One evening I had cycled to the local pub for a drink and had had a few glasses of cider. I walked into the house, said “Hello” to my parents who were sitting watching television and immediately went to bed.
My mother turned to my father and said “That boy’s drunk!”
My father said “Nonsense” and went back to watching TV. As usual, Mum was right.
I woke up the following morning with a dreadful hangover; cider is particularly virulent and nasty to get drunk on. Thirty odd years later I still couldn’t touch the stuff.
Later that same day, there was a knock on our door. It was a member of the local constabulary who had come to advise them that I had been stopped, on the way home the previous evening, for being ‘drunk in charge of a bicycle. As usual, I pled complete ignorance, and, as usual, my parents pretended to believe me.
At the age of 16 I cajoled, okay bullied, my parents into letting me have a motorcycle. From that moment on, I was free and rode to school each day knowing that I could get on the bike and ride away at any time. There were several of us who had bikes and we often went to the pub for a lunchtime beer. Although we were below the legal drinking age, the publican didn’t care and freely served us as much as we could handle – it was understood that if we got questioned, we would never say where we had been.
One lunchtime I had taken a school friend up on the pillion. We had a few drinks and left the pub to return to school. Fred got on the back of the bike and I dropped the clutch; the front wheel reared up and off we went. Actually it was off I went; Fred hadn’t been holding on and had slid off the seat onto the ground. I didn’t notice he wasn’t there until I got back to school about four miles away. There wasn’t time to go back and get him so I left him to walk back. I seem to remember that he wasn’t very pleased, especially with the detention that he was given for being late back to school.
I was at a friend’s house one day. We were revising for a French exam and were getting on well when the doorbell rang. Dave gestured for me to get it which I did. Standing on the doorstep was a female Jehovah’s Witness who went into her spiel. I didn’t have any regard for the official religion of Christianity and had nothing but contempt for the lunatic fringe so I told her to go away and started to close the door.
She put her foot in the jar, preventing it closing. “Don’t you believe in anything, young man?” she demanded.
I thought for a brief second. “As a matter of fact I do. I believe in sex and violence, preferably at the same time and if you don’t fuck off, I’m going to hit you!”
She spluttered with indignation and was about to say something else when I slammed the door shut and went back to French.
One cold, winter’s evening a whole bunch of us had gone to a pub in the country about 20 miles away. We had been drinking steadily all evening and were pretty well plastered. At closing time we decided to race back to Purley along the narrow and winding country lines that are so common in Surrey. We duly set off at high speed. Suddenly we were enmeshed in a thick fog that had sprung up out of nowhere. It would have been sensible to slow down but I knew the road backwards, or so I thought, and carried on regardless.
A minute or so later, I ‘forgot’ a right hand turn and went straight up a bank and took off. It was quite an eerie sensation; flying with no sense of vision and I wondered what was about to happen to me when the bike stopped suddenly having hit a cow head on. There was a startled and loud ‘Moo’, the bike stopped and I continued, only to stop shortly thereafter by landing in a cow pat. I was completely unhurt but couldn’t see anything and spent the next hour feeling my way around the field for my bike. Eventually the fog lifted and I was able to see it; the front end was completely buckled from the impact. It was a long, cold walk home pushing it! I’ve often wondered how the cow fared. Probably ended up at MacDonalds.
Another day I was heading for home and driving fast down the narrow twisty lane that led to our house, The lane was so narrow that there wasn’t room for two cars to pass and coming in the opposite direction was one of our neighbors, a crusty old fellow who was a retired military man. I am not sure exactly what happened but, in getting out of the way of a direct collision, my bike hit the door of his car, When we stopped to look at the damage, we found that the footrest of the bike had punched a neat hole right through the bottom of his door; I believe it was the first airconditioned car in England! As you can imagine, my parents were quite displeased since they had to pay for a completely new door.
