I was fifteen now, so one day I went to school and told them I was going to leave. They said I couldn't leave until the end of term, but I had found out that if I had a job to go to, I could leave early. I had already lined up my first job as a warehouseman, for The Western Trading Company, working at the Pillar warehouse, in the docks. The school, to my surprise, advised me to stay until I had taken my exams, as it was likely I would get good results, but as usual I wouldn't listen. Dad didn't care, in fact I'm not sure he even knew for a while. So I started work on a weekly wage of £4.
It was many years later before I realised how foolish I had been, wasting the chances I had of a good education. Like most youngsters, I thought I knew it all when in reality I knew next to nothing.
Mum came home again and seemed a lot better. Her stay in Scotland seemed to have done her good. She was well but there was something else on her mind. Before long she asked me if I would leave Gloucester and go to live with her in Scotland. She was going to leave dad and take Gordon and me to live with Gran in Tranent. My answer was, that I loved her but I would not leave Gloucester again. I was a Gloucester boy and I would stay here with dad. She decided to stay with us, she was the most unselfish of people, but when I look back, she should have left us and gone back to her homeland where she was happy. She gradually started to go down hill. I don't know why she slipped back into her illness, but slip she did. It was heartbreaking for me to watch. Since Mum had become ill there hadn't been any joy in our home lives and as the illness got worse I don't think dad could handle it and neither could I. Mum was liable to collapse or stumble around in what looked like a drunken state, complete with slurred speech. Sometimes she would wander off and eventually be brought home by the police. Sometimes it took a long time for her to be found, because people thought she was drunk. I found this aspect of her illness particularly distressing. One day she was found wandering in London and had no knowledge of why of how she had got there. I became increasingly hardened to these bouts of illness until I got to the stage where I ignored them, or left the house as soon as I saw it starting.
Life was pretty bleak, there was very little happiness at home. One evening, my brother Gordon and I were having an argument, when suddenly, dad leapt from his chair and went for me. His arms were outstretched, with his hands open, his intention was obviously to go for my throat. As he came forward I hit him on the bridge of the nose, right between the eyes. The blow knocked him backwards and brought him instantly to his senses. He was still pretty mad though and started yelling at me to get out of his house. Mum said no, don't go. I told him, if you want me to leave, throw me out. He wasn't in a position to do that so he just let it go.
Mum was getting boxes of tablets, in lots of 500 at a time from the Doctor, there didn't seem to be much in the way of care, just keep her doped up as much as possible to keep her quiet. I never agreed with all these tablets but it wasn't my decision. I think Mum got a better standard of care in Scotland, which is why she improved whenever she went there.
I had never had much affection or bodily contact with my family and Mum's illness made the thought of any contact even less attractive. I developed a coldness, bordering on a phobia about bodily contact, which I have never completely shaken off. I still can't tolerate illness and have to get away from it. I still don't like people to physically get too close to me, or to touch me, unless I know them well. If someone does get too close, I have to move away as quickly as I can.
I came home one day to find my Uncle Charlie there. I hadn't seen much of him, over the years I had been growing up. He was what we called, a gentleman of the road. A gentle man he was too. Although he often lived rough or in hostels, he didn't drink and was no trouble to anyone. He was a soft spoken man, with fine features and deep blue eyes. Apparently he had been having a rough time of it, so he was going to stay with us for a while. Dad had set him up with a job, which he didn't really want. Uncle Charlie hadn't worked for years and didn't really want to. He went out every morning, supposedly to his new job, returning late in the afternoon. A couple of weeks went by, then he just disappeared. He had never shown up to the job. He must have just been wandering the streets, passing the time until he could come home. That's just the way he was, he didn't want any responsibility. But he achieved happiness in his own way.
He got a regular bed at the Church Army Hostel in Great Western Road. They were very good to him and looked after him for years. Whenever I bumped into him, I always gave him something.
He used to say, 'don't let anyone see you give me anything, they'll think I'm begging.'
He had been arrested before for begging and was always worried about it.
How times have changed, with beggars on every street.
My new job gave me even more independence, the wages were small, but it was money that I had never been used to. I could now go out every night, as long as I was careful. I started to go to the Locomotive public house, (now The Famous Pint Pot), but then just a small pub. In the back bar I got to know Stuart Crowther and Bill Rand, we went around together for a while and had some good times. They were to become lifelong friends, even though we only bump into each other occasionally.
