It was great to have Cath living with me. She soon set about turning what was a typical scruffy bachelor pad, into a more acceptable home. There had only been men in this house since mum died and since I had been living alone, it had got even worse. Housework was pretty low on my list of priorities, but Cath was different, she wanted everything to be clean and tidy. We even did some decorating, my first efforts, perhaps not to everyone's taste with blue ceiling and orange walls, but it was freshly painted. I could not remember the prefab ever being decorated before.
I was doing some day work, labouring for my cousin Hugh, who was a plasterer. I went on many jobs with him but it was only occasional work and I knew it was time I looked for another job. We went to a house in Vauxhall Terrace to replace a bedroom ceiling, re-plaster the stairs and the front living room. The house was rented by an old lady and the landlord had put off doing any repairs until it was absolutely essential. Some bits of the ceiling had fallen on the lady during the night and it had become dangerous for her to sleep there, so we had been called in to sort it out. We went into the bedroom and took a look at the job, Hugh got a sweeping brush and started to prod the ceiling to find out how bad it was. He prodded it a couple of times, then wished he hadn't, he shouted for me to get out of the room. I went outside the door and looked back to see Hugh with the head of the brush on the ceiling trying to hold up a huge bulge that had appeared. He made his way towards the door, keeping the brush up on the ceiling, the bulge getting bigger and bigger as he moved towards me. Suddenly it started to go and Hugh made a dash for the door, slamming it shut as soon as he was through. We could hear all kinds of banging and crashing behind the door, it was obvious that it wasn't going to take us long to get that plaster down. When we thought it was safe. We opened the door, but couldn't see anything for the cloud of dust swirling about, so we closed it back up and went to look at the other parts of the house that needed doing. Hugh decided that he would start to prepare the living room, leaving me to knock the old plaster off the stairs. They were the old fashioned kind of stairs, hidden behind a door, leading off the kitchen. I set up a pair of stepladders and some planks, so that I could get to the top of the walls, to start hacking the plaster off. After a few minutes chipping away with a lump hammer and bolster chisel, the whole lot came away with another great rumble. I dodged most of it as it came crashing down. I had closed the door at the bottom of the stairs, so as to keep the dust contained. I looked down from the plank I was standing on, halfway up the stairs and saw that the rubble had half filled the stairway. I stepped off the plank, straight onto the rubble, bent down and opened the door leading to the kitchen. The rubble started to rumble and shift through the doorway, into the kitchen. This time I was standing on top of it and had to jump into the kitchen and move quickly out of it's way. I went into the front room where Hugh was working, listening to the radio. He hadn't heard a thing.
I said, 'haven't you finished this little job yet? I've done the stairs.'
I started laughing and told him to come and take a look. That house was so dangerous, it's a wonder the poor old lady wasn't killed. In a few days, we had it all spruced up and ready for her to move back in. It took almost as long to get rid of the dust we had created as it did to do the job.
Christmas came and we were invited to Hughie and Diana's for Christmas day. It was a great day with them and Gillian and Carol. We played with the girls and their toys and Diana cooked a wonderful dinner, which we all enjoyed immensely. In the evening we had a few drinks, Cath had some sherry and when that ran out Hughie produced some bottles of Pony (something similar to Babycham) which Cath tried and said she liked. She was not used to drinking in any quantity and got drunk for the first time in her life. She started to go to sleep, so I put her to bed and we stayed the night at Hughie's. Cath would never have made the couple of hundred yards between our houses.
1971 dawned, soon I would be twenty one, I already had the key to the door, even if I never knew where it was. I got a job at Graham Reeves, builders merchant, as a warehouseman, back on the plumbing and heating, as I had been at Western Trading, five years earlier. I liked it there, they seemed to be a good firm, the foreman was a nice man and it was easy going.
