When we moved to 18 Underhill Road, Matson, a whole new world of countryside and light opened up. We had a house, just built, so big and open, compared to what we had been used to. It had a lounge, a separate dining room and a kitchen downstairs, two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. There was an electric immersion heater to heat the water so we could wash with warm water without having to boil a kettle. We could even have a bath without having to bring the bath into the living room in front of the fire. The front door didn't lead straight into the living room, but into a hallway with doors leading into the kitchen straight ahead or into the living room on the left. On the right were the stairs with open banisters. Gordon and I soon started a game running round and round the house. We could run from the kitchen, into the dining room, into the lounge, onto the hall, then back to the kitchen. It was great fun that could get rather noisy at times, when Mum or Dad would shout at us to stop it and get upstairs, or outside, depending on the weather. When I looked out of the window at the front of the house, the other houses were to my left, looking straight ahead, about three hundred yards away, was Robinswood junior school. In between there was a long, thin strip of grass. To the right was a cornfield, big and golden. I had never seen anything like it. All of life seemed bright and golden.
Best of all, I was again close to Aunty Ethel. Her flat in Whiteway Road was just down the road. We could visit each other again as often as we liked.
For reasons that have always seemed ridiculous, I was not allowed to go to Robinswood school, although I could see it from our front room. Apparently, it was for children who lived at the top end of the estate and I lived at the top of the bottom end, so was out of the catchment area. They were to build a new school for us but until then I had to stay at Widden Street and so at the age of eight, I had to travel, on the bus to Barton Street, where I got off and walked up Sinope Street to school. On the corner of Sinope Street and Barton Street, there was a shop called The Barton Press, a stationers, they had all kinds of fountain pens, at all prices and beautiful colours of ink to go in them, my favourite was Royal blue. I bought a bottle and used it for my schoolwork. There were no ball point pens allowed. Royal blue was lighter and prettier than the usual Indian ink.
There was a small shop on the corner of Napier Street that sold sweets and tobacco. I went in there whenever I had some money to spare for a bar of chocolate. Sometimes, the old lady who owned the shop took a long time to come from the back room and I started to help myself to some things from the display. I did this a few times, then one day, showing a remarkable turn of speed, the old lady ran towards me shouting, 'I saw you take that, you thieving little sod. Come back here.' I was already in full flight, there was no chance of me going back there. Not now, not ever. The experience frightened me to death. I never went near that shop again.
Instead I went to a shop in Millbrook Street, they sold the same sweets there and they also sold penny buns, fresh sticky, currant buns. I loved them. After school I wandered around the area with Keith Burnham, who was in the same class as me. We would explore the railway and go up to the Horton Road crossing, to watch the trains go by. The Great Western Railway was a great source of interest, with such beautiful green liveried steam locomotives. The Castle class was the most common of the named locomotives. Clun castle was a regular through Gloucester. The most impressive, by far, was when one of the King class came through. They were one of the largest and most powerful steam engines ever to run in this country.
Instead of getting the bus home from Barton Street, sometimes we would walk to Chequers Bridge, where we could climb up the railway embankment to get close to the trains. We put pennies on the line and waited for a train to come along to flatten them. We put them on as many times as we could to see how big they would get before they disappeared to who knows where.
When it rained hard, the dip in the road under Chequers bridge, regularly got flooded, it was so deep the traffic couldn't get through. We could walk through, because the pavement didn't dip in the same way as the road and stayed above the floodwater. One day it was particularly bad and I had to get off the bus there and walk the rest of the way home. It was about two miles, a long way for a small boy, in the pouring rain. I was so wet that it didn't make any difference what I did, I couldn't have got any wetter, so I enjoyed the walk, splashing into the deepest puddles I could find. When I got home, Mum was beside herself with worry, because I was so late. I was in such a sorry state that she hugged me and cried with relief, that I had got home safe.
Aunty Ethel took me to a summer fete at the recently built avant-garde St Aldate's church in Reservoir Road. It was a short walk from her flat in Whiteway Road, to the Church on the corner of Reservoir Road and Finlay Road. We looked around all the stalls, with their jumble, crafts and home baked produce. There was a stall selling confectionery, I spotted a black box with Black Magic written on it. Aunty had asked me if I wanted anything and this was it.
She said, 'I don't think you'll like those, they are dark chocolates.'
They are not chocolates, it says it's magic on the box, I replied.
