My life#5 – Journey to school 1953 to 1964 and first motorbikes

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Photo – Pinterest

To get to school I first had to cycle to the nearest village, a mile and a half away. I had the timing perfected and, as long as I left home at 8.10am, I could be sure to catch the bus at 8.19am.  Most days!

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Infants and Primary School
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Secondary School

I could normally see the bus slowly approaching as I came into the village. There, at a run, I left my bike to park itself, in a shed, behind the Methodist Chapel  and ran across the road to the bus stop.

The bus to the nearest town took 20 minutes, and, then, there was a walk through town to school. None of the Mum’s school run in those days!

If it snowed heavily, the narrow road to the village became blocked very easily. In such conditions, everyone who was travelling by car carried a shovel, or spade. A few of us riding bikes would return home and then return to the blockage with our spades.

I remember with some fondness, the great community spirit on these occasions. Don’t get me wrong, there was not a host of people all stuck at the same snowdrift, just a few, because not many people travelled that road!

So, there we were, my sister and I, a neighbour from a quarter of a mile away, and a local smallholder. We all set to, digging through the snowdrift. We eventually dug through, making a track big enough to get a car through, and moved on to the next drift. There would be a series of drifts within a 200 yard stretch, then a blissfully free section before we hit more drifts. Eventually, we reached the crossroads, and we knew that from thereon the road would be clear.

On one occasion, just as we had broken through the last drift, a Council snow plough appeared from the opposite direction and turned into our road. The blade was set about a foot above the road surface, and extended to a width of about 10 feet. All our hard work was destroyed and the road was, once again blocked,  covered by a  foot of snow all over! I think the adults said “Oh dear!”

There was never a question of giving up and going home because it was too cold, too difficult, or dangerous. We just assumed that we must make every effort to get to school, and we did!

Bus fare obviously changed over time but there was a fairly long period of time where prices (and wages) seemed to be constant. I remember my Dad, who was a farm labourer, earned £9 per week for quite some time.

The bus fare at that stage was 5 pence ha’penny each way, no return tickets available!  that is 5.5 old pennies, just over 2 pence today. I was given a shilling each day and allowed to spend the 1 penny change. Bliss!

You could go into the biscuit shop and buy a bag of broken biscuits, or into the sweet shop and buy 4 chews for a penny. Alternatives were liquorice root and, if you’ve never tried it, don’t knock it! (google the image!)

I did cycle to school a few times. Must have been mad!

Once I reached 16 I was able to ride motorbikes, firstly an NSU Quickly, basically a heavy bike with an engine, later, a Lambretta 125cc scooter, then Dad’s Ambassador 225cc motorbike.

Actually, my first motorcycle experience was at the age of 14, after dark, on my Dad’s 98cc James. I would sneak it from behind an old garage at the side of the road, freewheel it down the road until out of sight and hearing, then start it up and go for a jolly.

All was fine until one day I decided to go and visit a girl in a village about 4 miles away by narrow, twisty country roads. It was raining, and I misjudged a tight left hand bend, ending up in a heap in a ditch.

The bike had a bent footrest and the chain had come off but, other than that seemed OK. My body was not quite so lucky, my right thumb was broken, I had multiple abrasions and my clothes were rather the worse for wear.

Somehow I managed to kick the bent bits into their right places, and forced the chain back on to the sprockets. I then had to ride home. I did it, and it hurt! A lot!

When I arrived back home I tried to make the bike appear to be totally normal and then pondered how to pass off my injuries and appearance.

Dad, bless him, half pretended to believe my story that I had fallen down the steps at the front of the house. The details of what happened next are rather vague in my memory. Somehow, I ended up the following day, going to school with my right thumb in a splint! What kudos that pain brought!

I never did manage to get together with that girl! Maureen Stonehewer – if only you knew!

(To find out a little more about me, follow #My life below)

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My life #4 – What’s in a name?

My big sister and little sister have always called me PETE. Unless, of course, I was being naughty or annoying, in which case I was PETER, spoken in the severest tone.

Mum and Dad also switched between the two versions. Dad would often call me “LAD”, and I liked that, especially in my fifties!

Throughout Infants and Junior school I was invariably PETE.

On the first day of secondary school (6th grade in USA), during a break in all the administrative tasks, the more outgoing amongst us (not me then!) decided that we should all get to know one another. Many had nicknames that they had been known by before. Others, like me, just had their given names.

It was decided that those without nicknames should be newly christened. There were the obvious names, Ginge for a redhead, Shorty for the unfortunate smallest boy, Earl for a boy named Lee, and I got POLLY, because someone noticed that I had a large nose!

It never bothered me that I was known as POLLY all throughout my 5 years at that school. It was an affectionate name and never used with malice. I wore the name, and my big nose, with pride!

I left school and joined the army, and acquired a number to go with my name. This was one of the very first things to assault my senses and we all had to memorise our number and be able to quote it instantly, normally in the format:

“24022702 A/T Matthews. P. Sir!”

This was repeated many times in the first few weeks, and became second nature. Without this magic password I could not get fed, get clothing, see a doctor, a dentist, and, most importantly, get paid each week.