On a freezing cold January morning about two weeks after I had started, I was on my way to work at about a quarter to eight, when disaster struck. I was riding the Lightning along Southern Avenue, following a line of cars. As I went over the railway bridge, into Cole Avenue, the road split into three lanes. I looked down the road and pulled into the middle lane. As I did so, a sports car did the same, coming in the other direction. He saw me and started to weave about, I think he panicked. I tried to swerve in front of the car I was passing, but as I did so, the sports car hit my right leg. I flew off the bike and over the top of the car. Things went into slow motion. As I flew through the air, I thought, this is like Superman flying. Then I hit the ground and started bouncing over and over, ending up on my back, sliding down the road with the back of my head banging on the tarmac, over and over again. I saw a shower of sparks flying past me, still in slow motion. I realised that I had been flying faster than the Lightning and it was just coming past me. I came to a halt, lying in the middle of the road. I lay there thinking, well, this is it, I knew it wouldn't be long before I would die and now is the time and it was easier than I thought it would be. There was no pain, I felt nothing, I was just sinking into unconsciousness. All of this must have happened in seconds, because no one had yet got to me, but it felt like for ever.
All of a sudden, things came back to real time and I saw a car whiz past my head, almost taking it off. I realised that I was lying in the middle of the road and some cars weren't even slowing down. I saw people running towards me, trying to stop the cars from running me over. I tried to move and realised I couldn't get up, so I dragged myself as quickly as I could, to the verge at the side of the road. All of this before the first person reached me, offering to help. I was pretty groggy, but now it was starting to hurt. I could see that my leg was in a pretty bad way, my foot was at a crazy angle and the bone stuck straight out of the front of my leg. My trousers reminded me of those worn by Robinson Crusoe in an old film I'd seen. They were all ripped to shreds at the bottom with my bare legs sticking out. I had been wearing brown Chelsea boots and I could see my foot sticking out of the bottom of the boot, where the sole had been ripped off. I lay in the road thinking, that's a good pair of boots gone and my favourite old Parka jacket. Somebody covered me over with a coat, as I had started to shiver. The man covering me with the coat started saying he was sorry but it wasn't his fault. I realised it had been him that had hit me and I had a fit of rage. I threw his coat into the road and told him to fuck off.
The next person I saw looking over me was one of the lorry drivers from Graham Reeves, he was also a biker friend and he asked me if I wanted the bike taken home. I thanked him and said yes.
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics started to see to my injuries. I had no idea how good or bad it was going to be. I could see the leg was bad, but I couldn't see or feel much else. They put me into the ambulance and we sped off towards the hospital, lights flashing and two tone horns wailing. I asked the ambulance man how bad it was, he replied that my leg was broken.
I said, 'I know it's broken, I can see the end of the bone sticking out, I'm asking how bad it is.'
He tried to keep the conversation light and kept smiling, rather inanely I thought. I got nothing out of him, except that they would be able to sort it out when we got to the hospital. To make matters worse, he asked me if it was hurting. When I told him that it was agony, he said they had a new type of gas on board that would ease the pain, but he was sorry he was unable to give me any as he hadn't been on the training course.
I said, 'you fucking idiot! What are you telling me that for?'
He tried to calm me down, but I found it increasingly irritating and in between my groans, I kept mumbling things like, 'fucking pratt,' so eventually he gave up and we finished the rest of the journey in silence.
When we arrived at the casualty department in Great Western Road, I was removed from the ambulance and wheeled into a room. The medic's were very impressive at this stage. It was just like you see on the television, when everyone springs into action. They started cutting my clothes off, administering injections and asking me questions. I was surrounded by people and everything seemed to be happening at lightning speed. They asked me if I knew my blood type and I answered, 'yes, it's A Negative.'
I heard one of the doctors groan and say, 'I don't expect we've got any of that, better give him some plasma.'
I thought to myself, that's handy, they haven't got any of my blood type, maybe I'm going to die after all. I asked them to get a message to Cath, telling her not to worry.
They wheeled me away, into a cubicle and I don't remember much else until I came round from the anaesthetic used to perform the operation to plate and pin the bones in my leg. Apparently, I had been at the hospital from around eight thirty until four o clock before they could start the operation. It had taken that long to get the blood they needed from another area.
