Archive for May, 2019

My First Car and the Prang

May 15, 2019

It’s quite amazing how closely my life and the life of Eddie Blackwell, who wrote the last tale, duplicated each other. Not only did we clash on opposite sides in the 1954 Leeds Red Triangle under 17s football cup final but we were both conscripted into National Service in the late 1950s early 1960 we both learned to drive in the army and both got our own first own car in 1962.
I want to tell you about my first car but first about the ‘prang I had while learning to drive in the army

We national service personnel worked alongside career regulars. I believe my regular colleagues were disadvantaged in comparison to normal civilians. In the army, it is so easy to fall foul of authority. A mistake committed even in an off duty period could result in a NCO being ‘busted’ down, which contrasts sharply with civilian life where a transgression committed outside the workplace does not normally instigate disciplinary action at work. An instance of how easy it was to transgress happened to me while at Detmold: I managed to find myself on three charges at the same time. The first charge was for innocently wandering across a football pitch, which was evidently out of bounds. The second was after being pulled for having my hair too long and the third for having a ‘prang’ in a one ton truck while under driving instruction. On the face of it I looked a real villain, three charges, but what great misdemeanours had I really been guilty of? Nevertheless, it was not good policy to keep being dragged up before the OC.
The ‘prang’ though is an incident worth recording. A few of us were learning to drive in a one ton truck under the instruction of a subaltern, who like all subalterns spoke very cut glass.

It was my turn to drive and the rest of the lads who were either waiting or had already had their turn were sat in the back where they couldn’t see forward. We were driving along, on the right of course, it being Germany. The officer ordered me to turn right into a minor road where a German civilian bus was waiting to get out. Being totally inexperienced, I was going far too fast to execute this manoeuvre. I was still in third gear when I tried to turn into the side road. I can still see the horror on the faces of those Germans when they realised I was not going to make it. I gave the bus a real crack amidships. The unseeing lads in the backs cheered: ‘Hey up, Woody ‘as ‘it somat’
‘Oh hard look Wood!’ said the officer admirably keeping his composure. ‘Right Wood, reverse out.’ He was using the theory: if they prang, dust ‘em off and send ‘em up again before they lose their confidence. Unfortunately, I selected the wrong gear; instead of reverse, I selected one of the forward gears and gave the bus another crack. The lads in the back cheered again: ‘Go on Woody – give ‘em some more!’
‘I think I’d better drive back,’ sighed the officer, his good intentions going out of the window.
So, I was on a charge for the driving offence: as they put it, ‘For causing damage to a War Department vehicle and a German civilian bus’. I was marched under guard to the OC’s office. ‘Left-right-left-right,’ screamed a sergeant, it was all very formal, normally he was an alright guy but he’d turned into monster for the day. ‘Left-turn-right turn, beret-off-left-turn, A-T-T-E-N-T-I-O-N!’ They had me so confused by all the shouting that I finished up with my backside to the OC. (Captain Juniper) ‘Oh turn him round, sergeant,’ said the OC. in exasperation, whereupon the sergeant took me by the shoulders and turned me through 180 degrees. As far as I can remember, I only received a balling out and never heard anything more about the other two charges at all.
So the result was I didn’t actually pass my driving test in the army. But I had put that right by 1962 when I passed my test in civilian life and got my first car.

My First Car
It was a Friday lunch time in 1962 and clutching my new driving licence I was dropped off by Dad outside Magnetic Motors in Water lane, there to pick up my very first car. It was a 1959, beige coloured, Ford Popular 100E three years old and cost me the £165 that I had managed to save up from my meagre army pays. It was standing there bright and shiny amongst all the other cars in the showroom. I asked the salesman to manoeuvre it out for me as I was afraid of scratching it, not to mention the other cars. He parked it across Water Lane, shook my hand and wishing me the best of luck departed. I sat in the driver’s seat, twiddled the wheel a bit and looked across to the passenger’s seat; for the first time I saw there was no one sitting there – it was all a bit scary!

