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Stirling Engines. The future for electricity generation. (Powered by a packet of frozen peas). (5 images)
I was looking for a small workshop project to keep me amused during lockdown, and started investigating Stirling hot-air engines. I had seen them, but never really understood how they worked. Here's an explanation.
Step 1 was to buy this Chinese toy and fire it up with its little spirit lamp.
It's quite crudely made, but runs really well and was a useful demonstration of the principles. It was amazing value for £13
Step 2 was to try and make one of my own.
The printed parts.
There are lots of designs on the web for simple engines made of old beer cans and bent bits of wire. One of the nicer ones was on a website by Myfordboy, designed to run off the heat from a cup of coffee.
He supplies the design for making some of the pieces on the 3D printer, so that gave me a chance to try something else new. Other parts are the lids of sweet tins, the pointy end of a propelling pencil, a piece of a latex glove, some needles, and a piece of expanded polystyrene packaging.
I put it all together, but had no success at all in getting it to run. Not even a twitch of willingness. There didn't seem to be any leaks, but I didn't really want to spend much time trying to find what was wrong, so I abandoned that one and moved on.
I came across a website run by Jan Ridders in the Netherlands. He has designed and built a lot of different engines including Stirlings, and makes his designs freely available. He is a really useful contact and happy to answer questions. His website has pictures of the complete engines and videos of them in action. The design that appealed to me most was this one called "Wiggers", powered by a tea light.
It has lots of moving parts that will be fascinating to watch, and it doesn't look any more complicated than some of the steam engines I have made. I had to source a few of the materials,
The glass cylinder and displacer
The 5mm aluminium base plate and upper plate
Aluminium bar to make the cylinder
Ball races for the flywheel bearings and cranks
A casting for the flywheel itself
the rest can be made from bits of steel and brass I already have lying around.
This picture, Jan 2021, shows the baseplate and main columns, the cold cylinder with its fins, the two flywheel bearings, and the mounting disc for the tea light. In the foreground are the hot cylinder, the displacer, the drive rods which will connect the beams to the crankwebs, and the crankwebs themselves, which are unfinished.
The base plates were cut to size for me by Metal Supermarket in Southampton.
The cold cylinder, with its aluminium fins, is coming on quite nicely.
The hot cylinder and displacer are test-tubes, cut down to size.
The bearing housings, with their ball races for the crankshaft, are done, as are the drive rods which connect the beams to the crankwebs. The crankshaft and crankwebs are still unfinished.
I have simplified some of the cosmetic features of the design, so my finished product won't be quite as pretty as Jan's original. Instead of those beautiful steel columns, I have used some hex brass I happened to have.
I have also had to deviate from some of the metric measurements of the design – my lathe is calibrated in imperial and my taps and dies are all BA sizes!
The project continues.....Updates will be posted from time to time.
The rust bucket
One of my Lockdown projects! I've made a wooden a base for a lamp that my son made for me. As you can see I've rounded of the edges of a nice piece of oak (I used the Shed's bench router between lockdowns!!). Then used a Forstner bit to make the hole for the cylinder head to sit in. It's a cylinder head from an old BSA Bantam (probably a 175cc two stroke). My son had not secured the head securely so I sourced a length of 5/16 thread bar. The threads were not metric of course! The body through which the lamp glows is a Lakeland or IKEA kitchen tool caddy (with bottom cut off). The plastic tube covering the bulb is an offcut flu liner for a new boiler we had to have before Christmas. I've used that to create more of a diffused the light.
The lamp makes a nice glow in the corner of my den, could be a talking point if only we had visitors!
Now that we're all confined to our houses again, it's time to tackle those jobs that we didn't quite get round to in previous lockdowns. So how about going through that drawer full of retired electronic gadgets that you can't bear to throw away because you can still remember how much you paid for them.
Last year, in a box of junk that somebody gave me, I found these 3 old Nokias. They had no batteries or sim cards, and I couldn't say whether they worked, but in mobile phone terms, they are old enough to be collectable antiques.
Apparently some people still like to use them because they are simple and robust. I have also heard that they are good for home-made alarm systems. Connect the phone to a sensor and when it detects an intruder it will ring you up.
They attracted a lot of interested bidders, and went for £42.00.
So, how many of you still have a classic mobile from the days when men used to boast "mine's smaller than yours". It might be worth more than you think.
Unbeknownst to many of us, our social secretary, Tony, has actually had a book published (something tells me that he might have financed the publication himself). Be that as it may, he has offered us the chance to read of his mis-doings and I must admit that it makes for good reading. I am not too sure whether he should enter it for the Booker, the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize or the Walter Scott Prize. Have a read and let us know what you think.
So here is episode 1 (keep a look out for the next episode:)
Chapter 1 – Sandgrown
On the north-west coast of England overlooking the Irish Sea lies the holiday resort of Blackpool, famed for its seven golden miles of beach, 3 piers and the Blackpool Tower. In 1879, it became the world’s first municipality to install electric street lighting and in 1885 opened its famous tramway which still runs on 11 miles of track from South Shore (Starr Gate) to Fleetwood.
Among its other attractions are the Pleasure Beach, the Sandcastle indoor water park, (at the time of writing, the largest in the U.K.) and, of course, the world famous Blackpool Illuminations. As far as I am aware, there is only one Blackpool in the world (other than Blackpool Sands in south Devon) although Dublin, (Dubh Linn), just across the Irish Sea, is derived from the Irish for black pool.
Being born in Blackpool qualifies for the soubriquet “Sandgrown”: Frank Swift, England goalkeeper who died in the Munich air disaster, George Carman Q.C., TV presenter Zoe Ball, journalist Alistair Cooke, Graham Nash from The Hollies, Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop boys and the politician, Chris Patten are all “Sandgrown” and somewhat lower down the celebrity scale, well, not actually registering at all … so am I!
On the 20th February, 1950, my mother was taken from Glenroyd Maternity Hospital, Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, to Victoria Hospital where I was delivered by caesarean section before we were both returned to Glenroyd.
A week later I was taken home to 41, Fir Grove, Blackpool, about 1 mile from the hospital and in March that year I was christened James Anthony Crane at St. John Vianney Church where my parents James William Crane and Audrey Beryl Moffatt had been married in 1949.
Fir Grove, a small terraced property about 3 miles from Blackpool town centre was shared with my paternal grandparents, James & Doris Crane (shown below on their wedding day in 1926), as well as Dads younger brother, Tom, so things must have been pretty cramped when I arrived. I was known as Anthony as three James’ in the house would have proved too confusing.
My earliest recollection is of being held in my grandfather’s arms in a small rear bedroom with deep red curtains which, when the sun was shining, filled the room with a rosy glow. My Grandad was wearing a green & white striped dressing gown and “shushing” me to sleep.
People tell me that I couldn’t possibly remember this as he died in 1951 but I know what I know, and I vividly remember the scene.
I also remember crawling under the bed in my infancy and discovering an accordion although I don’t know who it belonged to and don’t recall it ever being played.
I vaguely recall though, trapping my fingers in it and, according to my mother, “screaming the house down”.
Dad rode in a Cycle Speedway team whose cinder racetrack was on wasteland just off Waterloo Road. He also played football for St. John Vianney Church Team on a Saturday afternoon and in winter my Mum would get the tin bath from the outhouse, place it in front of the fire and fill it with steaming water for when he arrived home still in his football kit and covered in mud.
I was allowed to play in the bath once he had finished with it, (probably ending up dirtier than when I got in) and then Mum would make his evening meal which, on Saturdays, was always egg, bacon and fried bread accompanied by a mug of steaming tea as they listened to Sports Report at 5:00 pm with its distinctive opening music, (still played today by the way) for the football results read by Raymond Glendenning.