It was dark when I started to come round. I awoke in a side ward with two beds in it. An old man who I later found out was an Irishman named Dennis Mahoney was in the other bed. A nurse came into the room and I asked if I could have a drink of water. My mouth was so dry from the anaesthetic, I could have drunk a gallon of water, but the nurse said it was too soon after recovery and she would give me some water, later. When she had gone, I looked around the room and saw, only a few feet away, there was a small washbasin. I started to try to shuffle up in the bed so that I could hang over the side and get a hand on the basin. It was a real struggle but I managed to get a hand on it and ease myself just that little bit further until I was on the verge of falling out. I managed to turn on the tap and by hanging on to the other side of the bed, I could get a few drops of water in my cupped hand and take a very small drink. I continued to do this until I was absolutely exhausted and collapsed back into a deep sleep. I awoke again, I had no idea what the time was except that it was still pitch dark and the old man was still sleeping. The pain was starting to come now, I was greater agony now than I had been at any time. A nurse came in and gave me an injection and I slipped back to sleep. The next time I woke up, it was morning and people were fussing around, Dennis was having his breakfast and the nurses were coming in and out asking how I was. I wasn't feeling too bad considering.
I lifted up the bedclothes and took a look at the leg encased in plaster of paris. The front of the plaster was stained brown from dried blood, it didn't look too good, but nobody seemed too concerned, so I assumed that the operation must have gone all right.
Cath came in to see me as soon as they would let her in. She was beside herself with worry, they hadn't told her very much. She was a young girl and they hadn't treated her very well, she may have been young but she was the only one I wanted to be here with me. I was delighted to see her and had a very strong feeling of the love I had for her when I saw her come into the room. For the first of many hundreds of times over the years, I looked at her face and thought how lucky I was to have her. I still look at her today and think the same things as I thought then. I knew that whatever happened, I would be able to count on her, she was and still is my best friend.
Aunty Ethel would have to be told that I was in hospital but there was time for that and I didn't want to worry her. It wasn't long ago that she had seen dad die and I didn't want to hurt her any more.
After a couple of days, they decided to cut a large trapdoor in the plastercast, so they could take a look at the wound where the bone had come through and where they had cut to insert the plates. When they opened it up, it looked horrible. The area where the bone had come out had gone green and smelled terrible. The nurse said it was nothing to worry about and cleaned it up every few hours. It didn't look very good to me.
After a few days, at least I was starting to feel okay. Cath was coming to see me every day and some days I had a lot of visitors. It was nice in the side ward, the nurses didn't worry about how many visitors were in the room. I shared some of my visitors with Dennis, in the next bed, so if the nurses did complain, I could still have twice as many as normally allowed.
I wasn't getting on very well with the hospital food, by the time it got to us in the very end side ward, it was often cold. Cath started to bring in all sorts of things. There was a chip shop in London Road so Cath went there and brought back chicken and chips, it was manna from heaven.
I was getting slowly better and things weren't too bad, but it was no place to be for your twenty first birthday. Cath turned up with a few of my friends, some sandwiches and a birthday cake and we had a small party. Old Dennis Mohoney really enjoyed all the company, he had no family in Gloucester and had few visitors, mainly from the catholic church of St Peters. He was a lovely old man and we tried to involve him in everything we did.
During the second week of my stay in hospital, they tried to move me out of the side ward into the main ward, but I told them that I would rather stay where I was. I had got used to being there and didn't like the thought of the loss of privacy. I hoped I wouldn't be there much longer anyway. In the end they left me alone.
I had been in bed for about two weeks, when a nurse brought me a pair of crutches. She said, as soon as I could use them, I could go home. I got out of bed and set off very tentatively towards the main ward. By the time I got to the end of the ward and back, I was absolutely exhausted. I told the nurse I would be ready to go home the next day. She said she would tell the consultant that I was ready.
Mr Merryweather, the consultant surgeon, came on his rounds, looked at my leg through the trapdoor in the plaster, checked the state of the wound and decided that I could go home once the plaster had been replaced with a new one. The old cast not only had this hole cut in it, but was a disgusting looking thing, coloured brown with dried blood.
Cath came in and I told her that I was ready to come home. She went off and contacted Hughie MacPherson who came and collected me as quickly as he could. Was I glad to get out of there? As we drove away I experienced a feeling of great relief. I thought it must be like getting out of prison. I felt free again.
