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We didn't know that we had a Booker prize entrant

Unbeknownst to many of us, our social secretary, Tony, has actually had a book published (something tells me that he might have financed the publication himself). Be that as it may, he has offered us the chance to read of his mis-doings and I must admit that it makes for good reading. I am not too sure whether he should enter it for the Booker, the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize or the Walter Scott Prize. Have a read and let us know what you think.

Chapter 1 - Sandgrown Chapter 2 – Mereside Chapter 3 – Early lessons
Chapter 4 – Junior School Chapter 5 – First encounter with Brian London Chapter 6 – Senior School
Chapter 7 – 60’s Television Chapter 8 – Early Teens Chapter 9 – What a riot!
Chapter 10 – Fashion Faux Pas! Chapter 11 – Off to work. Chapter 12 – Accident.
Chapter 13 – Second encounter with Brian London. Chapter 14 – Collar and Tie. Chapter 15 – Married Life.
Chapter 16 – Tall stories at the Legion. Chapter 17 – Thespian activities. Chapter 18 – The 80’s and 90’s.
Chapter 19 – The Home Front. Chapter 20 – Orphaned! Chapter 21 – A New Millennium.
Chapter 22 – Jolly Boys. Chapter 23 – Recollections of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Chapter 24 – Uprooting.
Chapter 25 – A life changing experience. Chapter 26 – Grandad! Chapter 27 - Retirement.

So here is episode 1

Chapter 1 – Sandgrown

On the north-west coast of England overlooking the Irish Sea lies the holiday resort of Blackpool, famed for its seven golden miles of beach, 3 piers and the Blackpool Tower. In 1879, it became the world’s first municipality to install electric street lighting and in 1885 opened its famous tramway which still runs on 11 miles of track from South Shore (Starr Gate) to Fleetwood.

Among its other attractions are the Pleasure Beach, the Sandcastle indoor water park, (at the time of writing, the largest in the U.K.) and, of course, the world famous Blackpool Illuminations. As far as I am aware, there is only one Blackpool in the world (other than Blackpool Sands in south Devon) although Dublin, (Dubh Linn), just across the Irish Sea, is derived from the Irish for black pool.

Being born in Blackpool qualifies for the soubriquet “Sandgrown”: Frank Swift, England goalkeeper who died in the Munich air disaster, George Carman Q.C., TV presenter Zoe Ball, journalist Alistair Cooke, Graham Nash from The Hollies, Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop boys and the politician, Chris Patten are all “Sandgrown” and somewhat lower down the celebrity scale, well, not actually registering at all … so am I!

On the 20th February, 1950, my mother was taken from Glenroyd Maternity Hospital, Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, to Victoria Hospital where I was delivered by caesarean section before we were both returned to Glenroyd.

A week later I was taken home to 41, Fir Grove, Blackpool, about 1 mile from the hospital and in March that year I was christened James Anthony Crane at St. John Vianney Church where my parents James William Crane and Audrey Beryl Moffatt had been married in 1949.

My parents Wedding Day 1949 with Dad’s brother, Tom and Mum’s sister, Muriel.
My parents Wedding Day 1949 with Dad’s brother, Tom and Mum’s sister, Muriel.

Fir Grove, a small terraced property about 3 miles from Blackpool town centre was shared with my paternal grandparents, James & Doris Crane (shown below on their wedding day in 1926), as well as Dads younger brother, Tom, so things must have been pretty cramped when I arrived. I was known as Anthony as three James’ in the house would have proved too confusing.

My grandparents Wedding Day in 1926.
My grandparents Wedding Day in 1926.

My earliest recollection is of being held in my grandfather’s arms in a small rear bedroom with deep red curtains which, when the sun was shining, filled the room with a rosy glow. My Grandad was wearing a green & white striped dressing gown and “shushing” me to sleep.

People tell me that I couldn’t possibly remember this as he died in 1951 but I know what I know, and I vividly remember the scene.

I also remember crawling under the bed in my infancy and discovering an accordion although I don’t know who it belonged to and don’t recall it ever being played.

I vaguely recall though, trapping my fingers in it and, according to my mother, “screaming the house down”.

Dad rode in a Cycle Speedway team whose cinder racetrack was on wasteland just off Waterloo Road. He also played football for St. John Vianney Church Team on a Saturday afternoon and in winter my Mum would get the tin bath from the outhouse, place it in front of the fire and fill it with steaming water for when he arrived home still in his football kit and covered in mud.

I was allowed to play in the bath once he had finished with it, (probably ending up dirtier than when I got in) and then Mum would make his evening meal which, on Saturdays, was always egg, bacon and fried bread accompanied by a mug of steaming tea as they listened to Sports Report at 5:00 pm with its distinctive opening music, (still played today by the way) for the football results read by Raymond Glendenning.

I remember climbing into bed with my Grandma in the mornings whilst negotiating the obstacle that was the “chamber pot”. She would turn the “wireless” on and we would listen to the BBC Light Programme. My favourite tune was “I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside” played by Reginald Dixon on the massive Wurlitzer organ from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and Grandma would sing along to it.

Behind Fir Grove on Dover Road was Seddons Ice Cream factory and I soon learned that if I sat on the kerb next to the factory doors, I would be given an ice cream cone by the friendly workers taking a cigarette break in the sunshine.

Other suppliers of treats for my consumption were provided by next door neighbours, Etty Liversidge, (sounds like a character from a Les Dawson sketch doesn’t it?) at number 39 and Mr & Mrs Way at number 43. In the days before instant coffee, Mrs Way would make it in a pan on the stove using milk and “Camp Coffee” which, if I remember correctly was chicory essence and she was still using it when I called in to see her one day in my early teens.

Whilst my Uncle Tom was doing National Service, (Dad had already done his stint in the Fleet Air Arm, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland), Grandma found his precious record collection of 78’s hidden under his bed featuring artistes such as Johnnie Ray, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. She then proceeded to put them in the oven until they were pliable and fashion them into plant pots to sell at jumble sales. (Those of you old enough may remember them).

She didn’t even have to drill a drain hole in them as they already had one right in the middle! Fortunately, I don’t recall his reaction when he arrived home on leave!

A more practical use for a Frank Sinatra record!
A more practical use for a Frank Sinatra record!

My brother, Andrew arrived in April 1951 and on my second birthday, Mum and Dad bought me a small red and yellow “Triang” tricycle which I immediately “bent” by riding down the alley between the houses and straight into a brick wall This was mainly due to the fact that my Dad neglected to tell me how to use the brakes!

Mum would often take me by bus to visit my Nan at Layton and I would spend hours standing on the footbridge at Layton Station as the trains passed underneath enveloping me in a cloud of steam from their funnels.

In 1953, my parents took me on holiday leaving Andrew with Grandma while we went to Middleton Towers Holiday Camp near Morecambe for a week. Mum and I travelled in the sidecar of his 1000cc Vincent motorbike and I remember a wasp entering its confined space as we drove over a bridge at Garstang en route and my Mum trying to grab Dad’s attention to tell him to pull over.

Sadly, my Dad couldn’t hear a thing through his crash helmet and blithely carried on regardless. The wasp ended up splattered against the window of the sidecar after a deft blow from Mum with a rolled up newspaper.

My only memory of the holiday itself was of me cutting my leg open on a slide and having iodine and plasters applied.

Middleton Towers Holiday Camp. 1953
Middleton Towers Holiday Camp. 1953

In that same year, my Uncle Tom took me to nearby Spen Corner at Marton, and sitting on his shoulders, we cheered the victorious Blackpool football team who, that weekend, had beaten Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in that memorable ’53 Cup Final, with Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen holding aloft the F.A. Cup as they passed down Waterloo Road in an open top bus.

As well as the F.A. Cup, my sister, Judith also arrived in 1953 and shortly after, we left Fir Grove for a council house on the newly built Mereside Estate on the outskirts of Blackpool.

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Chapter 2 – Mereside

Bounded to the north by Preston New Road and to the south by Clifton Road the construction of Mereside Estate commenced after the second world war and the first houses were occupied in 1949 with all the streets and roads on the estate being named after places in the Lake District A continuously vandalised windmill, built in 1838 and in use until 1923 rests on a rise in a strip of green between Preston New Road and Langdale Road.

Our new house at 38 Branstree Road with its 3 bedrooms seemed absolutely massive to us. Moving in must have been a great relief to Mum & Dad (as well as Grandma) and it was newly built, so everything was “spick and span”. There were acres of undulating fields behind the house so plenty of room to play and explore. We would spend hours there playing “Japs & Commandos” using pieces of tree branches as rifles with the other boys on the estate and were the envy of them all when my Mum’s brother, Uncle Alan presented us with 2 hand-made wooden Tommy Guns. No more sticks for the Cranes!

Uncle Alan was a bit of a “black sheep” but we thought he was great especially when he turned up one day with an enormous wooden chest full of Meccano for us. He also arrived one Bonfire Night with a massive cardboard box full of fireworks. Sadly, he forgot to close the lid and a stray spark set the lot off. Cue panic from all the adults whilst we looked on in amazement. It was never asked where he got all these things from but if they “fell off the back of a lorry”, they were remarkably undamaged!

Visiting Santa at RHO Hills, Blackpool with Judith and Andrew c1956
Visiting Santa at RHO Hills, Blackpool with Judith and Andrew c1956

Across the back fields, on Clifton Road loomed Marton Gasworks, an enormous brick edifice which continually spouted steam and smoke and stood beside two enormous gasometers. Once used to the fumes, we never noticed it, but visitors would always comment on the strange smell in the area.

As kids, we were often given 2/6d (12.5p in new money) to wheel an old pram down to the works for a sack of coke. This was a smokeless fuel by-product of the gasworks and radiated far more heat than a coal fire (with much less mess). We would arrive in the yard where there was a set of weighing scales with an enormous bucket and 56lb weight, ring a hand bell and await the arrival of a workman who would fill the bucket with coke, pour it into a sack and lift it into the pram.

Going back home pushing the pram was quite a struggle with a sack of coke and a hill to negotiate especially in winter when our hands would be tingling with the cold but I only have fond memories of those times. Mum would often supply me with slices of bread which I toasted over the fire with a toasting fork. (Do they still exist?)

One misty day in winter, I recall sledging down a hill at the bottom of Deepdale Road and overrunning onto Clifton Road. Hearing a screech of brakes, I looked up to see the front end of a lorry that had stopped just in time before I disappeared under it’s front wheels. The lorry driver jumped out of his cab and aimed a few choice words in my ear before setting off again.

I got home, visibly shaken to ask my Mum what “stupid little bastard” meant but was sent to bed and no explanation for the phrase was forthcoming.

At that time, Dad drove a goods wagon for a Blackpool sweet manufacturer called Waller & Hartley and I remember him taking me to Manchester to collect sacks of flour for the factory. We drove into a flour mill and parked up besides an opening in the wall. Dad would press a button next to the opening and shortly after; a sack of flour would fly down a chute and out of the opening onto the bed of the wagon where he would pick it up and place it with the others in a neat pile.

As he was carrying one of the sacks, I reached up and pressed the button whilst his back was turned only to be completely flattened and winded by the arrival of the next sack. After removing the offending item from my chest and checking I was OK, he gave me a stern telling off and we departed Manchester with me sat in the cab of the lorry covered in flour dust.

Our next door neighbours, the Siddall's, had a son called Harold who was about 10 years older than me. One morning about 8:30 whilst sat on the wall outside our house waiting for my pals to turn up and “play out”, Harold came out with his fishing rod and gear and told me that he was going fishing at “Great Elm”, a local pond about 20 minutes’ walk away through the fields. He agreed to take me with him and we duly walked off.

Unfortunately, I neglected to tell Mum where I was going and when we returned a few hours later, Harold’s face drained of colour as we walked up the street and saw a posse of neighbours outside our house organising a search party.

Big as he was, his Mum dragged him in by the ear and I was sent to bed and not allowed out for a week. (I think they call it “grounded” now). Strange as it may seem, Harold never took me fishing again!

Across the road from No.38 lived Neil Stewart. He was 5 years older than me and was the oldest member of our “gang”. His was the first family to purchase a television and we used to go over to his house to watch it. Our knock on the door was accompanied by a cry from Neil indoors shouting, (much to our embarrassment), “Mum, the Cranes are here again, can they come in”? I also remember him getting a metallic blue racing bike with “dropped handlebars” for his birthday and everyone wanted a go on it but he’d only let you sit on the crossbar whilst he rode it.

I once spent all day with him waiting for a GPO delivery van to turn up with his new cricket whites, the trousers of which, he assured me, were made from the white skin of a shark’s underbelly! Naturally enough, I believed him although when I told my Mum, she just looked at me pitifully, shook her head and said nothing.

He brought a set of darts over one day and made me stand against the wooden wash house door whilst he threw them around my head, knife thrower style. When he finally conceded to a role reversal, I promptly threw the first dart into the top of his head. Stunned, and obviously not in too much pain, he went home and told his Mum what I’d done.

Mrs Stewart arrived at our front door a few minutes later accompanied by Neil (with the dart still in his head) to complain to my Mum who suggested that at his age, he should have known better than to give me the darts in the first place whereupon he sheepishly admitted that he had been doing the same trick with me. Mrs Stewart promptly clipped his ear and the dart dutifully fell out.

Across the road was a large, oval shaped green in Birkside Way where we used to play football, (not allowed any more I believe). After tea one evening, Neil informed us all that the Eagle comic hero, Dan Dare would be landing on the green that evening on his way to a mission in space. The garden walls on the estate were only about 2 feet high and we were sitting there awaiting the arrival of our hero when suddenly, the dulcet tones of Mum shouting “Anthoneeeeee, time to come in” were heard. (She refused to call me Tony until I started work).

“But Mum, I’m waiting for Dan Dare; can I have a bit longer”? I pleaded. “NO, bedtime, NOW” came the reply and I trudged back over the road to the sound of jeers from my friends.

Dan Dare – pilot of the future. Sadly I missed him!
Dan Dare – pilot of the future. Sadly I missed him!

Dan Dare – pilot of the future. Sadly I missed him!

The next morning, Neil told me that Dan had duly arrived in his rocket, chatted with them all for a few minutes and then took off to fight his sworn enemy, the Mekon.

I was devastated and told my Mum as much. Once again, that pitiful look and shake of the head were cast in my direction.

(To this day, I’ve always wondered what Neil’s excuse would have been if I’d have been allowed to stay out for “the landing”).

Over the years, I’ve often thought about those times and especially Neil’s tall stories and now realise that, in the modern vernacular, he would now be referred to as a bullshitter!

Grandma had by now sold Fir Grove and moved in with us as a permanent baby sitter whilst my parents went to work. Uncle Tom, who worked for the Blackpool Evening Gazette, was a frequent visitor and would bring us all sorts of toys to play with. I remember him turning up one day with a plastic gun which launched circular propellers. After taking off the packaging, he placed the propeller on the gun and wound it up.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t read the instructions, (most men don’t), wound it too far and the whole thing flew apart in bits.

Much to Grandmas annoyance, (“You spend too much on those kids Thomas”), he went straight round to the shops, bought an enormous balsa wood glider and took us on the back fields to launch it. Sadly, on its inaugural flight it disappeared into the distance and after much searching, we discovered it on an unreachable rooftop two streets away. Tom tragically died in his late forties and was always one for buying the latest gadgets. He was well into photography and built his own darkroom in the loft as well as being the first person I knew to purchase a video recorder, a Ferguson Videostar as I recall. He would have been in his element in todays high-tech society

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Chapter 3 – Early lessons

I don’t know how much Dad was earning as a lorry driver at that time but it couldn’t have been much as my Mum would earn extra cash hand painting toy soldiers in our spare room for Casdon Toys on Clifton Road. When we were all of a school age, she worked as a typist in the office of Hymans Jewellers in Blackpool and told me that in the 1940’s she had also worked as a typist for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at The Glendower Hotel, St. Annes which the government had taken over for the duration of the war.

I must have been about 6 or 7 when I recall riding my bike round to the shops on Mereside and leaving it outside the Post Office which was run by Mr Riddell who I remember as being a really nice chap. I went in to buy some sweets, my favourites were Penny Arrow toffee bars, Sherbet Fountains and Dolly Mixtures (which I still buy today). I then wandered into the “Chippy” for “three (3d) of chips” served by Charlie Joyce who ran the shop.

Prior to opening the Chippy, Charlie had operated an ice cream van on the estate and from the day he opened in 1955/6 to the day I left Mereside in 1973, Charlie never introduced any new products. It was only ever fish, chips, Holland’s pies & puddings, mushy peas and gravy. Nothing as exciting as curry sauce!

When I came out with my chips the bike was gone and I saw one of the girls from the estate that had a reputation as a bit of a tomboy riding away on it. I shouted at her to bring it back but she just rode off laughing leaving me to trudge home in tears. A couple of days later, I was in the front garden of a friend who lived across the road when we saw the girl accompanied by an older woman, riding down the road towards us bold as brass on my bike. I picked up a big lump of dried mud from the garden and, as they road past, threw it at her whereupon she ducked and the mud caught the older woman, (evidently, her mother) flush on the side of the head!

I watched in horror as she fell off her bike and decided that a quick exit from the scene was the best course of action so I ran round the back of the property into the wash house and hid behind the door not daring to breathe. I could hear the woman searching the garden mouthing threats of death but amazingly enough; she never looked behind the door where stood holding my breath and quaking in fear. After what seemed like an eternity, my mate came to find me to tell me that they had both gone and I could come out of hiding but I never saw my bike again!

Some of the questions I would ask my parents during this time were answered with the following inexplicable comments:

Q. Mum, where’s Dad?A. In a bottle on t’roof!
Q. Dad, where’s Mum?A.Run away with a black man!
(Political correctness hadn’t yet arrived)
Q. Mum, where have you been?A. There and back to see how far it is!
Q. Grandma, where’s Mum?A. Gone to Wem for 2 eggs.
(Wem evidently is in Shropshire but I never quite understood the meaning of this reply – and I still don’t)

My Mum was also quite superstitious and some of her sayings included:

  • Never put new shoes on a table.
  • Never cut your nails on a Sunday.
  • If you go out of the front door and return for something you’d forgotten, sit on a chair for one minute with your feet off the floor before departing again!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Strange ways indeed!

Early schooldays

At the tender age of 4, I was taken by Mum to the bus stop outside the local shops to catch the “School Special” which would take me to Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Primary School on Common Edge Road in Blackpool. None of my mates were Catholic so I didn’t know a soul on the bus and no parents were allowed to travel on it. A little bit tearful, I arrived at school for my first day decked out in a scarlet blazer and cap, short grey trousers, grey shirt, grey socks and a red tie.

I was placed with another group of new starters in Miss O’Brien’s class and sat next to a boy called Brian. We told each other our names and waited to see what would happen next. Miss O’Brien said that she was going to write all our names in a register and came round the classroom giving each child a strip of stretchy stuff to play with. Both Brian and I had no idea what this strip of bendy material was but he eventually decided to take the lead, took an enormous bite out of it and commenced chewing. I was about to follow his lead but fortunately, the girl sat in the desk behind who was obviously more worldly than us promptly told Miss O’Brien that the boy in front of her was eating his Plasticine. It was duly confiscated.

