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Growing up through the 60s and 70s part Four. If youre still with me, youre a Star!

My Auntie Ann married someone called Tom. I have no memories of him at all, as we never saw them. They lived on what was then, and perhaps now, known as a rough part of Riddings Estate, Somerby Road. There are several cousins from that marriage, one of my age called Peter, for example, but we could pass each other in the street tomorrow with no mutual recognition. Shame really, but thats how families go, I suppose. . Auntie Ann seemed to be the Black Sheep of the family. Oops, cant say that now, can you? Sheeps Rights. But in any case, as a kid, we never saw anything of her or her family. To this day I know none of the intimate details of just what was wrong with Auntie Anns family, but I do remember many of the adult remarks were based around hygiene, both domestic and personal My uncle Andrew, Mams baby brother, who is only seven years older than me, didnt marry until only a couple of years ago. Andrew is gay, has been all his life. Easy to blithely announce this, but as you can imagine he didnt come out, as they now call it, back then during the days Ive been describing. The word gay hadnt even been invented in the 1970s, there were other, less flattering sobriquets. As indeed there still are. My Dad told me that my late uncle Dave, for example, way back in the early days of Dave and my Dad courting sisters Lynn and Carol, (my mum), had announced when Andrew was still a small child that he was a queer little bugger. Such an offensive description should, of course, be viewed in the context of the times. In 60s Scunthorpe, as in most parts of the U.K. homosexuality was not viewed with any sort of sympathy, was the subject of much prejudice. In many respects, they were ignorant times. The fact that uncle Dave spotted this when Andrew was still a child, however, is interesting. The Gay community has its own word Gaydar for such an ability. And Ive experienced this phenomenon myself, during the last six years of teaching. Manys the discussion weve had in the staffroom, about some particular kid we teach, who we can recognise as gay even before the child themselves has developed in any sexual sense. Of course none of the above was ever discussed by the adults devant les enfants back then, us kids were left to draw our own conclusions, though sometimes the adults would be indiscreet, thinking us kids werent listening, giving us clues. Devant les enfants! Pretentious, moi? I recall a family visit down to London when Id be about 11 or 12. We, that is my family, my Auntie Lynn and her kids, my Auntie Janet and her two, (who was always very close to Andrew by virtue of the two of them being the youngest), visited Andrew and his flatmate Geoff in a flat theyd just moved into. I remember hot whispering between myself, my sister Sally and cousins Mandy and Debbie, about how there was only one bedroom and one bed. It would be tempting to modify history a little here, if we young cousins had been offensive or disparaging on realising the true nature of Andrew and Geoffs relationship. But I can honestly say there was no judgement on our part. The fact that the two of them were obviously a couple, to us, wasnt right, wasnt wrong, it just was.

In later years the prejudice and ignorance of the times was to cause, inevitably I suppose, the situation whereby Andrew and Geoff ceased visiting Scunthorpe and led their own lives in London, Brighton and eventually Spain. One cause directly cited to me when I last saw Andrew in the mid-eighties, was one of my uncle and aunts on my Dad's side travelling down and enjoying Andrew and Geoff's hospitality on a visit, but then being overheard back home referring to the couple as "bent as nine-bob bits". A great shame. My parents travelled to Spain last year to attend the civil marriage of Andrew and Geoff. At the time of marrying, theyd been together 31 years and are still going strong. Compare that to the track record of most straights! My Dad had three brothers, Uncles Roy, Barry and Geoff. He also had a sister, Pat. I didnt know any of them in my early childhood, the years I have been talking about. They all had kids, cousins of mine, but again they were strangers. To this day I couldnt list their offspring accurately if my life depended on it. Must seem strange to some folk, that fact, I suppose, but thats was how it was. I also had a grandma on that side, my Dads mam. I have never really known her. Talking to my Dad about this the other day, I learned that she is still alive at 90. (Postscript, added March 2012, she has now passed away.) Again, uninvolved observers might find this situation sad, but there it is. Throughout my early life there was some serious unresolved conflict there, that was apparent, as we almost never visited her. My only memories of her are from occasions like my Uncle Geoffs wedding, previously described. Her husband, my Dads Dad, had died before I was born, and Grandma was married to, or lived with, I dont know, this fella called Les Dixon. I know enough family history now to know that Les was the source of much of the aforementioned conflict. I only have one memory of this Les. It was around the time Ive previously described, when my junior teacher, Mrs Humphreys, had given me a telly, and there was some problem with it. As Les was supposed to be somewhat of a dab hand, I was taken round there with my Dad to see him. The memorys stuck because, while fiddling around in the back of this telly with a soldering iron, Les received a mild electric shock which shot the word Bastard! from his lips. This was shocking for a ten-year old boy to hear, so no wonder it stuck in my memory. I remember this Les giving me a rueful grin and saying, Dont you ever use that word, its not nice. Maybe my Dad had given him a warning glare to mind his language in front of the bairn, I dont know. Of course, kids of today, especially Middlesbrough kids, would laugh at this whole idea of language being shocking. Its a different culture in the north-east, where harrassed mums loaded down with shopping think nothing of chivvying along their little toddler with the encouraging words Get a move on you little cunt. My Dad, and therefore we as a family, did develop a closer relationship with his brothers and their families when I got to secondary school, so Ill come back to them later. Upwardly-mobile. From a very young age, although we never enjoyed luxuries such as colour T.V.s or a

telephone in the house, we did have a car. The first car I remember my Dad buying was an old-fashioned Ford Prefect, which if I remember correctly was a creamy lightgreen in colour. Not many people back then ran cars and I was very proud of this. They were always second-hand, wed have one for a few months then Dad would trade it in for another. Amongst them, in no particular order, was a light-blue Ford Anglia, a green Morris 1000 (which, I saw on telly, are still made in some place like Indonesia), at least two Minis, a grand old lady called a Morris Oxford and a close relation to this called a Morris Cambridge. In this fleet of vehicles we would set out on various adventures. Some of the earliest I dont remember but have photographic evidence for example, I have a picture of me aged about six riding in a toy jeep. Im unsure but I think this was at a place called Clumber Park, somewhere out near Doncaster or Sheffield. On this trip I was to have my only experience of riding a horse, or a pony. To this day I have not ridden a horse since, which, actually, I slightly regret. Being incredibly handsome, I believe I would cut quite a fine figure in equestrian pose. See what I mean? Later trips were more ambitious. Once, we set out to visit Longleat Safari Park, down in Wiltshire. We drove for many hours, then we broke down. There is a vague image of being towed somewhere in the rain, Dad cursing and peering through a misty windscreen, anxious not to ram his Good Samaritan up the arse. By the time the car was fixed, it was too late for our day out. We set out on the long drive home, bitterly disappointed. To this day Ive never been to Longleat. Mind you, having caught a few episodes of BBCs Animal Park, Im quite glad. Have you seen that tubby Lord that owns the place? Hes a genuine British eccentric. Meaning, that if he lived on a council estate, hed be put away. One rule for the rich, another for the poor.. Whose greasy palm did he clasp in a Nazi masonic handshake to ensure those waistcoats he wears were never checked by Health and Safety? My earliest memories of family holidays are based in Blackpool. Actually, thats not strictly truthful, before this we went to Humberstone, a place near Cleethorpes, where we stayed in a caravan. But as my only memory of these holidays is these strange minicanals of ditchwater running throughout the campsite, which I found strangely appealing, theres not much point in mentioning them. But Blackpool. We went there for two or three years running in the early 70s. We were accompanied on these trips by my Mums Auntie Norma and Uncle Eric, with their son Ian. There are only disjointed images of these holidays remaining. The famous Illuminations, of course. The trams.. (Take that, Alan Bradley, you bastard!) My Dads breathtaking sandcastle creations on the beach. Neil Diamond on the car radio, singing Cracklin Rose and Song Song Blue.

The days always begun on the beach, wed spend the entire morning there. It was of course a way to stretch out the spending money. Apart from the odd ice-cream and a ride on the donkeys, you couldnt spend much cash on the beach. Quite often wed get fish and chips for lunch (though fish for us kids was a rare and much-enjoyed treat), or eat shrimps or cockles from one of those stalls on the prom. Once, when we were on

the beach, the inshore lifeboat was called out. A dozen or so guys were racing this semi-inflatable boat, resting on a wheeled trailer, across the sand towards the water. As they did so, they called out to holidaymakers to give them a hand pushing it into the sea, but in a very aggressive, foul-mouthed way. My Dad was one of those who heeded this call, but I was shocked at the frantic abusive anger with which the Lifeboat guys summoned help. Blackpool Tower. At the bottom, back then, was a mini-zoo. At least, there was a huge chimpanzee in a glass cage. As a small boy, my first glimpse of this impressive beast was after Id wriggled my way through the laughing crowd mobbing this cage. The women, in particular, were in hysterics. Is it my later experience of Teesside that conjures the aural recollection of numerous Eeeh!s? The situation was curious. What was provoking such mass glee? I wriggled my way, breathless, until I was right next to the glass. Just on the other side, a large, bored chimp sat vacantly perusing the crowd of humans, right hand idly pumping a rigid, purple cock. I managed one short grin of delight before Mams rough hand yanked me back through the throng. She wanted to spare us from such masturbatory horror, but was a little late, even my little sisters had copped a look and were tittering hugely, if uncomprehendingly. My brief glimpse was probably just as well, I wouldnt have liked to be next to that glass when a simian jizzbomb splattered five millimetres from my nose. I wonder now who that chimp was thinking about as he whacked away. My own adolescent partners-in-slime were the two girls from Abba. For a long time that poster with the two of them in yellow mini-dresses adorned the wall at the foot of my bed. Im surprised I could still see them by the time I was sixteen. We went to see the famous Blackpool Tower Circus. Thirty-odd years later, I chuckled with delight at Peter Kays performance there, when he wondered how the bloody hell theyd got the animals up in that lift. I remember seeing lion-tamers, ballerinas standing on galloping horses, the lot. The highlight, though, was the famous clown, Charlie Caroli. Strangely, though, I have stronger recollections of his fall-guy. He had this amazing dozy, poker-face, and no matter what was flung at him he just maintained this slack, vacant, uncomprehending expression. This got funnier the more he got awful things done to him. They got worse and worse until he finally saw something happen to Charlie, whereby he would start laughing with a rising crescendo at his bosss misfortune. Even as a small kid, you knew this was a mistake, that the retribution Charlie would inflict would be dire, but the anticipation of this just added to the delight. Sound memory again, I can clearly hear that laugh in my head. I wasnt the perfect child on these holidays to Blackpool. Oblivious to such necessary concepts as budgets, I often chafed at the amount of time we had to spend on the beach. I remember moaning to my Mam that I was bored. The truth was, my interest lay more in the hustle and bustle of the countless gift-shops, joke-shops and amusement arcades that dinged and bleeped tantalisingly a few dozen yards away. And I wasnt much of a one for going in the sea. I still couldnt swim, so was restricted to paddling anyway. Once, I was brave enough to wander out far enough for the water to be lapping at my waist. My sisters werent far behind me. We suddenly found ourselves surrounded by unpleasant invaders. Hundreds of turds bobbed cheerily in the water, all drawn by some inexplicable magnetism towards us. That scene in Jaws where Police Chief

Brodys shouts of Shark! had folk screaming towards the beach was nothing compared to that. So Jesus could walk on water, eh? Me and my sisters fucking ran on it. Its difficult to fit my holiday memories into an accurate timescale. For now, Im trying to keep to my junior school years. I think it was still during these early years when we holidayed at Beverley Park. I have no idea if its still there, but Beverley Park was in Devon, the farthest we had yet travelled. All five of us crammed into my Dads Mini and set off at precisely midnight. Such an hour already provided an immense adventure for me and my sisters. In a Mini, three of us crammed into the back seat, we drove solid for twelve hours, before arriving in Devon at noon. How we managed this I cant imagine. My ability to barf even on the shortest car journey was legendary. Once, I thoughtfully spared the cars carpets by accurately vomiting into the side-pocket in the door. I couldnt understand my Dads wrath. Last time I try to be helpful, I thought, as I quailed under his anger. Next time, he gets it in the back of the neck. My car sickness was half his fault, anyway. All it needed when the old nausea started to kick in was my Dads window open a couple of inches, so I could sit with my face in a cool blast of air. But no, it made Dads ears pop, he said. This is still hard to understand. Better an uncomfortable sensation in the old ear-tubes than a carload of fresh, stinking vomit, surely? But, where my Mam found it hard to be tolerant of my twitch, my Dad had no patience when it came to carsickness. He seemed to think that accusations of being a big girls blouse and dire threats of retribution should my stomach decide to display its contents to the outside world would be sufficient deterrent to a technicolour motorway yawn. Understandably, this never stopped me from bargling my anus out through my tonsils. I was to experience the other side of this coin when transporting my own young children, in the late 90s, to a weeks holiday at a caravan park in Scarborough. Luckily, my small son was considerate enough to hang on until the moment we pulled up at the campsite gate, whereupon he managed to get out of the car before yodelling in a puke frenzy that had the both of us honking onto the grass, to curious stares from passing motorists. My wife, watching us both turn ourselves inside-out to the vocal soundtrack of a Bruce Lee movie, fondly commented on how the two of us were bonding.

