Growing up in the 60s, Part Two. I was talking about Christmas.

At Christmas and New Year, of course, you got to see your parents and neighbours a bit drunk and much less strait-laced than they normally appeared. Ron Stritch over the road (Michael and Colin’s dad) had a great supply of amusing stories which he delighted in telling us kids, some of them decidedly racy so he’d get the occasional “’Ey!...” of warning off his wife Doe. I only remember one of these, about a workmate with a speech impediment, which would be impossible to replicate in print, you had to be there. Next door, Tony Campbell’s dad, John, had these huge ginger sideburns and a great booming laugh. He was also an Elvis fan, and if you went in their house old Elvis was always playing in the background. The Campbells were also the only people I knew who had a real fire in the living-room. This transfixed me when I visited their house. I loved throwing bits of paper and rubbish on it. Once, this desire so overwhelmed me that I actually took a book from their bookshelf, tore pages from it and threw them on the fire, just to watch them flare up and burn. Pat, who caught me red-handed at this peculiar activity, was understandably unimpressed. I have another memory of John Campbell. I was playing with the Stritch lads in their front garden one day while John was pottering in his front garden next door. I invented, or so I thought, a new word. Instead of calling Colin Stritch a silly twit, I changed the vowel to an ‘a’ – I’m not lying, I had no idea this word already existed, it was pure coincidence. “You silly twat.” I said to Colin. There was a roar from next door. “’Ey!!” I jumped out of my skin. “That’s swearin’! Wait ‘til I tell yer dad!” I was wounded. I’d thought I was saying a completely new, made-up, inoffensive word. Wasn’t my bloody fault some bugger had beat me to it, nor that it referred to a woman’s wet bits! How was I to bloody know, I was only little! Nowadays, of course, such ‘mutual parenting’ doesn’t exist. Adults, including myself, walk past tots as language that would make Chubby Brown blush gushes forth from their lips. No-one would dream or dare of challenging them, as it would either provoke an invitation to perform an unspeakable act upon oneself or have an irate, inappropriately-protective parent emerge from the house with a baseball bat in their hand and a frank description of what they were about to do with it. Socialising with the neighbours wasn’t restricted to Christmas either. We all spent quite a few Bonfire Nights over at the Stritches when I was little. A big bonfire in their back garden, fireworks. Jacket potatoes wrapped in foil, homemade toffee apples. Cinder Toffee, my teeth are squealing with pain just thinking about that stuff. Tell me you can’t buy Cinder Toffee anymore, it’s a Health and Safety issue, surely? Fireworks back then were a big thing. Really major. That was because you just couldn’t get hold of them as easily as you can today. They were sold from only about two days before Bonfire Night and were instantly unavailable from November the 6th until the same time next year. There were no exceptions to this, I think it was the law. Again, being a middle-aged Meldrew, I wish that was true of today. You get sick of bloody fireworks. Round where I live now, midnight on New Year’s Eve is like the

preliminary bombardment of the Somme offensive. When I was a kid you never, ever saw fireworks at New Year, because no-one could buy them, and anyway, they were for Bonfire Night. The best we got at midnight on New Year’s Eve was Big Ben chiming on the telly, followed by Andy Stewart in his kilt singing Auld Lang Syne, usually accompanied by some bird called Moira Anderson, screeching like she had a badger savaging her fanny. One fireworks night, I remember my Dad or Ron Stritch nailing a Catherine Wheel to the fence, which came loose once it was lit, so we all had to leg it in delighted terror while this bloody screaming Catherine Wheel whizzed round the lawn. Nearly dropped my sparkler. I was always a bit wary of sparklers. I’d just look at that white-hot end of the rod you held pantwettingly close to your flesh, and not require a forty-page H&S Risk Assessment to warn me there was a serious hazard to my health and good looks in my hand. I wasn’t as wimpy as my own son, however, who from an early age took one look at any form of firework and immediately began screaming like an arachnophobe on a beach full of thong-wearing Romanian grandmothers. I had to ensure he was securely locked in the cupboard under the stairs before I dare let off a couple of rockets for the New Year’s enjoyment of his older sisters. Nowadays, at 12, my son has somewhat overcome that early Fireworkophobia (I bet there’s a real phrase for it. You feckin’ look it up, I can’t be arsed.) Nowadays, my boy Evan does occasionally allow himself to be talked round into selecting a firework to be set off. After several nudges, he’ll give in and admit, in a strangely-Jewish accent, “You’ve got to pick a rocket or two…” Heh-hey! That whole paragraph was deliberately set-up just to drop that arse-clenching pun! Wish it was worth it. I loved, too, the smell of a back-garden after Bonfire Night. The often still-smouldering bonfire, the whiff of fireworks in the air. Scrambling round the streets picking up the blackened husks of spent rockets. Instant nostalgia ‘cos you knew you wouldn’t be smelling that again ‘til next year. Magic. Guy Fawkes night was the only pre-Christmas celebration when I was a kid. (Unless you were a churchgoer, I suppose. Must have been one or two occasions there, Saint’s Days maybe, St. Ethel of Milton Keynes or summat.) Halloween? Didn’t even register. That was an American thing. But for Bonfire night, just like today, we kids would make up a ‘guy’ and position him strategically outside a busy shop to ask passers-by for a ‘Penny for the Guy’. You could only get away with it really on the night before Bonfire Night, which was coincidentally my birthday. Once, we hit on the brainwave of sitting our Guy outside the entrance to the Pied Piper pub, up at the top shops. We took a fair bit of mild Scots verbal abuse from patrons. There was a disproportionate amount of Jocks on the Riddings Estate when I was a kid. Obviously they’d migrated towards the many jobs on the huge steelworks Scunthorpe then had. Oh, sorry, “Jocks” is a bit racist, innit? Mind, if you think that’s bad, you should hear what they were called when I was in the Royal Navy during the early 80s. All Scots, friends or not, were referred to as ‘Frisps’. This stood for ‘fucking repulsive

