So it was decided, I would go away to school somewhere in Sussex. I had to have a few new things to take with me, things that I had never had before. Dad took me into town and bought me a pair of slippers and a dressing gown, which were requirements of the school. It was the only time I ever remember going shopping, with Dad. He took me into the old Eastgate Market, for a drink at Mr Fitch's refreshment stall, near the back entrance which led to Bell lane. I had a ham sandwich, with very thin slices of ham and thin sliced bread, cut across to make triangles. Dad had a cup of tea and I had a glass of orange squash, from one of those coolers that had a glass top with a paddle in it to keep the squash moving. I said to Dad, how nice the squash was, he replied that it was only cheap stuff and weak at that. He said rather sharply, that what we got at home, was far superior. I suppose it was the fact that it was chilled that made the difference. We had never had a fridge at home. There was one fitted into the kitchen in the prefab but it was a gas one and we never got it to work.
Carrying a small, brown suitcase, packed with my clothes, including my new slippers and dressing gown, I was escorted to my new school by a social worker. We took the train from Gloucester to Paddington, then the underground to Victoria, where we boarded another train destined for Brighton. About half way between London and Brighton, we got off at Haywards Heath, then took a taxi to my new home, in the village of Lindfield. The home was called 'Beckworth', a huge old house set in acres of it's own grounds. It had football pitches, tennis courts and large gardens full of trees from all over the world. We went in through the front entrance, something I would rarely do for the rest of my stay here. We were shown in and I was introduced to Mr and Mrs Harrison, the House Master and Matron. Mr Harrison was a very large man, who had in his younger days, been a bodybuilder, but had now gone to fat. Mrs Harrison was a small, slim woman, who was always dressed in a blue uniform.
It was 1962, I was 12 years old and my independence was growing stronger every day.
We went through the large front entrance, into an entrance lobby. Mr Harrison's office led off one side from this lobby. Straight on through large double doors, was the main hallway of the house. It had a number of doors off it, leading to the main social room, the dining room, the study, the kitchen area, a toilet and some stairs leading to the cellar, which was used as a changing room, for when we came in from outside. This was the way I would use, to come into the house on a day to day basis. Everyone had a locker here where shoes or slippers would be kept, to change into, when going in or out. Upstairs was split into many dormitories, toilets and wash rooms. I was put into a dormitory with five boys of around my own age.
When they had shown me around, Mr Harrison suggested that I go outside and meet a large group of boys who were playing a friendly game of football. I went outside and walked up to the touchline and watched for a while and quite soon they invited me to play. I had never liked football but I thought I had better show willing. As we ran around, they soon passed the ball to me. As soon as I got it I was kicked and knocked over by one of them, they thought it was hilarious. This happened a few times, so I walked off the field. I shouted, 'very funny, you bunch of bastards.' I went into the cellar, the way I had come out and up the stairs. I went into the toilet to relieve myself and wash off some of the mud. I soon heard someone behind me. I turned a saw a boy I would later know as Tiny. It seemed he was the tough guy in my age group and he had been sent in to test me. He said, 'who do think you are to call me a bastard, I'm going to teach you a lesson.' I hit him straight between the eyes, grabbed him by the hair and bashed his head against the basins. There was blood everywhere, I threw him to the floor and walked away. The fight had only lasted a few seconds. When I opened the door, there was a gang of lads waiting to congratulate Tiny. I didn't have a mark on me and wasn't even breathing heavily. There was a stunned silence as I walked past them. I had made my first mark. I had also learned that if violence is inevitable, strike first and strike hard. All is fair in love and war. In future I would win at all costs, whatever it took. Even if I lost the first battle. From now on, anyone who took advantage of me, would never be safe. I would never be the hardest guy around, but I was likely to be the most dangerous.
Beckworth housed about forty boys and was at the southern end of the picturesque Sussex village of Lindfield. The school we all attended was about a mile and a half away in Haywards Heath. We walked to and from school every day. It was a large school with approximately 800 students, male and female. The buildings were light and modern, surrounded by playgrounds and sports fields. It was nice to be back in a mixed school. The teachers were more like I had been used to, at my junior schools. They were more approachable, not stern and hard, as they had been at the Crypt.
There was a dramatic turn around in my schoolwork, everything started to go well, again. I came near the top of the class in most of my subjects, I was regularly used as an example of how a new boy could come in and do well. I never felt menaced by the staff, or by the students, during my time there I had the sort of troubles, many boys must have, but their was little malice intended and I dealt with them in my own way. Once they had got over the initial mickey taking, about my accent, it was a much nicer place to be. In general, I felt much better about things. I quickly got a reputation as someone not to try to take advantage of. I was to come across some boys who felt they had to prove themselves, but it wasn't anything to worry about. It was just the sorting out of the pecking order that young males of all species indulge in.