Aunty explained that it was just a name for a box of chocolates and not magic set as I thought it was, but I didn't believe her. The fact that they were on sale at a confectionery stall hadn't registered either. In the end, Aunty gave in and bought them, to prove to me that she was telling the truth. Thankfully, I did like them although I was disappointed that it wasn't magic.
That summer we went on holiday to Scotland again, back to Aunty May's, Dad had a Wolsley 10 now, it had a strangely tinted rear window, making it very difficult to tell the colours of the other cars, though most of them were black, as was ours. None the less, Gordon and I played a guessing game for hours on that journey.
It was a brilliant, long, hot summer, we visited all our usual places. We went to Qeensferry at the Firth of Forth and took the ferry across the river and went to Dunfermline for the gala day. A gala in Scotland is like a carnival, with a parade of floats and carriages. I took my first photographs here with a little camera I had been given for my birthday. We visited a lot of relatives all around East Lothian. We went to Prestonpans where there had been an historic battle between the Scots and the English. Uncle Dod and Aunty Rachel lived there. They had two children, my cousins, Robert and Moira.
Uncle Den, Aunty Ina and Hugh were here, on holiday as well. We all went, including Uncle Bill, Aunty May, Victor and Jennifer and granny Wilson, into the hills, for a day out. It was a day to remember, running in amongst the ferns, playing in the burn, (stream) it was so remote we never saw another soul. Uncle Dod showed us how to guddle for trout. He got in the water and put his hands under the bank and felt for the trout taking the shade of the overhanging bank. Very soon he pulled out his hands holding a good-sized trout, which he promptly threw clear of the water, where someone killed it. We all got in and had a go, it seemed there were fish all along the burn and very soon I had one. When we had caught enough a fire was made and they were cooked and we ate them. They were absolutely delicious, but my conscience bothered me. I never caught a fish again.
The day was soon over and it was back to Aunty May's, where exhausted, we went off to bed.
I was lying in bed the next morning and could hear the radio playing. Cliff Richard was singing his first hit record, 'Move it.' That song started off what was to be a love of Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues music that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
That day I was in the garden playing Cowboys and Indians with Gordon, Victor and Hugh, when I noticed the replica Colt pistol that Victor had. I had a chrome plated gun that broke in the middle to put a roll of caps in. Victor's was brown and solid, much heavier than the one I had. It looked like a real gun, unlike mine, which was obviously a toy. I was envious of that Colt and never forgot it.
Back at home, during the six-week summer break from school, Dad bought me a bicycle, so that I would be able to ride to school and not have to rely on the bus. The only thing was, I had to learn to ride it. Dad gave me some instruction, then held the bike by the saddle and ran alongside me to hold me upright while I pedalled. Up and down Underhill Road, he puffed and panted, I think he was close to collapsing a couple of times. After a while he started to let go without telling me. When I realised he had let go, I promptly fell off the first few times, but eventually I got the hang of it. There was no danger because there was no traffic at all. Only my Dad and Mr Greening across the road had a car.
I soon got to enjoy riding that little red bike. It broadened my territory. From the time I learnt to ride I cycled to school, all the way from Matson to Widden Street and back, every day, at the age of 9. I could also explore Matson and Upton St Leonards, much quicker. It was my first independent means of transport. One of the best places to go was the Wheatridge, on the other side of Painswick Road. It was a really beautiful place with glowing fields of corn and little babbling brook with small bridges leading into the fields. That summer, I went up there often, when the sun was shining, to sit on one of the bridges and watch the stream flow by. I sat there alone for hours, just watching, hardly seeing another soul, it was so remote and quiet there. I enjoyed the solitude and never got bored. There was no one to argue with about when or where to go. No one to spoil the atmosphere, with the noise of unnecessary conversation.
Further on was Bowden Hall, it was a reform school for girls then, but I was much more interested in the conker trees that grew in the grounds. I was chased off once or twice, but it was worth the risk for good conkers, to take to school. Most of my schoolfriends were still city boys and good conkers were in short supply. There were a few trees in the park, but there was always a big demand. Every day, they were all picked up, while at Bowden Hall there was as many as I could carry. I was on my way home from one of these expeditions, walking up the ashpath leading from Matson Avenue to Underhill Road, when I decided to climb a tree, for no other reason than, it was there. It was a tall, thin tree with lots of short spiky branches on the lower part of the trunk, giving hand and foot holds. I got up a fair way, when I lost my grip and started to fall. I fell a little way, then one of the short, spiky branches went up the leg of my short trousers. There I was, literally hanging by a thread. All of a sudden there was a ripping noise when the material started to tear, ripping right up the leg, through the waistband, catching my shirt as I fell and ripping it from bottom to top. I hit the ground with a thud, but was unhurt. When I got up, I had a scratch that ran up my leg from the knee and continued right up my body, to the shoulder. I looked at my clothes and they were ripped to shreds, I had to hold the shorts together and run the short distance home. Mum said she despaired of me and that I would probably kill myself one day.
