The hippie era was emerging. We began to be aware of what was happening in San Francisco, Flower Power was the in thing. Love and peace was the slogan that was all around and I was all for that. Scott McKenzie was singing about San Francisco and so were The Flowerpot Men with 'Let's go to San Francisco', even one of my favourite groups, The Animals, released 'San Franciscan Nights.' San Francisco suddenly seemed to be the centre of the universe. Jimi Hendrix burst onto the scene with 'Hey Joe' and 'Purple Haze.' Procul Harum released that great hippie single A Whiter Shade Of Pale.' Even the Rolling Stones changed their musical direction, abandoning for a while, their R&B roots and releasing 'Their Satanic Majesties Request', an essay in Psychedelia, which included the love and peace singles, 'We love you' and 'Dandelion.'
A new club opened at the Cross Hands in Brockworth called The Dandelion. For a while it was the place to go. They had the new psychedelic lights flashing away and everyone was there. It's strange how a small club, hastily constructed in a skittle alley can suddenly become one of the premier meeting places of the in crowd. Another improbable place to suddenly become popular was The Chateau Impney, a bit farther away, in Droitwich. It had a club with soul music hammering away and large grounds, which could be used for romance on warm summer nights. Not many of us had cars so we had to crowd into any car we could, to make the journey to the Chateau on Saturday nights. There was never a shortage of cars going there as long as you knew the right people. For a time there were so many people from Gloucester there, it was as if it were in the middle of town.
The Bristol Hotel was another great venue in the 60s, when Danny Knight was the landlord. It was closer to home and was always a good night, they had some great acts featured there. Mostly local bands but sometimes a bigger name, like Jimmy Cliff, the Jamaican singer who later had a hit with 'Wonderful world beautiful people.' He had a great stage presence and was a big favourite here.
The club took the whole of the 1st floor of the Bristol Hotel. When it got too hot or if I wanted to see who was coming into the club, I used to stand at the top of the stairs leaning against the wall. There are always nasty people who come to these places and try to bully everyone. Tonight I was to come up against a well known thug from Stroud. He had been coming to Gloucester a lot and had made a reputation as a hard man. I was standing at the top of the stairs when he came striding up. He saw me and came right up close. Sticking out of the top pocket of my jacket was a Cadbury's Crunchie bar, which he grabbed and started to unwrap.
I said, 'don't do it mate.' I knew the Hippie ideal of peace and love was about to go out of the window.
He was supremely confident and continued to unwrap it laughing as he did so.
I said nothing, just watched and waited.
He put the Crunchie in his mouth to take a bite.
At that instant, I punched him on the end of the Crunchie sending it to the back of his throat. He flew backwards down the stairs, landing on his back. A second later I launched myself off the top of the stairs and landed on his chest, feet first. He was choking and spluttering and had gone an awful purple colour. John Williamson, who was the bouncer on the door came running to see what was happening. When he saw this guy gasping for breath, he turned and looked at me.
I said 'I think it's time he went home John.'
He agreed, picked the bully off the floor, took him to the door and threw him into the street.
The Bristol Hotel was mostly a good place to go, with occasional spectacular outbursts of fighting. I managed to steer clear of most of it, but sometimes it wasn't possible. I was standing next to my cousin Hugh, trying to ignore the drunken antics of Bronco Jelf and Gordon (Agsie) Hayes. They were both hard men and it was best to keep out of their way when they had this much drink on board. I had known Agsie for years and wasn't on my guard as I would have been had a stranger been acting the way he was. They were dancing, after a fashion, reeling around, bumping into people who couldn't get out of the way. I was far enough away not to be affected by this, so I was looking around, largely unconcerned. Out of the blue I was suddenly attacked by Agsie, who took me by surprise and was trying to stick the nut on me while pushing me backwards. I ducked my head into his chest and kept close, so that he couldn't hurt me and started to fight back. I was still going backwards and soon came to the stage, which was only about a foot high. As I hit it, I fell backwards with Agsie on top of me. One of the guitar players in the group had seen what was happening and kicked Agsie in the head, making him roll off me. I jumped up just in time to see John Williamson coming to sort it out. We were both grabbed, with a view to being thrown out.
I said, 'hold on John, Agsie is drunk, he had a go at me out of the blue.'
John knew it was the truth and said 'okay.'
He left me alone and escorted Agsie and Bronco, from the premises.
A few nights later I was in there again and a buzz was going round that Agsie was in the bar, looking for me. I thought, I'm not waiting for him to find me, I'll go to him.
I walked up to him and said 'what's the problem Agsie.'
He replied 'Hello Cliff, what's up'?
I told him I had heard he was looking for me because of the fight the other night.
He said, 'Oh no, that wasn't you was it? I'm sorry mate, I was so pissed I didn't know what I was doing.'
I said, I realised that and it wasn't a problem.
He was so drunk, I don't think he ever really knew what happened that night.