Later that week, I was sat at my desk in some distress as I badly needed to “evacuate my bowels” but had no idea whether to wait for playtime or ask Miss O’Brian for permission to go to the toilet. Sadly, I did neither and as I sat there, nature eventually took its course. Brian casually edged away from me and the know-all girl behind us shouted “Miss, Anthony Crane has done it in his pants”.

Miss O’Brien calmed everyone down as most kids in the class were now making matters worse by holding their noses and loudly shouting “Urrrgh, what a pong”. She took me down the corridor to the caretakers room where there was a big stone sink and standing me in it, stripped me completely (as every item apart from my tie was contaminated) and using a block of pink carbolic soap, a sponge and plenty of hot water, managed to clean me up. Leaving me standing naked in the sink, she went in search of replacement clothes eventually returning with an old faded uniform which was used to dress Archie, the school Teddy Bear mascot who was much bigger than me. She dressed me in Archie’s uniform and returned me to the classroom to much sniggering, wrapping my washed clothes in newspaper and a paper carrier bag for me to take home.

I can still see my Mum’s face as, dressed in a faded school uniform which was much too big, I knocked on the front door and sheepishly handed over my previously pristine one. Can you imagine the above course of events being allowed to happen today? It was all perfectly innocent with no damage done (except to my pride) and resulted in a letter of thanks from my Mum to Miss O’Brien.

Miss O’Brien’s class, 1954. I’m in the centre of the back row.
Miss O’Brien’s class, 1954. I’m in the centre of the back row.

During the first few weeks at school, we were visited by the school health inspector at which event, my Mum had to attend. After being weighed and had a stick pressed down on my tongue, I had to stand on a chair dressed only in white underpants (coloured ones didn’t exist then) and a vest. The doctor pulled my underpants down to my knees, inspected my penis and muttered to my Mum, “Circumcision, I think Mrs Crane”.”What’s circumcision Mum?”, I asked as we walked to the bus stop outside school.”Nothing to concern you Anthony" came the reply. This was in the autumn of 1954 and I amdreading the sound of that appointment dropping through the letterbox. No, it hasn’t arrived yet!

The Head Teacher at Our Lady’s was Miss Nicholson who ruled the school with a rod of iron (not to mention the “sugar cane” which was used on the pupils sparingly should they transgress). She struck fear into everyone, (teachers included I think), with her strict demeanour and rigid rules and the kids were terrified of her. I believe she previously worked in Africa as a missionary and was still active at school, raising funds for the children over there. There was a PA system at the school with a loudspeaker in every classroom and I lived in dread of hearing the call, “Would Anthony Crane report to Miss Nicholson”.

As part of her fund raising activities, she would march into the classroom unannounced with a small book containing tear-off photographs of little African children, shout “BLACK BABIES” at the top of her voice, and we would all frantically dig into our pockets for a penny to put in her tin. She would then tear off one of the photographs and place it in the trembling hand to add to the collection of previous pictures stored in our desks. I was convinced that I owned a tribe of little black children judging by the collection I had amassed and was devastated to eventually learn that these children didn’t actually belong to me! Again, in today’s politically correct environment can you imagine that situation happening now?

All the school had to sit on the floor in the assembly hall at “going home time” and the haughty Miss Nicholson would call out the names of which “School Special” would be departing next. “South Shore”, “Marton", etc., etc. but Mereside (being a council estate was always the last to be called and she would say it as though the very word was an obscenity not to be uttered). My first experience of social prejudice!

Because my Dad was on a pretty low wage, I was allowed free school dinners whereas everyone else’s parents were forking out the princely sum of 5 shillings (25p) per week. All the pupils were given a dinner ticket each day before entering the dining hall with the less fortunate “free diners” always at the back of the queue. There was no choice. You had to eat what you were given and Miss Nicholson was always hovering around the tables to ensure that every scrap (including gristle) was consumed. I remember one lad, Paul Killiner, covertly filling his blazer pockets with pilchards as he just couldn't eat them. Unfortunately, they remained in his pockets for the rest of the day! God knows what his Mum said. Fridays were the best as, being a Catholic school, we always had fish and chips (or much to Paul’s dismay, pilchards) rather than some of the concoctions the cook and her staff presented us with. Having said that, the puddings were always “scoffed” without hesitation. Syrup sponge and Spotted Dick, with pink custard were my favourites.

Just recently, a waitress in a pub offered me some Spotted Richard for pudding. She told me that management insisted she called it that so as not to offend the more faint hearted customers. I fear the country has gone mad!

Again, being a Catholic school, great emphasis was placed on religious education and one of our first lessons involved drawing three circles in our exercise books. Using wax crayons, we coloured one circle in yellow, one circle in yellow with little black dots and the last circle we coloured black. It was then explained to us that these circles represented our souls. The yellow circle showed our soul in a “state of grace” (completely sinless). The yellow circle with black dots represented a soul with venial sins, (minor misdemeanours such as swearing, gossiping etc.) that had not been absolved by attending confession and the black circle showed a soul in “mortal sin”, (idolatry, adultery, murder, etc.). We were then told that if we died with our soul in a state of grace, we would go directly to heaven but dying with a soul containing venial sins meant we would go to a place called Purgatory where we would stay until our souls were cleansed (although how long this would take was never revealed). Dying with mortal sin on the soul meant eternal damnation in the fires of hell. As you can imagine, all this came as something of a shock to a class of innocent 4 year olds and if it was meant to shock us into leading a sinless life, it certainly had the desired effect – for a few days anyway!

One autumn morning, the school was told at assembly that the edges of the playing fields were being re-seeded and on no account was anybody to walk on the grass. After morning playtime, we all went back to our classroom and Miss Challinor, our teacher at that time, announced that despite the warning, two boys had been seen on the grass and they should both own up and report to Miss Nicholson for punishment. We all looked round the classroom in horror, wondering who the unfortunate miscreants were when eventually, as no one was prepared to admit to the crime, Miss Challinor announced “Anthony Crane and David Dawson go to Miss Nicholson’s office - NOW!” “But we haven’t been anywhere near the grass Miss” we both blurted out, (we hadn’t) which sadly fell on deaf ears and we both trudged slowly to the office wondering what little liar had come up with this story. We both tried to convince Miss Nicholson that it was just not true but to no avail and we were told that as a punishment, we would not be allowed to the Christmas Party on the last day of term. My Mum wrote a letter to the school in which she stated that she considered it a rather cruel punishment for “one so young” but sadly, the decision stood.

Come the day of the party, we were told to sit in the staff room and read a book whilst the rest of the school were noisily enjoying themselves in the assembly hall next door. Although it was December, it was a bright sunny day and we were told that as a concession, we could sit outside in the sunshine. Sat on the playground tarmac with our backs against the staff room wall bemoaning our fate, we watched in amazement as a bright yellow Blackpool Evening Gazette van driven by my Uncle Tom, pulled into the car park. He got out and with a cheerful wave to Miss Nicholson who was standing in the window, handed over a large bag full of cakes, sweets and pop. After chatting with us for a few minutes he drove off with a departing wave to the headmistress still standing aghast in the office window. We tucked in quickly for fear of them being confiscated and wondered if we would be subject to any sort of reprisal but thankfully, this didn’t happen and we both managed to avoid her gaze until we caught the bus home for the Christmas holidays.

Nice one Tom!

N.B. in 2001 whilst in Blackpool Victoria Hospital recovering from a broken ankle, who should turn up at my bedside but Miss Challinor who was a hospital visitor and recognised my name on some list or other and took the time out to say hello and have a chat - 41 years after leaving Our Lady’s. How nice of her, and what a memory she had!

Miss Cross’s class 1959. I’m on the far right on the second row up.
Miss Cross’s class 1959. I’m on the far right on the second row up.

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Chapter 4 – Junior School

With Andrew in our Sunday best c1956.
With Andrew in our Sunday best c1956.

At the age of 7, I moved up to the junior level at school and the class was informed that we would all be going for swimming lessons. Never having swum before I had no idea what to expect, but we were told to just bring a towel to school and if we had no trunks, they would be provided. A bus took us all to the Derby Baths in Blackpool, (now demolished and replaced by a Hilton Hotel) and we were taken down into the bowels of the building to what was called the Slipper Bath. I have no idea why it was called that, but remember it being quite a cold, dark area with no windows, just artificial lighting. We were shown to the changing rooms and those who didn’t have their own, (me included), were handed a pair of dark red itchy trunks which didn’t fit properly and had no elastic, just a drawstring to keep them up.

The swimming instructor introduced herself as Miss Heaton and told us to get into the water which was 3’6” deep and, to me, freezing cold. With our heads just above the surface and holding on for dear life to the rail running round the pool, (whilst attempting to hold my trunks up) she stood on the edge and told us to duck our heads under the water and count to 5 before bringing them up again. I didn’t like the sound of this at all and was terrified that I would never surface again and refused to do it. After repeated failed requests to comply, Miss Heaton casually stuck her foot on top of my head and pushed me under before I had time to take a breath. I remember swallowing a mouthful of water before the foot was removed and coughing and spluttering, finally surfaced to spend the rest of the half hour lesson skulking in a corner of the pool shivering.

Mum was less than impressed when I told her what had happened and all future proposed visits to the pool were accompanied by a letter from her excusing me from swimming due to the fact that I suffered from verrucas, (I didn’t but it was a good excuse) and I never went swimming again until senior school when the regime was a lot less strict.

First Communion 1957. I still have the prayer book.
First Communion 1957. I still have the prayer book.

On the academic side of things, I wasn’t doing too badly. My favourite subject was English. I had a good memory so learning poems came easy and I represented the school in various speech contests around the Blackpool area reciting all 94 lines of “Hiawatha’s Childhood” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I also recall a poem called Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore by William Brighty Rands which I recited on one speech day, winning first prize.

We had a monthly test featuring English and maths and after completing one of these in my final year of junior school, we were told that the paper we had just handed in was, in fact the 11 Plus exam which would determine which secondary school we would be attending. As we never really took these tests seriously and not being told beforehand that our immediate futures would be decided by the result, most of the class failed the exam, (much to Miss Nicholson’s disgust. “The worst class it has ever been my misfortune to come across”!), and we were informed that we would be given another chance by taking the entrance exam for St. Josephs College, or “Joe’s Jailhouse” as it was known locally. This proved far more difficult than the 11 plus and, not surprisingly, most of us failed to get in resulting in our futures being decided by the less salubrious environs of St. John Vianney Secondary Modern School in Glastonbury Avenue, Blackpool, but more of this later.

We played football in the school playground on a regular basis but it was covered in fine grit and was the cause of many skinned knees and elbows (and tears). I was also selected to play for the school team, (coached by a great teacher called Ted Schools!) but the sides from the other schools always seemed so much bigger than us and we were regularly trounced. My Dad bought me a pair of “Tommy Docherty” football boots and the leather studs had three sharp pins which were hammered into the sole of the boot to retain them. After a while, the pins would protrude through the soles and into the bottom of my foot making them extremely uncomfortable to wear. One lad eventually turned up with a pair of moulded rubber sole boots. We were all agog at these and it resulted in the rest of the team pestering their parents for a pair.

One of the lads in our class was called Stephen Bolton who was a pretty good footballer and we nicknamed him “Bollocks”. It was all perfectly innocent as at that age, we had absolutely no idea of the slang definition but we were constantly being frowned at by the teachers on playground duty for shouting things like “Great shot Bollocks” or “Pass it to me Bollocks”.

The innocence of youth!

During my last year at Our Lady’s, the whole class were due to be confirmed by the Bishop of Blackburn. I had decided a long time before the ceremony on the name Thomas for my confirmation name (after my Uncle Tom), and strode confidently up to the Bishop standing at the altar. “And what have you chosen as your confirmation name my son?” asked the Bishop - “Mark”, I blurted out for no apparent reason!!!!

During my time at Our Lady’s, my youngest sister, Michele had been born and the family moved further up Branstree Road to number 136, a four bedroom property which gave us even more room to cause havoc.

Television arrives

When we finally purchased a TV, (with an enormous magnifying lens attached to the screen) “Watch with Mother” was our favourite, which, if I remember correctly featured Picture Book, presented by Patricia Driscoll, Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, Rag, Tag & Bobtail and The Woodentops. Muffin the Mule was also a favourite and was presented by Annette Mills, sister of actor John Mills and aunt of Hayley.

Watch with Mother logo.
“Listen with Mother” was also broadcast over the radio and I remember presenter Daphne Oxenford, (who died in 2012) introducing the programme with the opening line: “Hello children. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin”

At 6:00pm, TV broadcasting would shut down for an hour so that parents could put their children to bed and the first programme to be shown during that time was the aptly named Six-Five Special which played “popular” music and was presented by Pete Murray & Josephine Douglas. Between programmes there would often be an “interlude”, (commercial TV and its advertisements hadn’t arrived yet), which lasted for about 5 minutes and showed riveting things such as a potter’s wheel and horses ploughing a field! But far more exciting for me were the imported programmes from America which included Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Range Rider and The Cisco Kid.

In 1955, ITV started broadcasting as the UK’s first commercial TV station and in 1957, one of my favourite programmes; “The Army Game” was broadcast. It's half hour episodes were extremely popular and told of the exploits of a bunch of army conscripts under the control of Sgt.Major Snudge, played by Bill Fraser. Other characters included Pvt.“Excused Boots” Bisley, (Alfie Bass), Pvt.Catchpole, (Dick Emery), Pvt.Hatchet, (Charles Hawtrey), Pvt.“Popeye” Poplewell, (Bernard Bresslaw) and Pvt.Bone played by Ted Lune. The series lasted for 4 years, ran for 153 episodes and gave early television appearances to Fulton Mackay, later to appear as Mr.Mackay, the warder in “Porridge”, Bernard Cribbins and William Hartnell who was to become the first “Dr.Who”.

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Chapter 5 – First encounter with Brian London

Eventually, the back fields at Mereside were developed and turned into football pitches which were great for 20-a-side football matches but not so good for acting out battles between Japs & Commandos.

I must have been about 7 or 8 years old when I was sent to bed early one late summer evening as punishment for some misdemeanor and was watching a “proper” game of football between two local teams of adults through my bedroom window. All my mates were there watching from the side-lines so I decided to join them. Rolling up my pyjama trousers (yes, we all wore them then), putting on my socks, shoes and school gabardine, I climbed out of the bedroom window, onto the flat roof of the wash house and over the fence onto the playing fields to join my mates. One of the players was Brian London, “The Blackpool Tower” who was a pretty good professional boxer in his day, fighting among others, Henry Cooper, Floyd Patterson and in 1966, Cassius Clay (later to become Muhammad Ali) when he was knocked out after 1 minute, 40 seconds of the third round, earning $112,000 for his efforts. In the post-match interview, Brian commented, “He isn’t a puncher; he just hit me so many times I didn’t know where I was”. Classic quote Brian!

As we became bored with the match, we wandered behind the goals to have a kick-around and just before the final whistle, Brian’s team were awarded a penalty which he decided to take. With my back to the goal, the thunderous penalty caught me square on the back of the head, (no “nets” in those days) and knocked me unconscious.The next thing I remember was Brian carrying me in his arms semi-comatose, knocking on our front door and explaining to my Mum that I was wandering about behind the goals in my pyjamas and that he was very sorry for knocking me out. My Mum, naturally enough accepted his apology, shook his hand in thanks and immediately marched me upstairs to the accompaniment of "Wait 'til your Dad gets home you daft sod". Fortunately, my Dad was a bit of a boxing fan and seemed quite chuffed that his lad had been knocked out by Brian London.

Brian London.
During the summer holidays, we would spend our time fishing in the local ponds and train spotting on the embankment at Peel Corner Bridge, under which ran the line into Blackpool Central Station (now closed). We all had train-spotter books which had thousands of train numbers in them and when one came past, we would underline its number in pencil. We would sometimes put a penny on the line when we saw a train coming and go searching for it after it had passed to find it massively enlarged. I remember watching in horror one day as one of the lads put a three penny bit on the line. I was convinced that due to its thickness it would derail the train so I scarpered before it turned up!!!!

We also used to catch the No.19 bus to South Shore and spend all day on the Pleasure Beach slipping the attendants a few coppers to go on the rides. It was a great place to spend the school holidays as, unlike today, there was no entry fee and payments for the rides and stalls was by cash only. My cousin Peter Naden worked on the Pleasure Beach Express so we always got lots of free rides on the train which circuited the park. The best place to get into was the Fun House (first opened in 1934) an enormous building with all sorts of rides and slides which, once inside were free to go on. Sadly, it burned down in 1991. (In 1979, my Uncle Tom was given 2 complimentary tickets for the new Revolution ride prior to its official opening and we both experienced the 360° and 4G-force ride on which I believe was Europe’s first fully looping roller coaster).

With Andrew and Uncle Tom. (Remember those “snake” belts)?
With Andrew and Uncle Tom. (Remember those “snake” belts)?

There used to be a “Lost Children” single decker bus parked on Central Promenade and we would go in and tearfully pretend we had lost our Mum and Dad. The kindly staff would calm us down and tell us to wait as we would soon be re-united with our worried parents, and supplied us with a drink of orange juice and a biscuit. Which we scoffed and then “legged it” down the prom. whilst their backs were turned.

Grandma would often take me out for the day to visit Granddad's grave at Carleton Cemetery on the outskirts of Blackpool. We would catch the 10 o'clock bus from Mereside into Blackpool, walk up Talbot Road and then hop on board another bus which would take us to Carleton. After tending the grave, we would catch yet another bus to Fleetwood and she would treat me to a few "goes" on the amusements on the pier and an ice lolly before boarding the Knott End Ferry to cross the river estuary. At Knott End, we would catch a Ribble bus back to Blackpool and then the No.6 bus back to Mereside arriving home in time for tea. A full day out which included 4 bus rides, a boat trip, amusements and a lolly. What more could you ask for!! She also used to take me to South Shore Market where there was a permanent rock-rolling exhibition to show how the lettering through the stick of rock was formed. It was fascinating stuff for a young lad and the workers always gave out free samples to take home.

(Shortly before she died in 1981, Grandma was admitted to a rest home in Blackpool and my abiding memory of that time is visiting her on Christmas Day only to find her and the other residents, sat round the perimeter of the “day room” all wearing brand new fluffy slippers)!

I would go to the massive Woolworths store on Blackpool promenade on a Saturday morning to spend my pocket money (when I had some). You could buy Airfix model aeroplane kits, (Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, etc.) for 2 shillings (10p). They were in a plastic bag with the instructions for assembly inside but when I was really flush, I’d buy a battleship kit in a box for 7s/6d. These usually came to an unfortunate end around November 5th though when I’d put a penny banger inside and blow them up! I was never patient enough to paint the parts before assembly resulting in a somewhat botched up job but I still hung the planes from my bedroom ceiling with bits of sewing thread and tried to hit them with elastic bands from the comfort of my bed.

“Woolies” also sold cheap cover versions of chart singles released on their own “Embassy” record label for 4 shillings as opposed to 6s/8d for the original. (A few years ago, I had a disagreement with a chap called Sean in the drawing office. I argued that Bernard Cribbins had released a song called “Right Said Fred” in the 60’s. He said it was someone else entirely and brought the record in to prove it. Sadly for him, it was on the Embassy label so only a cover version. Tough luck, Sean)!