Closer to home was an even better source of never ending entertainment. Robinswood hill was on my doorstep. It was wild and untamed then. A short walk up Matson lane, past the church, I could get through the hedge, straight onto the lower slopes of the hill. Close to this entry point was a pond, it had railings round it, but there were a few ways in. At the right time of year, it was absolutely teeming with toads, mating and then spawning. The water went thick with the sheer volume of toad spawn. A bit farther up was a wood, with bluebells covering the floor. It was a great place for playing Cowboys and Indians, lots of places to hide, or to spring ambushes from. Once I got to the top, it was time for a rest and take in the view. On a hot summer day, if Mum knew I was going up the hill, sometimes she would make up a bottle of orange squash to take with me. I would sit on the top of the hill, by myself, take a drink and take in the beauty of it all. It was unusual to meet anyone else then, as most of the access to the hill was over private land.
A rag and bone man came round the street with his horse and cart, he shouted 'rag bone, rag bone. Mum gave me a bag of old clothes to take to him, to exchange for a goldfish. I got it and rushed in to show her what I had. I was delighted with it. We bought a round bowl and kept that goldfish for years.
One hot summer day we went to Stroud Lido, we all splashed around in the water to keep cool. Gordon and me ran around the pool and jumped into the shallow end and paddled about. All of a sudden, I slipped and went into the pool head first and banged my head on the bottom, splitting my forehead open turning the water red with blood. I had to be taken to the hospital to have it seen to. They decided not to stitch it and just bandaged it up. To this day I still have the scar from that tumble.
About this time, my cousin Hugh, Aunty Ina and Uncle Den were rehoused by the council, but instead of going to Matson, they went to Tuffley Court Estate. They got a prefab in Sixth Avenue. I soon found my way there, over the top of the hill. From the top, it was down past the old quarry, through some fields, until I got to Stroud Road. Once across the road, I could make my way through the estate to Hugh's house. The prefabs were prefabricated bungalows built cheaply after the war to fill a large upsurge in the need for decent council housing. They were detached, set in a good-sized garden, with a combined shed and coalhouse. They had built in cupboards, throughout the house and the kitchen was fully equipped with a cooker, fridge and a boiler for washing your clothes. The coal fire, in the living room, heated the water and there was a fitted immersion heater for when the coal fire wasn't lit. They were excellent houses in their time.
Back on the hill, over on the Matson side I could get into the back of the army camp, sometimes I would get through the fence and wander about, looking in the old brown wooden huts. On one of these expeditions, I saw the first comprehensively equipped gym I had ever seen. I was creeping between the huts, when I looked through a window and saw some soldiers throwing a medicine ball from one to the other. There was a vaulting box and a pommel horse and different sets of weights. I had to be very careful because if I was spotted I would have to run like hell to escape capture, but that was all part of the fun of being there.
On Matson lane, past the church on my right. Selwyn girl's school was on the left. It was an unapproachable place for a small boy like me. On the right, at the side of the road was the Red Well. There was a constant stream of water running down the road, summer and winter. All around the well was coloured bright red from the iron in the water. Farther up, on the left, was Captain Peacey's farm. He owned the land, including the fields I used, to get onto the hill. I was always worried that he would catch me walking on his land and playing in the wood, but I think the fear was greater than the reality, I don't think he minded innocent use at all.
In the winter the water that constantly ran down the lane, increased to a steady flow that could be turned into a great game. Gordon and I often went there and made series of dams out of mud. Some with small gaps in them, so that we could float stick down the stream, the speed of the water steering them through the gaps in the dams. All this was on the side of the road. There was no traffic to interfere with what we were doing. We got covered in mud doing this and were dreadfully told off when we got home. But it never stopped us doing it again and again.
A little further up the lane was Sneedhams Green, there was a lovely little pond there, full of newts and sticklebacks, with moorhens and ducks swimming on it. It was covered over with rich green floating weed in the summer.
