-drivers, and I recall him telling me once that, if the lorry-drivers continued to use his café at the rate they were, he would give us lorry-drivers one of the best cafes in the west. The final result of that man’s hard work, and dedication to his customers, was, as he had promised, indeed one of the best cafes in the west, ‘The Frying Pan’. The old double-decker bus was retired, a large modern café was built on the spot, with every convenience for lorry-drivers and general travellers alike, including fuel pumps and accommodation, and a large staff was taken on. But that man never forgot the support he’d had from his early lorry-driving customers. If there was a rush on (which soon became often, especially during the summer holiday period), he’d always shout for us lorry-drivers to go to the front of the queue. As I’d witness on a couple of occasions, if any of the general travellers (holiday-makers?) complained about that, he’d soon let them know where his loyalties lay, and why!
And so, from an empty lay-by that we’d first pulled into with battery problems nearly ten years earlier, the site was transformed into a large and busy amenities area for the tired and hungry traveler, and I never failed to stop at ‘The Frying Pan’ if I was heading down that way.
But back to my first stop at that bus and, after a very enjoyable breakfast I carried on towards home, stopping every now and again to check that the load was safe. Finally I arrived back at the yard, unloaded my lorry, and knocked off for the weekend.
Everything was ready at home. Alan champed at the bit while I had a bath and changed into my suit. Then we set off to hitch-hike down to the farm where Sheila and Cynthia lived. It was a thirty-four mile journey but, as usual, the car drivers looked after us, and it wasn’t too long before we had been dropped off in a little village that was closest to where the farm was situated.
Sheila had given me directions on how to find the farm from the village. We followed an iron- railing fence out of the village, until we came to the farm entrance where we turned up a long farm-track. Then, after about a mile we reached some farm cottages, and there were the girls, waiting and watching out for us. Cynthia took Alan across a field to her parent’s home and I stayed with our relations at the main cottages. From then on, whenever we went down to the farm, Alan would stay at Cynthia’s home, and I would stay with our relations. Unless the four of us went out together, I hardly saw Alan except when we were travelling to and from the farm.
The four of us had a very pleasant weekend that first visit, and, with an invitation to go down there on the following weekend, Alan and I hitch-hiked home on the Sunday afternoon feeling very content at having spent a quiet and friendly few hours out in the country. Alan must have been encouraged by Cynthia’s parents for he couldn’t stop talking about how they had made him so welcome, and how things were going so well with Cynthia and himself. I had left it at that, I knew that he wouldn’t have sounded so happy about things if he had felt any undertones of dislike from the parents.
Meanwhile, on the music scene, Roy Orbison had ‘It’s Over’ in the charts, along with ‘Someone, Someone’ by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. I hollered out these, and many other songs as I happily drove the lorry around the countryside. The weather was wonderful, I was happy with my work, Alan had found a girlfriend who seemed to be bringing the best out of him, and I was content to visit Sheila down at the farm again. I was also enjoying the variety of the job and the differences that each load presented, and my experience was growing daily. Naturally, I still made a few mistakes here and there, and one of them occurred through the week after that first trip down to the farm. In a way, the trip would also cause me to be ‘taken in’ by one of Colin’s little jokes!
Once again I’d taken off down the A303 towards the west, but this time I was only going as far as a village named Zeals, a small village near Wincanton. The local council there collected and baled newspapers for recycling. Every so often we’d collect the bales, from a large storage shed, then take the load straight in to the ‘Reeds’ paper mills at Thatcham on the way home. It was my turn to do the ‘Zeals run’ that day.
Upon arriving at the depot, I was directed to the large storage shed and left to get on with it. But, this time there was no forklift, and the bales were large and extremely heavy. Nevertheless, the bales wouldn’t load themselves and, after reversing back to the loading-dock, it wasn’t long before I was sweating like mad as I struggled to stack them up on the deck of the lorry. As I laboured on, I thought of my old friends at G. R. Jackson’s - Alby, Maurie, Fred, and Almost Human. I’d learned a lot from them regarding the loading of heavy bales, and the knowledge they’d passed on had certainly helped me that day. Finally, with a full load of the bales, three high and three wide, all covered and roped down securely, I set off towards the Reeds mill at Thatcham.
I hadn’t carted bales of newspaper until that day, and I hadn’t realised how heavy newspaper could be (as against cardboard, for instance). The engine struggled to keep the lorry moving, especially up long hills, and I seemed to be changing up and down the gearbox more than usual. This had suggested to me that I had a decent load on. But, when I reached the paper mills and drove onto the weighbridge I was amazed to find that I had more than twice my legal load limit. No wonder the lorry had struggled a bit. Of course, the Boss was pleased, and glad that I’d got away with being very overloaded. Future loads that I collected from Zeals looked rather puny compared with that first one, but I didn’t want to be caught with more than my legal load limit. Besides, the Zeals run was more attractive when I didn’t have to struggle and sweat so much now that I only had to put a layer and a half of bales on the deck.
The next day I went into work and Colin told me I was a lucky ‘so-and-so’, as, he said, I’d been given the ‘Luton run’ again (the ‘plum’ job that I’d done on my first day). Feeling a bit surprised that I’d been given the job again so soon, but hearing no protests from the other drivers, I set off towards Luton, little knowing that, although true, I was about to have another of those incidents that only seem to happen in B-grade comedy movies.
It had crossed my mind that maybe, after bringing in the big load the day before, the Boss had decided that I deserved an easy run, and I hadn’t even bothered to look at my instruction sheet. As I pottered up to Watford and onto the M1 motorway, I had thought what a difference this trip would be compared to the one on the previous day. After handling all those heavy bales of newspaper, it would be good to load my deck with the light bales of tissues from the Electrolux factory. Finally, with the towering load up on the lorry, I drove down to visit my Grandparents for a while, then arrived back at the yard in Reading.
As I stopped on the weighbridge and jumped down from the cab so that the lorry could be weighed before unloading, I was met by a puzzled transport manager. He asked me where I’d collected the load from, and, even as I told him, I began to suddenly feel a bit uneasy. It was a fine day and I’d only used one tarpaulin just to cover the top of the load, it was easily recognizable that I had ‘Electrolux’ bales on the lorry. And yet, the transport manager was asking me where I had collected the load. The transport manager then asked me if I’d looked at my instruction sheet that morning, and I had to confess that I hadn’t. All at once it had come to me that I’d been the victim of a joke. But, not wanting to get Colin into any trouble, I didn’t tell the transport manager what Colin had said that morning. I knew that I should have checked my instruction sheet anyway. So I mumbled something about having dreamed that I had looked at my instruction sheet and had seen the ‘Luton run’ written there. I remember the transport manager’s laughing face as he looked hard at me and said “Well, have another dream tonight that tells you to do the ‘Birmingham run’ (the worst job) tomorrow, as that was where you were supposed to go today!”
Of course, the news of how easily I’d fallen for the joke had flashed around the other drivers. They were delighted, and I had my leg pulled left, right, and centre while we were unloading our lorries. Colin came over and explained that he had just casually said that I had the ‘Luton run’ for a game, and that not for one moment had he expected me to believe him without reading my instruction sheet. But, I had the last laugh when some of us drivers stood in the transport office, ready to go home, and the transport manager had told Colin that I’d pinched his Luton run. He said it was on the list to have been done in a couple of days time anyway, and Colin had been allocated to do the job as the next driver on the list. The transport manager couldn’t understand why the rest of us had collapsed in helpless laughter!
On the following Friday evening, Alan and I took off to hitch-hike down to the farm again. I recall that it was a pitch black night by the time we’d been dropped off in the village. So dark in fact, that we had to feel our way along the iron-railing fence to the entrance of the farm, then almost crawl as we felt for the ruts in the farm-track while we made our way up to the farm itself. Finally we reached the welcome lights of the farm cottages, where Alan left me to make his way over to Cynthia’s home. Another relaxing and pleasant weekend with the girls flashed by, and all too soon, with the promise to visit again on the following Friday if things went well, it was time to hitch-hike back to Reading.
But, all this time I was still champing at the bit to get back up into the hills. I’d read a few stories about the English Lake District and I became very keen to visit the area. It was a bit further to travel than the distance to North Wales, and I wasn’t all that confident that I’d be able to hitch-hike up there and back in a weekend. I mentioned this to Mum and she suddenly said that I could use the van all the time, with no restrictions, provided I looked after it and did a few errands for her when needed.
