David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 – Cup of Tea Tales
- David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
- David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
As I have said before, I was in Mr Kelly’s Year 4 class and I am sure the class size was well into the forties. He was a middle-aged man, though all teachers seemed ancient to me. He wasn’t particularly tall, whereas Mr Wood,the deputy, was tall. Mr Kelly had yellow stains on the fingers of his right hand. I remember him being asked whether it was from smoking and he denied this. He claimed it was from cutting apples at lunch time. We were naïve then, but I don’t think any of us fell for that. His class was very orderly, and we sat in pairs in rows, all facing the front in a room with bare wooden floorboards and large windows down one side. The top windows could be opened only by using the long window pole that hooked onto a ring and allowed the top window to be pulled forward, hinged from the bottom, to let in air. Thick central heating pipes ran around the wall under the windows. Occasionally, he would be frustrated and I well remember his catchphrase, ‘Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us!’ I can only assume that he was a catholic.
At this time, we used dip pens. They were wooden, pencil-shaped handles with a metal band that a nib would slide into. They were not decorative, but were functional. There was a small porcelain pot that fitted into a hole in the top of each desk, and we could dip the pen into the pot. The ink was in the pots and was a dried ink that had to be dissolved in water. There were ink monitors then, and it was their task to make sure that inkwells were kept topped up. Blotting paper was supplied, but only in small squares. The paper would soak up excess ink on the page to avoid smudging when pages were turned or your hand brushed it. Some children had wonderful copybook writing, named after handwriting books where we would copy text from the line above. We had dotted third pages and used cursive handwriting. Stars were given for good work and we craved them and if the work was exceptional, a gold star might be the reward. There were star charts and charts for spelling and tables.
The pens did have other uses, and we loved to throw them like darts into the wooden floor. They would stick in and swing backwards and forwards on the long nib piercing the floorboard. Of course, we only did this when Mr Kelly was out of the room. The other joy was soaking blotting paper in ink, rolling it into a soggy ball and flicking it at other children in the class. We were a horrible lot! Now I know people claim girls’ pigtails used to be dipped in inkwells, but I have no memory of that.
Towards the end of this year, there was a major change to school, and that was the introduction of ball-point pens. These were coloured plastic affairs, streamlined, shaped to taper off at both ends and fatter in the middle. They made life simpler, but with the coming of progress, something was lost.
In the early sixties in Leeds, children either walked to and from school, or they caught a bus. There was none of the overindulged, fear-driven need for mummy to escort you to the door of the classroom in a four-wheel-drive vehicle built to withstand a nuclear attack and the size of a tank. No one demanded half an hour of the teacher’s time, whilst everyone else waited for lessons to start, ensuring that their child’s specific needs were being met. There was no cross-examination at the end of the day to check that no one had been mean to you. (You see, the effect a lifetime in education has had on me!) Not at all! We would never tell our parents anything, and certainly not if we had been in trouble with a teacher, for fear of being punished again. In fact, on my first day at Harehills, my mother did escort me to the school gates, the only time she ever did, I might add. She hung around to see that I was ok in the playground and that someone spoke with me. I upset her as she gazed through the bars of the fence by saying, ‘Would you please go away!’ She did, and I never looked back and loved my time there.
I was used to using buses. My first school was Stainbeck Preparatory School, and I started there at four years old. I used to travel there on two buses with my older brother, and when he left when I was six, I used to go on my own. Nowadays, my mother would be seen as wildly negligent, but at the time, I don’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. We would catch a bus from Arlington Road/Easterley Road junction and change at Harehills and travel through Chapel Allerton down to Stainbeck Lane. I remember one very cold frosty morning, passing a milk float, an electric one that the driver walked in front of with a control handle. It had toppled over on the ice on a steep side road towards Chapel Allerton Hospital and a white river of milk was pouring down the street. I wondered if the milkman would have lost his job as a result.
Anyway, I usually walked to Harehills and saved the bus fare, but I would catch the bus home normally as it was all uphill and a bit of a slog. Double-decker buses in those days had a driver in a separate cab at the front and a conductor who took your money, gave you a ticket and told you off if you misbehaved or failed to stand to give up your seat to a lady or an elderly person. I think the fare was a penny and the large heavy coins were wonderful, tactile, solid and usually well-worn. I loved the ticket machine. They stored coins in special storage tubes on a leather belt and, with a quick flick of the thumb from the conductor, change would appear in his or her hand. Another flick of the thumb and the correct ticket was dispensed and there was a ripping sound as it was separated from the roll of tickets. If you were lucky, the tickets would run out and the conductor would open the machine and fit a new roll of tickets. It was quite a to-do and appealed to my senses. Another feature I was fascinated by, were the bell buttons. There were round white affairs, with Push Once printed on them, and there was a bright red button in the middle. As a small lad, they were well above my reach and, in fact, only the conductor could use them. It is probably something Freudian, but I really wanted to push them. Some conductors would give a jaunty double push to tell the driver to set off. They were replaced on more modern buses with a strip, which reminded me of a hose pipe you could push from anywhere along the aisle.
Most conductors seemed to enjoy the job. The young men liked to hang on the pole at the open end of the bus, lean out, show off their skill and impress young ladies or easily influenced boys. They were masters of their steed: hats perched on, often quite long hair. They appeared a poor man’s Waltzer attendant from the fairground. With their daring dos on the pole, their debonair panache as they sold tickets to teenage girls and swaggered up the aisles. No matter how bumpy the ride, they were balanced and disappeared up the stairs to the top deck like dancers.