I saw people in that back bar, tattooing themselves with a needle and a bottle of Indian ink. I made another really stupid decision here, I decided to have a go myself. I got the ink and the needle and tattooed a swallow on my left hand. It's not even very good, I don't know why I thought it would be, as my ability in art was always pretty poor. But I did it and I still have it today.
Stuart, Bill and I walked down Sandhurst lane to the Globe some nights. The Globe was a cider house then. We went into the small front bar, there always seemed to be the same round faced man sitting on a stool. His face was deep red and his nose redder still. It fascinated me every time he lifted his glass to take a drink. His hands shook so much it was a major achievement to get the glass to his lips. If his glass was anywhere near full it was impossible for him to take a drink without considerable spillage. The old joke that goes, 'Do you drink a lot? No I spill most of it' could have been written about him. The cider was cheap and very strong. I was only fifteen and a couple of pints of rough cider had me rolling. We used to stagger back to town, singing and laughing, all the way to the bus stop, where we caught the bus home.
Sometimes I would be the worse for drink and I would make my way to the docks, where I worked. We used to pack the china sanitary ware in straw, when we loaded it on the lorries. The straw was kept in the cellar below the warehouse. I had a key to this cellar and used it to get some sleep, if I had missed the last bus home.
I hadn't been working there very long when on my way home, the chain came off my bike. As I bent over the bike to try to fix it, my wage packet fell out of the top pocket of my shirt. I put my foot on it, as I was using both of my hands to get the chain back on. I got it done, jumped on the bike and rode off. When I got home I went to my pocket and realised what I had done. I got back on to my bike and went back to where I had lost the money, but it was gone. Out of the four pounds I earned, I only got just over two pounds and ten shillings and it was all gone. It doesn't sound much now, but it was a big loss to me.
When I worked in the docks, it was a very different place to what it is now. It was alive with all kinds of commerce. The Western Trading Company that I worked for had three sites. Pillar warehouse, another larger warehouse in the main dock area and the showroom which had it's back entrance in the docks and it's front entrance on Southgate Street. Alongside this showroom was the showroom of rival builders merchants Haine and Corry. Gopsill Brown, the sack makers occupied another of the large warehouses, employing many women. Also employing many girls and women, was the Carpet works, in High Orchard Street, just up the road from where I was working, in Merchants Road. The girls were all around, during lunchtime and packed into the Spa café, or sometimes in the Goat public house in Llanthony Road. Although I was only fifteen, the landlord Frank Mathews would always serve up a pint of cider, seemingly without a second thought. I used my lunchtime trying to chat up the girls, I would have done anything for a job at the carpet works, but never managed it, unlike my friend Roy Cambridge, who has many stories of his own, to tell about his time there.
Ships were constantly coming up and down the canal. For some, Gloucester was as far as they could go. Their cargo, offloaded here, to be moved on by road. West Midland Farmers had a Grain store, not far from Pillar warehouse and I often watched the grain being loaded onto the ships, from a chute on the side of the building directly into the hold. Two fleets of oil tankers ran from Gloucester docks. One by John Harker, the other by the oil company 'Shell.'
My job at Western Trading, was to load the lorries with all kinds of plumbing supplies, They held stocks of bathroom suites, copper cylinders, belfast sinks and flatpack kitchen units, which were on the top floor. I wasn't used to the long hours and physical exertion required for this job, so I got tired in the afternoons. I started climbing up onto the top of the large stacks of flatpack units and getting some sleep. Sometimes I would hear Barry Day, the assistant manager calling me. He had realised I was missing and was searching for me. He always came up in the lift, a floor at a time, opening the door, shouting for me, having a quick look round before closing the lift door and moving on to the next floor. As soon as I heard him, I nipped down the narrow back stairs and ended up below him. I would get on with something, on one of the lower floors or in the cellars, until he found me. It was a very easy going job, perhaps that was why the wages were so low. But I enjoyed it, it wasn't a bad first job.