When we got home, Cath told me to go into the back bedroom. I went in and had a real shock. The Lightning was in there, my friend Roger Haines had been coming in the evenings and had repaired the damage. It was ready to ride, if only I could.
The clothes I had been wearing when I'd had the accident, were returned by the hospital, all stuffed into a large plastic bag. My trousers and boots were only fit for the dustbin and my helmet which I had only been wearing because of the cold weather, had been bashed in at the back and was all but useless. My trusty old Parka jacket had stood up well to the experience. The only thing wrong with it was the elbows had been worn away. Cath got a couple of leather patches and sewed them on for me, making it as good as new.
It was great to be home again, Cath was making it a nicer place to live all the time. She was working, earning around six pounds a week and I was getting state sickness benefit of around three pounds a week. Almost all of my money went on paying the rent. By the time Cath bought some food and kept some money aside to pay her bus fares to work, we were pretty near destitute. I couldn't get out of the house yet, I wasn't good enough on the crutches for long trips, so I asked Cath to get in touch with the Department of Social Security to see if I could get any help. The answer was an emphatic no, they weren't interested at all. Because Cath and I weren't married, they wouldn't even talk to her about it.
As soon as I was able, I caught the bus into town, then hobbled down to Cedar House in Spa Road to ask for some assistance. After a long wait, sitting in some pain on a hard chair, too worn out from the journey to move around much, I eventually got an interview. They treated me as if I was rubbish and gave me nothing. I went home and waited for Cath to get home from work. I told her we were in trouble and I had no idea how we were going to survive. She said not to worry, we'd manage somehow.
I had been at home for a couple of weeks, when on a Saturday night, Cath told me she was going to her mother's and would not be home until late. I was sitting alone, when Roger Haines came in and asked me if I wanted to go out for the evening. I said no, I hadn't been out on an evening since I came out of hospital. I really didn't feel much like it. He kept on, telling me to go and put some good clothes on and come out and have some fun. In the end, I gave in and agreed to go as long as we weren't too long as I wasn't really up to it. I had no idea where we were going, but Roger said he had to call in to the Longford Inn before we went on somewhere. When we got to the Longford, Roger told me to wait in the car. He got out and disappeared round the back, where the skittle alley was. I waited for a while and started to think there was something wrong. I waited and waited, still he didn't come back so by now I was getting worried. I got out of the car and hobbled in the direction Roger had gone. I hoped he wasn't doing something he shouldn't have been doing because there was no way I was going to make a quick get away. I got to the door of the skittle alley and found it open, but all in darkness. I thought, good god, Roger's robbing the place. I stuck my head through the door and all hell let loose. The lights came on and all my friends and family were there, shouting and singing happy birthday. It was such a shock that for a second, I nearly turned and tried to run. While Cath had been busy keeping my spirits up while I was lying in my hospital bed, Gordon and Wendy had secretly organised a belated birthday party for me and I nearly hadn't gone. I had a wonderful night and it was lovely to be among so many friends. It was the last good night out we were to have for quite a time.
The full impact of not being able to get any benefit, above the small amount of statutory sick pay had not yet fully hit us. Things gradually got worse and I started selling anything I had that had any value at all.
It was mid winter and bitterly cold. The cheapest form of heating was an old paraffin stove. We could light it and site it in the middle of the room. We could sit around it and use it to boil a kettle for a cup of tea at the same time. We had slot meters for the gas, electricity and television, so we often had to make a choice which meter to put any money in. We would usually choose the television, because we could sit in the dark with only the light from the screen but at least we had some entertainment. We didn't always need the gas, because we could use the top of the paraffin heater unless we had a meal to cook, which wasn't every day, even though Cath did her best to bring something home every day. When we had nothing at all, we went to Hughie and Diana's house and sat with them in the evenings.
I sat at home during the day, unable to do very much. It was still painful to move around during the first few weeks. I had no money to do anything anyway, so anyone who came to see me, I asked if they could get me any leftover balls of wool from anywhere. I started to crochet a blanket, to try to keep myself occupied and hopefully end up with something useful at the end. I sat in my chair for hours on end for weeks crocheting this blanket and it turned out okay. I still have it today.