I remember climbing into bed with my Grandma in the mornings whilst negotiating the obstacle that was the “chamber pot”. She would turn the “wireless” on and we would listen to the BBC Light Programme. My favourite tune was “I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside” played by Reginald Dixon on the massive Wurlitzer organ from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and Grandma would sing along to it.
Behind Fir Grove on Dover Road was Seddons Ice Cream factory and I soon learned that if I sat on the kerb next to the factory doors, I would be given an ice cream cone by the friendly workers taking a cigarette break in the sunshine.
Other suppliers of treats for my consumption were provided by next door neighbours, Etty Liversidge, (sounds like a character from a Les Dawson sketch doesn’t it?) at number 39 and Mr & Mrs Way at number 43. In the days before instant coffee, Mrs Way would make it in a pan on the stove using milk and “Camp Coffee” which, if I remember correctly was chicory essence and she was still using it when I called in to see her one day in my early teens.
Whilst my Uncle Tom was doing National Service, (Dad had already done his stint in the Fleet Air Arm, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland), Grandma found his precious record collection of 78’s hidden under his bed featuring artistes such as Johnnie Ray, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. She then proceeded to put them in the oven until they were pliable and fashion them into plant pots to sell at jumble sales. (Those of you old enough may remember them).
She didn’t even have to drill a drain hole in them as they already had one right in the middle! Fortunately, I don’t recall his reaction when he arrived home on leave!
My brother, Andrew arrived in April 1951 and on my second birthday, Mum and Dad bought me a small red and yellow “Triang” tricycle which I immediately “bent” by riding down the alley between the houses and straight into a brick wall This was mainly due to the fact that my Dad neglected to tell me how to use the brakes!
Mum would often take me by bus to visit my Nan at Layton and I would spend hours standing on the footbridge at Layton Station as the trains passed underneath enveloping me in a cloud of steam from their funnels.
In 1953, my parents took me on holiday leaving Andrew with Grandma while we went to Middleton Towers Holiday Camp near Morecambe for a week. Mum and I travelled in the sidecar of his 1000cc Vincent motorbike and I remember a wasp entering its confined space as we drove over a bridge at Garstang en route and my Mum trying to grab Dad’s attention to tell him to pull over.
Sadly, my Dad couldn’t hear a thing through his crash helmet and blithely carried on regardless. The wasp ended up splattered against the window of the sidecar after a deft blow from Mum with a rolled up newspaper.
My only memory of the holiday itself was of me cutting my leg open on a slide and having iodine and plasters applied.
In that same year, my Uncle Tom took me to nearby Spen Corner at Marton, and sitting on his shoulders, we cheered the victorious Blackpool football team who, that weekend, had beaten Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in that memorable ’53 Cup Final, with Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen holding aloft the F.A. Cup as they passed down Waterloo Road in an open top bus.
As well as the F.A. Cup, my sister, Judith also arrived in 1953 and shortly after, we left Fir Grove for a council house on the newly built Mereside Estate on the outskirts of Blackpool.
Bounded to the north by Preston New Road and to the south by Clifton Road the construction of Mereside Estate commenced after the second world war and the first houses were occupied in 1949 with all the streets and roads on the estate being named after places in the Lake District A continuously vandalised windmill, built in 1838 and in use until 1923 rests on a rise in a strip of green between Preston New Road and Langdale Road.
Our new house at 38 Branstree Road with its 3 bedrooms seemed absolutely massive to us. Moving in must have been a great relief to Mum & Dad (as well as Grandma) and it was newly built, so everything was “spick and span”. There were acres of undulating fields behind the house so plenty of room to play and explore. We would spend hours there playing “Japs & Commandos” using pieces of tree branches as rifles with the other boys on the estate and were the envy of them all when my Mum’s brother, Uncle Alan presented us with 2 hand-made wooden Tommy Guns. No more sticks for the Cranes!
Uncle Alan was a bit of a “black sheep” but we thought he was great especially when he turned up one day with an enormous wooden chest full of Meccano for us. He also arrived one Bonfire Night with a massive cardboard box full of fireworks. Sadly, he forgot to close the lid and a stray spark set the lot off. Cue panic from all the adults whilst we looked on in amazement. It was never asked where he got all these things from but if they “fell off the back of a lorry”, they were remarkably undamaged!
Across the back fields, on Clifton Road loomed Marton Gasworks, an enormous brick edifice which continually spouted steam and smoke and stood beside two enormous gasometers. Once used to the fumes, we never noticed it, but visitors would always comment on the strange smell in the area.
As kids, we were often given 2/6d (12.5p in new money) to wheel an old pram down to the works for a sack of coke. This was a smokeless fuel by-product of the gasworks and radiated far more heat than a coal fire (with much less mess). We would arrive in the yard where there was a set of weighing scales with an enormous bucket and 56lb weight, ring a hand bell and await the arrival of a workman who would fill the bucket with coke, pour it into a sack and lift it into the pram.
Going back home pushing the pram was quite a struggle with a sack of coke and a hill to negotiate especially in winter when our hands would be tingling with the cold but I only have fond memories of those times. Mum would often supply me with slices of bread which I toasted over the fire with a toasting fork. (Do they still exist?)
One misty day in winter, I recall sledging down a hill at the bottom of Deepdale Road and overrunning onto Clifton Road. Hearing a screech of brakes, I looked up to see the front end of a lorry that had stopped just in time before I disappeared under it’s front wheels. The lorry driver jumped out of his cab and aimed a few choice words in my ear before setting off again.
I got home, visibly shaken to ask my Mum what “stupid little bastard” meant but was sent to bed and no explanation for the phrase was forthcoming.
At that time, Dad drove a goods wagon for a Blackpool sweet manufacturer called Waller & Hartley and I remember him taking me to Manchester to collect sacks of flour for the factory. We drove into a flour mill and parked up besides an opening in the wall. Dad would press a button next to the opening and shortly after; a sack of flour would fly down a chute and out of the opening onto the bed of the wagon where he would pick it up and place it with the others in a neat pile.
As he was carrying one of the sacks, I reached up and pressed the button whilst his back was turned only to be completely flattened and winded by the arrival of the next sack. After removing the offending item from my chest and checking I was OK, he gave me a stern telling off and we departed Manchester with me sat in the cab of the lorry covered in flour dust.
Our next door neighbours, the Siddall's, had a son called Harold who was about 10 years older than me. One morning about 8:30 whilst sat on the wall outside our house waiting for my pals to turn up and “play out”, Harold came out with his fishing rod and gear and told me that he was going fishing at “Great Elm”, a local pond about 20 minutes’ walk away through the fields. He agreed to take me with him and we duly walked off.
Unfortunately, I neglected to tell Mum where I was going and when we returned a few hours later, Harold’s face drained of colour as we walked up the street and saw a posse of neighbours outside our house organising a search party.
Big as he was, his Mum dragged him in by the ear and I was sent to bed and not allowed out for a week. (I think they call it “grounded” now). Strange as it may seem, Harold never took me fishing again!
Across the road from No.38 lived Neil Stewart. He was 5 years older than me and was the oldest member of our “gang”. His was the first family to purchase a television and we used to go over to his house to watch it. Our knock on the door was accompanied by a cry from Neil indoors shouting, (much to our embarrassment), “Mum, the Cranes are here again, can they come in”? I also remember him getting a metallic blue racing bike with “dropped handlebars” for his birthday and everyone wanted a go on it but he’d only let you sit on the crossbar whilst he rode it.
I once spent all day with him waiting for a GPO delivery van to turn up with his new cricket whites, the trousers of which, he assured me, were made from the white skin of a shark’s underbelly! Naturally enough, I believed him although when I told my Mum, she just looked at me pitifully, shook her head and said nothing.
