I was pleased to get back to Gloucester and wasn't worried about going to Linden Road school, as I already knew some of the boys and girls there. My dog Tina was pleased to see me as usual, her tail wagging incessantly. She didn't leave my side for days after I got home. I had always worried that she would take offence at me going away and leaving her, or forget me, but my fears were unfounded, she was always delighted to see me whenever I came home and I had no intention of leaving again.
This was my third senior school but I wouldn't need a new uniform this time. I was past that. My uniform at Linden Road was my Leather jacket or a Donkey Jacket and a pair of hob nailed army boots that I got from the Army and Navy stores at the bottom of Westgate Street. The boots were cheap, lasted forever and delivered a terrible blow when applied to an adversary during a fight. The Donkey jacket was big, again lasted well, was warm and was cheap to buy.
Mum wasn't home at the moment, she was still in Scotland, but was doing well. Things were a bit rough and ready at home. I hardly saw Dad, so I came and went as I pleased. Dad hardly knew if I was there or not. He was still working nightshift at the post office in George Street, by day he was driving school buses for Cathedral coaches and driving a taxi for Thomas taxis. It didn't leave a lot of time for him to take much interest in what I was doing. He gave me some money to live on and left me to it.
I was becoming more independent every day. I started to feel that I didn't need anybody.
Bobby Grant lived in Tennyson Avenue, Podsmead, on the route I would take to school. I often called in on her in the mornings. Mrs Grant would give me a cup of tea, while we chatted. They were a lovely family, it was like a breath of fresh air to me to sit and talk with them. Bobby and I set off for school on our bikes, riding to the Lannet together, where we had to split up, Bobby carrying on to Derby Road to the Central Girls School and me turning down Balfour Road to our school entrance.
Linden Road school was an old red brick building, with a tall chimney that could be seen from a great distance. It was surrounded by black iron railings, with the gate to the boys entrance, off Balfour Road. The girls entrance was in Linden Road. Everything was small and dark, it was like going back in time, with the high windows, you couldn't see out of. Old fashioned sloping desks with inkwells in the corners. A boy would be assigned to filling these inkwells at the start of a lesson. No ball point pens were allowed. If you didn't have a fountain pen, a pen would be issued to you, then handed back when you left for the next class. These pens were a stick with a nib fixed to one end, which had to be dipped into the inkwell, every few words. There was usually a horrendous mess on the page after one of these was used. These pens were much more use as darts. They could be very accurate with practice, the nibs were sharp and stuck into wood or anything soft. Many battles would be waged across the classrooms with these so-called pens. This school had an anarchy that I was unused to but would embrace and exploit to the limit.
Girls also attended Linden Road, but unlike my last school, the girls here were completely segregated, the two halves of the school were separated by railings in the playground, with an exclusion zone, either side of the railings to keep us apart. The exclusion zone never worked though, we were always hanging over the railings at break times. I chatted to Jackie Worral across these railings. Jackie didn't seem to be worried about these silly rules either and I fancied her like crazy. Inside the school, the girls used all of the building on one side of the main hall, which doubled as the gym and the boys used everything on the other side. Some of the classrooms had their doors off the main hall, so when we came in or out we could see the girls doing the same on the other side. It was a bit like East and West Berlin. A completely ridiculous situation.
Once again, on my first day, the school tough guys, Paul Wellington and Dave Simmonds approached me. Although they were a year older and reaching the end of their school lives at the age of fifteen, I stood my ground and showed no fear. After this stand off I had no further trouble with them. I was now fourteen and had about a year and a half, of schooling left. I couldn't wait to get out of this place. It had just turned 1964 and these boys would be leaving school at Easter. It would soon be my turn.
