‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students! – Cup of Tea Tales
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students!
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Ashworth’s Sweet-Shop, Harehills. Sweets, Victory V Lozenges, Sweet Cigarettes and Other Delights We Have Lost Over The Years.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A’ Levels, the Final Year at High School, Planning to Leave Home, Getting into College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.
- David’s Bookshelf Issue 5
- ‘Cup Of Tea Tales’- Remember, Remember the Fifth of November – Bonfire Night Shenanigans! Not Fun for Everyone!
After briefly mentioning being run over in Headingley, I thought I had better tell the full story, as this was my first experience of actually being in hospital. Up to that point, like most children, my experience of hospitals was limited to being born in one and the little I had seen on television and that was based on two films: Carry On Nurse (1959) with Kenneth Connor, Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield and Carry On Doctor (1967) with Frankie Howerd, Sid James, Charles Hawtrey, Barbara Windsor, Anita Harris and Kenneth Williams. Hattie Jacques epitomised what I thought nurses and matrons were like: formidable, fierce and the bane of junior doctors’ lives. I loved these films, and never realised just how rude they were until I watched them as an adult.
The only other experience was watching visits to hospital wards on Christmas Day on television to cheer up the patients. Leslie Crowther was the host, later followed by Rolf Harris and Jimmy Tarbuck. I was stunned and frightened by seeing people in iron lungs. They could not move and had a mirror to see into the ward like a periscope. Many of the types of diseases people had then, such as polio, tuberculosis, measles etc. have largely disappeared due to vaccinations.
9.00 On Christmas Day in the Morning – Carols
9.30 A Spoonful of Sugar – from Stoke Mandeville Hospital
10.00 News and Weather
10.05 Tom and Jerry
10.15 The Doctors
10.35 Christmas Morning Service – from St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
11.45 Rolf Harris – outside broadcast from Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children
12.30 Royal Family – documentary film
2.15 Top of the Pops ‘69 part 1
3.00 The Queen (Christmas Message)
3.00 Billy Smart’s Circus Spectacular
4.10 Disney Time – with Julie Andrews
5.00 Cinderella – pantomime
6.30 News, Weather
6.40 Save the Children – Christmas appeal with Barbara Mullen
6.45 Christmas Night with the Stars – a gala programme featuring stars of BBC light entertainment in 1969
8.15 The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
9.15 McLintock – film
11.15 Tony Bennet and the Count Basie Orchestra
I remember fantasizing about being in hospital and how jolly it would be, as long as you weren’t seriously ill. However, my first real introduction was far from pleasant. I remember waking up in the night at home with a certain amount of commotion and it was only the next day that I was told that my dad had been taken to hospital with a heart attack. I think my grandma had come to look after us and I think it would have been 1960. My father was just thirty-seven but, like most men at this time, he was a heavy smoker. Twenty a day was light smoking, and he smoked Players Navy Cut cigarettes. These were untipped and filled the room with thick smoke that made my eyes water.
We went to visit him in Leeds Infirmary, and I was overawed by the building. It seemed vast to a five-year-old, strange and not the jolly place I had seen on the Carry On Films. It had a strange disinfected smell and I remember that the walls were painted green. I think there were two shades, light and dark. There were long corridors and when we entered the ward, there were rows of beds on either side. I clearly remember walking between beds of what seemed to me to be very old patients who looked decidedly unwell. I can recall one man who had an oxygen mask on, removing it to take a puff of a cigarette. Yes, I know it seems impossible, but he was smoking in the ward. I would have thought he would have been at risk of setting himself on fire, but he was doing it. He would take a puff, cough and then put the mask back on. I was horrified! I also remember a patient smoking through his tracheotomy hole in his throat, which was terrifying.
My father was in the Brotherton Wing, which has a distinctly art déco style and reminds me of a cruise ship. We got to my dad’s bed, and he was lying there, looking grey and not the immortal father I had always known. We handed over the grapes and other fruit and were allowed to sit with him, whilst mum looked worried and talked with him. After a little while and a kiss, my brother and I were sent to wait outside whilst they had some time together. The nurses were dressed in very clean, starched uniforms and wore strange hats, but they seemed kindly to us. Visiting times were very limited in those days and in a short while all the visitors piled out and mum took us home. I remember signs outside the Infirmary telling motorists it was forbidden to sound the car horn.
We visited a few more times, but soon dad returned home and as far as my older brother and I were concerned, everything was getting back to normal. I had the naïve belief that you went to hospital, they fixed you up. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite true and thirteen years later, my dad was back again after his second heart attack. In 1977, smoking was outlawed in hospitals, and you saw, as is the case nowadays, patients standing outside the hospital puffing away, sometimes joined by nurses.