A policeman called at the house one evening and told me I had been reported for shooting an air rifle at a man in Seventh Avenue, this man was the father of a boy I knew and he knew who I was. I was very distinctive in appearance and would have been very easy to identify. I was mystified as to this accusation, I didn't know what the policeman was talking about. He asked me where I had been at the time of the offence. I thought for a while and remembered that I had been at a metalwork class at night school. They checked and found that I couldn't have done the shooting. I was off the hook, but on any other night I wouldn't have been able to prove where I was. Luck had been on my side. I never found out why that man had identified me, I couldn't be mistaken for anyone else. It was very odd.
Shortly after this incident I went to a dance at St Barnabas Church hall, in Stroud Road. There was nothing memorable about it except that when I was walking home, I met Gerry Blackford and a friend of his whose name I can't remember. As we walked up Tuffley Lane towards the Railway Bridge, Gerry's friend ran across the road and went into the telephone box. We kept walking and he came back across the road carrying the handset from the telephone. We both told him what an idiot he was, but he didn't care and threw the handset away. We carried on under the bridge, turned right, through the alley into Fourth Avenue. Gerry lived a short distance from the alley so I said goodbye to them both when they went into the prefab and continued on my way home, which was probably another half a mile away.
The next morning a policeman came to the door. He said I had been reported for vandalising a telephone box. I said I knew nothing about it, but they had already been to Gerry's and had his name and the name of his friend and they had said that I had done it. I thought, this has nothing to do with me, why are they saying I did it. In my inexperience, the policeman had tricked me, he knew who they were but they hadn't said it was me at all, they had said nothing. I thought, I don't even know this person so why should I worry about it. It was his own fault anyway, so I gave them a statement as to what happened. Gerry hadn't done anything either.
We all had to appear in juvenile court charged with vandalism of GPO property. I still had faith in British justice, so I thought, the truth will come out and Gerry and I would be found not guilty. But I hadn't reckoned on a local Special Police Constable. It transpired that just before I met the other two, they had passed this man's house, in Slimbridge Road and they had been a bit noisy. The copper said, on oath, that he had followed us and that we had all been involved in the vandalism. He had continued to follow us until we all went into Gerry's prefab, which I had never done. Most of his story was a complete fabrication. I had met this special before at the youth club and didn't think much of his overbearing manner then. I thought even less of him after this.
We were all found guilty and I was put on probation. I found this particularly galling because I have always had a respect for property and would never have indulged in vandalism of any kind. I treat all property as I would expect my own property to be treated.
That copper was marked down for future retribution, I knew that one day I would pay him back for his lies.
Gerry and his friend thought that I had betrayed them and unwittingly, perhaps I had. Shortly afterwards I went into the back yard of the Pilot Inn in Southgate Street, to get to the 41 Club which was upstairs at the back of the pub. Gerry and a gang of his friends were in the bar and they saw me walk up the passage. They came out set on me, knocking me to the ground and gave me a kicking. I had to go to the hospital to have some stitches in a cut to my lip. A policeman came and asked me who had done it. I told him to 'fuck off.' My experience with the police and the law, hadn't been very positive, to date.
Some of the men who had given me the kicking, later realised they had been a bit harsh in their judgement and apologised to me. I had more respect for them, than I did for the law.
The 41 club was always a pretty rough venue, probably the roughest place I went to on a regular basis. There seemed to be fight after fight every time I went there . I was never involved in one myself but I saw some spectacular wild west style fights, with chairs and anything they could get hold of, being used as weapons. I was going in one night when I got to the bottom of the stairs, looked up and could see that a fight was already in progress. I could see it was a big one by all the stuff flying about. I stood at the bottom of the stairs thinking perhaps I'll give it a miss tonight, when I saw a girl hit another girl on the head with a tubular chair. She came rolling down the stairs, ending in a heap on the floor. When the fight started to spill down the stairs, I decided it was time to leave. I'd had enough entertainment for one night.
On another occasion, I saw Ernie Hannaford fighting with somebody outside the Pilot. They were going at it hammer and tongs. As they came towards me, I cracked the bloke on the head with my pint mug. That was the end of the fight.
Ernie turned to me and said, 'Thanks mate.'
I said, 'that's all right Ernie, anytime.'
I left my job at Western Trading and went to work as an office junior at Weddel and Co, in Longsmith Street. Keith Bowers worked there, he was a year older than me and had a Vespa scooter. Although I admired it as the epitome of the mod culture, I still longed for a motorbike. Soon I would be old enough.