Beverley Park was in Torbay which, I learned, comprised the three seaside resorts of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Again, this is a part of the country I have never revisited, maybe I should some day. I definitely should, in fact, for my abiding memory of the local populace is that they seemed more foreign to a northern council-house lad than if wed gone to France or Spain. They werent the worst for that, mind. A few years on, wed go camping in North Wales, on the Isle of Anglesey. The locals there treated us like a hostile occupying power. Ill never forget my Mam and her pal coming back from having their hair

done another incomprehensible mums treat at a local salon. All the locals were jabbering away in their lilting English when Mam entered, but as soon as she spoke in her northern English accent they all switched to Welsh. Later, under the hair-dryers, flicking through Womans Weekly, the staff brought the Welsh customers a cup of tea, pointedly ignoring the two English interlopers. Beverley Park in Devon was self-contained, it had everything the holidaymaker needed, swimming-pools, kiddies play areas and on-site club where you could purchase a small Fanta Orange for the annual budget of a minor African nation. Though I cant remember much of this particular holiday, it must have been a successful one, as we were to return again the following year. Another holiday before I went to secondary school was our first family foray into Camping. My Dad had borrowed a tent from a family across the road called Hansen, as a sort of tester before he considered investing in our own equipment. I havent a clue now where we went, but I do remember the novelty of the experience. I had been camping before, but it was with Woodcraft, a sort of Scouts spin-off that I briefly flirted with at Junior School. I didnt stay with them long. Firstly, you had to learn this Creed which you had to be able to chant off by heart, all about God and Country and Exterminating the Jews, then you were forced to play exciting games such as Hot Water Bottle and Rhubard and Custard. You were split into two teams, one of which had to scream Hot Water Bottle loud enough to drown out the competing tirade of Rhubarb and Custard from your opponents. Even so young I knew there was something psychologically flawed about this activity. Going camping with Woodcraft was in the old-fashioned ridge tents, but the kit my Dad borrowed for our family camping try-out was all mod-cons. First you put up this metal frame, made of poles you sort of popped together. There were these aluminium, springloaded buttons that you held in while you slotted the poles together. They wouldnt have won any Design Awards, they were capable of taking a fingertip if you werent careful. It fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, so you got a real sense of achievement when you managed to construct a tubular structure that didnt look like a modern Art Centre in a trendy arrondisement of Paris. You then pulled the tent canvas over this metal frame and went round hammering in the pegs to secure it. On each of the four corners you would tighten and secure the guyropes, which seemed to be designed with maximum efficiency for tripping over when you came back from the club in the pitchdark. There was a smaller bedroom tent which hung inside the frame. This was divided into two rooms, with thin cloth walls and a rubberised waterproof floor. Mum and Dad slept in one of these while we three kids took the other. The first night, huddled in our sleeping bags, was almost our last on Earth. The cold was so intense that nobody could sleep and we children lay sobbing with ice tears forming on our cheeks. We were like Captain Scott and his mates on their last night alive. Mam bravely offered to do a Captain Oates by stepping outside for a moment but we kids clung screaming to her until her suicidal desperation wore off. An hour after the first rays of watery sunlight began to warm the canvas, and we marvelled that we still possessed our fingers and toes, Dad bumped into a more experienced camper in the Toilet Block, who put him

straight. Turns out we were supposed to firmly fasten the zips in the bedroom enclosure, thus trapping our body heat and preventing Death by Exposure. It was amazing what a difference this made on the second night, where we all slept comfortably.

The Toilet Block on campsites, by the way, was a source of much embarrassment to young me. It was my Dads fault. He didnt like the rough, shiny bog roll provided in such places, so every morning, after his cup of tea and couple of roll-ups, he would set off, striding briskly towards the toilet block, whistling cheerily with a roll of soft Andrex bog roll in his hand. Cant you put it in a carrier-bag or summat, Dad? Why? Cos everyone knows youre going for a poo. So what? Even the Queen shites. Which missed the point, somewhat. Bet she didnt stroll through Buckingham Palace past all the footmen, whistling Colonel Bogey with a Daily Mirror under her arm and a roll of gilt-edged bog-roll in her hand. Good Morning, Your Majesty. Morning, serf. Ones just popping for a shite, got the Turtles Head. Pop the kettle on and feed the corgies.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch. Back to the extended family. My mams mam was my Granny, the mother of the aunties and uncle I have been describing. She lived on Burringham Road, about twenty minutes from our house on Riddings. I have many memories of my Granny. I hope shes going to let me record them this time. My parents and Granny were very close, we visited regularly from when I was very young. When I was very small, my Grandad was still alive, Jim he was called. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to shape any coherent memories, he had had a stroke. Ive learned since he was only in his early fifties. My only real memory of him is of this old man sitting in a chair in the corner. He couldnt speak properly and to a small child was a little strange and a little frightening. We used to be encouraged to go and get a sweet off our Grandad, he was very fond of Liquorice Allsorts. It wasnt something a young child really wanted to do. The aftereffects of a stroke can be very cruel and, small as I was, I can clearly remember a certain amount of trepidation approaching this scary-looking man who made strange noises and talked in a way you could barely understand. I suppose such words could be rather upsetting to someone who knew and loved Jim, but I can only record how it felt to the young child that was me. I cant remember precisely what year he died, but I must have been still very young. (Actually, having reread my Dad's memoirs, this occurred the same week that my Uncle Dave from Belfast died).

I have quite a few old photographs which I got from my parents, showing Grandad Jim as a healthy younger man. All these years later, these photographs help offset any wistfulness it is tempting to feel about not having the opportunity to know your grandfather properly. Just seeing those pictures, in pubs, at weddings, plus the knowledge I have gained from my Dads own memories, reassure me that, even though our different lifespans meant we never formed any coherent relationship, my Grandad was a person who lived an ordinary life and who passed his genes on to me, whose very existence was a prerequisite of my own. Its increasingly strange, this memoirs thing. Though all youre doing is trying to record the memories of yourself as a child, the personality of yourself as an adult cannot be kept out. On finishing that last paragraph, I raised my cup of coffee in toast to my Grandad and felt, for a moment, hopelessly sentimental. All that for a human being I never really knew in any meaningful way but whose blood flows, if mingled with that of others, in my veins right now. My parents have always said I think too much. Still, its all probably some sort of therapy, and a darn sight cheaper than laying on a leather couch talking to some uncaring tosser in a suit

I always found my Grannys house a bit spooky, dont ask me why. They were much older houses on Burringham Road than the one I lived in on Riddings Estate. The living-room was at the back of the house. The telly was in the corner near the window and on the other side of the window, against the wall, was one of those marvelous old radiograms. The radio dial, long and horizontal, back-lit, had these wonderful exotic radio stations like Light Channel and Hilversum. During the day, Granny always had Jimmy Young on. Heres the Sound thing again. About eight years back, Jimmy Young enjoyed a bit of a renaissance on Radio Two. At the time I was working for the Probation Service and was forever out in my car touring the more salubrious districts of Middlesbrough, home-visiting my little smackheads and burglars and kiddy-fiddlers. When I first heard Jimmy Young on the car radio one morning, it transported me instantaneously back to my Grannys house of all those years ago. When I was very young, my Uncle Andrew still lived at home. Hed be in his teens by then. I only remember one incident concerning him from this time. One day, hed done something to piss his mam, my Granny, off. I watched with childish interest as she chased him around the sitting room, whacking him, Andrew emitting this strange highpitched howl, like a whipped dog. Oh, I can hear the do-gooders wringing their hands here. But that was normal, if you pissed your parents off, you got the same as you got at school, a clip round the ear or a whack on the legs or a kick up the arse. And if you think thats awful, get a life and stop reading the fucking Guardian. I have more memories concerning Andrew from after hed left home and gone off to university in, I recall, Lancaster. I used to mooch amongst the old records hed left behind. He had quite a few singles, 45 r.p.m. records, which I used to play on the

radiogram. I remember Rockin Robin by the Jackson Five and Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens (now Mustafa Wanq or whatever his name is). Hed also left this great set of green encyclopedias in this little wooden bookcase, which I spent many a happy hour perusing. I could be wrong, but I think I inherited them when my Granny died. Best of all, though, was Andrews stamp collection. Playing with that hooked me for a while on Philately, a little later in childhood. He used to collect the pictorial sets, you know, where stamps of various prices would come with a common theme. He had loads of these. Strangely enough, the only one that readily comes to mind is the Battle of Hastings set, with scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry on each stamp. As I later learned, though, Andrew had committed a cardinal sin while pursuing this hobby. When he got a set of stamps, he had licked the back of them and stuck them in his album. Oooh, Andrew, you dont do that. You were supposed to buy these little things called stamp hinges to affix them in the book. I was talking about this to a friend, Mick, the other day, who had a similar affection for stamps in his childhood, and he told me that, nowadays, even these hinges are seen as bad, for they damage the adhesive on the part of the stamp they cling to. I only half-understand the term anally-retentive, but it seems to apply to this particular occasion For a year or two, I got bang into stamp collecting. You used to see these adverts in comics. Stamps on Approval. Basically, you sent away, and they would send you this huge bag of stamps. You would rummage through them, take out the ones you liked and send the rest back. The ones you kept were only a few pence each. I loved it when a new bag of stamps came in the post. Foreign countries had these huge pictorial stamps. You sort of got into certain countries, depending on what your tastes were. I was into Hungarian stamps Magyar Posta and ones from Finland Suomi. Also the Russian ones, CCCP, where they were always bragging about their exploits in space, the little commie bastards. True aficionados were into the Stanley Gibbons Catalogue. It wasnt like Grattans or Littlewoods, there was no lingerie section, worse luck, but you could look up a stamp and it would tell you how much it was worth. Course, it was only your hardcore collectors that ever had any stamps worth looking up, like a Penny Red or something, but you still got hooked on it. Actually, I used to have a Penny Red, or thought I did. One of the ads I answered in my Lion and Thunder comic, or the Sparky, promised a free facsimile Penny Red if you sent for their stamps on approval. Obviously, even before the days when Advertising Executives started sporting pony-tails and running ideas up the flagpole to see who would salute them, some smarmy twat had twigged that junior school kids didnt have a bloody clue what the word facsimile meant. Like so many things from your childhood, I cant help wondering what happened to my stamp collection. It would be great to flick through it again now. Here I go again. Digressing. Thinking of those ads in comics another memory bubbles up. Who can remember Bazooka Joe? It was a chewing gum, but you got these little tokens with it. They came wrapped round the lump of chewy, and were in the form of a little comic strip. If you saved them up, you could use them to purchase things from the Bazooka Joe catalogue. Catapults, sets of a hundred plastic army men, false moustaches, Rampant Rabbit vibrators, you name it. Unfortunately, I never knew