If you were around Blackpool in the 50’s & 60’s, you would most likely remember “Billy’s Weekly Liar” a double sided, single sheet newspaper containing tall stories and unbelievable “facts”. I used to buy mine (costing 1d) on the Golden Mile from an old chap named Dixie who was a ”few pence short of a shilling” and when asked, would dance a jig on the pavement accompanied on his mouth organ. The Golden Mile was a kid’s delight with thousands of penny slot machines and all sort of strange amusements. I remember one machine that just had a steel hand sticking out of it and after putting a penny in, you had to see how long you could keep hold of it as an ever increasing electrical current coursed through your arm! Health & Safety would have had a field day on “The Mile”.

On the corner of the prom and Chapel Street, next to Tussaud's Waxworks was the New Ritz cinema which was a must to try and get in as it only ever showed “X” rated films of a dubious sexual nature. Around the corner was Prince Eugene’s Tattoo Parlour owned by one of the few black men in Blackpool at that time. The standard of hygiene was probably not as strict as it is today and I lost count of the number of young guys you would see walking down the prom with their arm covered in tissues soaking up the blood and recovering from the previous nights excesses.

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Chapter 6 – Senior School

St. John Vianney’s proved to be a major culture shock to the new intakes especially on the first morning where the first years’ were placed at the front of the assembly hall. When the Headmaster, Mr. Ashton, (commonly referred to as “Boris” behind his back) introduced himself, we all saluted the stage and said in a singsong tone “Good morning Mr Ashton, good morning teachers” as we had been taught to do at Our Lady’s. Cue much hilarity from the older boys behind us who saw the same thing every year!

My parents had also decided that as my short trousers had at least another year’s wear in them, they didn’t need to go to the expense of buying me a pair of long ones despite my protestations. Fortunately, some of the other boys in my year possessed similarly evil parents so I wasn’t the only one in my class in short trousers”. In year 2, they decided that I could have a pair of long trousers. Unfortunately, they bought me a pair of 16” bottoms with turn-ups whilst everyone else wore more fashionable “drainpipes”. Cue more ridicule! I was bought a satchel in which to carry the necessary items for my new school life. I recall a “Platignum” fountain pen, a set of Helix “Oxford” drawing instruments in a gold coloured tin box, which contained 30° and 45° plastic set squares, a protractor, a 6” ruler with things called “centimetres” on one edge, a pencil with sharpener and a compass.

The immediate major change to schoolwork was the new experience of homework which would lead to my first involvement with acting. Our history teacher, Mr Wynne (who also lived on Mereside and smoked like a chimney), had set us an essay to complete which had to be handed in the next morning for marking along with my maths homework. Mum & Dad had gone out for the evening leaving us in the care of Mrs.Cundliffe our next door neighbour and I dutifully completed my maths homework before being allowed to watch telly for a while before going to bed. I read a book for a couple of hours before hearing my parents come in whereupon I turned my light out and went to sleep. Imagine my horror when, at about midnight I awoke to the realisation that I had forgotten to do my history homework. I stayed awake for an hour and then shouted for my Mum who came into my bedroom to find out what was wrong. I told her that I had a really bad pain in my side and she duly gave me a couple of aspirin, told me to try and get some sleep and she would see how I was in the morning.

I awoke before she came into my room and dabbed some water onto my cheeks from the glass by my bed to simulate tears. 7:00am arrived and she came in to find me still in pain and told me I shouldn’t go to school that day. Problem solved! I could do my homework during the day in my bedroom

At about 10:30am, I was fast asleep when the bedroom door opened and Mum came in closely followed by our family doctor, Dr.Bowe who prodded and pressed the “painful” area, muttered something to Mum and then they both left the room. About an hour later, the door opened again with Mum entering accompanied by two ambulance men who lifted me onto a stretcher and took me outside to a waiting ambulance much to the interest of our neighbours stood on their doorsteps wondering what was going on. With Mum in attendance, I was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital and despite my protestations that the pain had, by now subsided, was examined by another doctor and admitted to the children’s ward with suspected appendicitis. That evening, I was taken down to theatre and had the “offending” appendix removed resulting in a 12 day stay in hospital and a rather nice basket of fruit from the school with a “get well soon” message attached.

On my return to school I was asked by Mr.Wynne for my missing homework which, unfortunately, I had completely forgotten about. The resultant 2 strokes of the cane showed that sympathy for my condition was in short supply and proved that crime certainly didn’t pay! Good acting though!

The Cranes c1961. Me, Michele, Judith and Andrew
The Cranes c1961. Me, Michele, Judith and Andrew

I soon developed a loathing for my new school and would do anything to get out of going. My parents were aware of the situation after receiving absence letters from the headmaster and to make sure that I actually went, my Mum would make me catch the No.4 service bus with her which she caught to go into Blackpool where she worked as a typist at Hymans Jewellers. The bus stopped outside the school and she would watch me get off and go through the school gates. What she didn’t know was that I would walk through the school grounds and exit at the rear entrance. I would then walk into Blackpool which took about an hour, ring her up at work and tell her that I had developed a bad toothache and the school had sent me to the school dentist on Lytham Road. I would then ring the school up, tell them that Mum had sent me to the dentist with toothache and that I wouldn’t be in that day. To complete the ruse, I would then walk to the school dentist on Lytham Road, tell them about the toothache whereupon the very obliging chap in attendance would remove the “offending” tooth after administering a dose of gas. On arriving back at home, I would jump in bed reading comics and books awaiting the inevitable inspection of my mouth and, hopefully, tea and sympathy from Mum (as well as a few days off school).

In collusion with 2 other like-minded mates from Mereside who I shall refer to as John and Kev and who also attended John Vianney, we dreamed up a particularly stupid plan. We arrived at school early one morning and crawled under the stage in the assembly hall which was accessed by 3 foot high sliding doors at the rear. The stage was the original one and had been there since the school was built, the floorboards being rather creaky with small gaps in the joints and was full of old gym equipment and the like in the storage area underneath.

Armed with sandwiches and fizzy pop, we aimed to spend the day there before sneaking out once the final bell had gone. We cleared enough space to be comfortable and awaited the arrival of the pupils and masters for morning assembly. At 9:00am, the hall filled up, the teachers took to the stage for the day’s announcements and it took considerable willpower on our part to refrain from sneezing as dust from the boards above floated down into our “den”. Halfway through assembly, “Boris” paused and was heard to say to the Deputy Head, “Mr O’Connor, can you smell smoke?” The three of us froze. Was the school on fire and would we be burned to death trapped under the stage? I looked at John, he looked at me then we both turned towards Kev and, to our horror saw the fag dangling from his lips, the smoke drifting up through the floorboards. He frantically tried to stub it out causing a shower of sparks at which instance, the sliding doors at the back opened, flooding the area with light to reveal Mr O’Connor’s puce coloured face as he angrily ordered us out. We were marched on stage, given the most severe dressing down and suffered “six of the best” on the backside in front of the whole school with Boris’s favourite weapon, a thick leather razor strop which, believe me, was absolute agony. Sadly, this lesson in stupidity didn’t deter us from other daft ideas!

St. John Vianney 1961. I’m on the second row, second from right.
St. John Vianney 1961. I’m on the second row, second from right.

John Vianney had no playing fields, just an enclosed tarmacked playground where one of the favourite games was “chain tig”. This would start with one boy who was “on” running round the playground, tigging other boys who would all have to join hands with each other. Sometimes the chain would reach epic proportions and we would always try to tig a first year boy once the chain was long enough and he would end up taking 10 foot strides as the chain swept round the playground clearing all in its path before being released to clatter into the nearest wall at high speed. We older boys found this highly amusing until one young lad suffered a broken nose. The game was banned and we were all caned for our efforts. On icy mornings in winter, we would “polish” an area of the playground until it shone and had a great time seeing how far we could slide whilst remaining upright. The slide always disappeared by the time of the next play period as the caretaker had been out in the interim and covered it with salt.

Another amusing, (to us) jape, was to rap yourself across the back of your fingers with the teeth of a comb, whirl the arm around in a windmill motion causing blood to seep from the pinpricks and, with your hand over your face, approach a first year screaming “aaargh, my eye, my eye” resulting in a look of horror from the victim of the joke. Again, this activity was banned and we soon established that all teachers were devoid of a sense of humour.

Our sports teacher was called “Jock” Waters, a short, dour Scot who one day decided that cross country running should be introduced into the curriculum. As we had no playing fields, he would instruct us to depart the upstairs school hall, run round the school block which I suppose was about half a mile, run back upstairs to be checked in and start the next of the required 4 laps.

Kev and I decided there was a pretty clever way round this activity. The staircase had a series of landings on which were placed 6 foot high lockers which nobody used. We were timed out of the top hall and halfway down the staircase, hid in the 2 lockers and had a fag whilst we waited for the lads before us to run back upstairs after their first lap. We then exited the lockers, ran upstairs and into the hall where Jock clocked us and sent us on our way for the next lap. After 4 visits to the lockers, we arrived back in the hall faking exhaustion and our final times were recorded. Unfortunately, we miscalculated our timings and when Jock read out the results, we were horrified to learn that we had the 2 best times in the class. Based on this, he entered both our names for the 1 mile event in the forthcoming inter-school sports day at the Blackpool Stanley Park Arena. Naturally enough, our efforts in the race were abysmal and we came last and next to last finishing about a lap behind the winners and due to being “grassed up” by one of our rivals at school as to our locker activities, more strokes of the cane were administered.

During my final year at school, Jock introduced boxing to the curriculum. A ring was set up in the upstairs assembly hall and opponent’s names were picked out of the hat. For my first bout, I was drawn against Eddie, the “cock of the school” and waited nervously in my corner for the bell to ring for Round 1. At the bell, Eddie was still leaning over the ropes chatting to his mates as I crossed the ring and belted him as hard as I could on the back of the head hoping for a quick end to the bout. I certainly got my wish as Eddie turned to face me, apparently unhurt by my blow and caught me square on the jaw with a lovely right hook which laid me out for a count of 10 before my “seconds” dragged me back to my corner accompanied by howls of derision from the rest of the class as Eddie stood in the centre of the ring, arms raised in triumph.

He came over to see if I was OK, (although he was the hardest lad in the school, he was a decent sort), and I suggested that he caught me with a lucky punch whereupon he grinned and offered to re-enact the bout in the playground without gloves. I decided to decline his kind offer of a return bout believing that discretion was the better part of valour!

Jock also purchased a “trampet”, a small trampoline which would replace the wooden springboard we used when exercising with the vaulting horse which resembled the one used in the “The Great Escape”.

Being used to the springboard, I didn’t hold back on my first attempt with this new equipment. I took a long run-up, hit the trampet, flew through the air clearing the horse completely as well as the cushioned landing mat and finally came back down to earth in a crumpled heap on the floor of the hall to gales of laughter from the lookers and a comment of “A bit over enthusiastic there, weren’t we laddie”? from Jock.

As I mentioned, John Vianney’s had no playing fields so once a week, the whole year, (3 classes) had to walk from the school to Stanley Park about ½ a mile away. About 50-60 boys would set off walking with “Jock” strangely enough leading from the front – not the rear, and about 40 would actually arrive at the park, the others disappearing down side streets and into the Tuck Shop near The Saddle pub on Whitegate Drive to buy sweets, drinks and fags. You could buy 2 Park Drive tipped and 2 matches for tuppence, (about 1p in today’s money), Spangles, Sherbert Fountains, bubble gum and “Jubblies”.

Jubblies were an orange drink in a triangular waxed carton that had been frozen and you could while away a relaxing hour gnawing away at the orange ice before tagging on to the tail of the sweating line of boys returning to school from the park.

Before the acne arrived c1963.
Before the acne arrived c1963.

At the top of Branstree Road was Langdale Road. If I turned right, it was about 50 yards to the bus stop but if I turned left and crossed over the road, I arrived at my mate Mick’s house. Mick was in my class and we were both habitual truants. I used to call for him in the morning to see if he fancied school that day. His Mum & Dad left for work early so there was only him in the house when I called. If we decided not to bother going, we would play footie in the back garden and generally muck about all day dining on Spam sandwiches with tomato sauce to keep us going.

One day, we discovered that if you squirted Ronson lighter fuel onto your hand and lit it, the flames only lasted seconds with no lasting affects other than burning the hairs off your hand. We decided that it would be a laugh if one of us ran into the front garden with our hands on fire just as the bus went past to shock the passengers so I used to stand in the doorway looking for the bus, then Mick would squirt fuel onto my hands and set it on fire before I ran outside screaming to shock the passengers. Great fun! Unfortunately, on one occasion, my hands had grease from the Spam on them and when I ran into the garden, hands aflame waving them over my head in supposed panic, the fat started to burn and the flames wouldn’t die out. Coupled with this disaster was the sight of my Mum on the bus glaring angrily out of the window at her eldest son who should have been in school but was stood in a garden with his hands alight in apparent agony.

We eventually put the flames out and ran my hands under the tap only to hear a loud knocking on the door which, when opened, revealed my Mum with a face like thunder. She had got off at the next stop and marched back to Mick’s to see “what the hell was going on”. Needless to say, I got a severe rollocking for my pains and was sent on the next bus to school with extremely sore hands hoping that I wouldn’t be caned for being late.

St. John Vianney was a Catholic school that also served as a church and it was where my parents were married in 1949. Whilst I was there, a new church was built over the road. During the last period on a Thursday, we were taken over to the church to attend confession before mass and communion on the Friday morning before school.

A teacher would sit at the back of the church and record the time spent in the confessional for each boy. If you were in and out sharpish, you were OK but if you spent any length of time in there, you were in trouble as it was considered that you must have had a lot of sins to confess and, as a result were a “wrong un” and were punished. I always thought that the priest hearing confession couldn’t see you but one day when Fr. Watterson was in attendance, he politely asked me how my Dad was doing!!!!

As can be seen from an earlier photograph, he had played football with him in the early 50’s and was keen to have a chat but I didn’t want to pass the time exchanging pleasantries and dashed out of the confessional knowing that I was being “clocked” at the back.

On Friday mornings, we went straight to church before school to attend mass and woe betide you if you didn’t take communion because if the excuse wasn’t adequate, you were caned. Naturally enough, this didn’t endear me to Catholicism and after leaving school I never went to church again until I got married in 1973 – at St. John Vianney.

Resplendent with “quiff” (and acne). c1964
Resplendent with “quiff” (and acne). c1964

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Chapter 7 – 60’s Television

During the 60’s, on Saturday afternoons at 4 o’clock we would all sit in front of the “telly” to watch wrestling which was presented by Kent “Greetings Grapple Fans” Walton. My parents used to go and watch wrestling at the Tower Circus in Blackpool where the local Pye brothers, Jack and “Dirty Dominic” usually topped the bill so we all became avid fans of the televised bouts which comprised, as Kent would describe them of “Six, five minute rounds, two falls, two submissions or one knockout to decide the winner”. the “goodies” and the “baddies”.

Listed below are just a few of the many names of those I can remember:

  • Mick McManus – Died on 22/5/2013 aged 93. His catchphrase, “Not the ears, not the ears” usually resulted in his opponent going straight for his ears. Amazing!
  • Jackie (Mr T.V.) Pallo – Always wore striped trunks, cousin of boxing commentator, Reg Gutteridge and hated opponent of Mick McManus.
  • Adrian Street – Great showman, blonde hair, wore a fur trimmed cloak, always preening himself in the ring.
  • Kendo Nagasaki – Real name Peter Thornley from Stoke on Trent. Famous for his trade-mark mask which his opponents always tried to remove.
  • Big Daddy – His real name was Shirley Crabtree. He had a 64” chest and was the first person to unmask Kendo Nagasaki. In his youth, he played Rugby League for Bradford Northern.
  • Giant Haystacks – 6’11” and 40 stone, former tag-team partner of Big Daddy.
  • Les Kellet – My favourite. He appeared to be punch-drunk and almost defeated before miraculously recovering to win the bout.
  • Johnny Kwango - An African wrestler who’s favourite move was the head butt which, Kent Walton explained, always hurt his opponent as "a black mans skull is far thicker than a white mans"!!!!! Try using that description today!

I could go on and name many more because these guys were on TV every week and regularly drew audiences of millions with their antics on Saturday afternoons. Great memories!

Other favourites at this time were The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Addams Family, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Avengers, Bonanza and The Beverly Hillbillies. You may note that all the above apart from The Avengers were American imports.

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Chapter 8 – Early Teens

The films showing in cinemas in the 60’s had three ratings, “U” (suitable for children), “A” (children to be accompanied by an adult) and “X” (strictly over 16’s). We had no chance of getting in to the “X” rated films although we tried many times and on occasion, succeeded, (especially in the Tivoli Cinema who were pretty lax in their admission policies).

I remember going the Opera House in Blackpool one Saturday afternoon with a mate of mine, Geoff Baron, to try and get in to see the latest blockbuster “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis which was classified “A”. We were only 14 and despite lowering our voices and standing on tiptoes at the box office, we were refused entry so we stood outside asking any adult male entering the cinema if he would take us in. We’d tried this on many occasions before (and succeeded) but couldn’t find a willing participant this time so we trudged despondently to the Tivoli to see “Siege of the Saxons” starring Edmund Purdom which was absolute rubbish.

As you can imagine, this sort of action would be greeted with shock and horror in today’s society although we never encountered any “strange” men. Well, I didn't until an episode in Barrow in Furness. But more of that later.

Oh my God! c1966
Oh my God! c1966

Dad was driving for the Standerwick Coach Company during the late 50's and early 60's and his regular route was the overnight Blackpool - London journey. The company had introduced a new fleet of double decker coaches which had an attractive uniformed lady on board, (one of whom I recall was called Marion Bogg) who served non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to the passengers throughout the night. These coaches were promoted as the "Gay Hostess" although I don't think they'd be christened that today!!!!

He would often take me on these trips when I was 12 or 13 and after the overnight run, we would arrive at Victoria Coach Station at 6:30 am, take the bus through the vehicle wash and park up. We would walk to his "digs" for breakfast and before going to bed, he would give me 5 shillings, (25p) and I would wander round London all day on the tube visiting various places of interest (Battersea Park Funfair was a particular favourite), before returning to his digs at 7:00 pm in the evening for the return journey through which I invariably slept the whole way.

For pocket money, on most Saturdays, I would get the bus into Blackpool and meet Uncle Tom in the distribution department at the Blackpool Evening Gazette newspaper where he worked. I would stand and watch him and his colleagues playing cards and supply them with cups of tea before he took me out in his van and deposited me on a corner of the promenade with a stack of newspapers under my arm to sell to the public. A few years later, in my mid-teens, I worked in the sports department carrying half-time and full-time football results from the sports desk to the compositors in the works.

I also joined the Royal Marine Cadets based at HMS Penelope on Devonshire Road in Bispham, just outside Blackpool so that I could join the band as a drummer. It wasn’t quite that simple though as, before I was let anywhere near a drum, I had to spend hours of practice on a rubber mat placed on a table top until I was considered suitably proficient.

