Places we/I lived and/or worked in.
A series of articles dealing with places we worked and/or lived in, scanning most of Europe, North-South and East-West.
This series will not include childhood places, which have been, or will be dealt with, elsewhere.
All anecdotes use names which represent the real ones involved, so far as I recall them.
Any similarities to people I know today, is really and truly accidental, unless otherwise stated.
Nr 1. - London, (circa 1960-1965) – A second article will occupy itself with our stay in London as Civil Servants later in life!
(Wandsworth, London SW 11)
London, at this time and epoch, was the so called "epi-centre" of Fashion, fun, free sex, Beatniks, Beatles and Bums!
I was enjoying visiting the Battersea Grammar School for Boys, at Streatham, and having my backside thrashed almost daily! The age of corporal punishment, and the pleasure had by those who administered it upon the buttocks of small, young boys, was still also very much the rage.
I sometimes feel that the masters who enjoyed this pleasure (amongst others) regretted greatly the fact that school was shut for the weekends, and most certainly, they returned every Monday with greatly renewed appetite and vigour, which calmed slowly during the school week, only to terminate in a great orgy of thrashing and other matters on the Friday's! Stocking up for the weekend, I suppose.
We had no choice in these matters, since any complaint made was treated as utter nonsense, and tended to end up with yet another thrashing for "telling lies"! Overall, I was always in a state of disgrace, and nowadays, looking back, I can say "sod you all - actually, I quite enjoyed it!"
This produced, over many decades, generations of males, who were forced to squander money, paying for a thrashing at the hands of a too eager and willing female, and indeed, occasionally male, simply because he missed it all from school days!
On weekends, I had the pleasure and enjoyment of being allowed to go at least 3 times a day to my parents church, unless I found a way out, which I often did through getting myself invited to play Cricket or Football for the School Old Boys Association, something which my father disapproved of, but my mother decided, reluctantly, could not be averted, if they were to advance their social standing!
I had no interest in what they did or did not believe, just as they had no respect for my own beliefs or disbelief's, but I know that I found the Old Boys sport pitches more interesting than the musty smelling old church buildings, and the Old Boys Bar much more entertaining than the Sunday School episodes of "Trailblazers", so one can imagine where I tried to find myself over the weekend periods!
I was, actually, a more than useful sportsman. If there was a ball involved, then there was no stopping me. On the other hand, no ball - no play. Swinging around on wall-bars, like an orang-outang, or trying to jump over a ridiculously high placed bar, with the aid of a wooden pole (which inevitably broke) or climbing up ropes to try to reach the peanut reward at the top, badly burning your hands coming down - these things were not my cup of tea, at all! My first Gym teacher, appropriately enough nicknamed "Chimp", due to his visual features, loved these things, almost as much as watching us young lads run through the cold showers, where he could lust at the cane marks on the bottoms of recently "treated" subjects, but they were simply not my thing. "Chimp" also ran a lucrative side business - selling cheap tracksuits, very expensively, on weekly credit arrangements. We all had at least one, being convinced that he would thrash a bottom barely covered with one of his own tracksuits at least a bit less! Actually, all he did was to give the order to "take them down, young lad, and bend over!" The sight presented to his eager eyes actually excited him even more!
Anyway, ball games, or sports where a ball was concerned, were much more my thing.
They actually stopped me from taking part in the "throwing the cricket ball" event at Sports Day, which I always won anyway, but they were fed up having to go and search for the thing, in knee high nettles, on the other side of the fencing, whilst I was "baring all" in front of Chimps eager eyes in the dressing room!
Being of Scottish origins, my lot was a hardy one, even harder than the normal young schoolboy of the epoch, and they believed, sincerely, that the Gentleman's game of Cricket and Tennis were not in my powers, until I dismissed the Headmaster, during the Staff/School cricket match, with a thundering delivery, which pitched on his canvas plimsoll
covered big toe, making him hop and jump, to the delight of the some 2 hundred schoolboys, condemned annually to watching this farce. Adding insult to injury, I screamed a perfectly legitimate appeal for LBW, denied by the master umpiring! It didn't matter, the Headmaster limped off anyway, and some 10 days later, after supporting the taunting looks of his schoolboys for so long, he had his revenge, but this time I didn't have to "take them down" - I just had to bend over!
It was worth every stroke, and he knew it!
So this attractive and uncomplicated life carried on, I wasn't aware that anything else existed except "take them down and bend over" for many years!
If I had known that I was to use climbing ropes to save my life much later on, I may have paid more attention to my style and speed!