anyone who actually saved up enough tokens to get owt from the Bazooka Joe catalogue. Also, we used to read American comics as well, you know, Marvel comics, Superman, the Incredible Hulk and the like. Well, they always had these mint adverts for stuff that, being in England, you couldnt send for but wished you could. X-Ray specs, for example. I used to lust after them. According to the ads, you could look at women and see through their clothes! God, Id have given my right hand for a pair of them. Actually, if Id ever managed to get hold of some, Id have bloody needed that right hand. Another ad in American comics was for Sea Monkeys. The picture a drawing, not a photo - showed this family of human-like creatures underwater, drawn just like middleclass Americans, only with knobbly antennae protruding from their coiffured bonces. Hi honey, Im home! How I wished we could send for stuff like that! Many years later, Sea Monkeys became available in England, when my own kids were born. We bought some at Toys R Us, they came in a little sachet like the aforementioned Vesta Curry. You just sprinkled them into your little plastic tank of water, and the next day theres these microscopic things, that look like prawns that get sand kicked in their face by other prawns. They should have tried Charles Atlass technique of sort of wringing your hands together, another ad you saw in comics back then. No more bullying from the big guys on the Beach!!!! Just try my Isometric Technique and youll look like me! Er, sorry Charles, who would want to? A gobful of sand seems infinitely more attractive, frankly. Who wants to be walking down Scunthorpe High Street on a Saturday afternoon hearing things like Mam, that boys frightening me.? Those American comics were never a big thing to me or any of my peers. I have met people in adult life who adored Superman and The Hulk and all those comics, who in fact got quite geeky about it and collected hundreds of them, but I only saw such comics now and then, and only read them if there was nothing else around. Us patriotic young Brits were more into our Commando comics, or Battle Picture Library. These were brilliant. They were about one subject only World War Two, and according to them it was us Brits who won the whole war and them pesky Yanks just got in the way. These days, these comics have a marvellous kitsch value. The politically-correct brigade would doubtless declare them as racist, but they were great. The Nazis in them only ever said things like Gott in Himmell and Donner und Blitzen. Oh, and Donnerwetter, which I found out only last year means "Thunderwater". Great swearwords, Fritz. If they got excited and spotted the enemy theyd shout Achtung, Englander! and when they died, always, always, without fail, their last utterances on this earth were Aaaccchhhhh! Unlike the Japs in the comics, who always shuffled off this mortal coil with the timeless classic Aaaiiiiiii! They did this a lot, as their main hobby seemed to be screaming Banzaii!! and running rather sportingly in yellow hordes into the mouths of Vickers machine-guns, operated by Cockney lads soulfully singing Theres a long, long trail a-winding with their tin helmets cocked rather jauntily on the backs of their heads. If you ever did get a Jap character lacking this lemming stupidity, it was a decidedly

ferrety-looking officer who seemed to waste awful amounts of feral intelligence on acts of pointless and mystical Oriental cruelty. According to Commando comics, though, we Brits were customers of a cooler calibre. Manys the time in these stories when our heros tank would be struck by a German 88 anti-tank gun, Ginger the drivers brains were probably smeared all over the ammunition tray, Billy the gunner was trying to beat out the flames on his crisping flesh, but our chap would calmly announce, Crikey, chaps, looks like were brewing up, wed better bale out. Not even an exclamation mark. After the guys had politely argued over their After you, old chaps for a couple more minutes, flames licking at their brassy British balls, they would emerge in an orderly fashion from their burning tank only to have dastardly goosestepping sausage-munchers, or devious slanty-eyed sushi-suckers unsportingly machine-gun them as they left the combat zone at a gentlemanly stroll. At this point, wed always witness the sad demise of the one Brit in the gang whod previously showed a whiff of Low-Moral-Fibre by letting his bottom lip wobble the last time a Stuka had divebombed them. This chap, of course, was rarely an officer. I mean, the Public School system just wouldnt produce a cad like that. No, it was usually one of us lower echelons who, to compound his rampant cowardice, had probably been flogging a few tins of Army bully-beef to starving French refugees. Me and Neil Donaldson adored these comics, and would plough through great piles of them. They were themed, theyd be divided into stories about Army, Navy and Airforce, and also split into the different combat theatres such as the North Atlantic, the Desert campaigns or the Battle of Britain. Ironically, as I was later to enter the Royal Navy, my own favourites were the ones about fighter pilots. They had more spunk than the rest, like that chimp at Blackpool Tower.

104 Burringham Road, Scunthorpe I think some way back I was talking about my Grannys house. I remember one particular day in history which I could pin down to an exact date and hour, if I had access to the internet right now. It was at my Grannys, one lunchtime, where I watched the first ever episode of a soap called Emmerdale Farm. Its one of those little memories that I am ridiculously proud of, and with which I have enthralled many people over the years. Of course, originally, you know, it was just that farm that was called Emmerdale. The village was called Beckindale. It was the life-story of the Sugden family, who -What are you doing with that razor? Call an ambulance, quick, shes hit an artery. My Grannys back garden was a wilderness, but not one which called out to be explored. Nettles abounded, which didnt agree with boys in short trousers. There was this old shed, which youd think young boys would be itching to rummage in. But it was Spider City, and everything in there, the old tools and nails, were furry with rust. Guess the roof must have given up the ghost years ago. Thinking back now, I ask the

question why Grannys strapping sons-in-law never pitched in and sorted that back garden out. Lazy bastards. The front room in my Grannys house was never really used. I wonder whether it was that quaint old-fashioned parlour thing, where you kept one room for best. We were allowed in there, but it had an empty, soulless aspect to it. All I remember being in there was this old-fashioned glass cabinet, the sort you kept your best ornaments or china or glassware in. Buggered if I can remember what was in it. Ironically, and rather sadly, the only time I recall that room being used was for my Grannys funeral do. The loo was downstairs, at one end of the kitchen. It had more of the feel of a shed, or coalhouse about it, than an actual interior room, and smelled of damp. Windy-arse. It was upstairs in Grannys house, though, that really spooked me out. Dont ask me why! I didnt have occasion to go up there much, for one thing, and when I did I would fair gallop back down the stairs. You know that childish panic you get at such times, when you find yourself in a creepy place? The moment you let yourself get even slightly freaked out, its like trying to sneak out a fart when youve got raging dysentery (I used that word because despite a degree in English I cant spell diarrhoea) Once you let those heebie-jeebies in, you get more and more panicked and head to perceived safety at increasing speed, like shit off a stick. This strange psychological phenomenon persists into adulthood. Well, Im happy to admit to it, even if others arent. I remember over a decade ago being in Whitby and taking my infant daughter Daisy into The Dracula Experience. You enter down this sloping corridor, and whats to come is out of sight round the corner. She wanted to go in, but was scared, and I had to carry her with her arms clinging and face buried in my neck. Well, we set off down this corridor, and you could hear all the sound effects in the room round the corner, the moans and generally spooky noises. What made matters worse, behind you, youd already passed him as you came in, was a lifesize, very lifelike figure of Gary Oldmans Dracula from Bram Stokers Dracula. I kept throwing a nervous glance over my shoulder in case he was tiptoeing up behind us. Never mind Daisy, I had the bloody wind up, and the panic got worse every step I took down that corridor. The knowledge that I held a small child to throw in any vampires path, to give me time to leg it, was small comfort. When we got almost to the end of this corridor, about to enter the inner sanctum of vampirism, Daisys nerve gave way and she screamed she didnt want to go in. With immense relief I set off back towards the exit and must have doing about 90 by the time we hit the door. I can hear my Mam chuckling at this. Shes always had this bizarre sense of humour. Throughout my childhood, we would sit in front of the telly, watching various comedy shows, sitcoms and funny movies, and my Mam would usually announce that this was bloody daft and head off to the bath. Anything that involved someone being scared, though, and it would really tickle her. One thing I remember her really laughing at is an episode of Rising Damp in the seventies. Its the classic where the residents concoct this story of a grey lady who haunts the boarding house, and theres one brilliant scene where Richard Beckinsale, dressed in a grey dress and old-fashioned mop-cap, comes face-to-face with Rigsby on the stairs, who turns and flees with a howl of terror.

My Mam nearly pissed herself. And any time over the years when anyone recounted an incident where they were for some reason spooked, she would chuckle away. I remember the time she didnt chuckle though. This particular anecdote Ive had to revise a little, after my Dad put me straight on some of the details which Id remembered wrongly. Its a classic reminder of how memories are subjective. We were visiting one of many distant relatives. This one lived, Im told, in Nottingham. (My personal memory is just of a long trip in the car). It was an Auntie Gertie. She was on my Dads side of the family. Anyway, these were generally boring visits for us small kids, nothing memorable to persist through the decades. I have a clear memory of this visit though, not surprising really. Im sitting on the setee next to my Mam, Auntie Gerties in an armchair across from us. Shes telling my Mam and Dad how shes regularly visited by her two dead brothers, Kenneth and Clyde. They sit right there, she announced, And chat for hours. She was pointing at me, where I was sat! My bloody eyeballs nearly popped out from the strain of trying to keep a whimper of terror in. My Mam gave a decidedly nervous laugh and said, Piffle. Yes, Microsoft Word, this time I mean piffle, not peffle. Shit, Artificial Intelligence is a long way off if Microsoft Word is anything to go by. One thing that makes that vein throb in my forehead is when that little wanker of a paperclip man pops up and says Looks like youre trying to write a letter.. No shit, Einstein. Makes me want to pluck him off the screen and straighten him out into one long piece of wire, then shove him up my arse. But I digress. You know, I have been trying to think of a suitable title for these memoirs, to match my Dads pun on How Green Was My Valley. There, Ive found it. This work is now hereby entitled, But I Digress. Back at Auntie Gerties. When we stood up to leave, Auntie Gertie asked us to wait a moment while she finds a few coppers for the bairns. Normally, this would perk me up no end, but on this occasion I could hardly hold out my hand to receive the assorted thrupenny bits and pennies before I scrambled for the door, casting nervous glances at the empty space on the setee I had just vacated. A brief word about the two deceased brothers she mentioned, by the way. Neither of these gents Id ever met, as they died long before I was born, and had never had the gall to appear for a natter on my setee. (Thank God for that, its a sod to get shite out of flock velour. No, dont ask me how I know that.) I learned more about Kenneth and Clive in adulthood, from my Dad, and this knowledge helped somewhat in understanding some of the estrangement that occurred on my Dads side of the

