These pieces are memories. Places, events and people.
1953 to 1966 when I left school.
1953 – Willow Lane
‘A corner terrace, with communal backyard and washouse, close to the main Bradford road. Two double bedrooms, inside toilet and bathroom. One reception room and a living kitchen.’
An estate agent’s ad’ for the house where I first lived. It stood at one end of Willow Lane, the Bradford Road end. Sounds like the popular stand at a football match. The street was quiet really. A big white horse walked up odd times, with a man. Got a ride once. Boney and hard and warm and soft. Just to the railway bridge. Dad said we lived in Birkby, but I don’t think we did. It was either Hillhouse or Newtown. The railway bridge marked the other end, and I suspect that Birkby started just the other side of it. It had a wall that held it up like a triangle, or it kept the soil back. Me and Stuart Gibson used to slide down it and get holes in our trousers. A man took a picture of us once. People came to live here in the 1880’s when they stopped living over their work in town. Most of the streets were named after trees or bushes, which sadly contained no trees or bushes. Willow Lane only had one side. One long uneven and interrupted terrace, from The Slubbers Arms all the way to the railway bridge. The other side was a wall stopping us from straying onto the railway. Before the first war, the Midland Railway Company was going to build a station in town with a big hotel, but it was only ever was a coal siding for the gas-works. Mum had to rush me down Bradford Road to see the gas-works, Beaumont Street Flyer, a small tank engine pulling coal trucks across the streets at the bottom of town, lead by a man with a red flag.
The land between the wall and the railway track was a wilderness. We never strayed onto it, we went there on purpose. It was our playground. Elderflowers. Older brother flew his first balsa-wood, paper and glue plane there. Or rather he crashed it several times, until it dawned on us that it didn’t work. My dad had a special pass to cross the railway to get to our chicken-run. We lived in Hillhouse, but kept chickens in Birkby.
The backyard neighboured with The Engine Tavern. My dad said men got drunk there, but that didn’t stop him from hopping over the wall and touching the Rugby League Challenge Cup one Sunday night in 1953. They were ardent supporters of Huddersfield Rugby League on Mum’s side. Come to think of it they were ardent supporters of most things local or northern, except for Lancashire. Cumberland was accepted because some of our best players came from there.
In 1895, when the Northern Union broke away from The Rugby Football Union, Edward, my grandad, was twenty years old. His family came from Shepley, six miles or so south of Huddersfield. He died at sixty-four in 1939, so I never met him. When I played with a ball, Mum would say, “Your grandad Addy’ve followed you all over, given ‘alf a chance”. My wife says it to our lad, only it’s moved up a generation since we lost mum some two years ago. Grandad Addy delivered coal for The Co-op. Douglas Clark, one of the best known Cumbrians to play at that time, had a coal company in Hillhouse sidings around the same time. Grandad Addy was a keen supporter of Fartown and even watched them train. Maybe he went with Douglas. Anyway the team before and after the first World War won everything, so he followed a decent side. Huddersfield then had a bit of a lean spell until my dad and big brother started going in the early fifties and we’ve won precious little since. We used to call them Fartown, after their ground. They are now the Giants, part of a large change in how the game was organised instigated by a newspaper man from the other side of the world. If Grandad Addy came down from heaven today, he’d spend a lot of time scratching his head under his flat cap.
We had a street party in our kitchen in 1953. We were the only family with a television. Grown-ups kept popping in to glimpse bits of the Coronation while we sat round a table, eating. Our kitchen range was big, black and occupied most of one wall. Next to it was the sink in a cupboard. Directly opposite, a window and our back door overlooked a grassy communal yard and outside toilets. The front door opened straight onto the road, but we needed a flight of steps with railings to get in the back.
I played, ate and got washed in that kitchen. Granny Addy soothed my earache with a glove warmed on the range fire. Dad cut my hair in the middle of it. A chair on a square of newspapers, a set of mail-order mechanical shears and the monthly ‘short back and sides’. I didn’t mind then, but as soon as I was old enough to see what I looked like, I was off down the barber’s.
Granny had a back-kitchen. It was dark and damp with bear stonework and a permanent smell of gas. I didn’t go in there if I could avoid it. She lived alone, five minutes across Bradford Road, in another end-terrace and shared courtyard. Noisy railway coal sidings were close by, lights on all night. Her real kitchen was the one downstairs room. It only had one window, with blackout curtains. But it had an upright piano and an amazingly ornate, floor-to-ceiling, mirrored, pillared, theatrical wooden sideboard as well as a range and the sink in a cupboard. All the family gathered every Christmas Day in this room. Mum and dad threw most of granny’s things away when she removed, especially when they discovered five hundred pounds in the piano. I don’t think mum ever forgave herself.
Granny wanted to be ninety before she died and she did so peacefully in a local hospital in 1970. family legend has it that her mum eloped from Connemara with Patrick Malone, my great grandad. They lived with other Irish immigrants, in the yards off Upperhead Row, at the bottom of the social pile. Mary, my granny, had five brothers and sisters, and was a good catholic who rarely went to church. Mum was mortified when she saw Mary Jane on the coffin. Her name was Mary Ann. We couldn’t put it right, because we only saw the mistake when the casket was being lowered into the grave.
I had my tonsils out in 1953. It was done by a Mr. Ironside. Those in the trade tell me he performed radical surgery. In other words there is very little left in the back of my mouth. It all still seems to work. Anyway Dad moved the television out of the kitchen and into the room. Usually we only sat in there on Sundays, and then only if people were coming. We used it everyday, as a corridor between the stairs and the kitchen, but we only ever sat in it on Sundays. I was more or less forced to eat loads of jelly and ice-cream, so all in all my recovery was terrific. And Denis Compton hit the runs that won back ‘The Ashes’ for England.
Unusual for Willow Lane, we had a bath and a toilet inside the house. Granny Addy’s was down the yard, newspapers and a candle and a massive key with a cotton bobbin on a piece of string. We had ‘gozundas’, I didn’t like sleeping at granny’s because the bedroom always smelled of wee.
Mum and dad got married in 1939. Big brother was born in1942. Dad then went to India for five years as a corporal in ‘The Pay Corps’. I arrived in 1947. Dad was grumpy a lot. I realise now that England after the war must have been a disappointment to him. Mum and big brother were probably wrapped round each other. He wasn’t qualified to do anything. But he wanted things to be better.