I could hardly believe my luck. At last I had transport to go wherever and whenever I pleased, and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I rang Sheila up and suggested that, instead of seeing her that following weekend as we’d arranged, maybe I could see her for an evening during the week as I wanted to go up into the hills for the weekend. She was a bit disappointed but, knowing how much I raved on about my new pastime, she sportingly agreed. And so, one evening during that week, Alan and I took off down there in the van to make up for me not going there over the weekend. Alan had surprised me by saying that he would hitch-hike down there alone on the Friday. That had made me realise just how serious he was about Cynthia as he had never hitch-hiked on his own to see a girl before!
But, on the Friday afternoon, all I could think of were the new horizons of the Lake District. Wasdale Head became my first destination for that area, I’d read that it was a good centre for people wanting to climb such notable peaks as Scafell and Great Gable. The van was loaded and I’d used it to go to work that day. Straight after work, with the route marked out on a map of England that lay on the passenger seat, I set off up towards the north with the usual feelings of excited anticipation.
After a long drive through the evening and on into the night, I eventually began to recognise some of the town names that I’d read so much about over the previous year. Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside, then the beautiful area of Eskdale were passed in the blackness of the night as I neared the end of my journey. Finally, in the early hours of the morning I drove up along the side of Wastwater, arrived at Wasdale Head and found a campsite, where I settled down for a couple of hours sleep.
It was another memorable weekend of friendly folk and discovery. The area, to me, didn’t seem to have the same mysterious atmosphere that I felt up in the hills of North Wales. Nevertheless, there were peaks all around, and I was lucky enough to be invited to join a small group of lads.
Three of the lads and myself climbed up to the summits of Scafell Pike (the highest point in all England) and Scafell, and I was well pleased with my day. We’d passed Great Gable on the way, and the lads had pointed out the famous ‘Napes Needle’ to me. I’d already read about that solitary pinnacle of rock, that juts up from the face of Napes Ridge, and had put it on my list for future explorations. But the group of lads had planned to climb on the ‘Needle’ the next morning, and again they had invited me along to share their day. I knew that I definitely had to leave by mid-day this time, due to the journey back home being much longer, but I thanked them most profusely for their offer and agreed to stay with them until that time. Just like up in North Wales, there was a sing-song around the camp-fire, and I joined in with great gusto as they sang songs that I recognised.
The group hadn’t been in much of a hurry that Sunday morning. I had been too polite to try and hurry them on although I was dying to get up to the cliffs where the ‘Needle’ was situated. But at last the moment came when everyone was ready and we set off, with me hardly able to contain myself and stay with the group. Even so, as I hadn’t been game to take the sisal rope with me on the trip (I never did use it for climbing), I still had to wait my turn until after all the other lads had reached the top, and most of them had come back down. That was probably a blessing anyway, as at least the chap, who led me up, and myself had the pinnacle to ourselves. There was hardly any room to sit up on the tip of the ‘Needle’, but my companion and I squeezed on it side by side and admired the view together. It was the first time I’d been on top of such a high and isolated pillar of rock, and, although the old fear had clutched at me again, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As well as the big rock face behind the ‘Needle’, I could see, upon looking around, that there were other steep rock faces on other peaks. My imagination had been fired to the heights as I’d thought about how I would also gradually explore this new area if I was given the chance.
And so, with that one, but satisfying, Lake District climb, and the two summits, under my belt, and much against my will, it was time to go. After many thanks, I left the group to climb on while I walked down to the campsite, grabbed the van, and headed south again. This time, as it was daylight, I could see the famous sights and towns as I made my way out from the mountains around their southern edge. Then it was just a long drag all the way down to Reading, which I finally reached late that night. But it had all been well worth it as far as I’d been concerned.
On the Monday evening after work, Sheila rang to ask how my weekend had gone, and to invite me down there for another weekday evening before the weekend if I’d like to come. Alan had enjoyed his weekend with Cynthia and was eager to see her as much as was possible. After a quick discussion with him we agreed to go down there the next evening. It would be the beginning of us both going down there regularly on weekday evenings for a while.
Alan still wasn’t working and didn’t have to get up early in the mornings. He was happy to stay with Cynthia for as long as I would let him. But I’d begun to go into work very early so that I could get away before the rush-hour traffic began around the towns. Our lateness at arriving home from an evening down at the farm in the early hours of the morning, coupled with the early starts for work, caused me to miss out on sleep for quite a few nights at a time. But I was young and it didn’t bother me at first. Within the next couple of weekends I had caught up with Doll and Bert (Sheila’s parents) and the rest of their family at Petworth. And we also went and visited Granny Moon (both our Great-Grandmother) who I hadn’t seen since Nan took Val and I there in 1950. Alan stayed at the farm with Cynthia on the weekends that Sheila and I took off on our own.
Sheila and I were quite attracted to each other in a very grown-up way by this time. There was no romance at first, just a very friendly and relaxing relationship. But, over the next few weeks we gradually became closer to each other until a fine romance blossomed out between us both.
A mass of great songs seemed to suddenly burst into the hit parade at that time. There was ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ by The Animals, “It’s All Over Now’ by The Rolling Stones, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ by The Beatles (Sheila and I went to see the film and thought it was great!). The Everly Brothers were also up in the charts with ‘Ferris Wheel’, along with ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ by Manfred Mann, and ‘Tobacco Road’ by The Nashville Teens. We sang along to all these and other popular songs as they were played on our old primitive car-radios, or on the wireless at home - there were no cassette- or CD-players in those days. The month of July came round and the sun shone in all its warm summer glory.
Then Alan and I got into trouble, and the incident ended in us almost being shot! And again it was just as if the whole event was taken from a b-grade comedy movie.
One night on the way back home after an evening down at the farm, Alan confided in me that Cynthia was over two weeks late with her menstrual cycle. I was surprised as I’d had no idea that such a thing had been going on between them. Cynthia was still under-age and I’d thought that Alan would have had more sense. It was too easy to get a girl pregnant, even at that modern time. There was no pill to make things safer, although it was on the horizon, and it was still a terrible thing to have an unmarried, pregnant daughter.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help him. He’d already proved, just by his very actions in getting the girl pregnant in the first place, and knowing what signs to look for, that he knew more about the subject than I did. I rang Sheila the next afternoon after work, and discussed the situation with her. She was also surprised, but suggested that we all wait and see what happened before telling Cynthia’s parents as, she explained, emotions can sometimes upset a woman’s menstrual cycle. Alan agreed to that plan and we took off down to the farm as usual.
Night had fallen as Sheila, her Auntie and Uncle, and myself chatted around the supper table. Everyone was relaxed and laughing as jokes and stories were swapped. Suddenly there came a loud banging on the front door. As I was nearest, I got up, walked along the passageway and opened the door - only to be confronted by the sight of a shotgun aimed right between my eyes. At the other end of the gun was Cynthia’s father, his face twisted in rage, and his body shaking in pure fury.
In shocked amazement, I stood speechless in the doorway, mesmerized by the sight of the barrels waving erratically in front of my face, and feeling very frightened. The man began screaming that it was my fault that his daughter had fallen pregnant, and that I should be made to pay because I’d took Alan down there in the first place. My eyes flashed away from the barrel for a second to look at Cynthia and Alan, who were standing, with Cynthia clutching Alan, just in the circle of light behind the angry man, and they both had terrified looks on their faces. They’d obviously decided to confess their ‘sins’ to the father. Then the light from the hallway was blocked off behind me a bit as Sheila and the relations rushed from the room to see what all the shouting was about. Within seconds the angry father had us all bailed up.
In spite of being frightened out of our wits, everyone kept fairly calm, except for Cynthia who was pleading with her father to let Alan go. Sheila was visibly very upset, putting her arms comfortingly around me from behind, and our relations had also quietly suggested to the furious father that he let us go so that things could be sorted out later when everybody was calm.
I think that was his intention all along, for he told Alan and I to ‘get going while we had the chance’, and warned us both never to go near the farm nor Cynthia again. The gun, still waving a few inches from my face, lent weight to his words and I, of course, agreed to go, thinking that discretion was the better part of valour - and myself being a born coward anyway! Quickly I said good-bye to Sheila and our relations, then grabbed Alan away from Cynthia and, with the gun pointed at my back, led him roughly to the van.
But amazingly, although I’d never had any trouble with the van up until that moment, the engine refused to fire and start. With the gun now waving through the van window beside my head, and myself beginning to break out in sweat, I kept trying to get the van going until the battery was flattened. The angry father had begun to scream again, saying that I wasn’t starting the van on purpose so that we’d have to stay there to do worse things to his daughter (he obviously thought that we were a couple of ‘real animals’!). The shotgun shook even worse beside my head as I lifted the bonnet and furiously swept my torch beam around the motor, looking for any sign of what could be causing the trouble.
