Archive for February, 2018

Down the Navvy

February 17, 2018

From: John Holloway (Stronsay) []
Sent: Saturday, February 17, 2018 1:34 PM
To: peter wood
Subject: Down the Navvy

‘Down the Navvy’
I’m making an exception to our one tale a month rule to allow John Holloway to return to last month’s tale and tell us of his adventures ‘Down the Navvy’

It was Friday evening in 1953, just a few months before my family and I moved to Kent. I was 8 or 9 years old and it was ‘bath night’. Mum said so. I climbed into the bath and mother picked up the clean flannel and went straight to the back of my neck where she said most of the dirt collected. Of course I couldn’t see it myself.
‘Funny’ I thought, there was no ‘Look at the colour of your neck!!’ this Friday evening, just a surprised: ‘How did you get that bruise on your back?’. (Apparently it was a beauty – but I couldn’t see it myself). Mum sounded a bit worried – but not as worried as me. ‘Oh…….er…. I fell backwards onto a stone’ I blurted out.
If only she had known. But I had no intention of telling her what had really happened. I would have been in serious trouble if I had. I dreaded what punishment might follow – my entire cigarette-card collection being given away to Freddie Dubber across the road, all my precious taws (marbles) being given to Ronnie Harvey three houses down, and worst of all, a ban on train-spotting at Neville Hill shed for at least a month! And anyway, it didn’t hurt that much. I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.
I never really knew how lucky I was regarding my ‘bruise’ until my visit to East Leeds in November 2017 – over 64 years later, and – not surprisingly – as I gazed down to the railway line at the bottom, I could recall the event in full detail.
It was a lovely warm day, and one of my pals and I had gone to the top of Copperfield Avenue, through the gap between the houses in Courtley Road, across the ‘top hollers’ – as we called the area – and climbed over the low fence in order to begin one of our favourite pass-times: making land-slides of stone and dust ‘down the Navvy’, the deep ravine which had been cut to take the railway line from Neville Hill to Hunslet. This had been going on for generations – kids with poles and sticks sat on the 45 degree sloping area above the cliff-face – but on this occasion disaster struck. One of the stones I had prised out had gone over the cliff-face, rolled onto the track – and was now laying right across the nearside rail! ‘You’ve had it now’ said my pal. I had no option and off I shot to the ‘Town Hall Steps’ about thirty yards away to the left, the easiest – but still vertical – part of the cliff-face for climbing down. I was soon at the spot below our ‘scree-slope’ and had just slid the large rock off the rail when suddenly a train-whistle blew from the Neville Hill end of the Navvy. A train! That was bad luck with just 2-3 a day. I rushed to a small Buddleia bush just a few feet from the railway lines and crouched down, hoping the driver would not see me. What a relief – mission accomplished!
I stood up and looked up. It didn’t seem all that far to the top from where I was standing and it didn’t look all that hard to climb – vertical as it was. I remember weighing it up: do I walk back to the Town Hall Steps and go back that way, or do I….? No contest, my mind was made up – I’m going up here, even though I had some doubts as to how I was going to lift myself up onto the scree-slope at the top of the vertical cliff-face where it was smooth with no real hand-holds. I took my chance. ‘Work it out when you get to it’ I thought.
The vertical part of the climb was not that hard, but just as I was about to raise my head above the cliff-face, my pal, who – in mitigation – could not see me, had just prised out a real beauty of a stone and pushed it towards the cliff edge. It hit me right in the middle of the chest.
To this day I can remember falling backwards in mid-air, not in the least bit concerned, and a few seconds later – after a bit of a ‘thump’ – sliding down on my back towards the rail. My only concern was being run over by another train if one came by! My back hurt a bit and I sat on the nearside rail until my pal came down the Town Hall Steps to see how I was. I had been saved by the scree-slope at the bottom of the cliff, created by generations of children prising out rocks and dust from the area above.
And that was it. I was soon back up on the ‘Top Hollers’ heading for home with nothing more than a sore back, and to this day I am eternally grateful to the generations of children who created that scree-slope. It clearly saved my life. It must have been at the perfect angle for my fall as I didn’t even have a bump on the head.
Looking back on the incident, I ‘missed out’! Ronnie Harvey fractured his leg around the same time and had it in plaster for several weeks – a kind of ‘Badge of Valour’ after heroically jumping from the school roof after collecting a tennis ball from the gutter prior to a Cubs meeting. And there had been one or two bandaged/plastered broken wrists etc around the neighbourhood, all giving the ‘owners’ a sense of pride for ‘pulling through’. The bruise on my back was surely a notch up on them but I never saw it myself of course and nobody ever asked me to lift up the back of my shirt to show them what was after all just an ‘ordinary’ bruise!
Fast forward to November 2017 and our guided tour of the area by Peter Wood and Eric Allen. Panic sets in when my wife Sue and I look down The Navvy. ‘For crying out loud!’………. ‘My life!’…… etc etc. I had no idea it was so deep and to this day have no idea how I survived that fall – I had imagined a 15ft or so vertical drop but it was clearly far more.
So, looking back to that ‘bath night’ in 1953, I couldn’t really be called dishonest – I had ‘fallen backwards onto a stone, just like I had said to my mother. I just didn’t mention the huge vertical drop in-between! I’m glad I ‘kept mum’ – for Mum’s sake!