Further still was the old army shooting range, I used to get in there and search for empty shell cases and spent bullets. I sometimes listened to the rifles being fired and longed to be able to try one. The nearest thing I could get to a real gun, were the spud guns, Mum had bought for us. Gordon and I ran around with a large potato in one hand and our guns in the other, firing at each other and reloading as fast as we could. They were great fun though.
I had a small bow and some arrows, with suckers on the ends. I found that to get them to stick, the target had to be smooth. The best place I found, was a panel of the front door. This was fine until one day, an arrow went right through the door. Dad went mad when he saw it, he had to call out the council and ask them to repair it. He said, 'whatever you do, don't tell them, you shot an arrow through it.' We had to say we didn't know how it happened. It must have been someone from outside. The workmen duly arrived and replaced the panel and repainted the door. We were quite pleased with the end result. The door looked better than it did before.
At the bottom of our back garden, there was a stick fence. On the other side of the fence, the Robb family lived, they had two boys, about the same age as me. David and Jimmy, I became good friends with David and we played in each other's houses. One day I went into David's house and saw a television. It was the first television I had ever seen. It had a tiny 9' screen inside a large wooden, free-standing cabinet. When it was switched on, it took ages to warm up, then a small black and white picture appeared. I was mesmerised by it, even though there wasn't very much on. The potter's wheel seemed to be on, more than anything else, but when a program came on, it was a thing of wonder. We sat on the floor and watched anything.
I was climbing over the stick fence to get home from David's one day, when I caught my foot on the top and fell forward onto the ground, putting my hands out to break my fall. Unfortunately, what broke was my arm.
I went into the house and said, 'Mum! My arm hurts'!
She said, 'In the name of the Lord Harry, what have you done now'?
She took me down the Ash Path to the bus stop in Matson Avenue, to get the bus to the hospital. While we were waiting for the bus, the milkman came along in his van. Mum flagged him down and asked him if he would take us to the casualty unit at the hospital. He agreed, so we got in the van and off we went. My arm was x-rayed, pronounced broken and put in plaster for six weeks.
I told Dad it wouldn't have happened if we had a television of our own, but he said we couldn't afford it. Dad was working for the GPO now, he still drove coaches in his spare time and he also started driving a taxi, so he should have been able to afford it. We kept on and on about it and eventually he gave in. I came home from school one day there it was, a little 9' black and white television, rented from the link. The link was an early form of cable television. We didn't need an ariel, the set plugged into a little box screwed to the wall. It received BBC and ITV television and also a radio station. It was the beginning of life, as we know it. In the evening, there was a program called Gun Law on at about nine-o clock. It was a western featuring Marshall Matt Dillon and his deputy, Chester. It was on, way past our bedtime and we weren't allowed to watch it. I crept down the stairs and watched through a crack in the door. Mum and Dad caught me and told me off so many times, that they gave in, as long as I went to bed at the normal time and came back downstairs when it was time for the program to start. I had to promise not to wake Gordon or tell him what was going on, as he was younger than me and needed more sleep. I also had to promise to go back to bed as soon as Gun Law was finished.
Dad had been a cricketer, all his life. Now that he worked for the Post Office, he played for their team. They played on Sundays, throughout the summer and we were all dragged off to wherever the team was playing, sometimes going on a coach to the away matches. The only time we watched the game was when Dad was batting and then only when we noticed. I found cricket to be the most boring thing I had so far encountered, in my young life. It is something I have never changed my mind about.
Gordon and I went exploring, as soon as we could get away. We usually came back in time for tea, depending what we found to do. One Sunday we had been stuck around the pitch, we were running round and round the pavilion, shouting at each other, when we were told to stop it and sit quiet, at least for a while. I settled into a deck chair and promptly started rocking it. All of a sudden, the chair collapsed, trapping the fingers of my right hand between two of the folding wooden parts of the deck chair. I couldn't pull them out, because I was still sitting in the chair, with my weight bearing down on my fingers. I was yelling at the top of my voice and Dad came running off the pitch and lifted me off the chair, releasing my fingers. Dad put my hand into a rainwater butt at the side of the pavilion, so the cold water could soothe the pain. Nothing was broken, but it left scars across my finger that took years to fade.
All this time, the Moat junior school was being built, I knew that when it was ready, I would be one of the first pupils to go there. It was a short walk from my house and I watched its progress, while on my general wanderings around the area. It was like no school I had ever seen, completely different in design to the old red brick Victorian building at Widden Street. The Moat School was to be a modern showpiece, set in it's own grounds. with light open classrooms. It would have a football pitch, gardens and landscaped features.