The meat trade was very different then. There were three meat company's along Longsmith Street. Swift's, Armours and Weddels. The lorries and vans were all loaded, directly off the street. There was no problem with traffic congestion. Meat would also be taken from these wholesalers, in small high sided trolleys called 'dillies', pushed by a meat porter, across Southgate Street, up the cobbles of Bell Lane, into the back of the old Eastgate market, to Butcher's such as W T Johns & Sons and Langley's.
When I finished work on Friday afternoon, the weekend was for fun. That summer I had some great times with my friends. I had money in my pocket and plenty of things to do.
In the simmer of 1965, Terry Gardner was going out with Jean Precious from New Addington, near Croydon. Terry, John Jones Andy Powell and I regularly went there for a weekend. One glorious sunny day we drove up the M4, on our way to a party. We were singing the song by The Loving Spoonful,
What a day for a daydream
What a day for a daydreaming boy
What a day for a daydream
Dreaming about my bundle of joy
It was one of those unforgettable times when everyone was as happy as you could imagine. It was a fabulous party with lots of food and drink and great hospitality. When the part ended we all went back to the Precious household and continued for the rest of the night. In the morning, Mrs Precious came down and made us a breakfast of eggs on toast. We spent the rest of the morning recovering, then set off for home. I needed a weeks rest to get over it. Terry married Jean and moved to New Addington, we never saw each other again for many years. But I have some good memories of our friendship.
On Saturday nights I started going to the Guildhall dances, with Roy Hemmings. The ballroom was really big then, with a sprung wooden floor. It was five shillings to get in and in return for that princely sum, there was a different pop group every week plus the regular Peter Tilley Showband. No such thing as a disco yet. We danced all the time the pop group was on stage, then when the Showband came on it was time to go off to get a Coke. The Guildhall had a strict no alcohol policy, soft drinks only. They were great dances and we soon knew all the regulars. Roy and I were both high profile characters. We moved in on the girls in pairs, danced with them and chatted them up. We did all the latest dances, very proud of our skills. As well as these new dances where you didn't touch your partner, jiving was always popular, we could really show off. I can still see Les (Ernie) Hannaford jiving with two girls at once. He was really great at that. It was very impressive. Dave Orrit was always there looking like he owned the place. Dave was everywhere, everybody knew him, just as they knew me. We were both slightly eccentric, although in different ways.
The Good Goods.
The Good Goods - poster.
I had my distinctive long hair, which was still very popular with the girls but caused a lot of adverse comments from some quarters. Sometimes I had to fight over it, when others took the mickey taking too far. It was always strangers who had never seen anyone with long hair before. One night in the Guildhall, there was a rugby team from somewhere in Wales. They were getting more and more boisterous as the evening wore on, even though there was no drink for sale. At one stage they surrounded me and were taunting me with things like, 'give us a kiss sweetie.'
I was getting annoyed and told them it was time to pack it in.
They said, 'who's going to make us, boyo.'
I pointed to behind them and said, 'they are.'
The Welshmen looked round and they had been surrounded by a very large number of hard men. Instead of backing off, they decided to push their luck a bit further, but it was a bad move and a brawl started, that they couldn't win. The weight of numbers against them, gave them no chance. They tried to make their escape down the stairs and into the street, but it wasn't going to be that easy. They had upset too many people in there and we were out for blood. The fights continued up and down Eastgate Street. The police arrived with dogs, which spread the fighting further afield, as far as King Street and continued until the last of them had been beaten up or escaped.
Roy and I came out of the Guildhall at midnight when the dance ended and made our way up Barton Street to the Imperial café, also known as Otto's. It was one of the few places open at that time of night. We went in for our egg and chips to finish the night off. There was often trouble in there as it was full of drunks and hard men.
The same man came in week after week, covered in blood. I often wondered what had happened to him, but I never found out.
One night a drunk came in and went round everybody's plate, stabbing chips or sausages off them, with a large sheath knife. Nobody argued with him and he thanked everybody he took anything from.
Another night, we were sat eating when Knocker Dalby came in and walked up to Dave Knight and said Hello Mr Knight. Knocker picked up a bottle of sauce and emptied it all over Dave's meal. Dave immediately threw it in Knockers face and a fight broke out. John Williamson who was a regular card player there, came rushing out of the back room and all hell let loose. It was a wild west scene, with crockery flying and chairs being broken over peoples heads. We all started piling out of door, when the police car could be seen coming up Barton Street. We all ran off and scattered to the winds.