Cath and I went back to the hospital to visit Dennis Mahoney. As we were coming out, a nurse called to me and said that a friend of mine was in one of the side wards. He was another biker who had had an accident. I went in and saw someone lying in the bed. I looked but didn't know who it was. I said sorry, I don't recognise him and turned to leave. As I turned, a very weak voice said 'hello Cliff.'
It was so weak I hardly heard it, but as soon as I did, a shock of realisation went through me. I knew immediately who it was, but his face was so swollen I hadn't recognised him. It was Phil Coopey, a fellow Scorpion. I left after a few minutes, with tears in my eyes, he looked so bad I didn't know how he could survive, but survive he did and made a full recovery. Like me he still rides a motorcycle almost thirty years later.
It was a bad year for us as bikers, there had been a lot of accidents and then came the worst of all. Harry Gay and John Westbury were killed when they hit a bus, while travelling back to Gloucester from the motorcycle races at Staverton. Harry was twenty one, the same age as me and John was only seventeen. It was a tragedy that hit everyone hard. We had all had spills and we knew that sometimes we lived close to the edge, but we were unprepared for this. In the next few years, more of my friends were to die on the roads. It brings tears to my eyes still, just thinking about it.
As the weeks went by, I started to be able to move about a bit easier. There was no way I would be able to ride the Lightning, but I had an old Cotton 250cc two stroke twin. It was small and light and much easier to handle than the Lightning. The only problem was that if I didn't get the balance over to the left when I had to stop, I couldn't take any weight on the right leg so I had to fall off. I soon got used to it though and didn't fall off very often after the first week. I couldn't start it either, so I always had to wait until someone came to help, either kicking it over, or giving me a push start. Cath got quite good at pushing it while I sat aboard and got it going. Once started I could wait for Cath to get on and we could go visiting, or shopping when we could afford it. I also needed the passenger to carry my crutches which I needed to walk when we got to our destination.
Chris Marchant became my most regular companion on the little Cotton. We used to go round the lanes to Haresfield, to visit his relations or sometimes a drink in the Beacon. Chris had to pay though because I had no money for beer or for petrol. We went all around the country lanes and only fell off a few times. We were coming over Stroud Road hill one afternoon, when I heard a loud whistling sound. I turned to Chris and said, 'what's that noise, Chris'? He started laughing and I could hear a tune playing. I couldn't make out what it was until I saw him with his fingers over the holes in my walking stick. I had traded my crutches for an aluminium adjustable walking stick and the wind was blowing through the holes making a high pitched sound. Chris got quite good at playing tunes on it as we rode along.
Dido Vance also became a regular visitor, we sat for hours in the evenings, talking, listening to rock and roll records, or playing cribbage. The two of us playing cribbage drove Cath mad, for some reason she couldn't stand all the reckoning up. Fifteen two, fifteen four and one for his hat, but Dido was a good friend to both of us, another friendship which has stood the test of time.
Before I had been involved in the accident, along with Hughie MacPherson, I had been a regular darts player at the Union public house in Westgate Street. They had organised a darts team outing, by coach to the Webbington country club near Taunton. It was going to be a nice change to get out to a club with some entertainment and I always enjoyed going anywhere with Hughie.
The drive down was largely uneventful, but soon after our arrival, the serious drinking started. The entertainment consisted of some exotic dancers, who went down well. Then came the top of the bill, the singer Tony Christie. He was very impressive, his stage act and his voice was very powerful. All too soon, it was time to leave. On the coach for the return journey, there was even more beer being consumed and many were much the worse for wear. One who had definitely had too much and was unable to control himself was Ron Watkins. There was an inoffensive young man sitting in the seat opposite mine and I couldn't help hearing Ron giving him a hard time from the seat in front. Ron fancied himself, but the way he was terrorising this person was inexcusable. It was bullying of the worst kind. The man was trembling with fear and looked as if he was going to burst into tears at any moment. Even though I still had my leg in plaster I couldn't let this go on.
I said, 'give it a rest Ron.' He told me quite aggressively to mind my own business.
I said I'm making my business, leave the lad alone.
Ron turned nasty at that and said, 'keep your nose out or I'll have you next.'