We once formed a guard of honour at North Shore Golf Club for the arrival of Prince Philip who was the guest at a charity golf tournament and were often asked to be ushers at the ABC theatre in Blackpool on the annual Midnight Charity Event where the stars from all the shows would be appearing.

I left the Marine Cadets to join the Royal Artillery Army Cadets based at Laycock Gate, Blackpool and due to my previous experience playing the drums, walked straight into their band although the standards were, I have to say, a lot lower than the Marines.

During this period, we were taken in the back of an army lorry to a place called Crag Bank at Carnforth near Lancaster for the weekend in order to gain our shooting badges. Taken out to the “butts” we were shown how to operate and load the Lee Enfield .303 rifle and after minimal instructions, were given live rounds and told “make sure you hold the rifle firmly against your shoulder because the recoil will dislocate it”! With a great deal of trepidation, I lay down, took aim and fired. Not being supplied with ear defenders, the noise was incredible and after emptying the magazine, I could hear absolutely nothing except a ringing in my ears for days after. Reporting to the sick bay, I was told “not to be so soft” and summarily dismissed.

A few months later we were taken by train to Comrie in Perthshire and after a 25 mile journey in the back of an army lorry, deposited at a place in the middle of nowhere called Cultybraggen Camp which was built in 1941 as a P.O.W. camp for German and Italian prisoners in WWII. No wonder they tried to escape! I had never been to such a God forsaken place in my life and spent a thoroughly cold, wet & miserable week there on exercises meant to “toughen us up”. On my return to civilisation, I resigned from the Cadet Force after deciding a military career was not what I was cut out for.

Army cadet – It didn’t last!
Army cadet – It didn’t last!

Along with a few other mates from Mereside, we would often go to the local youth clubs at which many Blackpool based bands would practice their “sets”. Among those who stand out were Bruce and the Spiders and Rev. Black and the Rockin’ Vicars, (later to become The Rockin’ Vickers). The base player in the Rockin’ Vickers was Ian Fraser Kilminster who later became a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, played with Hawkwind and from 1975, fronted Motorhead. You may know him better as “Lemmy”. Sadly, he died in December 2015

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Chapter 9 – What a riot!

On July 24th 1964 along with 7,000 other fans, I made my way to the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool to see the Rolling Stones, my favourite band. I had earned money that summer tomato picking and paid the princely sum of about 7s/6d, (37p) for my ticket.

Earlier in the day, the Stones had arrived in Blackpool in a van and were met at Peel Corner on the outskirts of town by the police, one of whom, Peter Walker was later to become a friend of mine. They were escorted into town and taken to the Police Social Club where they spent the afternoon playing snooker with Peter and his colleagues before being taken to the Winter Gardens. Inspector Gerry Richardson and 5 constables, (including Peter) were the only police presence that night which unfortunately proved inadequate but as the band were not considered that big a name at the time it was considered sufficient.

The ballroom was hot, packed and pretty wild as the concert coincided with “Glasgow Fortnight” and was standing room only. After listening to endless support acts, the Stones finally arrived on stage and were only into their second number when Keith Richards, fed up with the band being spat at, kicked one of the miscreants in the face. Cue pandemonium!

The Stones dropped their instruments and ran off stage, which was promptly invaded by audience member’s intent on a good scrap. A grand piano was overturned and ended up on the ballroom floor, bits of guitars and amplifiers were flying through the air as the police tried to stop the mayhem. I don’t know how many were arrested but 50 audience members and two policemen needed hospital treatment and someone stabbed me in the arm with a sharpened steel comb, ruining the new jacket I paid 2/6d for at Georgie Blackburn’s on Talbot Road.

All in all it was a pretty wild introduction to the world of rock ‘n roll for a 14 year old boy! Blackpool Council banned the group from ever appearing in the town again although they relented in 2008, lifting the ban and inviting them to appear in the town whenever they wanted.

I think Mick and the rest of the boys are still considering the offer, (although I’ve heard that they wouldn’t mind a snooker rematch)!

Inspector Gerry Richardson was later shot dead by a robber named Fred Sewell during a raid on a jeweller in Blackpool on 23rd August 1971 along with two other officers who were shot and wounded. He was 38 when he died and was posthumously awarded the George Cross. Sewell was released in 2001 aged 68 after completing his 30 year sentence and was reported to have amassed a wealth of around £1 million through property deals made in prison.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

N.B. I went to see The Stones in Hyde Park on July 6th 2013 almost 50 years since I last saw them in Blackpool. The tickets this time cost £110 each! But at least we saw them perform for 2 hours as opposed to their 5 minute stint at the Empress Ballroom.

That weekend was a memorable one as on the morning of the concert, I watched the British Lions defeat Australia in the deciding match of their 2013 tour in a London pub (enjoying a “full English”) and the next day, we watched Andy Murray win his first Wimbledon Men’s Championship, sat in a closed off street on a red hot day watching the action on a big screen brought in specially for the occasion.

As well as The Stones, I saw Jimi Hendrix, (also banned by Blackpool Council for having a pee against a wall) at the Odeon Cinema. He was on the same bill as The Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens and Englebert Humperdinck! Other bands seen when they played locally included, among others, The Who, The Small Faces, Status Quo, The Move, Amen Corner, The Kinks, Wizzard, Thin Lizzy & Rod Stewart & the Faces.

The most memorable band though was AC/DC who I saw in a small downstairs bar in (I think) The Imperial Hotel in 1974. They are still touring today playing to sell-out stadiums but that night, they were louder than the Lee Enfield I fired in the Army Cadets and I was deaf for a week after!

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Chapter 10 – Fashion Faux Pas!

In my last year at school, winkle picker shoes came into fashion but there was no way my parents would even consider buying me a pair. Dad wouldn’t even let me wear denim jeans – “Teddy boys wear them, you’re not!” A mate of mine gave me a pair with holes in the soles so I lined them with cardboard and stuffed cotton wool into the ends to stop them curling up.

In Blackpool one evening, a group of us were standing in a shop doorway sheltering from the rain when a couple of policemen approached. Looking down at my shoes, one of them said sarcastically, “Do your toes go to the end sonny?” Wittily, I answered “Does your head go to the top of your helmet officer?” His reply consisted of a crack round my ear and a stern lecture about respect for the law!

I purchased my first pair of Levi Jeans when I started work. They were advertised as “shrink to fit” and I spent 2 or 3 hours sat in the bath with them on to achieve the desired effect but the dye ran and my legs were blue for days after.

When “hipsters” came into fashion, I bought a pair from the Chelsea Boutique on Springfield Road in Blackpool. The zip was about 2” long and my Mum refused to let me out of the house in them for weeks due to them being “Indecent!”.

I also have to admit wearing platform shoes which were not only the height of fashion at the time but extremely dangerous and were the cause of many a sprained ankle. Trying to dance whilst staying upright also presented something of a problem.

Brown platform shoes
Well YOU try dancing in them!

Chapter 11 – Off to work.

I left John Vianney on a Friday in July, 1965. I say left, but I didn’t bother to attend school for the last couple of weeks of term and never actually received a final school report (thank God).

On the following Monday, much to my dismay (I was expecting a summer of lazing about and having a laugh), my Mum took me to the Labour Exchange, (now re-christened The Job Centre) on Queen Street in Blackpool, marched me up to the counter and stated “He wants a job.” “What do you want to do young man?” came the reply from behind the counter. “Architect” I replied. “Qualifications?” came the retort. “None” I replied. That ruled that one out! Mum piped up, “He’s quite good at art” and after consulting her Rolodex, (forerunner of the desktop), the lady flourished a card and told us that Dores Signs on Elizabeth Street were looking for an apprentice. She immediately rang them and arranged for us to go down for an interview.

We walked to Elizabeth Street from the town centre and I was interviewed, (with my Mum in attendance), by Mr Isadore Hyman Cohen, “Issy” behind his back (or even his front as he was stone deaf and wore a hearing aid which vibrated when someone spoke).

I was offered the job starting on £3.00 per week, the basic hours being Monday to Friday 8:30 – 5:30, Saturday 8:30 – 12:30 and was asked when I could begin. Before I had chance to say “2 weeks’ time”, my Mum blurted out “tomorrow” and that was that. No summer holiday for me!

Arriving on Tuesday morning, I was placed under the care of an Irishman called Tom Mahon who drove the works van and erected the signs produced by the company all over the North West. We would load the van in the morning and off we’d go with Tom spinning all sorts of yarns and tall stories. It was great fun in the summer months but absolutely freezing in winter, stood on a plank strung between two ladders trying not to shake too much from the cold. Again, Health and Safety would have had a field day if they’d been around at the time!

Tom was a great laugh and took me under his wing. If we were working locally, we would go back to his house on Forest Gate in Blackpool for our dinner which was usually Fish, Chips & Peas with 2 rounds of bread and butter and a mug of tea. I recall going out one day to erect a sign supported by two steel posts. The posts had to be set in the ground in concrete and Tom sent me off with a bucket telling me to knock on a few house doors for some water to mix the cement. After a few curt "bugger offs" I returned with the empty bucket and told him that not a soul was home at the houses I had called at. He gave me a knowing look, and stalked off with the bucket, returning five minutes later with it filled to the brim with water.

"Well they're home now!" he said clipping me round the head!

We had been erecting a sign at a car showroom on Lytham Road, Blackpool called Mervyns Motors and they had a big American convertible on the forecourt. When we finished, Tom asked if he could take it for a test drive and with me in the passenger seat we set off. Driving along Preston New Road, he pressed the button to open the folding roof and the wind ripped it off! I have no idea what he said to Mervyn when we got back because I was hiding in the works van at the time expecting a massive confrontation. When he finally returned, he refused to talk about it but I later found out that he had to pay for the damage.

Eventually, he asked Issy for a pay rise and when this request was turned down flat, he left only to be replaced by another Irishman called Tom McCracken.

One of our regular customers was a chap called Harry Dewhurst who worked at the Blackpool Evening Gazette but was also a pretty good magician. We used to help him making props and posters for his act which I found quite interesting. He came in one day with a plastic bucket and a broom and asked me to fill the bucket with water. He then asked me to stand on one of the large tables in the workshop and hold the bucket up to the ceiling which I successfully achieved. Placing the broom head under the bucket, my task was to get to the floor via a chair placed next to the table by descending hand over hand down the broom handle which, again, I easily achieved. The chair was suddenly whisked away and I was left standing on the floor holding a bucketful of water up to the ceiling with the broom whilst my workmates and Harry looked on with much amusement. If I moved, the bucket would have come crashing down and drench me which it eventually did when Issy came into the room and with one deft sweep of his hand, whisked the broom away leaving me drenched and on the receiving end of a severe bollocking for messing about when I should have been working.

Being an apprentice, I was also expected to carry out errands for the rest of the employees. As well as traipsing to the local “chippy” every dinnertime for the works order, I was sent out for among other things a tin of striped paint, a sheet of flexible glass and a left-handed paint brush. On one occasion, I had to go down Elizabeth Street to Hadley’s Joiners for a wooden stand for one of the silk screen frames. “Don’t get a short one, ask for a long one, they have them in stock” I was told. Turning up at Hadley’s, I asked the boss for a long stand and was told to wait while he went to look for one. 2 hours later I was still there when Mr. Hadley came back grinning and told me that I had beaten the previous recorded “long stand” by a good hour and a quarter and suggested I get back to work and explain myself. The rest of the lads thought it was all highly amusing but when Issy found out he threatened to dock my wages if anything similar happened again.

With Tom McCracken c1968 looking like I knew it all - Sadly, I didn’t!
With Tom McCracken c1968 looking like I knew it all - Sadly, I didn’t!

I was apprenticed in the art of sign writing, silk screen printing and sign making and, most importantly, how to make a decent cup of tea, (don’t put the milk in before removing the tea bag).

When Players cigarettes introduced their No.6 brand, we got the contract to provide all the fascia signs for tobacconists and newsagents painted in the company colours. We were also responsible for storing the advertising literature for the new brand and delivering it to the house which had been rented by Players to accommodate the “No.6 Girls” who drove round in Ford Cortina’s decked out in the company colours wearing mini-skirts and white boots. I used to look forward to delivering the literature and soon realised that if we turned up as early as possible, they would still be floating around in their underwear with no thought to cover themselves up. For a 16 year old lad, it was heaven!

We also used to design and print posters for various cinemas, dance halls and also for a chap who ran a music promotion company called the Kelvin Organisation. He would promote bands in the area and we used to get free tickets for many of the “gigs”.

One band that I became friendly with were The Wheels from Belfast who were based in Blackpool at the time and I would hang about with them when time allowed. Brian, Herbie, Rod, Tito and Vic (with peroxide bleached hair) lived on a local farm shared with the aforementioned Lemmy. They were great fun to be with and although about 5 years older than me, I was always treated as a mate. Brian Rossi, (real name Rosbotham) subsequently left the band and settled in the area eventually performing locally before taking over as compere at The Dolphin Bar at Cleveleys, north of Blackpool.

About this time, Issy took on a sign writer who went by the name of “Yelrad”. He was about 50 and was the father of Jean Darley who had a high class hairdressing salon in Blackpool but would have nothing to do with him which was why he reversed his surname. He chain smoked and never took the fag out of his mouth, (above which, sat a nicotine stained moustache) lighting the next one with the stub of the previous one. He told us that in the summer, he had a stall on the waterfront in Cannes where he produced caricatures and then proceeded to sketch everyone on the premises with a piece of chalk on the wall. Issy was none too pleased with this and told him to get on with his work or he would sack him. “Yelrad” was presented with a hardboard fascia board painted in white gloss ready for writing to the Players specific layout and typeface whereupon he started to write it in his own style which he said was much preferable and more stylish than the one provided. Issy came upstairs in the afternoon, saw what he had done and sacked him on the spot. He had lasted a day and a half!

Issy, being stone deaf, had a massive Bakelite telephone on his desk with a separate earpiece connected. If someone phoned up for him, I would go into his office, tell him who it was, (he could lip-read), pick up the earpiece and stand facing him across his desk so that I could transmit the callers conversation to him. He had a friend called Gilbert Whatnell who had a photography shop on Deansgate in Blackpool. He would phone up regularly to arrange a game of golf and once the time and place had been agreed, Gilbert would say “If that’s you on the other end Tony, have a nice chat with him” and would then laugh and put the phone down. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions where I’ve carried on a conversation with Issy whilst there was nobody on the other end commenting on how my wife was doing, how my holiday went, how my golf game was improving etc. etc. Gilbert thought it was all highly amusing!

Issy had a deserved reputation for being tight fisted and one December; he surprised us all when we were told that he was taking us out for a Christmas treat. After a meal at the Bell & Bottle pub on Preston New Road, we ended up at the Palladium Cinema in Blackpool where I was unfortunate enough to sit next to him and suffer the continuous buzzing from his hearing aid all the way through the Sound of Music along with a running commentary on the film in his none too quiet voice. This resulted in numerous comments from those in the audience close enough to have the film ruined for them which, unfortunately fell on (his) deaf ears!

I was also given the job of producing planning applications which were required before the erection of illuminated signs. These were drawn on tracing paper with an old mapping pen dipped in ink, (not the most ideal instrument for producing neat drawings).

On one of my trips into Blackpool delivering posters, I was walking down Church Street and passed the premises of Midgeley Drawing Service, where I noticed a new style of drawing pen, a Rapidograph, which was basically a fountain pen with a nib that produced a neat line of constant width. I asked Issy if he would buy one but was told that a mapping pen was quite sufficient for the drawings I was producing. It took months and months of badgering before he reluctantly agreed to invest in one. They were 7/6d, (37p)!!!!!

He once bought a brand new car, a Singer Chamois, and was told that he’d have to pay extra for the number plates so he made his own which didn’t look too professional but at least he saved himself £5! He also fitted a small interior mirror to the windscreen, which was angled towards the front seat passenger so that he could carry on a conversation and lip read at the same time which, believe me, caused some quite scary moments as he wasn’t the slowest of drivers.

During my time at Dores Signs, I purchased a 150cc Lambretta scooter as I had decided to become a “Mod” and painted the side panels with a Union Jack design – very trendy! Unfortunately my biking days ended when one rainy evening a car pulled out in front of me on Park Road in Blackpool and I hit it just by its front wheel which catapulted me (and the scooter) over the bonnet, with my head breaking the fall. I was taken to hospital unconscious in an ambulance but survived with just a few cuts and bruises.

The bike was a write-off, as was my helmet which had cracked down the middle. I considered myself extremely lucky as helmets weren’t compulsory then and I had worn it for the first time that evening as I didn’t want to get my hair wet.

Vanity certainly paid off that night!

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Chapter 12 – Accident.

On November 5th 1966, my Dad, who was still driving for Standerwick on the Blackpool/London overnight route was seriously injured in a multi-vehicle pile-up in thick fog on the M6 at Shevington near Wigan. He was travelling on the inside lane of the motorway and went into the back of a stationary articulated lorry that had stopped on what the driver thought was the hard shoulder causing 20 or 30 vehicles to collide into the back of my Dad’s coach.

The police knocked on our door at about 6.00am in the morning to give my Mum the bad news. A company representative called for us at 8.00am and drove us to Wigan Hospital. On the way, we passed a long line of damaged vehicles that had been moved to the hard shoulder and had all been involved in the pile-up and it was reminiscent of a convoy that had been strafed during the war.

We arrived at the hospital to be told that my Dad was in a serious condition and were asked what his religious denomination was as they thought it would be advisable to call a priest in order to administer the last rites. I’m not ashamed to say that I completely cracked up when I heard this news.

It was mid-afternoon when a doctor came to tell us that Dad had undergone major surgery and was currently in intensive care. We were allowed into the ward and couldn’t recognise him as his face had been badly cut by glass from the windscreen.

There were tubes all over the place and it was then that we noticed his left leg had been amputated and his right leg was also badly damaged. We travelled to Wigan every Sunday for the next 6 months to visit him until he was eventually sent home to recuperate and be fitted for a false leg.

During his time in hospital, the police decided they were going to prosecute everyone involved in the pile-up with dangerous driving as the motorway police force didn’t exist at that time and they didn’t have the manpower to investigate the cause of the accident arguing that they were either driving too close or too fast.

Dad was taken to court from the hospital on a stretcher whilst his case was heard and was bailed to appear again in court again the following day although where the judge thought he might abscond to would be anyone’s guess!

Sadly, a passenger on his coach had died from head injuries and Dad was charged with causing death by careless driving, banned for 10 years and fined £25.

Although I never heard him complain about his predicament or disability, I know he was extremely frustrated at not being able to drive and when he was fit enough to leave the house, he had to put up with my driving him around after I had passed my test.

He eventually had to re-take his driving test and then set himself up as a joiner, bred rabbits, (not difficult) for showing, eventually becoming a judge at livestock shows and was still working up to his death in 1990.

Whilst he was convalescing at home, he bought a book of raffle tickets for a charity night in aid of the RNLI which was held at the Central Drive Bowling Alley in Blackpool.

