Six hours later, I arrived in the City of Edinburgh, a city I had visited many times with mum and dad. This time I was alone. I parked the bike and walked along Princes Street, to Scott Monument. As a boy I had climbed the 287 steps inside the monument that led to the top. I stood by it and looked up at the Castle, thinking of the good times we'd had here as a family. I didn't stop for long, I got back on the bike and took the coast road out of Edinburgh, through Portobello and Musselburgh, to Tranent. I knocked on the door of 164 Northfield and waited for an answer, but there was no one home. I had never even thought that they might not be here. I got back on the bike and rode the short distance to Granny Wilson's house, in Harkness Crescent. Again I knocked on the door, but this time I had more success. Aunty May came to the door, they were all here, visiting gran. It was lovely to see them, they were very surprised to see me there, but greeted me with genuine affection. I had long ago made my peace with gran, she had forgiven me my childhood indiscretions and we were now on the best of terms.
We went back to Aunty May's where she gave me some food, let me shower and made up a bed in the spare room. I stayed for a couple of days, just hanging around doing nothing, when she said to me, 'come on, let's get on that bike of yours and I'll show you some of the countryside.'
I was taken by surprise that she would want to take the risk of riding with me, but she was adamant. She produced a pair of goggles from somewhere, put on an overcoat and a pair of boots and said, 'let's go.'
Off we went, to Haddington, then on into the Lammermuir Hills. We climbed higher and higher into the hills, passing Camelshiel Castle then dropping down to the small town of Duns. On through Greenlaw, Gordon, Melrose and Galashiels, before getting to Lauder and climbing back into the hills and heading for Tranent. It was a fine day out, we both enjoyed it immensely. I don't think I had ever seen Aunty May so full of fun as that day.
Soon it was time for me to go home. I took the A1 coast road out of Tranent, travelling east through Berwick on Tweed, down to Newcastle on Tyne. I took a slow run home, down the M1, travelling for some eight or nine hours. That's a long time in the saddle.
It was dark when I pulled up outside the prefab. I had been away for a week, but again I hadn't bothered about locking the door. I went in, switched a light on, put the kettle on for a cup of tea, looked around, nothing had changed. I don't think anyone had been there, if they had I couldn't tell. I had my tea then collapsed into bed to sleep the sleep of the damned. I was exhausted after my journey.
A gang of us got on our bikes and went to a dance at Minchinhampton village hall, where a favourite band of mine were playing. The Arthur Hinge Speed Band played wild progressive rock and had an incredible stage act. I had two friends in the band, Mickey Clarke, a fine drummer and Mick 'Wanger' Wainright, the singer and terrific front man. During the wild stage act, a strobe light would start flashing, then Wanger would start cranking the handle of an air raid siren. As the noise of it built up, he lifted it of the stage so the inertia of the thing started swinging it round and round as Wanger held on to the handle. He moved around the stage with the siren wailing and flailing around, bouncing it onto the stage then high up into the air, over and over again. It was obviously a big heavy thing by the way it almost took over control of Wanger's tall slim body, but it was a very exciting performance. To add to the drama, they played a number which culminated in smashing the tubes in some old TV sets causing them to explode. What a band, they were great. Mickey lives in Spain now and Wanger lives in California. Making music is still part of both their lives. On this night, Dick Spackman offered to sell me his girlfriend for the night, it was just a bit of fun but she didn't appreciate it at all. We had a fair bit to drink and as usual when we went to one of these country venues, the local lads took exception to our invasion. Once we realised that trouble was brewing we pre-empted it by banding together in a show of strength in front of the stage and directing a bit of menace towards them. Fortunately they realised that it would be a bad move to upset us and the situation relaxed. We had a good night out and left without any trouble.
Cath's mum and dad went away for a few days, giving us a free weekend when we wouldn't have to worry about getting home. There was a pop festival on, in Tewkesbury and it had been decided that the Scorpions were going to make a night of it. We all met at the Union in Westgate Street and rode en masse to Tewkesbury. We parked the bikes, then went on a pub crawl before deciding how to get into the festival without tickets and more importantly, without paying. We moved down Barton Street, going from pub to pub. We were a bit noisy, but the atmosphere was good humoured. By the time we got to the Bell hotel, opposite the Abbey, we were all well oiled and having a laugh. The barroom was long and narrow with a door at either end and a row of tables and chairs along the wall opposite. We were sitting at one end, drinking and talking when a gang of local bikers came in and settled at the other end of the bar. They started shouting disparaging remarks at us which prompted a spirited response. These lads obviously didn't appreciate who they were trying to take the piss out of. It went on for a while, without too much to worry about, but then the landlord decided to throw us out. We were the strangers, therefore we would have to go.
He started shouting, 'right you lot, you've had enough, get out.'
I said 'Yeah, okay man, we'll drink up and move on.'
He said, 'No you won't, you'll get out now.'
Some of us tried to reason with him, telling him that we would be gone in a few more minutes, but he had come round the bar and was getting aggressive. He wouldn't listen to anything we said and it was obvious that trouble was imminent. We weren't going to be thrown out of anywhere, by anybody, let alone this landlord and a few bar staff. The bar was packed and he would probably be able to count on some of the regulars, plus the local bikers, but twenty Scorpions were always going to win.