Instantly he made the threat I launched myself across the seat at him. It took him by surprise and he started to go backwards. Some of the other passengers grabbed him and told him to shut up and sit down or they'd all join in and give him the kicking he deserved. He sat down, moaning and grumbling but kept himself to himself for the rest of the trip.
Ron Watkins still holds a grudge over that incident and whenever I went into the Union after that, it was obvious that I was not welcome. Ron's mother, Peggy Watkins was the landlady of The Union and when she retired, Ron took it over. The Union is now called The Taylor's House. Now Ron himself has retired and to the very end, he didn't like me going in there. I can't understand why anyone should take such an attitude, especially as all I did was stop him making an idiot of himself by beating up a defenceless person while under the influence of alcohol. Still, it's right what they say, 'there's nowt so queer as folk.'
I spent much more time in Southgate Street at the Talbot Inn, with Roger Haines. The landlord, old Jim Price, although a miserable old bastard was usually very easy going. It was a proper biker pub and we never gave Jim any trouble. We used the lounge at the back of the pub, which was a pretty rough room, but had a football table and a pinball machine. We could sit in there and talk or play the machines without being disturbed. Roger was working for Bell Fruit slot machines at the time and used to get hold of lots of tokens that would go in the pinball machine. Jim was constantly complaining about these tokens but he never knew where they came from.
The ceiling in that back room was coloured dirty brown from the effect of smoking over the years. It also had hundreds of silver paper cups of all sizes stuck to it, some of them were up there for all the years I was a regular. Most of these cups were made by taking the silver paper out of cigarette packets, splitting the tissue from the silver paper, making a trophy shaped cup and filling the base with the tissue, made soggy by chewing it, then throwing it up as hard as you could. They hit the ceiling with a splat and stuck there. Some people brought custom made cups of all sizes and hurled them up, just to add a bit of variety. They must have made them from kitchen foil and filled the bases with toilet tissue.
I came out of the back room one evening and went up to the bar. There was an old wino sitting on a bar stool trying to mind his own business, but he was getting a hard time from two young men who had had too much to drink. The wino was clearly terrified by what was happening which was too ridiculous for words. One of the men was accusing him of leering at his girlfriend. The old wino wouldn't look them in the eye, he just kept mumbling his innocence while looking down at the floor. I stood there waiting to be served, listening to this, getting very annoyed. I called to the nasty one of the two, to pack it in. That didn't work, he just told me to shut the fuck up. I smiled and turned back to the bar, continuing to listen. A few moments later, this same man went to punch the old wino, but I was ready for him. I hit him a mighty blow across the head with my walking stick. As he went back, I hit him a few more times but I couldn't move very fast with the plaster on my leg. He composed himself and along with his mate, started to come towards me. As they did so, Jim Price got his solid rubber mangle roller from under the bar and said to them, 'one more step and I'll bash your brains out, fuck off out of my pub.'
It was then that one of them said something that turned out to be very funny. He said, 'we'll come back and sort you out. We'll come back with the Scorpions and do this place.'
I started laughing and asked, 'you know the Scorpions do you?'
I pointed to the lounge doorway and said, 'who do you think they are?' They looked behind them and saw about a dozen bikers ready to rip their heads off.
I said, 'I don't know who you think you know, but they are Scorpions so you'd better get out while you've still got the chance.'
They took my advice and left very quickly.
A few nights later, the least offensive of the two, came back into the pub. He came straight up to me and apologised for the trouble he and his friend had caused. They had had too much to drink and had let it get the better of them. I accepted his apology and held no grudge. The threat to bring the Scorpions in, to sort us out had apparently come from the fact that they worked with one of us and had heard of our exploits, so they thought they could scare me by threatening to return with them.
In August another friend died. Roger Lane was riding down the A38 near Thornbury, when he was in collision with a Jaguar travelling in the opposite direction. He was thrown from his bike and was killed instantly. How much worse could this year get?