Dad, also known as Reg-o’-Frank’s, was born in Lindley in 1917. Frank was a cloth-finisher at Pat Martin’s mill. He died at sixty, a year after big brother arrived, so I never had any grandads. Dad’s grandad, William, was an engine stoker at Syke’s and he died at seventy-three when my dad was ten. Going back further to great grandads, there was Eneas Bailey who was a farmer at Cowrakes and Eli Walker who was a weaver on Yew Tree lane. Both must have been born around 1820.
Granny Addy was thirty-nine when she had mum. Granny Walker had dad when she was was thirty-three. Mum and Dad were the youngest in their families and both had older sisters. Mum was eighteen and dad was twenty when they got married.
I don’t know what all this goes to show. We were closer to the land a few generations back, wars muck up having kids and mum and dad will have been skifted around a bit when they were small. No wonder they married when they did.
Anyway Dad went to a technical school and left at fifteen. He liked adding up columns of figures and looking at maps. Nothing out of place in his paperwork when me an’ our kid sorted his stuff out after he died. But he was special with wood. He could tell you which tree a lump of wood would have come from, and where the tree was growing if it still was. And he made things. Tables and wardrobes when we couldn’t afford to buy them and coffee tables for gifts and carvings when he retired. He had prospects at Elliot’s, timber people, before the second war. He had a job, in accounts, at the Electricity Board after. And so he was grumpy.
We moved house and district in 1953. The house on Willow Lane was rented from Mrs. Thirkill. Dad went to her with the rent every week. I never saw her but she must have been dressed in black with a black hat and a broomstick. Dad managed to convince a building society that he earned enough to pay off a £4 per month mortgage. So we left for the suburbs. I remember the day we moved. Granny took me on the bus. Two buses to be accurate. I struggled back to my old school for a few weeks, but then changed to the new local primary. I was six years old. Big brother had passed his 11-plus and was at ‘the college’.
Forty-five years on and Willow Lane looks the same. I often drive up the lane to check it out. Still an interrupted terrace on one side and a wall on the other and a bridge at the end. The coal trains stopped a long time ago. Number five, where we lived, was empty for a while and then lived in and then empty again. Once it was an American designer clothes shop. Afro-Carribeans, not dad’s words, with grandiose ideas. The corner shop is a Bollywood video hire place. The gas-works has been blown up. People came from all over just to watch. Over the wall is a builders’ merchant and lots of square buildings with businesses and shops inside. It’s called Newtown Industrial estate so we might have lived in Newtown. The 1932 corporation maps call it Shearing Cross, part of Hillhouse. Of course, some of the buildings are really in Birkby.
The new house was one of George Haigh’s. A semi with two bedrooms, bathroom, a large through lounge, a very small kitchen and a garden, front and back. It was similar to 5, Willow Lane. Only we never opened the front door and the back door was at the side. A gate and a front path out onto Beadon Avenue and steps up from the back garden. There was a cellar too, at the bottom of the steps. It was different. The kitchen was minute. We ate and sat and played in the room. Except for breakfast. Cornflakes and treacle butties on a put-up drop-leaf something-or-other table. Mum coughing, breathing her last. The weekly wash overtook the kitchen every Sunday morning. Floods, a boiler and a mangle and then a twin-tub. Shirts and pants and knickers anywhere they would dry. And then two-way family favourites, Sunday dinner and Billy Cotton. BFPO’s and bumper-bundles, a joint with veg’ and a fight over the rice-pudding skin. A joint was meat with a bone in it. Where was the join? Mum never doled out all the rice-pudding. There was always some left over. Then mum and dad turned the Sunday express inside out and fell asleep. They did the same to the Examiner every night, except Sunday.
Aunties and Uncles came for tea on Sundays or we went there. So the room had to be clean. Dad always did the ‘vaccing’. Saturday or Sunday morning, either way best be scarce. Sunday tea was cold, a bit of ham and bread and salad, tinned peaches and carnation milk for afters. Cups of tea and cakes and buns. Mum and auntie would do the washing-up. Dad and uncle would sit in front of the fire and talk. It depended who it was. Uncle Bill smoked a pipe and talked about the war and India. Uncle George chain-smoked Senior Service talked about everything. He was a know-all. Uncle Ray just talked about Huddersfield Town and cricket. Then we might watch something. Sunday night at the London Palladium.
Going out for Sunday tea needed planning. Two trolley buses, the 73 into town and change for Crosland Moor, Sheepridge or Almondbury and get home for my bed-time. Uncle George had a dormobile. I asked him for a lift once about tea-time. He said yes. He wasn’t offering when it was time to go so I asked again. We got a lift and I got mum’s dirty look and an “Oh! David”. Well he had promised.
Sunday was a play day, as long as it was inside. I could read an Enid Blyton in a day, borrowed from Boots’ Library at the end of Victoria Lane. Auntie Gladys had a camera shop on Victoria Lane and bought me the library card for a birthday. You could take a book back the same day. You couldn’t do that at the public library.
The only way to get out on Sundays was to go to church. Sunday school at St. Michael and St. Helen’s. One of those modern places which had dances in them when god was hidden behind a folding door. I eventually joined the choir. I hadn’t a clue but big brother was in it. I got to ring the church bell, wear funny clothes and get given apples and bananas after harvest festival. I also got to get up very early. Mum was in the Mothers’ Union. Dad wasn’t in anything. He said he was an atheist until mum shut him up. We had Whit walks and new clothes and teas on tables in a field and sack races. Big brother had his pals from college and a girlfriend. I was part of the little brothers’ set. He wangled his way into playing football on Sunday afternoons and then so did I. Coats for goalposts and twenty-five a side. That field next to the church was the cricket pitch, the football pitch and ideal for spot of courting. It had a hill and hedges. A sledging track, cold achy hands and stiff wet jeans steaming in the kitchen. You had to go through it for a decent walk or meet your pals. George Haigh got hold of it eventually. It’s all houses now. The church is still there. I heard the vicar killed himself after his mother died. He’d never married.