ignorant Scotch pig’.. How quaint. Anyway, as we shivered outside the Pied Piper pub with our Guy, suddenly a fella comes out with a hat which had been passed round and tipped this shitload of copper into our sweaty outstretched mitts. We were ecstatic! When counted up, the assorted change yielded more than three bob (15p), a fortune to us! There was a fight when we popped into the public bar to ask if we could change the one Scottish pound note into real money, but we escaped with only one of our number slain. When I was a kid, though, a Guy was a Guy, you’d worked hard at producing a reasonable imitation of a human being. If we’d turned up, like today, with a football shirt stuffed with paper, and either a plastic mask or a Kwiksave bag filled with dogshit as a head, we’d have been chased away. The cheek of today’s kids. And the little bastards are at it from the middle of bloody October! I’m terrible with them, can’t disguise my annoyance. “Penny for the guy, mate?” Well, they haven’t a clue, but they’ve already blown it, calling me ‘mate’. They think they’re being pally, but I’m old-fashioned enough not to like some snot-nosed little tosser calling me his mate. It’s not a teacher thing, I don’t want to be called ‘Sir’ or anything, but my minimum expectation is some recognition of my seniority. ‘Mister’ would do. Even if they don’t commit this cardinal sin, they still get told to piss off if it’s only the 15th of October. This blatant begging is not, thankfully, something my own kids have tried. ‘Cos they know I’d bloody roast ‘em if I found out. Which brings me back to Halloween. It’s often been said, and my own lifetime has taught me it’s true, that we in Britain are only a few years behind everything the Americans do. But the way Halloween has entered the British social culture is woeful. Yes, it’s rather sweet when your kids are tiny to get them dressed up in spooky costumes, take them to a few friends’ and neighbours’ doors and be given sweeties. But the rougher, older kids of Middlesbrough have turned Halloween into another form of begging. The little bastards don’t even bother to dress up, they knock on your door and chant: “The sky is blue, the grass is green, Have you got a penny for Halloween?” FUCK OFF!!!! Bye to the 60s. (Or is it?) I clearly remember the 60s changing into the 70s. My mam used to work at this butchers-cum-early supermarket called Nottinghams, up at the “top shops’, the small shopping row at the top of Manby Road Hill, 300 yards from our house. Oh shit, I’m going to be rubbish at this memoirs lark, I’m just not going to be able to stay focused. Talking of the Top Shops has me thinking of the long walk up that hill. Every other day my Dad would send me up to Knighty’s garage, near the shops, for half an ounce of Old Holborn and a packet of Liquorice Rizlas. (Evidently they were more lax about serving kids tobacco in those days.)

One day, only little, 6 or 7, I was walking up the hill for my dad’s baccy, and I’d nearly reached Kirkby Road, where my Auntie Lynn still lives. Out of nowhere, this huge fecking dog jumped up me from behind, locked its paws round my neck and started making strange snuffling noises in my ear. I remember not understanding what was going on, I was an infant, but not liking it, and as the dog was bigger than me, getting quite scared, and sobbing. I remember thinking the dog must be wearing trousers, ‘cos it definitely had something in its pocket. I tried to keep walking, blubbing quietly, dragging the dog behind me as it slobbered in my lug'ole, muttering the canine equivalent of "Ooh yeah, who’s your daddy?" then some fella across the road came over and shooed it away, and asked if I was alright. His concern for my welfare was somewhat negated by the fact he was pissing himself laughing. Again, another one of those incidents which I remembered vividly but didn’t actually understand ‘til years later. Wish I had, I’d have held my leg out for the randy bastard to hump then kicked it right in the bollocks. It’s funny, you might have thought such an incident would have had severe psychological repercussions, but it didn’t affect me at all. To this day I have no fear of dogs at all, I just like being bummed by them. Anyway, back to Nottingham’s butchers-cum-minimart. I have some vague memories of being in there quite a lot, and the radio being on, so I remember quite a lot of music from that time, but I also remember being intensely aware that 1970 was arriving, it was a big thing in my mind. To be going into the 70s seemed so modern. Being in that shop was great for a little kid. Because my mum worked there, I was allowed out the back where customers couldn’t go. I remember the room where the meat was butchered, a huge wooden slab, often blood-stained, the smell of blood and raw meat. For some reason this wooden slab wasn’t flat, it was curved in places, maybe it helped in cutting up the meat. Huge chunks of flesh hung up, waiting to be cut up into more saleable pieces. The best part was when the meat lorry arrived and they would carry in half-carcasses of sheep and pigs, cut lengthways down the middle. They’d be hung on hooks in this huge walk-in fridge. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. It was fascinating. And then years later some daft bastard just puts one in a tank of formaldehyde, calls it Art, and makes millions! Why couldn’t I spot that?! Talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes. The “top shops” are still there on Willoughby Road, but, again, are faded remnants of what they once were. Places evolve with time, we all know that, but you need to get a long way into adulthood and revisit your childhood places to truly recognise this. It’s usually quite sad. I remember three or four years ago being back in Scunthorpe and taking myself for a long walk round a lot of my childhood haunts. One was a collection of council garages somewhere up Brocklesby Road in Riddings. When we were around 12 or 13 a great gang of us would play for hours in there on our bikes, chasing each other round the tiny alleyways formed by the rows of garages. None of us had any skin on our knuckles from constantly smashing our fingers between handlebars and garage wall. I think as

