At 11 years old, I went to West End Secondary Modern School because I had failed the 11 plus exam which decided whether you went to grammar school and on to university, or, if you failed, went to secondary school and learned trades.
The teachers were a lot better than the ones at primary school, except for the maths teacher, Mr Bowden. He was over weight with a red face and was constantly eying up the girls. He had a huge pot belly and wore a three piece suit and shiny black shoes.
In Mr Bowden’s class I sat next to Peter Brough who was, lucky for me, an absolute whizz at maths. I developed a skill whereby I could look down at my book but my eyeballs would be turned ninety degrees to Peter’s book so I could copy with ease.
I was hanging around with a Scottish kid called Alan Skinner who was quite a wild kid. We got mixed up in petty stealing and subsequently caught by the Police. We went to court and my father was highly embarrassed as I was fined 5 pounds and given a good telling off by the police Sergeant.
We would go to Pete’s Cafe in Hadfield and play the pinball machines and listen to the jukebox. It was only 15 minutes by train or a 45 minute walk.
Many’s the time we would miss the last train and have to walk home along Cemetery Road. We had lots of laughs scaring each other by walking through the graveyard in the cemetery.
The bikies on Triumph Bonnevilles, Matchlesses, Nortons, BSA’s and the mighty Vincent black shadow would roar up the street and park their bikes outside the cafe. We would all drool over those beautiful bikes and dream about owning one.
I had one girl friend called Hilary Bottoms who lived in Hadfield. I really didn’t know what I saw in her as she was a bit dense. We just sort of hung around together but it didn’t really go anywhere.
In the summer holidays we would get jobs ‘grouse beating’. The landlord gentry would arrive at Rowalls Farm in their sports cars and Land Rovers complete with crates of champagne and a retinue of helpers along with their guns. We kids from the neighbourhood, would walk for miles with our sticks and white flags beating the bracken to scare the grouse so they could be shot.
The dead grouse would be laid out in braces on a large canvas sheet while the gentry chuckled approvingly while they quaffed champagne and nibbled on cucumber sandwiches. After walking 20 miles we would be paid the princely sum of 10 shillings.
I was never short of money however, as I had three paper rounds, seven days a week. The morning paper round started at 5.30am. I would jump on my bike and peddle down to High St East newsagents and load up two bulging bags of morning newspapers. By 7am I would be finished and eating my cornflakes and toast and getting ready to bike it to school.
School finished at 4pm so I would be back at the newsagents to load up another two bags of newspapers finishing about 5.30pm. Then Sunday mornings would be the longest run, starting at 6am and finishing at 9am. There would be two huge bags slung across my back, plus another two placed on the railings a couple of miles further up the road by the newsagent. The other boys were jealous, but I just told them to go and get a job. Easy!
The teachers at West End Secondary Modern School were much better than at Duke of Norfolk Primary but my favourite was Mrs Furness the music teacher. I loved music as well as geography with Mr Speddy.
Mrs Furness was a singer in the Halle Choir which was part of the famous Halle Orchestra in Manchester. Berverly Moss and I were tutored by her as she thought we had the best voices. We were still boy sopranos in those days and she wanted us to sing a duet together at the school concert. We rehearsed “Come unto him” which was part of Handel’s Messiah for weeks and we would go to her house where she would accompany us on her grand piano.
“Come unto Him, all ye that labour,
come unto Him that are heavy laden,
and He will give you rest.
Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him,
for He is meek and lowly of heart,
and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
(St. Matthew 11:28-29)
Our family, which included aunts, uncles cousins etc were against religion even bordering on atheist and all very politically active and all staunch socialists and labour supporters. My mother wouldn’t have anything to do with religion but she did come and see me sing the Messiah and my father came to see me sing in church a few times.
After WWII my parents joined the communist party because at that time in Britain, there was so much support for the Russians after they had defeated the Germans and pushed them back to Berlin. Of course they later left when it was apparent to the world, that the communist party would never live up to it’s ideals.
Whenever they were together there would be heated political debates and arguments, banging of fists on the table and lots of beer drinking. Afterwards, it would all be forgotten and everything would be back to normal. They might have differences of opinion on policies, but when it boiled down to it, they were all staunchly socialists. No doubt.
My father was a shop steward and gave many speeches and held stop work meetings. I was told he had been arrested a couple of times and been jailed but not for long periods.
My Uncle Bert Pollitt was probably the only one who was not politically motivated at all, but unfortunately he shared his surname with a very prominent British Communist Party leader, Harry Pollitt who was a Stalinist.
Once he and his wife, my aunt Hilda, wanted to travel to Canada and visit my Aunt Jessie, Hilda’s sister, but the customs stopped them from leaving at the airport as they had checked his credentials on a watch list. They believed he posed an unacceptable risk, even though he was not remotely related to Harry Pollitt and was not in the least bit politically motivated, and even though had a valid passport and visa, they refused his travel.
When I was about fourteen, my parents were always asking me what I wanted to do when I left school. I had always wanted to join the Royal Navy and my father told me about a friend of his, whose son, Granville Morgan, was Yeoman of Signals in the RN and how he had served on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. This really fueled my desire to join up and see the world so I applied for entrance into the Royal Navy in communications.
The entrance exam, and medical was all fine so then I waited to get the letter telling me I had been accepted. It was some time before an official letter came bearing the government stamp, which I excitedly opened in front of my equally excited parents.
However on opening the letter, I read the words “we are unable to offer you employment in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces” knocked the wind out of me. Tears welled up and I could not understand the reason because none had been given.
My parents consoled me and my father said he knew the reason. It was because of their political affiliations and communist party history so I shouldn’t get upset. But upset I was and wasn’t sure what my future would hold, being all of 15.