extended family. Auntie Gerties brother Kenneth was my Dads dad, my supposed Grandfather. He was killed in a road accident when my Dad was still a child. The other brother was my Dads uncle Clive. My Dad tells me that one day, when he was a young man, he saw his Uncle Clive in a pub, who out of the blue announced to my Dad that he wasnt his uncle, but was actually his real father. You know how some moments help other, past and puzzling, incidents click into place? I remember suddenly understanding a remark Id often heard my Dad make in my childhood, about how his mother used to have a bike. The story of the visit to Auntie Gerties leads rather neatly to the one abiding memory of my Granny which I shall never forget, and which Ive shared with my own kids. She was a bugger for telling you stuff deliberately designed to put the shits up you. Some people might say this was rather cruel, but Ive found I have inherited this trait in full measure, and as a teacher have been able to spread the terror far more effectively than she ever did. My Mam has an Auntie Dorothy, who only passed away this year, 2009, who back when I was a kid ran a pub in a small village in Yorkshire called Burley-in-Wharfedale. We used to visit her now and again, and stay upstairs in the pub. Well, Auntie Dorothy had this dead husband, who Id never met, called Billie. He used to wear a kilt, so in my memories Id assumed he was Scottish, but my Dad informs me he was as Yorkshire as they come. Learning this, I had to chuckle, its like when Peter Kay takes his mams Belfast accent off to a tee and then says, What yer talkin like that for? Youre noreven Irish. Billie had this kilt though, and after hed died Auntie Dorothy had kept it, hung up in the wardrobe. Granny, vicious sadist that she obviously was, would tell me in memorable detail how the pub was haunted by the ghost of Dorothys dead husband, how, in the early hours of the morning, you could hear the ghostly skirl of bagpipes and how that kilt would come floating up the passage. Was she trying to kill me?!!! She certainly guaranteed I would never sleep a bloody wink when we stayed there. One time we stayed there, me and my two sisters had to sleep all together in this double bed. Being the oldest, and mind firmly on the prospect of old Jock McStrap visiting in the wee hours, I bullied my sisters into letting me sleep in the middle. That way, the ghost would have a juicy little girl to munch on and hopefully satisy his hunger before getting to me. My youngest sister, Rachel, little more than a toddler at the time, coined the memorable phrase Bark in the Biddle (Mark in the middle). Too right, sis. Its a dog-eat-dog world. Lets play a guessing game who gets eaten by the scary ghost in the middle of the night? Its you, isnt it? I used to have this running joke with my Granny about this frog ornament on her mantelpiece. I used to turn it round so its arse was showing instead of its face. Once, also, someone bought her this figure of a monk, dressed in a brown robe. Youd press his head down and this enormous cock would rise up from the folds of its habit. Id get a cautionary Ey!.. every time I pressed his head down but the sight of that priestly wanger never failed to tickle me. In school holidays, my Mam and Dad would be working, and us three kids had to walk up to Grannys for the morning. Up Manby Road, along Willoughby past the shops,

turn right at the Beacon pub and on to her house. I used to have this weird thing going on during those walks. Every time, just as we passed the Top Shops, Id look back, up into the sky above Kingstons Chippy, and imagine yesterdays Mark hovering up there watching us, and Id silently say hello to him. Then, under my breath, Id say hello to tomorrows Mark so Id be back up there tomorrow to say hello again. I was a strange boy, no doubt about it. Sometimes during these sojourns at Grannys my Auntie Janets kids would be there as well, or at least my cousin Julie was, I cant remember if her brother Jamie was born then. Thinking back, Granny must have been a bit of a trouper, having all those kids round her house. As I got older, trips to Grannys became somewhat of a chore for me. Me and Neil, or Paolo, or the Keany twins, would be planning an expedition down Sandy Banks, when my Mam would say, You cant, youre going to your Grannys. Id moan like hell, so often that this prompted a phrase from my Mam which again has stayed in my memory ever since. Your Granny, she would announce furiously, thinks the sun shines out of your arse! How peculiar. I believe Galileo and Copernicus might beg to differ on that one, Grandmother. But Mam was playing the old guilt-trip card. I was supposed to feel bad. Its something adults do a lot, try to get kids to feel guilty. I do it myself, even though my own memory tells me its completely pointless. Kids of that age dont have a bloody conscience, theyre selfish little bastards, and I was exactly the same. So, despite my whinging, Id be dragged, chuntering and whining, up to Grannys again. This regularly repeated scenario introduced me to another new phrase at one time. Neil Donaldson would sometimes come with us up to my Grannys, but on this occasion he didnt want to. I was furious with him, I wanted someone to play with up there. I asked him why he wouldnt come. He said something Id never heard before. I cant be arsed. What is it with this word arse? Its like bloody Dettol, has a thousand and one uses. Oh, yeah, sorry Graham Norton, a thousand and two. Dont worry, Ill edit that out.

My Granny once had a relationship with a fella called John. He was Scottish if I remember correctly. John came to a rather gruesome end, I seem to recall he fell into the machinery at the Steelworks and was crushed. My Dad told me once that he went and identified the body, cant have been very pleasurable. Again, as a child, you just hear about these events and they dont really have any emotional effect on you. Thinking back, it must have been tragic for my Granny, if she had found love again, to lose someone in such a horrible way. I dont recall the exact year my Granny died. But I think I was getting near the end of Junior School, I may well have already gone up to the senior school. But she hadnt

been well for some time. Theres one incident that sticks firmly in my memory. I was in our sitting-room one night, making an Airfix model. It was the Avro Anson transport plane, 1:72 scale (Why do I remember such geeky details?). Someone knocked on the front door. I nosily followed my Mam to the door. It was my Granny, it was not a regular occurrence for her to turn up on the doorstep unannounced. She was crying. My mam expressed surprise. Ive looked all over and cant find my purse, sobbed my Granny, Mrs Burrs been in my house, what do you think? Well, unless theres something I didnt know, this was a ludicrous suspicion. As far as I know, Mrs Burr, who lived a few doors up from Granny, was her best friend. It was obvious to me, even so young, that Granny was not herself. Me and my sisters were shooed into the living-room and Mam and Granny went into the dining-room. Cant remember if my Dad was there or not. Also around this time, poor Granny had these awful sores on her legs. They were like egg-sized pockets of fluid. To this day I dont know what condition caused them. There came the day when my Granny died. Our Dad woke me and my sisters up one morning. He went into my sisters bedroom and said something, I heard them start wailing. Alarmed and curious, I went in. My Dad just said, Your Granny died last night. I remember this as a truly awful moment, one that caused me guilt for years. Because, on hearing the news, I felt absolutely nothing. An emotional vacuum. It was my Grandmother, my Mams mam, and I had no emotional response whatsoever. Young as I was, I knew this wasnt right, that I was expected to show some sort of appropriate response. So I muttered, Oh no, oh no and shuffled into my bedroom, before my Dad could notice my insincerity and berate me for being a cold-hearted little bastard. I didnt want to go to the funeral. For once my parents didnt insist on this last visit to Granny. I did go to the wake, though, at her house. There were relatives from all over, my Grandad Jim had originally come from Pudsey and there was an extended family all over Yorkshire. One incident I remember from that day is my Mams cousin, Michael, kneeling down where I was sitting against a wall and saying, So you want to be a chef.. At the time I was dead keen on cooking and my Mam always used to encourage this. She had been teaching me basic cookery skills for quite a while and I could rustle up an omelette and do the chips and that kind of thing. She must have mentioned this to her cousin Michael, a bona-fide chef, and hed decided to give me some avuncular advice. Michaels parents were my Mams Uncle George and Auntie Gladys. They lived in Morley, near Leeds. I remember Uncle George for one reason only. To me, he was the absolute spit, both in looks, voice and mannerisms, of Eric Morecambe, who was one of my childhood heroes. For a while there was some discussion between Mam and Dad about the possibility of us all moving into Grannys house. The very thought struck me with terror. For about

two weeks after Granny died I was tormented with awful nightmares about her coming back from the dead to haunt me, because Id never wanted to go visit her and because I hadnt cried when she died. Her old house had been scary enough when she lived in it, let alone now she was dead. To my relief, this plan never came off. I have to record this now, at the risk of provoking a judgement of piffle from my Mam. A few weeks ago now, Id written an earlier version of my memories of my Granny, roughly the same as I have just recorded. I finished this one night after Id been to the pub. Id had four or five pints of Magnet and, being a soppy bastard, became a little emotional as I wrote the last lines. Daft I may be, but this prompted me to carry on a little internal monologue whereby I apologised to my Granny for being such an uncaring little shit when I was a kid. As I went to bed, I said out loud to the darkened room something along the lines of If you can hear me, Granny, let me know. Then I got in bed shivering, with the sudden panicked thought What if she appears at the bedroom door and says Its alright, son. or something. Windy-arsed bastard, I am. Immediately though, I determined that if such an unlikely event were to take place, I would not be frightened, this was my Granny I was talking about, the one who thought the sun shone out of my arse. When I got up the next morning, I switched on my computer to read over what Id written the night before, which I always do. The Word file would not open, it was, my computer told me, corrupted. The file was surrounded by more than a dozen other Word files, kids essays I had to work on, but these were fine. I was gutted, thinking all my work was lost. I accessed Microsoft Help, and went through a painstaking step-by-step process called Text Retrieval to extract data from a damaged file. Eventually, this worked. I managed to claw back all of my memoirs, right up to the exact point Id begun writing about my Granny. All of that was gone. Now maybe you get a bit superstitious in middle-age, I dont know. All I can say is, that in the past, I would have been 100 percent certain this was just a coincidence. But about this, Im only 95 percent certain. Its very, very tempting to imagine that Granny had just given me the sign I asked for the night before. Piffle. More School Dramatics. Back to Riddings Junior School for a while. In my last year I and many others were involved in the school play. We performed something called The Wizard with the Golden Beard. It was great fun. The Wizard himself was played by a lad called Stephen Riley, who lived round the corner from us on Searby Road near Ricky Birrell, Franky Hill and Shirley Brown. He was chosen not for his acting ability but for the fact he was a great hulking brute of a lad, even so young. Another character was King Jellybones, played by Mark Dawson. They made his costume out of a red anorak. I played the role of Grimface, King Jellybones counsellor. I was dressed all in black, with an Elizabethan ruff round my neck. I wish I could remember the teacher who directed the play, but I cant. He or she did however instruct me in how to play this role. It was basically to wring my hands a lot, be miserable, and pull grim faces, hence the name. Thinking back, this must have been

based on Dickens Uriah Heep, though Id never heard of him at the time. I cant help wondering now if I managed to control my twitch while on stage performing. There was also a witch in the play. She was played by a girl called Angela Preston, who lived down on Enderby Road near the bottom shops, near Neil and the Keany twins. Angela nearly ruined the opening night. Wed been rehearsing for weeks, there was proper scenery, costumes, lighting, music, the works, even make-up. But it was the make-up that was the last straw for poor Angela Preston. Wed done the dress rehearsal a few days before, where you do the play in full costume, but the make-up itself was reserved for the actual performance. Theres an old saying about the theatre, something along the lines of the whiff of the greasepaint, and I can identify with that. Ive already mentioned how sound memories seem stronger with me than visual ones, but the sense of smell is a less frequent but even more powerful memory-evoker. For example, one whiff of Coconut Suntan oil and Im immediately transported a quarter of a century and 2000 miles to the 3 month tour of the Caribbean I did on HMS Invincible in 1983. Its the same with that stage makeup. Ive occasionally come across it working in schools, and every time it rushes me back to school plays when I was a kid. Anyway, Angela Preston, remember, was playing the part of a hideous witch. So, on the opening night, she was made-up accordingly. Deep lines and wrinkles were drawn on her face in brown greasepaint. She took one look in the mirror, burst into floods of tears, declared she looked awful and refused to go on! The audience was already filing in. I didnt know what the fuss was about, I too was made up to look like an old man, with deep wrinkles everywhere, but I loved it. Again, I cant finish that particular anecdote, I cant remember how this dilemma was solved, but the performance went ahead. I think they made Angela snort Ajax from the cleaners cupboard and she went on stage whizzing off her tits. I remember performing that play as great, great fun. And taking part in school plays was something I would do much more of at Secondary School. Youre fucking nicked, my old beauty.. During my last year at the juniors I got caught shoplifting. Getting caught pinching was in fact well overdue, me and lots of my mates had been doing it a long time. It wasnt for want of whatever we were nicking, it was for the sheer buzz and bravado of it. My first forays into the art of surreptitious theft occurred at Knightys garage, at the top of our hill. As Ive already mentioned, I was always in there, buying my Dads baccy, and often Id have a few pennies to spend on sweets. Very occasionally, when chocolate lust overcame fear, I would nick a bob-bit (a shilling, 5p) from the flowerpot next to the leccy meter in the kitchen at home, then overload on sweets. Also, at one time I used to get a threepenny bit on a Saturday morning, as pocket money, and you could get quite a few goodies for that. For a penny you could get four Fruit Salads, for example, or four Black Jacks. Whoops, cant say that now, can you? Sorry, for a penny, you could get four Liquorice-based Confectionery Products. There was this Liquorice-based Confectionery Product standing waiting for a train,