By now my hair was something to behold, the school just wasn't ready for it. From the day I arrived, they started telling me I had to get it cut. I told them they had, 'no chance.' They tried the 'try to be a credit to the school' approach. They tried the 'we'll cut it for you approach', but nothing was ever going to work. My hair made me an individual. Parents wouldn't allow their boys to grow their hair long and schools certainly wouldn't allow it. Even working men couldn't get away with it. Employers wouldn't allow it. Anyone who wanted their hair long would have to be strong of character to resist the pressures and the taunts from people who couldn't come to terms with it. This was a revolution as far as they were concerned and it threw them into confusion. It's hard to imagine such a fuss now, over something we would regard as trivial, but these were different times. This was long before the Hippie period when everyone wore their hair long. At this time, there were only two other people in Gloucester with hair in the same league as mine. They were Elwin Edwards, who played in a rock band and had to have special permission from his employers, the GPO, to have his hair long and Paul Cantillion, who was a boxer and didn't have to worry about what other people thought. That's how rare it was. Hair as long as mine wasn't just a fashion statement, it was a show of rebellion against traditional values. The people of Gloucester had never seen anything like it except for rock bands on the television.
My hair and my individual sense of style was to bring me into a lot of conflict with what we later called, the straights. They were people who couldn't come to terms with the 60's youth revolution.
At school it was seen as constant problem that wouldn't go away, they saw it as a challenge to their authority as guardians of the morality of the young people in their charge. How could having long hair be considered a danger to the morality of the nation? I don't know, but that how it was. In 1964, the Rolling Stones went to the USA and were ridiculed by the establishment because of their appearance to such an extent, that they were unable to get their talent across to the kids.
The teachers at Linden school were a very mixed bunch, from the stern Mr Sterry, the maths teacher to the over familiar, rather bohemian art teacher,
Donald Mann, who was always saying, give us a fag Balli, refusing to believe that I didn't smoke.
Herbie Wayne, the English teacher, seemed to me, the best teacher they had, he didn't care what I looked like. He appreciated my skills and capacity to learn and never treated me badly. His storytelling had great expression, he could hold the attention of a class without threats because he was such an interesting man. He made it interesting to learn. He was my idea of what teachers should be like, but such men were rare. Unfortunately he left the school later in the same year I started there.
Mr Rickets was my first form teacher. He was more like the archetypal teacher, stern and hard, shouting the odds. It got him no respect at all. We just thought he was an asshole. To make things worse it came to my knowledge that he was spreading lies about me to the other teachers, trying to get me into trouble. Most notably that he had seen me smoking in the bike sheds. I was guilty of a lot of things, but smoking wasn't one of them. It seemed a waste of time and money to me. Why did a man in his position do such things? Respect rating zero.
Colin Charter, the science master was okay, although he had his moments. We did used to play him up terribly at times.
Mr Kelly, the metalwork teacher was a lovely old man, who retired soon after I arrived at the school. He was replaced by Derek Hendry, who wasn't an awful lot older than we were. He had worked at Walkers stores in Matson as a delivery boy until he went to college. My Mum worked there at the time and wanted me to take over the delivery round when Derek left, but I was just too young. He was all right, was Derek. He had young ideas and knew where I was coming from. I never had a problem with him. In fact I took evening classes in metalwork at Linden, after I left school.
Norman Talbot, the games master was okay too, some didn't like him because he had a habit of grabbing boys by the sideburns and tweaking the hair when he was trying to make a point. He picked me for the school rugby team a few times. The first match I played was against my old school, the Crypt. In the first half, I got a hard knock on the nose, which started it bleeding heavily, so I had to leave the field. I came back on when the bleeding stopped and we went on to win. That win was immensely satisfying. I think picking me for the team may have been in part, a ploy to persuade me to get my hair cut, because before long, Norman took me aside and said, I couldn't continue to represent the school, while my hair was long. So it was bye bye rugby.
I politely told him where he could stick his team. He got a bit angry about it, but who cared. When I think about it, he had a lot to put up with. I think Norman had come up with the plan, of picking me for the team, hoping he would be able to bring me into line. Like every other plan they devised, it didn't work.
After this incident I hardly played games again, only when I couldn't escape on the journey from school to the sports fields at the Black Bridge where we always had games on a Wednesday afternoon. We assembled in the playground for the register to be taken to make sure we were all there. We formed a crocodile to walk about three-quarters of a mile, to the playing fields. A teacher led the way and another brought up the rear, but there were places where the teacher at the rear couldn't see us. We took our chance to leap over a wall, or dive behind a hedge, to hide until the crocodile had passed out of sight. The boys left in the crocodile laughed uncontrollably at the sight of us diving left and right into the bushes. The teacher would shout at them to be quiet, but never seemed to realise what was happening. Quite a few boys disappeared on that journey every week. We often walked up to that spot during the lunch break to hide our bikes in the bushes so that as soon as we were free, we could ride off to do what we wanted.