He brought a set of darts over one day and made me stand against the wooden wash house door whilst he threw them around my head, knife thrower style. When he finally conceded to a role reversal, I promptly threw the first dart into the top of his head. Stunned, and obviously not in too much pain, he went home and told his Mum what I’d done.
Mrs Stewart arrived at our front door a few minutes later accompanied by Neil (with the dart still in his head) to complain to my Mum who suggested that at his age, he should have known better than to give me the darts in the first place whereupon he sheepishly admitted that he had been doing the same trick with me. Mrs Stewart promptly clipped his ear and the dart dutifully fell out.
Across the road was a large, oval shaped green in Birkside Way where we used to play football, (not allowed any more I believe). After tea one evening, Neil informed us all that the Eagle comic hero, Dan Dare would be landing on the green that evening on his way to a mission in space. The garden walls on the estate were only about 2 feet high and we were sitting there awaiting the arrival of our hero when suddenly, the dulcet tones of Mum shouting “Anthoneeeeee, time to come in” were heard. (She refused to call me Tony until I started work).
“But Mum, I’m waiting for Dan Dare; can I have a bit longer”? I pleaded. “NO, bedtime, NOW” came the reply and I trudged back over the road to the sound of jeers from my friends.
Dan Dare – pilot of the future. Sadly I missed him!
The next morning, Neil told me that Dan had duly arrived in his rocket, chatted with them all for a few minutes and then took off to fight his sworn enemy, the Mekon.
I was devastated and told my Mum as much. Once again, that pitiful look and shake of the head were cast in my direction.
(To this day, I’ve always wondered what Neil’s excuse would have been if I’d have been allowed to stay out for “the landing”).
Over the years, I’ve often thought about those times and especially Neil’s tall stories and now realise that, in the modern vernacular, he would now be referred to as a bullshitter!
Grandma had by now sold Fir Grove and moved in with us as a permanent baby sitter whilst my parents went to work. Uncle Tom, who worked for the Blackpool Evening Gazette, was a frequent visitor and would bring us all sorts of toys to play with. I remember him turning up one day with a plastic gun which launched circular propellers. After taking off the packaging, he placed the propeller on the gun and wound it up.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t read the instructions, (most men don’t), wound it too far and the whole thing flew apart in bits.
Much to Grandmas annoyance, (“You spend too much on those kids Thomas”), he went straight round to the shops, bought an enormous balsa wood glider and took us on the back fields to launch it. Sadly, on its inaugural flight it disappeared into the distance and after much searching, we discovered it on an unreachable rooftop two streets away. Tom tragically died in his late forties and was always one for buying the latest gadgets. He was well into photography and built his own darkroom in the loft as well as being the first person I knew to purchase a video recorder, a Ferguson Videostar as I recall. He would have been in his element in todays high-tech society
I don’t know how much Dad was earning as a lorry driver at that time but it couldn’t have been much as my Mum would earn extra cash hand painting toy soldiers in our spare room for Casdon Toys on Clifton Road. When we were all of a school age, she worked as a typist in the office of Hymans Jewellers in Blackpool and told me that in the 1940’s she had also worked as a typist for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at The Glendower Hotel, St. Annes which the government had taken over for the duration of the war.
I must have been about 6 or 7 when I recall riding my bike round to the shops on Mereside and leaving it outside the Post Office which was run by Mr Riddell who I remember as being a really nice chap. I went in to buy some sweets, my favourites were Penny Arrow toffee bars, Sherbet Fountains and Dolly Mixtures (which I still buy today). I then wandered into the “Chippy” for “three (3d) of chips” served by Charlie Joyce who ran the shop.
Prior to opening the Chippy, Charlie had operated an ice cream van on the estate and from the day he opened in 1955/6 to the day I left Mereside in 1973, Charlie never introduced any new products. It was only ever fish, chips, Holland’s pies & puddings, mushy peas and gravy. Nothing as exciting as curry sauce!
When I came out with my chips the bike was gone and I saw one of the girls from the estate that had a reputation as a bit of a tomboy riding away on it. I shouted at her to bring it back but she just rode off laughing leaving me to trudge home in tears. A couple of days later, I was in the front garden of a friend who lived across the road when we saw the girl accompanied by an older woman, riding down the road towards us bold as brass on my bike. I picked up a big lump of dried mud from the garden and, as they road past, threw it at her whereupon she ducked and the mud caught the older woman, (evidently, her mother) flush on the side of the head!
I watched in horror as she fell off her bike and decided that a quick exit from the scene was the best course of action so I ran round the back of the property into the wash house and hid behind the door not daring to breathe. I could hear the woman searching the garden mouthing threats of death but amazingly enough; she never looked behind the door where stood holding my breath and quaking in fear. After what seemed like an eternity, my mate came to find me to tell me that they had both gone and I could come out of hiding but I never saw my bike again!
Some of the questions I would ask my parents during this time were answered with the following inexplicable comments:
Q. Mum, where’s Dad?
A. In a bottle on t’roof!
Q. Dad, where’s Mum?
A.Run away with a black man!
(Political correctness hadn’t yet arrived)
Q. Mum, where have you been?
A. There and back to see how far it is!
Q. Grandma, where’s Mum?
A. Gone to Wem for 2 eggs.
(Wem evidently is in Shropshire but I never quite understood the meaning of this reply – and I still don’t)
My Mum was also quite superstitious and some of her sayings included:
Never put new shoes on a table.
Never cut your nails on a Sunday.
If you go out of the front door and return for something you’d forgotten, sit on a chair for one minute with your feet off the floor before departing again!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Strange ways indeed!
At the tender age of 4, I was taken by Mum to the bus stop outside the local shops to catch the “School Special” which would take me to Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Primary School on Common Edge Road in Blackpool. None of my mates were Catholic so I didn’t know a soul on the bus and no parents were allowed to travel on it. A little bit tearful, I arrived at school for my first day decked out in a scarlet blazer and cap, short grey trousers, grey shirt, grey socks and a red tie.
I was placed with another group of new starters in Miss O’Brien’s class and sat next to a boy called Brian. We told each other our names and waited to see what would happen next. Miss O’Brien said that she was going to write all our names in a register and came round the classroom giving each child a strip of stretchy stuff to play with. Both Brian and I had no idea what this strip of bendy material was but he eventually decided to take the lead, took an enormous bite out of it and commenced chewing. I was about to follow his lead but fortunately, the girl sat in the desk behind who was obviously more worldly than us promptly told Miss O’Brien that the boy in front of her was eating his Plasticine. It was duly confiscated.
Later that week, I was sat at my desk in some distress as I badly needed to “evacuate my bowels” but had no idea whether to wait for playtime or ask Miss O’Brian for permission to go to the toilet. Sadly, I did neither and as I sat there, nature eventually took its course. Brian casually edged away from me and the know-all girl behind us shouted “Miss, Anthony Crane has done it in his pants”.
Miss O’Brien calmed everyone down as most kids in the class were now making matters worse by holding their noses and loudly shouting “Urrrgh, what a pong”. She took me down the corridor to the caretakers room where there was a big stone sink and standing me in it, stripped me completely (as every item apart from my tie was contaminated) and using a block of pink carbolic soap, a sponge and plenty of hot water, managed to clean me up. Leaving me standing naked in the sink, she went in search of replacement clothes eventually returning with an old faded uniform which was used to dress Archie, the school Teddy Bear mascot who was much bigger than me. She dressed me in Archie’s uniform and returned me to the classroom to much sniggering, wrapping my washed clothes in newspaper and a paper carrier bag for me to take home.