drove gingerly back to McLaren’s Fabrications where I was employed at the time; I was as proud as Punch and eager to hit the open road but it was still only Friday lunch time there was the afternoon to get through first. I worked with my dad at the time and Dad’s mate was a guy called Cliff; he was a grand guy – the firm’s mechanic. He came over to take a look at the car standing there, still all bright and shiny and he said, ‘Well, it looks a million dollars.’
I had to park it overnight in our back street and in those days even in a back street a car had to have lights. Now, if you were to leave a car overnight with even the sidelights on the battery would be as flat as a pancake in the morning, so people had various devices to show a light. Some obtained road-mender’s lamps and placed them in the road alongside the car. I had a spare battery, which I positioned in the boot and ran a line to a tiny little light that fitted onto the top of the driver window and showed red at the back and white at the front. Well, as ‘Sod’s law’ would have it on that very first Friday night that I had the car we had one of the worst gales I can recall before or since. I lay in my little back bedroom hearing slates being blown off the house roofs and crashing down into the street all night long, crash after crash; all I could think about was my poor little car. In the morning there was a huge gash where a slate had sliced into the car roof.
The following night, Saturday, I proudly took my mates out for the night – we went to Harrogate and I was relieved when I managed to get the vehicle home without further damage. After the slate fiasco Dad had managed to negotiate with a neighbour to allow me to leave the car overnights in his large unused garden. This would save me from falling slates and absolve the need to put on any lights at all. Unfortunately, while attempting to manoeuvre the car into his garden the front wheel fell down a huge unseen hole and crumpled the front mudguard. I had to get Dad up to extract me from the hole as I was making an even greater mess of the car in my efforts to pull clear.
I drove it to work on the following Monday morning; Cliff the mechanic took another look at it – now with its gashed roof and crumpled mudguard. ‘Well.’ he said, ‘It looked a million dollars on Friday – but I wouldn’t give you tuppence for it now!’
The winter of 1962/63 was a bad ‘un; one Friday night (4th January 1963) I parked the car in the centre of Leeds and went dancing with my mate to the Majestic Ballroom. I met Brenda that night and gave her a lift home we got stuck in the snow on a hill between Harehills Road and Harehills Lane. The very first night we met. Brenda had to push me out of a snowdrift in her high heeled shoes – we never looked back and had our golden wedding in 2018

The Summer of 1962

May 1, 2019

By Eddie Blackwell
I’d just finished National Service in February of ’62, it was the annual Summer Holiday Weekend, and the weather was reasonable for the time of year, I was living at home with my Mum and Dad, I had nothing planned for the weekend. My Sister Sheila and my brother in law Roy had gone camping with Hazel their daughter who was two years old, to a place called Betws y Coed in North Wales.
Well Mum was fretting they’d been away almost a week, and there were no communications that we could afford, other than a letter or a card through the post. We’d received a post card saying they’d arrived OK and everything was fine, they were camping at a farm just off the main road, they had fantastic scenery all around, and they were having a good time. It was a sunny afternoon and we were sittinging in the front garden, I said to Mum and Dad why don’t we go down there and find them it’s a Bank Holiday Weekend we can stay over and come back on the Monday, ready for work on Tuesday morning. Without hesitation Mum said yes, I’ll get some things together. We had a Black 1953 Ford Consul with a I.5 litre engine, it was in reasonable condition apart from a couple of worn tyres. Mum was ready in about an hour, I had filled with petrol checked oil and water lights and tyre pressures, brake light and brakes and hand brake, windscreen wipers, a full first parade. I’d learnt to drive in the Army and followed the way I’d been instructed, be prepared and check everything (famous last words). I think dad was a bit apprehensive, he didn’t drive and either walked or used public transport to travel about, this was a new venture for him, yet he did seem excited to be going to North Wales a place he’d never been.
I’d worked out a route, which may not have been the shortest distance, but it followed the main roads and guaranteed that driving conditions would be reasonable, I estimated about 135 miles and it would take approximately three hours with a pit stop for refreshment. Huddersfield, Manchester, Chester, Mould, Ruthin, then turn right onto the A5 at Corwen past the Fairy Glen Gorge and we’re there. All was going well the traffic was light and we made excellent progress, just one stop for toilets at a garage, and we were turning on to the A5 two and a half hours, well on schedule, and then it happened, as we were going through the forest, the back end went funny, a puncture oh the joys of motoring. No problem I said we have a spare that I checked before we started, I was well trained at wheel changing, part of you driving test in the Army changing a wheel out with the spare wheel unscrewed the nuts with the wheel brace, pass the jack Dad……No jack what, can’t see the jack, oh no, I wonder how far away the nearest garage is, nothing shown on the map, the road was clear, what to do for the best. Then a car came slowly into view travelling at a reasonable speed, obviously the driver saw us and slowed down, wound down his window and said do you need any help (can you imagine that happening today, foot down and off), I explained the problem and within ten minutes we were fixed wheel changed nuts tightened and off we went.
Betws-y-Coed was a strange layout just a main road with small streets running off from side to side, there was a Big Hotel as I remember and then we saw a sign for a farm. We’ll try this one I said, no they didn’t do camping, but directed us to one that did at the other end of town. Spot on we’d found them, with a 6 ft 6 in white ridge tent, there was plenty of room alongside and I pulled the car in. We didn’t have a tent, but it was only for a couple of nights and we’d manage. Mum would sleep in the tent with Sheila and Hazel and Dad, Roy and I would manage in the cars, we called to see the farmer to explain that we were only there for two nights, and didn’t have a tent, that’s OK he said no tent no charge.
Dad had been a Cook in the RAF during WW2 and soon had the kitchen sorted, Mum Had brought food from home, and it was sausage mash and baked beans for tea, I couldn’t wait I was starving,
I could have eaten a Scabby Donkey between two slices of bread.
I think Sheila, Roy and Hazel were pleased to see us, Hazel was over the moon Mum had her on her knee and was reluctant to put her down, well she’d not seen her for a week, things were working out well. After we’d had tea and done the washing up. Dad Roy and I went to the local had a pint and got a few cans of beer to take back.
The following day was a Sunday, Dad had bacon and eggs on the go with tomato’s bread and butter and pots of tea, the sun was shining it was a good day. Greenery all around and the hills formed protection from the wind, Roy and I took off for a walk for an hour to get rid of the cobwebs from the night before, everyone was happy, and Dad was a good cook, and very well organised in the kitchen. That afternoon we decided to go for a walk in the village, and then came the shock in Wales they followed a religious Sunday, and the shops, and the Pubs were closed. A silly idea if you ask me Dad said, they’ll only serve you at the Hotel if you’re staying there, Dad liked a pint on Sunday lunchtime and played snooker in the Working Men’s Club, surely you can go without a pint for one day Mum said, look at the lovely scenery. Roy changed the subject quickly, I know we’ll go to the Fairy Glen Joe, there’s a waterfall there and it’s very picturesque, that sounds fine Roy Dad said is it very far, it’s near where we had the puncture Dad I said, and off we went. We parked in the Fairy glen hotel car park and it took about 20 mins along the path to reach the Glen itself it the Conway river that wanders down then a combination of rapids and cascades that are channelled through a narrow ravine it’s a very impressive sight. It’s one of the principle attractions of the village and where Wuhelmina Stitch waits to see the Fairy Men on Beaver Bridge. It turned out to be a very satisfying experience and you could imagine how it got its name there was a magical feel about the place, suddenly Dads craving for a pint disappeared he was enthralled with the place. When we got back to camp, Roy said you’ll be all right tonight Joe, this Sunday thing happened to us last week, and I decided to but some cans in the boot of the car we can share those between us later. Dads face broke out into a smile and he started whistling, Whistle whilst you work, da dee da ’da-da dee, the primus was being primed and the big frying pan was out. Pork chops with the big ones with a piece of the kidney in, chips and peas, Apple pie with cream, for afters if you could manage it the cream was fresh from the farm life didn’t get much better than this, fresh air sunshine good food and the company of your closest family, but reality was just around the corner work on Tuesday morning.
The following day was Bank Holiday Monday which was also classed as a Sunday in Wales, but to be fair we’d had a good couple of days, we had some fun, and a lot of laughs and Mum had seen Hazel. I was at work on the Tuesday morning, and it was decided that we would leave on Monday morning to avoid the holiday traffic rush, if we left at 10 am we’d be home for about 1pm and Dad could get his pint at the Club, he also pointed out that if his lucky numbers were drawn out and he wasn’t there, he would lose the prize money. The number of years he used that as an excuse for being at the Club on Sunday Lunchtime you would not believe bless him. Sheila and Roy and Hazel were staying on until the Friday to complete their holiday. That evening Roy broke out the cans of beer we had a couple of cans and decided it was time for bed.
The following morning we awoke refreshed, Dad was preparing breakfast, Mum was packing her bits and pieces, Sheila was bathing Hazel in a large plastic tub the kettle was merrily boiling and I was feeling a bit sad at having to leave that morning. Still we all had to work, you need money to do these things, and I did enjoy the work that I did. I was a draughtsman in the building industry and there was never a dull moment in a drawing office, with all the banter, and hilarity you never felt down. The homeward journey was uneventful we arrive home in time for to drop Dad off for his pint at the club. You’ve guessed Dads numbers didn’t come out but there was always next week, in over 25 years I never remember Dad’s numbers coming out, but that’s another story for another time. We’d had a good weekend and there were many more to come. Although I must say it was a joy to climb into bed that night, the car seats were bench type seats you were laid down, but nothing equals the comfort of your own bed, particularly when it’s work the following morning. Although it’s almost 57 years ago the memories are still very vivid, and it seems but a flash of time since we were sitting in the front garden of our old house in Osmondthorpe discussing what we should do for the Bank holiday weekend.
Just a short poem about the Fairy Glen to finish off, hope you enjoy it I

