The real me – birth to age 16

Born in 1948, in the back bedroom of a farm cottage in Staffordshire, 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.

To get to school I first had to cycle to the nearest village, a mile and a half away. There I parked my bike behind the Methodist Chapel. A bus ride to the nearest town took 25 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 became blocked very easily. In such conditions everyone who was travelling carried a shovel or spade, even those on bikes! I remember with some fondness, the great community spirit on these occasions. Don’t get me wrong, there were not a host of people all stuck at the same snowdrift, just a few, because not many people travelled that road!

So, here we are, 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 soon dig through, making a track big enough to get a car through, and move on to the next drift. There are a series of drifts within a 200 yard stretch, then a blissfully free section before we hit more drifts. Eventually, we reach the crossroads, and we know that from thereon the road will be clear.

Just then a Council snow plough appears from the opposite direction and turns into our road. The blade is set about a foot above the road surface, and extends to a width of about 10 feet. All our hard work is destroyed and the road is, 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 5pence 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.

This is a work in progress as at 18 January 2016, and has not been touched since. Today is 24 August 2020, complete with Covid-19 pandemic.  Still not finished as at 31 March 2021.  As an early school report said – “Must try harder”.