I attended on his behalf and he won first prize, a holiday for two in Tossa de Mar, Spain which he and Mum thoroughly enjoyed after the traumatic events of the past couple of years. Strangely enough, the draw was made by Brian London.

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Chapter 13 – Second encounter with Brian London.

In my mid to late teens, my best mate at this time was Ron Myers, also from Mereside, who eventually immigrated to Western Australia and we used to go everywhere together. There was a club on Milbourne Street in Blackpool which featured live bands on a Saturday night including a local group called Purple Haze who played Hendrix covers.

We would get absolutely plastered on Carlsberg Special Brew and catch the last bus back to Mereside. Ronnie, who was fastidious about his dress sense, was none too amused one evening when I honked up all over his head and shoulders whist trying to negotiate going downstairs on a double decker bus.

One evening, Ron and I decided to go to the 007 Club in Blackpool which was owned by the (now retired) Brian London. Already well sozzled from the Carlsberg consumed earlier and with the bravado encouraged by being in a state of inebriation, I ended up having a verbal altercation with one of the bouncers in the club. All of a sudden, I was picked up by my collar and trouser belt and propelled horizontally to the fire exit doors which were closed at the time but opened as soon as my head struck the bar release and I was thrown, dazed into the street with a somewhat irate Brian standing over me saying “…and don’t f*****g come back!”

(A few years ago, I had to go to my daughter Alison’s house in St.Annes to let a carpet fitter in. He turned out to be Brian’s son and when I told him of my two meetings with his Dad, he grinned and told me that I had got off lightly on our second altercation.

“They usually end up in A&E”, he said).

In 1967, I went on holiday to Cornwall for a week with Ron in his Dad’s pride and joy, a pale blue Cortina which he reluctantly loaned him. We rented a caravan near St. Austell but soon realised that all the “action” was in Newquay about 25 miles away and we drove there every day to spend our time on the beach sunbathing.

On the Friday of that week, we drove to Lands’ End for a day out and whilst there, had a collision with a Citroen driven by a French holidaymaker.

I was flung forward and hit my head on the windscreen, (seat belts were not compulsory then), knocking me unconscious. I was taken by ambulance to Penzance Hospital and was kept there for 24 hours under observation before being discharged on the Saturday afternoon.

Ron had rung my home to tell my parents what had happened and re-assured them that as I had only banged my head, no damage was done. Cheeky sod! He also had the unfortunate task of phoning his Dad to tell him that his car had been “slightly bent”. I was horrified when I was discharged and saw the car in the hospital car park. The front offside wing was completely ruined and the bonnet was crumpled.

We set off for home but due to the damage, the lights wouldn’t work and we spent the night in a lay-by trying to sleep. Ron’s Dad was waiting for us when we finally arrived at his house and just stood there red faced, hands on hips, shaking his head at the damage we (well, Ron actually) had caused.

I don’t recall him ever being allowed to borrow it again but he had to sell his scooter to pay for the damage.

18 years old and a feeble attempt at growing a moustache.
18 years old and a feeble attempt at growing a moustache.

A few years later, Ron emigrated to, Perth, Western Australia and ended up working for the Coca-Cola Company based there.

N.B. I recently contacted Ron via the Internet and arranged to meet up with him and his wife Bev in Chichester in September 2013, about 40 years since we last saw each other. He is semi-retired and now lives in Sydney and it was great to be able to reminisce about old times for a couple of hours.

Reunion with Ron. Chichester 2013.
Reunion with Ron. Chichester 2013.

In the summer of 1969, a call came through to work from a chap called Ted Musty who was the professional at Royal Lytham Golf Club who asked if we could send someone down to the club to do some work for a few days. Issy told me to go and see what they wanted from us and armed with travelling expenses, 5 shillings (25p) for bus fare and a sandwich) I made my way to Lytham.

On arrival, I was shown to a dusty room above the pro’s shop to be greeted by the assistant pro’s brother, who was about my age, where it was explained that we were to stencil the surnames of each player competing in the British Open (which was due to start there in a few days’ time), on the back of yellow tabards which were to be worn by their respective caddies.

We worked for 4 solid days to get the job done, (with about 4 or 5 attempts to get the word Oosterhuis to fit), and finished the work on the day before the tournament was due to start. As a thank-you, Ted gave us tickets for the final days play and although Issy, a keen golfer tried to get the ticket off me, (no chance), I turned up on the Saturday, had a great time wandering round the tented village and got to see most of the major golf stars of the day.

As history records, Tony Jacklin duly won the Championship watched by me in the BBC commentary box overlooking the 18th green standing next to the BBC’s, Harry Carpenter as he described the scene for millions of viewers.

We even got a mention from commentator Peter Alliss about what a great job “these two young lads had done” as it was the first time caddies had worn the name of their respective player in a Championship in this country. What an experience!

I have watched the game of golf ever since and played (badly) whenever possible even to the extent of “suffering for my sport” when breaking my ankle in 2001 at Heron’s Reach in Blackpool whilst searching for a hooked drive on a particularly slippery slope of grass. Both the tibia and fibula snapped and I had an operation to fit plates and screws to hold the bones together.

Brian, my playing partner that day was the same lad that I sat next to on my first day at school in 1954.

I once went on holiday to the Norfolk Broads with Ron and another mate, Steve Burgoyne. We caught a coach at the Blackpool Coliseum Bus Station and headed for the east coast. 12 hours later we arrived in Norfolk and although I can’t remember where we spent the night, we arrived at the boatyard next morning to take command of a nice little cabin cruiser. We had a great time that week. The weather was excellent and we spent our days fishing, drinking and swimming in the broads. We moored up on the River Yare one late afternoon intent on a night out in Great Yarmouth, smartened ourselves up and headed for town. After touring the local pubs and getting chased by a group of locals spoiling for a fight, we arrived back at the boat rather worse for wear and got our heads down for the night. A couple of hours later we heard the crashing of pots and pans and the three of us ended up on the cabin floor. Struggling to stand upright we exited the boat where we realised that we had tied the mooring ropes too short, the tide had gone out and the boat was hanging precariously off the side of the concrete quayside. We spent the rest of the night and most of the morning on the riverbank waiting for the tide to come back in and re-float the boat. What a bunch of idiots!

Along with all my other mates, we used to go to the Locarno Ballroom on Central Drive, Blackpool slipping Bill Taylor, the doorman a shilling (5p) each to get in avoiding the box office. The main ballroom was open until 11:00 p.m. and we would then go upstairs to the Highland Room disco which was open until 2:00 a.m.

To gain this “late night” license, they had to sell food which they got round by offering customers ham barm cakes, (baps or rolls to you southerners), which you had to buy for about a shilling, (10p).

Watneys “Red Barrel” and “Double Diamond” were the only draught beers available as I recall and one evening after over indulging, I was dangled over the balcony by my ankles for giving “lip” to one of the bouncers.

Among the numerous Motown artistes to appear at the Locarno, “Little” Stevie Wonder (as he was billed then) was one of the most memorable and he opened his set by doing a 5 minute drum solo before regaling us with his already growing number of hits.

Great times indeed!

Chapter 14 – Collar and Tie.

I played a lot of football in the late 60’s turning out for among others, South Shore Rangers, Fylde Press and The Ivy Leaf Club. During one of these games on a rock hard pitch, I went up for a header and came down badly on my left ankle tearing the ligaments. I was taken to hospital where my leg was put in plaster up to my knee and I was signed off work for six weeks.

Issy wasn’t best pleased with the situation but during my time off work I re-evaluated my employment status and wrote to him stating that I wouldn’t come back to Dores Signs unless he gave me an extra £2.00 per week!

My cards were sent to me by return post with a note from Doreen Burgess, his secretary, wishing me good luck for the future. Fortunately, soon after the cast was removed, I gained employment at Glasdon Signs on Talbot Road in Blackpool as a silk screen printer manufacturing glass fibre products.

Among numerous other contracts, Glasdon were given the job of producing the road signs directing people to military cemeteries in Europe and North Africa for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It was a major contract and I particularly remember making signs for the war graves in Tobruk and El Alamein.

After a couple of years on the shop floor I was offered a position in the small drawing office and for the first time in my working life left home in a collar and tie. As well as signs, Glasdon made numerous other glass fibre products and were tasked to manufacture 2 car park attendants kiosks for the under-construction Preston Bus Station designed by Building Design Partnership. These kiosks were the forerunner of a wide range of Glasdon modular buildings which are now manufactured under license worldwide.

The company also produced a range of large glass fibre planters and had arranged an exhibition of these products at Barton Grange Garden Centre on the A6 at Garstang. Along with Ken Povey, a colleague from Glasdon, we set up the exhibition and spent the day promoting the products. At about 6.00pm, we loaded the planters into cardboard boxes and secured then to the bed of a flat back wagon for our journey back to Blackpool.

Sadly, we hadn’t secured them sufficiently and driving back down the M55, a glance in the wing mirrors revealed a number of planters rolling merrily down the motorway with cars swerving to avoid them. We pulled onto the hard shoulder and ran back to retrieve them apologising profusely to a number of angry motorists before loading them back onto the wagon.

After the initial shock, we both saw the funny side of events and were doubled up in fits of laughter for a good 5 minutes before we could proceed on our way to Blackpool working on our explanation as to why some of the planters were damaged.

On the occasion of my 21st birthday, Mum & Dad gave me £21, (which, believe me, they must have struggled to provide) and I went into Blackpool that morning and bought myself a leather jacket for £12 from Stevens’ Leathers on Central Drive.

In the afternoon, I went to Bloomfield Road with my Uncle Tom to watch Blackpool F.C. lose 0-1 to Derby County before 17,000 fans. They were relegated at the end of the season with just 23 points and a dismal record of P42 - W4 - D15 - L23 and did not compete in the top flight again until the 2010 – 2011 season.

That evening I celebrated my “coming of age” at home with friends and relations and had a great time, I think! It’s all a bit different nowadays isn’t it?

21st birthday party with Mum and Dad.
21st birthday party with Mum and Dad.

About this time, I became friends with an Australian called Rex Cordingley who came to work at Glasdon. He had a glass fibre company in Perth, Western Australia and was travelling the world, working at various similar companies picking up new ideas for manufacture back home.

I was engaged to my future wife, Lynda at this time and Rex persuaded us to immigrate to Australia where a job would be waiting for me at his company and I left Glasdon in 1972 to work for myself in order to earn extra cash for the expected emigration.

We applied for the £10 assisted passage that was in operation at the time and with after many interviews and medicals we were eventually turned down as the new Australian P.M., Gough Whitlam had severely restricted the input of migrants to certain designated trades and unfortunately, mine wasn’t one of them!

Chapter 15 – Married life.

My stag night was held the night before my wedding at the Norbreck Castle Hotel, Blackpool and about 20 of us turned up for the celebration. Sadly, I can’t remember much about it but at the end of the evening, it was agreed that we’d all meet up at the Derby Baths for a sauna the next morning at 10:00am.

The day dawned and with it, a massive hangover, but myself and brother in law Roger, made our way to the Derby only to find that the only other person there was my Uncle Tom. None of us had ever had a sauna before and had no idea what to do but the helpful attendant explained everything to us and we stripped off in the changing rooms before, somewhat sheepishly venturing into the sauna area.

He took us into a small room with wooden benches and after sloshing some water on the brazier full of hot stones, left us there for about 10 minutes. On his return, he escorted the three sweating and gasping bodies into the main area and told us to jump into the plunge pool before we cooled down. We all jumped in and I swear that the shock of the ice cold water immediately put paid to our hangovers.

Clambering out, he took us to a steam room for another session and yet another ice cold plunge after which, I was treated to a soapy, full body massage by a rather attentive muscular chap who, after being told that I was due to be married later that day, seemed to lose interest for some reason! Although it was a shock to the system, I can thoroughly recommend the above as a brilliant cure for a hangover because I left there feeling 100% and ready for the big day ahead.

Lynda and I were married on the afternoon of June 9th 1973 at St. John Vianneys Church on Glastonbury Avenue, Blackpool and the reception was held at the Welbeck Hotel, North Shore.

Wedding Day. St. John Vianney. 9th June 1973.
Wedding Day. St. John Vianney. 9th June 1973.
Outside the church with both sets of parents.
Outside the church with both sets of parents.

Lynda’s Dad had given us a cheque for £100 to cover the cost of the reception which included drinks on arrival for 55 people, a “sit down” buffet, a champagne toast and flowers. The bill came to £96.82 and I still have the receipt!

We left the hotel in a hired Hillman Avenger which was completely covered in white crazy foam and toilet paper as well as the obligatory “Just Married” and “L” plate signs which we cleaned off at a car wash on Preston New Road. We were booked in at The Tickled Trout in Preston that night prior to driving down to Cornwall for our honeymoon and quite a few of the wedding guests left the reception to lie in wait for our arrival.

Unbeknown to them, we went straight to Preston Guildhall for a David Bowie concert which we had booked in advance and didn’t get to the hotel until way after they’d left.

The next morning we departed Preston and spent the night in a hotel in Taunton where I spent a sociable couple of hours watching an England v Russia football match with a with a group of lads in the TV lounge before creeping quietly back to our room to find Lynda fast asleep.

Best not wake her then!!!!

After breakfast on Monday morning we drove to our B&B in Newquay, checked in and had a wander round the town before retiring for the night. Tuesday dawned, the sun was up and we decided to sunbathe on the beach for a while. The weather was extremely hot and unfortunately, I fell asleep for a few hours ending up severely burnt and suffering from an extreme case of sunstroke. The landlady suggested that a good remedy for sunburn was to dab vinegar all over the afflicted areas, (which was basically 90% of my body) and I spent the night in agony, lying on top of the bed sheets smelling like a bag of chips!

I was still in agony the next morning and couldn’t bear to wear any clothing.

The weather was still hot so we decided to return to St.Annes and I drove home in my swimming trunks with wet towels covering the rest of my body to escape the sun coming into the car. Great honeymoon that turned out to be!

Our first “home” was flat on the first floor of a house at No.8, Durham Avenue in St.Annes which Lynda’s Dad had bought prior to leaving the R.A.F. where he served as a Warrant Officer based at Warton, near Preston.

As I said, I had left Glasdon in late 1972 and set myself up as a self-employed silk screen printer, working at a small Blackpool company called Moviesigns along with an ex-Glasdon employee, Stuart Parkinson whose dad, Cliff, owned the business.

Among many other items, we printed tens of thousands of scarves and pennants depicting the pop stars of the day, Donny Osmond, David Cassidy, Slade, T.Rex (and, whisper it) Gary Glitter among others for a chap called Jeff Hill who resembled (and dressed) like the George Cole “spiv” character from the St.Trinians’ films of the 1950’s & 60’s.

In 1974, I applied for, and got a job as a draughtsman at a company called Beirne Owen Engineering who had an office in St.Annes, a handy 5 minute walk from our flat. They were consultant engineers and I was to remain there for the next 17 years. Their main customers were Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow-in-Furness and BAC, (now British Aerospace) in Warton, near Preston.

The company offices were at that time situated on the top floor of a building on the corner of Park Road and St.Annes Square. We had a great view of The Square and particularly the ladies changing rooms in J.R.Taylors store on the other side of the road. When the venetian blinds in the changing room were at a certain angle, you could see straight in - well you could, until an upright member of the drawing office telephoned Taylors and told them of the situation, resulting in the blinds being permanently closed!

The boss, Rod Beirne, was a big catholic and organised annual trips for pilgrims to visit Lourdes in France. One Friday afternoon he asked me for a favour. Would I take the company car on Saturday morning and take two ladies, both in their 70’s from their house in St.Annes to the junction of the M55 and M6 at Preston to meet the coach that was travelling from the Lancaster area and which would take them to the airport for the flight to Lourdes? I duly collected them at 7.30am after telling Lynda that I would be back about 9.00am for a bacon sandwich before going into work for a few hours overtime.

We got to the junction about 8:00 and waited under the motorway for the coach to arrive at 8.15. At 8.45, it still hadn’t arrived and there was still no sign of it by 9.00.

Remember, these were the days before mobile phones so I thought that I had better find a phone box and ring Rod’s wife, (he had flown out the night before) to see if she had heard from the coach company. I explained the situation to my passengers and suggested that they wait with their suitcases under the motorway whilst I went in search of a telephone and if, in the meantime, the coach turned up; they were to get on it. (Leaving two 70 year olds sitting on suitcases under the motorway makes me wonder, even now, “What the hell were you thinking of ?”).

I returned about 9.20 with no explanation from Rod’s wife to find them still waiting for the coach. I told them that it didn’t look like it was going to turn up and that I would take them to the airport. We all jumped in the car and headed off down the M6. On the way, I asked them what time they were supposed to check in and they told me 1.30. I replied that we had plenty of time to get to Manchester and it was only then that they informed me that they were actually flying from Gatwick!!!!

Luckily, I had some cash on me so I filled the car up at the next services and phoned Lynda to explain the situation. We eventually reached the junction of the M1 and the new M25 motorway (which was officially opening that day). I pulled into the first services and found the motorway police station where I explained my predicament, told them that we were running late and that the ladies were likely to miss their flight.

Two of them jumped into their patrol car, told me to keep right behind them, and escorted me all the way to Gatwick where I thanked them profusely, got the cases out of the car and took the ladies into the departure lounge where they were duly checked in for their flight.

With a sigh of relief, I went back to the car only to find a parking ticket on the windscreen!!! I eventually got home at about 7.30 that evening to relate the tale to Lynda and enjoy a well-earned drink. (My breakfast, by the way, was ruined)!

When Rod got back the following Tuesday, I explained what had happened and he phoned the coach company who, it turned out, had completely forgotten to pick the ladies up at Preston. He thanked me for my efforts, told me to book 12 hours overtime for the Saturday and paid the parking fine.

In 1975, we purchased an end of terrace property at 15 Cudworth Road in St.Annes for which we paid £6,250 and the mortgage amounted to £55.66 per month! All the furnishings were given to us by friends and family but slowly over the years they were replaced by newly bought items whenever we could afford it.

Whilst at Beirne Owen, I became friends with a chap called Brian “Wildman” Wilding. He was a big bloke, about 6’2” tall, 17 stone with a full head of grey hair, a beard, a quick temper and a somewhat intimidating nature.

He lived on Lytham Road in Warton, opposite what used to be Georges Garage and drove an old Austin Maxi. We were both working on contract at BAe on Strand Road in Preston at that time and I used to drive past his house on the way to work on my Honda 50 motorcycle.

On winters’ mornings, by the time I got as far as Warton, I was usually freezing cold so I used to park the bike in his driveway and jump in his car, (it was never locked) awaiting his arrival.

He would eventually jump in dressed in his battered sheepskin coat, pull the choke out and stick a matchstick behind it to keep it open, fiddle around with the wires hanging down from the steering column, (he’d lost the key) and start the car before driving like the proverbial “bat out of hell” to Preston.

One icy morning, we were exiting the A583 and driving down Riversway into Preston when he lost control on a long curve at about 60mph and the car did a full 360° turn before carrying on down the road.

Completely unperturbed by what had just happened, he turned to me, sitting white faced with fear and said with a grin, “Nearly lost it that time Tone”. It was always an adventure driving with Brian!