During that summer, Mum was informed that the school would be ready for the new autumn term and that I would be able to attend. Mum was told that I would need a new blazer, so that I would fit in with everyone else and that approved blazers could be purchased from the Golden Anchor clothes shop in Southgate Street. Mum couldn't afford to go out and buy new clothes for us without saving up for them. The only other alternative she had, was to take out a Provident cheque, so that I could get the blazer and new shoes. A Provident cheque was a form of credit. An amount would be agreed and a cheque for that amount issued. It had a section on the back, where an approved shopkeeper could enter items and cost. The cheque could be used in any approved shops, until the transactions on the back, reached the total amount of the cheque. A collector called at the house every week, until the sum borrowed, plus interest, was repaid. Ron, the Provident collector became a sort of friend of the family, but sometimes we had to hide from him when he knocked at the door, if Mum didn't have the money to pay him, that week.
We took the bus into town and went to The Golden Anchor where I got my new blazer, complete with Moat School badge sewn on the pocket. It was my first new jacket and I felt really proud of it. The shoes here were very expensive, so Mum said 'let's go and try Yarnold's in Barton Street, they take Provident cheques', so off we went, up to The Cross, turning right, into Eastgate Street, walking past the swimming baths, all the way up to Barton Gates. The gates were closed and we had to wait for the train to come past, always a magnificent sight, when it was a passenger train, hauled by a GWR Castle class engine. Barton Gates were huge twelve bar gates, hinged at the sides, with a small wicket gate on one side so that pedestrians could walk through, up to the last minute before the train came through, when they locked automatically. There was a signal box close by, so the signalman could watch the gates to make sure everybody was clear when he closed them. They always seemed to be closed for ages before the train came along and stayed closed for ages, after the train had gone. When the gates were eventually opened, we made our way on up past the Barton Press and into Yarnold's gent's outfitters. I had my feet measured by Mr Yarnold, a pleasant man, very distinguished looking, with greying hair, swept back in a fifties style. We chose a pair of black Clarke's school shoes and Mum handed over the cheque for Mr Yarnold to fill in the details of the sale. I would really look the part, on my first day at The Moat, wearing my new shoes and blazer.
I went to the Matson Boy Scout meetings a few times but never felt comfortable with it. Although only a child I often felt that some of the activities were too childish. When we were outdoors, around the campfire, or following trails on Robinswood Hill, it was very enjoyable, but when in the scout hut, the games they played just seemed too ridiculous, to me. I'm afraid I was a little disruptive at times and wouldn't listen to the scout leader, when he told me to play the games or leave. When he eventually got annoyed and told me to leave and to come back only when I was ready to fit in. I went out of the hut, which in reality was a small red brick church hall at the side of the old Matson infant's school. I went into the playground of the school where I had seen an old corporation handcart, left there. It was very heavy and for someone my size, difficult to move, but I managed to wedge it into the porch of the church hall, so that the door couldn't be opened from the inside. I climbed up to the window at the front of the building and banged on it. The scout leader shouted at me to go away, but I made faces at him. He finally had enough of this and went to the door to come out and get me, but the door wouldn't budge. They tried for ages, getting more and more violent, but without success. I laughed and laughed, which made them even angrier, but they still couldn't get out. I went home and left them in there. I don't know how long it took them to get out, but I know Mum was told to make sure I never went there again. There wasn't much likelihood of that anyway. Mum told me off for doing it, but it had been worth it.
The time came for my first day at the Moat school, it lived up to all we had heard about it. Everything was new, it felt like a real privilege to go there. The headmaster was Mr Stephenson, who lived just up Matson Lane, at Robins farm. He was a good man, who always seemed to have time to speak to everybody. He welcomed us to the school and we were shown all around. There was a mural on a wall that had been specially commissioned. It was the first real painting I had ever seen. I was fascinated that someone could create something so impressive. I was introduced to my form teacher, Mrs Millard, who lived up on the Wheatridge in one of the large houses. She was really nice and encouraged me in every way. I would take my eleven plus exam, here at the Moat and she told me I would have no trouble passing it, if I worked hard and took it seriously. I found most of the subjects quite easy and in any of the tests that we were set, I was always near the top of the class. I made my first real model, here. In the Crafts class, I made a Lockheed Lightning fighter aircraft, out of balsa wood. It took weeks to make, shaping the twin bodies and the wings, with sandpaper. I painted it in the correct colours, that I got out of a book and cut some round discs of clear perspex, to simulate the propellers in flight. I made a stand for it, so that it looked as if it was flying. I was really proud of it and it must have been good because it was chosen to go into the first Moat School craft exhibition. During the exhibition it got slightly damaged, I never knew how. Everyone said, don't get upset, you will easily be able to repair it. But I was upset that someone could have been so careless. As soon as I got it back from the exhibition, I threw it away.
