I was thinking back to my time attending youth clubs at the end of the 1960s and I was torn between some wonderful memories and some that were not as good as they should have been. Apparently I was on the St Edmund’s Youth Club Committee 1967-8 (Thanks, Carole, for reminding me) and similarly to Lidgett Methodist Youth Club, they organised several social and educational events for members.
One of these I have very fond memories of, and that was a hike along the River Wharfe that ended with a BBQ at a farm. It was one of those days when everything comes together to make it so memorable. Maybe it wasn’t for others, but it was for me. It was mid-summer, the weather was beautiful, hot and sunny. The walk started at Collingham and followed the River Wharfe past Netherby to just past the A61 where it ended at a farm. I don’t remember it as a big event, just St Edmund’s members and I believe we started at about midday and walked along the bank of the river. This part of the Wharfe is slow-moving and apparently a good fishing area but, as you will know, if you have read about my angling adventures, I never caught anything there. We ambled along, a group of maybe twenty to thirty teenagers and three or four leaders, listening to the sound of the river and the birds. Spirits were high and boys’ shirts were removed to catch a tan from the strong sunlight. There was chatter, laughter and good humour. We didn’t go in the river, but we lay on the banks taking in the sun, the sounds and the smells. I now know that part of the smell was the Himalayan Balsam plant. These are introduced and very invasive weeds, but as a youngster I loved them because of their seed pods. The pods are pendulous, almost lantern shaped and when ripe they burst open and fire seeds out in all directions, when touched. Unfortunately that makes them very addictive and we spent a lot of time touching the pods to get them to burst open and thus helping to spread the weed. Nothing particularly happened apart from good fellowship, laughter and a sense of joy of being young and the world being in front of us. As the day wore on we flagged a little under the heat, but at the right time we arrived at our destination. We were greeted with the smell of a BBQ and quickly devoured the food on offer as only hungry teenagers can. Eventually we were taken home in a variety of cars and it has stayed with me as one of those halcyon experiences that is etched into my memory.
Unfortunately my second experience was nothing like as pleasant. For some reason a day’s excursion was planned by one of the youth clubs. I think it was the Lidgett one and it was another whole of Leeds event. A train was privately hired to take hordes of teenagers to Blackpool for the day and bring them back at night. A disco was to be provided on the train in an empty carriage on the way back. I am not sure if we had to meet at the club or at the station, but I do know that a number of double-decker buses took us back late at night. We arrived on the train, excited, and our group all sat together. There were quite a few of us. I know Peter, guitarist, was there as were a number of girls we hung around with from Alwoodley as well as boys and girls from the Roundhay Schools. Our group had about twelve people in it and we were really looking forward to the day. The train was fairly packed and it was very different to the ones that you get nowadays. There was a refreshment bar, but it was very basic and served only chocolate bars and soft drinks. The carriage for the disco was more basic. It was obviously used for cargo and rough and ready and wouldn’t accommodate all the kids on the train. The journey to Blackpool was fairly uneventful and when we arrived we basically split up into our groups and wandered off to explore Blackpool. The age range was probably from about twelve years up to seventeen and duty of care was very different to how it would be today. I seem to remember our group saying goodbye to the leaders, times to meet up at the end being confirmed and then we were on our own.
Our first destination was the Pleasure Beach. Blackpool was famous for it and we wanted to make the most of our time. The park was large and we headed for the rollercoaster. I think the one we went on was called the Wild Mouse. It was a straightforward twisting, turning, speeding and slowing ride, unlike some of the modern ones that take you through tunnels, turn upside down and then do it all again backwards. It was the usual thrill and left you feeling a little queasy at the end. There was another called the Grand National, but I didn’t go on that one as it looked too high and fast for me. The next stop was the Haunted House. It was the only time I have been in one and it wasn’t scary, but a bit disorientating. I think it might have been a Pirate Ship rather than a typical haunted house. You walked on floors made of rollers, there were rooms of mirrors, some that made you appear tall and thin and others short and fat. It was quite tame but fun.
We walked, talked and probably smoked our way around and then we headed to the beach. Candy floss and ice creams filled a need and the day passed enjoyably, but a little aimlessly towards the end. Money was always an issue and it limited the things we could do. I remember fish and chips and a walk on the pier ended the visit and it was beginning to get dark when we arrived back at the station for the return trip. These were the times of Skin Heads, Rockers and general teenage angst and anger, and there was a definite change to the atmosphere as we all got back on the train. I suspect alcohol had a part to play and, before we had travelled far, the disco started. It was basically a record deck set in the corner of an empty carriage with a few coloured lights. I wandered down to see what it was like to find that all hell had broken out. Groups of boys were fighting and the poor man trying to play the records was starting to panic. Tribal rivalry between clubs grew and as I walked back to where our group was I passed fights spilling into other carriages. The leaders were heavily outnumbered and were struggling to maintain control, as were the train guards. After a while things settled and we hadn’t too long to go. At one point someone pulled the communication chord and the train came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. It was dark and we were all tired. We had managed to keep out of trouble and just sat in our places and groups of angry boys moved up and down through the carriages searching for specific people to settle scores with, or just someone looking at them the wrong way. The train got going again and everyone was told to take their seats and stay in them. This worked for a while and eventually we arrived in Leeds Station. With relief we poured out, but still the trouble continued with melees as large numbers tried to find the correct buses that were taking us back to the clubs.
We found our double-decker and we sat as a group downstairs. There was a collective sigh of relief as the train had been a very frightening place. The bus had to go on a round trip to three or four clubs, so it would take quite a while to get back. Suddenly there were cries and the sound of heavy footfalls from the deck above. The fighting had started again. The leaders went up to try and sort things out and I think they were very brave to do so. Things calmed down with their intervention and then we arrived at one of the clubs and their members came down the stairs like wild animals, still carrying on their arguments. With their departure there was a complete change. A calm descended and we headed over to Alwoodley and dropped off their members and the bus then just had the Roundhay kids and at about midnight we were able to get off. Some of us got off at Oakwood as that saved us a long walk. I can honestly say that I have never been so grateful to have got back from a trip. It was frightening what large numbers of young, boys in those days, could get up to. I was never aware of another such excursion and I can’t say that I was surprised.
A more dramatic track for turbulent times.