I can still see my Mum’s face as, dressed in a faded school uniform which was much too big, I knocked on the front door and sheepishly handed over my previously pristine one. Can you imagine the above course of events being allowed to happen today? It was all perfectly innocent with no damage done (except to my pride) and resulted in a letter of thanks from my Mum to Miss O’Brien.
During the first few weeks at school, we were visited by the school health inspector at which event, my Mum had to attend. After being weighed and had a stick pressed down on my tongue, I had to stand on a chair dressed only in white underpants (coloured ones didn’t exist then) and a vest. The doctor pulled my underpants down to my knees, inspected my penis and muttered to my Mum, “Circumcision, I think Mrs Crane”.”What’s circumcision Mum?”, I asked as we walked to the bus stop outside school.”Nothing to concern you Anthony" came the reply. This was in the autumn of 1954 and I amdreading the sound of that appointment dropping through the letterbox. No, it hasn’t arrived yet!
The Head Teacher at Our Lady’s was Miss Nicholson who ruled the school with a rod of iron (not to mention the “sugar cane” which was used on the pupils sparingly should they transgress). She struck fear into everyone, (teachers included I think), with her strict demeanour and rigid rules and the kids were terrified of her. I believe she previously worked in Africa as a missionary and was still active at school, raising funds for the children over there. There was a PA system at the school with a loudspeaker in every classroom and I lived in dread of hearing the call, “Would Anthony Crane report to Miss Nicholson”.
As part of her fund raising activities, she would march into the classroom unannounced with a small book containing tear-off photographs of little African children, shout “BLACK BABIES” at the top of her voice, and we would all frantically dig into our pockets for a penny to put in her tin. She would then tear off one of the photographs and place it in the trembling hand to add to the collection of previous pictures stored in our desks. I was convinced that I owned a tribe of little black children judging by the collection I had amassed and was devastated to eventually learn that these children didn’t actually belong to me! Again, in today’s politically correct environment can you imagine that situation happening now?
All the school had to sit on the floor in the assembly hall at “going home time” and the haughty Miss Nicholson would call out the names of which “School Special” would be departing next. “South Shore”, “Marton", etc., etc. but Mereside (being a council estate was always the last to be called and she would say it as though the very word was an obscenity not to be uttered). My first experience of social prejudice!
Because my Dad was on a pretty low wage, I was allowed free school dinners whereas everyone else’s parents were forking out the princely sum of 5 shillings (25p) per week. All the pupils were given a dinner ticket each day before entering the dining hall with the less fortunate “free diners” always at the back of the queue. There was no choice. You had to eat what you were given and Miss Nicholson was always hovering around the tables to ensure that every scrap (including gristle) was consumed. I remember one lad, Paul Killiner, covertly filling his blazer pockets with pilchards as he just couldn't eat them. Unfortunately, they remained in his pockets for the rest of the day! God knows what his Mum said. Fridays were the best as, being a Catholic school, we always had fish and chips (or much to Paul’s dismay, pilchards) rather than some of the concoctions the cook and her staff presented us with. Having said that, the puddings were always “scoffed” without hesitation. Syrup sponge and Spotted Dick, with pink custard were my favourites.
Just recently, a waitress in a pub offered me some Spotted Richard for pudding. She told me that management insisted she called it that so as not to offend the more faint hearted customers. I fear the country has gone mad!
Again, being a Catholic school, great emphasis was placed on religious education and one of our first lessons involved drawing three circles in our exercise books. Using wax crayons, we coloured one circle in yellow, one circle in yellow with little black dots and the last circle we coloured black. It was then explained to us that these circles represented our souls. The yellow circle showed our soul in a “state of grace” (completely sinless). The yellow circle with black dots represented a soul with venial sins, (minor misdemeanours such as swearing, gossiping etc.) that had not been absolved by attending confession and the black circle showed a soul in “mortal sin”, (idolatry, adultery, murder, etc.). We were then told that if we died with our soul in a state of grace, we would go directly to heaven but dying with a soul containing venial sins meant we would go to a place called Purgatory where we would stay until our souls were cleansed (although how long this would take was never revealed). Dying with mortal sin on the soul meant eternal damnation in the fires of hell. As you can imagine, all this came as something of a shock to a class of innocent 4 year olds and if it was meant to shock us into leading a sinless life, it certainly had the desired effect – for a few days anyway!
One autumn morning, the school was told at assembly that the edges of the playing fields were being re-seeded and on no account was anybody to walk on the grass. After morning playtime, we all went back to our classroom and Miss Challinor, our teacher at that time, announced that despite the warning, two boys had been seen on the grass and they should both own up and report to Miss Nicholson for punishment. We all looked round the classroom in horror, wondering who the unfortunate miscreants were when eventually, as no one was prepared to admit to the crime, Miss Challinor announced “Anthony Crane and David Dawson go to Miss Nicholson’s office - NOW!” “But we haven’t been anywhere near the grass Miss” we both blurted out, (we hadn’t) which sadly fell on deaf ears and we both trudged slowly to the office wondering what little liar had come up with this story. We both tried to convince Miss Nicholson that it was just not true but to no avail and we were told that as a punishment, we would not be allowed to the Christmas Party on the last day of term. My Mum wrote a letter to the school in which she stated that she considered it a rather cruel punishment for “one so young” but sadly, the decision stood.
Come the day of the party, we were told to sit in the staff room and read a book whilst the rest of the school were noisily enjoying themselves in the assembly hall next door. Although it was December, it was a bright sunny day and we were told that as a concession, we could sit outside in the sunshine. Sat on the playground tarmac with our backs against the staff room wall bemoaning our fate, we watched in amazement as a bright yellow Blackpool Evening Gazette van driven by my Uncle Tom, pulled into the car park. He got out and with a cheerful wave to Miss Nicholson who was standing in the window, handed over a large bag full of cakes, sweets and pop. After chatting with us for a few minutes he drove off with a departing wave to the headmistress still standing aghast in the office window. We tucked in quickly for fear of them being confiscated and wondered if we would be subject to any sort of reprisal but thankfully, this didn’t happen and we both managed to avoid her gaze until we caught the bus home for the Christmas holidays.
Nice one Tom!
N.B. in 2001 whilst in Blackpool Victoria Hospital recovering from a broken ankle, who should turn up at my bedside but Miss Challinor who was a hospital visitor and recognised my name on some list or other and took the time out to say hello and have a chat - 41 years after leaving Our Lady’s. How nice of her, and what a memory she had!
At the age of 7, I moved up to the junior level at school and the class was informed that we would all be going for swimming lessons. Never having swum before I had no idea what to expect, but we were told to just bring a towel to school and if we had no trunks, they would be provided. A bus took us all to the Derby Baths in Blackpool, (now demolished and replaced by a Hilton Hotel) and we were taken down into the bowels of the building to what was called the Slipper Bath. I have no idea why it was called that, but remember it being quite a cold, dark area with no windows, just artificial lighting. We were shown to the changing rooms and those who didn’t have their own, (me included), were handed a pair of dark red itchy trunks which didn’t fit properly and had no elastic, just a drawstring to keep them up.
The swimming instructor introduced herself as Miss Heaton and told us to get into the water which was 3’6” deep and, to me, freezing cold. With our heads just above the surface and holding on for dear life to the rail running round the pool, (whilst attempting to hold my trunks up) she stood on the edge and told us to duck our heads under the water and count to 5 before bringing them up again. I didn’t like the sound of this at all and was terrified that I would never surface again and refused to do it. After repeated failed requests to comply, Miss Heaton casually stuck her foot on top of my head and pushed me under before I had time to take a breath. I remember swallowing a mouthful of water before the foot was removed and coughing and spluttering, finally surfaced to spend the rest of the half hour lesson skulking in a corner of the pool shivering.