After the first couple of days it seemed obligatory that everyone should have a nickname. I didn’t mention my name of POLLY. I thought it was time to move on. This time I was awarded the name of PROF. This was apparently due to the fact that:

  1. I had no accent and spoke with “received pronunciation”
  2. I had a better education than was the norm for those joining the army at that time.

As my service progressed the name PROF gradually diminished in use and I became PETE, or PETER again.

Here I digress a little. It is necessary!

All my life I have carried various items in my trouser (and other) pockets. As a small boy I would always have a handkerchief, a comb, a penknife, probably a bit of string, sometimes a conker. To this day I still carry a handkerchief, and a spare, in case of crying ladies (or gentlemen), or for stemming the flow of blood, or cleaning spectacles. I also carry a comb (it’s an Alfa Romeo one if you must know), but the knife is hidden away in a drawer at home as it is illegal to carry most knives! (thoughts inevitably turn to American gun laws!!!!!).

In the army, of course, when on active duty, or on exercise, I carried various necessary items in pockets, in pouches, and in packs. There was weapon, bayonet, ammunition, respirator, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) warfare clothing, spare clothing, sleeping bag, rations, portable cooker, mess tins, etcetera, etcetera. Depending on the task and circumstances the load was lighter, or heavier, and, of course, you always went for the least equipment required to fulfill the task. At all times I carried my weapon, ammunition, respirator, and NBC kit, clasp knife, First Field Dressing and steel helmet.

Being an electronic engineer I always managed to find space for a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a roll of insulation tape and various odds and ends, and being a practical type I always had a couple of chocolate bars, some plasters, some mints etc. I gained a reputation as the “go to” person if someone required something obscure. Chalk, aspirin, throat pastilles, nails, cable ties, you name it, I could quite often produce it!

For some reason, I cannot understand, I acquired another nickname – POCKETS PETE!

I have, of course, been called many other things during my life but I’ll pass over most of those. During army service MATTHEWS, CORPORAL, SERGEANT, STAFF, Q, SIR, MR VICE, and in the early days YOU ‘ORRIBLE LITTLE MAN!

On leaving the army I reverted to PETER, but my little sister still calls me PETE!

There are still those around who would greet me with POLLY or PROF if we were to meet.

The best names ever, I’ve left until last, they are DADDY, and DAD!

My Life #3-Recycling newspaper!

I suddenly had this horrible thought. (Here I must warn readers that I am renowned amongst my close friends for openly discussing bodily functions.)

Having said, in My Life #2, that our house did not have a bathroom, I suddenly remembered that some, if not all, of my American readers will have read that as “there was no loo/toilet/lavatory”. Shock, horror. What on earth did they do?

What I omitted to say was that the lavatory, as we called it, was out of the back door and turn right. It wasn’t quite an outside loo, but it may as well have been, as it was situated in an open porch, with the coal shed forming the third side.

We definitely did not linger! The cistern was a high level one that froze in winter. The toilet had a wooden seat. The door had gaps at the top and bottom, presumably for ventilation. This was most definitely not required.

On the back of the door was a large nail sticking out some 2 inches. This, of course was for the newspaper, cut into small squares. Younger readers may need to ask someone why! When I was old enough to handle scissors safely, this task fell to me.

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Later we had the luxury of Izal toilet roll, a bit like fine sandpaper on one side and shiny on the other!

 

 

The coal shed was filled to the brim during Summer months when the coal was at its cheapest. It varied in price according to the quality and size of the lumps. The cheapest form was “nutty slack” which was mostly coal dust, but with very small pieces within it, taken from the bottom of the extensive coal piles at the merchants. This was only of use once the fire was burning fiercely.

Fire lighting was a skill that needed to be learned by all the family. Sometimes embers were still alight in the morning so this made the job slightly less irksome. It also made it more dangerous, as the ash still had to be collected and emptied from the base of the fire. Normally the fire lighting task fell to Mum.

To start a fire we used sticks, chopped from a stock of logs we kept in the coal shed. To supplement the sticks we also all had to learn to roll newspaper and plait it into firelighters. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you can learn here: https://youtu.be/a0_Pxiq5cTI .

In later years, when we had a television, we sometimes lit a fire in the “front room” by carrying burning coals, on a small shovel, through the house. I wonder what Health and Safety would have to say about that?

Don’t get too cosy sitting by the fire. The rest of the house, in Winter, was freezing, sometimes literally! We woke to ice patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. Very pretty, but not conducive to getting out of bed.

If you needed to go to the loo during the night there was no nearby “convenience”. Under the bed could be found a chamber pot – Yes, REALLY! Emptying? Another job for Mum.

There were fireplaces in the two large bedrooms but these were reserved for times when someone was really ill, or dying. In the bottom of the wardrobe in Mum and Dad’s bedroom were a bedpan, and a “bottle”, a means of having a wee whilst lying down. These had been obtained when Dad had a serious accident at work, and was bed bound for several weeks. This is not a true memory as I was too young to register the fact. It is an implanted memory!