Sundays got boring. I’d got into the college in 1958. I got fed up of aunties and uncles, grown-ups who talked and watched Sunday night TV. There was usually a good serial about five o’clock and that was it. When it was cold and nobody was coming, we’d pull the settee up to the fire and have our tea on our knees. Anyway this wore off and I got bored. I complained one Sunday night when mum and auntie Mary was washing up. They smiled, laughed. “Haven’t you got anything to do?” It didn’t help to say things.
Or it did. Gordon took me sailing at Redbrook reservoir with his girlfriend, Adrienne. She came from a posh family. Her mother had been a famous singer in the town and they had a swimming-pool in their back garden. Her father was called Redvers. Was that a name? Gordon and Adrienne smoked Kensitas and collected coupons. She had ginger hair, only they called it auburn. I thought she was great.
I went sailing a season or two. Spare pair of hands for crewing. Sore shins and bum from changing sides. Who did these pillocks steering think they were? Issue orders and then a bit more or out a bit with my piece of rope. I got to steer a few times. I came last. It was best on a windy day. There were two heavy club boats and I crewed for Horace when there was a bit of a blow. Excitement. Hanging out, way over the side, soaking and bailing. We grounded on a rocky beachy bit. Terrific. I never knew who Horace was. An odd-job guy who kept turning up.
Then I was old enough to find something to do on Sundays for myself. Another Church and Dalton St. Paul’s Methodist this time. The youth club was the attraction, but we had to go to chapel as well. A stone box with wooden seats and a wooden stage. Sit on the back row and pass notes to each other. Make too much noise. Dirty looks from the old farts at the front and from the vicar. He was different every week. No women. They must have been on a rota. One or two ranted and raved. At least they were loud. Most were totally boring. We had a scripture teacher at school. We had more than one but he stood out. His teeth crossed over somehow. I never could work out what he wanted. He came to the chapel one week as a lay-preacher. Tall and stiff in a grey suit, using words I couldn’t understand. And he told us off in the middle of his sermon. It wasn’t long after that I walked out a couple of times. I never went again.
What you wore was crucial on Sundays. Different but the same as others. It was a mark of how much your parents could afford. I had green cavalry twills and a black blazer for a while. We all wore fawn slacks one summer. Then there was sports coats and sun-glasses. But the suit was the key. Three-piece, 17 inch bottoms, dark blue with a pattern. Me and dad fought over the trouser bottom size. He wore 21 inch things, imagine? Ballooning out in the wind and urrgh! Tight trousers showed the shape of your leg and only teddy boys wore them. I wanted 16’s and got 17. We are in the tailor’s shop. Stomach in a knot, waiting. “What width do you want your trousers bottoms?” “17 inch.” Before dad could say anything. “They always know that, don’t they?” says the measuring man. Smug bastard.
We used to parade up and down parks on summer Sunday evenings. Walk or get the bus. Trying out smoking cigarettes and pipes. Play a bit of football, in waist-coats, suit jackets carefully stacked. Eye up the talent. One or two had long-term girlfriends, but we liked each other’s company. Short term girlfriends between long periods of thinking about girls and what was underneath blouses and bras. I used to ache about big brother’s girlfriend, Pat. My first girlfriend was Leslie Newton. She’d fallen out with a pansy called Massie who’s dad was a policeman. Massie acted like a pansy but he didn’t play football like one, for King James’. “Will you go out with us?” “Who’s us?” Me was always us and to go with someone was to fancy them. If they went though, that was different. That was finding out about for real about blouses and bras. Soft cuddly bits, aching and stiff other places. Leslie Newton’s dad was in the same mess as my dad. “Your lad ‘s got his hands on my daughter.” Treacle buttie time, following morning. “How’s Leslie?” Muddled and guilty. Six weeks walking out and going to the Waterloo pictures on Saturday nights. God, it was hard, learning what you’re supposed to do. I know what I wanted to do. It was a while before I did that. Six weeks was my record. I think she’d’ave gone, but I didn’t dare. If you tried owt you were dirty-minded. Well I was, but I didn’t. We all were, but we didn’t let on to them. I actually believed for a long time thet they didn’t want to do it. What a waste of time. I could’ve got on with it years sooner. Pamela Bradbury let me into her top half – wonderful, at parties and behind the air-raid shelter at the bottom of her road. Her big sister fancied me. She said so. We went on a camping holiday in Jugoslavia. She saw me changing in a tent by the shadow of a torch on the tent wall. She told me the shape. God, what was I doing, or not doing. I could’ve had the whole family. But you just didn’t go out with older girls. After Chapel, “Come back to us, mum and dad’s out.” More lost opportunities.
Anyway Sundays. I finished at chapel when I managed to make the sixth form. I nearly didn’t. Five remove for a week. Only got six o-levels with average marks. Dad wrote a letter to ‘slimy’ the headmaster, and I’m in lower sixth science. Sundays was a work day. Measured in hours and compared, lied about, frightened and frightening them. I worked in a fitted wardrobe, followed big brother. Dad made a table and a lamp. Big brother went away to university when I was twelve. So I had plenty of time in the wardrobe, but it only became serious in the sixth form. We were a group of five or six pals, doing sciences. We’d visit each other’s houses on Sunday nights, whether mums and dads were away or not. Talk and play bridge. We made my bedroom into a bedsit, big brother’s bed a settee with cushions, expensive wallpaper and an Elizabethan tape-recorder. Record the new releases from Pick-of-the-Pops every Sunday. Head-phones so as not to make too much noise. It was the only way to hear what you were recording.
And then Sundays was for serious courting when mum and dad was out or going for tea when her mum and dad were in. But that’s another story.
Life and Death
If you looked out of Uncle Bill’s back window you could see the railway to Manchester and a quarry. You could see lots more. They lived on cliff edge, but I remember the trains best. The house smelled of pipe-smoke. One person could just about turn round in the kitchen. We used to walk out past the quarry after tea with cousin Jeffrey. Dad said Uncle Bill came into a lot of money when an undertaker uncle of his from Oldham died. Didn’t seem to have changed him much. He wore a trilby though and had a pipe-smoker’s bottom lip. Uncle Bill and auntie May were not my real auntie and uncle. Dad and uncle Bill were pals from the war in India. Dad said they would have been the next lot into the proper fighting. As it was he killed a snake. Auntie May’s still there and Jeffrey’s in Newsome.
