Miserable gits

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MISERABLE “ GITS”

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Another great tale from Eric Sanderson

As you meander through life, the rich pattern of different personalities cross your path in a continuous stream, some for a fleeting moment and yet others leave a lasting impression.
Sometimes it’s for the better, at other times it’s for the worse and I think it applies universally, whatever the community.
I suppose that this is one interpretation of eternal life, some of those characters of 60 years or so ago are still as vivid after all this time. In our minds eye, they still look and sound the same and so have lived on unchanged in our memories.

Many were bright, cheerful, friendly folk whom you were happy to know and enjoyed coming across :-

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But there were the perennial moaners, whingers and downright unpleasant characters – the “Miserable ’Gits’ “ who were never happy unless they were being miserable.

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These were the ones you tried to avoid at all costs , especially if some of the grubby rumours were to be given house room, but it wasn’t always possible.
Here’s a few I came across over the years in our area and without mentioning any names, the descriptions might just strike a chord.

The first are really a group rather than individuals. These were the folk who lived in end terrace houses and used to complain to us lads that thumped a football endlessly against their wall end
We just couldn’t understand their mean-ness and animosity towards this perfectly innocent pastime.
In a similar vein , one chap used to become really ratty when we used his garden path as the run up, bowling to the cricket stumps chalked on the opposite terrace end wall.
Some people are so unreasonable.

Then there was the cinema usher and attendant. He ran his fiefdom with a rod of iron and woe betide any miscreant who didn’t obey his strict rules. They would be thrown out, unceremoniously for the slightest infraction such as talking ,fidgeting or moving from your allocated seat. The youth of the day lived in fear of him but outside of the cinema, he was a quiet, unassuming man whose demeanor completely belied his reign of terror inside the cinema.
Trying to ingratiate yourself with him was a complete waste of time. In fact it seemed to have the opposite effect by making him suspicious of your motives, resulting in being kept under even closer scrutiny and at greater risk of forcible ejection.

A shopkeeper on Temple View Rd ranks near the top of the most miserable git list. His was a general grocery store and he would greet customers with a snarling demand of “what do you want “ ?.
With a trembling voice, meekly and respectfully stating your needs , he would mutter & sigh before slamming your purchase onto his wide counter. If you had the temerity to not offer the correct amount of money, he would roll his eyes and quite literally throw your change at you across the counter top. I dreaded going there and even my Mother, who could hold her own with most, was wary of him – that’s probably why she used to send me !.
Such behavior was/is completely inimical to running a service business where the vendor should surely go the extra mile to encourage his customers to come to him with repeat business.
Although this particular establishment was an extreme example, many corner shops were not known for their friendliness , seeming to think they were a cut above their customers – their vanity being the quicksands of their reason.

The Park Ranger at East End Park in the 40’s & 50’s could hold his own on the miserable git league. It must have been part of the job spec for all Park Rangers, for they all seemed to be the same, that a deep seated hatred of people, particularly young boys , came naturally to them.
This particular guy was a quite small and wiry which made him a formidable challenge because you couldn’t easily run away from him. He always carried a stout stick and he wasn’t averse, or even slow to give a swift whack to any errant youth.
At the time, it was forbidden to walk on the wide sweeps of grass (crazy or not ?) but it was a source of mischief to do so, calling to the “Parkie” to attract his attention and encourage a chase. Even if he didn’t manage to catch you, he had a good memory and would often extract his reprisal a few days later.
Another forbidden practice was riding your bike along Victoria Avenue , which went from one end of the Park to the other. Of course, this was another activity which the youth of the day just had to do. One time, a group kept sweeping up and down , dodging the Parkie who was obviously furious, shouting and waving his stick. His control finally left him and thrusting his stick into the spokes of one rider as they swept by once again, the unfortunate cyclist took a tumble and suffering a badly damaged wheel. But it brought the practice of the mickey taking cyclists to an abrupt halt.
Yes, “Parkies” were in the first division of miserable gits.

Schoolteachers had their champions in the miserable git stakes. I can only speak of Victoria but there was at least three there in my time who would quickly and readily administer corporal punishment at the earliest opportunity. Although some were good at actually teaching, there was often this underlying ,habitual code of strict discipline and little of the pastoral care prevalent in many schools today. But, every silver lining has a cloud, maybe the more “friendly” schoolteachers of today don’t gain the respect they once enjoyed and some people’s desire to do the right thing considerably exceeds their ability to discern just what the “right thing” is.

A nearby chippy was owned by a real grump. Fish and chip shops abounded in the area and everyone had their favourite. In those days, they would close for two or three weeks in the summer whilst the owners took their holidays so you had to switch allegiance for that period. This particular chippy knew you weren’t a regular and wouldn’t hesitate to let you know and disapproved of your using his establishment for convenience. On more than one occasion, I heard him tell customers to take their trade elsewhere. Unbelievable.

A well known barber on York Road, near Victoria school was the scourge of young boys. He would enforce silence whilst waiting your turn to have your haircut in the style he decided. He took no notice of your requests and would only condescend to let you in the chair when all the adults had been seen to first. I’ve even known lads, in mid haircut, to be removed from the chair to allow a later arriving adult take priority. Not only that, he was a nasty piece of work to boot and one to steer well clear of.

Another cinematic nightmare was the manager at the Star Cinema. In the fashion of the day, he always wore a tuxedo , sported brilliantined hair and a clipped moustache. But boy, was he a piece of work. He would fix you with a gimlet eye and if he didn’t like the cut of your jib, might not even let you in. To be fair, it was mainly teenagers in groups that attracted his wrath but it wasn’t always fairly administered and protest merely justified his draconian justice.