He also liked to have a couple of pints on the way home and I often had no choice but to accompany him if my bike was still at his house and one night after work we called in at a pub in Preston known locally as The Steamer on Fylde Road. We ordered a couple of pints and Brian chalked our names up on the pool table blackboard before returning to the bar to watch the game currently in progress. The two blokes on the table looked like a right couple of thugs and one of them immediately walked up to the board and proceeded to wipe our initials off.

Brian, visibly irritated by this, barged past them, re-chalked our names in big letters and on his way back, picked up the white ball from the table and put it in his pocket whilst fixing the bigger of the two with a menacing glare.

The guy, nose to nose with Brian and a pool cue in his hand said “Have you got a problem pal”? where upon Brian replied, “No, you’ve got the problem - PAL” before slamming the ball on the table and adding, “Finish your game and f**k off” which to my great relief, was exactly what they did.

Although possessing a rather volatile temper, (he once had the chief draughtsman at Strand Road up against the wall by the throat), and would often go missing for two or three days on “a bender”, he was a great bloke to have as a friend but you really didn’t want him as an enemy.

Our first daughter, Hilary, was born on 27th January, 1978 at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. When she was told that Lynda was expecting, my Mum burst into tears. She had been worrying for years that I might be sterile as I was X-Rayed as a baby and she thought it might have affected my ability to reproduce!!!!

Sadly, Lynda’s mum, Maud, had died during her pregnancy and she had been admitted to hospital on the 26th January for "a few days bed rest". I had gone to visit her on the 27th with Jim, her father and on arrival, we were asked to step into the ward sisters’ office where it was explained that the baby was in some danger and that they were considering carrying out a caesarean section. After signing the consent forms and being asked to wait in a side room, Jim decided to go home. (He wasn’t one for hanging around).

I recall sitting watching “The Professionals” when the programme was interrupted by a doctor popping his head round the door and telling me that I was the father of a little girl. Extremely little actually because being a month premature, she only weighed 4lb.1oz, (2kg) and was kept in the Special Care ward for nearly 4 weeks until we brought her home on 21st February, the day after my 28th birthday.

In June, 1980, I had to drive to Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow to deliver some drawings. Lynda was 7 months pregnant with our second daughter, Alison and I decided to take her and Hilary who was 2 at the time along for the ride without telling Rod. Going through Ulverston, Lynda started feeling unwell and was in some discomfort.

My cousin Marilyn and her husband Brian ran a pub, the White Horse, in Dalton-in Furness, so I called in and explained the situation. Marilyn said she would look after Hilary and I dashed down to Barrow Maternity Hospital where, after a brief check-up, they decided to keep Lynda there under observation.

I drove to Vickers, handed the drawings over to Brian Clarke, the chief electrical draughtsman and after explaining the situation with Lynda, rushed back to Maternity. Although not feeling 100%, Lynda didn’t fancy stopping in hospital overnight so she signed herself out and we returned to Dalton to pick Hilary up.

Thanking Marilyn for her help, we made our way home without further drama. It was all a bit fraught but we got back safely and at least Rod was none the wiser as to what had taken place.

The next morning, Rod called me into his office and among other things, politely enquired how Lynda’s pregnancy was progressing. I assured him that there were no problems whereupon he subtly suggested that if I wanted to take her for a day out again I should do it in my own time or at least ask him for permission as Brian Clarke had evidently called him and explained what had happened the day before. “I suppose it could have been worse”, Rod suggested, “you’re next child could have been born a Barrovian!”

Hilary was still in her pushchair and Lynda was still pregnant with Alison when we visited London to do some sightseeing. After a tiring day, we were walking alongside a high brick wall to get to the car which was parked just around the approaching corner when I heard someone calling out to us.

I looked round to see 3 or 4 skinheads in jeans, Doc Martens and bomber jackets shouting names and general abuse. They were catching up with us fast so I told Lynda that once we were round the corner to get in the car and switch the engine on whilst I tried to “hold them off”.

We turned the corner, and she ran and got into the car whilst I waited for them. As the first one turned the corner, I grabbed him by his jacket, spun him round, slammed his back against the wall and “nutted” him as hard as I could.

The resulting scream was ear splitting!

Then I woke up - to find myself with a handful of nightie in my fists and saw Lynda with her hands covering the already growing bruise on her forehead! Naturally enough, she was extremely upset by what had happened (especially with her being pregnant) and it took a few minutes to calm her down whilst I explained that it had all been a dream.

Fortunately, no permanent damage was done but I have always wondered how the hospital would have reacted to my explanation if I’d have had to take her there!

Alison eventually arrived on 14th July 1980, via another caesarean and, as luck would have it, on Lynda’s birthday. There were no complications this time and we were able to take her home a few days later.

Just after Alison was born, I went to my cousin Lynne’s house, (she was hair dressing at the time), for a haircut.

I asked her if she could “add a bit of body” to my hair as it was very fine and just flopped all over the place. She suggested a “body perm” in order to thicken it up and I reluctantly agreed on the condition that it wouldn’t end up curly. After filling my head with curlers, she applied the perming lotion and I sat there for half an hour waiting for it to work.

Eventually, she removed the curlers, rinsed the perming solution out and blow dried it, leaving me with a thick head of beautifully styled hair.

The day after was a Saturday and we went into Lytham to do some shopping where we got caught in a rainstorm. I was sheltering under a shop canopy when I looked at my reflection in the window and saw to my horror that my head was covered with a mass of dripping curls.

We got home and tried to blow dry it straight again but I only exacerbated the problem and ended up with a frizzy “afro”. I rang Lynne up and she said it would be better if I just washed it and let it dry naturally if I didn’t want it frizzy again.

Unfortunately, that evening, I was due to referee a snooker final in my local pub, The Links, and after sitting outside in the car for ten minutes plucked up the courage to enter the pub.

I opened the doors to the snooker room to be met with howls of derision from the assembled players and locals alike as cries of “My God, it’s Shirley Temple” and “I didn’t know Kevin Keegan was coming” were hurled in my general direction. All in all, a most embarrassing incident and needless to say, one I never repeated.

Oh dear!
Oh dear!

I recall that one of the snooker regulars at that time had one eye that looked straight ahead whilst the other one stared at the floor. How he managed to play snooker was beyond me and his nickname (behind his back) was "Full Beam and Dip".

Whilst at Beirne Owen, I was talked into doing a parachute jump for charity and after raising the required amount to qualify, I went down to Blackpool Airport one Sunday morning for “training” before the jump which was due to take place that afternoon.

This consisted of jumping off a table with knees together and rolling onto an old mattress followed by some slides showing what to do if the “chute” didn’t open.

Unfortunately, due to high winds, the jump was cancelled and re-scheduled for the Sunday after.

I duly turned up the next week with Lynda, Hilary and Mum along with a few work colleagues in attendance. Before entering the aircraft, Mum slipped her wedding ring off and placed it on my finger. She was more worried than I was and as this was the first time she had ever removed the ring since getting married and I didn’t know whether to consider it an omen of doom or a good luck charm!

Boarding the aircraft, the instructor told us that he had never brought anyone back in the aircraft for failing to jump and he didn’t intend to start now so with a stomach full of butterflies, we took off and climbed to 2,000 ft. He attached my parachute cord to a static line so that it would automatically open and off I leapt into the blue yonder.

As there was absolutely no wind that day, I descended straight down and as it was a conventional round parachute, there was no facility to steer or do anything else other than wait for the ground to arrive.

Unfortunately, the emergency chute attached to my chest prevented me from seeing the ground approaching at some speed and I landed with both legs straight as opposed to being bent at the knees.

I can still recall the terrific jolt as I touched down and fell over before being picked up by a van and taken back to “base”. By the time I arrived, my ankles had swollen sufficiently to prevent me from walking without any support and I turned up for work next day on a pair of crutches with my ankles tightly bound in support bandages to be met by applause from my colleagues in the office.

Chapter 16 – Tall stories at the Legion.

In late 1981, about the time of the impending Falklands crisis, The Links closed for 3 months for a major refurbishment and I joined the local branch of the British Legion along with a few other Links regulars. On one of my first visits to the club, I was sat in the snooker room enjoying a pint of Boddingtons Bitter (when it was still drinkable before being bought out by Scottish & Newcastle) and reading the paper.

I was joined at my table by someone who I’d never met before and after a few seconds silence, he leaned over and speaking in hushed tones, struck up a conversation with me which went as follows:

“Well, any time now I’ll be on my way”.
“On your way where”?
“Can’t say too much, let’s just say South Atlantic”.
“In the Navy are you”?
“Special Forces”.
“Special Forces eh”?
“Yep”. (and holding his hands out, commented),“Registered lethal weapons these are”!
“Really? Well I really must go and get another pint. Excuse me”.
I went to the bar where a mate of mine was standing and said:
“Stuart, don’t make it obvious, but who is that guy who’s just been talking to me over there”.Casting a furtive glance over his shoulder, he replied,“Oh, you mean Bullshit Barnes”?
“Ahhh, say no more Stuart, say no more”.

Chapter 17 – Thespian activities.

One lunchtime, at work I happened to overhear Maureen Pickles, a tracer in the drawing office telling a colleague that one of the actors in the drama group she was a member of had had to pull out of their forthcoming production of “Hobson’s Choice” to undergo an operation and they were struggling to find a replacement. I had always fancied “having a go” at acting, (remember the appendix fiasco?) so I gallantly offered my services and she invited me down to a script “read through” that evening. When I got there, I was introduced to the rest of the cast who thanked me profusely for stepping in to “save the day” and was handed a copy of the script with my lines highlighted.

To my horror I saw that I was to play the main character, Henry Horatio Hobson in the production and immediately explained to those present that I had never stepped foot on a stage in my life, (under one, yes, when at school as previously mentioned) never mind acted, (although my lack of an appendix belied that fact) and wasn’t sure that I could “carry it off”. They finally convinced me that it would be “all right on the night” and anyway, I had plenty of time, (6 weeks) in which to learn my lines for a part that required me being on stage for 90% of the time.

I spent every single lunchtime for the next few weeks in an office with Maureen going through my lines which was extremely hard work and after many rehearsals and then finally, dress rehearsals we were ready for the opening night. Dressed in an old black suit and waistcoat with grey hair and whiskers, (Henry was in his seventies), I stood in the wings on that first night waiting for my entrance, turned to Hilda, the producer and said “Sorry Hilda, I just can’t do it”!

The look of horror on her face was a joy to behold before I grinned and strode on stage. I have to say that although nerve wracking, I thoroughly enjoyed those 3 nights in Warton Village Hall although the presence in the front row of lads from work was somewhat disconcerting especially when they held up score cards (similar to ice skating) as we were taking our bows at the end.

My first appearance for Warton Drama Group in “Hobson’s Choice”.  I’m the one sitting down!
My first appearance for Warton Drama Group in “Hobson’s Choice”. I’m the one sitting down!

The experience left me wanting more and I appeared in 3 more productions for the group. In the main, they were comedies and in one particular production, it was necessary for me to be slapped in the face by my “fiancée” during an argument.

Throughout rehearsals she just mimicked the slap but I had a word with her before going on stage for the first performance and told her that the slap would have to be for real and not to worry about hurting me.

On the opening night, she delivered a full blown punch to the side of my face, knocking me over the back of a sofa causing the audience to collapse in tears and gaining her a generous round of applause before she duly stormed off. Dazed, I managed to get up and deliver my next line before exiting the stage where she apologised profusely. Fortunately she toned the punch down to a ladylike slap for the rest of the run.

The challenge of memorising lines coupled with the hours spent during rehearsals meant I was spending a great deal of time learning my roles so I decided that having not been spotted by any theatrical impresario from the West End, I would leave the glamorous world of showbiz behind and subsequently retired from my thespian activities.

My acting career was soon to be revived by my cousin David Naden who, along with Reg, a friend of his were about to make a film, “Macready – The Movie” and offered me a part in it. I was to play a “hit man” sent out to kill a “grass” played by Dave’s father in law. We shot a scene in a bar at Blackpool Airport and then moved outdoors at night to film the murder.

Dressed in a Crombie overcoat with the collar turned up to look sinister, I approached a telephone box in which “the grass” was conveying information and knifed him to death.

The film premier was held at The Gables Hotel next to the Pleasure Beach and Reg, dressed up as a spoof Alan Whicker, interviewed the arrival of “the stars” and their entourage recording it all on film for posterity.

Sadly, my acting skills never came to the attention of the critics and I am currently “resting” as they say in the theatrical world!

Chapter 18 – The 80’s and 90’s.

In the late 80’s, we took the girls to Spain for a holiday and after a last minute enforced change of accommodation (and resort) we caught the coach in St.Annes for the 48 hour journey. After numerous stops in the North West to pick up passengers, various mishaps along the way and having absolutely no idea where the apartment we were booked into was situated, we eventually arrived in Blanes, (not Calella as originally booked), located the apartment, and after a few hours on the beach, (well covered this time) we flopped into bed and went straight to sleep.

About an hour later, the glass in the doors started vibrating followed by the boom-boom-boom of disco music being played at full volume. Apparently, the floor of our apartment was the ceiling of the disco down below and for the next few hours, we lay awake cursing the travel company for the late change to the booking.

The next morning, I managed to get the phone number of the apartment owner who called round to see us and agreed to move us up to the 7th floor. Problem sorted! The rest of the week flew by and was only spoilt by the 48 hour return journey with no pre-booked seats and the family spread all over the coach. Never again!

Due to the reduction in the amount of work being received from Vickers and BAE, I was made redundant in 1991, receiving a redundancy payment of £3,366 for the 17 years I was there and spent the next few weeks looking for alternative employment. “Signing on” at the local Job Centre, was not an experience to be enjoyed as it seemed that even though I had been in continuous employment since 1965, I was treated as someone trying to “con” the department out of their benefit hand-outs and had plenty of arguments with them.

Shortly after my redundancy, I was at home when I received a phone call from Brian (who I had sat next to on my first day at school), who told me he was going for a job interview in Rochdale and did I fancy going along for the ride? As I had never been there before, I thanked him for the offer and he duly picked me up and we drove over to Rochdale. We parked the car in the town centre and went looking for the office where the interview was to take place.

These were the days before Satnav and we had no idea of its location so I wandered into a branch of Johnsons Cleaners behind the market to ask directions which were duly given and Brian went off for his interview leaving me to have a wander round town.

On my return to St.Annes, I got a phone call from my Mum enquiring about my own search for work when I happened to mention that I’d just got back from my first ever visit to Rochdale. She then told me that she used to live in Rochdale in her teens when her Dad was manager of a theatre there and that her first job after leaving school was also in the town.

“I never knew that you lived in Rochdale” I exclaimed, “Where did you work”?

She replied “Johnsons Cleaners just behind the market”.

I can still recall the shiver that ran down my spine upon hearing this and told her that I had been in those very premises a few hours earlier and after a few “Oh my Gods!” from her, we both agreed that it was a really spooky experience.

Don Moore, a friend of mine kindly offered me some work at a warehouse on Preston New Road which housed a company he ran with Michael Davis, another local businessman and thankfully, that kept my spirits up for a couple of months.

I eventually found permanent employment at Timax Exhausts on Squires Gate Lane, Blackpool as a draughtsman in their development department which, by coincidence, was situated directly across the road from the school playing fields where I was unjustly accused of stepping on the grass 35 years earlier.

The company designed and manufactured replacement exhaust systems, (the type you would buy at Kwik-Fit) and I soon settled into my new job. We were given a list of about 300 vehicles for which we would have to design a system for and we would borrow 2 to 3 year old cars from local dealers in order to develop a replacement that would fit the vehicle and pass the Department of Transport noise tests.

There was a guy in the office, Tom Steeden, whose job it was to troll through the car sales sections of local newspapers looking for suitable vehicles from the list given to him by the development teams. He would contact them and we would borrow a car for a few days before returning it to the dealer with a brand new system attached, so both parties benefitted from the transaction.

One day, a new director arrived at the company and after spending a few days familiarising himself with the way the company operated, called our boss, Keith, into his office and insisted that he immediately sack Tom as “every time I walk past his desk, he’s reading a bloody newspaper”! After carefully explaining Tom’s role to the director, Keith left the office with a wry grin on his face.

At one end of the development workshop there were a double set of shutters. The outer roller shutters were steel and were closed and locked every night but remained open during the day. About 1 metre inside the rollers was a heavy duty automatic nylon shutter that worked on a sensor which opened when a vehicle approached. I had been working late one evening and went to close the steel shutter and locked it when the inner roller somehow automatically closed trapping me between the two.

I tried in vain to open the inner shutter but to no avail, I was stuck! After ½ an hour of shouting for help, I resigned myself to spending the night there and worrying that Lynda had no idea as to my predicament as I had no mobile phone then. I then heard someone whistling inside the workshop and renewed my efforts to shout for help.

Fortunately, one of the fitters, Peter Atkinson, heard me and realising what had happened, let me out using the override switch grinning like a Cheshire cat. After assuring me that he wouldn’t mention a word of the incident to anyone, I eventually went home only to walk into the canteen for a brew next morning to be greeted by an extreme amount of “stick” from the lads who thought it all highly amusing. Thanks Peter – although I strongly suspect he had a hand in the incident!

I stayed at Timax until 1997 until leaving to spend 2 years working on contract at Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow but eventually, living away from home all week proved too much and I accepted a 12 month contract at INBIS, a drawing office in Bamber Bridge, just outside Preston.

There was an engineer at INBIS named John Kyrtsoudis, who was of Greek/Scottish parentage. He would intersperse all his conversations with the word "y'know", for example:

"We have some design work, y'know, and it has to be finished y'know in 3 months y'know" etc., etc.

He would chair design meetings and we would all put 50p "in the pot" and try to guess the exact number of times he said "y'know" during discussions. He thought we were avidly taking notes but in reality, we were all trying to keep count. It was won quite a few times and the record was about 130 "y'knows" during a 20 minute meeting!

I also remember an engineer at INBIS with a wicked sense of humour named Jim Ratcliffe who once attended a seminar run by an outside agency. The chap running it suggested that everyone round the table introduce themselves with a brief career history and then give one interesting fact about themselves.

When it came round to Jim, he gave a short résumé then related that his great, great, great grandfather had fought at Little Bighorn with Sitting Bull. All those present were astonished at this revelation until Jim added that although he couldn't actually verify it, “… that's what my Uncle Geronimo told me”!!!! Cue gales of laughter from the attendees. When the contract ended I was offered a position at another exhaust company, Arvin, who were based in Warton where I stayed until 2003, returning to Vickers for another 12 months before going back to Bamber Bridge in 2005.

So, after 17 years with one company, I spent the next 14 years working in 6 different jobs. Not what I wanted, but you go where the work is!

During my 2 years in Barrow, (which is not the most endearing place on a wet and cold winters’ night) I was staying at The Duke of Wellington Hotel on Abbey Road. Across the road was an old cinema which was showing “G.I. Jane” starring Demi Moore.

With nothing better to do, I walked across the road and purchased a ticket. Entering the cinema, I found that I was the only customer in the place and plonked myself down in the middle of the back row.

Just after the film started, the door at the back opened and a chap wearing a long mac and a flat cap, (yes, seriously) walked in, sidled along the back row and sat in the seat immediately to my left.

