16 May 2020

Hi -Yo Silver!

Annus Mirabilis


Tip: Everyone should be like the Lone Ranger! |


And we were! Well, at least in the imagination....  Clayton Moore had hitched up his stirrups in 1957, so we were watching reruns....  And those had to be up at Denys's house by the Water Tower as our TV only had the BBC.....


Big Bro on Misty at the Cowies' Farm, near Bridport, 1961


Except dad, of course......  He had other responsibilities..... (like being a dad....)



Berkhamsted, 2 Boxwell Road, 1961

But in London in 1961 - by the Serpentine, to be exact - Mounted Officer R C Knight was happy to pose for a moment before my Brownie 44A, imagining himself perhaps to be Clayton Moore.  This was one of the first photos I ever took, and, so pleased I was with it, I sent a copy to Scotland Yard, and, given the perplexing number of crimes that needn't be solved (thanks to the Cray Bros) at the time, we received in due course an invitation to tour the police stables in Kensington Gardens - and duly accepted.  'Twas a fab day out for a ten year old (and his mother).....


Will you come quietly?

As Philip Larkin suggested (though without conviction):


Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

In point of fact, I would have to ask Jackie Short whether it was 1963 or not....  I can confess that I didn't read Lady C until much later, and I didn't buy the Beatles until A Hard Day's Night (third album, July 1964)....

But, somehow, Larkin touched the pulse.

It all seemed to coalesce when our primitive gas valve steam powered tv blinked one evening and the news that The Beatles were No 1 with wanting to hold one's hand was interrupted by shots from a book depository in Dallas that shredded JFK's brain.  (Almost) at the same time Pope John XXIII tripped over the line.....



Jane -  later eaten by a friend's dog when we were on holiday

If you remember the sixties - they say - you can't have been there.

Yeah.  Crap.  I went from ten to twenty [years? mph?] (more or less) in the sixties, and nothing could be more memorable......  Well, some of it....  

Though the details may be confused.  


A yard for building canal barges and other boats, between Castle Street and Raven's Lane wharves, Berkhamsted, was one of three important boatyards in Hertfordshire. It was owned by John Hatton until 1880 and then by William Costin until 1910, when it was taken over by Key's, the timber merchants which in 1969 was bought by another timber merchant J. Alsford before being redeveloped into flats in 1994. 


At the beginning of the sixties I began to take photos, for myself. 

First with the Brownie (the Brownie 44A, with a black moulded plastic body, grey "sculptured" top, and a fabric covered aluminium back, was designed by Kenneth Grange. This "modern" and intelligently functional camera features an integral flexible plastic ever-ready cover, an optical direct vision finder, and pin and screw flash contacts for an optional flash attachment) and subsequently with a Boots Beirette 35mm camera (with 45mm f2.9 meritar lens).


Tim, with the baby Weeping Willow.
In the background the pear tree which I used to climb down from my window at night.....

Living in black and white was quite difficult - a bit like living in some kind of lockdown.  I have to imagine that Tim's trousers (below) were sort of red, with a kind of imitation tartan grid.  The budgie (Jackie, my first at the time) was green.  I later matched him with a grey mate (from the Mayhews) and then added a pair of blues.  However, despite my ambitions and endeavours, building large cages and sourcing liquid paraffin (don't ask) they all ended their days in the conservatory in the background here. Somehow, in an unintended absence (holiday? scout camp? ski trip to Norway?) the birds dried up and sang no more.....

Oh, the cold, grey days we lived in 405 lines.....







In the meantime there was always the canal.....  and the gas works.






The canal smelled of rot - a kind of semi-sweet putrescence I might have associated with death had I known the grim reaper in person.  I fished here, for roach, gudgeon, perch.... rarely, if ever, piercing anything longer than a three or four inch tiddler, but happy in the hours spent idly dreaming.  Barges still churned by, two at a time, hauling imperishables from London to the Midlands and back, timelessly feeding the industries that would soon be history.

The gasworks, which also produced coke for our kitchen boiler, reeked of tar and nose-wrinkling acridity.  Behind ran the rail track, which I am amazed to see now was even then electrified, though I remember the steam trains - the Flying Scotsman amongst them - cindering by with noisy excretions and puffing exhalations.... 

Smoke and smog were part of our life.  There were times when the air was thick as horsehair and we had to punch our way through it.  Though discouraged to take to the weed, it was, perhaps, inevitable that we teens would choke ourselves on firesticks.....






I had a liking for Players, Navy Cut.  Joe liked Senior Service.  The Festival Hole (Joe's cellar) was our haunt, where Nine Card Brag or H*nt the C*nt would pass the time. Sometimes Axis: Bold as Love, sometimes Forever Changes, sometimes Disraeli Gears, would catch our imaginations, though, to quote Sam Beckett, the time would have passed anyway.....

Polo mints and flapping sleeves would attempt to disguise the reek of tobacco, but growing up was all a lie, and I guess there was some wisdom in the blind eyes.....

But in blessed innocence there were still walks with mum, up on the common, or along the tow path.  Somehow these were imbued with a glowing love, something I probably never understood, at least until too late.....





The canal had other attractions, too.  As a tall teen I was rarely challenged when I started frequenting pubs, and Madge, of The Rising Sun, was happy enough for us to play darts and imbibe too many pints of her thin Benskins bitter.....  

Again the lies were part of the deal.  We were at Bill's and his dad gave us some beer.....





O Levels.  A Levels.  A distinctly half hearted attempt to be accepted at King's College Cambridge (Can you feel someone else's pain?  I guess so....  Do you have any questions? Does E M Foster accept visitors?)

And then, as if by Hogwart's Express, I was in Sutherland, living in Dunrobin Castle, under Ben Bhraggie with its lowering monument to George Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford and first Duke of Sutherland (him of the Highland clearances) - teaching English, Geography, French, Latin and games to toffs barely five years younger than me..... (for ten pounds a week)






And playing the guitar that Charlie Snoxall gave me, sitting on the trunk I still have  in the shed in the garden..... Backing Red Sullivan in some pub in Wick at night and then struggling into a dark classroom after breakfast; singing for a week in the Stag's Head in Golspie while John and Yoko were in the local hospital......







And experimenting with photos.  There was a darkroom, somewhere between the haunted bedroom and the servants' quarters, and many's the hour I breathed acids and alkalis in the light of a dim red bulb trying to make something of imagery.....

Here's big brother on the beach up there.....






And then I was eighteen, and  bound for university, where Kath Owen shouted I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enouuuuuuggghhhh!!!! in her soft Pontypridd lilt by the M6 under a concrete sky.....




And Steve Blackham, from Hastings and St Leonards, recounted his dream of being in a lift which only went down, filling at each floor with more and more people, and never going up.....

We would spend all night walking the site, smoking Players No 6 and talking bollocks....

He changed course seven times, and then gave up, left and started again at Manchester in 1970.  

I wonder.  What became of us all?






Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.


Philip Larkin  (1922-1985)




Hi-Yo Silver!




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