an adult I rather naively expected to relive those moments, you know, like in movies, where the adult stands and “sees” themselves as children, through a sparkly camera lens, all nostalgic. There was nothing like that, it was just a collection of old rusty garages, and anyone watching this strange man from their back bedroom windows must have had their hand twitching towards the phone. I think I learned something important that day, but I couldn’t say exactly what it was. A form of stoic acceptance, perhaps, that the past is the past and there’s only memories now to make them real. I remember feeling disappointed, then calling myself a daft bastard and asking myself what I really expected, then going for a pint in the Pied Piper. With my beer, the Scottish barman also served me with a pickled-egg and some new, crinkly-type crisps. They were called, no shit, Frisps. There used to be a baker’s shop, I think two doors down from Nottingham’s butchers, where they sold this stuff called “synthetic cream”. It was an incredibly sweet concoction that came wrapped in paper. We didn’t have it very often, but I loved the stuff. A woman worked there who was vaguely related to us. She was the mum of Brian, who was my Dad’s cousin. He was in the Army, a Para, and I have some memories of him which I’ll share later. I can’t remember what his mam was called, but I remember visiting her once, she lived in this flat close by my junior school on Willoughby Road. There was also a shop called “Clixbys”, which was a sort of haberdashers, it sold “womens’ stuff”, like bras and knickers and knitting patterns and wool and buttons and allsorts. I remember going in there a lot with my Mam, who was bang into her knitting. She used to sit at home with her needles clacking, squinting at her pattern, muttering stuff like “knit one, pearl one” and counting her stitches. And I never understood what ‘dropping a stitch’ meant. “Bugger, I’ve dropped a stitch!” I’d be looking at the carpet round her feet to see if I could find it for her. It seemed that knitting was the sole topic of conversation amongst Mum and her women neighbours and relatives. Knitting patterns would be swapped and discussed ad infinitum. Totally incomprehensible to a small boy but just accepted. It was what mums did.

Winters held no fear for the Watkins’ kids, though. We would strut proudly in the street wearing our new jumpers, cardies and balaclavas, the height of fashion. My sisters would have knitted bonnets, fastened by a button under the chin. Seems daft now that Mum obviously worried about my head getting cold while I was still expected to wear short trousers and get chapped knees and three Adam’s apples. I’m still rambling. There’s no way this is going to be an organised collection of memories. Kingston’s chippy. My favourite business at the Top Shops. It’s still there, and still run by the same family. At least last time I was home it was. Very occasionally I still visit it, and, unlike the old garages where the warmth of childhood nostalgia has long blown away, that chippy is full of happy recollections. The brushed aluminium counter is still the same, and when I go in I can clearly remember being so small I couldn’t see over that counter. To my embarrassment, I think on more than one occasion I have drunkenly regaled the weary staff with this fact. I have lived in quite a few places round the U.K. and I swear I’ve never tasted better fish and chips than at Kingston’s chippy. (If this work is ever published I’d better get a free Haddock and Chips, and mushy peas..) A couple of old mates’ mams used to work at the chippy over the years, including Stuart Graham’s, who I haven’t got round to mentioning yet, and Dave T.‘s. Dave I didn’t know well at school, his older brother was in my year but we didn’t really mix. The whole family was a bit what my mam used to call “slack”, which is a wonderfully politically-incorrect phrase that seems to have no modern equivalent. I think the word “Eccentric” is probably the politest description. I first got to know Dave really well in the eighties, when he courted then married a friend of my first wife, Linda’s. Dave’s late dad was a really nice guy, but strange.. When he decided to fly, he didn’t half loop the fucking loop. One day Dave came to me rather anxiously and asked me to help him get a ladder so he could get into his bedroom. His dad, he said, had flipped out and wouldn’t let him in the house, but all his money was in his room and he wanted to get it. I stood with my feet wedged on this

ladder while Dave clambered in the upstairs window. Two minutes later there was an enraged bellow and Dave came down that ladder without touching it. Luckily I stepped aside just in time to avoid having my skull crushed in. “Come ON!” urged Dave, but I needed no encouragement. His dad was hanging out the window waving a vicious-looking Samurai sword, dribble coming down his chin. We leapt into Dave’s Ford Capri. It’s funny how adrenaline heightens all of your senses. I remember particularly how that Capri smelled strongly of shit as we zoomed down Manby Road hill. But there I go again, leaping into the eighties when I’d only just arrived at the seventies. 1970 to 1979 consisted of home and school, so I suppose I’d better try to flit between the two and keep to some rough chronological order. That’s particularly difficult, remembering exactly what came when, but what the hell. Elders and Betters. Back to Riddings Junior School. Some of the teachers. There was a Mr. Kay, who we called Kayoggs. He had a scruffy beard and always had a fag in his hand. Another thing the schoolkids of today won’t believe. I’m a smoker, crazy as it is, and have to sneak out of school at breaktimes to have a fag. Kids latch on very quick and you’d be amazed at how even the youngest kids berate you for it. They all tell me it’s bad for my health but some of them have misunderstood the smoking ban and think it’s now illegal, so look at me with the shock you’d equate with catching me having a spliff or snorting a line of coke off the school wall. My standard response is to explain that, though I’m a non-smoker, my poor Granny is bad with her chest again and has asked me to have a fag for her at about 11 o’ clock, so she’ll feel better. You’d be surprised how many of them fall for this bullshit. Anyway, when I tell them that in my day you’d often be taught by a teacher with a lit fag in his hand and an ashtray on his desk they just won’t believe it. It’s too outrageous. Mr Kay shouted a lot and I suspect, like I’ve been guilty of, he would occasionally use “inappropriate” language in front of us kids. I remember one occasion, P.E. in the hall, where we were vaulting over this horse contraption and he warned Lavinia Jennings that she “nearly split her difference.” Maybe he thought it would go over our heads, but it didn’t. Those of us lads “in the know” tittered immensely. Some things don’t change. Jumping forward more than 30 years, to my first term of teacher-training in a junior school, Mr Kay’s comment seems rather mild. It would have been an unprofessional and totally inappropriate incident, were it not for the fact that it went totally over the kids’ heads, and was only understood by the other adult in the room, me, and sent me choking into the corridor, stifling my laughter. It was just before Christmas. My ‘mentor’ teacher, Jackie, was off work, and they’d brought a supply teacher in, a bloke close to retirement. I was assisting in the classroom. The kids, only 8 year-olds, were working on their ‘Nativity Books’. On each page they would tell a part of the Christmas story and draw and colour appropriate illustrations. One little girl had been bent over her work, concentrating like mad, on her picture of Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem for King Herod’s census. Mary was riding