Hughie asked me if I would look after the girls while he and Diana went to his Works Christmas dinner and dance. Of course I agreed, Hughie had become my best friend and I was very fond of Diana, Gill and Carol. I enjoyed being with them all. Hughie and Diana went off to the dance in a coach, which had been supplied by the company so that everyone could have a drink. I don't think they meant for anybody to get in the state that Hughie did though. I heard the coach arrive outside and opened the front door to let them in. what I saw was one of the funniest sights I have ever seen. Diana walked straight down the path and into the house, looking a little disgusted with her husband. Hughie was staggering all around the garden, unable to make out where the door was. I went to him and helped him into the house. As we went through the front door, he tried to get to the bathroom, which was straight ahead. He never made it, he was sick all over the lino. If you've ever tried to walk on wet lino, you know what's coming next. Hughie was already unsteady on his feet and had no chance at all on vomit covered lino. He skidded a few times then went down with a crash, then crawled, or rather slithered along until he got to the bathroom, leaving a trail of slimy diced carrots behind him. I went back through the living room, into the kitchen and saw Diana putting the kettle on, totally unconcerned. She asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee.
I said 'Yes please, but shouldn't we keep an eye on Hughie.'
She said, 'No! Leave the silly sod to suffer.'
We sat and drank our coffee, then I helped Diana take the grips out of her hair, all the while listening to the sounds of suffering coming from the bathroom. Eventually, it went quiet so I decided to go into the bathroom to check on him. He was on his knees with his head hanging over the rim of the toilet bowl, snoring gently. He had gone to sleep.
I woke him up and helped him into the bedroom, where he flopped onto the bed and went out like a light. Diana slept in the kid's room that night. The next morning I came to see how he was, he was up and about as if nothing had happened. It was a remarkable recovery. But Hughie MacPherson is a remarkable man in many ways.
It was with Hughie, on a trip to Taunton, that I first realised that I might need spectacles. We were travelling in an old Thames Trader meat lorry, rattling along the A38 from Bristol, towards Cheddar, when Hughie pointed to something up on a hill. I said, 'I can't see anything.' Hughie said, 'are you joking.' I assured him I wasn't. He said he thought I should go to an optician. I took his advice and found that I was quite severely short-sighted. I had always thought my sight was as good as any one else's. When I had my first glasses, it was a revelation but I only wore them when I felt I needed to. I didn't like being seen wearing them. It didn't fit my image, but I kept breaking them and soon realised that the safest place for glasses was where they were supposed to be. Sitting on top of my nose. I have never liked wearing glasses and don't think I ever will.
Hughie drove a Seddon lorry at times and I took many trips with him in it. There were very few rules for lorry drivers then. No tacograph or log books to worry about. He would take the lorry home and leave it outside the house overnight. On a freezing cold morning, Hughie tried to start the lorry, without success. He said I'll get it going and disappeared into the house. He came back with a crumpled newspaper. He told me to sit in the driver's seat and turn the engine over and give it plenty of revs when it fired. I turned the key and the starter motor got the engine turning. Hughie lit the newspaper and waited a few seconds until it was well alight, then he stuffed it down the air filter which was sucking vigorously. Suddenly there was a mighty bang and the engine was running. As I revved it there was a cloud of black smoke and debris coming from the exhaust, but it soon cleared and we were off.
The Macpherson family booked for a Sunday coach trip to Weston Super Mare. They had only booked four places, for themselves and the two girls. When Hughie's mum said she would have liked to have been able to go, Hughie and I decided we would go together on my bike and meet them there. We set off much later than they did and had a good fast run. The weather wasn't that good, we set up windbreaks on the beach and put on our costumes, but it was a bit cool and showery. Never the less, we had a good day out. On the way back, I was howling up the fast lane of the M5 motorway at around 110 miles per hour when I felt Hughie hitting me on my back. I turned to see what he wanted and he pointed to the nearside lane. I saw it immediately, how I had missed it I don't know. The traffic in the two slower lanes had been quite heavy and tucked in between the traffic was a motorway patrol car. As I looked back, I saw the blue light come on and thought, 'Oh Bollocks.' I opened the bike up as fast as it would go. We were approaching the sliproad for the A38 at Patchway so I swooped off the motorway as fast as I could and kept going. I looked behind and saw the blue light following, but it was a long way back. I kept going, slowing for nothing, the blue light was ever receding, until after five or six miles, we couldn't see it any more. We came to Falfield and saw a pub on the left. I braked as hard as I could and screeched into the car park. There was a huge Mark 9 Jaguar parked there, so I pulled alongside it, putting it between me and the road. We jumped off the bike and waited. A few seconds later the police car came flying past, blue lights still flashing. We had escaped. We laughed aloud and went into the pub for a drink and to spend a bit of time, so the police could forget about us.