In the end I had to appeal to his better nature so that everyone could give us a push in the hope that the van would start that way. The lane back out to the main road was slightly downhill, with a sharp dip at one point. I explained that we’d be able to get up a good bit of speed and the engine should start in gear. I also pointed out that we’d at least be heading away from the farm. He agreed to this plan and soon everybody was pushing like mad as the van gathered speed down the slope. At first the furious father had tried to run alongside the van, with the gun still pointed at my head, and I hate to think what would have happened if the man had tripped. But it wasn’t long before the van took off down the dip and left everyone behind.
In spite of using all my experience to get the engine to start as it rolled down the dip, it still wouldn’t fire. As soon as the van’s momentum ran out at the bottom of the dip, and with the gun-toting father racing down behind, followed by the others, I jumped out for another look under the bonnet. I’d barely had time to turn my torch on and shine its beam onto the engine, when the barrel was beside my head again.
Suddenly I began to get angry myself. Alan had stopped around the other side of the van with the rest of the group, and it had seemed to me that he’d enjoyed his fun with Cynthia, and was now quite happy to hide and let me take the full fury of the man’s anger. The gun was at my head and I couldn’t concentrate on trying to find the problem. As my own anger raged up from within me, I turned on the man, telling him that he had no right to blame me for what Alan had done to Cynthia, and that, if he wanted us gone, then he must settle down and take the pressure off me so that I could concentrate on finding out why the motor wouldn’t start. The man took a step or two back as if in surprise, lowered the gun, and just stood there, as if ‘at the ready’. I then told Alan to get himself around from behind the van and hold the torch while I hunted for the problem. The only likely cause of the trouble that I could find was a very bad connection between the coil and distributor. This I fixed, but the battery was still too flat to turn the engine over. It was decided that we would all try and push the van back up the hill a bit so that I could have another go at a hill-start.
As everyone crowded around the front of the van to push, the father moved in again, and the gun was hovering in the darkness just behind me. I tried hard to ignore this and climbed back in the seat of the van so that I could let the handbrake off as soon as the group was ready. There was a bank of grass beside the lane and, rather than get the van-door caught in the grass as it was pushed back, I decided to close it and look back through the open window. Without a though, I reached out and slammed the door and, as I did so there was a bellowing scream from the man with the gun.
The door hadn’t shut properly, but I’d been too bewildered by the sudden scream to think about it at first. In the glare of the torch, still being held by Alan, I saw the gun and screaming man collapse in the grass beside the track. Then Alan, obviously wondering what had happened, shone the full beam on the man, and I could see that he was holding one hand with the other, and the gun was nowhere in sight. As I quickly got out and went for him, our Uncle made a move from around the front of the van. We both seemed to dive on him at the same time, and our Uncle found the gun in the grass which he tossed away out of reach. Then we were both sitting there in the grass while the man beside us groaned. But, It wasn’t long before he began screaming at me again - and this time he had every right to aim his venom in my direction!
Unknown to myself in the confusion and darkness, the man, in his eagerness to get the gun near my head again, had tried to squash himself between the bank and the side of the van, steadying himself with his free hand on the door pillar beside my head. As I’d slammed the door, his fingers had been crushed between the door and the pillar. The hand was now being waved in front of my face, and I could see by the light of the torch that it was a bit of a mess. I feel that, if he’d still had his gun he would have thought nothing of blowing me away after that!
But, if I told the truth, after the frightening time that he’d just put us through, I had no pity for him, and I wasn’t really worried about his fingers, nor the pain they were obviously causing him. I knew that, without his gun, the man was now on the same level as myself and that I wouldn’t hesitate to lay him out if he came too near.
With the injured man still shouting in the background, I rallied everyone around the van and we managed to get it back up the slope a bit. This time the engine fired first try and I stopped long enough for Alan to jump in before we took off towards home.
As we’d beat a hasty retreat down the track, Alan had laughed out loud, probably more with relief than anything else. I was also relieved to have got out of the situation so easily and safely. But I wasn’t so relieved that I felt like laughing about it. I began to vent my still-smouldering anger on Alan. He’d dared to laugh at what might have been a very dangerous situation, not only dangerous to ourselves, but to the girls as well. And he hadn’t had a gun waving in front of his face for the last hour or so. The blame had been laid clearly at my feet, although he was much older than myself and had done the deed, and he hadn’t even stood up for me nor Cynthia. Yet he could laugh about it as though it had all been a bit of fun. I shook with more than the fright of our narrow escape as I raged at him for doing such a thing to Cynthia in the first place, then being such a coward and letting me take the full blame when he knew that I’d just been minding my own business.
As soon as we arrived home I rang to make sure that Sheila and our family were still alright, and was very relieved to hear that everything was quiet. What was more, Cynthia had begun her menstrual cycle that same night, which hadn’t seemed to be any surprise to the rest of the family after what she’d been through. But it didn’t make things any better for Sheila and myself, and she had soon moved back with her family in Petworth so that I could visit her safely without having to worry about being shot.
Alan moved on a few days after this incident, but it wasn’t the last time I’d hear of him. He had been the main cause of the trouble that night by telling Cynthia’s parents instead of waiting awhile as he’d agreed. And he’d also had a narrow escape himself, seeing as how Cynthia was under-age and no legal action had been taken. Even so, he would show that he didn’t learn by that mistake. We’d had some good times together, but that incident had strained our friendship too far. I’d dropped him like a hot brick and I wasn’t surprised when he moved on.
I never did go to that farm again and, funnily enough, I never had any more trouble with that van!
With that small drama behind us, Sheila and I saw as much of each other as was possible. The journey down to Petworth was further than it had been down to the farm, but, for two or three weeks I still saw her every night and over the weekends. I’d drive straight down to her after work, and usually wouldn’t get back into Reading until it was time to begin work the next morning. Because of the distance down to her home and back, it seemed that I was doing more driving than visiting, and the only times that I got any real sleep were on Friday and Saturday nights when I didn’t have to race back up to Reading for work. This finally resulted in another work-related incident to be recorded in my memory bank.
It was three o-clock one weekday morning when I’d arrived back at Reading in time to begin work. My instructions were to pick up one load from Solihull and, although I felt a bit tired I was looking forward to the pleasant change of going up Birmingham way and not having to do the ‘rounds’. But, by the time I’d gone through Warwick and was almost at Solihull, I was feeling much more tired than usual. The many days with hardly no sleep were probably catching up with me because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Through leaving early, I had a bit of time up my sleeve, so I decided to play safe and have a quick cat-nap in a lay-by. The sun was just above the horizon as I pulled into the next lay-by and settled down along the seats.
I was awakened by somebody blowing their horn as they passed along the road. It was now full daylight and, less than half an hour later I was at the gates of the factory where I was to collect the load from. The gate-man came over to see what I wanted, and I told him why I was there. He then told me that I’d have to go back the next morning. When I asked him why, I was astounded as he answered that the factory had just closed for the night, and that I was too late to pick up the load. One look at his watch told me the terrible story - I had slept all day and really was too late to pick up the load!
I borrowed the gate-man’s phone and rang the Boss to tell him the sad tale. He instructed me to return to Reading and report to his office first thing in the morning. I had groaned to myself as I saw that good job going out of the window, then started back towards home with an empty lorry.
But, the Boss saw the funny side of the incident and, as I stood in his office the next morning, he and my other workmates had laughed heartily as I retold the story. Then he told me that I’d forfeited the day’s wages, but no more would be said unless it happened again. As I set off up towards Solihull, this time to bring the load back, I had thought about how wonderful it was to have a good job, with a great Boss and friendly workmates!
That incident caused me to recognise that, through going down to see Sheila every night, I wasn’t getting enough sleep and it was beginning to catch up with me. I decided to go down there every other night and get some decent sleep on the nights that I stayed home. In a way, this would cause Sheila to move homes again.
Then a friend asked me if I’d look after his dog for a week while he went on holiday. It was a huge beast and, as I was hardly at home those days and couldn’t expect Mum to look after it, I had to refuse his request. He had already booked up his holiday, but, although he had asked around, he still couldn’t find anybody who would take the dog in. Finally I suggested that the dog could sleep out the back yard during the evenings and night, and I would take it out with me during the day. My friend was very happy with that arrangement and took off on his holiday.
For the next working week the dog and I happily travelled around the country together in the lorry. I had been a bit worried that it wouldn’t like riding in the cab but, when it was time to go home each evening I had to almost fight the brute to get it out. I’d made up a kennel out in the back yard, with nice soft blankets for the dog to lay on, but it seemed to much prefer the seats in the lorry. One incident, regarding that dog, comes to mind from that week.
