‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Build-Up to Christmas. Winter and Christmas Parties at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s. – Cup of Tea Tales
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Build-Up to Christmas. Winter and Christmas Parties at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s.
- ‘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
I remember wondering, what is the point of living beyond nineteen as it was downhill all the way from there. I now realise the absolute folly of such a thought, as forty-eight years later, I’m still quite happy to carry on for as many years as possible, and I am grateful for all the years I have enjoyed. I believe I have mentioned it before, but a friend of mine had a printing company and there was a sign on the wall that said: ‘Employ a teenager, while they still know everything!’ Now, that may be a bit unkind, but in my case, I am not sure.
Being a teenager in Leeds in the 1960s and early 1970s gave me ample opportunities to make bad or foolish decisions. Some were life-threatening, some were foolish, and some were just silly. Clearly, I managed to survive them all, but, occasionally, it was touch and go. Unfortunately, not all were as lucky. One of the first things we did was that we wanted to be different, and in particular, different from our parents and their generation, and so we dressed in a way that must have shocked them. Long hair, flared pants, platform shoes, trench coats, tie-dye T-shirts. The list was endless. The strange thing was that I also wanted to be like them: have a job, money, a wife, a family and a house. We were the post-war generation, and the world had changed for the better, or so we hoped. Now, there are some things where this was very true. We had the best period of popular music. There were rapidly improving standards of living, the welfare state, overseas holidays, television, cars, a cleaner environment and social changes improving the status of women.
The desire to be different led me to a couple of particularly foolish behaviours. When in the first year of high school I started to drink ink to impress my classmates. What on earth I thought I was doing when I opened the bottle of Quink Ink and drank it, I do not know. To make matters worse, I then took a bite off the end of my pencil and started eating and swallowing it. I now hate to think what damage I could have done to myself, but somehow, I got away with it. I should have stopped there whilst I was ahead, but no, this was just a teaser of what was to come.
I was smoking at the age of thirteen, which was stupid enough, but with this new habit came new opportunities to impress my peers. I learnt to blow smoke rings, pretty tame really, but then managed to reverse the cigarette with the lit end inside my mouth. You are questioning my sanity at this moment, as I am doing myself. I can only think that, through such acts, boys would think me tough and the girls find me irresistibly attractive. For some reason, I don’t think it worked.
I must add, I wasn’t alone and there were a whole series of other little tricks that became popular. Possibly the most dangerous was the knocking people out ruse. This involved someone hyper-breathing twenty to forty times whilst crouched down. The victim then stood up quickly and someone behind them would clasp them around the chest tightly. Probably due to low blood pressure and cutting off the blood to the head, the participant would instantly faint. I had seen this done a few times at school on the sports fields, but when Chris M and Roger H were at my house and my parents were out, they did it to me. This worked a treat and I remember nothing after standing up until I came around lying on the floor. One of the main dangers of this, apart from possibly dying, was that you could have a serious injury as you fell, as a dead weight.
As we got older, the demon drink added to our foolish behaviour and increased the risk of serious accidents and possible death. When testosterone was added to the mix, it became even more dangerous. Excessive drinking was commonplace and in the late 1960s, and early 1970s, girls seemed to provide the role of carers. Legless boys would be cared for, and kept from harm by the ministrations of a girlfriend, or someone who potentially wanted to be one. This role was reversed during the 1980s and girls seemed to want to be lad-like. They drank heavily and mirrored the behaviour that, prior to this, had been the domain of the boys.
Drinking was something that revealed a facet of the nature of the drinker that was often hidden. Some people became aggressive when drunk, some argumentative, and some, like myself, tended to just fall asleep. One danger was drinking in rounds. People have different stomachs for drinking, and rounds force participants to keep up with the faster drinker. One friend, David G, had a bottomless stomach and could drink a pint in one go, with no difficulty. This meant, when drinking with him, I struggled to keep up. This didn’t stop him and he would go to the bar when he had finished and buy two pints. Again, when he finished, I was sent for the next round. In a short while, he would have finished each of his drinks and I would have a line of four pints. He then would cajole me into catching up.
We were invited to a fancy dress party, and this provided another opportunity to show off. I had been working during the holidays and so had money enough to hire a costume. We went to a costume hire shop in Leeds, near the Corn Exchange. There was the whole of our crowd, probably eight or nine, and we tried on an assortment of costumes. I chose a jester’s outfit. It was red and yellow velvet and had a tri-corn hat with bells. Matched with red and yellow tights, I thought I looked wonderful. I can’t remember all the other costumes, but there may have been a pirate, wenches, knights, etc. We paid for the hire, left a five-pound deposit for cleaning, and took them away. The party was the next day, Saturday, and it was in Alwoodley. To maximise our use, we decided we would go for a drink before the party in the Phoenix Bar at Roundhay Mansion. We all arrived and caused quite a stir, which was our aim. We then drove to the party and had a good night, until one of my friends, David B, threw his beer over my costume. This did not please me at all, as I expected to lose my deposit. I expressed my annoyance and pushed him away. Unfortunately, he was smoking, and unknowingly, I squashed his cigarette against his lip. This burnt him a bit, but it was unintentional. Just another hazard of smoking.
