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Tripping Over - John Hickman

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ISBN: 978-0-9870945-4-4 (soft cover)

ISBN: 978-0-9870945-5-1 (hard cover)

ISBN: 978-0-9870945-6-8 (eBook)

ISBN: 978-1-3103968-3-0 (Smashwords edition)

Distribution to the book trade throughout Australia & New Zealand by

Dennis Jones & Associates Pty Ltd.

Cover design by Chameleon Print Design

Cover Photograph: John and his Dad, Bill, in a tie on Hastings beach, circa 1948

Metadata, manuscript formatting, templates and photograph enhancement by

Chameleon Print Design


To everyone who has read Reluctant Hero and contacted me asking, What happened to Bill and Alice?

To Carole, my wife for 50 years, thank you, for always being there for me as my closest friend and confidant.

You were my guiding light through those dark times, when we went backwards financially—but in sunshine.

To Sara and Mark, our children, all my love to you forever.

Thank you for your belief in me.


As author it has been my choice to write under my own name. Other names have been changed out of consideration for relatives I have been unable to contact. The writer acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of narrative non-fiction, which have been used without permission.

The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorised, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

To the best of the author’s intentions this work is a faithful rendering of the facts as remembered by him.

As stated, TRIPPING OVER is a work of narrative/creative non-fiction. This is a true story as remembered by the author and by his family; Mum, Dad, Gran, Gramps and Pandy.

I have had remarkable clarity with most of the story. Where memory has failed or a gap has been discovered of which I was unaware, the tone has been recreated with the general content for dramatic flow.


My story is neither the beginning nor the end but somewhere in between. It happened in some places I would rather forget, but like the phantom itch from a long ago amputated limb, it remains.

People who contributed to this book have had to wait a long time to see it appear. Sadly, for some it has taken too long. Many have died before publication. The author hopes he has done their memories justice. We live a while only to die sooner than we planned.

Carole, my wife, is appreciated as always for her patience in tolerating what has become my obsession. She has been a model of calm and reassurance with her recall of our family folklore. She knew my dad, Bill for more than thirty years.

To our daughter Sara Jayne, it was your artistic genius that led me to complete my book. Your contribution benefited me in so many ways. Our journey together with Tripping Over became my greatest pleasure, and your insights saved a tottering sequel. Together I’d like to think we put the fun back into being dysfunctional. Thank you, Sara.

My editor, the irreplaceable Tricia Eban, who gave her time unselfishly, kept me focused and never gave up on me. Tricia prevented my story from becoming a boring diary of events. Her many valuable suggestions and changes allowed my voice to come through.

Sincere posthumous thanks to Gran, who encouraged me to write with my first Remington portable typewriter. Presented on my tenth birthday, it was an expensive gift in 1955 at £6 pound from Whitley’s department store, Bayswater, London.

Acknowledgement of photographs:

Alice Mary Hickman

Sara Jayne Hickman

William Frederick Honey

William Edward Hickman

Logan Shire Council

The other photographs are attributed to unknown photographers

Other sources:

Daily Mirror

Daily Telegraph

The Times

Daily Express


John Hickman 2013



Chapter 1What’s in a name? 1951

Chapter 2Happy Trails

Chapter 3Monkey in the box

Chapter 4Gran and Gramps

Chapter 5Problems in paradise

Chapter 6Great expectations

Chapter 7Welcome to television

Chapter 8Gunsmoke

Chapter 9Fun and fitness

Chapter 10Kamikaze

Chapter 11Earl’s Court Motor Show

Chapter 12Three in a boat

Chapter 13Our Titanic

Chapter 14Anchors away

Chapter 15Telling the tale

Chapter 16ABL Another bloody lock

Chapter 17Name-dropping

Chapter 18More name-dropping

Chapter 19Failure

Chapter 20Truly blessed

Chapter 21Serious DIY

Chapter 22Safety first

Chapter 23All our yesterdays

Chapter 24Leaks and visitors

Chapter 25The poo man

Chapter 26The tally trade

Chapter 27Gas high jinks

Chapter 28Italics

Chapter 29Hyde Park College

Chapter 30Co-ed

Chapter 31Newts

Chapter 32Tobias

Chapter 33Tessa the psycho horse

Chapter 34Not a horsey person

Chapter 35Up the proverbial creek

Chapter 36My fraud

Chapter 37My wonder years

Chapter 38Crawley New Town

Chapter 39Life in the fast lane

Chapter 40The power of wheels

Chapter 41Misfire

Chapter 42My alcoholic haze

Chapter 43If it quacks…

Chapter 44The Bill

Chapter 45Reunion time

Chapter 46Trolley Dolly

Chapter 47Mondayitis

Chapter 48A man’s dream world

Chapter 49Shafted

Chapter 50Hastings

Chapter 51A historical significance

Chapter 52Leicester

Chapter 53Dismissed

Chapter 54Familiar territory

Chapter 55Cavaliers vs. Roundheads

Chapter 56Prodigal son

Chapter 57Paris

Chapter 58Tragedy

Chapter 59Goodbye, Mummy1965

Chapter 60My mission impossible

Chapter 61My big opportunity

Chapter 62Ace

Chapter 63Eureka


About the author

Notes to the reader

Books by the same author

Chapter 1 – 1951

What’s in a name?

Who is John Hickman? asked the ticket clerk at Ealing Broadway Tube Station.

I am, Sir, I replied nervously.

There was a long pause while he compared the name I’d given him with my proof of age document. He sighed, as if his day had just become more complicated. That’s not what this birth certificate states, Son. He held it up facing me, as if I was unaware of its content. Here, he pointed at my name, it clearly states your names John Honey.

The ticket clerk had seized my money and application for my train season ticket together with my birth certificate as proof of age. But he neglected to take the additional document from my hand. Knowing that he needed to sight the other document, as without it I would be treated like a criminal, I edged it across his counter towards him.

What’s this?

I took a deep breath. I knew exactly what to say because I’d been taught. That’s my Dad’s change of name by deed poll certificate, Sir. It shows that my Dad changed his name from Honey to Hickman in 1946. That’s why I’m now John Hickman instead of John Honey.

The ticket clerk scratched his head while he examined my Dad’s deed poll. You’d better wait here a minute.

I waited while he took my certificates to another office. He knocked as it had Manager on the door. He went in. After a while another older man came out with him. The ticket clerk made a big show of pointing across at me, while stabbing his finger at my papers with his other hand. I took deep breaths and tried to look relaxed. A queue had formed up behind me. They were becoming impatient as this was usually a straight- forward procedure. After a while the ticket clerk returned to his nondescript seat and stamped my ticket. "Here you go then, John Hickman."

Thank you, Sir.

This was the process I went through whenever I had to show proof of age. Whether it was buying a new train or bus season ticket, joining the Cubs, or even a church choir, I always went through the same routine.

Back at home Mum asked, How’d you go? Did you get your ticket?

Yes, but it took a while. It would be a lot easier if my name was John Honey.

Mum stopped what she was doing at the kitchen sink. She turned slowly to face me and then dried her hands on her apron. She let out a long sigh. We’ve been through this before. Mum was hesitant. She thought for a moment while choosing her words with care. You know your Dad changed his name by deed poll. That’s why you’re John Hickman.

I shuffled my feet. Yes, but if he had to change his name, why couldn’t he do it before I was born? I started to cry. "I’m different but not in a good way, Mum."

Oh, dear, Mum reached out and pulled me close with a cuddle. I liked it when she did that. It was as if suddenly all of my problems disappeared. Trouble was this one hadn’t, it never did.

Mum held me tight. "You know you’ve always been called John Hickman."

I stayed in her arms. I liked it there. I began to whimper. But that’s not the name on my birth certificate, Mum. I felt my bottom lip tremble. My friends say that means my name is false.

Mum pushed me back. She held me by my shoulders and away at arms length. And then she tried to fix my eyes with hers. Look at me, she said.

I kept my head down.

Mum became firm. I felt a light shake. The cuddle was over. She repeated firmly. I said look at me.

I disobeyed. I didn’t look up. Mum manoeuvred her head to try and get me to look at her. I said nothing. I refused to look at her. I kept my eyes fixed on the floor in front of me.

I won. Mum softened. It’s not as if you’ve done something wrong, John.

I didn’t think I had either. I also felt that this problem of mine was not about to go away, not ever, but then again, I wasn’t about to give up on it either. When we have to trot out our birth certificates it’s upsetting for me, Mum.

Mum’s tone changed. It had an edge to it. Tell me. Why are you’re so upset, John?

Because I always have to show Dad’s deed poll certificate with my birth certificate and explain why. No-one else has to do that. Sometimes they make fun of me.

Did the man at the railway station make fun of you?

I thought about it. In a way he did.

Maybe you’re a little too sensitive about it for your own good?

I sulked again. But without Dad’s deed poll my name’s wrong.

So you mean you’re afraid of being ridiculed for using an incorrect name. And that unsettles you. Is that what you mean?