Every bank holiday, thirty or forty of us would all ride down to the South Coast to Camber Sands near Hastings, a historic town famous for some idiot getting an arrow in his eye. It must have looked like the Wild Ones except that most of us had acne.
The reason we went to Camber Sands was the beach road. It was long, fairly deserted road with lots of bends and we used to race up and down it at incredibly high speeds. There were always a few spills but nobody ever got badly hurt. At night we would build a fire and sleep out by it; I soon tired of this being a creature of comfort. Roughing it, to me, means checking into a three star hotel without room service!
Motorcycles were almost the death of me; I had several nasty accidents and ended up in the hospital with cuts and bruises, but fortunately I never broke any bones. I finally gave them up after two consecutive 100mph+ spills made me realize that my luck couldn’t hold for ever. My parents were very relieved. Unfortunately, for them, this was about the same time as my brother took them up and they were soon back to their hospital visits. My brother wasn’t as lucky as I was – he was continuously breaking bones and being encased in plaster.
On one occasion, he was riding down the main road into Croydon when a taxi pulled straight out in front of him. There was no way to avoid it so he hit the side of it at about 40mph and was propelled over the top of the taxi’s roof. He landed on the other side of the taxi, stood up, and promptly opened the driver’s door and punched him in the nose a couple of times before collapsing with a broken ankle. I’m sure the driver wanted to kill him but, fortunately, by this time there were a number of witnesses on the scene.
Having given up motorcycles, the next step was driving a car. I duly passed my test and was bought an old Ford Standard, a very ugly car but it ran like a dream and lasted several years until the engine blew up, which happened at school one weekend when we were using the rugby pitch as a rally course. I suspect that was because I had been driving it extremely hard and the car had had enough. I seem to recollect that one of the cylinders ejected itself through the bonnet (hood in American) of the car but that may just be my imagination. I do know that several of us had to push this very heavy piece of junk off the pitch and onto the roadway, in order not only to avoid the ire of the headmaster, a quite angry man, but also have plausible deniability.
Every car I got after that was either bigger or faster, and often both. I was a really fast driver with absolute nerves of steel and unshakable confidence, a bad combination for anybody who rode with me. There were several people who only did it once, and those who came along for a second or third ride, were usually very drunk by the time they got in the car. I have been told that the reason they were drunk was so they had the courage to actually get in my car, but I don’t believe that for one moment.
Before I forget, let me give all of you teenagers out there some solid gold advice. If you’re new to driving, and driving home slightly the worse for wear (substitute ‘alcohol’ for ‘wear’, and you happen to notice a police car in your rear view mirror, it is a good idea to make sure you are not exceeding the speed limit. It is not a good idea to do what I did, which was to be paying so much attention to the mirror that I promptly ran a red light. Fortunately nothing was coming in the other direction so I only got a ticket for the red light. I think the policeman was so excited about that ticket that he completely forgot to breathalyze me, and then let me drive home.
I had a close friend at school, Phillip Woodhouse. He had muscular dystrophy and had spent his entire life in a wheelchair but he was always cheerful and never felt sorry for himself. His younger sister, Mary, was similarly afflicted but neither of their parents were. Every day after school, I would wheel Phillip home and have a cup of tea with his parents, Margaret and Leslie. They were just lovely people. Through Phillip, I met Peter Marshall, a lifelong friend who also has a variation of muscular dystrophy. Like Phillip, Peter is always cheerful and never lets things get him down. Phillip, Peter and I had enormous fun together and we were always getting into trouble. I swear that I was never the instigator, but that might be in dispute.
One weekend, Phillips’ parents were away and I was staying at their house to take care of them. We decided to have a party so lots of people from the school were invited and the house was packed to the gills. I took on the task of making punch and had a huge glass bowl into which I poured all the liquor that was turning up. As I was mixing it, I kept tasting it to see how it was coming on. I must have done a lot of tasting because I don’t remember much of the party. I do remember dancing and passing out. Since I was in the way some of my, so-called, friends picked me up and chucked me into the hallway. I landed on a rug which promptly slid along the floor until it, and I, hit the wall. I spent the whole night sleeping it off with my head halfway up the 1st step.