a donkey and Joseph was walking alongside. Her illustration was beautifully and painstakingly coloured in, and both of us male teachers had offered praise and encouragement. Suddenly this little girl realises something about her picture and uttered a loud cry. “My Mary’s got no hair!” “Don’t worry, pet.” soothed my grizzled colleague, “Give it four or five years.” He didn’t miss a beat. The kiddies were too young of course to understand this off-the-cuff remark, but I only just made it out of the classroom before doubling over in outraged hysterics. “I’m just a gigolo..” Luckily, Mr Kay’s fears during that P.E. class were unfounded. Lavinia’s ‘difference’ escaped unsplit. Ah, Lavinia Jennings. She left Scunthorpe towards the end of Juniors and I’ve never seen or heard of her since. For a while, though, she was my “bird”. We would hunker down in the cloakroom of our hut classroom at playtime and snog. We were eight. Luckily, I’d polished such skills a couple of years earlier with Shittyarse Bartlett and had become quite an expert. You pressed your lips together and moved your head round, sometimes for ten minutes at a time! I was a sex-god! I dread to think how we would have reacted if anyone had told us that you were supposed to put your tongues in each other’s mouths! Dirty Bastards! I remember being utterly horrified when someone in the playground one day told me how babies were made. The man put his tail in the lady’s tuppence and did a wee in it! Holy Mary mother of Jesus saints preserve us! Well I might have said that if we’d been Catholics. Anyway, for many years this revolting, premature knowledge of procreation severely distorted my sex life. I’d been doing it for three years before I realised you had to put your testicles in too. Lavinia and I were part of a foursome. Neil Donaldson was going out with Ann Holland and would share the cloakroom, snogging with her. I always secretly fancied Ann, but Neil got to her first, so I had to make do with Lavinia. She was a tall, extremely skinny girl with long hair. I don’t mean this in an offensive way, but she rather reminded me of an Afghan hound. No, honest, I’m not being nasty. Her hair was very long, very thick and lustrous, with a centre parting. She also had rather a pointed face, especially the nose, but in a pleasing, noble sort of way. So, especially in profile, my comparison to an Afghan hound, a rather pleasant-looking beast in my view, is not meant to be a cruel one. Shit, none of that worked, did it? I compared my first girlfriend to a dog. Christ I hope she never reads this. In later years, there was this childrens’ t.v. programme, Crystaltips and Alastair. My sister Rachel had a mate at this time called Sharon, who used to come round at half five and just sit dozily on our setee while we had our tea. Sharon was what my mother would call “a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.” My parents christened Sharon “Crystaltips” due to a passing resemblance to this cartoon girl, but if they’d met Lavinia Jennings they would have thought the resemblance uncanny. Of course this juvenile loveplay was all totally innocent, we were only 8 or 9. I do remember the day, though, in our last year, when we were ten, Neil came into school excited and bragging because, on the way home last night, he claimed, he’d managed to collar Ann behind Riddings library and get his hand down her vest for about a second. I