On one of these occasions, Chris Rogers and I went down to the stream at the bottom of Masefield Avenue. It was countryside down there then, the stream was clear and fast running, full of wildlife. Beautifully coloured small fish, sticklebacks and others I can't remember the names of. There were also different species of newts there. It was a tranquil spot and we spent the afternoon, watching the wildlife, going about its day to day existence. A memorable afternoon, much more memorable than another games period.
Chris was at my house one day, we were going out somewhere and I needed some money. Dad was in bed asleep as he often was during the day. We both crept into his bedroom, so that I could steal some change from the pocket of his trousers. As we crept past him,
Chris said, 'oh no! He's awake.'
It scared me for a second, until I looked round and saw that Dad was sound asleep.
I put my finger to my lips and said 'SSSSSH.'
I went on, into the room, picked up Dads GPO issue trousers and took half a crown out of the pocket. When we got out of the bedroom,
Chris said, 'but he was watching us.'
I replied, 'no he wasn't he always sleeps with his eyes open.'
I was used to it and hadn't thought to mention it to Chris. It did look a bit spooky if you weren't used to it.
My old red bike was by now much too small for me now and I had no chance of buying another. I asked around everyone I knew and managed to scrounge enough parts to put together a bike, big enough for me to ride to school. It had a huge old frame, odd sized wheels and an old fashioned, very large saddle, which I covered in fur. It looked like a bears head. The handlebars came off a motorcycle scrambler. They were bent and no use for racing any more, but I straightened them enough to use on my bike. The tyres had holes in them, which I plugged with bits of other worn out tyres, cut into strips. The ride was a bit rough where the tyres were so lumpy, but it got me around. When I was riding up Wilton Road one afternoon, on my way home from school, I came across a rag and bone cart. I saw a wheel and tyre on the back, that looked better than the one I had, so I dragged it off the pile and rode off. The ragman had seen me though and came running out of the house shouting at me to come back with his wheel. Some hope! I was riding like the wind. The wheel turned out to be an aluminium racing wheel, with a 12 tooth fixed gear. It took some starting off, but once moving it made the bike really fast. It was fun to ride too, but it had its disadvantages, you couldn't stop pedalling to take a rest. It was good fun to get up some speed, then stand on one pedal with my leg straight, making my body go up and down, up and down, it looked really comical. I was doing it in Kings square one day, when the chain snapped and I hit the crossbar with a resounding thump that brought tears to my eyes. Worse still, I had no money to repair it, or to get home. So I went to the cycle park, on the corner of King Street and using a small knife, managed to prise a split link from another cycle and repair my own chain.
I rode that bike everywhere, I would sometimes wait for a bus to leave Kings Square and try to race it to Tuffley. I could beat it most of the time, sometimes getting in the slipstream, then overtaking as it slowed to pick up passengers. I was doing this one day when a policeman on a big black cycle with a 3 speed hub gave chase. I saw him coming and wondered what he wanted. I kept going, pulling away from him until we got to Stroud Road hill where by using his gears he had the edge. I still had my old fixed wheel, which was hopeless going up hills. When he caught me, he was all red in the face and sweating. He asked what I thought I was doing trying to get away from him.
I said, 'sorry I didn't think you were trying to catch me. I thought you must have been in a hurry to get somewhere.'
He said, you haven't got a rear brake on that bike.
I said, 'I know, you don't have to have one with a fixed wheel.'
He said, 'oh bugger', turned around and set off back down the hill.
I was riding along Parkend Road one afternoon when I got it wrong crossing the railway lines. The lines crossed the road at an angle of about thirty degrees, while the safe angle for a bicycle to cross them was ninety degrees, so cyclists had to go out into the road slightly and cut back to cross the lines at a better angle. I had done it many times, but this time my front wheel went down into the railway line, resulting in me being thrown off at speed. I tore my jacket and trousers and skinned my knees and elbows. It was a well-known hazard.