In 1968 I met a young man who would become a lifelong friend. Suresh Karadia had come to Gloucester when his family had left Africa. He was a photography student, who was extremely talented and indeed dedicated to the craft he wanted to make his livelihood. We started to hang around together. I was still riding like a lunatic, but Suresh didn't seem to mind. One day we were going down Stroud Road towards town, from where Suresh lived, in St Barnabas close, when I took the bend, just past Ribston hall school, a bit too fast. We came around the bend to find a bus stopped and a car coming the other way, so I couldn't go past. I heaved on the brakes, got into a skid and down we went. When we came to rest, the bike had gone past the bus, but somehow we had ended up underneath the side of it. We crawled out from underneath the bus and checked ourselves over. We were amazed to find no injuries to either of us. We picked up the bike and that too was okay apart from the odd scratch. I kicked it over, it burst into life and we were off again.
I was giving Suresh a lift home one afternoon, travelling along Eastern Avenue at high speed. He saw me and started to turn. The chase was on. I gave the bike all I could and left the police car for dead. At St Barnabas roundabout we turned right, down Stroud Road, then left into St Barnabas Close. I turned onto the drive of Suresh's house, we jumped off and ran into the house. The police must have just caught sight of us as we turned into the Close, because they came hurtling up the road, screeching to a halt at the end of the drive. Two coppers jumped out of the car looking very angry. As they came to the door, we came out.
I said, 'hello, what do you want.'
One of the policemen said, 'you were speeding along Eastern Avenue and Finlay Road.'
I replied, 'no, not us mate, we've been here for ages, we're just going out.' The bike was creaking and gently smouldering from the heat of the chase, but I looked him straight in the eye and denied it.
He said, 'you were going so fast, I was flat out and you were pulling away from me. I know it was you but I didn't get close enough to be sure. I'm going to be watching you.'
With that, they got back into the car and left. Another victory for the motorcycle.
Two weeks later, on a warm Sunday afternoon, I was riding gently along Stroud Road at around the speed limit. I was thinking that all was well with the world, when I saw a police car parked at the side of the shops, just before St Paul's traffic lights. I looked and thought no more of it. The lights were on red so I stopped behind a small queue of traffic. Suddenly I heard a police siren, I looked behind and saw the same police car that had been parked by the shops.
He shouted, 'pull over around the corner.'
When we stopped, he got out of the car and what a surprise? It was the copper from two weeks ago.
He went into police robot speak and recited, 'I have followed you for three tenths of a mile in which you exceeded the speed limit at 53 miles per hour.' I replied ' you fucking liar, you were parked by the shops.'
He just repeated his original statement, adding, 'hard luck.'
He gave me the ticket and walked away, smirking. Okay, he had got me for the other time, but I still hadn't met a copper that wasn't bent.
A few of us started going to the Embassy Club in Cheltenham. It was a small casino with all the usual games, my favourite being the craps, a game of dice. On Saturday nights, to liven the place up they usually had a stripper on. It was first time I had ever seen a stripper performing, she was at very close quarters and I found it very exciting. I was only earning about ten pounds a week and I set myself a limit of a pound as stake money. If I lost that, then I would give up. That gave me a minimum of eight tries on the craps table at half a crown a go. I rarely lost that pound and could usually play all evening, coming out around even or slightly up. One time I had what was a really big win for me, I came out twelve pounds up. Gambling never got the better of me though, that twelve pounds was probably the biggest win I have ever had. Although enjoying the thrill of winning, I could never get used to the disappointment of losing, so I decided not to become a gambling man.
I was walking around town one Saturday afternoon, idling the time away, when I bumped into Chunkie Kemmett. We talked for a while, then he said, 'do you fancy a meal'?
I said, 'yes, why'?
He said, 'we'll go down to the Gloucester rugby club and get something to eat.'
On the way, he explained that he did this occasionally and no one ever seemed to notice. The game had finished and rugby players traditionally have a meal afterwards. He told me we just had to wait until the players came out of the changing rooms to make their way to the clubhouse and join them. The Gloucester boys would think we were with the opposition and vice versa. We wandered into the clubhouse, sat down and were served a good meal, had a laugh and a joke with the teams, then wandered off. Nobody had taken any notice at all.
Back in town, I was going round with a gang of lad's. Some of them were shoplifting on a grand scale. I had indulged in a little shoplifting when I was a young boy, but this was too bad. They stole everything they could get their hands on. I didn't like it and had to stop meeting with them during the day. Brut aftershave was the fragrance that was the big thing at the time. If you weren't wearing Brut, you were nobody. It was the biggest thing on the shoplifting list. Shops had to make sure that it was locked away, they quickly learned that any Brut, even the sample bottle would disappear.
I was getting bored with all this and decided to join the Royal Marines. It was a decision that most of my friends met with incredulity, they said I must be mad, they couldn't believe it. I can hardly believe it myself, looking back. God knows what was going on in my head at the time I made that decision. I suppose I was just fed up with the aimlessness of my life and wanted to try something different.
A view along The Oxbode towards Northgate Street.
Four Mods in King's Square.
The Oxbode from King's Square.
The Oxbode from King's Square.
A View across the car park in Kings Square, showing the billboards on The Regal. Up the Junction is showing at the cinema. Coming soon, live on stage, are Gene Pitney, The Kinks, The Herd and The Tremeloes.
My brother Gordon outside the Technical College in Brunswick Road. Note the new Eastgate Market under construction in the background.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.