I had a friend whose Mum was not so much miserable but intensely house-proud. Our friend used to have piano lessons at home but to be truthful, anyone less musically talented would be difficult to imagine. However, when we called for him, he would sometimes be in the midst of his piano practice and although she invited us in, she would place a newspaper on the floor and insist we stand stock still, not move onto the sparkling lino floor or speak so as not to disturb the budding pianist whilst he practiced his ear offending scales. I’m no musician but my god, there are limits. Shoes were inspected prior to entry and naturally, sitting on the highly polished leather suite was strictly forbidden.

Some neighbours also figured on the miserable git list but they were far outweighed by the many friendly people who lived in the area ,who were kind and tried hard to make the lives of young people much better. And in the end, that’s what made the old East Leeds community the great place to grow up in that era – after all is said and done, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years and Old East Leeds was the place to do that.

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8 Responses to “Miserable gits”

  1. aussiepom Says:

    Lessons learned from being around miserable gits Eric is that it made me be polite to all my customers when I had a snack bar. It was in an industrial area and the guys only had half an hour for lunch so we had to be very fast at making and serving Hamburgers, sandwiches etc. and keep a smile on the face. One Smart Alec wanted to know what we sold. Everything was on display in ‘fridges and a bain-marie. I told him I’d get back to him when he’d decided what he wanted and served someone else. He stood at the front of the queue demanding I told him what we sold. A big groan from the packed shop. Have you ever worked in a snack bar when it’s 40º outside and your behind a counter with hot plates, ovens and a deep fryer going full pelt and heaps of guys wanting lunch. ” Make up your mind these guys have to get back to work ” Him, hands on hips taking his time ” The customer is always right ” Slapped my hand on the counter ” First time you’ve been in my shop sport?” Silence from everyone. ” I demand to see the manager ” he was over 6 ft. I’m 5ft. but I had a counter between us ” Your looking at her… Hop it ” he refused to move so two of the guys each put a hand under his elbow and put him out side on the footpath. He blustered and yelled he’d never set foot in the shop again. A big cheer went up from the guys and we carried on cooking and serving. Next day at lunch time the guys brought a wooden sign they’d made ‘ DON’T MESS WITH THE LITTLE POMMIE BIRD ‘ Got even more customers coming in to have a laugh.

  2. edward blackwell Says:

    Thanks Eric you’ve brought back a few memories for me, I recognise some of the characters you outline in your tale especially the cinema attendant, and the manager at the Star cinema just off York Road, I think I now the Fish and Chip shop you refer to and I did receive a word of warning that his establishment was for regular customers only because I only wanted a bag of chips, and the Park Rangers at East End Park were always on the prowl, even when you were behaving yourselves, they didn’t like it and would say move along there. Our local shop was owned by a Mrs Fenton’s and she certainly qualified for an award she never ever smiled, and she couldn’t add up, but never made a mistake that didn’t benefit her, if you know what I mean, I used to pull her when she short changed me, and she’d say oh yes I’m sorry Edward your getting to be a clever boy….lol..

  3. Eric Says:

    Good for you Audrey, although I think we knew you were a pretty formidable person ,your numerous stories attest to the strength of your character.
    I’ve since realised although I never really thought about it at the time, but I suppose that choosing to moan about “miserable gits” makes me one of the ones I’m whinging about !!.
    Oh well, hoist by my own petard.

  4. peterwwood Says:

    One of the things about our tales is that they give life to old characters. How many tales has ‘Big Ernie’ chucker out at the Princess Cinema appeared in? Vera gave his full name as: Mr Huntington’. Would ‘Big Ernie’ himself have ever thought he would be remembered, across the world, perhaps 30/40 years after his death?

  5. marlene Egan Says:

    I love reading all the stories being brought up down Easy Road,and they certainly bring back fond memories

  6. Doug Farnill Says:

    I remember Big Ernie at the Saturday afternoon shows at the Princess. We would queue up down the side passage waiting for the bottom side door to open. And Ernie would cram as many kids as he could on the wooden benches which comprised the first few rows. My older brother, Ron, always told me to sit with my knees wide apart while Ernie was loading the row, and then, when it was full, we could relax our knees and have a bit more space. I remember Charlie the “parky” too, we used to sing a rude ditty about him, which began “We have hens in our backyard we feed them on Indian corn, and some lay eggs and some lay pegs, and some lay nothing at all” and then the rude chorus, “Cockadoodle, cockadoodle, Charlie’s da da da da” which I shall not make more explicit on this family forum. Innocently, I never knew what it meant until many years later when I reached adolescence.

  7. Doug Farnill Says:

    Speaking of Gits, I am a bit diffident about proposing Mr Laycock, who was the swimming instructor at York Road baths around 1943-44. We would walk up from Ellerby Lane, with our costumes rolled up inside our towels, and get changed in the laundry room at the back of the baths, where they had the big furnace and spin dryers. Mr Laycock was probably a very nice and competent man, but he instructed in a loud and fierce voice, and as a poor swimmer I used to be in terror of him. I remember Chippy Chappelow, who was the cock of Ellerby Lane at that time, got into one of the top-loading spin dryers and someone turned it on for a second. We were all in trepidation about what Mr Laycock would do to us if he found out, probably drown us all in the deep end.

  8. Eric Says:

    Hi Doug
    I don’t recollect Mr Laycock but I do remember one Mr Shaw who was the baths manager there around the ’50’s & onwards. He was evil personified & would have made a good sidekick for Count Dracula. I knew a young lad who went to work there as a pool attendant & worked there for several years under Mr Shaw. He told me (actually at one of the reunions) that he also lead his staff a dogs life too.
    Pete, I think you’re correct about Big Ernie’s name but the person who would know is Neville Kaye who lived only a couple of doors away from him. Regardless he will definitely be in the Pantheon of famous East Leeds characters

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