I was going home on the bus one Saturday morning with my cousin Hugh, when the bus suddenly braked hard. We were half way down Seventh Avenue, almost home. We sat and waited to find out what was wrong and could hear people saying that a child had been run over. After a while the conductor came up the stairs and told us there had been an accident and we would have to get off. As we went through the door, which was at the front, we couldn't help but see that the child was lying behind the front wheel, his leg having been run over. It was only the briefest of glimpses but it was enough. We walked the rest of the way to Hugh's house. When we went in, Aunty Ina said, 'what's the matter with you two, you are as white as ghosts.' I was in a cold sweat. It was the worst thing I had ever seen.
I was going to the youth club regularly now, it was the Friday night highlight at the start of the weekend. Ready Steady Go was a new pop program on the television. It featured all the new artists, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, Manfred Mann and some of the Americans like Ike and Tina Turner, P J Proby, Gene Pitney and one of my particular favourites, John Lee Hooker. They also had a weekly new dance lesson. I watched that first and then it was out to the club, to try out the latest dances. There were lots of pretty girls there to dance and talk with and I always enjoyed the company of pretty girls. Shirley Cunningham who had blond hair and her sister Rose who had strikingly beautiful jet black hair were still regulars at the club and so was Bridget Maloney, who was so nice I don't have the words to describe her.
I was talking with my friends when Bobby Grant arrived with her cousin Mary. None of us had ever seen Mary before, she was so beautiful we were all struck dumb for a moment, then all we could talk about was Mary.
I said, 'I'm off to talk to them.'
My pals said, 'you've got no chance there.'
I was in with a head start though because Bobby, who was also beautiful and therefore unapproachable to many of the boys was already a good friend, so it was natural for me to go to talk to her. She introduced me to Mary and we hit it off right away. I walked her home that night, full of pride.
I saw her many times and gave her lifts home on the crossbar of my old bike, Eventually we both moved on, but she is still a wonderful memory, it was all so innocent compared to today.
At the club one night a youth started picking on my friend John Ewers, I had never forgotten that he had been supportive when I was having problems at the Crypt, so I kept an eye on what was happening. Things were different now and I would take on anybody. I had never heard of John ever having been in a fight and he was obviously worried. I didn't want to make him think any less of himself by my stepping in too early, but I said to him. If it happens John I'll be there. It did happen and I went outside. This youth took up a karate stance and was egging John to make a move. Just then John laid into him and gave him such a battering, we all stood back in amazement. I needn't have worried at all.
Back at school, most days merged into one long round of boredom. A highlight of the day was during the morning break there was always a rugby scrum around the small window that served as the school tuck shop. We would go up to the back of the scrum and grab one of the small boys. We'd tell him what we wanted, give him the money and throw him over the heads of the other boys, to the front of the queue. Nobody objected because they knew who had done it. The small boy didn't object either because he got what he wanted too.
I hadn't been there long, when the election for the captaincy of the four school houses were held. I must have made an impression with my peers because I was asked if I would like to stand as the captain of Drake House. I was very pleased to accept the nomination and was duly elected. I must have been more popular with the boys than I was with the teachers.
The teachers were horrified by the decision and tried to block it, but it was a democratic election and it would have been very wrong to have changed the decision, so after initial rumblings, they accepted it.
On one of the few times I made it to the afternoon games period, Mr Rickets was in charge instead of Mr Talbot. He split us into rugby teams and was to be the referee. Our side was soon winning by a mile so he decided he would help out the opposing team. That was a bad mistake because he soon started taking a battering. I took the ball and was making for the goal line when he committed the sin of tackling me around the waist, I had seen him coming and already half handed him off, but he hung on until I punched him in the face, when he let go and I went on to score. He went mad at me but I insisted that it was a fair hand off and seeing as there was no referee, who could say any different. Revenge was sweet.
I was having a pen fight with some of my classmates one day when we ran into the hall. My target was running up the hall, away from me, I took aim and threw a long shot. Just as I let it go. Digger Wolfe, a large, rather eccentric man with a booming voice, came out of a door to see what all the noise was about. He looked away from me and shouted at the boy running away, to walk. My missile hit him in the back and stuck in, but the tweed jacket he was wearing was so thick he didn't even feel it. He walked off down the hall with the pen stuck in his back, with us all trying to get out of sight in case he turned round.