From Otto's we made our way up Barton Street, forking left at the India House, up India Road, through an alley, then across Eastern Avenue into Coney Hill Road, where Roy lived with his mum and dad. I often slept in the spare room at Roy's house. It was a different world to my own home. Mrs Hemmings came into the room in the morning with a boiled egg and a cup of tea, for my breakfast in bed. She sang at the top of her voice, which was so bright and happy. It was a very happy house. She was a lovely woman, I'm sure Roy appreciated her.
I started going to London again, to the clubs that were a world apart from the provincial scene. All the latest fashions were there and all the clubs that were so exciting. I frequented The Marquee Club and The Flamingo, both on Wardour Street, where a lot of the big time bands had started their rise to fame. Georgie Fame always put on a great performance, as did The Good Goods, one of the best bands to come out of Gloucester. I saw many great acts, the names I have mostly forgotten, but the atmosphere and the energy of the performances will stay with me forever. The Rolling Stones had been regular performers at the Marquee, but before my time. During the next couple of years, bands such as Ten Years After, John Mayall, Jimi Hendrix, Alan Bown and Geno Washington all appeared at the Marquee, it was one of the greatest venues of all time. The Marquee and The Flamingo were open all night, something unheard of at home. I would hitch hike to London, change my clothes in a station toilet, leave them in a left luggage locker and be ready for a wild weekend. I went back to Carnaby Street, which was getting more famous every day, it was already changing from when I first came here two years ago. The shops were almost all clothes shops now. Full of stuff we would never get in Gloucester.
The fashions came to Gloucester much later than they did in London then. It was a real big deal to go all the way to London for clothes. It was so far away to most people. Most girls and boys of my age had to wait until the fashions came to Leslie Hull's shop in Eastgate Street, next to the Odeon cinema. They were the ones who made the most effort to keep up with what the young people wanted. Without them, Gloucester would have been an even sleepier backwater than it was. We went to see Tony Armstrong or Phil Mathews, who was our own age. They always tried their best to get the latest stuff in, but it had nothing compared to the trendy shops in London.
It seemed very important to me at the time, to be right at the cutting edge of fashion. I loved having the latest clothes and strutted around thinking I was the top man.
More and more Mods were coming out now. Froggy Taylor and Graham Midgeley were also at the forefront with their full-length leather coats in bright colours never before seen on a man. Froggy looking supreme on his scooter festooned with mirrors and foglamps, complete with foxes tail fluttering from a whip aerial. Gloucester was slowly coming alive.
One weekend, my cousin Hugh and I went to London, we had a bad time hitching, sometimes the lifts just didn't come. But we got there in the end. We went to an all nighter at the Flamingo in Wardour Street. We took our good clothes with us, changed when we got there and put our stuff in a left luggage locker in a tube station. When we staggered out in the morning we made our way to the station for a wash and brush up and changed back into our travelling clothes for the journey back. The Club was packed to the seams. As the night wore on, some even managed to grab some sleep in a chair at the edge of the dance floor, despite the deafening noise that never let up. A black soul band was hammering out some great numbers. I wish I could remember who they were, because they had great stage presence and made a great night. Unfortunately a lot of things around this time are a bit vague in my memory. There was a compliment of huge bouncers, dressed in dark suits and wearing tight black leather gloves. Every now and again, the lights would come up and the bouncers would rush through the crowd, grab the troublemakers, drag them to the door and unceremoniously throw them out into the street. But it was a hell of a place.
One night at one of the Guildhall dances, Roy Hemmings and I started dancing with two girls, then chatted them up. We got on well, but Roy had got the one that I wanted. We walked them home, had a snog at the gate and made our way home. I was really disappointed that I hadn't got the girl of my choice, because I really fancied her. The following Saturday, fate took a hand. I was riding my bike along Eastgate Street when she walked across in front of me. We saw each other and stopped for a chat. She was dressed in the uniform of a W H Smith shop assistant. She was a Saturday girl, being still at Central girls school. Before long we made a date for that night.
Jill was different to the other girls I had been going out with. She was something really special to me and we started going steady. I was really proud to be seen with her where ever we went.
