When I finished writing my recent article about the role the small Leicestershire village of Barkby played in shaping me into the person that I am today, I realised that there were many anecdotes that I had not recounted. It’s now time to rectify that.
As before I’ve tried to set these down here in some loose categories to try and impose some order on what could otherwise come across as the random ramblings of an old man …
High days …
As my brother and I attended a Church of England controlled school, the highlight of our year was always the Nativity play and carol concert. This took place in the village hall and was attended by our adoring mums.
One year, for reasons I have never fully understood, I was cast as a Roman centurion in the Nativity scene. My mum rustled up a costume – a gymslip for the tunic and a knitted jumper sprayed with silver paint for the breastplate – and my dad, who was big in amateur dramatics, arranged for a contact in the props department to make me a sword to complete the costume.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line my dad’s design brief must have got garbled and I was presented with what can only be described as a cutlass that would have looked more at home in Pirates of the Caribbean than in first-century Judea.
Had my school had awards for our annual production, I would almost certainly have got an Oscar for most inappropriately dressed extra in the stable.
As it was, my mum thought I was the star of the show.
… and holidays
My first recollection of a summer holiday doesn’t actually involve me going on holiday.
Each year in the late 50s and early 60s my brother and I were despatched to stay with my aunt and uncle who, with their daughter, lived with my grandmother in Harlesden in northwest London.
The first time this happened it was presented to me as a lovely chance to stay with granny and sample all the delights that northwest London had to offer. It didn’t take me long, though, to realise that, in fact, my aunt and uncle had booked a family caravan for a week in Dovercourt and it had been decided that I was too young to go with them, my brother and my cousin.
I remember being spoilt rotten by my gran the whole time, only occasionally thinking about what I was missing out on, and I cannot deny that I took some satisfaction when they returned with tales of a rain-lashed caravan site, a leaking caravan and soggy fish and chips!
I seem to remember that the same thing happened the following year, but thereafter there was no Dovercourt holiday and we spent many happy days being taken around the sights of London, equipped with our trusty Kodak Brownie 127.
The first holiday that I was actually included in was a week in a caravan at East Runton in Norfolk. In those days, of course, the journey to the resort was all part of the adventure of the holiday.
We didn’t have a car, so my parents used British Railways’ “Passengers’ Luggage in Advance” service – a railway van arrived a few days before departure day and collected a large wicker hamper which contained all our clothes for the week and which we collected at the station at our destination.
Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t have any hilarious anecdotes of our luggage failing to arrive, condemning us to spend the whole week in the clothes that we stood up in.
In fact the problems invariably happened before we even set off from home. One year our dog, who was to be looked after by our neighbours, chose departure day to come into season and set off to seek a life of adventure in the nearby village. After a frantic bicycle chase, my dad was able to catch her and bring her, deeply disappointed, back home just in time to catch the bus to Syston station and start our holiday.
The next year it was me who provided the excitement. I was cycling home through the drizzle from my newspaper round when, as I passed under an overhanging tree, I was struck in the eye by a raindrop which contained an understandably angry bee. I’ve always had a mildly allergic reaction to stings and by the time I got home one half of my face was swollen up and I resembled Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
There followed a few moments of panic as my mum tried to remember whether it was milk or vinegar that was used to treat stings. In the end I suspect that she played safe and used both. Clearly one of them worked as we were soon able to set off on a great holiday with my face only mildly swollen.
The following year it was my brother’s turn – he managed to develop raging toothache at the start of the holiday which resulted in us spending most of the Monday traipsing round Sheringham trying to find a dentist.
Over the years we stayed in caravans at West Runton, East Runton, Sheringham and, to this day the epitome of an English holiday resort, Cromer.
They were all great holidays but in time we got more adventurous and went to more exotic holiday destinations like Mablethorpe, Cleethorpes and Ingoldmells.
Happy days. Although looking at the photos now, I suspect that, towards the end, I really didn’t want to be there!
In 1967, I was lucky enough to go on a week’s school trip to our local authority’s Outward Bound Centre at Aberglaslyn Hall near Beddgelert, North Wales on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park.
I say “lucky” as it has to be admitted that spending a very cold week in February orienteering, rock climbing and ascending Snowdon on foot is not everyone’s idea of fun. I however, thought it was excellent – even including the morning when I found out what the term “cragfast” means.
Much later I went to a caravan site in Skegness with a couple of friends, one of whom, John, had a scooter. I too had a scooter and we had planned for John, Mick and me to spend a week at John’s grandmother’s caravan near Butlins.
Sadly, I wrote off my scooter (a rather nice grey and green Vespa GS150, registration NNH 113) a few days before we were due to set off. Undaunted, we decided that we would still go and planned that John would take Mick a few miles down the road and drop him off for him to try to thumb a lift. John would then return for me after which it was my turn to try for a lift while Mick was ferried another ten miles.
This leapfrogging, decades before the invention of sat nav and mobile phones, continued for hours and we were totally unsuccessful in getting a lift until the early hours of the following day when a van delivering the Sunday papers to the newsagents of Skegness took pity on us and took us all the way to Skegness Clock Tower.
We had a great week during which we discovered the Wild Mouse ride at Butlins, shandy and girls – although not all at the same time!
To this day, I have no idea how we got back home at the end of the week. I can only assume that a parent with a car took pity on us and collected us.
At the age of 13 I had two paper rounds – one in the morning and one in the evening. It wouldn’t be allowed today, of course! As the newsagent was a two-mile bike ride from home, it made for a long day. But, to this day, I have never had as much money to call my own!