I stole a few of these pens and took them home to use as darts, I put pictures on the wall of our bedroom and threw the pens into the pictures. Gordon was doing something that annoyed me one day and I threw a pen at him and got him in the arm. He ran off shouting that I had stabbed him, but there was no one listening.
In Mr Charters science lab, I always sat at the back. One day some of us were flicking rolled up bits of paper at him with elastic bands. After a lot of shouting and threatening, he picked on me and told me to get out of the class, threatening that he would deal with me later. I went outside, but as it was almost the beginning of a double period, I thought I'm not hanging around here until break. So I went to the Seymour café for a cup of tea. All would have been well, if I hadn't got back too late for the class to be dismissed. When I got there, the class was empty except for Colin Charter.
I walked into the class and said, 'where's my milk Mr Charter'?
We had a third of a pint of milk at breaktime every day.
He answered, 'where have you been'?
I said, 'no Mr Charter, that's not the answer. I asked where my bottle of milk is. I seem to have missed it.'
He repeated, 'where have you been'?
I said, 'we're not getting anywhere here are we. I wasn't standing outside all that time so I went to the café, but I'm still entitled to my milk so where is it'?
He exploded with rage and shouted at me to get to the headmaster's study. I just laughed and walked away. I got my bike out of the bike sheds and went home. This was something I would do more and more often whenever they tried to discipline me.
I often went to the Seymour café at lunch times, for egg and chips and a cup of tea. Either there or the Seymour fish and chip shop. This was strictly against the rules, but hey! What are rules for.
The one time I did end up in the headmaster's study, I felt rather sorry for the incident which led to it. I must have been feeling particularly belligerent on this day, because the teacher I had the argument with was quite a nice old gent known as Slicky Wyatt, who I rather liked. During the lesson he asked me a question which I answered, yes.
He said, yes what.
I said, yes, that's right.
He said, you must answer, yes sir.
I said, not any more. I'll never again call anyone sir.
After a slightly more heated exchange, where he got no further forward, he ordered me out of the class. He followed me out and started to rant and rave. I had never seen him like this before and was rather surprised. When I responded with a bit more cheek, he lost his cool completely and slapped me round the side of the head. In an instant, I slapped him round the side of the head, with such force it knocked him over. I went to the Headmaster's study, where he gave me a lecture, which came to the point where he stated that this was a caning offence. I stopped him there and told him it would never happen. I told him he could try, but I would not let it happen. I also pointed out that Mr Wyatt had struck me first. I had been here long enough to gain a big reputation, so he decided to back-pedal saying that this time he would let me off with a caution.
After that, whenever I was sent to see the headmaster, I never bothered. I just left the school and came back the next day. I did it so often the didn't say anything about it.
One such occasion was when Mr Sterry blew the whistle to signal the end of break. I happened to be walking past him when he blew it. The rule was that all activity stopped on hearing the first blast, then on the second blast everyone made their way to their respective classes. I had never taken any notice of this rule and always continued with what I was doing. This time I was too close to Taffy Stevens, the woodwork and technical drawing teacher, who happened to be in the playground. He saw his chance to pull me up and He grabbed me by the shirt collar and shouted stand still, catching me off balance and pulling me backwards. I straightened up and turned to face him. We were almost nose to nose,
I said to him, 'if you ever lay a hand on me again I'll drop you without another word.'
He started to argue so I said, if you want it, take off your glasses and we'll set to, right now.'
He shouted for help, to Mr Sterry who was standing close by.
I said, 'he won't save you, I'll take you both.'
Mr Charter came over next and I knew the odds were now too great,
I said 'yes I know. Go to the Headmaster's study.'
So off I went. They must have known I wouldn't bother. I went through the door nearest the heads study, on through the changing rooms, out of the door the other side of the building and away. I came back the next day, nobody ever mentioned the incident.