Uncle George and auntie Gladys lived with Grannie Walker. And there was Gordon. I never could work out who was related to who but these were particularly hard. Gordon had some connection with Leicester and he had a brother who was a merchant seaman. Uncle George’s mother lived in Wakefield. She was called Fortis or that’s what it sounded like and he was called Major. He was cook in the war, not an officer and never cooked anything at home. He could smoke cigarettes though. Forty Senior Service a day. And he had fads. Tropical fish was the best one. After Grannie Walker died they moved to Moorlands Road at Mount. He bought a massive water tank with all the extras. Weeds, gravel, stones and the bubbly thing in the corner. I went with him once to buy the fish just up from the Slubbers. We brought them home in a thermos. The fish kept dying. He had a pond with goldfish in the front garden. They kept dying too. He didn’t do it on purpose. He’d be reported to the RSPCA today.
Auntie Gladys had Whitehead’s camera shop. Dad said she sent uncle George on a course to learn photography. He was so airy-fairy he’d never’ave done it on his own. Anyway he had the developing and printing side of the business way up in an attic in the top floor of the market. They did well enough to give us a few extras that mum and dad couldn’t afford and keep his fads and his cigarettes going. I worked there for one or two summer holidays, putting prints on the dryer and doing a bit of printing with Gordon. George looked odd. Bits seemed to stick out. Dad said he’d had his bottom shot off in the war and needed a leather strap to hold him together. I never believed that one. But he did wear something hard under his shirt and jacket. He walked stiffly. One Christmas he could hardly breathe, and just sat in the armchair looking miserable and well, ill, and smoking. Auntie Gladys said he wouldn’t have the doctor. I’d’ve been in bed at least. He started with a pipe after that and put on a lot of weight.
Granny Walker died when I was six or seven, 1954 or so. She was not my favourite, but dad was upset. Mum said so. I knew she was ill and one Sunday dad was called urgently to the hospital. Someone must have come to the door because we didn’t have a phone. He left straightaway. I reckoned she’d died. I had to remember to use my bus ticket to go to town the following Tuesday rather than come home after school. Of course I forgot and blubbered at the bus-stop until some grown-up forked out the penny-halfpenny fare. I managed to get to the pub opposite the Parish church in time. The funeral tea was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and granny had left me a rubber. Not bad. Apparently when dad got to the hospital there was just an empty bed. He never cried or anything.
Uncle Ray died a year or so before Granny Addy, 1969 or so. Mum said she only met some people at weddings and funerals. She always had to be nice to everybody, but she probably never saw them again. Ray was large and red-faced. I got his overcoat so I know how big he was. I got some of his shirts as well. The sleeves were all too short. Auntie Mary had done something to them. She’d been a seamstress. Ray must have been an odd shape too. His red face came from the desert. During the war he’d served with the desert rats. He went to Huddersfield Town matches every week. He and Mary tripped off to the cricket a lot in summer. They went on a bus with a shopping bag full of food. He drank Long Life beer out of a can and there was always pop in the pantry. Auntie Mary was good at meringues. She held her right arm awkwardly, like it was too heavy. And they had a massive cupboard with a sliding glass front. There was everything in there. Snowstorms and spoons, little Blackpool Towers. Next to the fire was the place where Ray kept his policies. Mary said he was forever dusting them. It was meant to be funny.
I kept spraining my ankle at school. Mostly playing basketball. I knew the accident department at the infirmary well. Portland Street, smells that made you feel slightly sick, waits in corridors and black doctors. Mary and Ray arrived at the same time as me once. He’d fallen over on the main street in town. There’d been a freak snowshower. Casualty was buzzing, much better than normal. He’d a sling on his right arm and I’d an elastic bandage on my leg.
I was at Alder Hay in Liverpool when he died. He was the first of the aunts and uncles to go. He just fell asleep on the trolley bus, but he went a funny colour too so auntie Mary said. The ambulance was quick. The driver must have had a walkie-talkie. Anyway big brother and I made the trip back together. Colin is Ray’s son.
George died when I was in Cardiff, about 1973. I went home on the train. Change at Stockport and Staleybridge. Big brother and me had a pint before the cremation and we walked in Greenhead Park. The funeral tea was at the same place as we’d set off from. A full package. Auntie Gladys asked what it must’ve been like, for him, when he died. It was sudden and catastrophic, on a trolley, in casualty, in the new infirmary at Lindley.
Auntie Gladys and auntie Mary then made up a bit of a pairing after that. Dad fetched them both for Saturday tea regularly and took them home. Mary walked out with a gentleman friend, until he died. Anyway they all died, as they do, mum and dad too. Suddenly or from something you couldn’t do anything about. Strange really, doctors and hospitals weren’t much use.
The new school at Dalton was in a shed in the playground. I cried the first day. Ann Bailes had to look after me. The teacher was Miss Jewson and I don’t think we got on. I was the last that got to do anything. I had the smallest number of stars. Work returned, in pencil, untidy, red remarks. I read well. She made some sort of surprised noise when I picked out a book. I was door monitor once. Had to open the door for big brother’s girlfriend. She’d been in Miss Jewson’s class too. Came back to visit when she’d gone to the High school. Ridiculous smile across my face. At last I got to to write in ink. She sighed a lot though. Peter Sutton used to kiss girls.
We moved to a bigger building. Miss Jewson became Mrs. Eliff. I never saw her again. The new teacher was Miss Boast. She was old. School assemblies. Teachers at the end of the row and Miss Pattinson on the stage. I thought I’d never find the hymn the first time. It was the first book Miss handed out. It was easy. The first numbers lesson was good. Everything added up to ten. Used to walk from home. Mum took us the first few times. There were lolly-pop men on the big roads. One got knocked over by a car. He died. Could get the bus too. You got to know the bus conductress. Until the West Indians started coming. I must have been naughty or something. Mum said she’d been to see Miss. “He does things before they are naughty.” We had to make a lighthouse. Dad made it out of a roll of something. Pushed the middle up, stuck it and put some stuff on to make it shine. Too good for me. It got on the sand box for a while. I threw a stone in the playground. It hit a boy in the eye. An ambulance came. I never saw the boy again. I was frightened for ages. I’d been bad. I was waiting. Nobody told me off.