Mum was less than impressed when I told her what had happened and all future proposed visits to the pool were accompanied by a letter from her excusing me from swimming due to the fact that I suffered from verrucas, (I didn’t but it was a good excuse) and I never went swimming again until senior school when the regime was a lot less strict.
On the academic side of things, I wasn’t doing too badly. My favourite subject was English. I had a good memory so learning poems came easy and I represented the school in various speech contests around the Blackpool area reciting all 94 lines of “Hiawatha’s Childhood” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I also recall a poem called Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore by William Brighty Rands which I recited on one speech day, winning first prize.
We had a monthly test featuring English and maths and after completing one of these in my final year of junior school, we were told that the paper we had just handed in was, in fact the 11 Plus exam which would determine which secondary school we would be attending. As we never really took these tests seriously and not being told beforehand that our immediate futures would be decided by the result, most of the class failed the exam, (much to Miss Nicholson’s disgust. “The worst class it has ever been my misfortune to come across”!), and we were informed that we would be given another chance by taking the entrance exam for St. Josephs College, or “Joe’s Jailhouse” as it was known locally. This proved far more difficult than the 11 plus and, not surprisingly, most of us failed to get in resulting in our futures being decided by the less salubrious environs of St. John Vianney Secondary Modern School in Glastonbury Avenue, Blackpool, but more of this later.
We played football in the school playground on a regular basis but it was covered in fine grit and was the cause of many skinned knees and elbows (and tears). I was also selected to play for the school team, (coached by a great teacher called Ted Schools!) but the sides from the other schools always seemed so much bigger than us and we were regularly trounced. My Dad bought me a pair of “Tommy Docherty” football boots and the leather studs had three sharp pins which were hammered into the sole of the boot to retain them. After a while, the pins would protrude through the soles and into the bottom of my foot making them extremely uncomfortable to wear. One lad eventually turned up with a pair of moulded rubber sole boots. We were all agog at these and it resulted in the rest of the team pestering their parents for a pair.
One of the lads in our class was called Stephen Bolton who was a pretty good footballer and we nicknamed him “Bollocks”. It was all perfectly innocent as at that age, we had absolutely no idea of the slang definition but we were constantly being frowned at by the teachers on playground duty for shouting things like “Great shot Bollocks” or “Pass it to me Bollocks”.
The innocence of youth!
During my last year at Our Lady’s, the whole class were due to be confirmed by the Bishop of Blackburn. I had decided a long time before the ceremony on the name Thomas for my confirmation name (after my Uncle Tom), and strode confidently up to the Bishop standing at the altar. “And what have you chosen as your confirmation name my son?” asked the Bishop - “Mark”, I blurted out for no apparent reason!!!!
During my time at Our Lady’s, my youngest sister, Michele had been born and the family moved further up Branstree Road to number 136, a four bedroom property which gave us even more room to cause havoc.
When we finally purchased a TV, (with an enormous magnifying lens attached to the screen) “Watch with Mother” was our favourite, which, if I remember correctly featured Picture Book, presented by Patricia Driscoll, Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, Rag, Tag & Bobtail and The Woodentops. Muffin the Mule was also a favourite and was presented by Annette Mills, sister of actor John Mills and aunt of Hayley.
“Listen with Mother” was also broadcast over the radio and I remember presenter Daphne Oxenford, (who died in 2012) introducing the programme with the opening line: “Hello children. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin”
At 6:00pm, TV broadcasting would shut down for an hour so that parents could put their children to bed and the first programme to be shown during that time was the aptly named Six-Five Special which played “popular” music and was presented by Pete Murray & Josephine Douglas. Between programmes there would often be an “interlude”, (commercial TV and its advertisements hadn’t arrived yet), which lasted for about 5 minutes and showed riveting things such as a potter’s wheel and horses ploughing a field! But far more exciting for me were the imported programmes from America which included Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Range Rider and The Cisco Kid.
In 1955, ITV started broadcasting as the UK’s first commercial TV station and in 1957, one of my favourite programmes; “The Army Game” was broadcast. It's half hour episodes were extremely popular and told of the exploits of a bunch of army conscripts under the control of Sgt.Major Snudge, played by Bill Fraser. Other characters included Pvt.“Excused Boots” Bisley, (Alfie Bass), Pvt.Catchpole, (Dick Emery), Pvt.Hatchet, (Charles Hawtrey), Pvt.“Popeye” Poplewell, (Bernard Bresslaw) and Pvt.Bone played by Ted Lune. The series lasted for 4 years, ran for 153 episodes and gave early television appearances to Fulton Mackay, later to appear as Mr.Mackay, the warder in “Porridge”, Bernard Cribbins and William Hartnell who was to become the first “Dr.Who”.
Eventually, the back fields at Mereside were developed and turned into football pitches which were great for 20-a-side football matches but not so good for acting out battles between Japs & Commandos.
I must have been about 7 or 8 years old when I was sent to bed early one late summer evening as punishment for some misdemeanor and was watching a “proper” game of football between two local teams of adults through my bedroom window. All my mates were there watching from the side-lines so I decided to join them. Rolling up my pyjama trousers (yes, we all wore them then), putting on my socks, shoes and school gabardine, I climbed out of the bedroom window, onto the flat roof of the wash house and over the fence onto the playing fields to join my mates. One of the players was Brian London, “The Blackpool Tower” who was a pretty good professional boxer in his day, fighting among others, Henry Cooper, Floyd Patterson and in 1966, Cassius Clay (later to become Muhammad Ali) when he was knocked out after 1 minute, 40 seconds of the third round, earning $112,000 for his efforts. In the post-match interview, Brian commented, “He isn’t a puncher; he just hit me so many times I didn’t know where I was”. Classic quote Brian!
As we became bored with the match, we wandered behind the goals to have a kick-around and just before the final whistle, Brian’s team were awarded a penalty which he decided to take. With my back to the goal, the thunderous penalty caught me square on the back of the head, (no “nets” in those days) and knocked me unconscious.The next thing I remember was Brian carrying me in his arms semi-comatose, knocking on our front door and explaining to my Mum that I was wandering about behind the goals in my pyjamas and that he was very sorry for knocking me out. My Mum, naturally enough accepted his apology, shook his hand in thanks and immediately marched me upstairs to the accompaniment of "Wait 'til your Dad gets home you daft sod". Fortunately, my Dad was a bit of a boxing fan and seemed quite chuffed that his lad had been knocked out by Brian London.
During the summer holidays, we would spend our time fishing in the local ponds and train spotting on the embankment at Peel Corner Bridge, under which ran the line into Blackpool Central Station (now closed). We all had train-spotter books which had thousands of train numbers in them and when one came past, we would underline its number in pencil. We would sometimes put a penny on the line when we saw a train coming and go searching for it after it had passed to find it massively enlarged. I remember watching in horror one day as one of the lads put a three penny bit on the line. I was convinced that due to its thickness it would derail the train so I scarpered before it turned up!!!!
We also used to catch the No.19 bus to South Shore and spend all day on the Pleasure Beach slipping the attendants a few coppers to go on the rides. It was a great place to spend the school holidays as, unlike today, there was no entry fee and payments for the rides and stalls was by cash only. My cousin Peter Naden worked on the Pleasure Beach Express so we always got lots of free rides on the train which circuited the park. The best place to get into was the Fun House (first opened in 1934) an enormous building with all sorts of rides and slides which, once inside were free to go on. Sadly, it burned down in 1991. (In 1979, my Uncle Tom was given 2 complimentary tickets for the new Revolution ride prior to its official opening and we both experienced the 360° and 4G-force ride on which I believe was Europe’s first fully looping roller coaster).