Fairy Glen Betws-y-coed.
As the river Conway flows steadily towards the sea.
It passes by Fairy Glen a place you’d want to see,
Fast rapids and waterfalls are cascading along,
Down through the ravine the current is strong,
Then the river spreads and the waters are calmed,
With moss covered rocks the banks are adorned,
The woodland surrounds with a blanket of trees,
Light scent fills the air as if wanting to please,
A soothing ambience and you’re feeling at rest,
You were tired and weary now you’re at your best,
A magical place seeped in folk-law from long ago,
Wuhelmina Stitch “waits and Waits” to see the fairy men you know,
It’s a spiritual place filled with superstition spells and whims,
Where you want to say your prayers and sing a few hymns,
Toadstools moss with knurled and knotted roots litter the ground,
And you’ll search for the fairy men but their nowhere to be found,
Beavers bridge is there which allows you to across the river,
But when you reach the other side you’ll find your all a shiver,
Beautifully magical but spooky at times is how I’d describe it,
You’ll need good strong shoes and a waterproof cagoule,
It can be slippy underfoot don’t go acting like a fool,
There is a small charge for the upkeep of the paths,
Don’t know now how much it is I was never good at Maths
Stop off if your passing it’s a visit that you’ll treasure,
You’ll really enjoy and it will bring you lasting pleasure.