Completely different to bullying, was the initiation ceremony I knew was to come. Compared to things that had already happened to me in the past, it was nothing and I knew that when it came I would take it in good heart. The older boys subjected all the newcomers to it. There was a horse trough on the edge of the common, at the end of our drive. They waited for winter until the first ice formed on the trough, then stood around on the fateful morning to catch a newcomer. They grabbed me as I came through the gate and carried me to the trough, where the ice was broken with my head as it went through into the water. There was nothing malicious about it, they even supplied a towel to dry off with afterwards.
We were not allowed to leave the grounds very often, except for Saturday and Sunday afternoons. We walked into the village, but there wasn't much to do there. One sunny afternoon I went for a walk into the countryside, beyond the village. I was with Malcolm, whose full name was an impressive Malcolm Donald William Hamilton Burgess. We reached a bridge across the River Ouse. We climbed a gate into a field and walked alongside the river. Soon we came to a place where there was a small island, only about ten feet from the bank. We thought it would be great fun to get onto that island, to explore it. There was an old tree fallen across the gap, so I decided to scramble across. I was halfway across, when with a resounding crack, the tree gave way and I fell into the water. I grabbed one of the smaller branches and managed to haul myself onto the bank. I was soaked to the skin and very bedraggled, my clothes were a sorry state. It was a glorious day, so I decided to take my clothes off and lay them on the ground to dry in the sun. we were lying there, soaking up the sun when I heard a grunting noise.
I said 'what's that noise Malc.'
He replied, 'I don't know, but I don't like the sound of it.'
We got up and looked over the grassy earth bank we had been lying on and there, only a few feet away, were three huge sows. We jumped up, I grabbed my clothes and we ran like hell, leaping over the gate into the field without breaking stride. Once in the safety of the other field, we turned and looked to see if the sows were close behind us, but it seemed they hadn't been interested at all. They were still where we had last seen them, snuffling away at the ground. We laughed great belly laughs, with tears rolling down our cheeks. I was standing there with no clothes on laughing my head off. My clothes had dried out by now so I put them on and we walked back to Beckworth.
I was still making the same bombs I had used to such good effect at the Crypt. I made one using a large size Brylcreem jar and took it to the local common. A few of my friends came with me, fascinated as to what it would be like. They had never known anyone who could make a bomb. We all retired to what I thought would be a safe distance, it went off with a huge 'BOOM.' Everyone burst out laughing with the excitement and perhaps a bit of nervous energy. I don't think they had expected anything so powerful. I started to walk forward towards the hole in the ground when I noticed a large spike of glass embedded in the thick lapel of my school blazer. I treated explosives with a bit more respect after that. But the fascination with things that go bang has always stayed with me.
We stayed in the grounds most of the time, playing tennis, or snooker, with varying degrees of success. I hated football and never joined in after that first day. I played chess regularly in the common room and became quite a good player. We had some modern games too, my favourite was Buccaneer, a game of pirates sailing the seven seas in search of treasure. There were always things to do, but I started to want more, than just games.
In my class, there was a little girl called Nina, she was a really sweet and gentle person and was to become my girlfriend. I asked Mr Harrison if I could go to Nina's house for tea on Sunday. He said it would be all right, as long as I was collected and brought back. On the big day, Nina's father arrived, in a large car to collect me. He drove out into the country and stopped outside a most beautiful half timbered cottage. We went in and Nina's mum made me very welcome. They were lovely people. They owned a beautiful country cottage, I had never met anybody who owned anything like this. I thought they must be so rich, I couldn't comprehend it. Everyone I knew, lived in a house, rented from the council. I was overwhelmed by the thought of it. We had tea with sandwiches and cakes then retired to Nina's bedroom where she had a record player. We played her records all afternoon, until it was time for me to return to Beckworth.
Nina and I were sweethearts for what seemed like ages but probably wasn't. Because of the rules of the house I couldn't get to see her very often, so I think she just got fed up and dumped me. Neil Sedaka was in the hit parade singing, 'Breaking up is hard to do.' It was particularly poignant, at the time. We remained friends while I was there though and I think of her very fondly, even now, not having seen her since 1964.