At home, things took another turn for the worse but my troubles paled into insignificance, compared to the death toll that was climbing. The council had found out that Gordon had left and Cath had moved in. They sent a man round to tell us we would have to leave the prefab as the tenancy depended on my brother living there as well. I tried to explain the situation but they were having none of it. The man was extremely officious and I asked him to leave. He kept trying to get me to sign a letter agreeing that I had broken the tenancy agreement. I refused, but he kept coming back at all times of the day and night, harassing us and making our lives a misery. After weeks of harassment I'd had enough of it. I grabbed him by the throat and told him that if I saw him again I would squeeze the life out of him. I let him go and as he ran off up the path, he turned his head and shouted that he would come back with the police. I was so angry that I think, if I could have gone after him I would have given him a real battering. I had gotten to hate the sight and sound of him. Becoming homeless was the last thing I wanted to have to worry about what with the problems we already had. However tight money had become, I always made sure that the rent was paid. I had never missed a payment and they had no need to hound me like they did.
After a couple of months of wearing the plastercast, I was relieved to be able to have it cut off. When my leg was revealed, I looked at it and couldn't believe how small and withered it was compared to the other one. It was so weak that had a terrible limp that I couldn't shake off. It was obviously going to be a long job getting back to full strength. But at least now that the plaster was off, I felt that I was making some progress. I could also see that the leg was never going to bee the same again. There was a terrific scar all the way from just below the knee to just above the ankle. There was also a large lump at the front where the muscle had been moved. The stitch marks were huge and unsightly and I was sure I had only got the common man's job. They certainly hadn't tried to make a very nice job of it.
I had to try to walk about as much as I could, to build up some strength in the withered muscles. I still couldn't walk properly without the walking stick but I kept at it as much as I could. Financially, things were gradually getting even worse. It got to a stage where in the dead of night, I started to go over the fence, into the garden next door to steal some vegetables. Only enough to keep us going when we had nothing else. Mr Hooper was a brilliant gardener and he grew all kinds of stuff. Sometimes I would dig a few potatoes without disturbing the plant, I'm sure he must have thought that the yield must have been very poor from some of his plants. Sometimes I would take a cabbage, or a few carrots, anything I thought there was plenty of and he wouldn't miss. It kept us from starving at times.
I continued selling anything I had that was of any value. I sold my BSA Airsporter rifle, some of my record collection, anything anyone would buy. The only thing I wanted to try to keep was the Lightning. It was still in the bedroom, untaxed and with no MOT or insurance. I still couldn't ride it anyway so it was best left where it was.
As time went on, we were able to get about on the little Cotton. We often visited our friends Jeff and Pauline Aston, who lived in a lovely old farm cottage in Sandhurst. The only problem was, when we on our way home at night, the lights on the Cotton were so dim that in the pitch darkness out in the country, I couldn't see the road. There was a bit of a dilemma in that the faster the bike went, the brighter the lights were, but I couldn't go fast because the road was so narrow and twisty. Every so often I had to pull in the clutch and rev the engine to catch a glimpse of which way the road turned. On one occasion we left Sandhurst in the early hours of the morning. As we went along Southgate Street, I slowed down and let the engine tick over as we passed the hospital. I wanted to make as little noise as I could so as not to disturb anyone. Halfway past the hospital a policeman stepped out into the road and stopped us.
He said, you haven't got your lights on.
I revved the bike and the lights came up, I said, 'yes I have, what's that then?'
He could see that I hadn't touched anything except the throttle.
He said, 'that can't be right, can it?'
I said, 'yes, of course it's right, that's the way these bikes are. It's pretty crap I know, but that's how they work. The reason the lights went out was because I was coasting on very low revs to keep the noise to a minimum.' He said, 'okay, on your way, I only stopped you because I was bored anyway.'
Not long after that, I had another experience with the police. There was a knock on the door one evening, so I looked out of the window to see a sergeant and a constable standing at the door. I opened the window and asked what they wanted. The sergeant asked me if I was Mr Ballinger and I answered that I was. He told me that I had dumped a van down at the garages in Seventh Avenue and I must move it or face prosecution. I told him I didn't have a van. He told me that there was no doubt that the van was mine and not to argue, just get it moved. I didn't care much for his attitude, especially as he was wrong.
I said, 'are you some kind of pratt? I've just told you I didn't have a van. I've never had a van. I don't possess a license to drive a van and I've no desire to drive a van, so why don't you fuck off.'