One afternoon we were waiting in line to go into the changing rooms for a PT lesson with Mr Talbot. Some boys were messing around, pushing and shoving and slapping each other with their daps, when it got a bit more serious, between Roger Merrett and me, though I'm sure it would have come to nothing. We were going at it when Mr Talbot appeared. He said, if you want to fight, we'll do it in the gym. We got changed and put on the boxing gloves. I wasn't very keen on the idea, Roger was a police cadet and had some boxing training. I was a street fighter and had no experience of fighting to any rules. I knew I could be in trouble, without the use of the head and the boot. The fight started and we were soon knocking each other all around the ring. After the first round I sat in the corner sucking air into my lungs. I could hear a buzz going round the crowd.
I heard Rob Jessop say, 'I think Cliff's finished, he'll never last.'
But I knew different, I wasn't at all worried about my fitness. We resumed the fight, I got in a few good hits and started to think I might be in with a chance, but I got over confident and Roger caught me with an uppercut to the chin, which knocked me over. I was more surprised than anything and there was no damage done. I jumped up and said I was ready to continue. Mr Talbot made me take a mandatory count, then stopped the fight and declared Merrett, the winner. I protested and said look at the state of him; he only hit me once, which was a bit of an understatement. But Mr Talbot had got a bit of his own back on me and we all knew it. That decision irritated me for years, although it was probably fair.
During my last year at Linden School, I committed the only act of bullying that I can ever remember doing. Mick Fisher had for some reason brought a guitar to school. I was so jealous of him with this guitar that I belittled his achievements and menaced him, in the playground. Nothing more came of it, but I always felt bad about it and would like to take this opportunity to apologise to him.
I never wanted to bully anybody, although unknowingly I may have intimidated some people and to them I would also like to apologise.
The world was changing, the Vietnam War had started, the Mods and Rockers were fighting each other on the beaches and seafronts all along the south coast. This was a particularly confusing time for me, because I wanted to be in the forefront of the Mod trend, but I was obsessed with motorbikes and had worn a leather biker jacket for years. I wasn't old enough to have a motorbike or scooter yet so it didn't really make much difference. I loved the whole Mod scene and embraced it fully. Martha and the Vandellas, made a record called Dancing in the street. Cheltenham had a dancing in the street party on The Promenade, with a disco playing all the latest music. It drew a huge crowd and was one of the best events I ever attended. I hitch hiked over to Cheltenham, something I would do many times, until I got my own transport.
I met Penny Taggart, a pretty girl who lived in Longlevens. We started going steady. We arranged to meet in Gloucester, under the Bon Marché clock. Lots of courting couples met here, sometimes you could see a boy or a girl who had been waiting too long and paced around wondering if they had been stood up. Penny turned up and we wandered around looking in the shop windows, ending up at the Roma coffee bar in Westgate Street. The Roma was open until 10 o clock so we sat in there with one bottle of coke each for as long as we could. We sat and talked and met other friends. It was a great place. The owner, Tony Pelopida was one of the nicest men I have ever met. I only knew him through the coffee bar, but for thirty years I occasionally went into the Roma for a coffee and a roll and Tony always remembered me with a smile and a friendly hello. I was a regular in 1965, Tony didn't mind us not buying very much, as long as he wasn't too busy and we weren't too noisy. The Roma was the first coffee bar in Gloucester with an espresso coffee machine. It was so big, covered in shiny chrome, it dominated the counter area. The cappuccino with froth on the top, sprinkled with chocolate was wonderful. The food was also of a very high standard and has remained so to this day. It was my favourite place of that time. We came out of the Roma and wandered around the town before heading for the bus stop to catch our respective busses home. Penny was a lovely girl who went off to London to make her way in the world. We lost touch but I often wonder what happened to her.
It was all so innocent, window shopping, walking around town, going to the park and sitting in the little wooden hut in the corner, so we could talk and kiss and cuddle, with a little privacy. Perhaps calling in to the youth centre at the Rickenel, for a chat with our friends.
I went out with lots of wonderful girls during my teenage years. I feel very privileged to have known many of them. Some of them I still meet occasionally, perhaps at a dance or while shopping. Some of them seem to have vanished for ever, moved away like Penny did, maybe.
My cousin Hugh had started working for John Harker, as a deck hand on one of the fleet of oil tankers which came up the canal, then into the river up to Worcester. While on school holiday I went for a trip with Hugh, on the Rosedale from Gloucester to Swansea and back. All of the Harker tankers were named after the Dales, some I remember were the Arkendale, the Ribblesdale, the Rosedale and the Wyedale.