seethed with quiet rage all day. I watched carefully, waiting for him to leave his lunchbox in the cloakroom, so I could shit in it, but he kept it in his bag. Mrs Tusher. She was a kindly old biddy, well near retirement, I suspect. She and her husband had been missionaries in Ghana. I remember this because she never stopped regaling us with stories of those glory days. It became a game with us. Whenever Mrs Tusher taught us, it only took one of us to ask for a story from when she was in Ghana, and the lesson would be forgotten. She never twigged on. Now I’m a teacher myself, I’ve told my pupils about Mrs Tusher, because I’m sometimes a bit like her. I love telling my classes various horror stories or jokes disguised as anecdotes and they know if they get me started, they’ll get twenty minutes skiving before I notice what time it is. For example, I have shared with them some of the anecdotes in these memoirs. I told them about snogging Steve Bartlett and these streetwise, oversexualised kids of today just could not believe that we could be so innocent back then. One lad at the front asked me quite seriously, “Are you gay sir?” “No,” I assured him, “I just help them out when they’re busy.” He laughed a little too loud and unconsciously crossed his legs. When asked for one of my “stories”, however, I’m cannier than Mrs Tusher was. I often spot what they’re doing and head them off at the pass. Usually I bribe them into three-quarters of a constructive lesson then tell them one near the bell. Mrs C. She was our form teacher for a while. She had the furthest classroom hut at the top of the playground. She could be a right bastard. I remember her favourite trick was to get hold of your hair where your sideboards grow, twist it and lift you onto your tiptoes with it. Bitch. I’m jealous, really, I’d love to do that with some of the little psychos I teach. Just once. Anyway, I’m realising she must have taught us in year 4, as they call it now, or 2nd year Juniors, because our form teacher for our last two years was Mrs Humphries. I have two or three strong memories of this particular classroom hut, the one Mrs C taught in. The first is, one day we were teasing this lad in the playground in that mindless and vicious way that primary schoolkids do. We were calling Joseph Lefley “smelly”. It was just a thoughtless game. Five minutes later, though, I went up the wooden steps and entered the hut, for some reason, and there was poor Joe behind the door in the cloakroom, sobbing fit to break your heart. This disturbed me immensely, it must have done, because I can still remember that instance clearly, can still see him huddled there, heartbroken. I remember putting my arm round him and trying to comfort him. I wish I could say that after that incident I never again followed the herd, indulged in teasing of classmates, became this wonderful person, but I probably didn’t. All kids are alike, poisonous little shits when they want to be, so I was more than likely the same. But I did use to have this strange, over-emotional empathy sometimes. For example, if I saw some little kid drop their ice-cream, I had to turn away with a genuine lump in my throat. And sad movies on the telly, well, I just couldn’t watch them. The thought of breaking down in tears at some emotional moment filled me with horror. So I would make sure I wasn’t even in the room when anything like that was on. Thank God I’ve grown up in that sense. Now I enjoy nothing more than a good blub at a movie or the

telly. Sometimes, these days, even Coronation Street has me sobbing. And that X Factor, Christ, they know how to pull every heartstring there is, they’re experts at it. And I fall for it every time. What a sad bastard I’ve become. Sigh. Once again, back at Riddings Juniors and Mrs C’s classroom hut. Another incident was when we were painting this “frieze” to go on the classroom wall. Basically, it was a long roll of paper that you did this huge painting on. I’d been given the job of painting the cows in the field. They’d already been drawn, I think, I just had to colour them in. I was concentrating on my work, tongue sticking out, painting away. I must have done about six cows, all in two-tone patches, like cows are. Miss came in to check on our work. She wondered aloud why the hell I’d painted the cows sky-blue and white. To this day I don’t know! I’d got it into my head that cows were that colour. You hear stories from earlier times, about deprived towny kids taken on school trips to the country, that they’d never seen cows, but I can’t believe that was true of me. We’d been going on holidays ever since I was little, I can’t believe I’d never seen a bloody cow. That one will always be a mystery to me. We were also heavily into conkering around this time. You went conkering around October. There were conker trees in various places, but my Dad would take me down Bottesford. We’d chuck sticks up into the branches to bring the green, spiky cases down, then peel these apart to get the shiny, brown conkers out. There were various methods of hardening your conkers ready for the fight. Some people pickled them in vinegar, others put them in the oven for a while. Can’t remember which method I used. You’d pierce a hole through the middle then thread them on your knotted bootstring. Conker fighting was all the rage in the playground between October and Christmas. You’d take turns at holding up your conker while your opponent swung his to try and smash yours apart. Victorious conkers would be named after their number of triumphs. I think the best I ever had was a niner, before some twat with a suspiciously varnishedlooking contender turned it into shredded chunks. In the increasing Nanny-State we live in these days, conkers is another pastime fallen by the wayside. Having my finger on the pulse of childish trends as I do, I can tell you that very few kids collect conkers like we used to. As I said long ago, Health and Safety would have a coronary if it was still popular. They’d require armoured gloves to protect your knuckles, yellow warning-signs forming a perimeter thirty feet in every bloody direction and safety goggles to stop those conker shards piercing your eyeballs. Rainforests of Risk-Assessment forms would need to be completed to ensure every eventuality is covered. What if the conker flies off the string and brings down a passing aircraft? Airports must therefore be alerted..

Heroic Deeds. The final memory of Mrs C’s classroom is a silly childhood fantasy that it is tempting to be a little embarrassed about. But I was only 8 or 9 for God’s sake. By now I had developed quite a serious crush on a girl called Ann Holland, who I’ve already mentioned. I used to enjoy this love-struck daydream. It would begin with us all in the classroom – a hut, remember – working away, when suddenly Miss would scream. We

would look up, and all around the windows, sticking up, were feathers. It was Indians, about to attack! All us lads would pull our guns from our satchels – I know! – and this almighty battle would erupt, bloodthirsty Indians bursting through the windows, arrows flying, guns shooting, the lot. It was ace! The climax of the battle was always me spotting Ann in the corner, cringing as an evil redskin drew back his bow and pointed it straight at her. I would leap into action, jump in the way, take the arrow in my arm, shoot the redskin and save her life. She was always so grateful she would then take me in the cloakroom for a snog. Beat that, Donaldson! How we found the peace and quiet to snog while Emergency Services were called and bodies were scraped up and the authorities tried to find out why us 8 year-old boys carried firearms in our satchels and how 19th century native Americans had inexplicably appeared in 1970s Scunthorpe, intent on rape and slaughter, escaped me at the time. Maybe they rode there on sky-blue and white cows, and they’d been called in by smelly Lefley to exact revenge.