At this point he realised that he must have made a mistake. He asked me again who I was, only this time he added, you are Mr Gordon Ballinger?
I said, 'no I'm not Gordon.'
He said, 'well let me speak to him then.'
I said, 'he's not here, he doesn't live here any more.'
He then asked me for Gordon's address, but since we had fallen out, I had no idea what his address was, not that I would have told this asshole anyway.
I just said, 'I don't know where he lives.'
He came back with, 'you're aiding and abetting him.'
I couldn't help laughing when he said that. I turned to Roger Haines and the others in the room and said, 'did you hear that?'
They said yes, they had heard it and were also laughing. I looked behind the sergeant at the constable and could see that he was having trouble stopping himself laughing as well.
I don't think the sergeant had realised that I had a room full of people listening to this nonsense, because as soon as he heard them, he decided to back off.
He went off up the path looking decidedly sheepish, with our laughter ringing in his ears, knowing he had made a right fool of himself in front of the constable.
Things were getting desperate, I had nothing left worth selling except the bikes. I didn't want to sell either of them as the Lightning was my pride and joy and the Cotton was our lifeline to the outside world. Without it we would be unable to go anywhere.
To their credit, Graham Reeves said they would keep my job open as long as it took for me to get fit enough to return. The problem was that it was a manual job and my leg was gaining strength very slowly. If I didn't get some money before long I was in danger of starving to death. I got dressed up and went off around the industrial areas, limping with the aid of my walking stick from company to company, looking for an office job or anything I could do sitting down. The search was fruitless, I felt very dejected for a while but just had to carry on. I tried the DSS again, but it was a waste of time, they wouldn't help us at all. Cath was a rock through all this, just as she is today. Things would have been much harder for me without her. She kept my spirits up whatever happened. We were desperately poor but we were happy and things could only get better. We loved each other so what could go wrong?
By December, I was getting much stronger. Before the accident, we had been regulars at the rock n roll dances, held on Friday nights at 'The Bell' public house in Stroud. Hughie MacPherson asked us if we wanted to go with him on Friday the 3rd December. We went with him and Diana and had a really good evening. When it was time to leave, Hughie being a very gregarious person had asked a load of people back to his house to keep the evening going. We got there and went in to wait for everyone else to arrive. We waited and waited but nobody else turned up. We were getting worried, when Ian, Hughie's brother came in and said that there had been an accident of some sort, near the bridge over the motorway on the Stroud Road at Brookthorpe. The reason they had been so long getting here, was that they had been diverted through the lanes because the road was completely blocked. We waited a bit longer and some still hadn't arrived so Hughie decided to go out and see what had happened. He came back later and told us that three of the lads from the Forest had been killed on their way here, Geoff Milner, Steve Twynning and John Lee. Two other people, Dennis Bowyer, his wife Eileen and their dog had also been killed in this terrible accident. Five people killed in a horrendous crash at a place that was known for the dangerous condition of the road. They had probably been going too fast, so when they came off the bridge, back on to the normal road surface, they would have felt a big bump where the two surfaces met. It was a horrible place and I had felt that bump many times. They had lost control and ploughed into the car coming in the opposite direction.
Geoff had the most striking blue eyes I have ever seen on a man and in my minds eye I can still see him.
The death toll for this year had reached six, plus two poor people who were unknown to us.
I was hoping that 1972 would be a better year. January started off better, it was just short of a year since my accident by the time I was fit enough to go back to work. It had been a serious injury which still gives me trouble on occasions, but as soon as I got back to work, things started to look up. Fortunately, although it had been very bad financially, there had been no way that we could get into debt by borrowing. The credit card boom had not yet arrived, so apart from paying the rent, which we did religiously, the only other things we had to pay for, gas, electricity and television were by meter, so no debts had built up. We hadn't any other bills such as we have today, like insurance or pension plans. I was never worried about being burgled, there was nothing worth stealing, except for the gas and electricity meters, but I never thought of that. Only if the house had gone up in flames, would we have been really destitute.
From the time I drew my first pay packet, we started getting back to normal. We could afford to buy the food we wanted and Mr Hooper's garden was safe again.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.