There used to be a “Lost Children” single decker bus parked on Central Promenade and we would go in and tearfully pretend we had lost our Mum and Dad. The kindly staff would calm us down and tell us to wait as we would soon be re-united with our worried parents, and supplied us with a drink of orange juice and a biscuit. Which we scoffed and then “legged it” down the prom. whilst their backs were turned.
Grandma would often take me out for the day to visit Granddad's grave at Carleton Cemetery on the outskirts of Blackpool. We would catch the 10 o'clock bus from Mereside into Blackpool, walk up Talbot Road and then hop on board another bus which would take us to Carleton. After tending the grave, we would catch yet another bus to Fleetwood and she would treat me to a few "goes" on the amusements on the pier and an ice lolly before boarding the Knott End Ferry to cross the river estuary. At Knott End, we would catch a Ribble bus back to Blackpool and then the No.6 bus back to Mereside arriving home in time for tea. A full day out which included 4 bus rides, a boat trip, amusements and a lolly. What more could you ask for!! She also used to take me to South Shore Market where there was a permanent rock-rolling exhibition to show how the lettering through the stick of rock was formed. It was fascinating stuff for a young lad and the workers always gave out free samples to take home.
(Shortly before she died in 1981, Grandma was admitted to a rest home in Blackpool and my abiding memory of that time is visiting her on Christmas Day only to find her and the other residents, sat round the perimeter of the “day room” all wearing brand new fluffy slippers)!
I would go to the massive Woolworths store on Blackpool promenade on a Saturday morning to spend my pocket money (when I had some). You could buy Airfix model aeroplane kits, (Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, etc.) for 2 shillings (10p). They were in a plastic bag with the instructions for assembly inside but when I was really flush, I’d buy a battleship kit in a box for 7s/6d. These usually came to an unfortunate end around November 5th though when I’d put a penny banger inside and blow them up! I was never patient enough to paint the parts before assembly resulting in a somewhat botched up job but I still hung the planes from my bedroom ceiling with bits of sewing thread and tried to hit them with elastic bands from the comfort of my bed.
“Woolies” also sold cheap cover versions of chart singles released on their own “Embassy” record label for 4 shillings as opposed to 6s/8d for the original. (A few years ago, I had a disagreement with a chap called Sean in the drawing office. I argued that Bernard Cribbins had released a song called “Right Said Fred” in the 60’s. He said it was someone else entirely and brought the record in to prove it. Sadly for him, it was on the Embassy label so only a cover version. Tough luck, Sean)!
If you were around Blackpool in the 50’s & 60’s, you would most likely remember “Billy’s Weekly Liar” a double sided, single sheet newspaper containing tall stories and unbelievable “facts”. I used to buy mine (costing 1d) on the Golden Mile from an old chap named Dixie who was a ”few pence short of a shilling” and when asked, would dance a jig on the pavement accompanied on his mouth organ. The Golden Mile was a kid’s delight with thousands of penny slot machines and all sort of strange amusements. I remember one machine that just had a steel hand sticking out of it and after putting a penny in, you had to see how long you could keep hold of it as an ever increasing electrical current coursed through your arm! Health & Safety would have had a field day on “The Mile”.
On the corner of the prom and Chapel Street, next to Tussaud's Waxworks was the New Ritz cinema which was a must to try and get in as it only ever showed “X” rated films of a dubious sexual nature. Around the corner was Prince Eugene’s Tattoo Parlour owned by one of the few black men in Blackpool at that time. The standard of hygiene was probably not as strict as it is today and I lost count of the number of young guys you would see walking down the prom with their arm covered in tissues soaking up the blood and recovering from the previous nights excesses.
St. John Vianney’s proved to be a major culture shock to the new intakes especially on the first morning where the first years’ were placed at the front of the assembly hall. When the Headmaster, Mr. Ashton, (commonly referred to as “Boris” behind his back) introduced himself, we all saluted the stage and said in a singsong tone “Good morning Mr Ashton, good morning teachers” as we had been taught to do at Our Lady’s. Cue much hilarity from the older boys behind us who saw the same thing every year!
My parents had also decided that as my short trousers had at least another year’s wear in them, they didn’t need to go to the expense of buying me a pair of long ones despite my protestations. Fortunately, some of the other boys in my year possessed similarly evil parents so I wasn’t the only one in my class in short trousers”. In year 2, they decided that I could have a pair of long trousers. Unfortunately, they bought me a pair of 16” bottoms with turn-ups whilst everyone else wore more fashionable “drainpipes”. Cue more ridicule! I was bought a satchel in which to carry the necessary items for my new school life. I recall a “Platignum” fountain pen, a set of Helix “Oxford” drawing instruments in a gold coloured tin box, which contained 30° and 45° plastic set squares, a protractor, a 6” ruler with things called “centimetres” on one edge, a pencil with sharpener and a compass.
The immediate major change to schoolwork was the new experience of homework which would lead to my first involvement with acting. Our history teacher, Mr Wynne (who also lived on Mereside and smoked like a chimney), had set us an essay to complete which had to be handed in the next morning for marking along with my maths homework. Mum & Dad had gone out for the evening leaving us in the care of Mrs.Cundliffe our next door neighbour and I dutifully completed my maths homework before being allowed to watch telly for a while before going to bed. I read a book for a couple of hours before hearing my parents come in whereupon I turned my light out and went to sleep. Imagine my horror when, at about midnight I awoke to the realisation that I had forgotten to do my history homework. I stayed awake for an hour and then shouted for my Mum who came into my bedroom to find out what was wrong. I told her that I had a really bad pain in my side and she duly gave me a couple of aspirin, told me to try and get some sleep and she would see how I was in the morning.
I awoke before she came into my room and dabbed some water onto my cheeks from the glass by my bed to simulate tears. 7:00am arrived and she came in to find me still in pain and told me I shouldn’t go to school that day. Problem solved! I could do my homework during the day in my bedroom
At about 10:30am, I was fast asleep when the bedroom door opened and Mum came in closely followed by our family doctor, Dr.Bowe who prodded and pressed the “painful” area, muttered something to Mum and then they both left the room. About an hour later, the door opened again with Mum entering accompanied by two ambulance men who lifted me onto a stretcher and took me outside to a waiting ambulance much to the interest of our neighbours stood on their doorsteps wondering what was going on. With Mum in attendance, I was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital and despite my protestations that the pain had, by now subsided, was examined by another doctor and admitted to the children’s ward with suspected appendicitis. That evening, I was taken down to theatre and had the “offending” appendix removed resulting in a 12 day stay in hospital and a rather nice basket of fruit from the school with a “get well soon” message attached.
On my return to school I was asked by Mr.Wynne for my missing homework which, unfortunately, I had completely forgotten about. The resultant 2 strokes of the cane showed that sympathy for my condition was in short supply and proved that crime certainly didn’t pay! Good acting though!
I soon developed a loathing for my new school and would do anything to get out of going. My parents were aware of the situation after receiving absence letters from the headmaster and to make sure that I actually went, my Mum would make me catch the No.4 service bus with her which she caught to go into Blackpool where she worked as a typist at Hymans Jewellers. The bus stopped outside the school and she would watch me get off and go through the school gates. What she didn’t know was that I would walk through the school grounds and exit at the rear entrance. I would then walk into Blackpool which took about an hour, ring her up at work and tell her that I had developed a bad toothache and the school had sent me to the school dentist on Lytham Road. I would then ring the school up, tell them that Mum had sent me to the dentist with toothache and that I wouldn’t be in that day. To complete the ruse, I would then walk to the school dentist on Lytham Road, tell them about the toothache whereupon the very obliging chap in attendance would remove the “offending” tooth after administering a dose of gas. On arriving back at home, I would jump in bed reading comics and books awaiting the inevitable inspection of my mouth and, hopefully, tea and sympathy from Mum (as well as a few days off school).