and his wife said, Rastus, if you stand so close to the edge of the platform, when that train comes its gonna suck you right off.. But what I really loved was Turkish Delight. It was the adverts fault. If you ate Turkish Delight, according to the telly, you could go and live in an exotic tent in the desert and have scantily-clad sex-bombs with heart-melting eyes cater to your every material and sexual whim just for a bit of pink jelly with a thin chocolate crust. Even just approaching eleven, this was a situation much to be desired. Based on close analysis of the telly ads, my fiendish plan was to only eat Turkish Delight while soaked in Hai-Karate Aftershave, so that bird with knockers like Zeppelins would karate-chop the place up just to get at you and have her wicked way. As long as she wasnt bothered that I didnt have any pubes yet. Turkish Delights were expensive though. The sweet counter at Knightys garage wasnt tucked away, you could stand right next to it and peruse the goods. Often, the girls serving would be distracted by someone buying petrol, so it was relatively easy to pocket a Turkish Delight or a Mars Bar. Sometimes the odd Aztec bar. You dont see them anymore. Im not surprised, they had raisins in them, whoever thought that would be a good idea? But my point is that at that time nicking sweets from shops was an accepted part of our juvenile culture, and you were considered a bit of a wuss if you didnt join in. Down on Quebec Road, near where my parents now live, was a small supermarket known as Fine Fare. It was like an early, small-scale version of Kwiksave. Anyway, one day theres me, Neil Donaldson, Paolo Gatti and Colin Clark outside this shop. Like I said, wed be just turning eleven. We decided we were going on a raid. Paolo was always an unashamed chicken, even when we went out mischieving later in our teenage years, so he declined to participate. Aw, what a sensible boy. Cluck, cluck, cluck.. In went me, Neil and Colin. Well, thinking back, earlier successes had made us too cocky. Me and Neil both stuffed an enormous family bar of Cadburys Fruit and Nut down our trousers, and I also helped myself to a chocolate cupcake. Back outside we went, and didnt even have the good sense to make ourselves immediately scarce. The shop manager, only a young bloke, suddenly popped his head out of the door. You two, come here. He pointed at me and Colin Clark. Knowing full well what was about to happen, I immediately and surreptitiously dropped my cupcake on the floor behind this concrete pillar. Colin, grassing little shit, announced, Hes just dropped a cake down there. Honour amongst thieves. My memorys hazy here. I think Neil Donaldson got away with it, purely by virtue of the fact he hadnt been seen. But me and Colin were definitely in the shit. Were taken back into the shop and into this tiny office at the back where, horror of horrors, I suddenly realised that the woman in there was Margaret, who lived next door to my Auntie Lynn.

Ooh, Mark, your Mams gunna kill you, int she? Do you know him? says the manager. Yes, hes my next-door-neighbours nephew. Rats cocks. He took our names and addresses. This just wouldnt work today. Todays kids would have a full, false identity pre-prepared, or theyd just stab the manager, rifle the tills and torch the place. I, though, was too filled with dread to breathe, let alone concoct a cunning, Baldrick-style plan. With a generous spirit that it was impossible to appreciate at the time, the young manager announced that he wouldnt inform the police, this time, but he would be going to see our parents. I remember whimpering that, personally, Id rather he told the bobbies than my Mam and Dad. He looked at me with a certain sympathy and told me that if the bobbies were called my parents would find out anyway. I panicked then. Without taking into account that he already had all the details he needed to drop me well and truly in the kaka, I took off. I legged it for the door with this bloke hot on my heels. As I burst out the shop there was Paolo still sitting outside. Leg it! I advised him, but sensible chicken-shit boy stayed put he hadnt done anything, after all. Could at least have stuck his foot out to trip the manager, the bastard. I made it about 50 yards, just up past the Maple Leaf pub, before the manager caught me. I didnt have a chance of outrunning him. My little attempt at fleeing didnt, luckily, provoke any further vengeance from the shop manager, just an assurance that he would be visiting our parents very soon. I dont know if it was by sadistic design, or whether the bloke was just too busy, but it was about three days before the guillotine fell. They were a long, long three days. I would walk home from school sick with dread, go straight up to the loo and just sit there, for hours. My Mam and Dad would want to know what the hell I was doing up there but I just pretended I was having a long poo. Thinking back, they must have been muttering amongst themselves about what the hell was up with that boy, or perhaps my Dad privately surmised Id just discovered tail-tugging. Id actually dared to hope that the manager wasnt going to keep his promise when I arrived home from school on the third or fourth day and my Dad ushered me straight into the dining-room. Again, that curious way he sometimes has of approaching a subject. His first words were: Does he go home for school dinner, this Colin Clark? I guess he was hoping that Colin was hopelessly underfed, forcing him to steal food, and poor little Mark had just got sucked in. Straightaway I knew the game was up. Again, these days, such a roundabout parental challenge would be met with a veritable flood of verbal evasive countermeasures, but I burst immediately into actual floods, of tears, of self-pity, of horror and I suspect a certain amount of relief that the awful waiting was over. Surprisingly, my Dads reaction wasnt as terrifying as Id anticipated. He spoke quite calmly and gently and explained that he genuinely didnt know what to do with me. My Mam, however, was the bad cop to his good.

If I ad my way, Id chop your pissin hands off! Thank God Dad was taking the lead in that particular situation. Left to my mum, that would have been my wanking days over before theyd truly begun, before I learnt all the great tricks like sitting on your hand for half an hour first so it went numb and it felt like someone else was doing it.. And that little scene was all that was required. I felt genuine, awful shame. I might have tried to explain that we did it for the excitement, I cant remember, but I felt terribly ashamed at disappointing my parents so badly. And, believe it or not, I never did it again. Not because I was frightened of the police being involved and getting the dreaded Criminal Record that my Dad warned me about, but because I couldnt bear to see that look of disappointment and bewilderment on my Dads face and blind fury on my Mams. My final sentiment on the whole sorry affair is that, actually, there is no punishment my parents could have inflicted that would match the suffering of the three days dread I had already undergone. After many pages of fast-flowing memories, of incidents resurfacing thick and fast, of one recollection leading to another like a set of dominoes toppling, I realise just how much out of synch Ive got. Maybe I should revisit, revise, re-edit. Collate, remove, insert. But fuck it, I wont. Ill just go on to talk about all the other things that the past meandering anecdotes have unearthed. Im still reasonably contemporaneous, in that everything slots into the time period of 1969 to 1973, apart from the times Ive been tempted to relate incidents from secondary school and, of course, adulthood. Revisiting the meandering stream of consciousness trickling like urine from a winos trouser-leg, Ive found a couple of subjects Ive briefly mentioned and promised to elucidate on. Is that sentence proper English? Why am I asking you? Sandy Banks. Long ago, I mentioned a childhood playground known as Sandy Banks, or Silica Sands. Its a large parcel of land behind Wragby Road, where the Keanys and Neil lived. The playing fields of my secondary school, Riddings Comprehensive, also bordered this land, worse luck, as wet weather during Games always meant a cross-country run round Sandy Banks, an activity I despised with a passion. The exact moment I took my first exploratory steps into Sandy Banks is now lost, but I know I was still very young, sometime during junior school years. I suspect it was from the time I was considered old enough to walk alone down to Neil Donaldsons to play. It was only ten or fifteen minutes on foot from my house to his. He lived right on the end house, near the entrance to Sandy Banks. As I mentioned long ago, Sandy Banks was an old sand mine. I remember asking my Dad why anyone would want to mine sand when there were shit-loads of it on the beach, and learning the mind-boggling fact that it was a special kind that they made glass out of, which then and now seems very peculiar. I dont know when it was abandoned, but the huge holes theyd dug the sand out of had filled with water, forming

three or four deep lakes separated by narrow spits of land, while the dumping of waste had formed several high hillocks. There had been sufficient passage of time for the lakes to become well-stocked with fish . Actually, that cant have happened by accident. Fish cant bloody fly, someone must have taken them there. Youd always find a few saddoes down there fishing in all weathers, staring at their bobbing floats as if their lives depended on it. Sometimes wed torture these fishermen. It was great fun when you were feeling arsy to lob a great brick into the water near their float and then act all innocent and apologetic when they swore at you for frightening the fish. I shouldnt take the piss out of anglers. It was another geeky hobby that I flirted with in my teens. My dad introduced me to it, though he was never a real aficionado himself. I had a rod and reel and all the kit, and a few times would go fishing down Sandy Banks with my mates. Youd bite these little lead weights onto your line, tie the float and the hook on, then attach your maggot. God, them maggots stunk. The hardmen amongst the anglers would hold them in their mouths while they tied the hook on. Show-offs! You cast your line out and then the boring bit started, watching your float and waiting for a bite. You had to watch for the float bobbing up and down, which meant a fish was nibbling. Then, when the float disappeared underwater, it was time for the strike. This was a backwards whipping movement with your rod that embedded the hook in the fishs lip. Not too hard, or youd pull its face off and could expect to hear from its solicitor. I suppose I grew quickly bored with the hobby because I rarely caught anything. My interest disappeared for good on the day I pulled a small perch out of Sandy Banks lake. These, my Dad had taught me, you had to be careful with. Their dorsal fin had spikes, so you had to grasp them by the head then slide your hand back, to lay the dorsal fin down, or youd get stabbed in the hand. Well, I guess it was mating season or something. As I grasped this already slimy fish, the little bastard spunked up all over my hand. My fingers dripped with fish jism as I struggled to hold onto the Vesta Chow Mein Id had for tea the night before. My mates nearly fell in the lake laughing. I was reminded of this incident only a few weeks ago. I was watching a wildlife programme with my son Evan. Deep under the sea, it was mating season for a particular species of tiny fish. They were collected together in a vast shoal. As if by an unseen signal, the thousands of females released their eggs all at once. Great clouds of eggs drifted amongst them. The male fish, highly excited, released their sperm in great milky nebulae to fertilise these miriad eggs. Only trouble was, bigger fish were attracted by the bountiful supply of food, namely, the eggs. So, youve got these great clouds of eggs, with the little wannabe daddy fish darting about, wanking furiously over them, while bigger fish swoop in and out trying to scoff the eggs. Yum yum, eggs. Aahhh! You bastard! Whats up? That dirty little twat. Hes just spunked right in my eye! Aw not the eye! Itll get all bloodshot! There he is again look! Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh!! Fuck off! Fuck off! That went in my mouth, you filthy little fucker! These days, angling just seems an utterly pointless sport to me. Dont get me wrong, Im not one of the animal rights brigade, I dont think its cruel to fish or owt. Lets face it, theyre fish. One of em isnt going to make Pope or solve Global Warming.