Shorlty after our breakup, my class were waiting in line, outside a classroom, for the teacher to arrive. Some of the boys were messing around, pushing and shoving. A lad next to me leaned over and punched the big ginger haired boy who was standing on the other side of me. Ginger turned and punched me a heavy blow on the nose causing blood to spurt everywhere. We started to fight, but when the teacher came up the stairs, shouting for us to stop fighting, Ginger stopped and looked towards the teacher. In that split second I hit him with a mighty blow that knocked him to the floor. The teacher went mad at me. I just said that Ginger had deserved it.
We were both taken to the headmaster, Mr Bulled, a rather apt name for the large overbearing man that he was. Mr Bulled caned us both, on the hand. I knew that this was the first and only time I would allow anyone to inflict corporal punishment on me, without fear of retribution. I looked at Mr Bulled with murder in my heart and said, 'you'll never do that to me again.' As he started to speak, I turned and walked out of his office. Normally he would have called me back but I think he thought better of it.
I think that this was the time that the honeymoon with Beckworth came to an end, I soon started to resent the rules that were imposed on me.
I came home, for the summer school holidays, Mum was home, it was lovely to see her, but she was not well. She could only walk with the aid of a stick. Sometimes she had to use a wheelchair and be pushed around because she had no strength to propel it herself. But the day I got off the train at Gloucester, she was standing there to greet me, with a huge smile on her face. It was one of the most memorable things of my life. I can see her standing there, longing to hug her son. It was a very emotional reunion.
All the time I was at Beckworth, I wrote letters to Mum, wherever she was and to Aunty Ethel, to reassure them that I was all right and to let them know how I was getting on. Aunty Ethel sent me regular postal orders, so that I would never be short of money. They both loved me and I couldn't wait to get to Matson to see how Aunty Ethel was. She was 76 now, but was still very much alive. I never realised, how old she was, until I thought about it, years later.
It was just as well that Aunty Ethel sent me small amounts of money regularly, because every weekend, we were supposed to be given half a crown for pocket money. Everyone was to be given the same. Parents had to lodge a sum of money with the Housemaster every term and he would give it out at the correct rate, every week. Mr Harrison called me in on many occasions to inform me that Dad had failed to lodge any money in my name and that he was unable to give me any. I felt hurt when this happened, but was never surprised. Thankfully, Aunty's money kept me from appearing too poor to the rest of the boys.
Still, I was home now, with six weeks, with nothing to do but enjoy myself. This summer I got to know a lot of the local kids of my own age. Although I was only around for short periods of time, I made some good friends. Down in Westbury Road, I met Richard, Linda and Phil Newman. There were three girls who all lived in Westbury Road, Christine, Glenda and Susan. They were all good friends, I was always trying to snog with Christine, round the back of the garages, just down the road from her house. A bit further up, in Arlingham Road, lived John Jones, he became a good friend. We did lots of things together later.
We had a large area of waste ground, next to our prefab. We called it 'the dumps', because it was made up of piles of earth, dumped from building works, years earlier, now grown over with grass and weeds. Gordon and I rode our bikes over the dumps, it was a natural scramble track for us to ride and jump, round and round. Further along, the field flattened out and we shot out bows and arrows on it. I had a six-foot English longbow, with arrows that I bought from Fletchers sports shop in the Oxbode. I shot at targets, put up at different distances and was pretty good with it. The most stupid thing we did was to shoot up in the air, so that the arrows went out of sight. Then wait until they hit the ground and measure who had got the closest to the group of archers. We stood in a group, looking up, trying to see the arrows. We never thought that if we got too close, the arrow would go right through the top of our heads. We must have done this hundreds of times, without injury, more from luck than judgement. I had got hold of my first air rifle. It was a low powered, battered old .177 BSA. I shot at tin cans in the back garden. I balanced them on the fenceposts, as they were the only part of the garden still visible. Dad hadn't cut the grass, or done anything in the garden, since we moved here. I don't think he ever did anything to the garden, the whole time we lived there. It was a constant source of annoyance to Mr Hooper who lived across the road. Mr Hooper was a keen gardener and had taken over the garden of the burnt down prefab next to us, to grow his vegetables in. He was fighting a constant battle against the encroachment of weeds from our garden, but he was a nice man and rarely said anything. The grass in our garden in summer was about three feet high. Sometimes Dad managed to catch the council grass cutters when they were doing the dumps next to our garden, with their machines. Dad would give them a couple of quid to come in and do our jungle. He even pulled the fence down so that they could drive the machine straight in.
This was my rifle range, we had an apple tree just outside the back door, but they were cooking apples, no good at all to me. I used the apples as targets. Trying to shoot them off the tree. The rifle was quite accurate, but was so feeble that if anybody wore a coat, a direct hit, was hardly noticeable. One day Gordon was running around on the dumps, I took aim and got him, in the leg while he was in full flight. He fell to the ground, like a wounded soldier and made a terrible fuss about it. I took a look at it and there was only a small red mark. I told him to shut up and take it like a man. A typical big brothers' unsympathetic attitude, but there was no doubt, that I would never have done any harm to him, or allowed anyone else to harm him, if it was in my power to help him in any way.