On the day before we were due to leave, Hugh and I, went to Llanthony stores to collect the grocery order for the ship. We walked along Llanthony Road with the box of groceries to where the Rosedale was moored at Monkmeadow. We boarded the ship and stowed the food in a locker, ready for the trip. Hugh showed me around, taking me into the engine room. It was only a small tanker, but none the less impressive. I was feeling very excited at the prospect of the forthcoming journey.
We left Gloucester early the next morning, sailing down the canal to Sharpness. We had to wait until following morning for the tide to be right to let us out into the Bristol Channel, we spent the evening drinking in a pub at Sharpness docks. Then it was through the lock, into the Bristol Channel and on around the coast to the refinery at Swansea to load with oil for the return journey. I felt terrible on the outward journey. Once into open water, the round bottomed vessel, rolled from side to side, even in the calmest of seas. I went a pale shade of green, had a cold sweat and felt as sick as a dog. I tried going below, but that didn't work. Eventually I went forward and sat on the bow with the fresh sea breeze blowing in my face. After a while the seasickness went away and didn't return for the rest of the trip. We anchored in Swansea bay until we were called in to load. While waiting in the bay, Hugh put a fishing line over the side and caught a huge skate, which he cleaned and cooked for dinner that night. On the way there and back, we went under the Severn Bridge which was still under construction. It was an enjoyable experience, my first of mixing with men in a working environment. They treated me as an equal, not a child.
Hugh bought a Triumph Tiger 100 combination. It was an ex AA patrol bike and the sidecar was a big toolbox, shaped like a coffin. It had been painted black, over the AA yellow. Hugh rode it around, lifting the sidecar wheel high up, off the ground when he went around corners. We went out for a ride one day, Hugh on the front, me on the pillion and Ady Hayward in the box, which had no comforts, such as a seat. It also had a lid which had to be held up, when you sat in it. When in the box you had to hang on for grim death to stop yourself being flung around and the lid crashing shut, plunging you into darkness. Once wedged into that position it was very difficult to get the lid open again from the inside. We were going through Painswick when a policeman stepped out and stopped us.
He said, 'what's he doing in that box, it's not made to carry people.'
We protested but the policeman made Ady get out of the box and we had to leave him behind. Ady turned and started to walk home. We went a little way down the road, turned around and went back for Ady who hadn't got very far. He jumped back in the box and off we went, giggling like schoolgirls.
I went to see John Jones, one afternoon. When I got there I saw a striking blue Triumph 21 motorbike parked outside. I went in and asked John who's bike it was. He said it belonged to his Sister Barbara's boyfriend Roy 'Tich' Cambridge. I had heard of Tich Cambridge but had never met him. He was a very well known character, a bit like me. But he was about five years older and was a man. We talked about the bike for a few minutes, then he roared off. He made an impression on me, I liked him and the bike. Roy would later become one of my best friends and we are both still riding motorcycles more than thirty years on.
I started moving away from the youth club in Tuffley, for the bigger scene. I started going into town more often, to the Swan and Falcon, in Longsmith Street. I had just turned 15 and thought I knew it all. I had all the confidence in the world. The Swan and Falcon was a pub that held regular dances, on Thursday and Saturday evenings. You were supposed to be 18 to get in, but I had no trouble getting in as long as I could pay, which wasn't very often. Most times I had to try to get in without paying. One way was to wait in the side bar of the pub until someone I knew came out of the dance to get a drink. I could have a look at the hand stamp which they continually changed. Sometimes it was easily forged with an indelible pencil, sometimes we could wet the stamp and press our hands together to transfer the mark, albeit in reverse. The entrance to the dance was dark so if I waited for a crowd to go in, the doorman didn't take much notice, as long as the mark was there. When all else failed I would just wait for a crowd and crash my way in. One way or the other usually worked.