I did the nod thing again. I had to admit she’d explained it pretty well, better than I had in fact.

Mum smiled. You could always look at it another way.

What way?

Well, your Dad had a major issue with his name and now as it turns out, so do you.

After Dad arrived home from work he always read his newspaper. I was forbidden to interrupt him usually but this was different. I was on a mission. I entered the living room eating a banana, which in hindsight may have been a bad move. Why did you change your name, Dad?

He sighed deeply then put his newspaper down. Momentarily he stared disapprovingly at the banana. Maybe I should have put a plate under it, I thought.

Dad cupped his hands like a man holding an empty cup. Because I didn’t like the name I had, Son. People kept making fun of Honey so I changed it.

I shuffled awkwardly. What sort of fun?

Dad thought for a moment. Nothing in particular but lots of silly plays on my name.

I sat back and took the last bite of my banana. I was feeling a bit rebellious. What plays?

Dad was thoughtful. They called me names like Honeybun, or come here sweet thing. No money no honey were some of them. Over a period of time it got me down, so I did something about it.

Dad’s smile faded to a frown. Have you spoken with your mother about this?

I nodded.

Dad continued. Far more important to me than any name change issues young man is how you’re progressing at school.

Maybe I should have kept quiet?

Dad often threatened he’d visit my headmaster if I misbehaved. Mum came into the room as if on cue. It was as if she’d been listening from the kitchen. That’s unnecessarily harsh, Bill. Masters and teachers are strict. The female teachers shout a lot, which unsettles him. Male masters cane, which frightens him. His sports master uses a cricket bat. Mum drew me close, and gave me a cuddle. I felt in that moment that I had an ally. But deep down I knew that even together, we were no match for Dad.

"They don’t cane for fun, Alice. Spare the rod and spoil the child is an accepted maxim. If he behaves then he won’t get smacked. That’s partly why he’s at Eaton House School."

Dad locked eyes with me to make sure there would be no misunderstanding. Punishment for minor offences, young man, is writing out lines in Latin while you’re in detention. For more serious mischief like rowdy behaviour they cane. Right?

Yes, Dad, I mumbled.

Being sent to the headmaster’s study usually involved a lecture across his aircraft carrier sized desk. It was often followed by up to six of the best with his bamboo cane. But our sports master provided the additional indignity of bending us over the back of his chair after we’d dropped our trousers and undies around our ankles.

Other masters never caned like that. Those bare arse canings left more than the ghosts of summers past. They left long, sore red welts, which I tried to avoid.

Dad prepared to light his pipe. I noticed his hands were shaking. He glared at me. You have absolutely no idea, do you?

Unsure what he meant, I shook my head.

I left school at 14 to get a job and contribute to the home. I put food on the table. I became a combat pilot at 19. It’s a bloody miracle I survived the war and that I’m here at all. I’m telling you, Son. Men I knew died so you can sleep soundly at night. There’s times I can’t sleep, especially when I have bad dreams.

Mum interrupted. Bill, please be gentle. He’s too young.

Dad took a deep breath. He continued slowly. On top of everything the RAF threw at me, I had to put up with people making fun of my name, too! That’s another reason I changed my name. To save you going through all that.

Mum placed her hand gently on Dad’s arm. He calmed further, while I cried.

Chapter 2

Happy trails

My best friend, David, and I were queued up with the school to enter the swimming baths. He was a few inches shorter than me, stockier in build but the same age. We were dressed in layers to keep out the stiff northeast winds that bite across London from the North Sea even in springtime. We’d broken into huddles to shelter as best we could from the wind and rain.

David looked miserable. His voice was muffled. I don’t like Tuesdays, do you? Only his brown eyes and runny nose were visible between his school scarf and cap.

No, me neither. I tightened my cold fingers in my soft leather gloves.

Why do we have to learn to swim anyway? David whined. I don’t like water. Do you? His words sounded thick only to be whipped away on the wind.

No. I don’t. But my dad says to hear me carry on it sounds more like a bad day in Northern Island than a school outing to the swimming baths.

No talking, Hickman, snapped our sports master in the nasal twang of north London. Silence in line or you’ll be reported when we get back to the headmaster.

He paused, That is unless I deal with you, my way, he added with a smirk. He moved on.

My guts churned. If I didn’t watch out I could be in the running for a bare arse caning. But at least he didn’t call me Honey.

I can’t feel my toes, David whispered as he shuffled and stamped his feet.

Me neither.