Then Mr. Wiseman. In the class-room next door. First man for a teacher. He went away for a while. A woman came. Used a ruler on hands. I never got my pictures on the wall. Then I did after he came back. A crap one of a shark. We made things that never got finished. Cardboard and paste. Railway stations and goods yards. We did exercises in the big hall. Changing. Some how squirming your stuff off sitting behind a desk. Hiding your skidmarks. Catching sight of other things possibly. Stand like a tree. “That’s not a tree, David Walker.” Then you do something. “Look at David Walker. Do it again David.” At break and dinner times, playing allys, making the rules up as you go along. Pretend games, “Anyone want to play cowboys and indians.” My gun was a straight finger. What was that? A curled finger. “Oh, that’s the trigger is it.” Football and cricket. Dawsey and Briscoe were best, and Parkin. Parkin went dancing though. And he could play the piano. And fighting. You had to. Didn’t the teachers realise? We had our rules. I cracked one lad’s head on the playground concrete. Crying, fight over. But I hadn’t won. Broken the rules somehow. Until Dawsey said well done. He’d not taken my side before. A white line appeared around the boiler-house. Couldn’t go over it. Pushed Cootey and told on him. Got told off by Mr. Meal for sneaking. Cootey’s pleased. He was short with a hair lip. Lived next to Handy on the main road. He was brainy, and cocky. You watched him, never pally with him. He wasn’t frightened. We arranged a fight after school. Two or three hung around. We starts and he’s no softy, awkward, inside me, pulling and tugging, can’t get a hit. Some grown-up stops us just as I get in a punch to the side of the head. Was it late? We didn’t fight after that. Mr. Meal was odd. He was nice, but still told you off. Made you cry, by talking to you. He moved in with a woman down the road from us. Mum said he wasn’t nice because he was divorced.
We were in gangs. Our gang came from Fernside. We walked to school and dawdled back and we called for each other. And we ran away. Whispers. Secret signals.
Mr. Meal had 4B. I was in 4A with Miss Town. She was friendly with big brother’s girlfriend’s mum. She read to us on Friday afternoons. Treasure Island. Every morning there were sums on the board. Then she’d come and tick them, with a red pen, from answers in her book. She never did them. “We always have to do seven or eight wrong before we get one right, don’t we David Walker?” so the whole class hears. Forty-two in the class and we change places every week. Marks are added up and you come where you come. David Woods and Brenda Butcher are always top. They get to sit at the back, furthest away from Miss. Pleased with themselves. I’m near the front. We have to write stuff. Vicky Flek does it as a poem all the time. She reads them out at the front. Miss clucks and says nice things. “You don’t start sentences with and, David Walker.” I’m at Miss’s desk. Red pen everywhere. I told dad. He was going to come in and sort her out. But he didn’t.
Anyway we got to play football. We joined the Red Triangle league on Saturday mornings. We’d played the year before, but I didn’t make the team, so I was linesman. Dawsey, Briscoe and Parkin did. Picked a stick up on a walk and got mum to put some red cloth on it. Went to away matches as well. Stuck the flag up when the ball went out. A referee asked me, shouting, “Who’s ball is it linesman?” I didn’t know. Something to do with which way my flag was pointing. He didn’t speak to me after. Dad bought me some football boots with cork studs. “Lost them in five minutes,” my dad said. I didn’t do it on purpose. When I didn’t play, “I spent all that money on boots and you’re not playing.” We were on the terrace side at Fartown. I don’t think we had a lot of money. I’ve nothing to say. I won’t bother telling him.
Would I get picked? Mr. Witter with a ball, bouncing it on the classroom floor. We couldn’t do that. Throws it over for me to feel. “Good enough for you, David?”
So I played at last. Right back, a clogger. An old Town shirt, god knows where from, laces at the collar. Shorts to my knees, shin pads, short back and sides. Gordon Littlewood played at left back. We got mixed up once on a sloping pitch Lindley way. Why wasn’t the ball comingto me? Teacher told us after the game. “What did you swap for?” We hadn’t. I took the goal kicks. Couldn’t get it out of the area that game. We had to have somebody waiting on the edge to kick it on. At home I kicked into their half. Dad watched once. I kept kicking it out. My dad goes up to the teacher after, “He was put off with me on the line.” We won every game except two. We lost to Stile common in the semi-final of the cup. Played at Leeds Road. Neither of us normally played there. “A neutral venue.” Mum said smiling. Just like real footballers. We lose one-nil. Thin snow, lines cleared, cold. I kick their centre forward’s legs from under him. He was going to score. Gets the penalty. Lads tell me off, but it doesn’t matter. head a ball in defence in the second half. Nearly goes in our goal. Sir says ,”Well played.” We lost away to Netherton too. Angry this time, “We’ll murder you at our place.” We beat’em after school in the week. Must’ve arranged it special. We didn’t murder them. We went away on the bus. We came home dirty knees and foreheads and kit and all. Played at Paddock once. Sunny. Pitch was grey, bits of grass. A man from the Examiner took a photo.
Peter Sutton was our goalie. He said one week that he wanted to go train-spotting. He got some stick. Then we didn’t really talk to him for a while. Alec Eales played instead. Massive and fat and slow. Not as good as Sutton, but all we had. He could throw a cricket ball. So could Gordon Sibald. I came third on sports’ day, for 2A or 3A. “That were rubbish, Walker,” in the classroom day after. I knew it was and so was I, crying. Miss shooed a bit, but I’m mostly left to it. The men teachers tried to show us how to pass a baton on in a relay. Put sticks in the ground specially to give room. Still stood still on the day and waited. We’d’ve won easy if ours had set off. “Why didn’t you?” teacher asks. Heads down, silence.
We won trophies at football. We had to go back to school at night, after we’d been home. Take a cup with us. ie and peas, loads of jelly, cartoons and a Hopalong Cassidy picture, just for us.