PS Does anyone know just how deep the navvy is at that point? I’m not sure whether ‘delayed shock’ can set in after such a long time but if anyone does know please break it to me gently. John Holloway, Castle, Stronsay, Orkney February 2018.

Great adventure John and you lived to tell the tale!

Saturday Night Fever in Downtown 1950s Leeds

February 1, 2018

Those who have been lucky enough to travel the seven ages of man (and woman of course) will have no doubt encountered pleasure and sadly pain at every stage. We Have: The pre-school age, the school age, the teenage years, the age of responsibility – marriage kids etc, the comfortable late middle age, and the geriatric age. Unfortunately some folk fall off their perch at every stage but if you stay the course you can sit back in your arm chair and contemplate your seven ages and which of them shines out like a beacon? Why the teenage years of course, especially if you lived in 50s East Leeds and experienced ‘Saturday night fever.’
Let me set the scene for a typical 50s Saturday For we lucky teenagers.
Saturday afternoon would see us embroiled in sport, either playing football or rugby ourselves or at Elland Road, Parkside or Headingley. The girls probably engaged in retail therapy, haunting the records shops or perhaps a Saturday job? How would I know? You’d have to ask a girl – but of course there was a bouffant hair style to attend to for the evening. Around tea time we’d watch ‘The Six Five Special’ or ‘Oh Boy’ on the other side – perhaps an early episode of Dr Who – he seems to have been going on forever. Then it was time to get togged up for the evening: slick back the hair Tony Curtis Point at the front D.A. at the rear, crisp white shirt and slim Jim tie, drain pipe pants and long colourful drape back jacket and slip into the thick crape soled shoes. When you hit the town in a rig like that your heart soared as high as the town hall clock.
You would meet up with your special mates in your favoured city centre pub; ours was The Vine on the Headrow other favourites were: The King Charles, Ship, Pack Horse, Horse and Trumpet, Piccadilly Bar, General Elliot or the Guildford. I’m sure others can add to these. Gradually you became acquainted with like minded individuals from other areas of Leeds and beyond who were of an age and a disposition to enjoy Saturday night fever; you would bump into them regularly for a few years and then probably never again.
Then in semi-inebriated state we would drift into our favourite dance halls. You had to be in by ten o’clock and disguise the extent of your inebriation or you would not get in at all. Some would go to the Mecca, the 101, Mark Altman’s, The Central School of Dancing (near the Corn exchange), The Majestic, or our particular favourite The Scala. For us, while ever it remained open it was The Scala for us. The dance hall was located over a furniture shop at the top of a grand flight of stairs. Here we would be met by the sound of wonderful fifties music and the scent of gyrating bodies. There we would meet up with our friendly gang of teenage girls. They had much to put up with, what with our beery breath and clumsy steps but we can’t have been that bad they would be here again next week.
Charlie Marcos was the resident band. He was OK old Charlie he would play requests and a bit of ‘Dixieland Jazz’ to let us waggle our legs a bit. We would Rock ‘n Roll, jive, Be-Bop whatever was popular at the moment. Dance halls seemed to generate their own styles of Jiving, The Mecca had a neat style which was less frantic than that we preferred at the Scala.


In the intervals when Charlie’s band was having a rest They would play records – wonderful fifties ballads, this was the music I liked best of all it epitomised the age: A Blossom Fell, Little Things Mean a Lot, Teen Angel, Oh! Carol, Donna, Hold my Hand. Even today when I hear that wonderfully mellow tone of a fifties ballad: low key harmonisation with ‘do-whahs’ and then a higher harmonisation chiming in, I’m transported back to those wonderful fifties nights at the Scala dancing beneath the great silver glitter ball. Sometimes I swear I’m really there. I wish I could give you an example of that wonderful sound here – of course I can’t. We looked it up; technically it’s called ‘Oldstep Progressive’ I – VI – IV – V. No, that means nothing to me either but ask Alexa to play you ‘Earth Angel’. Alexa’s great, she’ll play it for you and you’ll get the message.
Of course there might be a few skirmishes, it was a rite of passage, only handbags at twenty paces, no knives no drugs. It was essential you were up to dance with your favourite girl before someone else got her for the ‘last dance’ which was always a waltz. ‘Can I walk you home? Perhaps a good night kiss and then the long walk home on your own in a pleasant haze, no taxis for fifties teenagers. But if you didn’t manage a girl to walk home the night was not over, all the East Leeds contingent would wander home together up York Road, Railway Street or East Street full of good natured pushing and shoving and good natured banter ready for next week’s Saturday night fever.
Postscript: The Scala closed its doors before we were ready to reach the next ‘age’ of our lives and none of the other dance halls seemed to quite fit the bill. A friend recently had business to visit that old furniture shop and he was directed to the upstairs room, the one that used to be the dance hall. He said it was dusty and empty except for odds and ends of stored furniture and looked all forlorn. If dance halls have a heart I wonder when everything is locked up on a Saturday night fifties music can be heard playing softly?

Don’t forget: somehow manage to listen to Earth Angel, preferably by Jonnie Tillitson or The Penguins, It’ll waft you back to 50s heaven!

If you shared those magical times please leave a comment.