We cuddled our satchels as if they were our favourite teddies. I would have liked to manage a smile but hated these visits with the same intensity as appointments with the chiropodist, which often followed these memorable outings. On my last visit she hacked out a verruca from the underside of my right foot. Crippled, I hobbled about for days.

As we filed in a strong smell of chlorine made me feel sick. I plunged into sulk mode again. These dreadful baths outings and the legacies of what followed them had got me down. Now name wise I had another worry. I wondered what Dad had meant when he said, That’s another reason I changed my name. If there was another reason besides what he’d told me, I worried about what it might be?

After we’d disrobed and put on our swimming trunks we jockeyed towards the shallow end to enter the water. My teeth chattered even before I ventured in with my big toe.

Now, how best to get in and avoid a bare arse caning?

A few courageous fellows jumped in. Others like David and I edged slowly down the steps. We complained loudly, which amused our sports master. Half way in and my testicles retreated up around my ears.

Once in, your skill levels range from chimpanzees to hapless water buffalo, sports master said. He looked around. There seems to be few water enthusiasts among you.

Although the building was heated I noticed our sports master never removed his outer coat. Lucky bugger, I thought. His modern attire and colourful bowtie remained hidden beneath his scarf, coat and hat. He was tall, built like a greyhound, with long dark hair silvering at the temples. His neat goatee beard, barely visible behind his scarf, looked as if it had been pencilled onto his face. Inwardly, I smiled. I decided I’d nickname him goatee master.

I ran my idea past David. What do you think?

David was unsure. As long as the rotten sod doesn’t get wind of it, I suppose.

Goatee master settled comfortably onto a bench seat near a heater. At school in class when he took us for English Literature, I half expected to see him squint through a monocle but he never did.

He filled his elegant long silver cigarette holder. Then crossed one leg over the other and leaned back heavily against the tiled wall. From there he could view us, the unwilling entertainment. As he scanned his charges I noticed him shoot a glance at my goose-pimpled torso. My eyes for a moment met his. He inhaled deeply, What if you nearly drown, boy? he sounded almost hopeful. Then after a pause, nearly being not near enough, he sniggered.

He tried to renew his smile, which somehow never quite reached his eyes.

I’d developed a yeoman’s job of an inferior version of the breaststroke. My head above water allowed me to breathe air and avoid those ghastly inner ear infections, which whenever I dunked my head under seemed to follow in tandem with the verrucas.

I had not a bump of direction but neither had David. And then with the masterful strokes of salmon in their death throes, we managed to return and hug the entry rail.

On our walk back to school the dampness had blown away. Leaves on the trees looked two shades lighter green.

I’m pleased that’s behind us for another week, David.

I might not go next week if I can get a note from my mum.

I brightened up. That’s a good idea. I’ll get one too.

I relaxed a little. So intense was my dislike of the swimming baths I pledged to use my sickly reputation to get an excuse note from Mum.

Deep in thought about that another problem surfaced. The days I enjoyed most were our Thursday excursions to the nearby Duke of York’s Headquarters where we played sports if the weather permitted.

Not that I was athletic. I looked like a newborn giraffe taking its first steps. Trouble was if I got an excuse note from Mum for the Tuesday, I’d need a spectacular recovery by Thursday! But I was all right for this week. I cheered up.

Thursday arrived and with it a new downside. Goatee master, his smile locked on autopilot, made an announcement following the games. You should all shower before you go home.

I was unenthusiastic. Their showers were open, draughty and cold. The concrete floors were slippery, their water was not hot. The prospect of a luke-warm shower on a chilly afternoon while I shivered on bare concrete held no appeal to me.

In an effort to avoid the showers I tried, Sir, I can’t shower. I’ve brought no towel.

Goatee master let out a long sigh. He rolled his eyes upwards. Don’t be ridiculous, boy. Big boys use their sports shirts, when they haven’t a towel. Grow up!

David and I exchanged subdued looks. The last thing we wanted to do was upset him. It was then goatee master added encouragement in an unexpected form. He fixed us each in turn with his sad, brown eyes. Look, if you behave like grown up boys, and shower like them, I’ll treat you the same. All right?

His eyes brightened. He swiped his curtain of hair aside and grinned. His mouth was like a caved-in hole above the goatee. How’s about super-duper Devonshire cream teas before you go home? My treat.

I felt confused. I looked to David for support. He grinned widely and nodded. Visions of fresh cream and gourmet jams with assorted chocolate and marzipan cakes had swayed his judgement.

The showers were not pleasant and I missed not having a towel to wrap myself in.