The Moat was the first school I had attended, which had a playing field. I was introduced to football and wasn't very impressed. A feeling which has never changed. The boots were big brown things with hard toecaps and were as stiff as a board. It took an age to clean the mud off them, then rub 'Dubbin' in after every game. The worst thing about it was the weight of the ball when it had been raining. This brown leather ball, soaked up water like a sponge. It became so heavy I could only kick it a few yards. One such rainy day I was encouraged to head the ball. When I made contact I heard a crunching sound in my neck. I thought it had knocked my head off. I thought, 'this is a stupid carry on, I don't think I'll make a habit of this.' I always tried to avoid playing football from that day.
I started having school dinners, but I have always been a fussy eater and often didn't like what we were given, I can't eat any meat with fat on it, or worse still, get a piece of gristle in my mouth. The head of the table told me I had to eat some of the things I didn't like, but there was no chance of that. My first stand against authority was about to happen. One day I tipped a packet of orange crystals, into my glass of water. The head of the table told me, I was never to bring anything like that into the dining room again. I replied that I would never come into the dining room again and I never did. I kept my dinner money and spent it at the off licence at the Musket, buying crisps and sweets, every day.
In the playground, we played marbles, most of the marbles were plain glass, or had a coloured twist in them, some were old pop alleys, that had come out of old pop bottles. I also liked racing cars and my favourite one of all was a 'Vanwall' painted in the historic British Racing Green. Tony Brookes and Stirling Moss, who was every boy's hero, drove them in many World Championship races. I had a Dinky Toys 'Vanwall' which was my prized possession, it was far more stylish than any other car of the period and had an engine that had been made from four 500cc Norton motorcycle engines. We sat in the playground with these cars and imagined we were famous racing drivers.
I had never seen a race, but at the Saturday Minors at the Odeon picture house in Eastgate Street, the Pathe Newsreel had shown clips of Stirling Moss speeding over the finish line and wearing the laurel wreath of victory.
The Saturday Minors at the cinema was an exciting outing. We queued up in a long line that stretched from the front entrance in Eastgate Street, up the street and round the corner, along the alley at the side of the cinema. I often went with my cousin Hugh and sometimes with Andy Collingwood, it cost us 6d each to get in and was good value, for a morning's entertainment. There was a film and lots of cartoons and serials. Flash Gordon was always a favourite. There was always a cowboy serial as well and usually a comedy, like Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. It could get a bit noisy sometimes and boys threw things at each other in the dark, the worst thing was when someone dropped ice cream on you from the balcony above. When it got too bad, the lights came on and the manager walked out onto the stage and told everybody to settle down. The show wouldn't restart until order was restored. There was always a lot of booing and hissing, while this was happening, but the show always came back on in the end.
About this time, 1960/61, fashion started to rear it's ugly head. I had managed to persuade Mum that I could no longer be seen in short trousers and I started trying to style my hair into what was the Teddy boy style. I had difficulty with this because my hair is naturally fine and whatever I did to it, it didn't want to stand up, into anything like the result I was trying to achieve. I wanted to look like Elvis, but it was just wishful thinking. I plastered Brylcreem on it in vast quantities, or a cheaper equivalent that came in huge jars, from Woolworth's. With the help of this greasy white goo, I got something like the style I wanted, but it was never very good. I got some stuff from Pete Baldwin's barbershop in Barton Street, which was a thick, off white liquid, with a strange smell to it. I put that on and achieved another minor styling success. The drawback with this one though, was that it went rock hard when it dried and if it rained, it softened up again and ran off the hair and down your face. I found out that it was a type of sugar and water mixture so had a go at making my own. It worked as well as the shop bought stuff, but suffered from the same drawback. The only thing it had going for it, was that it was cheap, but I couldn't put up with it for long and soon it was back to the Brylcreem. The down side of Brylcreem, especially when used in vast quantities, was that everything my head came into contact with, became covered in the stuff. No chair back was safe and my pillows were a nightmare for my Mum. It was like trying to wash an oil slick out of everything.