“Oh God why me”? I thought, and immediately vacated my seat and went to sit about 6 rows in front. Thankfully he took the hint and left the cinema a few moments later. (I think I’ve mentioned strange men and cinemas before haven’t I?)

Chapter 19 – The Home Front.

After a few years, we had the house in Cudworth Road just how we wanted it and it was a reasonably quiet road in which to bring the girls up. There were quite a few young families there at that time and all the children would play together quite happily in the street.

One day, Hilary and Alison announced that they and all their friends were going to put on a “street show” for the parents. Come the day of the show, we all ventured somewhat sheepishly out into the street for the event. Alison took the role as Master of Ceremonies announcing all the “acts”.

“And now – Richard doing stunts”, and Richard duly rode past us all doing “wheelies” on his bike. “Next, we have Elizabeth singing a song” etc. etc.

One of their friends, Marianne suffered from spina-bifida and walked with the aid of crutches so you can imagine our horror when Alison announced: “And now, Marianne doing tricks on her sticks”!

We just wished that a hole would open and swallow us up when we heard this but the kids thought nothing of it. They had all played together since they were toddlers and she was always, (somewhat limitedly) included in their games and fortunately, the announcement was taken in good spirit by the audience.

1977 saw the occasion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee with celebrations throughout the country. In St.Annes, there is a council estate, (now called “social housing” for some inane reason) named Spring Gardens which was known locally as Mau Mau and naturally enough, the residents had organised a celebration party for the estates children in the Community Centre.

Geoff, my next door neighbour and I were roped into delivering chairs and tables from St.Annes Parish Church Hall to the Centre and a local van hire company donated the use of a flat-bed wagon for the day.

We attached a clothes prop to the back of the cab and nailed a Union Jack to the prop. After picking up the tables and chairs, we drove down to the Community Centre on Spring Gardens to make the delivery.

The estates residents had previously decorated the main street with bunting strung across the road between houses. Unfortunately it had been raining overnight and was still pouring down when we drove onto the estate causing the bunting to sag.

Being blissfully unaware of the problem this may cause, we drove down the main street while the makeshift flagpole on the truck snagged on the lines of decorations, ripping them down as we progressed, resulting in a trail of bunting being dragged behind us closely followed by a number of irate householders calling us all sorts of derogatory names.

Apologising profusely, we promptly took the flagpole down and carried on to our destination, unloaded, and scarpered as quickly as possible.

A couple of other memories come to mind as I write.

We were driving back from Lytham one Sunday morning with the girls on our way to Jim’s house and I turned right at the traffic lights into St.Thomas’ road just as they were turning to red.

When we arrived at Jims, we went into the dining room at the rear of the house for a cup of tea before he and I made our Sunday visit to the Legion when Hilary came running in and said that there was a lady on the phone who wanted to speak to me.

I cautiously said “Hello” and “the lady” in question informed me that she was from the emergency services, that Hilary had dialled 999 to report me for going through a set of traffic light on red and that she needed to speak to an adult in order to ascertain whether there was any cause for concern.

I replied, “No, but there soon will be” and after apologising for wasting the police’s time, assured her that I would speak to Hilary regarding her over zealous sense of public duty.

At one time during her early school years, her younger sister, Alison was having trouble with her reading so one evening I sat her on my knee and asked her to read a short story from a children’s book for me

She read the story from beginning to end with only a few short stumbles along the way and I told her that she had done very well indeed. I then asked if she had enjoyed the tale, whereupon she replied, “I don’t know, I wasn’t listening”!

After 10 years at Cudworth Road, we moved to 33 Grange Road, a 4 bedroom dormer bungalow which was nearer to St.Annes Square and just around the corner from Lynda’s Dads’ house.

At one time, we had a young family living next door and their oldest child, Tom who was about 5 years old was watching me spreading slug pellets around the base of my sunflowers one summers evening. He asked me what I was doing and I told him that they were magic pellets and if he came around tomorrow, he would see how much the sunflowers had grown.

He stood next to one of them and I marked his height on the stem with a piece of black insulation tape before he went back home.

“How are you going to explain that one, he will be so disappointed tomorrow” said Lynda who had seen what happened. “No problem, I’ve got an idea”, I replied, and when I was sure Tom would be in bed, I dug up the plants, put them in the car and drove down to her Dad’s allotment.

Removing the 12’0” high sunflowers in Jim’s plot and replacing them with mine, I returned home and made the substitution (not forgetting to add a piece of insulation tape near the top of one of them).

Tom came round the next morning and his jaw visibly dropped when he saw the massive flowers with the insulation tape on the one he had been measured against. He immediately ran home to tell his Mum who came round to see this phenomenon herself.

When I took her to one side and quietly explained to her what I’d done, she thought it was great as Tom had been looking forward to seeing what had happened overnight and she had been telling him not to get his hopes up.

Amazing what a few “magic” pellets will do!
Amazing what a few “magic” pellets will do!

We were celebrating Lynda and Alison’s birthday on a sunny July afternoon in the garden with friends and relations. I had just had yet another plaster cast removed after tearing ankle ligaments and was using a pair of crutches as an aid to walking although decided I didn’t need them for the party.

Geoff had brought a guest with him whom I had met a few days earlier and who happened to be a Texas Ranger visiting the UK through Rotary International. He had told us that he’d decided to leave the Rangers as he’d had “a higher calling” and was convinced he possessed healing properties.

As we were chatting to him, Alison came across the lawn merrily swinging on my crutches. We introduced her and as he patted her on the head and said “bless you”, her friend Stephanie arrived and flinging aside the crutches she ran across to greet her.

“Tex” was visibly stunned by Alison’s apparent change of fortune and it took us a few minutes to convince him that she wasn’t reliant on the crutches and a miracle hadn’t, in fact, occurred.

Chapter 20 – Orphaned!

On the evening of December 21st 1989, I received a phone call from Mrs.Rump, a neighbour of Mums telling me to get to Branstree Road as quickly as possible only to find on arrival that Dad had died from a heart attack and was still lying on the floor in the bedroom where I stayed until the doctor arrived. He was 61 years old, (my Dad, not the doctor).

Due to the proximity to the Xmas holiday, we weren’t able to hold the funeral at Carleton Cemetery in Blackpool until January 6th so, as you can imagine, a pretty miserable Christmas and New Year was had by all. After the funeral, we took Mum back to Branstree Road only to find that the house had been burgled and was in a right mess. We were devastated and immediately telephoned the police who turned up and “dusted” the house for fingerprints. They told us that this type of crime was a common occurrence as thieves would scour the death notices in the local paper and target houses which they knew would be empty during the funeral. The burglars were never apprehended although after relating the story to a few friends, the culprit was found and dealt with !!!!!!

Mum eventually sold the house and moved to Boardman Avenue in Blackpool which was close to Judith’s and Michelle’s houses and coincidently, just round the corner from Fir Grove where we originally lived.

She died seven years later on 6th July, 1996 aged 71. We had been on holiday in the south of England and drove back to St.Annes on the 5th and were aware that she had been admitted to hospital a few days earlier after feeling unwell and was “under observation”. I visited the ward that evening to find her sat up in bed and quite chatty.

The next morning, we went to watch the St.Annes carnival procession and had just arrived home when I got a call from my sister to tell me that Mum had taken a turn for the worse and we should get to the hospital as soon as we could.

On arrival, we joined my sisters in a small waiting room when a nurse and doctor came in to tell us that unfortunately, despite attempts at resuscitation Mum had died from a heart attack. This came as an awful shock as I had been talking to her only a few hours earlier and after signing the necessary forms, we returned home to face the un-envious task of breaking the news to the girls.

Both Mum and Dad hadn’t had particularly easy lives and must have struggled financially to feed and clothe 4 children, but they somehow managed it and we never really wanted for much as I recall. My only regret is that they didn’t live long enough to enjoy their deserved retirement.

Chapter 21 – A New Millennium.

With my leg in plaster after the incident at Herons Reach Golf Course, (see Chapter 13), Lynda drove me and Alison back there to pick my car up. She dropped us off, we stuck “L” plates on it and Alison got in the drivers’ seat with me on the passenger side. I showed her where all the controls were and, pretending this was a driving test said, “OK Miss Crane, proceed in a westerly direction out of the car park”.

She raised a finger in the air and, as if making the sign of the cross said “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” and started to turn left. Bemused, I asked her to stop and tell me what she was doing whereupon she explained that “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” was an acronym used for determining the points of the compass, (N.E.S.W.) and West was therefore to the left. I tried to explain that it all depended on which way the car was facing but after 5 minutes of arguing, she insisted that she was still correct.

Struggling to contain my frustration I said “OK Alison, let’s forget you’re on a test and just turn right please”! It therefore came as no great surprise to me that she eventually passed her test at the 4th attempt!!

Still in plaster, I went to see AC/DC in concert at the Manchester Arena with some mates from work in a borrowed wheelchair with my leg still in plaster and both legs covered with a blanket. Being in a wheelchair meant that I couldn’t see the stage but the Arena staff were ever so considerate. They took it upon themselves to escort me upstairs via an elevator and placed me on the front row of the disabled spectators section of the balcony. I didn’t dare tell them that it was only a broken ankle but at least I had the best view in the house!!!!

Also about that time, I went to Belgium on the overnight ferry with some friends only to find that when we disembarked, both the hired wheelchair tyres were flat and we spent hours looking for a bicycle pump, eventually finding one on a bike parked in the courtyard of the British Embassy. After much pumping, we realised both tyres were punctured and spent the rest of the time driving round on the rims.

Lynda’s Dad Jim was a regular patron of the St.Annes on Sea British Legion and went there every day with his boxer dog for 2 pints, (never more) before going home for his dinner. I used to go with him on Sunday lunchtime and we’d attempt to finish the crossword in the Sunday Telegraph.

We were usually joined by a chap called Jack Stevenson who had an allotment next to Jim’s and he would sit with us and help with the crossword. In all the years we met up, Jim would always buy his own pint, (in a barrel glass) as would Jack, but one Sunday, for the first time ever, he offered to buy Jack a drink and strolled off to the bar. Jack and I looked at each other in amazement. They had never bought each other a drink before. Even Ken, the club steward was stunned.

A week later on the 4th January, 2007 Jim died suddenly. Jack often commented that it was completely out of character, (buying him a drink, not dying) and that he must have had some sort of premonition. I’m not too sure about that but it was certainly spooky.

Another weird event happened at my Auntie Muriel’s funeral. She was my Mums elder sister and was always a big supporter of the R.A.F. We had all come out of the small chapel at Carlton Cemetery and were gathered around the grave for the burial. Just as the coffin was being lowered, the unmistakeable sound of a Merlin engine was heard approaching and a Spitfire flew directly over us and disappeared into the distance.

To this day, no one knows how or why it happened but I have been assured that none of the family arranged it and there was no Air Show being held in the area at that time so was it pure coincidence, or something else. We’ll never know!

Chapter 22 – Jolly Boys.

In the ‘80s, I was invited by my Uncle Tom on my first Jolly Boys trip to Paris for the France v England Rugby Union International. He was a member of the Norbreck Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club in Blackpool who were organising the event but unfortunately, had to pull out due to an imminent hospital appointment so I asked Stewart Orchard, one of my colleagues at Beirne Owen if he fancied a few days away and he readily agreed.

We duly turned up at the club on Thursday teatime and after a couple of pints, boarded the coach. The luggage rack on both sides of the coach and the area under the seats were stacked full of beer and everyone had a “six-pack” dumped on their lap with instructions to help themselves to more once they had run out. The “stock take” was as follows:

768 cans of assorted beers and lagers - 6 bottles of whisky - 2 dozen bottles of lemonade, 4 cases of Coca-Cola - 4 boxes of crisps - 36 large pork pies and assorted sandwiches.

We set off for our journey to Dover at about 6:30pm for the (very) early morning ferry crossing to Calais. After numerous “rest stops”, following the consumption of supplies, jokes, tall stories and “blue” films on the coach’s video player, we arrived somewhat worse for wear at the ferry terminal.

The crossing was extremely rough with bottles of booze flying off the shelves in duty free and the gent’s toilets awash with unknown fluids and the like. Taking into account the inebriated state of our party, this proved rather too much and we arrived in Calais for the onward drive into the capital rather worse for wear. Eric, our coach driver assured us that he knew the route into Paris but after 30 minutes driving, we ended up back in Calais! Cue much “stick” from his passengers.

Arriving at the Penta Hotel in La Defense we were told that our rooms wouldn’t be available for a couple of hours so we had no choice but to repair to the bar next door. We were eventually allowed into the rooms where we grabbed a couple of hours sleep before going into the city centre for an evening out.

The match took place on the Saturday afternoon and most of us were able to obtain tickets for the game which England won. This was followed by another night out to celebrate before our departure the following Sunday morning at 7:30am where we boarded the coach still in various states of inebriation. Amazingly enough, Eric was already there cleaning the coach windscreen bright as a button which belied the fact that only 8 hours earlier, he was being pushed down the Champs Elysee in a supermarket trolley completely smashed.

The journey home seemed to take days but we eventually arrived back at the club in the early hours of Monday morning to be met by our wives and girlfriends who helped us into our cars and took us home for a well-earned night’s sleep. Subsequent trips provided the following amusing memories:

Alan Cobain changed a couple of hundred Euro’s into Czech Korunas from a guy on the street in Prague who told him “the more you change – the better the rate” then found out when he was at the bar, that the guy had sold him Bulgarian Levs!

“Sh*gger” Bradshaw crept into our room at 7:30am for an hours kip before we went out for the day. Apparently, he’d been locked out of the hotel and slept on a park bench before being kicked off by a local tramp who laid claim to it.

This was the same Mr Bradshaw who, when told by a doorman that there were some delightful lesbian ladies on show at a certain Monmartre revuebar, asked the guy,“And from what part of Lesbania do these young ladies come”?

We hired a small boat in Amsterdam for a cruise down the canal. Rex Johnson and Alan Cobain tied it to the side of the canal so we could go for a drink in a nearby bar. Unfortunately, they tied both ends of the mooring rope to the boat itself and we watched in horror from the bar as it drifted away!

Also in Amsterdam, we gave 4 German tourists directions to Anne Franks’ house and when asked what time it opened, one of the lads told them, “I think it’s 10.00am but if it’s closed, don’t worry, just kick the door down like you did in 1944”!

In a bar on one Paris trip, Peter Walker called for quiet and warned everyone that pickpockets were out in force and to be extremely careful with our belongings only to find that when we about to leave, someone had stolen his jacket!

On a plane to Paris, Rex Johnson playfully clouted the shaven head of Dennis Brooks in the seat in front of him with a rolled up newspaper only to be told that Dennis was actually sat a few rows in front on the other side of the gangway and he had assaulted a complete stranger!

Allan Cobain was put in the lift naked by Dennis Brooks and Al Green at The Carlton Hotel. Allan was sleeping on top of his bed completely starkers in a room opposite the lift. Dennis sent for the lift and when it came, he and Al Green put Allan in the lift and pressed every floor button despite all his pleas!

That was the same trip that several people used the phone in Allan`s room to ring back to the UK.

Two Jolly Boys were informed that they could purchase a “Full English Breakfast” on Sundays in the Hotel Carlton for 10 euros, cash, up to 9-30am. They made a special effort to get up (both had appalling hangovers) and handed the puzzled waiter their money before realising they had, (somewhat unusually) been given incorrect information by one of the Jolly Boys.

Again, in a Paris bar, we were all having a sing-song and were getting up one at a time to sing a verse of “I am the Music Man” when a guy in a beautiful mohair suit, silk shirt and tie decided to join in the fun. He stood on a table and went into “I can play the Dambusters” when halfway through his song, one of our group shouted “Fire in No.1 Engine Captain”, and the poor chap was drenched as about 11 pints of beer were thrown at him. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but eventually calmed down and saw the funny side of it all. His wife wasn’t too pleased though!

One evening in the same bar, we roped some of the locals into a game of “Spoons”. Two chairs were placed opposite each other, Peter Isaacs sat in one and an unsuspecting Frenchman, (we’ll call him Pierre) sat in the other. It was explained to Pierre that the idea of the game was to hold the end of a tablespoon between the teeth and whilst your opponent closed his eyes and bowed his head, you would attempt to smack him on the top of his head with the spoon. This would carry on alternating between the two contestants until one called “enough”.

The local went first and hit the top of Peters head. Affecting a mild amount of pain, Peter now took the spoon in his mouth and Pierre bowed his head awaiting the blow. Unbeknown to him, Steve Grant was stood behind Pierre, and using a steel ladle, purloined from the bars kitchen, cracked him over the head with it! Pierre couldn’t believe the pain meted out by a grinning Mr Isaacs sat opposite with the spoon still in his mouth. Of course, the rest of the bar erupted into gales of laughter as the local volunteer walked away rubbing his head.

The game continued between opposing Jolly Boys, all the time using two spoons and it was hilarious to see newcomers to the bar who hadn’t seen the original trick, insisting on “having a go” after much prompting from the locals and getting a painful blow to the head with the ladle!

A more personal memory concerns visiting The Piano Bar in Amsterdam. I was sat next to Chris Naftel around a low table when I reached across to pick up my beer and knocked it over spilling its contents into the lap of a lady sitting opposite. Apologising profusely, I attempted to mop her lap with a serviette but was asked to stop by her husband. About 10 minutes later after a refill, I did exactly the same thing to the same unfortunate lady who along with her husband was none too pleased and they angrily left the table to go and sit on some bar stools. When it came to my round, I went to the bar, ordered the drinks and knocked one over - into the lap of the same woman.

We exited the bar in something of a hurry!

After a couple of Paris trips, it was decided that the coach journeys, whilst although providing a great source of laughter and “male bonding” the return journeys were proving too arduous, and we have flown to our destinations ever since. These have included Paris (numerous times), Amsterdam, Bratislava, Dubrovnik, Prague, Berlin, Budapest, Barcelona, and Rome.

In 2013 we went to Benidorm for 3 nights for a bit of R&R. The main area of town is extremely tacky but the “Old Town” is quite picturesque with some nice bars and restaurants.

One evening, I was talking to Nigel Moore who now lives in Scotland and has been coming on the trips for many years when the subject of birthdays came up. The conversation went as follows:

“So when’s your birthday Nige”?
“20th February”
“Hey, so is mine. What year”?
“Bloody hell, what a coincidence. Where were you born”?
“Blackpool? - so was I. Whereabouts”?
“Glenroyd Maternity Hospital”
“My God! I was as well”!
“We were probably in adjacent cots”!!
“Could well have been Nige. Where did your parents live”?
…and this was the “killer, Nigel replied,
“Fir Grove”!!!!!!

It turned out that our parents lived opposite each other on Fir Grove and, as was the case in those days, probably knew each other well. My Mum and his Mum might even have pushed our respective prams together whilst walking around Stanley Park. How weird is that?

Although the numbers have declined, there is still a “hard core” of Jolly Boys who have been on almost all of the trips. I have, I think, only missed two of these over the past 27 years and although the amount of alcohol consumed now (by some) is rather less than that consumed in the 80’s, there is never any trouble and we have grown into a tightly knit group of friends.