Further down the fields, there was a brook. We had a swing tied to the branch of a big old tree, so that we could swing across the brook, landing in Grange Road. Opposite this swing was a field leading to an orchard. I don't know who's it was but it was one of our scrogging targets. Turning left to the end of Grange Road, across Stroud Road there was an old derelict house, we all knew as 'the old house.' We went there often and played in the ruins, you could take a girl there and get some privacy, in the early evening. I rode my first motorcycle in the grounds of the old house. I can't remember who's bike it was, but it was a small hand gearchange BSA. I tore up and down the field and I was hooked, I would be a biker for the rest of my life.
My cousin Hugh was building a pigeon loft in his back garden and needed some bricks for the foundations. We went to this old house over a period of three or four evening to get some. We took Hugh's old wooden cart so we could wheel the bricks home. It was hard going though, because we carried them through a large concrete pipe which ran under the Stroud Road and emerged in Grange Road, fearing detection if we went above ground. We loaded them onto the cart and pulled it across the fields to Hugh's house.
One day I was in the field where we had a swing across the brook, when a woman came striding across the field. When she got to us she grabbed her son and said, come with me, I've told you you're not to play down here with him, pointing towards Gordon. Taken by surprise, Gordon asked her what was wrong, but instead of answering, she slapped him. I was standing next to her when she did it and gave her a hefty slap that really shook her. She started shouting that she knew where we lived and she would return with her husband, to sort me out.
I went home and went into the bedroom to wake Dad up. I told him what had happened and that there might be trouble. Soon there was a pounding on the front door. I looked out of the window and could see that they were out for blood.
Dad got out of bed, wearing his regular night attire. A collarless shirt and a pair a baggy Y fronts. He went to the door, with Gordon and me standing behind him. It was quite a sight from behind with his spindly, pure white legs sticking out from the bottom of that old shirt. God knows what they thought when they saw it from the front. They started shouting that I had hit the woman, but Dad wasn't having any of it.
He said, 'bugger off before I belt the pair of you.'
They knew they weren't going to get anywhere with us so they beat a retreat shouting that they would get the police.
Dad just repeated, louder this time, 'go on bugger off.'
They never came back.
Along Grange Road there was a railway bridge. On the right, just before the bridge was King's farm. On the far side of the bridge, there was Lovell's orchard. The apples there were absolutely gorgeous. We went scrogging there too, but didn't risk going under the bridge and having to climb through the formidable hedge. Instead we went into a tunnel which had been cut into the railway embankment to allow the brook to flow through. The tunnel seemed very long then, it had a bend in it so you couldn't see light from the other end until you got halfway through. But it was worth it. The tunnel came out directly in the corner of the orchard. We filled our shirts until they were bulging like a man with a beer belly. Then we made our way back through the tunnel to enjoy our feast.
I was into rock and roll, Elvis Presley was my idol. Mum took me into town and bought me a pair of winkle picker shoes, a black shirt and my first leather biker style jacket.
To finish off the rocker ensemble, Aunty Ethel bought me a hand made studded belt. It was made especially for me at Cantillions leather shop, in King Street.
Soon it was time to go back to school, I set off on the train to London. I was becoming a seasoned traveller now. I got the bus from Haywards Heath, to Lindfield and walked in through the school gates. Matron was the first member of staff to see me in my new outfit of black shirt, leather jacket and winkle pickers. She was horrified and I was told that I was not to wear that sort of clothes as long as I was at Beckworth. The jacket was to be put away and returned to me when I was going home, next time. It took me a long time to find where they had put it, but find it I did and wear it I did. I already knew the house inside out. I crept around in the dead of night, down the back stairs, into the kitchen to raid the biscuits in the larder. From the kitchen I could get anywhere without being discovered, as long as I was quiet. I started sneaking in and out of the home, they caught me occasionally but no matter what they did I couldn't be stopped.
One morning I decided that I'd had enough. Instead of going to school, I walked on, past the school gates, to the London to Brighton Road. I started to thumb a lift, I was a bit shy about it at first, this being my first attempt at hitch hiking. I soon got a lift in an old van. The driver was going to Mitcham, it was a good first lift. When he dropped me off, I started walking up the A23 towards Central London. The plan was to wait until nighttime and make my way to Covent Garden, where I thought there would be lorries, loading for Gloucester or nearby. Covent Garden was a fruit and vegetable market then. At night, lorries were loaded with fresh produce for delivery the next morning.