I’d stopped at a Bracknell butcher’s shop to buy some lunch. Naturally, the dog had to have lunch as well, and so, along with two meat-pies for myself, I bought some nice juicy bones for the dog. The pies were in a bag and the bones were wrapped up in newspaper. I decided that we’d stop in the first lay-by out of town where the dog and I would have lunch together. But, hardly was I on the outskirts of Bracknell when I noticed, through my rear-view mirror, that one of my ropes had come loose through the load shifting a bit. I quickly stopped beside the road and tightened up the ropes on the back end of the load.
The job of tightening the ropes had only taken barely a minute, but in that short period the dog had time to rip the bag apart and eat my two pies. As I opened the cab door, the dog was sitting up on the passenger seat, wagging its tail and licking its mouth as if to tell me that those pies were scrumptious. The torn bag was on the floor and the bones were still wrapped up in the newspaper. I’d burst out laughing to notice that at least the dog had left me some nice juicy bones! Of course, I couldn’t grumble at the animal, I knew it was my fault for leaving the pies there. As if it was thanking me for those nice pies, the dog cuddled up close as I drove on to Wokingham, where I bought two more pies, and ate them on the spot while the dog got stuck into one of the bones. I became quite attached to that dog during the week that its master was away, and Sheila made a great fuss of it over the weekend!
Then I was in trouble at work again, but this time it wasn’t my fault.
With a full load of baled mixed paper and cardboard, I was returning to Reading from Aylesbury. Approaching a bend on the Marlow side of Henley, I was suddenly confronted by a small lorry coming from around the bend at a fast rate of knots, and on my side of the road. Through it having the name of the owners splashed all over the cab and sideboards, I had recognised the lorry immediately as belonging to a High Wycombe company. With nowhere else to go, I swerved up on the roadside bank, just narrowly being missed by the cab of the oncoming lorry by inches. That might have been the end of the incident if the other lorry hadn’t been fitted with a tail-lift (a lifting platform fitted at the rear of the lorry for raising heavy equipment from the ground up to the level of the deck). As the other lorry began to swerve away, the rear end came too close to my own vehicle.
There was an exploding bang and the glass from my shattered rear-view mirror sprayed through my open window. Then there were a series of thumps and bumps, my lorry lurched as I fought to bring it to a controlled stop, and the deck had tilted so far to the nearside that I’d thought the whole lot was going to roll over. Luckily I hadn’t been going all that fast and I managed to halt the lorry fairly quickly where I jumped out to see what had happened.
As I looked back up the road, I was just in time to see the other lorry vanish around the next corner at the end of the bit of straight road that I had just come down. Between myself and that fast disappearing lorry was half my load scattered along the road. The upright hoist of the tail-lift on my side of the other lorry had just been close enough to first hit my mirror then hit and cut through most of the ropes securing my load. With me already swerving away, coupled with the other side of my lorry being up on the bank, the forces were enough to cause some of the now unsecured load to topple off onto the road behind the passing lorry.
Realising that any vehicle to come racing around the bend could plough into the bales (there was no speed limit out of town for cars in those days), I ran forward and waved down the first car, asking the driver to stop other motorists while I cleared the road. Anybody coming from the other direction behind would have plenty of time to stop as they approached down the straight. After five minutes of hard work, I’d rolled the bales to the side of the road and the traffic got moving again. Then I found the nearest house and phoned up the Boss. Within a few minutes Colin and a few of the factory-workers were on their way.
It didn’t take long for Colin and his gang to travel the nine miles out to me, and, while waiting, I was able to straightened out the remainder of the load that was left up on my lorry. Finally they arrived and we all worked hard to lift the fallen bales from the side of the road up on to Colin’s lorry. I recall that Colin was very happy about the incident because he was being paid overtime for the extra hours he was working! I hadn’t visited Sheila the night before, and, due to the accident, getting back to the yard late, unloading the two lorries, then having to write out an accident report, it was too late for me to go down there that evening as well. Sheila was disappointed, but plans were being made to ease the situation in that direction.
The owners of the other lorry were contacted and apparently, for them, a mystery had been cleared up. Their driver had returned with a badly damaged hoist, claiming that he had no idea of how the damage had occurred. When our company contacted them, and explained what had happened, the driver had confessed and was sacked on the spot. His ex-employers agreed to pay for all the damage and extra hours of work caused by the accident.
It had been a narrow escape for me. But little did I know that this accident would be the beginning of a series of accidents that I’d be involved in over the next couple of months!
On the following Friday evening I took off down to Petworth for the weekend. As soon as I arrived, Sheila and her parents asked me if I knew of anywhere up in Reading where they could live. Due to a shortage of work in the Petworth area, they had been thinking of moving on for a long time, but they hadn’t really known where to go for the best. I had spouted on about how easy it was (in those days) to get a job in the Reading area, so they had finally decided to ask me if I could help them all to somehow get up to Reading.
Amazingly enough, Val and Derek, who lived a couple of doors down from us, were just about to vacate their rented home to move across to the other side of the town (Granby Gardens, near the Cemetery Junction). Straight away that night, I got on the phone to Mum and asked if she thought it would be possible for Sheila and her family to have the home that Val and Derek were vacating. Mum made phone-calls to the owners of the house, and it was soon agreed that I would take Sheila’s family up there the next morning to work things out.
Over the Saturday I took the whole family, all squashed into the back of the van (there were no ‘seat-belts for everyone’ rules in those days), up to Reading where it was arranged that they would be able to rent the house, and the move from Petworth to Reading would take place over the following weekend. Everyone was delighted with the outcome - especially Sheila and myself!
I just had time to squeeze in the second accident of the ‘accident’ series before Sheila and her family moved!
The traffic was thick as I made my way back through East London with a light load of baled cardboard. Having gone over Holborn Viaduct, I was approaching Holborn Circus (a large roundabout) and there were half a dozen London taxis in front of me. As we neared the roundabout, the taxis stopped - but I kept going!
At first, I’d had plenty of room to stop, we weren’t going very fast and there was more than enough space between myself and the taxi immediately in front of me. But, as I began to gently stab the brake-pedal to slow down, nothing happened. I’d quickly stabbed harder but the pedal had just flopped right down to the floor with no effect. The Bedford ‘TK Series’ lorry had a disc-brake fitted to the drive-shaft, which acted, not only as the handbrake, but as an independent emergency stopping brake. As I closed in on the rear of the taxi in front, I reached for the handbrake lever, pulled it on, and my vehicle juddered to a halt. Nevertheless, luck was still against me that day, and I unfortunately just barely touched the rear bumper of the taxi.
The taxi driver had obviously been ‘riding the clutch’ ready to move on, without having set his handbrake (I used to do the same). The gentle nudge from behind had been just enough to jolt his foot off the clutch-pedal and the taxi had jumped forward. But, in doing so it had hit the taxi in front and, being up close behind it, the collision had been worse. That second taxi had done exactly the same to a third taxi, but with even more force, which in turn did the same to a fourth taxi, which in turn smashed the rear of a fifth taxi.
To me, the sight of the five London taxis damaged by my gentle touch had been bad enough. But I can vouch to the fact that five angry London taxi drivers, having just had their beloved taxis damaged, and coming towards you, is a much worse sight - especially when they are rolling their sleeves up at the same time!
Luckily for me, I was able to explain about my loss of brakes and the taxi drivers soon calmed down. Addresses were exchanged, all the damaged taxis were still able roar off, and I, still shaking, was left to sort out my own problem. After ringing up the Boss, my lorry was towed into a heavy-vehicle repair garage where the brakes were fixed and pronounced safe again. Once more I set off towards home.
But, as I travelled out of London the brakes failed again. I was just approaching the Chiswick roundabout, on the Great West Road, and once more the brake-pedal went right down to the floor with no results. This time I was more lucky by being able to steer the lorry up onto the wide grass verge and stopping safely by using the emergency handbrake. When I rang the Boss up for the second time that day, I was instructed to leave the lorry there for the night and we’d sort out the problem the next day. And so, for the first time, I used my log sheets to hitch a ride home.
About those log sheets and the use of them to get a lift. As lorry drivers, all the hours we worked, and rested, had to be recorded on log sheets, and persons from the Ministry of Transport could bring any driver to court who was found to be breaking the laws and driving outside of the hours written down. The entries had to be written in as the day progressed (starting time, start of lunch time, end of lunch time, etc.), and a ‘Ministry’ chap could stop a lorry at any time of the day or night for a look at the log sheets. Sometimes, due to the fact that in those days we had single log ‘sheets’ with no identifying numbers, we would ‘fiddle the hours’. This was usually done by starting on one log sheet, and then, towards the end of the day, screwing it up and writing out another log sheet that, for instance, read that the working day had begun later, or hold-ups had been written out, etc. That ‘fiddling’ of log sheets could very often give us the extra time needed to get home, but the mileage-to-hours ratio also had to be taken strictly into account when doing so. It wasn’t often that us drivers were caught out on the road by being asked for our log sheets by the Ministry chaps. As soon as they set up in a lay-by beside the road, passing lorry drivers would begin signaling to approaching lorry drivers that the Ministry chaps were ahead. This was done by flashing the headlights, then waving log sheets out of the window. If the approaching driver had anything to hide regarding his log sheet, he would quickly stop beside the road and fix it up before proceeding on to where the Ministry chaps would be waiting.