“Dawsey wants us to go to watch Town, dad.” Mutters, “How much is it? How are you going?” “I’m calling for him, and we’re going over Kilner bank. He’s been before, with his dad.” We went in the lads and pensioners, a turnstile. You went up a back lane at Fartown and a man let you in a red door. “Stay the other side,” dad paying further up the lane, near the smelly corrugated lavs. First Town match was brilliant. Went regular after that, and Fartown, every other week. Blue and white signs and claret and gold signs on trolley bus windows, who they’re playing next. 73 Bus to the bottom of town and walk up Bradford Road. Or get off at Moldgreen and walk to Leeds Road. We did walk a lot. I think dad got a bit fat and he needed to walk. He had an ulcer. Stayed in bed for days at a time. Burped a lot. Horrible white powder in a big white tin, stirred in water, drink it before it settles. White fish in milk. No onions. “I like them, but they don’t like me.” I burp. “David, that’s rude.” “Dad does it.” “It’s his stomach.” No answer to that.“Dad’s in a bad mood.” “It’s his stomach.” Dad didn’t have bad moods. Some of the time I went to the match with dad. Went with my pals when I started smoking. Paper round money went a long way. Ten Nelson or Park Drive, get into the match and the pictures and some left. Possibly chips. Names to remember, Kenyon in goal, McHale, Metcalf and then Massie, Stokes, Wood in goal, and O’Grady. Beat Wolves at home midweek, floodlights, snow. Wolves were a good side. Drew away on the Saturday. I’m going on my own, to see if I can stand next to Sheila Sykes and her dad. She’s there, behind the goal, Kilner Bank end. O’Grady’s cross and Stokes’ header, he jumps, soft contact, hardly changes direction, top corner of the net. You let go. Put my arm round her and she me, quickly. Didn’t keep them there though. And then they’re all over us, passing and running and we hold out. What a night.
Most of us did a bit of train-spotting, but not on Saturdays in the football season anyway. We’d try and catch the half-oner and the half-fourer which usually had namers on front. Half-oner was a double-header. Got to cab a few too. But it was mostly tank engines and big nine-twoers with trucks. To see owt decent we had to set off. Manchester Exchange and Piccadilly, Leeds City and the News Theatre, Wakefield Westgate and Kirkgate, Penistone and Doncaster on the race-course platform. And York. Thames-Clyder, Elizabethan, South Yorkshireman, Flying Scotsman. Massive locos with names. Patriot, The Black Watch, Bittern, Gemsbock, Resolution, Trinidad and Tobago, Leviathan, City of Stoke, Oliver Cromwell, Evening Star, The Princess Royal. York was curved. When somat good was coming you knew from boys’ shouts that came round the bend first, streak, streak, streak – a bow wave of awe. We put pennies on the line at Leeds and wondered how far they went. We visited the sheds too. Longsight, Holbeck, Doncaster plant. Sometimes the drivers and firemen would shout and see you off. Sometimes they ignored us. We got friendly with the porters at Huddersfield. A platform ticket got you on, waved in without it clipped if the bloke in the box was friendly. Miserable ones, the big fat one specially, wouldn’t let you on at all or clipped your ticket for an hour. We helped with the luggage barrows and the mail sacks. Spent all day there sometimes, little rucksack with sandwiches, apple, a notebook and a pencil. Rain and snow. Copied all your numbers when you got home. Underlined them until I got bored, and then I only bothered with namers.
Cousin Pat got married in Coventry. Me and Mum, auntie Mary and Granny Addy set off on the train. Got off at Stalybridge when we shouldn’t’ave. Changed at Crewe. Well, what a spot. Loads of cops (first sight of an engine). Nearly missed the train to Coventry. Mum calm, never knew how I managed to remember things or tell the time. Auntie Mary was having kittens. Sick as anything, flu and a man smoking. A carriage where you couldn’t go anywhere. Full. Raining, hot. String bags for your stuff. Mirrors and little pictures of people on beaches. Leather straps hanging on wooden doors. Men could open the window, but it was hard for women and awkward. Dirt smells. It was that Asian flu.
A man talked to me a lot on the platform. Said he knew my dad from Hopkinson’s. Gave me a black note-book. I told my dad. He thought about it a lot. He did warn me off. Then we came home on the train. Into Platform one so we came from Leeds. Perhaps a rail-rover day. Anywhere in Yorkshire for seven bob. Roast beef at the bottom of Westborough for dinner and a cake at the Paragon in Hull for tea. We used to go to Old Trafford and watch the cricket. Had to walk across Manchester to get to Oxford Road. Roses matches and Test matches. I saw Brian Close pull one round to leg and get caught. He’d only been in two minutes. Me and Graham Cartwright went separate and it rained. We came home early. Dad stayed and saw Trueman get loads of wickets. The rain stopped and they played extra time. Bugger. Dad laughed. Anyway we came off the train and there’s this bloke. I points him out and Dad gives him a look. I didn’t see him again.
I’m going somewhere on the train on my own. Mum’s dressed me in my new New College blazer and tie. A porter I’ve known for ages has a right good look. “I didn’t know you went there.” “I start next term”. Boasting a bit, but OK with it, and he was. Train-spotting dropped off a bit after that.
Three trips to Rawthorpe Secondary Modern on Saturday mornings with tons of other kids. All morning in a classroom doing sums and writing. Yawning early. Mum said “You’ve had a busy day,” and I remember and smile with butterflies in my tummy. I’ve forgotten all about it and we all have to go to the assembly hall, just the fourth yearers, before home time. Teachers are handing out brown envelopes. I don’t know why. Miss Pattinson gives me mine. She gives her pile out mostly to 4A. I get home before mum. It’s light. She works at my auntie Gladys’s shop in town. Kick some stones about for a bit. The road has a pavement but no road. It’s dusty and stony. Mum gets home and I give her the brown envelope. Well, she opens it and well. She clutches it to her chest and reads it again and grabs hold of me and cries. What’s all the fuss? I’ve passed the 11 plus to go to the college. I’m up to Fernside and I find out who hasn’t. Angry tears. Briscoe was going to go to the college with Lloyd Beaumont. He wasn’t. He was going to Royds Hall. So was Chris Burns who went to school just behind the brickworks. Most of 4A and 4B passed. But there was passing and passing. Alec Eales and Gordon Sibald hadn’t and went to Rawthorpe.