I didn't get another lift into London so I kept walking for hours and eventually found myself in the West End.
It was too early to make my way to Covent Garden, so I thought I would have a good look around Soho. I was only thirteen and hadn't seen anything like it before. The lights in Piccadilly Circus were particularly fascinating. I wandered around for hours, just taking it all in. at around 9-o clock I was looking in a shop window, in Shaftesbury Avenue, when a man tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned towards him and he said, 'can you tell me the way to Trafalgar Square.'
I replied, no! 'Sorry mate, I'm a stranger here, just passing through.'
He produced a warrant card from his pocket and grabbed me by the shoulder.
He said 'read this card.'
I said, 'it's okay, I know who you are.'
He said, 'read it son; don't take anyone at face value in this town.'
The warrant card proved that he was an officer with the Metropolitan Police. He said, 'are you satisfied that I am a police officer',
to which I replied, 'yes.'
He said, 'okay get in the car.'
I hadn't even noticed the other officer in the car, which had quietly drawn up close to where we were standing.
I got in the car and off we went through the streets of London, to Bow Street police station. They took me in through the front entrance, into a large office, full of policemen and women, milling around. I was taken to a desk and told to sit down. They brought a WPC who sat on the other side of the desk. They asked me my name, where I was from and what I was doing in the West End at night.
I refused to answer any of the questions.
They were very nice, not at all oppressive, but I was determined to say nothing.
At about 1 o clock in the morning they gave up and took me to a cell. We went through a locked door into a tiled corridor. The cell doors were all on the right hand side of the corridor. On the left were small washbasins, screwed to the wall. I was taken past most of these doors, almost to the end, when I was told to go into one. Inside was a bed with a mattress, a blanket and a toilet. I was left there, with the lights on. The cell was decorated with the same tiles as in the corridor, green and white. The window was so high up no one would ever have been able to see out of it. It was cold, I wrapped the blanket around me, but I still sat there all night, shivering. I tried to get some sleep, but it was impossible. My mind was racing, thinking of what might happen next, wondering if I would get a chance to escape. It was a very long boring night, I sat there looking at the blank, tiled walls, thinking, if I stay in here too long, I will go mad.
Eventually I heard the key rattle, in the door at the end of the corridor. Footsteps tap tapped along the stone floor, until they stopped outside my cell door. The key rattled again and the door opened. A policeman stood there, holding a tray with a mug of tea, two boiled eggs and two slices of bread and butter, on it.
He said, 'have your breakfast, I will be back later and we will have another talk.'
I was starving and I ate with vigour. The tea went down a treat and warmed me up.
I didn't have a watch, so had no way of knowing what the time was, but it seemed like an age that I was waiting for the policeman to return. I sat there, looking round the cell, my brain screaming with boredom.
When he did return, he took me back into the office I had been in the night before. I saw a clock and realised that it was nearly mid day.
They asked me the same questions they had asked me the night before, but again I wouldn't answer.
After a while the WPC suddenly said, 'do you know this gentleman.'
I looked round and standing behind me was the social worker, who had taken me to Beckworth, a year earlier.
I said, 'yes I know him.'
I knew the game was up. I was secretly very relieved that I was going to get out of this place.
He took me out into the street and asked me if I was hungry. I said that I was, so we went into a café. I had a plate of fish and chips, followed by strawberries and cream. Then it was off to the station and I was escorted back to Beckworth.
They asked me why I had absconded. It was the first time I had heard the word absconded. It sounded much more grand than just running away. I told them I had had enough and wanted to go home. They told me that I would have to stay at Beckworth and make the best of it and not to do it again or I would be in big trouble.
Winter came and the beautiful village of Lindfield, was transformed from a picture postcard scene to a winter scene equally as pretty. It was the most beautiful place to live I could ever imagine. I envied all the local people I met and thought how lucky they were. This winter the village pond froze solid. It was a large pond in the centre of the village; it had a island in the middle where ducks nested. But this year the ice was so thick, the villagers were skating on it. I was lucky enough to borrow some skates from a friend and I learned to skate on ice, a skill that I never lost.
The Christmas holiday came and we went to Haywards Heath Railway Station to catch our respective train's home. Quite a few of my friends were catching the same train as I was, a fast train, through to London, from where we would go our separate ways. I had kept a handful of bangers from November, which we threw out of the windows as the train sped through the small stations, packed with commuters. We could see people shaking their fists and shouting as we disappeared into the distance. We thought it was a great wheeze and laughed uncontrollably.