But it wasn’t always that easy to get away with driving over the legal hours. Sometimes the Ministry chaps would just sit in a car beside the road and record the registration-numbers of the lorries that passed them, along with the date and time. Then checks would be made of all the log sheets, written up by the drivers of the recorded lorries and handed to their Transport Managers for filing, to ensure that the log sheet entries corresponded with the lorry being at the spot where it had been recorded. Under that system, it could be weeks before the Ministry chaps got around to checking some company log sheets, which also meant that weeks could pass before the driver knew whether he’d got away with ‘fiddling the hours’ or not. A lot of stress could be caused by ‘fiddling the hours’ so it wasn’t undertaken lightly! In later years, a lot of the good ‘fiddling the hours’ tricks would be eliminated by the introduction of ‘numbered in sequence’ log ‘books’, and a much tighter control on lorry driver’s hours by the Ministry chaps!
Another ‘waving of log sheets’ ploy, this time while standing beside the road, was used to attract other lorry drivers to the fact that you were a lorry driver wanting a lift, and it was also another recognised signal amongst us lorry drivers. We were only allowed to legally drive for so many hours a day, then we were supposed to park up for so many hour’s rest before continuing on with our journey. Those hours of rest had to take place away from the vehicle (and usually through the night, unless the driver was a ‘night trunker’ who usually did a specific journey to the same place every night). But sometimes the hours would be up when a driver was only a short distance away from home. Then the decision would have to be made. Whether to take a chance and carry on. Whether to park up and spend a night away, in spite of being so near to home. Or whether to park the lorry up, hitch home on the log sheets for the hours of rest, then hitch back and get the lorry after the rest period. Over my lorry-driving years, I usually carried on if I was closer to home than twenty miles when my hours ran out, and only once was I caught and fined for driving over those legal hours. But, if I was a bit further out, say twenty-five to thirty miles, and there was a direct main road into Reading (as there still was from the Chiswick roundabout that day - the A4 through Reading before the M4 by-passed the town) then I would use my log sheet to get a lift to home and back from other lorry drivers who were still travelling within their legal hours. As there were plenty of lorries roaming around the country, whose drivers began and finished their working hours at all times of the day and night, it was very easy to get a lift at any time. Naturally I gave lifts in return.
There were also other signals that lorry drivers gave each other in those days. For instance, a flash of headlights and waving from an approaching lorry was a friend passing. A flash of headlights from an approaching lorry and thumbs-down sign out of the cab window meant that the lorry had just passed a parked police car (usually looking for speedsters). A flash of headlights followed by an arm waving up and down out of the window usually meant that the approaching lorry had just passed an obstruction or accident. And so on!
But, back to the story.
The next morning I hitched back up to Chiswick, the lorry was towed into the same repair garage, the brakes were fixed again, and pronounced safe once more. Soon I had arrived safely back at the yard, where I unloaded the vehicle and finished work for the weekend.
Finally I set off down to Petworth in the van to help Sheila and her family to move up to their new home in Reading. Bert quickly managed to get a driving job for the Reading depot of Walpamur Paints, just down the road from our homes, and Sheila got a job working for the Reading Winding’s company along the Basingstoke Road a week or so later. Lucy’s sister also worked for that company, and that was how I eventually discovered that Lucy had married the new driver that she’d met at the Golden Twin factory after I’d moved on.
With The family settled in, I set off on the following Monday morning to do the Cotswold run. It was beautiful up in the Cotswolds area, and usually I looked forward to doing that run. But, on that morning it was drizzling in rain, which meant that I’d have to cover the load in between all the collection points to keep everything dry. Normally we could do half the collections before there was a big enough load to need covering and securing for safety. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even see the Cotswolds that day. Another accident would see to that.
The weather had been sunny and dry for weeks. I was experienced enough to know that, after such long and dry conditions, the roads would become very greasy with the first rains. With this in mind, and having all day to do the collections, I pottered up towards Oxford feeling very relaxed now that I didn’t have to worry about going all the way down to Petworth every few nights. Nevertheless, as I approached the small town of Wallingford, the rain had stopped, although the roads were still wet and greasy, and the sun had come out, causing steam to rise off the road.
I eased my foot off the accelerator pedal to comply with the speed limit of thirty miles an hour for that town. A short distance ahead was a narrow humped-back bridge and I slowed down even more as I knew that it was a bit of a bottleneck when vehicles tried to pass on it. I could see a cyclist approaching on the other side of the bridge, and an articulated lorry (an ‘artic’), quite a distance back, was coming up behind him. Judging that I had plenty of time to get over the bridge before the cyclist reached it, and expecting the artic driver to slow down behind the cyclist, I carried on over the bridge. But the artic driver didn’t slow down behind the cyclist.
As I came off the bridge, with the cyclist about twenty metres in front of me on the other side of the road, I was horrified to see the approaching artic suddenly pull out to pass the cyclist, just as if I wasn’t there. As usual, although it all happened so quick, I can remember everything as if in slow motion.
Even as the artic pulled out onto my side of the road, I saw its wheels lock up. But, due to its speed, and the weight of its fully-laden trailer, coupled with the greasy road, the vehicle began to jack-knife across the road in front of me. The local hospital entrance, with a tiny lay-by, was just to the left, but I knew that I wouldn’t get into it before the artic hit my cab head on. The rear of the artic’s trailer was dragging along the high far bank on the right, and the cyclist was there beside me on the right. I had no hope of avoiding a head on collision with the cab of the artic, unless I could squeeze between that cab and the cyclist, then take, what I thought would be, the lesser impact of hitting the slewing trailer. Even in that quick second as I made the decision, I turned the steering wheel over to the right in an effort to aim my cab at the point of least resistance, and naturally jabbed my brake pedal at the same time. That quick jab at the brakes was enough on that greasy road to cause me to also go into a skid.
Later I would recall that I’d looked right into the eyes, barely inches from my cab window, of the suddenly terrified cyclist, before there was a thump as the front of my cab hit the high bank on the other side of the road. Fortunately I hadn’t been going fast and I’d barely been lifted off the seat by the collision. But, even before I had time to recognise that fact, the cab of the artic smashed into the side of my lorry, forcing the rear end back over towards the same bank that I’d just hit, and where the cyclist still was, about to be crushed between my lorry and the bank if the lorry kept swinging around.
But Lady Luck was with us all on that wet Monday morning. My lorry stopped slewing over towards the bank just in time to leave the shaken cyclist with enough room to scoot on out of danger. The second collision had thrown me sideways along the seat, before I fell to the floor of the cab. And the driver of the artic had been thrown up against his steering wheel and windscreen, sustaining a cut to his head from hitting the windscreen-wiper motor which, in the type of vehicle he was driving, was bolted to the inside of the cab in front and above the driver.
Everything had gone very quiet, as if we were all stunned. I carefully moved my arms and legs, waiting for the pain I fully expected after such an accident. But, apart from a few bruises I’d got off scott-free. I got back up on my seat again and took a quick look around. The cyclist was sitting beside his bike on the edge of the road, just past the rear of my lorry. The artic had smashed into the side of my lorry, half way along the deck, and was jack-knifed across the road. Both our vehicles were completely blocking off the road in both directions.
Then suddenly there were people coming from all directions. I looked back behind me and could see doctors and nurses running out of the hospital entrance. A couple of children came racing along on their bikes. A lady appeared above the bank that I’d just smashed into, took one look down at the scene, then turned around and vanished again. Two or three people came out of an entrance just past the cyclist. The whole place seemed to be coming alive.
I went to get out of my shattered cab, but there was a puddle of diesel over the road so I climbed up on the deck of my lorry instead. The driver of the artic was just sitting up in his cab, with a stunned look on his face and a cigarette dangling from his lips. A doctor opened his cab door and climbed up to check him out. Another doctor called up and asked me if I was alright. A nurse had run over to the cyclist. The good staff from that hospital were wonderful, and I almost felt guilty that I was not injured after the way that they had all run out with their first-aid boxes to help. But at least their efforts were not entirely in vain and I watched as the artic driver was helped down out of his cab and led over to the side of the road where a doctor began cleaning up the cut on his head. A minute later a lady brought out a chair from her home so that the driver would have something to sit on.