Anyway, that was a popular and oft-visited fantasy of mine for a long time. ‘Course, once adolescence kicked in, such fantasies became a little more unsavoury, and they are best left alone. I wish I could remember the name of the school caretaker. He spoke with what I now know to be a Bristol accent, he must have been in his late fifties, and he had a ‘gammy’ leg, so he limped everywhere. We used to go to this modelmaking club after school, gluing together Airfix Spitfires and the like, and this caretaker used to tell us about the war. He was in the merchant navy and he told us about “them bloody floiyin’ pencils”. Us, being fanatically into our aircraft of WWII, knew he was talking about the Dornier bombers that attacked British convoys. The caretaker also used to do magic tricks. He would take us one by one into his caretaker’s cupboard and turn all the lights off. We couldn’t tell the teachers or the magic wouldn’t work. In the dark we had to grope in his lunch-box and check it was

empty. Then straight away we had to feel again and his pack-up had mysteriously appeared from nowhere! He must have loved salami. No, I’m lying, that last bit was totally made-up, just for a cheap laugh. I robbed the idea from Ricky Gervais, a comedy hero of mine. So don’t sue me, whatever your name was. Actually, you’re probably dead now, aren’t yer, Salami Joe? A new teacher started halfway through Junior school. Mr V. He was from down south somewhere, had a weird accent to Scunthorpe kids. He was tall and lanky and had scruffy curly hair. There are two main things I remember about him. One is that he told us he was into this band called Roxy Music, which must have been in their very early days, and the other was when he batted me round the head one day, so hard I was literally stunned for a few moments. We were in the classroom, at our desks, Mrs Humphrey’s hut. I was at the front. He was telling us about this new game we were going to play called Softball. He’d done a diagram of the playing field on the board. It’s a bit like baseball, there’s these four bases. He’s narrating the course of play, “And then player one runs round the bases,” and silly little tit me, showing off as usual, pulled a stupid face and made my fingers into little legs running across the back of my chair, “while the fielders try to run and get the ball,” fingers scuttling across the chair again, eyes rolling, tongue out, being spazzy. This went on for a while. The bastard must have spotted me from minute one, but he never said a word. After a few minutes of this daft behaviour, without warning, my world exploded as he gave me a full-handed slap right across the side of my head. I nearly died of shock. It’s not surprising I remember clearly such an unpleasant and violent incident, but it’s also the word thing again, he said a phrase that I hadn’t heard before. He said, “I’m not having anyone take the Micky-Michael out of me.” Twat. Then there was Mrs Humphries, our form teacher for our last two years. I only have a vague memory of her, strangely vague, in that I can almost see her face, and almost hear her voice. But I recall she was quite nice, firm but indulgent of our childishness. I remember we all made this Santa mobile one Christmas, it must have been her speciality. She was very fierce about the quality of these mobiles, we had to stick precisely to the templates she had prepared for each part, so each mobile turned out exactly the same. It worked, though, because I remember that Santa mobile being at my mum and dad’s for many, many years. Maybe it’s still there, in the loft. She also once had us making ginger beer. It turned out quite disgusting, full of sediment, but it was to be an early precursor to my efforts at making home-brew beer, a craze many people took up in years to come. Once, she tried to help me conquer my nail-biting habit. I’ve always been terrible for that, to this day I have no fingernails at all, the moment there’s enough to gnaw away with my teeth, I’m at them. Frankly, I’ve never given a shit, I enjoy it. I swear, if I could get my feet in my gob, (or if I could even see the bastards) they’d be the same. But Mrs Humphreys once offered me a Merit Badge (much desired) for every nail I grew as long as hers. It was no-go from the start. She had nails like one of them Chinkys you see in the Guinness Book of Records.

Total Ballroom. Another time, the school summer fete was coming up. Mrs Humphries announced that our class would be learning a dance, to perform on the day. Us lads waited hopefully to find out what the boys would be doing - obviously she only meant the girls. But she didn’t. We were horrified. The Keans were so disgusted they went home and garnered parental support so they didn’t have to be involved. Maybe they convinced their parents it was a religious issue, maybe Joe and Betty (mum and dad) feared that dancing might turn them into Mary and Susan, I don’t know, but the jammy bastards blagged it. I tried the same but got nowhere, as I suppose did many others. But no luck, we had to learn this bloody dance. Never in the field of human education has so much embarrassment been suffered by so few to the hilarity of so many. Again, I have to interject with a modern perspective here. Many, many times in schools I have seen children point-blank refuse to participate in any activity which they feel is embarrassing or even if they lack the confidence to try it. In my day, it just wouldn’t occur to you to refuse, it didn’t even enter our sphere of options. It was a universally accepted maxim: you did as you were bloody well told.. Something I’ve told my own kids, both pupils and offspring, with spitting frustration, many, many times. We practised this dance for weeks in the school hall. It was a bit like a modern linedance, only we didn’t have our thumbs in our pockets. It was to the popular song by, I think, Dawn, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon to the Old Oak Tree”. At no point in the proceedings did us lads begin to enjoy it or accept it. Right up to the day, many of us boys hoped beyond hope, maybe a comet would crash into the school and burn it down, but no, we had to take it to the bitter end. On the day, there was an area of the field roped off where we would perform our dance, lined up in a square, like a squad of soldiers. Parents crowded the rope barrier, my mam and dad right at the front, oh, horror. The music began. (Actually, I wonder now at technical matters. Even cassette recorders hadn’t been invented then. The only thing they could have done was put a record on, wired up to the p.a. system. A record? Vinyl, you daft sod, oh, look it up…) We started our moves. God, the shame… I’d love to see a photo of that day because I can only imagine the looks that must have been on our faces. The Kean twins, the pair of bastards, pissed themselves from the sidelines. My dad was laughing his cock off. Such was my embarrassment that it came to me to pretend that I wasn’t bothered, otherwise the shame would have been unbearable. Outwardly nonchalant, I made sure my dad was looking and performed a little, un-choreographed wiggle of my hips, like Elvis. My dad howled. Again, I learned something new that day. Sometimes, when things are embarrassing, just go with it, pretend you don’t give a shit, join in the fun. That little philosophy has saved me from utter humiliation many, many times in my life, especially with my lifelong tendency to engage my mouth before my brain’s in gear.