Home again, this time for Christmas. Mum wasn't there; she was back in hospital, this time in Edinburgh, near her family. I was told she was doing really well there. I remember it as a cold, lonely time of wandering the avenues of Tuffley on dark nights. Anything to keep me out of the house. Aunty Ethel gave me a small transistor radio for Christmas. It was a modern miracle then. They were very expensive and no one else I knew had one. It had an earpiece so I could use it privately when necessary. I wandered around the estate in the evenings, no matter how cold it was, wearing the earpiece, trying to tune the radio to Luxembourg, the reception was terrible, with lots of squealing and fading in and out. But it was the only station playing the sort of music I wanted to hear. Radio Luxembourg was a commercial radio station, complete with advertisements, the most memorable was the one by Horace Batchelor, of Keynsham It had a slogan that was repeated over and over again, every night. It was for a football pools system. Whether it was any good I have no idea, but if the advertising was anything to go by, Horace should have made a fortune
I took this radio back to Beckworth with me and used it a lot. I had to keep it quiet, because I knew I wouldn't be allowed to have it in the dormitory in the evenings, which was the time when the best music programmes were on, so it was important to keep the radio a secret. I got into bed and put the earpiece in, to listen to the latest records in private.
It was 1963 and a new sound had just hit the music scene that was to change everything. I heard The Beatles for the first time. This was to be the biggest ever year of change to hit youth culture. The Beatles made Love Me Do, followed quickly by Please Please Me and From Me To You. The Rolling Stones released Come on, which I thought was the greatest record ever, at that time. It was the start of a revolution, which would carry me with it for years to come. We were listening to British groups, instead of Americans. The British music scene was to go on to dominate the world.
An even bigger thing that would make me stand out from the crowd for a long time and make me a well known figure, was my decision from the first sight of The Beatles and later Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, to grow my hair long. This was something the older generation could not accept. I washed the grease out of my hair and let it hang down. When I had washed the grease out, it was already longer than was acceptable to the school and I was immediately told to get it cut. I was to have this problem for the next few years, but I never gave in to their threats.
My euphoria with the new music was to be short lived, I hid the radio, in my bedside locker during the day, thinking it would be safe. I went to locker one evening and it was gone. I couldn't believe it. The loss of this musical lifeline was devastating. I asked all the boys, but nobody had seen it. I had to go to Mr Harrison to report that my radio had been stolen. He wasn't very happy about the fact that I'd kept it without his permission, but after he finished telling me that it was my own fault for keeping a valuable item in the house, he agreed to investigate the disappearance.
I was very depressed about it. It wasn't the fact that I no longer had the use and enjoyment of the radio. What was getting to me was that I would have to tell Aunty Ethel, that the radio she had given me had been stolen. I felt as if I had let her down by not looking after it properly and I couldn't bring myself to tell her. I knew she would be sympathetic, but that didn't help, I still felt that I had let her down. I was feeling pretty low at this time, it was to be the first time I considered suicide. I walked to school in the mornings along the main road and stood at the edge waiting for a large vehicle to come along, but I never had the courage to take that step.
Two weeks went by, then Mr Harrison called me into his office. There was a policeman with him and I could see my radio on his desk. I felt so relieved to see it, I had a big grin on my face. That joy was soon to turn anger, when the policeman picked up the radio and told me that they had caught the boy responsible, but that he had damaged the radio beyond repair. The policeman handed me the radio and I knew immediately that what he had said was true. It was as light as a feather, the insides were completely missing. I asked, why had the boy done such a thing? They said they couldn't explain it. They wouldn't tell me who the boy was, or why I couldn't be compensated, which made me even angrier. I had lost my radio, they knew who had stolen it and he wasn't going to be made to pay for it. My first lesson in justice, or lack of it, which would influence my decisions for the rest of my life. Never rely on other people's rules. I would forever live by my own strong sense of what is right and what is wrong, whatever the law said.
Only a few days later I heard a rumour, that the police had been seen, talking to a boy who was a year older than me. It didn't take a genius to work out why. I went to him and even though he was bigger than I was, I asked him straight out, why he had taken my radio, then smashed it to pieces. He said, 'piss off you little prat or I'll smash you as well.' I said okay and walked away.
The boys in my dormitory knew it would not end there. They all wanted to know what I would do, but I just said I would deal with it. I went to the boy and said, in front of his peers, I'm going to take you now, or outside, wherever you like. He had to make a choice, or look a coward in front of his friends, I was smaller than him, which made it even harder for him to back down.
He said, 'we will meet in the old field at 6 o clock.'