The crowd of onlookers had got larger, and the traffic had begun to bank up on either side of the accident scene. Then a couple of policemen arrived. Within five minutes of their arrival, I could hear the siren of a fire-engine coming from the direction of the town. My fuel tank had been ruptured by the force of the artic smashing into it, and that’s where the diesel had come from that was now all over the road. The firemen had obviously been called out by the policemen to clean up the spillage.
Then I heard a woman’s voice calling out. I looked around and there was the lady at the top of the bank in front of my cab again. She had three hot cup’s of tea on a tray in her hands, and passed them over to me. It was a lovely thought and I’ll never forget how grateful I was for her effort. I was still up on the deck of my lorry, and I passed a cup down to the nurse who was with the cyclist, and another down to a nurse who was assisting the doctor to bandage up the cut on the artic driver’s head. Then I settled down quietly to enjoy my ‘cuppa’.
Meanwhile, the policemen had done their measurements, and the firemen began to clean up the spillage of diesel. I was called down by one of the policemen to make a statement, and I could see that the other policeman was talking with the artic driver. I gave my statement, then the policeman went over to the cyclist, as a witness, for his version of the accident. Finally two heavy breakdown vehicles arrived on the scene.
It was decided that, before the artic could be moved, my lorry would have to be towed out of the way. One of the breakdown vehicles hitched up to the rear of my lorry and attempted to tow it backwards away from the artic. But, for some reason the breakdown vehicle was having trouble to get moving. Then the driver called out and asked me to put my lorry out of gear, and I did so. He had another go, but there was still a problem. He shouted at me to let my handbrake off. I told him that I couldn’t remember putting it on, and he shouted back that I must have done as he shouldn’t be having so much trouble to get going. I checked the handbrake and it was off. The driver had another go and actually dragged my lorry back a few feet - but the wheels were not turning. A sudden suspicion crept into my mind and I told the driver about the brake problems I’d experienced up in London on the previous Thursday. He scrambled around underneath my lorry and finally had to back off all my brake adjusters before he could tow the lorry out of the way. This time the brakes had worked too well. For some reason they’d locked up solid - although I never did discover that reason. The lorry was towed away to some workshop, and I never saw it again!
Nevertheless, I had felt extremely lucky that I’d got away with another mysterious brake-malfunction so lightly. I’d realised that if I’d approached the bridge a few seconds later, and with that same brake problem, I might have met the artic on that narrow bridge with nowhere to go - except probably to meet my Maker!
That may have been a bit ironic. Alf, my best friend through my younger life, had been born in that very same hospital where the doctors and nurses had come rushing out from with their valuable offers of help!
On the other hand, it could have happened a minute or two later in the narrow centre of that town - and with people walking around the streets!
After chatting to the artic driver and the cyclist, then thanking the lady for being so thoughtful as to make us a ‘cuppa’, I used my log sheet to hitch a lift back into Reading, and once more faced the Boss to explain myself. Fortunately for me, the artic driver had confessed that he had been entirely to blame for the accident. Apparently, he’d had hardly any sleep over the weekend, and had driven down from the north through the night. He explained that he’d been extremely tired and had nodded off on a couple of occasions during the night. He’d gone on to say that, probably due to his tired state of mind, coupled with the sun glaring off the wet road, he hadn’t seen the cyclist until the last second, causing himself to swerve out and automatically hit the brakes. He also confessed that, most probably due to the glare of the sun on the wet road, he hadn’t seen my approaching lorry at all. I never heard how the driver got on after that. I could only be grateful that, most surely because of his still-confused state when he was interviewed by the policeman, he had told the truth.
According to the police, the only thing that had saved all of us from certain horrific injuries that morning was the fact that I’d been driving to the conditions of the road and weather at the time. But then, if I’d been driving a bit faster, I would have been well past the accident scene long before the artic and cyclist had reached the spot, and there might not have been any accident at all. On the other hand, if I had been going faster, I might, due to those problem brakes, have had a far worse accident later. The reasons either way are fascinating, and can only be speculated upon!
Even so, I wasn’t very happy about losing that lorry. I’d lavished so much love and polish on it that I could easily have used the polished paint-work as a mirror for shaving. But, with its loss, I was given an old long-nosed ‘J-type’ Bedford so that I could carry on with my work. It was a bit of a come-down, but I was happy to still have my job and I hadn’t expected to be without my beloved lorry for too long.
Sheila had been most alarmed to see me all covered in bruises when I’d arrived home after that accident. She told me that lorry-driving was too dangerous, and that I should give it up and get a safer job. I’d laughed at her concern, and had invited her out for my first day in the old long-nosed Bedford so that she could see for herself how safe my job was. Reluctantly, she had accepted my challenge, and we set off to collect a load from Bracknell. Naturally, to try and calm her fears that my job was unsafe, I drove the old Bedford with the utmost care.
As we were leaving the town of Wokingham on the return journey after collecting the load, Sheila had mentioned that the lorry didn’t seem to go very fast. I explained that the lorry had plenty of power if needed, but that it was good practice to keep a bit of that power in reserve for emergencies. As an example of the extra power that I’d been holding back, I planted my foot on the accelerator and the lorry surged forward at a sudden faster speed. At the same time I had shouted out that the lorry, if needed, would ‘go like a bomb!’
Exactly the same second as I said the word ‘bomb’, there was a loud bang from the front of the vehicle. I had been laughing and looking across at Sheila as the bang occurred, and, in the split second before my head swung towards the sound, I saw her face snap into a look of surprise, and her eyes nearly shoot out of her head. As I swung my gaze back to the front of the lorry, it was my turn to have a face that showed surprise. The view of the road had gone from my windscreen, and in its place was the orange-coloured bonnet and nothing else. Frantically, my eyes searched around in an effort to find a gap so that I could see the road and be able to safely stop. There was a narrow gap between the lower part of the orange-coloured obstruction and the bottom of the windscreen, and I ducked my head down to peer through that gap until I’d steered the lorry to a safe standstill.
It was another of those uncanny events. The catch that usually held the long engine-bonnet down was broken, and only the fact that I’d been driving carefully had prevented it from flying up in front of my windscreen earlier. The extra burst of speed had been enough to enable the wind to force the bonnet up in front of the windscreen on that occasion, Again I had been lucky that it hadn’t happened when I was going fast, or when there were people about. After temporarily tying the bonnet down with string, we carried on back to the yard, with both of us going into the occasional fits of giggling.
The ‘bonnet incident’ only helped to bolster Sheila’s belief that lorry-driving could be a dangerous job of work. But, on the following Friday evening, something occurred that made all of us forget about faulty lorry-brakes, accidents, and dangerous job’s of work for a while.
A short time after Sheila and her family had moved up to Reading, there was a knock at our front door and Mum opened it to find a couple of policemen standing there. Sheila was over with me and, both of us hearing our names mentioned, we went to the door to see what was going on. It was a shock, and quite unexpected, to be told that Cynthia, although still under-age, had left home and was believed to have run away with Alan. The policemen wanted to know if we’d seen Cynthia, or knew where Alan could be found.
I hadn’t seen Cynthia since the night Alan and myself had been run off the farm at gun-point, and Sheila hadn’t seen her since a couple of days later. And I had no idea where Alan was. The police seemed happy with our answers, but suggested that we must get in touch with them if we should hear from Cynthia or Alan. This we promised to do.
I still had many casual mates around the town of Reading and, through me, Alan had been well known by those mates as my close friend. Over the next couple of days I made many inquiries and eventually discovered that Alan was living in a flat up Castle Street. Sheila and I went to the address and found that Cynthia was also there, living with Alan. We pleaded with Cynthia to go back home, and then do things the right way when she was old enough. But, our pleas fell on deaf ears. Then we threatened to disclose their whereabouts to the police, and they both promised to think things over. I feel that Cynthia had been frightened at how easily I’d tracked them down, and this had caused her to return home as Sheila and I had advised. Either way, the next thing I knew was that Cynthia was back at home, and Alan had completely vanished.
Sheila and I had no more to do with Cynthia after seeing her with Alan that one time. We only knew that she had returned home, and that was all.
A few years later, I would finally see Alan for the last time when, returning from a trip over the other side of East London, I spied his familiar face standing at a bus stop in Wandsworth, near the famous Wandsworth Prison, with a brown-paper parcel under his arm. I had quickly stopped and picked him up, but he wouldn’t talk about anything of what he’d been doing since I’d last seen him in the flat with Cynthia. I’d dropped him off in another suburb of south London and, although he promised to come and visit me, I never saw him again.
The sight of him, waiting for a bus near Wandsworth Prison with a brown-paper parcel under his arm makes me wonder if I’d come along on the very day that he might have been released from that prison for some crime or other. Could it have been for his affair with the too-young Cynthia? Of course, it was probably nothing like that, and perfectly innocent, but I often wonder!