I went out with her for what seemed like ages, but in reality was only a few months, but I was obsessed with her. Unfortunately I didn't want to go anywhere. I just wanted us to be alone together all the time. Jill's mum let us use the spare room, or sometimes we would go to my house when there was no one home. Jill soon got fed up with this, but I didn't see the signs until they hit me in the face. Our friends had got used to seeing us together, so one evening when I was out alone, I bumped into a gang of friends at the fair in the park.
One of them said, 'I'm sorry to see you have finished with Jill.'
I said, 'what makes you think that.'
He told me that she had been seen out with Dennis.
I was absolutely furious because I was friendly with Dennis and hadn't expected such treachery. I felt betrayed by both of them.
I walked to where Dennis lived. He was a bit older than me and was old enough to have a scooter. It wasn't there, so I knew he wasn't at home. I walked a little further up the road and sat on the pavement, up against a hedge. It was dark and I was hidden in that darkness. My mood as black as the night. About an hour passed, when I saw Dennis arrive home. It was about 11-o clock. I got up and walked towards the house and went round the back. Dennis had just gone into the kitchen so I knocked gently on the door. He had a look of surprise on his face as he opened it. I stepped past him, giving him the hardest punch in the stomach I can ever remember throwing. Just the one punch sent him to the floor, retching and gasping for breath.
His mother shouted from upstairs, 'what's going on Dennis', but Dennis was in no condition to answer. I said nothing throughout this episode. I just turned and walked away. We both knew why.
My love affair with Jill was near the end. My affection for her has never diminished though. She married a good man and had a lovely family. They are both still my friends. I don't see them very often, but it is always a delight for me when we meet.
One of the best places around was the Blue Moon in Cheltenham. I loved going there, I met Mickey Clarke there who was later to become the drummer in a band along with Wanger Wainright and some other friends. They were a tremendous band, but that's in the future. The Blue Moon was the, 'in place' everyone who mattered was there. I took my first purple hearts here one night. I had the most incredible high. I loved it, I thought I could do anything. My senses were heightened to a degree that I can't describe. I danced closely with a girl and thought she was the most sensual thing I had ever felt. I can't remember her face, just the incredible softness of the dress she was wearing. I regularly took pills of all sort and qualities for a while. Mostly purple hearts and french blues. I had no knowledge of the harm that drugs can do, I think we were much more innocent about it all. I had never heard of such a thing as a drug addict. The pills just made things seem so much better than the reality. I saw some great acts there too, Acts that were great whatever my state of mind. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart made up 'Steampacket.' I loved Julie Driscoll and hardly even noticed Rod Stewart. Lee Dorsey also came to The Moon, hammering out, 'Ride your Pony', now that was a great record! Lee used a real 45-calibre revolver, firing blanks during that record. He sang SHOOT, (BANG) SHOOT, (BANG) SHOOT, (BANG). We had a special dance for that song, which involved a lot of arm movement and could be a bit dangerous if you were too close to the next dancer. I also saw the Good Goods, TheGroundhogs, The Drifters and the mighty Spencer Davis Group with Stevie Winwood. Regrettably, I missed John Mayall at the 1965 Christmas Eve party, they say it was a great show. I resolved to see John Mayall at the next opportunity.
Further along the High Street in Cheltenham, was the Aztec coffee bar. It too was above a shop and was reached by going through a narrow doorway, up a long flight of stairs. It could be a bit rough in there sometimes but it was often the only place open late at night. I was always conscious of the fact that only a couple of years earlier, one of my all time rock hero's 'Brian Jones' had been a regular visitor to the Aztec.
I used to hitch hike to Cheltenham to get to the Blue Moon, I was still only fifteen and had no transport. I was with Hugh one night when a middle-aged man gave us a lift to Gloucester. He said he could take us as far as his home in Escourt Road. When we got to his house he invited us in for a drink, we saw no harm so we thanked him and went inside. He got us a drink and went out of the room. When he came back in, his intentions dawned on us pretty rapidly. He was homosexual and was propositioning us. We declined his offer to stay the night and made a hasty exit. It was my first encounter with anything of that nature, apart from seeing Chummy around the town.
Chummy, whose name was Derek Barrow, was a well-known transvestite. I first saw him walking along Severn Road. I was on the back of Hugh's motorbike. As we went past him, Hugh shouted to me, that's Chummy there. I almost broke my neck, swivelling round to get a better look. I couldn't believe my eyes. He was wearing a tight sweater and a short tight skirt and was tottering along on high heels, at an astonishing rate.
