Now, whilst my social life had taken over from any real attempt to learn anything at Roundhay School, there was more to it than just youth clubs. The regular meeting place was often the Oakwood Clock. The clock was made in 1904 by Potts and Sons and was designed by Leeming and Leeming (Strange that I now Live in the suburb of Leeming in Perth Western Australia.) for the Leeds Market, but due to alterations at the market it ended up at Oakwood. The clock tower originally had the road running right adjacent to it, before the road was relocated to its present position and crossroads. We used to meet there on the benches after school, later in the evening, before heading to the youth clubs or heading to parties. On some evenings we gathered and seemed to spend the whole night there. As I have said before, I was a smoker in these days and I thought I looked cool standing against one of the poles striking a match and a pose. It must have fooled some people, as I was quite popular with the girls.
One incident has stuck with me all my days since. For young readers, you may not know that matches were the most common form of lighting cigarettes and more common than the safety matches, where you had to strike them on the band on the box. This prevented them lighting by mistake. Non-safety matches had a sandpaper strip on the box and they could be lit by friction alone. Swan Vestas was a popular make and the name always intrigued me. To keep the story on task, these could be lit off a variety of surfaces and some were thought of as cool, at the time. The zip on your Levis was one such surface and a quick flick, flash and flare would impress anyone, and could also set your trousers alight if you snapped the match. I had tried this, but hadn’t really mastered it to the point where it didn’t just look weird. I was sitting on the bench below the clock awaiting friends to arrive. I decided to have a cigarette and struck the match on the bench itself. The first time it failed so I tried it again. You need to know that the bench was old, painted park green and the wood was uneven and split. Moving your bottom whilst sitting on it did often result in a nasty splinter through the seat of your pants. At this point you are probably guessing where this story is leading. The match was forcefully scratched against the wood, there was a flash, but then the match snapped and my finger came into contact with the wood. It slid forcefully in the direction of the strike, which was just right for a very large pointy, splinter of wood to stab my finger just below the nail of my index finger and continue well into the finger and, in fact, beyond the length of the nail, and hold my finger to the bench seat.
If you have ever hurt yourself in public then there appears to be a hierarchy of responses. The first is that all sound ceases, this is quickly followed by a warm flush that passes from below the waist to your head. The pain comes last, but is none the less for it. I realised very quickly why bamboo under the fingernails was a popular form of torture as I was in agony. I seem to remember jumping up in reflex, which was unfortunate as the splinter snapped off the bench and remained under my finger nail. The other reaction that seems to override all others is the question of whether anyone has seen you. Pride is such an important human quality and embarrassment is almost worse than pain. After trying to impress, the opposite had happened, but luckily for me it appeared no one had noticed the dancing youth under the clock, grasping his hand with tears in his eyes, stifling a scream.
I sat down and, despite not wanting to, had a look at what I had done. I was sitting there , cigarette on the ground, bench covered in the discarded matchbox and surrounded by unused matches. I looked at the finger and a spike of wood, half a pencil thick at the wide end protruded from my finger for half an inch. I had to do something and I knew what it was. The spell (Spelk in Scotland and North England from Old Norse Spellker.) had to come out. I didn’t want to do it, but the pain was increasing. I grabbed hold with my left hand and pulled. It didn’t want to come, but I knew I could only give it one try and so I gave it an almighty tug. I could feel it slip out, tugging at the flesh surrounding it as if it wanted to inflict as much pain as possible. I think the pain of extraction was worse than that of the insertion. I sobbed to myself, trying to keep the pain in. Somehow it went unnoticed. The wood was almost an inch long and the finger throbbed, but the initial agony began to subside. I thought that I had it all out, but I wasn’t sure. There was nothing else I could do, but gather my matches up, strike a match on the box and light a cigarette and moan to myself.
I clearly hadn’t extracted all the wood as over many years small slivers of wood would work their way out from beneath the nail and eventually allow me to get tweezers on them and pull the piece out. I think it took twenty years for all the wood to make its way out. You would have thought that I would have learnt from such a lesson, but unfortunately not and I continued to smoke until the age of 23.
Apart from the Oakwood Clock, the other meeting place was Pete’s cellar. As I have mentioned before, Peter lived at Harehills and his house had a cellar with an external entry. The cellar was only used to store coal in one room at the time and so Peter turned it into his lair, den or whatever word best describes it. He had some old furniture in it and it had power and we set about decorating it to meet the wants of teenagers in the 1960s. It had bare brick, distempered walls and Pete collected a range of partially used tins of paint. To ensure there was enough the paint was mixed together. Now I realise that there was a mixture of gloss paint and emulsion, but I didn’t know anything about painting and decorating. Pete’s parents didn’t seem to mind, as it hadn’t ever been used and we were clearing it out. The resulting paint colour was a streaky battleship grey and we set to with gusto. Eventually it was completed and we sat back and admired our handiwork. The fumes were strong so we quickly evacuated it and went out for the rest of the day. The following night we gathered to inspect the work. It looked ok, in a wild hippy bohemian way, but some parts had dried and others were still quite tacky. Time would dry it we thought. How wrong we were! Even after a couple of years clothes could be ruined if you brushed up against the walls. I can’t say we really cared, but eventually Peter’s father had the cellar renovated and turned into a flat. I hate to think what the workmen would have said to each other about our decorating.
Now we had Pete’s Pad, we had to furnish it. Pete’s stereo found a home there and to add to the ambience a couple of Harehills black and white, cast iron street signs appeared and then the obligatory flashing yellow roadwork lights. It looked fantastic. Some hanging fabric just gave it that little something. I think we even had a couple of Mateus Rose bottles with bulbs in them as lamps. The few of us present sat listening to the Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed, King Crimson and Led Zeppelin II. It was perfect. Peter went upstairs and collected whatever alcohol his parents had. There was some Schnapps and this was added to some wine and assorted spirits in a large bowl. The concoction was christened Rocket Fuel, for obvious reasons, as one mouthful nearly blew your head off. The night was a great success, even if our heads didn’t agree the next morning, and our clothes carried the painted stains as a reminder, it was the start of an important era in our lives.
By the way, we learnt to hate the flashing lights as you couldn’t turn them off, or at least we couldn’t and I think we returned them. Similar ones always seemed to be present at student parties wherever you went to one.
A trip down memory lane. This short journey takes you through my teenage haunts in the Moortown and Roundhay area of Leeds. Most of the shops have changed, I have changed, but the rest remains the same. Original music by David Cameron.