The Bedford TK was still in a garage somewhere being repaired, and I was given an old ‘S-type’ Bedford so that I could start going out and getting decent loads again. That ‘S-type’ also had very poor brakes and I had to drive very carefully when fully loaded. Having a bit of a phobia regarding brakes at the time, I had complained to the Boss, but nothing had been done to ease my worries. The lorry also had a ‘fierce’ clutch, and it juddered like mad as I tried to drive away from a standing position - especially on uphill starts. I recall that I had quite a few trips down to Midsomer Norton during the period I had that lorry. Rodney, Sheila’s oldest brother, often came out for rides with me and, through going down into that hilly country, we had many good laughs as the lorry juddered so much that we were almost shaken out of the cab.
Another thing that I remember from that time is that I had a craving for condensed milk again, and I also managed to even get Rodney hooked on it for a while. We’d potter off down and pick up a load, then stop off at the nearest shop for our ‘reward’ - a tin or two of condensed milk each, to be enjoyed on the way home. I had a special ‘clean’ screwdriver, which I’d use to knock two holes in the lids of the cans, then we’d happily suck the sweetened milk straight from the cans as we journeyed along towards home. I have always been a glutton for sweet things - how my body has put up with it over the years is a mystery to me!
Sheila had three brothers, Rodney, Michael, and Raymond, and also one little sister, Jackie. Sometimes Michael or Raymond would come out for a ride with me, but it wasn’t as much fun with them as with Rodney. Luckily their father, Bert, took the two younger boys out for rides in his lorry quite a lot, so Rodney was able to enjoy many days out with me.
The desire to get up into the hills was still tugging at me and Sheila had graciously accepted the fact that she would have to put up with me racing off every few weekends. I managed to squeeze two or three more trips up to North Wales through the late summer, and each time I was fortunate enough to fall in with some good people. My love of being up in the mountains had grown very strong, and sometimes Sheila took second place, but she never complained.
As we crept towards autumn, everything seemed to be going great. We were enjoying a fairly long summer, I had a good job, Sheila’s family had settled in to a more-contented life, and Sheila and I were happy. Some good songs were now in the charts, including ‘Have I The Right?’ by The Honeycombs, ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ by Dusty Springfield, ‘I’m Into Something Good’ by Herman and the Hermits, and a lovely song by The Four Seasons called ‘Rag Doll’. It seemed that nothing could spoil my carefree happiness.
But, as usual, trouble was only just around the corner!
Mum answered the door one Friday evening, I heard her give a surprised exclamation, and my name being mentioned. I wandered along to see what was going on - and was staggered to see a very-pregnant Diane standing on the doorstep with her parents. As he spied me, her father stepped forward and told me that, as I responsible for his daughter’s condition, he was leaving Diane with me so that I could sort out what I was going to do with her. With that, he took hold of his wife’s arm, led her back to their car, and the two of them drove off, leaving their daughter in tears at our front door. As I stood there speechless with shock, Diane suddenly threw herself at me, wrapping her arms around my neck and telling me that all she wanted was for us to get married.
I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her. My brain had raced as I’d tried to work out how this latest crisis had come about. Admittedly the pair of us had got very excited together at times, but we had never come anywhere near close enough to cause Diane to become pregnant.
I had wondered why it had taken so long for her parents to get in touch with me about what I’d supposed to have done, but Diane had explained that she hadn’t wanted to get me into trouble until she was sure that the expected child would be born with no problems.
I’d felt completely trapped. If I had been the father of the child, my duty would have been to do the right thing by Diane and marry her - that was how it was in those days as far as we were concerned! But I knew that I’d never been anywhere near her in that respect, and that I was being unjustly blamed. Things had changed for me, I didn’t love the girl any more, and I wanted to see this threat removed so that I could continue with the happy life that I was now enjoying with Sheila. In the end I’d decided to talk to Diane, knowing that she knew the truth and hoping to reason with her.
It had been most embarrassing when I’d gone to Sheila and explained what had happened. Her mother, Doll, had raged at me, saying that if I’d done the same to Sheila, she would sue me for every penny that I had (she must have thought that I was a real ‘sex-mad animal’). She need not have worried, Sheila and I were saving ourselves for the right time. But, luckily for myself I had been honest about my previous feelings for Diane, Sheila had understood, and, to give her fair due, she never brought it up again after this incident.
My own Mum hadn’t been very impressed at all, naturally saying that she’d brought me up to do the right thing by girls, and that, if I’d listened to her Diane wouldn’t be pregnant and I wouldn’t have messed my life up. I had wondered if I couldn’t have been told a bit more about how to cope with the ‘real things’ in life, rather than just being warned about the consequences of so-called ‘doing rude things to girls’! Not only that, but it had hurt me to feel that she had believed I was guilty of doing the very thing she’d warned me about, even in her limited way, when I’d tried hard to do what she had asked even though my feelings had screamed otherwise!
Diane stayed, in a spare room, for the weekend, and I spent all that time pleading with her to tell the truth. But, all I got back in return was that she loved me dearly, that she couldn’t bear the thought of me having another girl in my life, and that she wanted to marry me. She told me that she’d felt that way ever since our first meeting down in the cellar club. I’d gently explained that my feelings had changed, and that Sheila was the only girl I loved and wanted to marry now (that had surprised me, I hadn’t thought that I had been so much in love with Sheila as to want to marry her!). Diane had burst into tears and told me that, if I’d marry her instead, she could make me a lot more happier than Sheila ever would.
Nothing I said could make her see reason. Through my upbringing, I well knew that it would have been my duty to marry Diane if I’d done anything to cause her condition. But I knew that it was no good marrying her when I was positive in my heart that I wasn’t the father of her expected child.
Finally, telling her that, no matter how much she blamed me, I knew that she was aware of the truth, I took her down to the Reading Southern Region Railway station and led her towards a Wokingham-bound train. Forcing her arms from around my neck as she tried one more plea, I’d gently guided her up into a carriage compartment, then turned and walked away. People were staring as she shouted her last pleas for me to come back, and which seemed to echo all around the station. But, she must have known it was useless. She didn’t even bother to open the carriage door and follow me.
As I’d sat on the bus heading back up towards home, I’d thought back to the good times we’d enjoyed together down at the cellar club. I’d also tried to think of what I knew about getting girls pregnant. I’d been told that ‘little swimming things’ could do the damage if a boy and girl got too close, but I knew that Diane and I had never been that close. Nevertheless, I had felt a bit guilty because I also knew, on our last date at my twenty-first birthday party, and having suddenly felt such a desire for her, that if she hadn’t begun her monthly menstrual cycle that evening, I’m sure I would have wanted more than was acceptable. That was until I’d noticed the dark-red stain down the back of her white dress which, because of my ignorance, had turned me against her, causing me to finish our relationship two day’s later.
Suddenly, on that bus, I had sat bolt-upright. The stain on her dress that last night together was all the proof I’d needed. Both Sheila and Alan had thought he’d got Cynthia pregnant until her menstrual cycle had begun again, which had apparently proved that there was no pregnancy. As soon as I arrived home, I mentioned the incident to Mum and she’d said that she could remember it. But she had also advised me to wait and see what developed, rather than bring up this latest argument and maybe cause more problems unnecessarily. I think that she had already been bitten by the ‘Grandson bug’!
And that was how it was left. I only ever saw Diane once more as she was walking down Castle Street and I passed by in my lorry. Mum met her once and told me that she’d given birth to a baby boy, and (was this wishful thinking?) that it had looked just like me!
Eight or nine years later I met Diane’s father again, through being friends with his brother. He told me Diane had confessed that, because she had been so heartbroken at our break-up, she had gone to the Arborfield Army Barracks and got herself pregnant so that she could eventually blame me in the hope that I’d have her back. She had actually told her parents on the night I’d put her on the train at Reading. I’d thought it was good of them all, after the shock and worry caused to myself and my family, to very conveniently forget to set our minds at rest straight away.
Of course, Sheila had been quite upset by the threat that Diane had brought into our lives, and she had obviously felt a bit insecure in our relationship. All at once we were talking about us getting married. Nothing more had been heard from Diane, nor her family, and the matter had been quickly forgotten, just as if our families had believed I was innocent all along. The date of October 31st was picked out for the wedding, all of our families and relations were delighted, and plans were going along smoothly.
Then, just when everything was going so well, the brake problems that seemed to be dogging me at work had struck again and, in a fit of hurt pride, I gave my job up.