In collusion with 2 other like-minded mates from Mereside who I shall refer to as John and Kev and who also attended John Vianney, we dreamed up a particularly stupid plan. We arrived at school early one morning and crawled under the stage in the assembly hall which was accessed by 3 foot high sliding doors at the rear. The stage was the original one and had been there since the school was built, the floorboards being rather creaky with small gaps in the joints and was full of old gym equipment and the like in the storage area underneath.
Armed with sandwiches and fizzy pop, we aimed to spend the day there before sneaking out once the final bell had gone. We cleared enough space to be comfortable and awaited the arrival of the pupils and masters for morning assembly. At 9:00am, the hall filled up, the teachers took to the stage for the day’s announcements and it took considerable willpower on our part to refrain from sneezing as dust from the boards above floated down into our “den”. Halfway through assembly, “Boris” paused and was heard to say to the Deputy Head, “Mr O’Connor, can you smell smoke?” The three of us froze. Was the school on fire and would we be burned to death trapped under the stage? I looked at John, he looked at me then we both turned towards Kev and, to our horror saw the fag dangling from his lips, the smoke drifting up through the floorboards. He frantically tried to stub it out causing a shower of sparks at which instance, the sliding doors at the back opened, flooding the area with light to reveal Mr O’Connor’s puce coloured face as he angrily ordered us out. We were marched on stage, given the most severe dressing down and suffered “six of the best” on the backside in front of the whole school with Boris’s favourite weapon, a thick leather razor strop which, believe me, was absolute agony. Sadly, this lesson in stupidity didn’t deter us from other daft ideas!
John Vianney had no playing fields, just an enclosed tarmacked playground where one of the favourite games was “chain tig”. This would start with one boy who was “on” running round the playground, tigging other boys who would all have to join hands with each other. Sometimes the chain would reach epic proportions and we would always try to tig a first year boy once the chain was long enough and he would end up taking 10 foot strides as the chain swept round the playground clearing all in its path before being released to clatter into the nearest wall at high speed. We older boys found this highly amusing until one young lad suffered a broken nose. The game was banned and we were all caned for our efforts. On icy mornings in winter, we would “polish” an area of the playground until it shone and had a great time seeing how far we could slide whilst remaining upright. The slide always disappeared by the time of the next play period as the caretaker had been out in the interim and covered it with salt.
Another amusing, (to us) jape, was to rap yourself across the back of your fingers with the teeth of a comb, whirl the arm around in a windmill motion causing blood to seep from the pinpricks and, with your hand over your face, approach a first year screaming “aaargh, my eye, my eye” resulting in a look of horror from the victim of the joke. Again, this activity was banned and we soon established that all teachers were devoid of a sense of humour.
Our sports teacher was called “Jock” Waters, a short, dour Scot who one day decided that cross country running should be introduced into the curriculum. As we had no playing fields, he would instruct us to depart the upstairs school hall, run round the school block which I suppose was about half a mile, run back upstairs to be checked in and start the next of the required 4 laps.
Kev and I decided there was a pretty clever way round this activity. The staircase had a series of landings on which were placed 6 foot high lockers which nobody used. We were timed out of the top hall and halfway down the staircase, hid in the 2 lockers and had a fag whilst we waited for the lads before us to run back upstairs after their first lap. We then exited the lockers, ran upstairs and into the hall where Jock clocked us and sent us on our way for the next lap. After 4 visits to the lockers, we arrived back in the hall faking exhaustion and our final times were recorded. Unfortunately, we miscalculated our timings and when Jock read out the results, we were horrified to learn that we had the 2 best times in the class. Based on this, he entered both our names for the 1 mile event in the forthcoming inter-school sports day at the Blackpool Stanley Park Arena. Naturally enough, our efforts in the race were abysmal and we came last and next to last finishing about a lap behind the winners and due to being “grassed up” by one of our rivals at school as to our locker activities, more strokes of the cane were administered.
During my final year at school, Jock introduced boxing to the curriculum. A ring was set up in the upstairs assembly hall and opponent’s names were picked out of the hat. For my first bout, I was drawn against Eddie, the “cock of the school” and waited nervously in my corner for the bell to ring for Round 1. At the bell, Eddie was still leaning over the ropes chatting to his mates as I crossed the ring and belted him as hard as I could on the back of the head hoping for a quick end to the bout. I certainly got my wish as Eddie turned to face me, apparently unhurt by my blow and caught me square on the jaw with a lovely right hook which laid me out for a count of 10 before my “seconds” dragged me back to my corner accompanied by howls of derision from the rest of the class as Eddie stood in the centre of the ring, arms raised in triumph.
He came over to see if I was OK, (although he was the hardest lad in the school, he was a decent sort), and I suggested that he caught me with a lucky punch whereupon he grinned and offered to re-enact the bout in the playground without gloves. I decided to decline his kind offer of a return bout believing that discretion was the better part of valour!
Jock also purchased a “trampet”, a small trampoline which would replace the wooden springboard we used when exercising with the vaulting horse which resembled the one used in the “The Great Escape”.
Being used to the springboard, I didn’t hold back on my first attempt with this new equipment. I took a long run-up, hit the trampet, flew through the air clearing the horse completely as well as the cushioned landing mat and finally came back down to earth in a crumpled heap on the floor of the hall to gales of laughter from the lookers and a comment of “A bit over enthusiastic there, weren’t we laddie”? from Jock.
As I mentioned, John Vianney’s had no playing fields so once a week, the whole year, (3 classes) had to walk from the school to Stanley Park about ½ a mile away. About 50-60 boys would set off walking with “Jock” strangely enough leading from the front – not the rear, and about 40 would actually arrive at the park, the others disappearing down side streets and into the Tuck Shop near The Saddle pub on Whitegate Drive to buy sweets, drinks and fags. You could buy 2 Park Drive tipped and 2 matches for tuppence, (about 1p in today’s money), Spangles, Sherbert Fountains, bubble gum and “Jubblies”.
Jubblies were an orange drink in a triangular waxed carton that had been frozen and you could while away a relaxing hour gnawing away at the orange ice before tagging on to the tail of the sweating line of boys returning to school from the park.
At the top of Branstree Road was Langdale Road. If I turned right, it was about 50 yards to the bus stop but if I turned left and crossed over the road, I arrived at my mate Mick’s house. Mick was in my class and we were both habitual truants. I used to call for him in the morning to see if he fancied school that day. His Mum & Dad left for work early so there was only him in the house when I called. If we decided not to bother going, we would play footie in the back garden and generally muck about all day dining on Spam sandwiches with tomato sauce to keep us going.
One day, we discovered that if you squirted Ronson lighter fuel onto your hand and lit it, the flames only lasted seconds with no lasting affects other than burning the hairs off your hand. We decided that it would be a laugh if one of us ran into the front garden with our hands on fire just as the bus went past to shock the passengers so I used to stand in the doorway looking for the bus, then Mick would squirt fuel onto my hands and set it on fire before I ran outside screaming to shock the passengers. Great fun! Unfortunately, on one occasion, my hands had grease from the Spam on them and when I ran into the garden, hands aflame waving them over my head in supposed panic, the fat started to burn and the flames wouldn’t die out. Coupled with this disaster was the sight of my Mum on the bus glaring angrily out of the window at her eldest son who should have been in school but was stood in a garden with his hands alight in apparent agony.
We eventually put the flames out and ran my hands under the tap only to hear a loud knocking on the door which, when opened, revealed my Mum with a face like thunder. She had got off at the next stop and marched back to Mick’s to see “what the hell was going on”. Needless to say, I got a severe rollocking for my pains and was sent on the next bus to school with extremely sore hands hoping that I wouldn’t be caned for being late.