Andy Collingwood had great hair, he could get it into a real style and I was always envious of it. We were walking along one day, when he said to me, 'you'll have to do something about that hairstyle if you want to hang around with us.' It came as a shock to me, because I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. I just said 'okay', but I knew there was nothing I could do. I brooded over it for a while, but then just decided not to worry about it and went my own way. It was my first 'what will be, will be', decision. 'Que sera sera.'
One Friday afternoon, my cousin Hugh turned up at our house. He had come over Robinswood hill, to visit us.
He said, 'why don't you come to my house for the weekend.'
I asked Mum and she said it was okay as long as Aunty Ina knew about it. Hugh assured her that she did. We set off to go back over the hill to Tuffley, when we got near the top, the weather started to change and black clouds were looming up. We heard thunder rumbling in the distance and decided we had better get a move on. We didn't want to get caught in a thunderstorm on the top of the hill, so we started running. We ran all the way down the hill, to Aunty Ina's and made it before the storm started. When the storm broke, it was very fierce, thunder and lightning and heavy rain that went on for hours. The next day, it was bright and sunny again, with no sign of the previous day's storm, we went to the minors, in the morning, then in the afternoon we decided to go back up the hill. We went along to the quarry and found there had been a landslide, some huge chunks of the top of the quarry had broken away and fallen down to the next level. It made me think about the times I went close to the edge to look down, because there were always cracks in the surface, as far as two or three feet from the edge.
Back at home, on Monday it was time for school. This was the best time I ever had at school, most things at the Moat were made fun, but as with everything, there are always some things you don't like. Despite my protests, I was given a leading part in the school play. The very thought of it filled me with dread. I was adamant that I didn't want to do it, but they insisted. Eventually it was agreed that I could take a more minor role, that of a 'troll', with very little to say, but even that was too much for me to bear, so I kept getting it wrong. On the day of the performance I refused to go to school, saying I was sick. They weren't very happy about it, but they should have listened to my protests.
On a lighter note, the school had a charity fund-raising drive, asking us to think of ways to raise money on an individual basis. I asked Mum if she would bake some biscuits and cakes, so that I could sell them at school. We had a week to raise as much money as we could, so on Monday I took a tin full of goodies Mum had made, to school and sold them during the break. They were so popular that they sold out almost immediately. When I got home I asked Mum if she would make some more and she agreed. I gave her the money for the new ingredients and kept the profit. At the end of the week, my Mum's baking was a legend and I had made much more money than anyone else had. I won a poetry book as a prize for my efforts, a possession that I still look at with pride. It reminds me of my Mum and what a lovely a person she was, nothing was too much trouble for her to help someone in any way she could, let alone do anything for her two sons.
Mum got a part time job, at Walkers Stores on the shopping parade at the top end of Matson Avenue, she met lots of people, through this job and was very popular. She held regular parties for her women friends, they came to our house one evening, most weeks and Mum supplied cakes, meringues, sandwiches and biscuits, all home baked. They sat around talking or played cards. Gordon and I were in bed while all this was going on but sometimes we came down for a look and they would let us stay for a while.
Mum was working one day and Gordon and I were playing in the house alone. Dad was working and we were left to our own devices. I had started to do something, which was potentially very dangerous. Over the front door, there was a concrete weather canopy. I could get out of the bedroom window and drop onto the canopy and from there, I could swing by my fingertips and drop to the pavement at the front of the house. I had done it many times, until on this particular day I caught my foot on the window ledge as I was getting out and I fell, head first out of the window. I hit the canopy, then rolled off, landing flat on my back on the concrete below. I don't know how long I was lying there, or who was there, but I remember seeing Mum running down the road towards me. I was starting to recover by then and soon got up. She took me into the house, where I assured her I was all right. She didn't know whether to tell me off, or hug me to death. My back was extensively bruised, but I was okay, although my back still gives me trouble sometimes. She made me promise, never to do anything so stupid again.
On my way to school one morning, a rodent ran across in front of me. So I went after it and managed to catch it. I thought 'wow! This is the biggest mouse I have ever seen.' I held it tight, even though it struggled and tried to bite me. I thought that if I could get it home, I could keep it as a pet.
I shouted, 'Mum, Mum! I've caught a mouse.'