The landlord got even more aggressive, he had a bottle in his hand and was threatening to use it if we didn't go immediately. He upped the stakes for the last time, making a move to hit Dick Spackman, who was sitting next to me. Before he could connect, I jumped up and hit him over the head with my pint mug, then all hell let loose. By choosing confrontation, he had made a big mistake. Now that the fighting had started, there would be no quarter asked or given. People who wanted nothing to do with it, started to try to get out of the two doors. Those who wanted to fight, waded in with great ferocity, it was like a scene from a wild west saloon. Furniture was flying in all directions, wrecking the optics and all the mirrors and general paraphernalia behind the bar. A chair went through the top of the jukebox, silencing it without ceremony. Our opponents had by now realised what they had let loose and apart from the ones unconscious on the floor, had all taken refuge behind the bar and had resorted to trying to keep us at bay by throwing bottles at us. Honour had been satisfied so we started to retreat through both of the doors. I saw Cath going out of the far door and continued to keep our opponents heads down while the retreat was made. I was the last man standing on my side of the bar. Looking at the unconscious bodies, I could see that there was none of ours among them, so I turned to go out of the door. As I turned, I was hit on the back of the head by a bottle. It stunned me for a few seconds, followed by a rage which took over all reason. I ran back into the room, jumped onto the bar and kicked the landlord in the face, knocking him flat. I ran up and down the bar, wrecking anything left and showering it down onto the rest of them, who were cowering down as low as they could go. I jumped back off the bar and headed for the door, with more success this time.
When I got outside, I couldn't see anybody, I didn't know which way they had gone. I walked along the side of the river and found the gang standing by a large boat. When I got there, they were discussing whether they could take the boat with all of us aboard, to the other side of the river where the festival was. After due consideration, it was decided that we would all probably be swept away, so we would have to find another way in.
We made our way back up to the main street, where the police had finally arrived and were looking for us. They came up to us, in a threatening manner, but it soon became obvious to them that we weren't going to be intimidated, especially when the dog handler pushed his luck and John Myatt punched the dog on the head, putting the dog and his handler right off. They decided to assert their authority by telling us to quieten down and make our way directly to the festival, then they left.
When we got to the festival entrance, it was decided that all the tactics talked, about ways of getting in, were for nothing. The mood the Scorpions were now in, who was going to stop them from just walking in. No one with any sense. I was covered in blood from the blow I had taken from the bottle. Tony Hawker kept looking at it and advised me to go to the hospital, so I bade them farewell and Cath and I took off for casualty department in Gloucester. The blood had run down my back and covered my furry waistcoat. I looked like an old Viking warrior just come from a battle. A couple more of the gang came strolling in, with minor injuries requiring stitches, I heard a nurse say, it looks like the greasers have been fighting tonight, let's get rid of them as quick as we can. We were dealt with quickly, the only time I have had quick service there. We left the hospital and went home to bed.
The lads who made it to the festival had a rare old night. I was sorry to have missed it, I had wanted to give Cath a good night out, but hey! That's life, things don't always go according to plan.
Tom Murphy, Cath's dad was getting ever more protective of his daughter. I don't think he liked the way things were going, so when one night I called for her, he refused to allow her to come out with me. There followed a violent encounter, which ended with me leaving without Cath and the police being called to the scene.
That night, Roger Haines and I, went to The Ship at Brimscombe. There were a lot of Scorpions there that night and they were having a good time, but the events of earlier that evening were weighing heavily on my mind. The local lads were taking even more exception than was usual, to the Gloucester boys, making free with the local girls. The atmosphere became very tense. We had been there many times without incident, so I think some of the local hard cases saw this as a sign of weakness. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I don't know what started it, but suddenly there was an eruption and a mass brawl started, unleashing a level of violence undreamed of by these country boys. Once they realised the seriousness of their situation, they started to try to escape by any means available to them. Some started jumping out of the windows, the problem was, the windows on one side of the building, were directly above the canal. Some of them must have been scared to death, because for quite a few, falling ten feet into an icy cold canal was the preferred option to taking their chances with us.
We soon drove all the locals out of the club, then followed them out into the street, where they had regrouped on the opposite side of the road. Again they made a mistake. Someone threw a rock at us, but we were standing at the club entrance, many still holding on to their drinks. Almost as soon as the rock had been thrown, an avalanche of beer mugs and bottles started raining down on them. By this time, we were laughing and enjoying the battle. Most of our opponent had made off, leaving only a few hardy souls left, so we suddenly ran at them, covering the few feet that was between us so quickly, they only just managed to turn and run, before we got to them. That was the end of it, so we decided that it was time to go. The battle had only lasted a few minutes but had been fierce and decisive. The Scorpions were a powerful force to be reckoned with.
We left the scene and made our way home. A few minutes after Roger had dropped me off, Tony Hawker and Paul Mulhern arrived, Paul with his girlfriend and Tony with a girl he had brought from Brimscombe. They asked if they could stay the night and I said it was okay. I went to bed and left them to their own devices.
A few hours later I was woken up by one of the girls getting into bed with me. I turned to her and asked what was going on, I didn't even know who she was, or anything about her. She said, Tony had left, saying he was going to get some cigarettes, but as time wore on it had become obvious that he was not going to return. She had been left, with only the settee to lie on and nothing to cover herself with, to keep warm. She said she was freezing and I could see she was shivering with cold, so I told her to get in and make herself comfortable. I turned over and went back to sleep.
Half way through the next morning, I was woken up again. This time the shock was far worse. Cath had fallen out with her dad over the events of the previous night and had come to see me. She came into the bedroom and saw me lying there with a girl I didn't even know. Cath stood at the foot of the bed, looking really disappointed, then she started crying. The girl I was in bed with asked sleepily, 'who is this?'
I replied, 'she's my girlfriend, it's time you went' and gave her a push out of the bed to help her on her way. Then I had the difficult task of trying to explain the truth to Cath. I don't know if she ever really believed me, but we managed to smooth things over.
Soon after, Cath moved in with me and we became a couple. I enjoyed her company and had a greater affection for her than I had ever felt for a girl before. I suppose that we had begun what was to become a long lasting, loving relationship.
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Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.