I can’t remember a lot of toys. I don’t think we had many. We played mostly outside, and used whatever was at hand. Dad was expert at making bikes out of old bits and pieces, trolleys for giving youngsters a riding platform, sledges, stilts. You name it, he made it. Where he found the time I have no idea.

We even had the top section of a trap (as in pony and trap) that became a ship, a shop, a lorry, or anything else that our imaginations could conjure up. (I had my first, very innocent, sexual experience in that trap, with a girl called Cynthia!) Later on we learned the skills to make our own bikes, sledges, huts, and so on. If I could freeze my life in any particular time I think it would be here!

We had a very large garden, as I’ve mentioned. For many years it was not accessible to vehicles. I remember that, several times, Dad brought a tractor from work, and accessed the garden from an adjoining field so he could plough and harrow to get rid of large sandstone blocks.

Eventually he brought a tractor, with blade and digger attachments, and carved out a driveway from the road into our garden. This was no mean feat, what with all the sandstone, and it also required quite a steep cutting. Another tractor, and trailer, carried away all the spoil. After completion, it took some skill to drive a car onto the property, as the surface was uneven bare rock, and the initial entry angle was close to 45 degrees.

No badges this time! See Here

 

 

 

My Life #2 – Birth and the very first badge

This is the first part of what could become my autobiography.  A previous post (A life of Badges) promised more to come. I have been slow in fulfilling the promise but here it is at last.

 

I was born on 19th January 1948 in the back bedroom of a farm cottage in Staffordshire. I arrived just in time for breakfast.

My big sister, who was 12, was delighted. I had been born on her birthday.

My little sister was probably not so delighted as she was now condemned to no longer being the baby. She was 3 and a bit!

I didn’t know much at the time!

One of the things I didn’t know was that Mum had given birth to another child, in between big and little sisters, and that child had died shortly after birth.

The farm cottage was actually a semi-detached house.

The living room was furnished with a dining table and chairs, 3 easy chairs, a sideboard and a large battery powered valve radio on a table in the corner. This room contained a coal fired range with a water boiler behind, an oven at the side, and a warming oven at the top. The boiler had to be hand filled with water every day and, in winter, topped up throughout the day to prevent it boiling dry. At the side of the fire was a homemade oblong stool with a lift up lid. Inside were a box of buttons and the current copies of John Bull.

The kitchen, or scullery as we called it, was a cold, tile floored space. It had a copper boiler in the corner, a large butler type sink, an electric oven, and a bath! The bath was a conventional type of heavy cast iron, enameled bath, it was fixed to the floor and was fitted with a drain but the taps were not connected to any water supply.

Off the kitchen was a pantry with stone floor and a cold shelf. This was a thick, solid chunk of some material that magically remained near to freezing, no matter what the outside temperature. This acted as our fridge, a thing we’d never heard of! Even in 1959, only 13% of British homes owned a refrigerator, compared to over 90% in USA.

The third room downstairs was the Front Room! This was used only for very special occasions. It had a 3 piece suite, a china cabinet, a small table and, of course, a piano. It also had a fireplace, although a fire was seldom lit here.

My immediate memories have this room being used for Mum and Dad’s silver wedding anniversary party, as a sick room for the only grandparent I ever knew, as a room that could be used by my big sister and her fiancé (with regular visits from Mum of course), as a birth room for one of my nephews and, later, when I was 14, as the TV room.

Upstairs were 3 bedrooms, 2 doubles and a single, and a boxroom that held a myriad of exciting treasures. Old watches and watch bits, a derringer pistol, bits of old material, old wallpaper, cases.

So, where is the bathroom you say? Simple, there isn’t one!

Next door, the Allman’s, had a conventional sized garden and we had the rest of the plot of about ½ an acre. Within this space we had a very large shed, pigsties, a hen house, and an open fronted lean to. A large area was cultivated and provided our vegetable needs in exchange for a great deal of hard work, mostly carried out by Dad.

I had an idyllic childhood roaming the woods, farmland, hills and valleys, with gay abandon. This was in the days before “gay” was hijacked.

When needed back home, Mum, if she could see me, would knock on the window with her wedding ring. If I was not in sight she would go outside and clap her hands. I could hear this for well over a mile. It was very quiet! There was very infrequent traffic, and there were no aircraft overhead. The road outside was so quiet in fact that we could, and did, play tennis on the road. We could hear a car coming, literally, for miles.

Postscript:

When I first started to  prepare this for posting it was entitled “Birth and life before badges” until a distant memory surfaced. Amongst all of the fascinating junk in the box room was a solid silver ARP badge. Dad, being a farm worker, was in a reserved occupation during WW2 but served as one of the local Air Raid Precaution wardens.

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My Life #1 – A life of badges!

It was only in January 2012, when I was thinking about my retirement speech, that I realised my life had been following a path determined by badges. It had never really occurred to me until then.

Here are some of the badges that have been significant in my life. The more I think about it, the more I can think of.

Over the next few months I shall elaborate on each, thus providing a mini autobiography.