St. John Vianney was a Catholic school that also served as a church and it was where my parents were married in 1949. Whilst I was there, a new church was built over the road. During the last period on a Thursday, we were taken over to the church to attend confession before mass and communion on the Friday morning before school.
A teacher would sit at the back of the church and record the time spent in the confessional for each boy. If you were in and out sharpish, you were OK but if you spent any length of time in there, you were in trouble as it was considered that you must have had a lot of sins to confess and, as a result were a “wrong un” and were punished. I always thought that the priest hearing confession couldn’t see you but one day when Fr. Watterson was in attendance, he politely asked me how my Dad was doing!!!!
As can be seen from an earlier photograph, he had played football with him in the early 50’s and was keen to have a chat but I didn’t want to pass the time exchanging pleasantries and dashed out of the confessional knowing that I was being “clocked” at the back.
On Friday mornings, we went straight to church before school to attend mass and woe betide you if you didn’t take communion because if the excuse wasn’t adequate, you were caned. Naturally enough, this didn’t endear me to Catholicism and after leaving school I never went to church again until I got married in 1973 – at St. John Vianney.
During the 60’s, on Saturday afternoons at 4 o’clock we would all sit in front of the “telly” to watch wrestling which was presented by Kent “Greetings Grapple Fans” Walton. My parents used to go and watch wrestling at the Tower Circus in Blackpool where the local Pye brothers, Jack and “Dirty Dominic” usually topped the bill so we all became avid fans of the televised bouts which comprised, as Kent would describe them of “Six, five minute rounds, two falls, two submissions or one knockout to decide the winner”. the “goodies” and the “baddies”.
Listed below are just a few of the many names of those I can remember:
Mick McManus – Died on 22/5/2013 aged 93. His catchphrase, “Not the ears, not the ears” usually resulted in his opponent going straight for his ears. Amazing!
Jackie (Mr T.V.) Pallo – Always wore striped trunks, cousin of boxing commentator, Reg Gutteridge and hated opponent of Mick McManus.
Adrian Street – Great showman, blonde hair, wore a fur trimmed cloak, always preening himself in the ring.
Kendo Nagasaki – Real name Peter Thornley from Stoke on Trent. Famous for his trade-mark mask which his opponents always tried to remove.
Big Daddy – His real name was Shirley Crabtree. He had a 64” chest and was the first person to unmask Kendo Nagasaki. In his youth, he played Rugby League for Bradford Northern.
Giant Haystacks – 6’11” and 40 stone, former tag-team partner of Big Daddy.
Les Kellet – My favourite. He appeared to be punch-drunk and almost defeated before miraculously recovering to win the bout.
Johnny Kwango - An African wrestler who’s favourite move was the head butt which, Kent Walton explained, always hurt his opponent as "a black mans skull is far thicker than a white mans"!!!!! Try using that description today!
I could go on and name many more because these guys were on TV every week and regularly drew audiences of millions with their antics on Saturday afternoons. Great memories!
Other favourites at this time were The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Addams Family, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Avengers, Bonanza and The Beverly Hillbillies. You may note that all the above apart from The Avengers were American imports.
The films showing in cinemas in the 60’s had three ratings, “U” (suitable for children), “A” (children to be accompanied by an adult) and “X” (strictly over 16’s). We had no chance of getting in to the “X” rated films although we tried many times and on occasion, succeeded, (especially in the Tivoli Cinema who were pretty lax in their admission policies).
I remember going the Opera House in Blackpool one Saturday afternoon with a mate of mine, Geoff Baron, to try and get in to see the latest blockbuster “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis which was classified “A”. We were only 14 and despite lowering our voices and standing on tiptoes at the box office, we were refused entry so we stood outside asking any adult male entering the cinema if he would take us in. We’d tried this on many occasions before (and succeeded) but couldn’t find a willing participant this time so we trudged despondently to the Tivoli to see “Siege of the Saxons” starring Edmund Purdom which was absolute rubbish.
As you can imagine, this sort of action would be greeted with shock and horror in today’s society although we never encountered any “strange” men. Well, I didn't until an episode in Barrow in Furness. But more of that later.
Dad was driving for the Standerwick Coach Company during the late 50's and early 60's and his regular route was the overnight Blackpool - London journey. The company had introduced a new fleet of double decker coaches which had an attractive uniformed lady on board, (one of whom I recall was called Marion Bogg) who served non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to the passengers throughout the night. These coaches were promoted as the "Gay Hostess" although I don't think they'd be christened that today!!!!
He would often take me on these trips when I was 12 or 13 and after the overnight run, we would arrive at Victoria Coach Station at 6:30 am, take the bus through the vehicle wash and park up. We would walk to his "digs" for breakfast and before going to bed, he would give me 5 shillings, (25p) and I would wander round London all day on the tube visiting various places of interest (Battersea Park Funfair was a particular favourite), before returning to his digs at 7:00 pm in the evening for the return journey through which I invariably slept the whole way.
For pocket money, on most Saturdays, I would get the bus into Blackpool and meet Uncle Tom in the distribution department at the Blackpool Evening Gazette newspaper where he worked. I would stand and watch him and his colleagues playing cards and supply them with cups of tea before he took me out in his van and deposited me on a corner of the promenade with a stack of newspapers under my arm to sell to the public. A few years later, in my mid-teens, I worked in the sports department carrying half-time and full-time football results from the sports desk to the compositors in the works.
I also joined the Royal Marine Cadets based at HMS Penelope on Devonshire Road in Bispham, just outside Blackpool so that I could join the band as a drummer. It wasn’t quite that simple though as, before I was let anywhere near a drum, I had to spend hours of practice on a rubber mat placed on a table top until I was considered suitably proficient.
We once formed a guard of honour at North Shore Golf Club for the arrival of Prince Philip who was the guest at a charity golf tournament and were often asked to be ushers at the ABC theatre in Blackpool on the annual Midnight Charity Event where the stars from all the shows would be appearing.
I left the Marine Cadets to join the Royal Artillery Army Cadets based at Laycock Gate, Blackpool and due to my previous experience playing the drums, walked straight into their band although the standards were, I have to say, a lot lower than the Marines.
During this period, we were taken in the back of an army lorry to a place called Crag Bank at Carnforth near Lancaster for the weekend in order to gain our shooting badges. Taken out to the “butts” we were shown how to operate and load the Lee Enfield .303 rifle and after minimal instructions, were given live rounds and told “make sure you hold the rifle firmly against your shoulder because the recoil will dislocate it”! With a great deal of trepidation, I lay down, took aim and fired. Not being supplied with ear defenders, the noise was incredible and after emptying the magazine, I could hear absolutely nothing except a ringing in my ears for days after. Reporting to the sick bay, I was told “not to be so soft” and summarily dismissed.
A few months later we were taken by train to Comrie in Perthshire and after a 25 mile journey in the back of an army lorry, deposited at a place in the middle of nowhere called Cultybraggen Camp which was built in 1941 as a P.O.W. camp for German and Italian prisoners in WWII. No wonder they tried to escape! I had never been to such a God forsaken place in my life and spent a thoroughly cold, wet & miserable week there on exercises meant to “toughen us up”. On my return to civilisation, I resigned from the Cadet Force after deciding a military career was not what I was cut out for.
Along with a few other mates from Mereside, we would often go to the local youth clubs at which many Blackpool based bands would practice their “sets”. Among those who stand out were Bruce and the Spiders and Rev. Black and the Rockin’ Vicars, (later to become The Rockin’ Vickers). The base player in the Rockin’ Vickers was Ian Fraser Kilminster who later became a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, played with Hawkwind and from 1975, fronted Motorhead. You may know him better as “Lemmy”. Sadly, he died in December 2015