A buzz went round the whole house. My friends said, I must be mad going up against him. He certainly didn't seem to be worried about the prospect.
The appointed time came and it seemed as if the whole house was there. I had already decided, there was to be no more talking. As soon as we faced each other I launched a ferocious attack, punching, kicking and butting him, as hard and as quickly as I could. In no time at all, it was over. He was lying on the ground, in the worst state I had ever seen anyone. He was covered in blood and had to be carried back to the house. The story that everybody, quickly decided on, was that he had fallen, head first, from a tree.
I saw him the next day and he was black and blue, so bad I almost felt sorry for him, but it was a fleeting emotion and I soon steeled myself against it.
My reputation was growing, but now I encountered people who wanted to get a reputation themselves, by beating me. It was a nuisance at times, but made me even stronger.
There were a lot of things happening in the world at this time, or maybe I was just starting to notice them, The Great Train Robbery, happened not too far away from Lindfield, so we took a particular interest in that.
The Profumo scandal broke and was of special interest to us as we were reaching the age of sexual awareness. It made Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davis into household names, which I will never forget.
Another name which became a part of the English Language, to mean bad landlord, was Rachman. The story of Rachman, a slum landlord taking advantage of the poor was big news in 1963.
Martin Luther King made his famous, 'I have a dream' speech.
Henry Cooper knocked over Cassius Clay and we all knew Henry had been robbed.
Later this year John F Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.
One morning we got out of bed and went into the nearest washroom, to find Mr Harrison waiting there. One of the sink plugs had gone missing and we all had to turn out our wash bags, in search of it. I turned mine out and to my horror, the plug was there. Someone had put it there, to get me into trouble, Mr Harrison asked me what it was doing in my bag. I replied that it was not the missing plug. I said my Mum had given me the plug, because when she had been in the RAF, she had been to many places where the plugs were missing and it made it easier to have your own, just in case. It wasn't true, but it was the sort of thing Mum would have thought of.
Mr Harrison accepted this explanation, even though I don't think he believed it. Shortly afterwards, he called me into his office and told me that he was moving me from the dormitory, into a small single room, with it's own facilities, so that I wouldn't have to mix with the other boys. I was absolutely delighted, with this prospect. Mr Harrison thought it was to be an imposition, but it was entirely the reverse. Later, he tried to put me back into a dormitory, but I refused. I loved that little room, it was the first bedroom I had ever had that was my own.
I came down to breakfast one morning to find there was a relief House Master on duty. Something was obviously wrong. We all went into the dining room and waited to find out what had happened. Finally matron came in with tears in her eyes. She announced, very bravely, that Mr Harrison had died during the night and that she would be leaving. We were soon to have a new House Master and Matron, until then we would have a relief.
A few weeks later Mr and Mrs Irwin arrived to take over, they were from South Wales and were strong supporters of rugby union. Coming from Gloucester, I soon found we had a lot in common and we got on well from the start. We talked more on equal terms than I had been used to. Mrs Irwin had a collection of Penguin Books, which although she had some reservations that they would be too adult for me, she let me borrow. That was the start of a lifelong addiction to historical novels.
Soon after Mr Irwin's arrival, they decided to introduce rugby to the school sports curriculum. Until now they had only played cricket and football. Both sports I detested and thought of as an utter waste of time. I suddenly found that I could outplay anyone in my year. It showed me the value of knowledge and training. I had played rugby and enjoyed it immensely, at my other schools. Even after they got the hang of the game, I could run rings round them. My experience was too great for them to overcome in a short time. It was so easy to score at times I used to laugh like a drain.
Summer holidays came round again, I got the train again to London and I had a bit of time to spare, before my connection to Gloucester, so I got the underground to Trafalgar square. There was an escape artist doing his act, all trussed up in chains, his accomplice putting him in a white sack and fastening it up with chains and padlocks. As I stood there fascinated by this act, a girl walked by wearing a minidress. I had never seen anything like it, all the girls I had seen up to now all wore full skirts to below the knee. This was the latest fashion and was the sexiest thing I had ever seen. The dress was made of a predominantly blue and red multi coloured, silky material, it was tight and followed every contour of her body, so shapely and sexy that I had to follow her for a few minutes just to take it in. All thoughts of the escapologist completely forgotten.