But freshwater angling, you catch em, then throw em back in. Pointless. Sea fishing, fair enough, youre catching food. Nice bit of cod, or mackerel, yum, yum, getting back to your primeval self, catching and killing your grub, Man, the predator. But freshwater angling.. Oh yes, Ill never forget the day I pulled a 14 pound tench from Megs Bottom. We weighed it, took the photo, then applauded as we slipped him back in the water Get a fuckin life. And get them bastard maggots out the fridge, your lass is already shagging her line-dancing instructor. I keep forgetting to use fecking, dont I? Maybe I should use Spellcheck to change every fuckin to feckin. Nah, fuck it. Sandy Banks was overgrown with trees, bushes and bracken. I remember how big kids would go in and set fire to the bracken in there every summer, which would always summon the Fire Brigade, whose foul mouths at having their valuable time wasted in such a way taught me many a juicy phrase around this time. It was during one of these firemans tirades where I first came across the term knob-jockey. I didnt understand it at first, then that night I was lying in bed, idly reflecting on my day, when comprehension suddenly dawned. The mental image of a little Irish fella in green horse-racing silks and a jockeys cap, with his drawers round his ankles, bouncing up and down on a willy, nearly killed me, as I came damn close to suffocating myself with my pillow in an effort to stifle my glee. After that, the Firemen were nearly as high on my Respect-O-Meter as the Dustbinmen, not for their heroic, life-saving deeds, but for their ability to swear. Back in Sandy Banks, there was a clearing roughly in the middle in which several items of plant had been left. They were strange pieces of machinery whose purpose you could only guess at. One roughly square metal box had a long tongue of black, decaying conveyor belt streaming from it. This large contraption, which you could climb into, sufficiently resembled a tank or a pill-box for many a game of war. Nearby was a similar rusting edifice with a narrow pipe of about fifty feet long running through the middle. It was ideal for crawling through, though in later years I nearly had a panic attack in there when rapidly-growing me realised halfway through that I was getting too big to be squirming into that long, tight space. Another metal wreck stood in this clearing, whose shape and description escapes me now. Next to that, what we called the brick building. A half-constructed, roofless room of breeze-blocks. Older kids called it the shaghouse. Its a measure of how young I was when I first explored in there that I didnt understand what this name meant. Even when older and wiser, it was a bit of a misnomer. If my activities in there had been anything to go by, it would have been called the shitehouse. Well, Im sorry. It was a long way from a bog down there and sometimes youd be caught short. And that half a building was the best cover there was, unless you fancied prickly heather sticking in your arse, and there was no way any of the lads was gonna see me laying a log. I remember one kid called Alec used to play down there whod make a performance of having a shit. No shame at all. I recall one he used to do where hed sort of half-squat and swirl his arse in circular motions as he defecated. He called that the ice-cream man, as the result was somewhat like a chocolate Mr Whippy. He even

managed the sprinkle of nuts on the top. Running down the eastern side of the whole area were some dense woods. When we were still at junior school, these woods were the subject of much building activity Its now called the Silica Lodge estate, full of large, posh houses, even by todays standards. One of the many enjoyable pursuits we engaged in back then was sneaking up on the building-site guys and seeing how near we could get before we were spotted. This usually resulted in an invitation to perform some unspeakable and probably illegal act upon ourselves when the unsuspecting joiner or bricklayer had the life scared out of him by some snot-nosed kid with streaks of mud warpaint on his face materialising three feet away in the bushes. One or two new swear-words were added to my vocabulary through that game. With one or two occasional exceptions, it was always the same gang of us playing down Sandy Banks myself, Neil Donaldson, Mark Dawson, Paolo Gatti and the Kean twins, Chris and Andy. We played many games. The Keans loved what we called Tracking. It was basically a huge game of Tiggy, with the whole area of Sandy Banks as the arena. The twins loved it because they were so good at it, they were annoyingly sporty and if I was it I could never catch the slippery bastards. Right through our schooldays the Kean brothers would rise early every morning and go training down the local swimming baths. They were in a swimming club and used to compete in Galas. I believe they won quite a few trophies. How the hell they managed to get their arses out of bed two hours before school was, and still is, totally beyond me. Especially in our teenage years, I loved my pit with a passion and youd have to set the bastard on fire to get me out of it even one minute before I had to. War was the favourite game of those years, both down Sandy Banks and elsewhere. Sandy Banks, though, could have been designed for such a leisure pursuit. Hundreds of ambush sites, strongholds, and steep sandy hills for momentous sessions of Dead Mans Fall. We would usually have toy guns, but if not, a stick would do. I was tickled pink when Peter Kay described the shit machine-gun noise he made at school when he was playing Army, as he called it. Again, looking back, I dont know how we played War so enjoyably for so many years. There were no real rules, youd be shot, die horribly, lay there counting up to 300 in fives, then get up again and run around shooting and throwing hand-grenades ad infinitum. Youd think wed get bored of it, but we never did. Me and Neil used to like taking our Action Men down there. I was only a superficial Action Man fan, but Neil was into him big-time. Every Christmas he would get stuff like the Armoured Car, or the German soldiers outfit with a Nazi motorbike and sidecar. You also used to be able to buy different uniforms, weapons and equipment sets. We loved nothing better than finding a bramble bush, squashing the berries and hurling the red mess at our Action Man to simulate blood. Gory little buggers, we were. Once, we were accosted by a bully down Sandy Banks. You always had to be on the lookout for nasty, older lads. I remember on this occasion the lad took our Action Men, tore off their clothes and scattered them to the four winds before hurtling poor barearsed Nazi soldier and British Commando into these prickly bushes. They didnt exude

much Action with no clothes on. Didnt even have a willy. They did, though, through various incarnations, have gripping hands (great for holding weapons) and Eagle eyes (you moved a switch at the back of their neck and the eyes went from side to side). Then they were made with realistic hair, this sort of fuzz instead of a plastic moulded hairdo. Only on the head, mind, pubes would have looked weird with no cock there. Like a 99 icecream without the Flake in. Why did I say that? The next time I eat a 99 Ill be thinking of Action Mans wanger. Some Action Men could also talk, you know, where youd pull a cord from the back and it would say one of a variety of phrases. Mind you, cant for the life of me remember what Action Man said. Probably Dont let that big boy make me show my bum again. Oh aye, one of them was a Nazi, wasnt he? Nicht letten die bully showen der arschloch.. Before leaving good old Action Man, I have to have a moan about his resurgence of popularity through the 1990s. When I was a kid, Action Man was always about the Second World War. Youd get all the uniforms: American G.I., British Tommy, Nazi Stormtrooper, officers, the lot. Lots of vehicles and equipment, too. Jeeps, German motorbikes, British Armoured Cars. A battery-operated machine-gun, tiny plastic handgrenades. Armed with Action Man and our Battle Picture Library comics, we refought World War Two countless times. Despite our countrys imminent decline as a global political and economic behemoth, and our coming surrender to European hegemony by entering the Common Market in 1973, we small boys of the late 60s were still living in the dying days of Empire. Despite our ignorance of such grand concepts, Action Man reinforced our knowledge that to be a Brit was something special. But when the makers re-introduced him in the 90s, all that was left behind. Instead, Action Man became some sort of politically-correct superhero, fighting villains who were polluting the environment or causing Global Warming. Or the baddies were terrorists. Im surprised you couldnt get accessory packs with little harnesses of suicide bombs, Palestinian headscarfs and tiny printed Korans. Was Palitoy (the makers of Action Man) suddenly afraid of upsetting the Krauts, like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers? Dont mention the war. We mentioned it once (well, thousands of times) in the 1970s but I think we got away with it.. Wankers. Back at Sandy Banks, building dams was a great game too. Around the lakes, the sand would slope down towards the water in places. You dug, or scraped, a trench leading almost down to the water, then built up a semi-circular dam of sand around the bottom end. You then found some receptacle to scoop water up in, usually a discarded milk bottle, filled it up and began filling the trench. You kept pouring water in at the top and it would rush down and attack your sand dam, so youd frantically keep shoring it up with more handfuls of wet sand until it collapsed and the water gushed back into the lake. Once we were daft enough to put these big plastic cars in the trench, only to see the bastards whoosh into the lake when the dam broke. We tried to find them under the surface but we were wary of getting too close to the edge. I couldnt swim back then, and we were always getting parental warnings about staying away from the water. It was said that numerous children had drowned in Sandy Banks over the years. Even if

you could swim, we were told, the weeds would entangle you and drag you under. A tale obviously meant to put the shits up adventurous boys and it certainly worked for me. Mind you, another incentive was the bloody creepy Public Information film of the time. It began with a sinister voice, I am the spirit of dark and lonely water. Youd see this hooded figure, like a cowled monk, lurking behind some daft kid hanging over the water, one hand gripping a decidedly dodgy-looking tree branch while the other used a stick to try and get the football which was bobbing enticingly about two foot from the shore. Close-up on the kids hand slipping on the bark of the branch, then splash! Then another couple of poor losers meeting a watery end. Right at the end, some cockney kids with the acting ability of a paraplegic Roger Moore shout Ere, look, theres sam-one in the wort-er! and rush to save the drowning kid. Creepy robe-dude dissolves and his black cloak collapses into the water to his dying words of Ill be back, back, back... If I saw that ad before bed-time Id be shitting myself. So scary was this ad I told my own kids about it years later. Then one night only last year Channel 4 or 5 did one of those 100 Greatest shows, and this one was about Public Information Films. There it was, the Spirit of Dark and Lonely water. My kids were impressed. My daughter Daisy held her breath throughout and then announced, Fuck. You werent joking, Dad. So we did, despite being small, treat that deep water with the respect it deserved. Not in winter, though. The lakes would freeze completely over, and on these occasions we would completely ignore the parental warnings and wander right out to the middle of the lake. Often the ice would creak and groan, scaring us half to death, and once or twice even begin to crack, prompting a hasty retreat to shore. But we always went back for more. This is one of those childish activities which makes me cringe now. If I ever thought my own kids were doing it, Id go apeshit. Building dens was a blissful Sandy Banks activity that other kids always seemed to be better at than us. There was an area off to the west, now part of an industrial estate, that we called the Rabbit Warren. It was full of deep, soft sand that was really easy to dig out, so youd construct whole trench systems down there. Again, there were scary parental warnings, based on fact, that several kids had been killed when such constructions collapsed on top of them and suffocated them, but I dont recall it ever putting us off. The best we ever managed was to dig a big hole which wed then cover over with old corrugated sheets, sand and undergrowth as camouflage, but some gangs managed elaborate constructions with trapdoors and homemade tables and chairs and dog-eared copies of Mayfair inside that had us drooling with envy. These dens or gang-huts never lasted for long. Youd leave them for a couple of days and other kids always found and wrecked them. Another couple of memories associated with Sandy Banks. Once, on the dirt path leading to the entrance, in a clump of grass, me and Neil found a huge, rotting animals head. I dont know if it was a cow or a horse, but it was foul. How the hell it got there I dont know.