She came into the kitchen and screeched, Oh my God, it's a rat, throw it out. I said, 'what's a rat, it looks like a mouse to me.'
She just kept shouting, 'throw it out, throw it out', but I wouldn't. In the end she got a cardboard box and told me to throw it into the box and get my hands away quickly, so that it couldn't bite me, which it was trying to do all the time. I managed to do that and she said she would keep it for me until I got home, so I hurried off to school. When I got home the rat was gone, Mum told me it had died and she had buried it. I never knew what really happened to it, but I was very upset about it.
I had my first real fight, on the grass outside our house. It was with the boy next door, Jeff Davis, I can't remember what it was about, nothing of any consequence, I expect. Jeff was a big lad, we were the same age but he was much bigger than I was. We were rolling around on the ground, punching each other, when Mrs Davis came out, I was surprised when, instead of stopping it, she started encouraging Jeff, shouting 'go on Jeff give it to him.' Just then I caught him a good blow to the nose and started it bleeding. He seemed to lose heart for the task at that point and I knew I could beat him. I carried on punching him and Mrs Davis became hysterical, screaming 'stop it, stop it' and started shaking uncontrollably. She was screaming that I was a bully and for me to leave Jeff alone. She seemed to have forgotten, that a few minutes earlier she had been encouraging her son to bash my head in.
Christmas came and things were much better now, there seemed to be more money, we had better clothes, a television and toys to play with. I was soon to have my eleventh birthday in January 1961 and I didn't want just toys this year. I had been given a Meccano set last year and had made a chair lift, which I set up on the stairs, one of us at the top, the other at the bottom. We made the chair go up and down by turning a handle. This year I wanted a steam engine so that I could power the chair lift. I woke up early on Christmas morning and there it was, on my bedside table. Mum had made the mistake though, of supplying the methylated spirits, needed to run it. I tried to fill it up and get it started, all without getting out of bed, because it was so cold, that morning. I lit a match to light the burner and set fire to my hand and the tablecloth, that covered my bedside table. I managed to put it out without too much damage and my hand wasn't badly burnt, it stung a bit and went red, but was okay. I couldn't hide the burn in the tablecloth. Mum went mad at me and called me a lunatic.
I was also given a pair of blue denim jeans and a pair of Danny Kaye boots. Clothes were just starting to matter to me. I was starting to want to look cool.
It was 1961 and this year I had to take my eleven plus exam. Everyone said I would have no trouble passing it. They had more faith than I did. My teacher told the class to make sure we all have a good nights sleep and a good breakfast on the day of the exam.
I thought, what's different? I do that every day.
I didn't realise that other people didn't live the same way we did. Mum always made sure we went to bed at the proper times and that we always ate well, starting the day with corn flakes or porridge. I sat the exam and came away from it with some confidence of a pass. There had been nothing in it that had worried me. Now all I had to do was wait for the result.
Dad came home with a dog for us. It was a little black and white shaggy haired terrier, that we unimaginatively named, Terry. We played with him, running round and round the house, but he kept biting us all the time. When Mum fed him, he wouldn't let anyone into the kitchen, so he had to be fed outside. He got so vicious, that we had to start shutting him in the shed. We didn't realise, but Terry was a mad dog, getting worse as he grew older. One day I came home and Terry was gone. Dad had taken him to the vet's and had him put to sleep. I cried for ages over it, even though I hadn't been able to get near to him for some time.
My last term at the Moat school finished and the summer holiday started, soon the exam results would be here. One morning, the envelope arrived; I couldn't wait to open it. I had passed, with a good grade and would be going to my first choice school, which was the Crypt grammar school in Podsmead. We had to go to the school to discuss the requirements for the first term. They gave Mum a list of the new clothes I would need, it worried her to death.
She said, 'how am I going to afford all this.'
I needed a new blazer and badge, a cap, new shoes, new trousers, sports kit, including two rugby shirts, one in school colours, one in white. We had never come across, such regulations before. Fortunately they had a school fete where other parents, sold the kit their sons had grown out of. We managed to get some of it there, keeping the cost down. For the rest, it was back to Ron for another Provident cheque, followed by another trip to the Golden Anchor.
Dad had also promised to buy me a new bike if I passed the 11 plus and true to his word, he took me to Halfords, in town and I chose an American style bike, it was red, with a bent crossbar and a three speed hub. It was a modern design, very different to the traditional style. It was my first new bike and I was very proud of it.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.