The new house at Waterloo had a front and back garden. They were neat and you’d to watch out. No short cuts across the borders, not seen anyway. And walls. We couldn’t afford bricks, so George brought this concrete brick-maker, like an ice-cream wafer maker. We had cornets and lollies, grown-ups had wafers. He came most Sundays for ages making concrete bricks and dad built walls. The front’s was curved. Mum wanted it that way. The back garden was long and narrow, grass at the top, finishing at a wall, and allotment at the bottom. We played lots of cricket, the ball and the bloody borders. You can’t have plants and play cricket. It was the thing dad and me did together. It was better in the park and on the beach. All the family joined in once on Southport beach. Where was the sea? Big brother was about to do important exams, he was brainy. Mum said you didn’t revise the day before. Everybody else did. Off we went in the dormobile, changed into a bus. I had a long innings. Adrienne had to change out of her swimming costume in the dormobile. Accidentally on purpose I missed anything worth looking at. She laughed. I went red, looked at the sand. God, what was she like underneath?
Another match on the Cayton Bay beach at Scarborough. Every summer we went to Filey or Scarborough. Last week of the school holidays. Dad was in Nalgo, a holiday camp owner. Either there or in a caravan at Wallis’s or Butlins. Mum and dad were great dancers, but they could never get out because of me. Big brother babysat me at Wallis’s. They said they wouldn’t go but they did. I learned to ride a two-wheeler and on a rainy day Mum taught me the St. Bernard’s waltz. Big brother then stopped coming with us. Mum and dad got his results by telegram. She’d cried when the bus left Huddersfield, big brother walking away up Kirkgate.
Nalgo holiday camp was OK. Plenty of pals all with nicknames. I was Corky. Dad said one of the other campers might be a boss so you’d not know if we all had nicknames. We were either red or blue and we had competitions like tug of war and cricket. Dad was big by then and was the anchor man. Slipping and falling over. We lost. We sang songs a lot, one for getting up and one for going to bed. There was a long walk down to the beach, but we went most days until I preferred table-tennis. There was a camp-fire in the woods one of the nights. They had a bit for people who were in the war. Or wars. One year two old men in berets and medals stood up straight and saluted when the Boer war was announced.
The cricket match and twenty-five a side, all men, well lads and men. Proper stumps and everything and a tennis-ball. On the beach. Some grown-up caught me at square leg. Didn’t he know to give us a chance? Fielding and short of a bowler. “Bring on Corky,” shouts dad to the captain. Batter misses and I get his shin. “Ow’s that?” “Out,” says the umpire, lovely man. You only had one over though. The captain wore a kilt, played the bagpipes and spoke funny.
The back garden wasn’t always for cricket. Across the road were the Sandersons. He was a painter and decorator and he used to appear at the back door, stand and talk in the kitchen, without being asked. Big brother worked for him in the summer holidays when he was home from university, became quite a dab hand at painting and plastering. Mum and dad said they went to play cards on Saturday nights at the Sanderson’s house, but it was a waste of time. Dad was always coming over to see if I was alright. They had a daughter Barbara. We used to play in my tent in the back garden. She used to let me take her clothes off, what sights and smells. She wanted to take my clothes off, but I wouldn’t let her. Dad found us at it one afternoon. I said we were playing doctors and nurses. Barbara stopped coming over after that. She was thirteen, I was about nine or ten.
At the new college we played with a hard ball and pads in nets, still in short trousers. And then hand-me-down flannels from uncle Ray. Colin had worn them. Somebody famous had them before him. Ron Capper with a woodbine and his trousers tucked into his socks. Games lessons. The pitch right next to Longwood edge. A double period to fight it out with the ‘r’ stream and John Beaumont. I loved smacking him over long on, cocky sod. Picked for the school U14’s when I’m twelve. I’m big for my age. Playing with the likes of Frank Taylor. Same for soccer with Rick Thom. Thom had a detention off big brother when I first got to the college. Not good when you’re walking through Almondbury on your own. I was tall on the outside, but it ended there. I collapsed in the middle of the old army camp. Even Thom didn’t have the heart to put the boot in. “Soft as shit!” He was right too. I managed centre-half, Thom at right half and Taylor on the left. I stopped it and passed it to one of them. Not so easy at cricket though. They don’t speak to me. The third yearers. Grunt if I ask something. A catch drops just in front of me. Mutterings and whisperings. I get a duck. Desperate for something. “That turned.” Frank Taylor looks at me unsmiling, “It were a straight ball.” I didn’t play again. Jimmy Dakers, who picked the team, fancied himself that he understood boys. He’d had time off to do psychology.
We went to Bradford to see Yorkshire and Australia on a bus paid for by school. Bobby Simpson got a lot of wickets, but our lads carted him around a bit. He got the best clap though. It rained a bit. I kept score in the house score-book.
House matches were great. All ages, all in it together. What a slip-catch off Taylor to get rid of Berry. Mr. Wilson umpired and taught English. Next lesson over he comes. Head down, pretend you haven’t done anything. “Good catch,” he whispers, a bit loud. I didn’t know he’d seen it. Just a bloke at one end to shout “over” and sort out the leg befores.
We had some good players. Currie, Hellawell, Roblin, Beaumont and many others. We were in different houses and played against each other in night matches. Ainsty got the junior cricket cup the year I was captain. We got Hellawell cheaply against Merton and batted Currie out for a draw with Stratford. John Currie had a super windmill action as a swing bowler, but boy was he skinny. He and Hellawell lived at Netherton. We’d played them at soccer when we were at Dalton and lost away from home. Currie lived in a square and his dad ate Park Drive cigarettes. Hellawell lived on the main road just up from the Meltham railway. We played cricket under the railway bridge down the back. Hellawell taught me how to tickle trout. Mum and dad couldn’t believe it when I brought trout home for tea. Mum cooked it though. Netherton youth club was good. It had a pool table. I biked up a few times to get to see Ann Shaw. It didn’t do any good. She ignored me. Michael Brook always had the women. He went on to be policeman. Currie left to join a bank. Roblin sells second-hand books. John Currie and his dad were the only ones to sus out why I was late for school when I had to go to juvenile court. Got caught chucking stones at George Haigh’s roof tiles. We’d done more damage than that to his houses over the years, god knows why. Anyway a policeman was sent to patrol the buiding site, probably to stop thieving. Instead he got us. Booked us, me and Chris Burns. Had to go to court, but no one knew who the tiles belonged to. Waste of time. But I was late for school. Dad rehearsed me in what to say to the form master, Doc Harley. “My dad says I don’t have to say where I’ve been.” And that was that, except Currie and his dad knew. Read it in the examiner and put two and two together. George Haigh’s building site was banned after that. Not that I took any notice. I would’ve been the only one not to meet up there. It took over from the fields as the place to play and meet. He was actually building on our’s.