Another time, we were playing at Neils, (right near the entrance to Sandy Banks remember), and a neighbour, a woman, came knocking at the door asking for John, who was Neils dad. Well, he wasnt, but we didnt know that back then, and its by the by. John Donaldson used to be a copper so the neighbour assumed he had some knowledge of First-Aid. Apparently, two lads a bit older than us had been attempting to climb the fence into the school field. One of them had slipped on the top and hurt himself. Come quick, invited the neighbour breathlessly, Theres a lot of blood. She gave we two curious and staring boys a quick glance, as if weighing up propriety over urgency, then her voice dropped and she told John, Its his penis. She pronounced it pear-nis. She could have pronounced it yabadabafuckingdoo because we had no idea what she was talking about. I got back home and told my Mam, then asked her what a pear-nis was. Give her her due, she didnt duck the question and tell me to ask my Dad. Instead a look crossed her face like someone had farted then she told me, Its a posh word for your sparrah.. I never did find out what happened to that poor lad. I should have gone to check whether his knob was hanging bloodily on the barbed wire atop the school fence. I could have sellotaped it to my Action Man. Never mind the Vickers machine-gun, he could have clubbed a horde of Japs to death with his mighty wanger. Saxons are yellow, Romans are red. School Sports Days. I was never a sporty kid, but this didnt actually become really apparent until secondary school, and then it was more to do with a lack of inclination rather than ability. At Juniors, I wasnt a bad runner, as long as it was a sprint. Owt over a hundred yards and I got too knackered. These days, mind, I couldnt run a hundred yards if you set me on fire and put a bucket of water at yon end. I did take part in a few Sports Days in this capacity though, as well as in the Relay Races. We were divided into four houses for purposes of competitions. There were the Romans (red), the Saxons (yellow), the Normans (green) and the Vikings (blue). Its a strange memory to remain so embedded but I clearly remember what school houses my mates were in. Me and Neil Donaldson were Saxons, Mark Dawson and Darryl Eddy were Romans, Paolo was a Norman and the Kean twins were Vikings. Why the hell I should remember that I dont know. Darryl, or Daz, Eddy was an interesting pal to have. For a start, he became my partner in piggyback fights and was almost as good as the aforementioned Ady White, or Tank. In our eyes, Daz got special privileges at school. He didnt have to go into Assembly. This is because he and his two brothers Shay and Delville, a year above and below us respectively, were Jehovahs Witnesses. (You have Jehovahs Bystanders in Middlesbrough. They witness fuck all. Thanks, Chubby). He told us they didnt celebrate Christmas at their house. This seemed an impossible hardship, but Daz told us they did have a Present Day. Something to do with not believing December 25th was Jesuss birthday, I think. I remember musing that if the

Jehovahs Witnesses thought the rest of us were actually celebrating Jesuss birthday, theyd got the wrong end of the stick. There was certainly no Jesus in our house, though I do recall my Dad shouting down the toilet for him occasionally, usually when theyd been out on a Saturday night. Its tempting to assume that a lad from such a religious family might have been a bit of a geek, but Daz was great. He had a wicked sense of humour and a great roaring laugh. Daz and me were to become much closer mates when we hit secondary school, but Ill tell you about that later. By now, my last year at juniors, 1973, I was old enough to be allowed out in the evenings on my own. The gang of us would always be at one of our houses, either playing board games, listening to music or watching the telly. Mark Dawson, Doey, lived up on Fotherby Road, just round the corner from my Auntie Lynn. Doeys dad was either a Geordie or a Maccam, though in 70s Scunthorpe the distinction between someone from Newcastle or Sunderland meant nothing, the whole area was as foreign as Outer Mongolia to us. Doey had a brother a year younger than us called Willie (and, much later, another brother called David). Willie was always trying to wheedle his way into our older company, but Doey would have none of it. He was always getting told off by his Mam for this. He also had a dog called Jess, a little black-and-white thing. Jess had torn the word cute out of its canine dictionary, wiped its arse with it and then ate it. Jess was one of those spawns of Satan who had no problem about a stranger entering the house but would throw a major fucking wobbler the minute you tried to leave. I think all of us were bitten by that little bastard over the years. Paolo Gatti lived just round the corner, on Kirkby Road, just across from my Auntie Lynn. His dad was Italian. No shit, with a name like that? Actually, in English his name means Paul Cats. He had an older sister, Marina, two or three years older than us, who I had the occasional crush on, and a much younger brother, Antonio, who was little more than a baby when we were still at juniors. (Im using the past tense here, because Im recounting childhood memories, but all the people Im talking about are still alive and well) I got to know his Dad Lou quite well in later years but as a small child found him a little intimidating. We were in Paolos front garden once when his Dad opened the window and grunted at me, WhereisPallo? all in one word. It was the first time Id heard him speak and I could barely bloody understand him. Have to jump forward again here, lest I forget this. Five or six years later, Paolo and I were studying for our O Level Italian (O Levels were the precursor to GCSEs). We used to go to this night class in a primary school on Frodingham Road, in the town. His Dad would come and pick us up afterwards in his old Hillman Imp. One winters night, he forgot to put the car lights on as we pulled away down the road. We were pulled over by a police car who pointed this lack of lights out. When Paolos dad began to speak, the copper asked him if hed been drinking. He replied, No, I ama Italian. Me and Paolo, and the copper, cracked up. When I wasnt out playing with the usual gang, Id be up at Stuart Grahams. He lived up on Brocklesby Road, twenty minutes walk away. You remember him, the diabetic smarty-pants who always pipped me to the post every year in the school swot stakes.

His dad was Irish. Shit, thinking about it, I was the only true-blood amongst them. I was at the very least a 2rd generation Scunthonian and the others were all bloody foreigners Neils dad a Jock, Paolos a Wop, Stuarts a Paddy, Doeys a bloody Geordie and the Keans a Yorkie get! What was I doing hanging round with these halfbreeds?! Wed sit for hours in Stuarts bedroom. We could be different together than we were in our more usual peer groups. Stuart was really into science. It was here that I pored for hours over his vast geeky collection of science mags. For the first time I learned all the details of the Apollo space missions and the moon landings, a year or so after theyd occurred, staring fascinated at all the black-and-white photographs of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and the Lunar Module on the surface. Stuart was into different music too. Most of us were into the mainstream stuff like David Essex, Leo Sayer, Mud, Slade, Donny Osmond and Gary Glitter. At Stuarts though, I would listen to Sparks remember them? Two weird guys, especially the tall streak of piss on the keyboard, who would stand stock still and just roll his eyes above his porno tash. Rick Wakeman, too, some L.P. about King Arthur. He also had Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, infamous to us as the source of the theme music to The Exorcist. We hadnt seen this film, of course. In those days there was no way a kid could get to see an 18, or an X as they called them then. No videos or d.v.d.s remember, and as a kid you couldnt get in the pictures unless you were 18. Actually, Ive just realised Im jumping ahead a little. The Exorcist wasnt made until 1975 if I remember correctly, so wed be at secondary school by then. Just shows how confusing memory is. One album Stuart and I definitely listened to while still at juniors, though, much to our hilarity and sexual fascination, was the soundtrack from Hair, the outrageous hippy musical. Wed rock with delight at the graphic lyrics such as Masturbation can be fun, Join the Holy Orgy Everyone! See. Id think, It is alright. Actually, there was no need for such thoughts. The tales about kids being warned that self-abuse would make them go blind or sap their moral fibre or make the palms of their hands hairy wasnt an experience I ever had. Such activities just werent mentioned, at home or at school. We didnt even discuss it amongst us kids. I was about 17 before I ever knew that other lads did it. And then I discovered every bastard did it! I didnt know whether to be relieved that I was normal or disappointed that I wasnt unique! Jumping ahead again, though, I recall one night in a pub in early 1980. I was in Hendon, North London, having joined the Metropolitan Police Force. I was drinking with a bunch of lads when we made some remark about a rather attractive lady who had just walked past and there was a ribald remark made about how she would be someones wank-fantasy that night. With a genuine sincerity, one of our number worriedly asked, You dont do that, do you? Its a sin. For once, that wisecracking, mutually piss-taking bunch of young men were rendered speechless. In the 28 years since that day I have never met someone who claims not to interfere with themself like that bloke did. He must be dead by now, hell have burst.. There were other words in that particular song from the Hair album that sounded deliciously disgusting to me and Stuart, even though we didnt understand them.

Fellatio. Cunnilingus. Pederasty. Despite innocently asking my Mam about such things as a pear-nis and the strange cylindrical objects in the airing cupboard, I wasnt that bloody daft. So it was back to the big dictionary in Riddings Library. Wished we hadnt. If snogging was a repulsive practice to a 6 year old lad, imagine what discovering the meaning of cunnilingus did to an 11 year old. I never ate cockles again. It was at Stuarts one day, while poring over his copy of 2000 A.D., that we had the conversation about where wed be in the year 2000. I worked out that wed be a mindboggling 39 years old. God, it seemed so far, far away in an impossibly distant future. Eeh I already told you about our teacher Mrs Humphries giving me and Stuart a telly each, two faulty black-and-white monstrosities. Though me and my Dad had had to take mine to my Grandmas for her fella Les to look over, Stuart had actually fixed his himself. Encouraged by his dad, he was always pottering about with various bits of electrical junk and a soldering iron. Thered be boxes of multicoloured wires and old glass t.v. and radio valves cluttering up his room. I greatly admired this ability, though never enough to bother to learn about it myself. I think the memory of Less blurted Bastard! as he nearly made himself into Kentucky Fried Chicken might have had something to do with it. Another schoolpal whose house I sometimes visited was, surprisingly for those days, a girls. Ann Holland lived up on Barnetby Road, ten minutes walk from our junior school. Ive already told you about my cowboy-rescue-her-from-Indians-fantasy about her. I remember playing quite a few times up there. A strange visual recollection is that her mam had one of those plastic things you hung over your kitchen door to keep the flies out. Long strips of coloured plastic that you always got tangled in if you went through too fast. The summer holidays before entering our last year at juniors, so this would be the summer of 1972, I spent a lot of time playing out with Ann and a couple of others. The identity of the others now escapes me, but this doesnt surprise me, as that summer I was hopelessly in love with Ann. I kept this to myself, of course, ten year old boys are not noticeably demonstrative about such things and I certainly wasnt. But I mooned over her all that summer. Donny Osmond hit number 1 around this time with Puppy Love, and I would listen to it on the old Top 40 every Sunday teatime, just after the bath, and sigh with unrequited love. Puppy Love is an awful, awful, cheesy song, but every time I hear it I am transported back to that summer. Its one of my fondest memories. Less than two years ago I shared this memory with Ann and we both laughed about it. Bollocks, I thought, I expected her to say Oh darling why didnt you tell me?! All these years wasted, lets run away to Barbados together.. Ive always been a little sentimental with this memory. I think the reason that its so special to me is not only that it was my first love, but it was at a sufficiently tender age to be totally innocent and untainted by physical lust. Sigh. Alright, reader. Theyre my memoirs. Get a sick-bucket. . Tell you how special a memory it is. Since we turned 21, (Ann is four days older than me), I dont think Ive ever failed to send her a birthday card, not once. And Ive even forgotten my poor Mums birthday on more than one occasion!