I’ve just remembered another teacher who I’ll have to mention before going back to Mrs Humphries. Mr Burgess, he was called, and if I shut my eyes I can still see him. Short, fattish, jolly, specs, with a bald head surrounded by a halo of hair like a monk. We once made this wooden stool under his supervision, weaving this raffia-stuff on the frame for the seat. I remember bone-idle me couldn’t be bothered to do the weaving underneath, after all, no-one could see it. As a consequence, my stool lasted no more than a couple of years while I’m certain the parental homes of some of my peers are still graced with those stools. Talking of handicrafts at school, I have to mention here some of my dad’s spectacular creative enterprises during the years of my childhood. Thinking back now, I think my dad’s always had this well of creativity in him that would settle on certain things and then move on, always looking for the next challenge. For instance, he once made this bar, like in a pub, to put in the corner of the room. He built this wooden frame, using only a carving knife, then covered it with this plush white stuff with sponge underneath, and buttons pinned into it. It was very de rigeur at that time to have a bar in your sitting room. He also made this brilliant gun, like a musket. Again, he carved the stock out of wood, used a piece of copper pipe for the barrel, then cut up, shaped and polished all these bits of brass to make the trigger, the guard, the butt, allsorts. He used an old door catch off the airing cupboard, filed, shaped and polished, to make the hammer. I thought it was really cool and it hung on the sitting-room wall for a good few years. On Sundays, he would take me out shooting gypsies with it. No, I’m lying again, I must resist this tendency to make things up. They were Germans, not Gypsies. (Oh God Bless Post-Modern Irony, which I only understand enough of to know I can now get away with jokes that through the 80s and 90s would have been very no-no..) Talking of the airing-cupboard, (I said I was going to flit between school and home),

that was the scene of the only time from my childhood when I remember my dad drunk. He actually climbed into the airing-cupboard, a tiny space, and me and my sisters were woken by my mum’s entreaties for him to come out. I suspect sometimes it’s quite disturbing for small kids to see adults drunk, depends what they’re doing or saying, I suppose, but I remember that incident as hilarious, my sisters and I absolutely pissed ourselves laughing. My Mam kept her secret things in that airing-cupboard, because it was next to the bog. They were called Lillets. Little me asked her on numerous occasions what they were, always resulting in the snapped invitation to mind my ‘own bloody business.’ Thinking back, I’m glad she wasn’t a modern parent, who would sit me down and explain. I think I’d have fainted. Another weapon my Dad made was a sword, the blade shaped from a piece of steel with these round shapes ground into it. A piece of brass was shaped and curved for the hilt and cord used to bind the handle. I loved it. I wonder what happened to that gun and sword. I also remember when my dad got into stereo in the early 70s. It was a relatively new technology but he got this record player with twin speakers, a brand-new phenomenon to us. He had this brilliant L.P. called “Pass in Review”. Basically, it was a recording of a ceremony where military bands of all the nations would march past, and if you sat in the right place between the speakers you could actually hear them marching from one end of the room to another. One of the highlights was when the French came on, and as they marched past playing “La Marseillaise” two or three jets flew past, and you could hear them scream across the living-room so realistically you were tempted to duck. Ace! Around this time, my dad would play a lot of country and western music, particularly Marty Robbins. I think you tend to soak up some music your parents listen to. Songs like ‘El Paso’ and ‘The Hanging Tree’ I love to this day. And my on-and-off love of Classical music came from my Dad, too, particularly from an L.P. he had called ‘Slavonic Dances’ which had the Sabre Dance on it. I’ve certainly reaffirmed this truism with my own kids, in particular my daughter Daisy, who adores a lot of the music that I’ve always listened to, especially The Stranglers. She has also inherited my love of Mozart, particularly after watching Amadeus a dozen times. One of our favourite fantasies is that old Wolfgang could come back to life just for a few hours, so he could sit in our sitting-room and we could put a C.D. on and watch his amazement when he hears his music belt out of the speakers and wonder where the orchestra is, then to try and explain it to him and assure him that he still has his fans 250 years after his death. In later years my dad got into oil painting, but I’m slipping towards the 80s again, so let’s try to stay on track, I’ll tell you about that later. Talking about my Dad’s hobbies during those years reminds me that he had quite a few different jobs when I was still small. Most of them revolved around driving, as I think he passed his HGV licence while on his National Service in the Army. In my earliest memories he was a bus-driver. Later though, he did various driving jobs, and labouring. He worked at this place called Farnham’s in Barton-on-Humber for a while.