Football, or soccer, was of course one of my main sports, but I genuinely think that Cricket was my favourite of all, and I rapidly decided that if you were going to take part, then 100%, and became an "all-rounder" batting number 4-5 and tweaking my left arm spin around the batsman's legs. I had given up my long run up, and my ambitions to be a fast bowler. It seemed to me to be a waste of energy, when one got better results with cunning flight, and just a little twist on the perfectly pitching ball.
My breakthrough came in the annual match School v Old Boys, a match ALWAYS won by the Old Boys, since they were considerably older. This particular year, the rain had, as usual, lashed down, like Chimp's cane, and we played in the mud. The track used had to be abandoned, at the insistence of the ground-keeper, who saw otherwise, weeks and weeks of work to repair it, and the new pitch was much closer to the Main School entrance.
The Old Boys had batted first in a limited over match, and I had managed to take some 4 wickets of the 5 which fell. At the time, I batted right down at number 10, the School Cricket master feeling that a) no Scotsman was capable of playing Cricket, and b) that it wasn't right to have the same guy spoiling it all for the others!
When I finally walked out in the failing light, in the drizzling rain, sliding around on the mud-patches, all the fielders, including the Umpires, were looking forward to retiring quickly to the Bar! So was I, but I had my pride, and although it was obvious that at 19 for 9, we had no chance of reaching the 150 odd needed for victory!
I received my first ball from the ferociously fast reputed Old Boy, barely saw it in the raindrops, but I felt a solid thump on my bat, and noted, with satisfaction, that the Umpire was being reluctantly forced to signal a 6!
Admittedly it was on a very short boundary, but that fast fearsome bowler, never forgave me, and although I played many times later in the same team as Colin Hicks, I always had the impression that he was permanently glaring at me!
In any case, the thing continued, and finally was wrapped up by my being stumped by the wicketkeeper, and the match was over! I still maintain that the Square leg Umpire (a Master who didn't like me anyway) only lifted his finger because he was fed up standing in the rain, and anyway, with the dim light, he couldn't have seen a damned thing from his position - I had trouble seeing the ball at 2 feet of my nose! Of our 38 runs, I had scored 19!
This so cheesed off the Opposition, my team mates, and everyone with "anti Scottish" sentiments, that I had to pay for my own drinks, for a while, in the Bar! It had, however, shown that I had an amount of talent, and even more tenacity and determination!
This made me an almost certain choice in the Old Boys weekend teams, which meant, in turn, no Sunday School!
Incidentally, whilst at School, I had the occasion to participate in the broadcasting of a BBC Children's Programme, "Seeing Sport" (always filmed, when on the subject of Cricket, at my school) a couple of times. The now Sir Garfield Sobers being the guest star, they required a left armed bowler, and my being the only one in the School, they came to get me out of some detention room or other, kitted me out with borrowed, over sized cricketing whites. "It's only for the purpose" they said, but when I had knocked over Gary Sobers off stump, twice, with two balls, they regretted their decision to employ me! Admittedly, he was concentrating more on showing how to play a cover drive, difficult to do with a ball which pitches on the leg side and spins to the off stump! Don't care - that was my claim to fame. Unfortunately not to fortune!!!!!
So life went on, more or less "regularised" between rows at home about Church-going or not, at School about sport and how to avoid the next "applied discipline".
Had not an unexpected turn in fortunes arrived, I do not doubt that my life would have continued in the same manner as most of the other lads I still know of, in later life all becoming Bankers, Civil Servants, or similar status, all using the "old school tie" procedure to get wherever they got.
My basis for future life started on the day when the door to the Projection Room, situated over the gallery of the main hall, suddenly burst open, and presented a sort of "flying squad" made up of masters and senior prefects of the school.
It was a well known fact, up till then respected, that this Projection Room was used as a "safe haven", during main assemblies, as the "smoke lounge" for us naughty boys, who couldn't keep their hands off the wicked stick of tobacco, and a sort of code of honour respecting this fact had been sealed for many years.
This was the first of many future examples in my life which teach one NEVER to believe "honourable" settlements. They are always used at the end against you, and generally terminate in serious difficulties.
I found this out in later life in Northern Ireland, in Eastern Germany, and I'm still finding it out, even now, in the twilight of my life.
I had at least been prepared by this outburst into the projection room, so in later life I was always able to provide myself a way out, no mean feat in some of the circumstances I found myself later.