Me: Oh yeah, Mam, Ive never forgotten Anns birthday cos its on Halloween, thats why. Mam: Aye, and mines on New Years Eve, you little shit. Me: Fuck. Me and Neil Donaldson spent a great deal of time together during these years. Even when the whole gang wasnt out, we were usually together. I clearly remember the very first time I met his mum, Mary. By this time in my life I had already developed my lifelong tendency to show off and try to make people laugh. As a small boy, this usually manifested itself in the form of pretending to be an even smaller child and talking in a real babyish voice. Mates thought it hilarious, but my Mum didnt like it. She once witnessed me acting this way while playing with Michael and Colin from across the road, who thought it was great fun, but my Mum said I was letting them take the mickey out of me. I didnt care. Anyway, Neil would often join in these childish roleplaying games. The first time I met his Mum, she was in the kitchen at his house and I was lurking near the back door. Her activity had already grabbed my attention she was skinning a rabbit, something Id never seen before. I watched with part horror, part fascination as she chopped the feet off, pulled the skin like a jumper over its head, then cut the head off. Neil was trying to get me to do this silly voice but I was wary in front of an adult, mind on my own Mums reaction to it. Neil went on so much though that I tried a tentative Im shy.. in this pathetic voice, whereupon his Mum burst out laughing in genuine enjoyment. After that we got on like a house on fire. Id be round his house as much as hed be round mine. Neil had two brothers; Mark, five years older than us, and a baby brother Ian. His dad was a Scots fella called John. We didnt see a great deal of his dad but his mum was always there. Wed spend hours in his bedroom playing with either our Action Men or our Airfix soldiers. Once, we got hold of this enormous, old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. We spent hours recording a collection of childish voices and silly routines onto tape. We thought we were the bees knees. I can still remember the title of one of the impromptu songs we made up. It was called Joe the Shitpot Man. And what did this Joe do? He did a bob on the floor. Eat your heart out, Morecambe and Wise. Neils mum Mary was, and still is, a genuine eccentric, though I use that phrase in the fondest possible way. She was heavily into the books of Dennis Wheatley and all kinds of Black Magic. I dont mean she was a practitioner, just an aficionado. She used to tell us all sorts of horrifying tales. One was about something called Masuni Dolls (dont know if I spelt that right), which were some sort of voodoo dolls that witches would stick pins in to make you die. Often, when she told us these tales, Neil would eagerly interrupt and tell parts himself, evidence that his Mam had told him all this stuff before. I was always torn between my utter fascination and wishing to avoid squelching home with pants full of kack. Once I got so visibly alarmed that Mary reassured me that Masuni Dolls only worked if the victim believed in them, which gave me a measure of relief, as I told myself it was all a load of rubbish. If Id been more advanced in my cognitive processes, Id have realised that the very fact I was

scared stiff meant I had believed it! Thank God Mary and my Granny never got together. Manby Road hill would have been positively running with shite. When it was time for me to go home, though, Marys tales would backfire on her a little. Ive already told you that Neil lived in the end house of Wragby Road. This end of the long street was a dead end for cars, you could only drive in and out by the far end. At his end, connecting with Enderby Road, my route home, was an alley, or a snicket as we call it in Scunthorpe. (This is a strange word. They certainly dont use it in Teesside where I live. Manys the puzzled glance Ive got when using the word snicket). The snicket was about 70 or 80 yards long. It was bordered on one side by the front gardens of houses, on the other, scarily next to the path, the high hedge which ran round the grounds of Riddings Comprehensive School. It was dimly-lit at night, and far too scary for a boy of my excessive imagination. It is to Marys credit that for years she uncomplainingly walked me through to my end of that snicket because I darent walk through on my own. Eventually, in the spirit of encouraging me to become independent, she stopped. She was being cruel to be kind, I suppose. Please, just walk me halfway through. For Gods sake Mark! Youre twenty-bloody-three! Across the road from Neil lived the Mathesons. There was a girl of around our age, called, I think, Denise. In teenage years she would become an object of much lust to my raging hormones. She had a brother called Billy, a year younger than us. (Which reminds me of the playground rhyme: My Brother Billy had a ten foot willy, And he showed it to the girl next door. She thought it was a snake, Hit it with a rake, and now its only four foot four.) Billy was a little bugger. He would sometimes play with us, and one of his favourite activities would get him locked up nowadays. He would spy an adult woman walking up the street, or emerging from walking the dog in Sandy Banks. Rubbing his hands in glee he was only 9 or 10, by the way he would run up to them and grab a handful of tit, before legging it, cackling, pursued by either screams or a tirade of unladylike abuse. We spectators were gobsmacked but highly delighted. The sheer balls of such an act deserved mucho respect, even if we thought he was a pervy little fink. Once Neils dad kept this dilapidated car in their yard. We were playing in it when Neil accidentally slammed the door on Billys finger. Billy, as you can imagine, screamed his head off. This was the first time I encountered Billys mam, who came running across the road to investigate. Her wrath when she discovered what had happened was a wonder to behold. She was Scottish, Glaswegian I wouldnt be surprised to learn. The rage on her, and the language. She could have been Lifetime President of the Dustbinmen and Fire Brigade Pottymouth Society, no doubt about it at all. And she was furious at Neil, accusing him of destroying poor screaming Billys finger on purpose. Flustered Mary had to come out and prevent her son being brutally slain by the Glaswegian Mafia, while I stood to one side enjoying every second. Billy was one of those kids, born and bred in Scunthorpe, who would have one accent for his mates and another for his Mam. Right in front of us, if he was addressing his Mam, he would have a Scots accent. Bizarre. I had another mate like this, a year or

two down the line. His name was John Kilmartin, or Killer. His mam was another bloody Geordie. Killer was pure Scunthorpe, but hed march into their kitchen and demand, Howay Mam man, givuss a biscuit. His mam used to scare me. If I went to his house on a Saturday afternoon, shed be esconsed on the setee watching the wrestling, you know, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Mick MacMichael and their ilk, not those gobby American poufdahs they have these days. And his Mam thought it was real. Shed be screaming at the telly, Gan on man! Rip his fuckin heed off! Next door to Neil lived my Mams auntie and uncle, Norma and Eric, our former partners in our holidays to Blackpool. Norma was, is, my Grannys sister. Their youngest son, Ian, was only a few years older than me, so I remember him from school, where he went by the nickname of Ebby (their surname was Ebbatson). As a kid, I would sometimes be dragged down to Uncle Erics and Auntie Normas. It wasnt bad, as Neil lived next door, so sometimes I could escape if my Mum wasnt in one of her Youre visiting so youll bloody well sit there frames of mind. My principal memory of Norma is not a very flattering one. I seem to remember she could talk for England, she would go on and on and bloody on. Again, the memory thing, I can clearly hear her voice in my head. Eric, I found in later years to be quite an interesting character. He served in the Royal Navy during the 2nd World War. He once told me that, on D-Day, he was part of the crew of a landing-craft, taking American troops ashore in the battle. He told me a tragic tale of how the sloppy Yanks had not secured their automatically-inflating lifejackets in the correct fashion, so when some of them jumped into the neck-high water, these jackets would inflate around their knees, tip them upside down whereby they helplessly drowned before even getting to the beach. Me and Neil, as lots of best friends do, would often fall out over something daft. It would be forgotten about the next day though. This set of circumstances leads to a particularly guilty memory for me, though. Once, I was childishly pissed off at him over some trivial thing the day before, when he turned up at my house. Still in a sulk, I wouldnt go to the door. Instead, I hung out the window and told him I wasnt playing out. Why not? he wanted to know. I cant be arsed. I told him, using with a certain relish the phrase hed introduced me to when he wouldnt go to my Grannys that day. Neil shrugged and walked off. I found out the very next day that his parents had just split up and his Dad had left. Even so young, I felt a royal shit. That was one of the major differences in our personalities. If the situation had been reversed on that day, shameless me would have used every emotional crowbar I could, Id have certainly told him what had happened at home. But Neil had this stubborn pride, and hed have bitten his tongue off rather than get me to come out by playing the sympathy card. Another curious aspect of Neils personality when we were still young was that he had

this different voice when he spoke to adults. It was deeper and more confident. It was like he only allowed himself to be a child when he was with other children. I would often take the piss, in a matey way, but it genuinely puzzled me. Having known him now for more than forty years, I know there was nothing pretentious about this, its just how he is. Blindfold me, let me sniff it and Ill tell you whose it is.. One thing I noticed when I was a kid was that everyones house had its own smell. These were so distinct that you could have blindfolded me, taken me inside and I would have been able to tell you where I was. As proof of this outrageous claim, some kid once mucked about with our P.E. bags in the changing room at junior school, and our kit got mixed up. This wasnt discovered until I got home and my mam unpacked my bag. Amongst the bits of kit that werent mine was a solitary sock. I took one whiff of it and announced, Thats the Keanys. Mum didnt believe me, but my Dad got in touch with the Kean family (cant help wondering how, we didnt have a phone back then), and it turned out that I did indeed have some of their kit, and some of mine had turned up in their bags. Their dad Joe turned up at our house. None of us kids realised that Joe and my Dad actually knew each other, theyd worked on the steelworks together, but hadnt seen each other for ages. As Joe walked into the dining-room he clocked my Dad and went Eeeh, ello Terry! Bloody ell!, went my Dad, Now then Joe! I remember recounting this story the next day to Chris Kean, who found it particularly amusing for some reason. Probably the way I hammed it up. Another difference between some mates houses and my own. It was always open house at ours. Often one of my or my sisters mates would turn up just before, or during tea. My parents had no problem about them sitting there and nattering to us while we ate. If they hadnt eaten theyd be often invited to sit down and join in. But some mates mums and dads were very sniffy about such an arrangement. You cant come in, were about to have our tea. If you were lucky youd be allowed to sit outside on the wall and wait. I cant remember any specific kids whose parents were like this, but there were one or two. Maybe its my inherent inverted snobbery warping my memories, but it seemed to me more likely if it was a posh kids house, you know, them with a mortgage, flash car outside and sod all in the fridge. It just seemed a bit bizarre and petty to me. Like I said, anyone was welcome at our house. In fact, I seem to remember that wed eat tea nearly every night with Doe, from across the road, sat watching us, she was always at our house nattering to my Mam. I dont remember having that many privileges as the oldest child in our family. There was one, though, and it was a major one. Mum or Dad would announce it was bedtime and me and my sisters would then troop off to bed. I had my own room, a little bedroom which I slept in through my entire childhood up to leaving home at eighteen. My sisters shared a larger bedroom next door. Quite often, when my sisters had fallen silent, and if there was Morecambe and Wise or a Carry-On film on the telly, I would hear surreptitious scuffling on the stairs, then as I looked out of bed across the landing, where I could see the top of the stairs, my Dads head would appear. Hed give me a conspiratorial beckoning of the head, which meant

I was allowed to tiptoe down after him and sit and watch the telly with him and my Mam. That was great. I blew it once though, big style. I forgot that my sisters werent supposed to know about this arrangement. We were all in front of the telly one Saturday evening when an advert announced that a Carry On Film was on later that night. Orrr great! Can I come down and watch it? No. Its on too late. I slammed myself back against the setee in a monstrous sulk. My Dad leaned forward, put his hand on my arm and started to whisper something. I jerked away in a strop. Mistake. Right, bugger yer. I was about to tell yer you can sneak down and watch it later on, but you bloody cant now. I begged and pleaded, but he stuck to his guns. That was a painful lesson, that one. Carry On movies, though. I used to love em. I cringe with embarrassment at admitting that now. Ive tried once or twice to watch them over the years, just for nostalgia value, but theyre unbearable. Oooh, may-tron! And ridiculous doubleentendres, like the Burkah chieftain in Up the Khyber, Bungditin. Just not funny now, not at all. I did sneak a peek at Carry On Constable the other week. That was worth a look just for the black-and-white street scenes of early sixties London, the cars, the shop-fronts. A moving snapshot of times gone by. But so childishly unfunny as to make me cringe. Its not just a passing of time thing, either, or that humour has grown much more sophisticated. Some stuff never ages. Look at Laurel and Hardy. Thirty years earlier than Carry On movies and just as funny and refreshing today as they ever were. I also adore those old Doctor movies with Dirk Bogarde, James Robertson Justice and Kenneth More. They never seem jaded or past their sell-by date. So why has Carry-On become such an embarrassing anachronism? Answers on a postcard to: What the fuck is Mark going on about now? Competition, The Smackheads Inn, Middlesbrough.. Im getting close to the end of my memories of the first eleven years of my life. Were fast approaching, with a drum roll, the major event the move down to the Big school, in our case, Riddings Comprehensive, only a hundred yards from our front door. Just before the summer holidays of 1973, we were taken down to the Comprehensive for a visit. I dont know about my peers, but I looked forward to the big school with a certain trepidation. Certain tales had emerged, one in particular about how the fifth years welcomed the little first years by flushing their heads down the toilet. We were given a walking tour around the school, watched curiously, and often contemptuously, by the older kids in their senior school uniforms. I felt so tiny in comparison. How was I going to cope here? At the Junior school, by the end of my fourth year Id found my niche as not just a gifted pupil, but as a popular boy amongst my peers, mainly for my ability to make them laugh. It was painfully evident that I was about to end my time as a big fish in a small pond and become a tadpole in a lake full of pirhanas. How did I get on?.. Watch

this space. (Rogues Gallery below)

Hope youve enjoyed my ramblings. Copyright: Mark Watkins 2008