He often went into the Westgate Café, another of the few places that stayed open very late at night. This place was basically a transport café but was as rough as any place I have ever been in my life. It attracted all kinds of humanity. The food was terrible, there really was nothing to recommend the place, except that it was the only place open. I never went there through choice, only if I was with a gang of lads after a night out.
I met Dave Keveren, who rode a gold coloured 1964 Triumph Bonneville, we became friends and Dave carried me on the pillion, all over the place. We decided to go to Bournemouth one Sunday. On the day, the weather didn't look too good, it was cold and foggy, but the forecast was good so we went anyway. The fog got thicker and thicker, we got slower and slower. It took hours to get there, which was particularly annoying when we were on such a fast bike. A couple of miles from Bournemouth, the sun came out and suddenly it was a warm summer's day. But it had taken so long to get here that we only had a couple of hours before we had to start back. We travelled that couple of miles outside of Bournemouth, when the fog closed in again and it took us even longer to get home than it had to get there. But I had some great times with Dave, on that bike.
I wanted one.
I lost my job at Weddel's for being cheeky to the area manager, Fred, the branch manager didn't want to see me go but he had his orders. I had answered the phone to Mr Brooman the area manager, in my usual polite way. Mr Brooman was an offensive man who was used to his rudeness being tolerated,
He shouted, 'FRED.'
I replied, 'yes sir I'll see if I can find him for you, who shall I say is calling', although I knew who it was, by his rudeness.
Mr Brooman shouted, 'just go and get him NOW.'
I put the phone down.
A few minute later, it rang again, I answered the same way as before. This time Mr Brooman bellowed for Fred, I told him I wouldn't be spoken to in that manner and put the phone down again. A few days later, Fred told me I had to leave, but to go to the British Beef Company at the cattle market in St Oswalds Road and to tell them he had sent me. There was a job there doing the same thing, but the money was slightly better. So I finished at Weddel's on Friday and started at British Beef on Monday. I had another office junior's job. It turned out to be a good place to work, I made lots of friends there. I was re acquainted with John Haines, my old adversary from the Crypt school. John was a trainee manager and things were very different between us, we became good friends.
The man who interviewed me and ultimately gave me the job was John Miller. He was a quiet man who often didn't say very much, but when he did it was some of the most stimulating conversation I have ever had. As I got to know him over a period of time, I looked upon him as a great role model. He was very educated and had made the most of his life. He had travelled to Australia and lived there for a while doing all sorts of work and once I got him going, the stories he told will live with me for ever. He taught me to spin a coin with great accuracy, something I still do all the time. He left British Beef to go to teacher training college. During the last week of our time together, I persuaded him to bring his clarinet and saxophone to work, to give us a tune. He had always resisted my pleas, until the last minute. When he started playing, I was overawed with it. It was so good I couldn't understand how anyone could hide such talent, but to John it was nothing. I last saw him during the sixties in Bristol where he had gone to teach at a school. I lost touch after that. He had a profound effect on me and I will never forget him.
A few weeks after I started at British Beef, I saw Mr Brooman picking some meat from a rail of sides of beef. I wandered past him, smiling.
I just said, 'Hello'!
I never spoke to him again.
As soon as I turned sixteen, Dave Keveren found my first motorbike for me. He took me to see it. An old maroon coloured, C12 side valve BSA. I bought it for five pounds and started to learn to ride. It only lasted a couple of weeks, when on the way to Swindon, it packed up and I had to leave it at Cirencester and get a ride home on the back of the Bonneville.
At work the next day I asked the boss 'Roy Evans', if he would let me take a van and driver to Cirencester to collect the bike. Roy Evans was a really nice man and was especially compliant to a request of this nature, in the afternoon, after he had returned from the Bell & Gavel. Roy said it was okay, so I asked Dennis Birch if he would take me. He agreed, so of we went in the meat van. We put the bike in the back, tied it up and took it home to Tuffley. On our way back to work we were going up Southgate Street when Dennis spotted a girl wearing a particularly short skirt. He opened the sliding door of the van so he could hang out for a better look. All of a sudden there was a bang. The traffic in front of us had stopped. So had we, but only when we hit the car in front. It couldn't have happened at a worse time, we had to explain to Roy what had happened, but he was all right about it and didn't moan too much.