The upstairs of the buses were often smoke filled and if you went up, you often felt sick before too long, but the upstairs had splendid views, particularly from the front seats and the deck swayed alarmingly at times. At the front there was a sign that said, ‘Spitting is Forbidden’, but occasionally old men could be heard clearing their throats. Oh, how times have changed!
The shop across from Harehills C.P. School was called Ashworths, and it was a treasure-trove for a young boy with just a little bit of money to spend. The shop bell would sound as you entered into a world that childhood dreams were made of. In those days, there was little that you could pick up and handle. Sweets were stored behind the counter in glass jars with screw tops. They offered a cornucopia of tantalizing tastes to young palates. The whole process of asking for two ounces of aniseed balls and then standing, whilst the shopkeeper found the correct jar, screwed the lid off, poured an amount into the silver pan of the scales, made adjustments and then poured the contents into a cone bag or later a square paper bag, was magical.
The bus ride from Harehills up Easterley Road was only short, and I knew the trip like the back of my hand, but on one afternoon the fog was in. Fog in those days was something else. It really was fog or smog and the white mist would be a dark green, due to the heavy smoke from all the coal fires. Before the introduction of smokeless coal and then the disappearance of coal from domestic fires, smoke was ever present. I grew up thinking that the main buildings in Leeds were made of black stone. The Town Hall was this black, overpowering building, until they sand-blasted it in the late 1960s. It was quite a revelation to see these stone buildings appear in their naked glory as yellow/white, gleaming and very impressive. But on this specific day, the fog was dense and olive green. I can still taste the air, chemical filled and bitter. It wasn’t just a cosmetic danger. Bronchial disease would kill about 30,000 people each year in London alone.
I waited outside in the gloom. Sound was changed by the air thickness and pale orbs of light could barely be seen from the streetlights. Of course, being winter in England meant it was dark when we left school and cars crawled past as we waited for the bus. You had to be careful to get on the right bus as the numbers on the front were difficult to see, even when they stopped in front of you. A wrong choice and you could end up at Oakwood and I did make this mistake at least once. My bus arrived, and I got on and sat on the sideways-facing bench seats near the open section as it allowed some view outside. Further in, all the windows were steamed up, and you had no idea where you were. The bus crawled along Roundhay Road and the shops aided me in telling where I was, but as we slowly turned at the roundabout by the Clock Cinema and headed up the hill, all knowledge of where I was vanished. The world disappeared completely and the swirling miasma transformed the vista into a nightmare of uncertainty. It was so dense you truly could see nothing, and I always had perfect eyesight. I began to panic and decided I must be near my stop and the conductor rang the bell and the bus came to a halt and I stepped down into darkness and confusion. The air was damp and heavy, but as I watched the bus drive off, I realised I was not at my stop. I was still on the hill, so I worked out that I must have got off too soon. I almost panicked, but I knew if I just headed up the hill, I would eventually reach my stop, and so I did. Finally, I got my bearings and reached the stop and made my way home, a little shaken by the experience.
As I got older, I became bolder with the bus journey and I developed the skill of hanging off the bar well before the bus arrived at the stop. The ability to jump off the bus whilst it was slowing down and hit the ground running was what was craved and, apart from a couple of embarrassing miscalculations, I honed the skill to perfection. The joys of youth!
Just a little of the range was; Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, Licquorice Root, Flying Saucers, Hubba Bubba bubble gum, Little Imps, Cherry Lips, Love Hearts, Victory V Lozenges, aniseed balls, Sports Mixture, sweet cigarettes, Camel brand chocolate cigarettes, gob stoppers, sherbet dips, Lucky Bags, Riley’s Chocolate Toffee Rolls, Refreshers, parma violets, bananas, shrimps, sherbert fountains, walnut whips, cinder toffee, treacle toffee lollies in silver tart trays, toffee apples, Smith’s crisps with little blue twisted bags of salt, Sunpat raisins, pear drops, lemon drops, acid drops, cough candy, mint humbugs, rock, sherbet lemons, dolly mixtures, allsorts and jelly babies. I am sure that I have probably missed out some of your favourites. You left the shop with your little bag and all was right with the world. Apparently, there was ether and chloroform in the Victory V lozenges and there was an enforced change of recipe and they were never the same again. For those who are uninitiated, licquorice root was the actual root of a plant. It was a yellow colour and when chewed, it gave off a strong licquorice taste mixed with woody splinters. It was definitely an acquired taste and the woody residue had to be spat into the bins.
The shop also sold comics and there were Superhero ones from the USA. I enjoyed the stories, but what always fascinated me were the adverts. I remember X-Ray glasses, and sea monkeys. Apparently, sea monkeys were some sort of brine shrimp that were in suspended animation when dried, but came back to life when poured into a jar of water. Of course, the fact that we couldn’t buy what American children could, made them even more desirable. When you were really flush, you may have left with lollies and a comic.
If for some reason the shop was closed there were a couple of coin-operated dispensing machines. One would dispense mint chewing gum in packets and another bubble gum balls. You put your penny in, waited for it to drop, turned the handle and listened for the gum to drop. If you were really lucky, you may find two when you opened the door to the drawer. On those days, your state of bliss knew no boundaries.