The demands of secondary school – needing to do homework in the evening and be up early in the morning to catch the bus – meant that I had to give up the paper rounds, but I found that a local butcher was prepared to pay me almost as much for a Saturday morning, delivering orders from a traditional butcher’s bike.
I would like to report here that my exploits were later immortalised in a blockbuster film by the name of Confessions of a Butcher’s Boy, but sadly I would be lying. Instead, I was promoted to helping out in the shop, which in reality meant that I was the one who was despatched to the storage room across the yard to fetch bowls of bones and offal for customers to give to their dogs.
After a while I moved on from the butchers and got a Saturday job at a bakers. I started out washing utensils, mopping floors and cleaning ovens but after a while the boss asked me to help out with some of the preparation – weighing and mixing ingredients.
I seemingly didn’t make too much of a mess of that as he soon moved me on to actually making some of the bread, cakes and pies. Making bread and pastries is very satisfying: not only is there the satisfaction of creating something from scratch, but the taste of a custard tart straight from the oven is to die for!
My busiest time was the run-up to Christmas when I single-handedly made a couple of hundred dozen sausage rolls and a similar number of mince pies in a day. Funnily enough, I detested mince pies then and still do to this day.
… rest …
With my portfolio of jobs, there was little time for rest. In fact, the only time I can remember being inactive was in about 1957 when I spent a week in Leicester Royal Infirmary having an inguinal abscess lanced and repeatedly dressed. Somewhere there is newspaper photo of me looking very forlorn in a wheelchair being spoilt by the nurses of the children’s ward, but I have never been able to find it.
… and play
As might be expected of a country lad in the 1960s, I mostly made my own entertainment – exploring with my dog across the fields, climbing the nearby haystacks, and generally messing about by the brook at the bottom of our garden.
But occasionally I enjoyed more structured play. This was usually with my family at the Leicester Lido open-air swimming pool. (I feel bound to honour my dad’s memory by pointing out that it’s pronounced “Lee-Doe”, not “Lie-Doe” – he was very particular on this point, with the result that my brother and I were mercilessly mocked by our friends).
It’s long gone, of course, but I remember it being vast, with lawns all around and a large fountain that you could play in at the entrance, however it was almost certainly much smaller than I imagine.
Just down the road from the lido was the Leicester Trocadero which was one of the main entertainment venues at the time. I only went once, when my brother took me to see the Rolling Stones in March 1965.
I don’t recall much of it after all this time but, in addition to the Stones, I remember Dave Berry and Goldie and the Gingerbreads. Looking at the ticket now, I realise that the Hollies were also on the bill. They and Johnny Ball, who compered, must be devastated that their efforts were wasted on me.
All in all it wasn’t a bad introduction to live music, although it seems strange looking back that the audience wore ties and remained seated throughout the show.
Life wasn’t all an idyll back then, though, and I remember one evening when my parents and my brother were at the harvest festival dance in the village hall and I had been left in the care of the Italian family next door. Tony had first come to the village as a prisoner of war and had remained and started a family when peace broke out.
The evening started out as normal – he was sat in his favourite chair listening to Radio Rome on his newly-acquired mains radio which occupied pride of place on the mantlepiece; his wife was upstairs with the intention of getting an early night.
All of a sudden there was a crash, the lights went out, and what appeared to be a sheet of flame shot out of the radio set and scored a direct hit on Tony’s cap, which he had never been known to remove. This was accompanied by a blood-curdling scream from upstairs, delivered at the pitch and the volume that only an Italian lady of a certain age can deliver.
We had been struck by lightning!
Tony disappeared upstairs to calm his wife, leaving his kids and me in a state of trauma.
Fortunately the strike had been seen at the village hall half a mile away and the vicar quickly rounded up a rescue party, crammed them into his Humber Hawk and set off for our cottage.
Remarkably, although we were all shaken up, we were unharmed; in fact the only lasting effect, apart from Tony’s inability to listen to Radio Rome, or wear his cap again, was a black streak down the side of the cottage which has only faded away in recent years.
On another occasion, I remember setting off for the stream near the village with my brother to test out my new pair of wellingtons. All went well until the inevitable happened and water flooded over the top of the boots.
It must have been that the water soaked into my jeans and socks and the resulting swelling caused my feet to feel as if they were swelling up and as the boots were on the small side (although I hadn’t had the nerve to tell my mum) this caused me some considerable pain.
My brother helped me hobble back to the cottage and explain what had happened. I was laid on the kitchen table and my parents took it in turns to try and pull the boots off. Eventually my dad reached for the carving knife, which caused my mum to shout, “Don’t cut the boots – I haven’t started paying for them yet!”
… and excursions
Once a year my school would organise a day out by coach. This was usually a visit to Derbyshire to see the Treak Cliff, Blue John, Speedwell, and Peak Caverns and The Ladybower Reservoir. They were great days out, with a packed lunch and a bottle or two of pop, and I still have a couple of Blue John stones somewhere.
But when the new M1 motorway reached Crick near Leicester in 1959, it was decided that for a change we would go and experience this modern marvel for ourselves. And so we set off down the pristine motorway until we got near to Heathrow where we spent a happy couple of hours in the observation deck watching the landings and takeoffs before heading back home to boast about what we’d seen and done.
Looking back it seems strange that a school trip could consist of something as trivial as a run down the motorway and watching planes coming and going.
But, as I find myself saying with alarming frequency nowadays, it was a different world back then …
Part 1 of my recollections of growing up in Leicestershire can be found at A Leicestershire Lad
Jerry F 2023