I don’t know what his job was but I do recall it gave him access to all sorts of creative enterprises, such as the time he came home with this see-saw-cum-roundabout he’d welded at work. It was a huge clunky contraption which he set up in our side garden. Health and Safety would have cordoned off the whole of Lincolnshire if they’d seen it. All the local kids would swarm into the garden for a go on this gaudily-painted, lethal device whenever it was out. It was so massive and heavy (the main beam was a scaffolding pole), and had no rubber guards or anything on it, so if you were whizzing round at top-speed, it being a see-saw as well you could suddenly crash into the ground. If you trapped your foot underneath this half-ton savage steel monster it would hurt like bloody hell and you’d need a skin-graft and four new toes. Dad also once drove a lorry for some firm that made flour, or something similar. I remember this because when a certain advert came on the telly, my Mam would say “There’s your Dad.” It was the Homepride Flour ads, where you had these little cartoon blokes in black suits and bowler hats, which were always turning white with the flour. And for years my Dad would blag us he used to work at a place called “Dragonby Treacle Mine”, or he’d mention it in other contexts such as, “It’s out near Dragonby Treacle Mine.” He’d say it with such a straight face that right into my teens I believed there was a treacle mine out near Dragonby. So I felt a bit stupid when I learned that treacle is actually grown in greenhouses and not mined from the ground.

Recalling these aspects of my Dad’s personality, and adding them to those of my maternal grandmother, who I will talk about later, it’s not surprising that I grew up to be such a bullshitter myself. For example, one convoluted fabrication that I’m quite proud of evolved over time as I taught at various schools, until it became a full-blown, detailed but completely false part of my life history. Many kids throughout Middlesbough believe that I am a millionaire who teaches for a hobby. How did I make my millions? Well, twenty years ago I was musing on how many people die in hospitals every day around the country, and what then happens to their underwear. Surely the bereaved relatives don’t want their late loved one’s knickers back. So I went into a contract with the NHS, whereby I paid them a penny to give me the underpants of every person who died in hospital. I then died them black (it had to be black, to disguise the stains), sewed a designer label on them, and sold them in posh, trendy clothes shops as designerwear. After a few months these designer knickers weren’t selling very well, so I employed a consultant to look into the problem. He told me that the problem was the

name on the label – “Dead People’s Underpants” – and suggested I shorten the name to D.P.U. Inc. I never looked back, and only last year retired and sold the company to River Island for 14 million pounds. I have grown so practised at telling this tale that I’ve even had kids swear they’ve seen some D.P.U. Inc pants in their mam’s knicker drawer. This seeming proof of Sir’s incredulous claim so impresses the other kids that not once has it occurred to anyone to ask that kid what they were doing in their Mam’s knicker drawer in the first place.

T.V. Heaven. Our fourth-year form-teacher at Riddings Juniors, Mrs Humphries, once gave me and Stuart Graham a telly each. They needed, she said, slight attention. We weren’t bothered, this was an opportunity akin to winning the Pools to two ten-year old lads. One of our dads took us up to her house and collected these huge black-and-white monstrosities that we set up proudly in our bedrooms. It is impossible to describe to the kids of today just what a luxury it was to have your own telly in your bedroom. This is another story I’ve often told kids in my classroom. It’s not just idle storytelling, there’s a part of me that really wants them to appreciate the differences between their generation and mine. Talk about flogging a dead ‘orse. But it’s human nature not to take account of what the older generation tells you. Getting philosophical for a moment, I read somewhere that this phenomenon of the younger generation ignoring the hard-earned wisdom of their elders has been described as an absolute evolutionary necessity. The reason, goes the argument, is that if it was otherwise, children would not want to “fly the nest” when the time came, they would be too tied to parents and family, and the human race might have died out. No shit, there’s no punchline here, that’s an absolute serious theory. I can see some sort of logic to it, I suppose, but it destroys the idea of evolution being this perfect, logical progression. Thousands of years of parents despairing of their kids, just as an unfortunate by-product? You’d think evolution could have done better than that! Same as women suffering agony in childbirth. What’s the evolutionary necessity in that? We’ve all seen those wildlife programmes, where the wildebeest and other animals just drop the old sprog out the back-end, like they’re taking a dump. How come it doesn’t bother them? Then the little new-borns are up on their feet walking in about an hour! Oh, bleat the experts, that’s because if they didn’t get on their feet they’d succumb to predators. Oh yeah, what about the poor little human bastards born on some of England’s finer estates? They should be born with Nike trainers on, then, to leg it from the coppers after their first burglary or mugging (a family celebration, I hear, which has now outranked barmitzvahs in English society). Anyroad, back to my pupils being told about this major advance, me getting a telly in my bedroom. They just can’t get excited at the idea of having this black-and-white t.v. that took five minutes to warm up, and then there were only three channels to watch, which didn’t even start until three o’clock and shut down again by midnight. Oh aye. Daytime T.V. didn’t even start ‘til the 80s. If you were really desperate, you could get up at seven some mornings and watch Open University on BBC 2. Some bearded pipe-smoking lesbian in a woolly hat, educating you about population

distribution in 12th century Westphalia. Even the horniest adolescent couldn’t whack off to that! Don’t ask me how I know that.. Neither can today’s kids appreciate, and I can’t blame them, how excitingly immediate telly was when I was a kid. Videos and DVDs hadn’t been invented, so if you missed something, that was it, you were fucked, unless they repeated it at a later date. That’s why shows like ‘Ask Aspel’ were so great, where you could write in and ask for favourite T.V. clips. Just the same as today, t.v. ads in the 60s and 70s were often as entertaining as the programmes. “A Finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat….” Not in Middlesbrough, it isn’t. They take your kids off you for that. “The Milky Bar Kid is strong and tough…” No, he isn’t. He’s a weedy, four-eyed little twat. “P-p-p-pick up a Penguin!” Tried that, got barred from Flamingo Land. Stop it, Mark. End of Part Two, watch out for future instalments very soon….. Copywright: Mark Watkins, 2008

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