A few months after my medical discharge in November 1957, I joined a local medium sized company as an Accounts Clerk. I was just nineteen and thought it was a great introduction to Industry and Commerce. The company had sports facilities, a subsidised canteen, social activities and a special bus service for both factory workers and office staff. All the various departments got on well together and there was a warm, friendly family atmosphere which was generated from the Managing Director downwards.
Of course the main attraction was the proximity and access to the abundance of females, but I enjoyed the work an my boss was pleased with my progress. ”Don’t get sidetracked by all the obvious distractions round here young man – go to night school and get a qualification, It will hold you in good stead.” It was good sound advice and I decided to give it a go. My parents were pleased but my elder brother only gave me a few weeks. “You won’t be able to resist all that crumpet for long kid – unless of course you have already had a nibble? Tee – Hee”
My brother was not far off as about two months later my best mate, Peter, returned from national service, most of which had been spent in the Far East. We had grown up together after being paired off at primary school, but he was now very worldly wise, and soon got our social life re-organised.
First we joined the local Working Mens Club and became quite proficient at snooker and darts. Then he got a job at the same company and we started some serious dating. Finally he suggested a flexible rota so that we could devote time to booze, snooker, watch or play football or cricket. go to the cinema and dance halls etc, without getting any “mix ups or crossed wires” along the way.
Friday nights were, of course, sacred. The end of the working week -” lads night”- four hours of male conviviality, pints of Vaux best bitter. frames of competitive snooker and good natured banter. There were three tables, two for the rank and file and one, the match table, for the “doyens” of the club who played for five bob a frame. When not playing we watched and learned. ( As time went on this scene would occur more than just once a week). Peter could hold his ale far better than I could, at first that is, but he always ensured that I made it home when necessary. (It was only about four hundred yards but seemed a lot further when your legs refused to work properly!)
Life became free and easy, the sun seemed to shine everyday, and I was totally complicit in all that we did regardless of the consequences. The months rolled by and then things got even better. (although by now my boss was beginning to give up on me and any ideas about night school were null and void.)
There was a character at the snooker club who was the spitting image of Terry Thomas in manner, appearance and the use of a cigarette holder. He sold us an old pre-war Rover with a lash up of a heater, a sun roof which never opened or closed properly and a promise that we would never have to worry about about having to catch the last bus any more .“You know what a bind that can be for the ladies, don’t you old boy?” Later he would ask us how the old passion wagon was going and, later still, were we getting plenty!
We were now on a real high, it was a great time to be alive and we really had a ball. Nightclubs were opening up, hair was getting longer, skirts were getting shorter, we had wheels and a bit of swagger. We had over a year of total freedom and overindulgence, often as a foursome, until Peter finally passed his driving test. Then we were finally brought down to earth with a rather large bump! Firstly the Company was taken over by a not very likeable organisation and soon redundancy notices were flying around. Then our poor old Rover gave up the ghost, which was not surprising in view of all the misuse it had been subjected to. Finally there were some tearful scenes at an impromptu farewell party when it was realised that certain personal and emotional commitments would probably not now be fulfilled. Some of us were distraught whilst others were plainly relieved!
Peter,however, was philosophical. “We did OK mate, really we did – look at the times we nearly ran out of money or petrol. but we always made sure the birds got home first and we never had an accident, no matter how boozed up we were. I know you got the elbow a couple of times and we were both stood up more than once, but that was par for the course. As for night school maybe we should have played less snooker but hey, remember, we did get into the 1961 club pairs final. We only lost that because of the lucky fat b****** who fluked the last black!”
I could have said he had overlooked the incident of the village bobby and the lamp post, the irate farmer and his gate, the stormy night when the leaking sun roof deluged the occupants of the back seat, the sand dunes fiasco and maybe the odd male confrontation here and there but, as we were facing the dole queue and an uncertain future, there seemed little point.
Halcyon days? Yes as far as I was concerned, although I do not suppose for one minute that we did anything unique. It could, of course, have all gone horribly wrong. Many teenagers of that era who probably did far worse things would no doubt agree! However every time I go back to the North East I still have to pay a nostalgic visit to what remains of the old haunts, just to remind myself that it all really did happen.
PS. I got another job, resumed night school and got married. When I finally passed my accountancy exams I got a better job which meant leaving the North East for rural Oxfordshire. My wife had a miscarriage and an operation,which meant no kids. She worked in the NHS and local government administration for many years and we both retired in 2003.
PPS. Peter also married and had two daughters,but the marriage failed and he became a drifter. The last contact I had was over 30 years ago – a garbled message on our answerphone one Friday evening from a building site in Reading. When I eventually got through to the Site Office on the following Monday. I was told that he had already moved on.