That’s where we met the girls. Sheila Sykes, Maureen Bailey and Ann Shaw. Sheila Sykes’ dad told me dirty jokes on the bus. They lived up the road from us, on my paper round. I delivered her paper, and Janet Raby’s. Her dad had the men’s hairdresser at Waterloo, across the road from the pictures and Baraclough’s paper shop. I went with Ann Shaw, but I never did. No courage, even in the big concrete pipe in the quarry at Ellis’s brick works. They thought I might’ve though. It muddled me a bit. What was right. Mum and dad didn’t help much. I left out the bit about what I really wanted to do and couldn’t, touch and things. What was wrong with me? None of us got off with the girls. We just walked and talked about it. And sat on buses next to each other, the closest you got. Until Whitwham. He took Sheila Sykes to the pictures and held hands in public. Didn’t last long, he said he’d had an outside feel. Things we dreamed about. We drifted away after that. I asked Janet Raby out once but she was doing her hair. Tried to hold her hand too. She must’ve thought I was daft.
I carried on playing cricket for Frank Taylor but not much else. He was house cricket captain. Didn’t do much of anything else. Not much work. More mooning about thinking about women. Going to the youth club and the Naldred sisters. Their father was a policeman and they live in a police house on the main road. He asked me if I had a license for my pipe. He smoked one. I said no I didn’t. I didn’t twig for a good bit. I must’ve bragged about how I was doing with Ann. It got round. “What was that about being dirty-minded with me?” I’d no answer and no girl and no tits or whatever we called them. We had loads of names for them, and you know. She went out with Kenyon after that. We went on a long club walk over the moors and we held hands. “What about Kenyon?” “I’m not finishing with him, if that’s what you mean.” I couldn’t speak to her after that. Her older sister was called Elizabeth. She was gorgeous, I thought so. I ached, too far too good looking for me. We’d kissed and stuff when you play sardines at parties. I’d even kissed Sheila Sykes in sardines. Soft , nylony and sweet – marvellous. Daren’t do anything else. Something inside stopped you, or them. I wrote a letter to Liz. f she wanted to go with me, come to the Friday club. She didn’t. I spent the night watching the door.
My end-of term reports were crap. “You know the adverts better than your lessons,” dad said. Mum quiet. I wasn’t doing well, at anything. Physics was OK. Had to do better at school. Had to buck up generally. Got ninth in the class the year before O-levels. I worked it out so’s I’d know where I was, and how it would be at home. Had Harlock down as bottom and him in my face at break time. He did come last though. He was six foot and had a moustache in the first form. Snappy dresser and squint. He could only see out of one eye. Good runner and a bully at rugby. He ran for Huddersfield. His balls dropped first and his knob was immense. I was second. Fatty Hirst, bully-boy from the third form. “You’ve got big balls for second nearer.” And then the Capstan full-strength took over. Pink sick packets. I tried one on the top of the bus back from Halifax after rugby on a Saturday morning. In a cold sweat. Did I need to get some fresh air when I got off at the bottom of town? Dad gave me a funny look when I got in. Warlock carried on smoking them. Breathless and last to the line-out, stayed on the floor after I’d smacked him with a hand-off. Lost his way.
Six O-levels. No English Language. Surprise really with my best grade in literature. Mr. Wilson spotted the questions and I liked A Tale of Two Cities. Bernard Daly didn’t enter me for Latin. Waste of the fee. That Vicar who stood in for a year was useless. And Henry Strachan, a joke, an idiot. Butterflies, sinking feelings when we got him for form master. A paddy every Monday morning when the dinner money didn’t add up. Half-crowns chucked at us and board-rubbers. When he really got mad he’d push his desk forward into ours. Desks, tables and boys all over the place. He supervised the school mag. Missed master-bating one year. In the scouts. He looked a right pillock in shorts. Hours of boring scotch Ovid.
French was the same. Two years of Gilbert Gowans after George Redmonds. We kept empty milk bottles in one of the desks. “Its all about washing, you know, gentlemen,” says Gowans. Somebody opens the desk-top. He jumps up and down a fair bit for a French teacher. Serve him right for being rubbish. You needed French to go to University. Big brother got German and French and this and that in four years instead of five. I was disappointed when I was in the ‘A’ stream. Mum said it would be for best. He didn’t get into Oxford, Brasenose. Is that a college? Weekends away taking exams and nothing to show. Mum supported Cambridge in the boat-race after that. I wasn’t glad. I wasn’t sad either, but I think he was.
I volunteered to sort out the second eleven in upper sixth. So I picked it, captained it and so on. Sports masters had an easy time of it. Had all my pals on the team. Not bad cricketers. And the odd ringer that didn’t want to play in the first team. Linsell, a child prodigy of a spin bowler turned into medium pace with swing. Crowther, the big rugby forward, a decent batter. Huff and puff, left arm over, Waddington. A few wides and a few wickets. Oates at stumper. Never caught anything. Summer Saturday afternoons. Caught the train to Wheelwrights in Dewsbury. I’m last in with Clark. Five to win and we’re batting OK, and he goes and gives a soft caught-and-bowled. Smashing day out to King Ted’s in Sheffield with a tree on the square. I declare too early. So Archenold says. Big German physics teacher who pronounced Descartes in English. Poor bloke didn’t half get the bird from the snooty arty lot. And Roundhay. Their captain got shirty about Linsell just keeping them outside off stump. He couldn’t bat, that was his problem. I hole out at long on after their fast bowler gets me in the midriff. Clarkson umpires. King James’, good win. We’re all round the bat in their last over. Heady days.
Mum and dad and me went to Sheffield. Sat behind one of those things you lean on at football matches. Yorkshire and the West Indians. Richard Hutton and Sobers. Sobers scored a hundred. We saw it all. ust got it in before the finish. He lifted a ball for six right to us. We were at square leg. He hardly moved.
I get picked for the master’s match. Real honour. All the school watching. They go home at ten past four and we’re still battling. I’m last man again, but easier somehow. Last ball and we run. Good throw and I just make the crease, grass stained trousers. Mum’l complain. Horrible little Mr. Haigh makes yet another sarcastic remark. I laugh, walk away. They hadn’t won had they?
I left school a few days later. Just walked away.