This particular time was, of course, the first time I had been presented by the "breaking of honoured word" process, and so it was that I and a couple of other lads found ourselves on the carpet, and summarily expelled from the Institution!
Nowadays, of course, unthinkable, but at the time, Masters and Headmasters were demi-gods, their word was law, although often resulting in multiple miscarriages of justice!
I heard later that it had been intended as a "shock" and that it had been awaited that some sort of appeal or protest would be made by our parents, and indeed a couple of the other lads were readmitted to the honourable establishment a few days later, as a result of their parents action at the local Education Authority.
My own parents had no idea what to do, and didn't care either. They had their "flock of sheep" to shepherd in their church, and anything outside of that exceeded their range of capabilities. No protest or appeal was therefore made on my behalf, and I started in onto the large stage of "Working Life".
I did hear that some kind of representation had been made on my behalf by certain Masters at the "Old School"-probably those who enjoyed thrashing my bare backside - but to no avail, there not having been any contact made between Parents and School authorities.
After a short period of reflection, I started in and sent off many letters requesting work. Nowadays it may seem ridiculous that at a tender age, one is left on one's own to seek employment, unthinkable nowadays, but so it was in those days. No help was forthcoming from any quarter, which, I think, marked once again my future thinking.
I have always found it preferable to try to walk alone, to avoid involving, as much as possible, other people in your affairs. In any case, just as in "cloak and dagger" things, the more people that are in the know, the greater and more certain, is the probability that "all will out", and normally at a time most inconvenient.
Even now I try to avoid involving other people in the difficulties and procedures necessary to exist in the so-modern and doomed world. The more people are involved, the greater the chance that it will go wrong, and although I can control a situation created by only myself, I cannot control the emotions and errors made by others - so leave them out, as far as humanly possible!
I practiced this way of life from the date of my expulsion onwards, and had the great fortune to fall across a woman of similar thinking, we married, and nobody knew anything about it at all - only the witness and the Registrar - to the shock of many!
That, however, is well into the future, and here I was, standing in front of the main buildings of "The London Evening News", amidst hectic and frantic activities (which I found out later to be the normal state of affairs). Northcote House, I think it was called, and my appointment was pending with the Personnel Chief/Department of this illustrious newspaper, which had taken upon itself the decision to offer me a job as a "trainee journalist". This was my first day, and I had the duty of presenting myself at this Personnel Office to be shown around, and taken to my place of work!
Hey - this was exciting stuff, and to celebrate, I had bought myself my first packet of evil smelling French cigarettes, "Gitanes" they are called, and I stayed faithful to their exotic call until they became (like all other pleasures) too expensive. I had no, or few illusions about this future life, I didn't expect to be asked to write the opening page, at least not on my first day, on the second, maybe!
Life in the "News Room" was, as it's name implied, chaotic, even in those days, when the most up to date means of communication were ticker tape style machines, the pre-runners of the modern fax machines, pumping out sheets and sheets of newly arrived murders, catastrophes, and all the other bad news that makes up the front pages of any self respecting newspaper, and this was, after all, one of two leading "evening" papers, in the Countries Capital city!
Far be it that we "trainee journalists" actually got to have a pen or pencil in hand, we were in fact, "copy boys". Even then, you see, employers cheated when dishing out contracts to young aspiring employees.
We were at the beck and call of all and sundry. Someone raised a hand with a piece of paper in it, shouted "Copy", and we were obliged to go racing to the spot, weaving through the hordes of itinerants standing around, apparently doing nothing, just as I used to weave my way through the defences of the opposition at football matches. Jerking the bit of paper out of the hand of the suppliant, just as Caesar did with his petitioners, we were then obliged to weave our way to the destination - shouted into our ear by the suppliant! "Sports Desk/News Desk/Local news desk" etc.
Personally I felt that most of it deserved its real place in the rubbish bin, and occasionally it did!
Only later, after a particularly dirty episode regarding the search for a body, that of a young girl, suspected murdered (in those day's this was headline news) did I see what murky waters "journalism" actually was!
I recall being on my way out, off home, when I was told - "No, you'll have to stay a while longer - they've found a body somewhere, and it's probably the one we've been waiting for".
I hadn't been waiting for this event at all, but the wheels rolled into motion, first out sold the most, and even then it was considered that the general public were as macabre as the Journalists themselves!
I'll never forget hearing the great sigh of contentment that went up when the news finally came through that it was indeed the "awaited body"
At that moment I decided that if all the world was only interested in violent death, I may do better to go to one of the sources - The British Army!
And that is what I did!
(iwmpop ) January 2008.