Drinking and driving was not the same no-no as it is today, and I am sorry to admit that I have driven when I shouldn’t have. It is only by chance that I got away without having an accident and was never picked up by the police. I came close in London as a student. I shared a house with a friend in Feltham. It was Keith’s 21st birthday party. We had been setting up all afternoon, and I had had a close encounter with death as I had been electrocuted. We had borrowed the college disco equipment, and it had been wired by an imbecile. The deck had a household plug socket, and there was an extension lead with a plug on each end. Whilst setting it up, I picked the plug up, ready to plug it into the deck. It took me a while to realise that someone had plugged the other end in and turned the power on. I must add I had had a few Pernod and lemonades by this point. The sudden twitching of my arm muscles should have been a giveaway that 240 volts were surging through me, but my mind took a while to realise. I dropped the live plug and expressed my displeasure with whoever had constructed the deck and the idiot who had turned the power on. In reality, hardly anyone noticed, and we then carried on.
For some reason, Keith wanted me to collect some friends and drive them to the party in his parents’ car. As I have said, I had already been drinking and electrocuted, so it doesn’t say much about his choice. The car was an Anglia estate and a visiting friend from Leeds, Nick W, decided to come along. Anyway, I drove back into Isleworth and turned a sharp right into the street to pick up the five girls and they piled in. There wasn’t room for everyone, so a fairly drunk Nick climbed into the small boot area. Before I could get in, a police car pulled up with lights flashing and a policeman got out. He put his cap on and it immediately blew off in the strong wind. This was probably the thing that saved me. He retrieved his hat and walked up to me.
‘You went around that corner pretty fast, didn’t you, sir?’
‘Did I?’ I replied.
‘Yes, sir. You didn’t notice it was one way!’
I had only ever walked to the house before, so was surprised.
‘I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t know. I’ve only ever walked here before.’
‘Is this your car, sir?’
‘No, it’s my friend’s parents’ car. It’s his 21st party, and he asked me to collect some of his friends.’
‘Do you have your licence, sir?’
‘No, it’s at home.’
He started filling out a form.
‘You need to take your licence to a police station within 48 hours, sir.’
My friend Nick was now larking around, pulling faces in the boot of the car. The policeman noticed and said in parting.
‘I’d leave some of your passengers behind, sir. Take care.’
His hat had blown off a second time during this discussion, and the strong wind probably kept the smell of alcohol from him. Two girls got back out, Nick got into the car and I drove them back to the party and returned for the other two girls. The next day I presented my licence and lived to tell the tale, with nothing but a warning.
There was another costume issue whilst in London that also demonstrates foolish behaviour. At Borough Road College, we had rag week as Leeds University does, and one of the highlights was a fancy dress pub crawl for charity. I went on three of these, but on this occasion, my costume was Robin, from the 1960s show. That meant I had tights, green underpants over the top, a red T-shirt, a cloak and a mask. I thought I’d made a good stab at the costume. We paid fifty pence to enter, which went to charity, the brewery provided a barrel of beer at each of sixteen pubs, and the contestants were tied together in pairs, like a three-legged race. I believe my partner was Patrick A. It was a race, and a pint had to be drunk in each pub, a card stamped and then off to the next. The route was extensive, and it started out with a sizeable, well-restrained, crowd of laughing and joking students in the Union Bar. As you can imagine, it became less so as the evening wore on.
The first year I had gone as a caveman with a very large papier mâché club. Unfortunately, I drank a pint of Guinness at the student bar and was ill by the time I reached Isleworth and downed the second pint. The club was a magnet for every burly sports student. They took it off me and proceeded to hit anyone in the area. Somehow, I managed to get it back and I think it made it to the end, but not quite intact.
On the Robin occasion, I had learnt from earlier experiences and got through it fairly well. I had to get the tube train home to Hounslow and so I retrieved my coat from a friend’s room and walked to the Osterley tube station. The tube is overground at this part and the station was unmanned. The idea was you told the ticket people where you had got on when you arrived at a manned station. In about ten minutes, I arrived at Hounslow West, after passing through about three stations. I got off and told the ticket collector where I had got on. He wouldn’t believe me and said he was going to call the police. I insisted, terrified if the police arrived, what they would discover. I was dressed as Robin under my coat. It wasn’t the possible unwarranted fine, but the embarrassment at the comments I would get when the police saw my costume. Burley London Cops would have had a field day of sarcastic battery, at my expense, but luckily, they were not called and I was allowed to go on my way.
Did I learn from my experiences? Unfortunately, not.