I knew nothing about the workings of motorbike engines, then. After due deliberation I decided to cut my losses and I sold it for two pounds. It turned out that a valve had broken and it was soon repaired. But I was not sorry to see it go. It was so feeble compared to Dave's Bonneville. He had to wait for me all the time.
That winter, it was very cold. Things were not very good at home, it was always freezing. Everywhere in the prefab was bitterly cold except for the living room when the coal fire or the paraffin stove was on. If you moved more than a few feet away from the heat source, it was still freezing. The windows would often have ice on them, on the inside. The bedrooms were absolutely bitter cold all of time. At bedtime we got our clothes off as fast as we could and dived into a bed which had as many covers on it as we could pile on. Everything went on the bed, including the old GPO greatcoats that dad had been issued with during his years at the post office. When we woke up we could see our breath, we put our heads under the blanket to warm our noses up, then jumped out of bed and dressed as quickly as we could. Mum wasn't doing very well, things were getting on top of her and I was getting more and more distant when she had a bad day. I couldn't stand to see it, I had to try to ignore it or get out of the house. I loved her but her illness was taking it's toll on all of us.
One morning in April, Gordon had arranged to go out with Hugh. He got out of bed and went into the living room, where he found Mum slumped on the settee. He looked at her, unsure as to whether she was asleep or not. Gordon left the house and went to meet Hugh and told him that there was something wrong with Mum, that it looked like she had collapsed. Hugh told his mum and dad, then came to our house with Gordon. Uncle Den went to the phone box and called for an ambulance. Hugh asked Gordon for a mirror, which he held to Mum's mouth, but there was no sign of life. A few minutes later, Gordon came into my bedroom and woke me up.
He said, 'get up Cliff, I think Mum's dead.'
I said, 'don't be so daft.'
But I got up and went to see what had happened.
I went into the living room and saw Mum lying half on the settee, with a leg hanging off the side, falling to the floor. She was an awful blue colour and was obviously dead and had been for some time.
When the ambulance men came in, they took a look at Mum and put her on a stretcher to take her to the ambulance. As they went through the front door,
I said to one of the ambulance men. 'Will she be all right'?
He replied, 'we'll do what we can.'
We all already knew she was dead.
I got on my bike and went to the Post Office in George Street, where dad was working. I went in and asked to see him. Someone brought him to where I was waiting. He immediately asked what was wrong.
I said. 'Dad, Mum's been taken to hospital and this time it's bad.'
He said. 'How bad is it, son.'
I said. 'I think she's dead, Dad.'
He almost collapsed, he grabbed my arm to steady himself. It was one of the few times I can ever remember him touching me.
A few days later Mum was cremated at the crematorium in Coney Hill.
Even though she had been ill for so long it was no easier to accept. Hugh was very distressed and couldn't join us in the car for the return journey after the funeral service.
I felt even more alone now. We had only been together on and off for the last few years, but her loss weighed very heavily on me. I withdrew into myself, while the rage that burned inside me gradually subsided.
There was an inquest, because she had died suddenly. The inquest showed that Mum had died of barbiturate poisoning. The tablets they had been giving her had built up in her stomach and ultimately, killed her. This happened because the level of care had been so poor. She was ill and had been left to her own devices to ration the pills to the correct dose. She had been unable to do this as often she didn't know whether she had taken them or not. The verdict of the inquest was accidental death. I was burning with anger and publicly accused her doctor of negligence.
I had never fully understood the nature of Mum's illness and only now was it dawning on me that there had been no tumour. Mums illness had been a mental illness, brought on by her inability to cope with dad's constant affairs with many other women. I had been too young to realise what had been going on. I thought he was always out at work. There was never anything said about it, in front of Gordon and me, so we had no perception of what their personal problems were.
It was only later that I realised why Mum always got better when she went to Scotland, it was because they looked after her so much better and she didn't have the problem of dad's unfaithfulness to deal with. Why didn't she leave us and go there. She knew what the truth was.
I suppose I will never fully understand her reasons. I suppose she just couldn't bear the thought of leaving her sons behind. She paid for that loyalty with her life.
Life went on. I was even more independent now. I came and went as I pleased, stayed out at nights, got drunk, got into fights. Life would never be the same again. It was 1966, I was sixteen and I had my own life to live.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.