I was on my way to the Swan & Falcon one dark night when I took the short cut along Mercers Entry, an alley that runs from Westgate Street to Cross Keys lane. I never had much money at this time, not more than four or five shillings, so when I pulled my handkerchief out of my pocket and all my money fell out, clattering to the ground, it was a disaster. It was so dark in that alley, I couldn't see a thing. I was scrabbling around the ground trying to feel anything when I saw a light coming up the alley, I could see it was a policeman. I thought, 'yes, here comes my saviour. When he got closer, I could see he was a huge constable with a big fat belly and a very large handlebar moustache, which was going grey.
I asked him, 'would you shine your torch on the ground for me please? I've dropped all my money.'
He never even slowed from his stride and as he pushed me roughly aside,
he said, 'Fuck your money' and slowly disappeared out of the alley into Westgate Street. Another less than successful encounter with the forces of law and order. Respect for the police was getting less and less every day.
I started to meet a whole new set of people at the Swan & Falcon, all kinds from all over the city. Hard men, who were much older than me. I stood out from the crowd, with my long hair and I was already well known to many, so introductions were made easily. Big Ernie Hannaford, Terry Freeman, Jasper Davis, Aggsy Hayes, they were all there and many others besides. Soon everybody knew who I was. They had live bands on there, all playing the same sort of music. Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues. This music has stayed my favourite all of my life. The Trespassers would hammer out High Heeled Sneakers, Reelin & Rockin and Dimples, at great volume. I was in heaven.
I met Roy Hemmings at one of these dances, we were to become good friends and for a while, went everywhere together. Roy was a good-looking boy, very popular with the girls, I was famous, with my long hair and also popular with the girls, so we made a good team. Everywhere we went, we caused a stir, dancing and generally making ourselves high profile. We almost always went home with a girl each.
Roy and I were out on New Years eve, we had been somewhere that had closed early and we had slipped up by being miles away from the parties with no way to get to them. We were walking along Coney Hill Road when I looked at my watch and said to Roy, 'well that's about it Roy, the New Year's about to start.'
Just then, the front door of a house flew open and dozens of people spilled into the street. They all linked hands and started singing Auld Lang Syne. We were grabbed and urged to join in. We had an instant uplift to our previously sagging spirits. We danced around and sang with them until they started to filter back into the house, then we started to walk off.
Mr Greaves ran up to us and said, 'come on in boys, you are very welcome, help yourselves to anything you want.' I was overwhelmed by his family's generosity. We stayed for hours, eating and drinking and had a really good time. I had never met Mr Greaves before but I recognised him. I think he was a bus conductor who had a distinctive way of calling out, 'move along the bus please', when the bus was full. He was quite a personality. I never met him again but will always remember that incident vividly. Thank you, the Greaves family, for a memorable New Year's eve.
The club at the Barnwood church hall was another favourite for a while. It was in the cellar, down some narrow stone steps. The cellar had lots of small booths where you could sit and talk with small groups of friends or in the more secluded ones, could kiss and cuddle with a girlfriend. I was there one night with Ann Bell, who was a striking young girl, very desirable. I think one of the locals took exception to my being there with her. As I went up the steps to get to the toilets, he barged into me.
I said, 'look out mate, be a bit more careful.'
He punched me on the nose starting it bleeding. I grabbed him and we fought our way down the steps, finishing up in on of the small brick booths. This was my kind of fight, in an enclosed space. I managed to get him by the hair and bash his head around the walls. I finished him off and went upstairs to clean up. I had blood all over me. The person in charge took me aside and told me, the lad I had just fought was a well-known local hard case and he was sure to come after me. I was unconcerned but decided to take her advice and leave. I was walking home when I saw him coming up behind me, I just kept walking hoping he would go away, but waiting for him to make a move. He followed me for a while gradually catching up. Soon he was too close and I had to stop and turn to face him.
He said, 'I'll have you now you little bastard.'
I pulled out a flick knife and said, 'oh yeah. I'll fucking kill you first you bag of shit. Go on take a chance.'
He was a strange type, quiet and slow of movement, but with a menacing air about him. He didn't say anything, he just turned and walked away. We saw each other many times over the following years, there was always an atmosphere you could cut with a knife until finally we stood next to each other in the toilets at a dance.
We looked at each other, both smiled and said, 'all right.'
But that night I had proved to myself the value of being armed, for defensive purposes. Something I would almost always be, one way or another, from now on.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.