Soon I was back in Gloucester, meeting all my friends, it was particularly good this time as there had been such a dramatic change in my appearance. My hair was not greasy any more and already longer than any of the other boys. The girls loved it and I started to play the field. Chatting up the girls was easier than it had ever been. They all wanted to hear about what was happening in London, the most swinging place in the world at that time. I was the only one they knew who went there regularly. I started going to the youth club on Friday evenings, at the Tuffley Rovers building, in Lower Tuffley Lane. In the corner of the hall, there was a small record player set up on a table,. We took our own records to play on it and dance the latest dances. I knew most of the people here, it was a good way to spend an evening. I met Bobby Grant, who would become a lifelong friend. There were the sisters Shirley and Rose and Bridget, who was so nice, it frightened me off, Ted Whittle, Alan Boughton Andy Powell, Chris Rogers and many others, all equally as important.
All this was a different and much more exciting world, than I had at Beckworth. When I went back to school, I was to become even more resentful of the restrictions placed upon me. The regime meant, much more isolation from the things I felt were important, like girls, music and dancing. We were encouraged more to academic study and sport. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do less, than study or play games, when the girls were getting more attractive every day.
At school things were going much the same as they had since I came here, my grades were good and I only had a couple of problems with boys who needed to prove themselves as tough guys. One lad who had been pushing me for a few days, without any response, decided that he would trample my little plot, in the school garden. We all had a plot to grow vegetables in. He came across and walked all over the seeds I had just planted, scuffing the earth up as he went. He must have been pretty stupid when I think about it. Fancy antagonising someone when they have a garden fork in their hands. I stuck him in the leg with the fork and he started screaming that he had been stabbed. The teacher came running over to see what had happened. I said I had been breaking up some earth with the fork, when the boy had stupidly come alongside me and I had accidentally stabbed him. There was an inquiry over it but the boy never said anything different. He had more respect for me, after that.
The All Blacks were on tour, playing South Eastern counties at Hove. Mr Irwin called me aside and told me he had a ticket for the game but was unable to use it. He said I could go instead if I would like to. He gave me the money for the train and off I went on my own to Hove. It was a great day out and an act of kindness I never forgot. But it couldn't make up for my perceived lack of freedom. It was time for me to make a break for home again.
I told my friend Stuart Bennett that I was going and he asked if he could come with me, he was from Gloucester as well. I told him I didn't think it was a good idea, as he was a good student, pretty contented with his lot at Beckworth. He wasn't constantly at odds with authority like I was. Stuart kept on , so I gave into his pleas. I told him I would be going the next morning.
The morning seemed to me to be the best time to go, as it gave us all day, up until teatime at 5-o clock before we would be missed. I decided to give London a miss this time, after my previous experience. I worked out a route across country, through Horsham, Guildford, Basingstoke, Newbury and Swindon, to good old Gloucester. It was slow going, the lifts were few and far between at times and we didn't make very good time. When we got to Basingstoke we decided to take a short train ride to Newbury. We were in a compartment with a city gent type and he started asking question about our journey. We told such outrageous lies he must have thought we were mad. We got off the train and resumed our hitch hiking, walking along the A4 towards Swindon. Progress was still slow, so we decided to get into a field and spend the night tucked up under a hedge. Although the weather was warm, it went off very cold in the night and we didn't sleep much, with nothing to cover ourselves with, but at least it was a rest.
The next day we were up bright and early and on the move. We got a couple of good lifts and we were in Gloucester by lunchtime. Stuart asked me if I would go with him to his house. I didn't think it was a very good idea, but he pleaded with me, I think he thought there might be safety in numbers. He was wrong though because his mother started telling him off almost as soon as we went through the door. I made a hasty exit and made my way home. Much to my surprise, Dad was home. He had been contacted by the police and told that I was probably on my way.
He said. 'Took your time, didn't you'?
I didn't reply.
He said, 'you know you'll have to go back, don't you.'
I said, 'I'll never settle there Dad. It's time I came home.'
He said, 'I'll see what I can do.'
I stayed at home for a few days, going round seeing my friends and having a laugh about my adventure, then I took the train back to school. I spent more and more time in London every time I went through. I was starting to know the city quite well. I went to Carnaby Street to see the fashion shops, they were really something. Carnaby Street was an small cobbled lane then, with little shops, full of the latest styles. Lord Johns tailors was just a single fronted shop, but was famous already. I walked up and down the street in awe of it all.
I got back to Beckworth and things carried on as normal for a while, then one day, I was called into Mr Irwin's office. There was a social worker there, who wanted to talk to me. He said, that taking everything into consideration, I would be able to go back home, as long as I agreed to go to Linden Road secondary school. Although it was well below the academic standard I was used to, with my record, it was the only school that would take me. It was to be my choice, to go or to stay at Beckworth.
I made what was probably the worst choice I would ever make.
I chose to go home.
I didn't appreciate the benefits I could have had if I had stayed, but life was out there and I needed to live it.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.