I was making my way back from the Bournemouth/Poole run and, in all fairness to the old ‘S-type’, it was overloaded a bit. As I approached the town of Ringwood, I could see that a traffic jam had built up ahead, and I began to slow down with plenty of time to stop behind the last car in the line. Then I noticed an artic, loaded with long steel beams, coming along a slip-road that joined my road from the left. I could see the driver looking back at my lorry, as if judging whether he’d have time to get out in front of me or not. Thinking he’d realise that he wouldn’t have room to get out, especially as he’d have to slow down for the traffic jam just past the end of the slip-road, I carried on measuring the distance to stop behind the last car in the queue.
Suddenly I’d realised that the artic wasn’t going to stop. Still watching me (and I was nearly upon him), he’d raced out right in front of me without even looking ahead to see if the road was clear. I slammed my foot on the brake-pedal, furiously pointing my finger ahead and, as the artic was about to straighten up in front of me, I just had time to see the driver look forward. All at once there had been bursts of blue smoke coming up from around the artic’s tyres as the driver had finally looked ahead then gone for his emergency brakes. I had a fleeting glimpse of the end of steel beams slowly coming towards my windscreen as my own feeble brakes failed to stop the old ‘S-type’, then there was a jolting crunch.
Again it had all happened so fast. One second I had been happily going about my business, the next I had been wishing that I hadn’t got out of bed that morning. But, just as with the other accidents, I can vividly recall every detail as if in slow motion all these years later. And again it had been such a gentle crash that I’d hardly moved forward off my seat.
As I’d sat there a bit shocked and cursing my luck, the artic driver had come running back, full of apologies. But I knew that he hadn’t been wholly to blame, my own driving hadn’t been defensive enough. I had seen the traffic jam up ahead, and I’d also easily seen the artic coming from the slip-road with the driver only looking my way. I should have made allowances for the eventuality that the driver might take a chance in getting out onto the main road ahead of me. My old lorry was laden high, I hadn’t been going very fast as I’d prepared to stop behind the queue of traffic, the artic driver had obviously thought that I was going slow due to the age of my lorry and the large load, and he had decided that he’d just have time to race out ahead of me so that I wouldn’t hold him back. I could see all this happening just to the left and in front of me, and yet I still hadn’t made allowances for the extra few yards of stopping distance ‘Just in case!’.
That last accident really brought home the fact to me that, no matter how good you think yourself and others are, mistakes are easily made and things can quickly go wrong. Fierce defensive driving and alertness at all times were the only answers if a driver wanted to stay safe on the roads, and I hadn’t been defensive nor alert enough. Lorry drivers had been my heroes for years. To me they were an elite group and I was proud to be one. But I was also beginning to learn that it wasn’t all ‘get behind the wheel and look professional’! I felt that I was to blame for the accident and I was very annoyed with myself, especially as it was the third accident that seemed to involve ‘braking’. My only consolation that day was the fact that the artic driver had thanked me profusely for urgently pointing up ahead. He’d explained that he’d been so engrossed in watching me as he’d tried to judge the timing, that he hadn’t thought to look ahead to see if the road was clear or not. In that respect, there could have been a far worse accident, maybe with people hurt badly or even killed, and we can be very thankful that I don’t have such a story to relate (as I would have in later years from seeing other people’s accidents).
But, although I was very grateful that such a thing hadn’t occurred, I was still in trouble myself. The front grill of the old Bedford had been flattened and the radiator had been pushed back into the fan. All the coolant had spurted out of the wrecked radiator, and once again a recovery vehicle had to be called out. There had been no damage to the rear of the artic, except for a few scratches, and the driver had gone on his way after swapping addresses. Finally I’d hitched a lift back to the yard for another confrontation with the Boss, and another accident form to fill out.
This time there was no spare lorry for me to use. The Boss had suggested that I could work in the factory until the damage to my own lorry had been repaired (I don’t know why the repairs were taking so long, and I never did see that vehicle back on the road again), but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to last in that factory for long, as it would be far too boring.
Through my own hurt pride, coupled with the thought of being trapped in that enclosed factory, I gave my immediate notice to the Boss. And that was the end of, what had been to me, a very happy, but eventful, job of work.
The next day I managed to get a job as a driver for a brick and tile delivery company. For the company driving test I was led out to, of all things, another old ‘S-type’ Bedford. I shuddered inwardly as I climbed up into the cab and got on with the test. If anything, that vehicle was in a worse condition than the one I’d had the accident in the day before. But I was a little wiser by then, and drove more defensively than ever. I easily passed the test and began work straight away.
There were no palletised brick or tile loads in those days, everything had to be loaded and unloaded by hand (‘Handball’ we called it). A dozen or so men helped to load the lorries in the yard, but, most often the drivers had to unload the whole load on their own at the delivery points. I didn’t like the job at all, but decided to try and stick it out until after the wedding then look for something better.
Meanwhile, a few new songs were up in the hit parade. The Kinks were there with ‘You Really Got Me Now’ along with ‘She’s Not There’ by The Zombies, ‘Under The Boardwalk’ by The Drifters, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ by The Supremes, ‘Seven Golden Daffodils’ by The Mojos, ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison, and, very appropriately for Sheila and myself, ‘The Wedding’ by Julie Rogers.
The plans for our wedding were going very well. Although I had a good many friends and relations to choose from for my Best Man, I had decided that Colin, from my last workplace, would be the right person for the job. Lynnette, Val’s eldest daughter, would be Sheila’s Bridesmaid, and Raymond, Sheila’s youngest brother, would be her Pageboy. The whole family was excitedly looking forward to the event.
Then, with only a week to go before the wedding, I was once more out of work.
As already mentioned, I hadn’t liked the brick and tile delivery job very much at all. The deliveries were all local, there was no variety in loads, and I’d already complained on a number of occasions about the poor old lorry being such an unsafe wreck. To make things worse, on top of this I had little holes right in the centre of the whorl on each of my fingers. Those holes had been caused by handling thousands of rough bricks and tiles with my relatively soft hands. They were not too painful, more of a nuisance as the drops of blood from my fingers seemed to be going everywhere. In the end I asked the Boss for a pair of gloves. But he explained that gloves were only given out to workers who had been with the company for more than three months, and I had only been with the company for a month which wasn’t long enough to be given gloves. To me, it was a stupid rule that said a worker couldn’t have a pair of gloves during the first months of employment. That was the time when they were most needed, when the hands were still soft and the new worker hadn’t had time to get used to the type of work. I decided not to hang around for another two months before I was eligible for any gloves. With no more ado, I quietly told the Boss what he could do with his bricks, his wreck of a lorry, and his precious gloves, then walked out.
Knowing that there were plenty of jobs around, and that I would be taking time off for a honeymoon anyway, I decided to wait until after the honeymoon was over before looking around for further employment.
October the 31st dawned cold but sunny. I awoke that morning and, with a shock, realised that it was the day that I was to marry Sheila. I wasn’t worried about the ‘being married’ part, it was the ceremony I wasn’t looking forward to!
Unknown to any of us at the time, Mum and John, after living together for ten years, took off early that morning, and were quietly married down in Reading before rushing back in time for our wedding.
We’d arranged to get married at the Holy Trinity Church, almost opposite the Gaumont Cinema just down the road from our homes. It has probably been guessed by now that I had long given up on going to the Catholic Church. I still believed in God but, as I didn’t want to go to church on Sundays I felt that I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I just went for show. Even so, we wanted to be married properly in the eyes of God. Sheila wasn’t a Catholic, and I wasn’t going to make her change religions just so that we could get married in a Catholic church, that would have seemed hypocritical as well. We figured that all churches are God’s houses and, without picking or choosing, we opted for the church that was the nearest to our homes, which happened to be the Holy Trinity.
Colin arrived and, as all the men had gradually gathered in our house, the usual ‘wedding jokes’ and ‘honeymoon ribbings’ were soon flying back and forth. The ladies were all at Sheila’s home two doors down, fussing around as only ladies know how to on such an occasion. Wedding traditions had to be adhered to, like the couple not seeing each other before the ceremony, and Sheila having ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue’. But, neither of us had bothered with a ‘stag night’.
Suddenly it was time to head down to the church. Although I hadn’t known them all that long, my old workmates from the brick and tile company had organised the wedding cars, for which we were very grateful, and even the Boss who’d refused to give me gloves had chipped in. As Colin and myself had left the house, I’d looked up at Sheila’s room while passing and she’d just happened to glance out of her window at the same time, before she was pulled away by one of the superstitious ladies. But, in that fleeting second our eyes had met, and, because of this a few people had put the ‘mockers’ on our marriage even before the wedding.
The next thing I can recall was standing at the altar as the organist played ‘Here Comes The Bride’, and knowing that Sheila and her Father were coming down the aisle behind me.
To be concluded with an epilogue....One day!!!
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