My own personal experience was because of my own stupidity. As I have mentioned before, I had started drinking alcohol from the age of about fourteen. It wasn’t unusual and underage drinking was common, as you were rarely asked for your age in a pub in the sixties. I got away with no difficulties until twenty-four days after my eighteenth birthday. It was New Year’s Eve and a group of us were going to a party. It was near Headingley, down from Shaw Lane. I believe Pete knew whose party it was, but I certainly didn’t. I think it was in a student house as I remember the rooms being fairly bare of furniture and furnishings. There were quite a few of us: Peter, Dave G and, I think, Dave B were there, to name a few. Dave G and I had bought half a bottle of whisky for the party, and I remember drinking the spirit out of a plastic cup quickly. I can’t say I remember much about the party after that, but I know that a few of us walked back up the road to buy some more drinks. Now I was fairly tipsy as we had drunk the whisky quickly. My memory of what happened next stops suddenly here. The road was narrow and there was a slim pavement, big old houses at the side and stone walls separating them from the pavement. I remember Peter telling me to get away from the kerb as I swayed and staggered, and then everything went blank.
I thought amnesia was not a real thing until I experienced it myself. What I am sure about is that I have nothing else to blame but my stupidity. I sometimes surprise myself that I have survived to this day. I have come so close to killing myself frequently, usually because of my own foolishness, but I have ridden my luck and I am still here to tell the tale.
What happened is reliant on the account of those who were with me as I have never recovered my memory of the time from stepping off the kerb to waking up in hospital. That is not quite true, as one memory returned, and I am embarrassed by it. I clearly remember an ambulance driver leaning over me to ask if I was alright and my being sick. I think it would have been 1972, so if he is reading this, I truly apologise. Apparently, I had fallen off the kerb in front of an MG Midget. Now fate was on my side as it was such a small, low car that, rather than running me over, it threw me into the air and I skidded on the rough road and pavement surface. I believe the poor driver was mortified and again, if he reads this, I apologise.
I woke up in hospital and I am not sure if it was the Infirmary or St James’s. Whichever it was, I was in a bed, with the most horrible headache. This was not helped by having a pillow that was harder than a concrete slab. A nurse was standing there, and so was my mother. The nurse told my mother that I had been drinking, to which she stated, and I remember it clearly, “But he doesn’t drink!” The nurse leant down and said, “Have you had a drink?” I replied, “A little”, with a sheepish voice. There was confusion at this point about what had happened. The nurses believed I had been fighting, as my face was badly scraped and so were my knuckles and the tops of my hands. Because of this, they treated me with scant compassion or care. My wounds were not properly cleaned and I still have a scar below my bottom lip that is grey/blue from the dirt and gravel off the road. When I began teaching in schools, children used to tell me I had ink under my lip. I think the nurses had specially chosen the hardest pillow to teach me a lesson. They kept me in for one or possibly two nights and when I was leaving, the nurses semi-apologised saying that they had heard from the police that I had been hit by a car and not fighting. I simply did not know as the whole incident was and still is a blank.
It is strange, and I am sure wouldn’t be the case nowadays, but I never heard anything from the police about the accident, nor the man who drove the car. I guess that once they knew I was okay, they didn’t take it any further. I learned one lesson that night. Since that night, I have an absolute aversion to whisky and brandy. The smell makes me want to be ill. I can’t understand how anyone can drink it. I have never missed it and I am glad, as spirits are potentially so dangerous. I guess I deserved the treatment from the nurses and I know they have such a demanding job.
I have had quite a few scrapes where I was in danger and somehow have survived, and I will come back to some of them another time, but the first and only time I have broken a bone was when I was teaching in Wakefield. It was the last day before the summer holidays and we were playing rounders, staff against the older pupils. The staff were losing, and I was the backstop and the secretary was pitching. A child hit the ball, and it went straight upwards and I ran to catch it. So did the secretary, and we ran into each other, clashing heads. She was shorter than me and her forehead struck my face. I saw stars, but I wasn’t unconscious and she was badly hurt. I helped her into the office, and my face felt strange. I looked in the mirror and realised my face wasn’t right. The ambulance came, and we were both off to Pinderfield’s hospital. She was fine, but I was told the cheek was broken and needed surgery, but only when the swelling had gone down. A couple of weeks later it was done, but they had put a wire in to hold the bone. I made a full recovery and now I can perform party tricks by sticking magnets to the wire holding the bone together.
Doctors and nurses have always been wonderful to me and my family. During these challenging times, they are on the front line and they deserve our support and consideration. Britain is very fortunate to have the National Health Service and I hope that if any good can come from the COVID-19 outbreak, it will be that the service becomes properly funded and respected. It is a fantastic institution that most other countries are envious of.