In 2013, we visited Rome for the 6 Nations game between Italy and England. Arriving on the Thursday, we stayed at the Mecanate Palace Hotel (highly recommended) and returned on the following Monday after watching England win 52-11 on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon. Once again, a good time was had by all although two of the lads had the misfortune to have their wallets “lifted” during the trip.

Although the numbers have declined, there is still a “hard core” of Jolly Boys who have been on almost all of the trips. I have, I think, only missed two of these over the past 27 years and although the amount of alcohol consumed now (by some) is rather less than that consumed in the 80’s, there is never any trouble and we have grown into a tightly knit group of friends.

In 2013, we visited Rome for the 6 Nations game between Italy and England. Arriving on the Thursday, we stayed at the Mecanate Palace Hotel (highly recommended) and returned on the following Monday after watching England win 52-11 on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon. Once again, a good time was had by all although two of the lads had the misfortune to have their wallets “lifted” during the trip.

The Jolly Boys visit a winery in Dubrovnik. Nigel Moore is on the far right. I’m centre, front.
The Jolly Boys visit a winery in Dubrovnik. Nigel Moore is on the far right. I’m centre, front.
Dubrovnik with Dennis Brooks (left) and Peter Walker.
Dubrovnik with Dennis Brooks (left) and Peter Walker.

In 2003, I travelled to Australia to watch England play in the Rugby World Cup Final. On my return, I was asked by a friend to write an account of my experience for publication in the Rotary Club magazine. The article is shown in its entirety in the next chapter

Chapter 23 – Recollections of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

The call came at 1.15pm on Sunday, 16th November. A voice 12,000 miles away, somewhat slurred but as clear as a bell.“Tony, we’ve beaten the French in the semi-final and are celebrating in downtown Sydney. The weather is brilliant. You don’t know what you’re missing”.

Oh but I did. I’d watched the game that morning on TV and bitterly regretted my decision not to travel to Australia with the rest of the lads for the 4-week trip following the England team through the final stages of the Rugby World Cup.

Peter Walker, who was making the call and 20 other members of The Jolly Boys Cultural Exchange & Beer Appreciation Society from the Fylde area had left these shores to support England in early November and were doing some serious celebrating on the other side of the world while I was sitting down to Sunday lunch on a cold windy day in St.Annes trying to sound happy for them.

After listening to tales of their exploits on behalf of British culture which mainly consisted of proving that the Brits could enjoy themselves without smashing the place up, I wished them adieu, and traipsed back to the dinner table to retell their tales of bravery in the face of copious amounts of alcohol to my wife Lynda and Jim, my father in law.

After much prompting from Jim, he surprisingly offered to pay for the flights should I want to go and join the English invasion of Oz. Lynda, suggested that her father had spent rather too much time in the British Legion, but it was decided that if flights were available, I should go and join them.

That evening, I spoke to Geoff Currie, a friend and, conveniently enough, a travel agent and asked him to check out flight availability first thing the following morning.

I received a phone call from him at 9.40am on Monday to tell me that he had found an Emirates flight to Sydney, which departed Manchester at 8.00pm on Tuesday night and did I want it?

Too right I did, and after a phone call to Lynda to give her the good/bad news and to confirm that I would be welcomed back after the trip, I phoned Geoff and asked him to book the flight.

I spent the rest of the day trying to get in touch with Peter to give him the good news and to ask him if he knew of any available accommodation in Sydney. Fortunately, the apartment they had rented in the city had a spare bed and I would be more than welcome to rest my head there when I turned up.

After saying my goodbyes to all at home, Geoff took me to Manchester Airport on Tuesday evening where I boarded a flight to Dubai arriving at 06.55 in the morning (local time), changed planes, flew to Singapore, (another 7 hour plus flight), refuelled and left for Sydney (yet another 7 hour plus flight) arriving at 07.15 in the morning absolutely knackered and looking for refreshment.

A ½ hour bus ride eventually dropped me off at the apartment on George Street in Sydney where I was met by “Jolly Boy” Bob Barclay who had kindly turned down a balloon flight with the rest of the lads to greet me on arrival. After a shave and shower, we boarded a local bus and within ten minutes, alighted at Circular Quay to be greeted by the magnificent views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House gleaming white in the morning sun.

I have to say that at this point, I honestly started to pinch myself as I was still slightly disorientated from the 24 hours of travel and fully expected to wake up any minute back in bed in a wet St.Annes but no, I was actually here. Now all I had to do now was get a ticket for the final!!!

After a couple of hours sightseeing around the harbour, we went back to the apartment and met up with the intrepid balloonists only to be told that due to low cloud, they hadn’t been able to see a thing!

That afternoon, we strolled around Darling Harbour soaking up the glorious weather and luxuriating in the atmosphere that only a sporting event of this size can generate. Shops decorated in the gold and green of the Australian team colours, rugby fans of all nationalities decked out in their teams shirts, quayside bars full of song (some I knew, some I didn’t, but none for publication here). Buses with gold and green ribbons tied to their mirrors and then, to top it all, a QANTAS jumbo jet coming in to land at Sydney airport with giant letters spelling out “GO AUSSIE GO” painted on the underside. Believe me, the Australians really know how to put on an event, (witness the Sydney Olympics) and support their team at the same time.

On the Thursday afternoon we took ourselves down to the Telstra Stadium looking for tickets for the third/fourth place play-off game between France & the All Blacks. Being an event that neither team really wanted to play in, tickets were readily available and after their purchase, we strolled down Olympic Way to the swimming pool where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours relaxing and marvelling at the outstanding facilities available. Not only is there a 50 metre championship pool for use by the more serious swimmers for training and competitions, there is another 50 metre pool for the general public to enjoy, a wave pool with slides for children and families and a number of Jacuzzi style baths for all to enjoy. What a place!

Fully refreshed and feeling fit once again we decided to undo all the good work and went for a few beers before the match started at 8.00pm. The game itself was fairly low key with the All Blacks romping home 40-13 against a French side missing some key players.

The 63,000 spectators seemed to enjoy the game although the Aussies in the crowd roundly booed the England fans in the stadium every time “Swing Low” was sung. This forced the English to respond with their somewhat lowbrow version of “Waltzing Matilda” provoking a surprisingly vociferous reaction from the antipodeans although I have to record that it was all extremely good natured. Well, on our part it was!!!

Friday was taken up sightseeing coupled with searching for a ticket for the final. The rest of the lads had their tickets secured when they booked the trip but full marks to them for taking the time to try and get one for me. I was eventually promised one by a Frenchman staying in our apartment block who arranged to meet me outside the main entrance to the Novatel Hotel next to the ground at 6.30 on the Saturday of the match where he would hand over the ticket. Resplendent in my England colours, I arrived at the hotel at 6.15pm on Saturday to wait for him. 7.00pm came and went, as did 7.30 with no sign of him.

During my wait, I had been chatting to a chap from Croydon who had flown over with his friend for the game and when 7.45 arrived I told him that I’d given up on the “French Connection” and was going in search of a ticket from one of the touts as there was no way I was going to miss the game after travelling 12,000 miles!! That’s when my luck changed.

He told me that I could have his friends’ ticket as he had unfortunately been hospitalised with a broken leg the day before and he would accept the amount his friend had to pay for the ticket.

He did, however, stipulate that I would not be able to retain the ticket stub as a souvenir as his friend would need it to show his wife that he had seen the game. “How is he going to explain the fact that he was lying in a hospital bed when the match was being played?” I asked. “Well, she doesn’t know about it yet, so he’s going to break it tomorrow” was the reply. What a guy!

We crossed the road to the stadium and found our seats, which; to my amazement were 5 yards to the right of the touchline, and only 10 rows back. My “promised” ticket was somewhere behind the posts at one end of the ground so, as you can imagine, my gratitude to my “new best friend” knew no bounds.

As you will no doubt recall, the game was so tight that enjoyment was out of the question. Talk about “edge of seat” tension! The South African referee did his best to ensure that the Webb-Ellis Cup stayed in the southern hemisphere by penalising the English scrum 6 times during the game, a fact which becomes even more curious when the records show that the English scrum had never been penalised in any of the game’s leading up to the final and even the Australian supporters were shaking their heads at some of his decisions against our boys.

With 40 seconds of extra time left to play and with the “Golden Goal” sudden death period looming, Jonny Wilkinson slotted over a dropped goal, (with his wrong foot, just to rub it in) and the English contingent in the 83,000 crowd went berserk. With 20 seconds left to play, we were all screaming for England to kick the ball into touch signalling the end of the game and Mike Catt, sensible chap that he is, acceded to our wishes, bringing about a well-deserved 20-17 victory over the Australians in their own backyard.

The next few hours are something of a blur. After pledging undying gratitude for my best friend from Croydon and conceding that southerners really are O.K., I vaguely remember phoning home to tell Lynda that this had been the best day of my life (although on my return home, I would have to admit that it did, in fact come a poor second to the day we married).

I met up with the others in Sydney at around midnight and we toasted our victorious team until the early hours.

Sunday dawned and I said goodbye to the lads in our apartment who were travelling to Adelaide for a week’s relaxation, I caught the ferry to Manly to meet up with the rest of our contingent to enjoy a free champagne breakfast provided by the owner of a bar who had taken a bet that if England won, he would provide the breakfast and if Australia won, we would pay 3 times the amount.

Eleven bottles of champagne later, we were all feeling somewhat tipsy and had to tell the owner, much to his relief that “enough was enough”. By this time, some of the England players (who were based at a hotel in Manly) wandered into the bar and were only too willing to sign autographs and pose for photographs.

Slipping into “groupie” mode, I had my picture taken with Ian Balshaw and Mike Tindall, who, during the final had managed to pick up the Australian captain, George Gregan, and carry him 6 or 7 yards before dumping him over the touchline.

We then decided to celebrate for the rest of the day in time honoured fashion by going for a drink and soon found a local pub in which to do it. I do remember that we phoned a couple of friends back home in the Fylde during our celebratory breakfast to tell them what a good time we were having and phoning them again, many hours later from the same pub only to be told that they had received our first call as they were going to bed and the second call had interrupted their breakfasts.

So, time DOES fly when you’re having fun!

Many hours later, and in something of a state, I boarded the last ferry back to Sydney Harbour and promptly fell asleep only to be woken by a member of crew on our arrival at Circular Quay before weaving my way home. As the rest of the lads had departed, I had checked in to a hostel round the corner from the apartment and fell into bed at around 2.00am only to be woken by the 100+ decibel tones of a fire alarm an hour later.

The place was soon evacuated and we whiled away the time waiting for the fire brigade to arrive and check the place out by having a drink in the bar downstairs which the proprietor had thoughtfully opened.

Monday was spent recovering and on Tuesday I took a trip to the Blue Mountains for the day, which was superb apart from the weather, which alternated between scorching sunshine and tropical rainstorms. Wednesday and Thursday saw more sightseeing and gift buying including T-shirts with the Australia/England score line proudly adorning the front. Full marks to the Aussies for producing them so quickly but having said that, by that time, all the England fans had left the city, so who was going to buy one? Me actually!

On Thursday evening I boarded the bus to the airport for my return journey. I really didn’t want to leave but I was by myself 12,000 miles from the UK feeling somewhat shattered.

I had intended my last night in Sydney to be a quiet one but had made the acquaintance of two Aussies who very kindly took me under their wing and treated me to the delights of some of the more seamier drinking establishments in the city so to be perfectly honest, I was quite looking forward to 24 hours of relaxation on the aircraft.

I arrived back in Manchester, tired and worn out as strangely enough, I hadn’t slept much on the plane, to be met by cold and wind and a taxi driver who wanted to hear all about the finals, so the journey back to St.Annes soon passed.

Recalling (nearly) everything that had happened to me over those 12 days has made me wish for a prompt return to Australia. The atmosphere, the sights and the wonderful experience of actually being at the final will be with me forever.

But my abiding memory will be of the amazing good nature of the Aussies after the game. Not a whinge was heard, in fact they went out of their way to approach anyone with an England shirt on and congratulate them on their teams’ victory. I would like to think that we would be as magnanimous in defeat as they were.

We will be defending the trophy over in France in 2007 and I hope to be there but will definitely not be relying on some bloody Frenchman to supply me with a ticket!

Celebrating winning the World Cup with England players Mike Tindall (who later married Zara Phillips) and Ian Balshaw.
Celebrating winning the World Cup with England players Mike Tindall (who later married Zara Phillips) and Ian Balshaw.
I even managed to get a game!
I even managed to get a game!

Chapter 24 – Uprooting.

In March, 2007, I was contacted by Matchtech, an agency on the south coast, who offered me a position as draughtsman in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, working on HMS Queen Elizabeth & HMS Prince of Wales, the new Aircraft Carriers currently under construction in the yard. Portsmouth was obviously too far to commute to on a weekly basis so Lynda and I decided to spend a long weekend down there to see if it would be worth the upheaval incurred by moving house.

Both the girls had by now, moved to London so a move to the south coast whilst bringing about a change of scenery would also place us within 1½ hour’s drive of them both. We spent the next 4 days driving round the area and found that the attractions of the New Forest, Winchester & Chichester were only ½ an hour’s drive away with Bournemouth and Brighton also within easy reach. Another incentive to move south was that the working week in the yard was Monday to Thursday leaving Friday’s free to explore our new environs.

We decided to put the property in Grange Road up for sale and move south. I rented a small house in Southsea and started work in the yard on 16th July 2007. Lynda oversaw the sale of Grange Road and visited Southsea as many times as possible over the 6 months it took to sell the St.Annes property. In March, 2008, we moved into our new house in Fareham, Hampshire which is only a 20 minutes’ drive to Portsmouth and a 30 minutes’ drive to Southampton.

Lynda soon found employment at the Fareham offices of the Department of Work and Pensions and we both settled in to our new life “down south” but shortly after the move, Hilary went to live in Ibiza and Alison went to Australia for 12 months. I think it’s called “sods law”.

Chapter 25 – A life changing experience.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes which was tablet and diet controlled but unfortunately, I didn’t stick too rigidly to this regime which eventually resulted in a major change to my lifestyle.

On 9th September 2008, I took part in an office Go-Kart event at a local indoor track. My memories of that evening are limited to looking for a matching pair of socks prior to leaving home! I have since been told that after a few practice circuits of the track, the race started in earnest and one of the team happened to see me out of the kart, lying down on the edge of the track.

A couple of other drivers stopped to see what the problem was and realised something was seriously wrong. My heart had stopped and whilst somebody rang for an ambulance, a couple of them carried out emergency CPR whilst help arrived.

I was “brought back” by the use of defibrillators applied by the emergency response team and rushed to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth where I remained unconscious in the intensive care ward for three days.

Evidently, I had suffered a heart attack followed by cardiac arrest and after spending a couple of weeks in hospital during which time I’d had a stent fitted in the blocked artery that was diagnosed to be the cause of the heart problem I was discharged, and after 4 weeks rest, returned to work.

I have no recollection of the above events but will be eternally thankful to my work colleagues for their efforts at resuscitation. Heartfelt thanks must also go to Lynda, as I am not the easiest of patients and she endures a continuous struggle to keep me from eating all the wrong things.

Hilary and Alison were also regularly at my bedside during my stay in hospital and made sure that the doctors and nurses afforded me constant vigilance.

If it wasn’t for all their love and support, I would never have written this book.

Chapter 26 – Grandad!

On November 15th 2011, Hilary and her partner, presented us with our first grandchild, Hendrix Cassius, who is an absolute delight. They live in Santa Eulalia, Ibiza and we went over in 2013 with Alison to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in the sunshine together.

Our first Grandson, Hendrix Cassius Crane.
Our first Grandson, Hendrix Cassius Crane.

Misfortune raised its head though when we went over in November 2012 for Hendrix’s first birthday. Entering Babylon Beach bar and restaurant, I slipped on some wet tiles, broke 2 ribs and had to go to hospital in Ibiza town for an X-ray and pain killing injections. I don’t know whether you have ever broken any ribs but they take an awfully long time to heal and it is an extremely painful recovery process.

We try to get over there 2 or 3 times a year depending on flight costs and I can lay claim to spending all night at the Pacha night club , exiting at 7:30 in the morning and not falling asleep once, (mainly due to having a “nap” the previous afternoon). I can assure you that it’s a far cry from the rather more sedate environs of the St.Annes British Legion!

Chapter 27 - Retirement.

Just before Christmas, 2013 the office staff at the Portsmouth Dockyard were called to a meeting in the canteen at 10.30am when an announcement would be made on the future of the yard.

A representative from BAe Systems, the yard owners strode onto the stage and declared, “I have an announcement to make and will be answering NO QUESTIONS” which didn’t bode well for what he was about to say. He then proceeded to tell everyone that the company had decided to move all work on the (as yet) unfinished 2 new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy and all new ships in the pipeline, up to Scotland for completion and that the yard would no longer be responsible for building new vessels. It would, he said be employed as only on a “re-fit” and ship repair yard thus ending 500 years of shipbuilding which started with Henry VIII’s flagship, The Mary Rose.

Although rumours of the closure had been bandied around for some time it still came as a shock to the 900 workers who would lose their jobs but it was no surprise as the board of BAe are mainly Scottish. It was also rumoured that the move north of the border was purely a political ploy which would ensure that the Scots would decide to stay in the United Kingdom in the forthcoming independence vote. Call me cynical but ……..

As a contract worker, my position would be one of the first for the chop so in May of 2014, I decided that after 49 years of labour, I would retire although, as my position dictated, no redundancy money would be paid. Later that year, Lynda’s employment at the local Job Centre also came to an end and after some discussion, we decided that we would spend the winter in Ibiza.

We rented a small apartment on the edge of Santa Eulalia and I was offered work on a local farm owned by Ronnie, a friend of my daughters. Feeding the pigs, chickens, rabbits, sheep (and even an iguana) as well as doing odd jobs around the farm every morning from 8:00am through until 1:00pm proved extremely enjoyable.

Although winter, the climate in Ibiza made it a pleasure to work in the open air as opposed to being stuck in an office and Lynda was able to spend a lot more time with our grandson, Hendrix.

Back home, I’ve joined the Fareham Bowls Club, (“old mens marbles” as Lynda calls it) but it’s flat green as opposed to crown green which I played ‘oop North and takes a bit of getting used to and although bowling is not exactly over physical, my iPhone app tells me that I walk over 2 miles during the course of a match!

I have also joined the Fareham Men's Shed which is the local branch of a nationwide organisation formed (originally in Australia) to provide an interest for men over the age of 55 where they can meet others from differing backgrounds and trades. We have a well equipped workshop and manufacture items for sale at local fairs and exhibitions as well as helping out doing odd jobs at local schools and charities.

In October, 2021, my younger daughter, Alison and her partner Lawrence presented us with our second grandchild, Poppy Margot so, one of each – perfect !

Poppy Margot.
Poppy Margot.

There are a lot more tales I could have retold but to be perfectly honest I’d prefer to remain friends with the characters in those memories.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this memoir and if you have any questions or criticisms, please feel free to keep them to yourself approach me at the shed.

James Anthony (Tony) Crane. April 2022

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