I woke up the next morning feeling great and went upstairs to the room where Peter was sleeping. I walked in and leant against the wall as my balance was somewhat off. Peter opened a somewhat bleary eye and said “How are you feeling, Mike?” I said “I’m fine” as I was slowly sliding down the wall. By the time I hit the floor, I had already passed out again. Peter has told this story time and time again, and, in fact, he just reminded me of it.
Another time the four of us had gone out for a drive. We were in two cars. Peter had Mary with him and I had Phillip with me. At the time I had a small Austin Healey Sprite, a two seater convertible. Somehow we had got Phillip shoehorned into the passenger seat. I think we were heading over to my house and I was leading the way. There was a dual carriageway that we had to cross in Purley. I stopped and Peter promptly rear-ended me. Phillip shot forward and ended up in the footwell. It took a while but we got him sorted out and then carried on. Peter never even said he was sorry, and, to this day, insists it was my fault.
We got back to Phillip’s house late that night. We were all completely drunk. On the way there, the brakes on my Healey had failed but I wasn’t worried as I had a plan. I would use Phillips garden wall to stop me. The plan worked, but both the car and the wall complained loudly. Lights started coming on in the small, very quiet Close they lived in. Then Phillip, who was by far the drunkest started moaning loudly, and the rest of the lights came on. I took charge and sent Mary inside to make Phillip some very strong black coffee. Phillip & Marys’ parents got several complaints the following day, but they ignored them. They were delighted that their children were, despite their disabilities, managing to have such a good time. It is entirely possible they viewed me as a bad influence but we all had a blast.
For Peters’ 21st birthday, his parents bought him a new car, a Mazda 616; his mother got the rotary engined Mazda RX-2 which we would have both preferred. He and I decided to take a trip to Cornwall, about a 5 hour drive. We took it in turns. Peter drove the first hour at a very sedate 40-50mph, feeling that the car needed to be run in. As soon as I took the wheel, it was foot to the floor and we were soon doing 120mph. Peter tried to get me to slow down, bleating that we should be running it in. My reply was that was exactly what I was doing and we made the trip in record time.
We found a very nice bed and breakfast place and booked ourselves in for two nights. Peter came down the next morning to find me in the back garden throwing knives (my latest hobby) at a big wooden telegraph pole which was, very unusually, located in their garden. He gave it a try but he couldn’t hit a barn door at two paces, so I spent a lot of time hunting for the knives, eventually refusing to let him have another go. By the time we left, the pole had an entire 3’ spot gouged to death. I’m sure the home owners were less than pleased. I still like to throw knives.
The rest of my teenage years were fairly uneventful. Of course, I was working by then, initially for Lloyds Bank in Purley, a small town about 3 miles from my home. Working in a bank was very boring, but I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to do with my life, and the money was decent.
I do remember getting into some trouble at the bank, through no fault of my own. I had an eidetic memory, especially for numbers, and within 3 months, I knew the account number of every single customer, about 2,000 of them. This came in very useful as a lot of them couldn’t remember their own account numbers and I was able to help them fill in their deposit slips. (I don’t think, but I’m not sure, that pre-printed deposit slips were available at that time).
Anyway, one day, I was summoned into the bank manager’s office, and interrogated as to why I was memorizing all of these account numbers. I told them that I wasn’t doing it intentionally, I just couldn’t forget a number once I had seen it. Of course, they didn’t believe me. In the end, I had the manager write down a string of random numbers twice as long as the actual account number. He gave it to me. I glanced at it, and handed it back. I then took another piece of paper, wrote the number down and had the manager compare the two numbers. Of course, I had got it right.
It’s a memory trick of course, and I can still do it, but these days it is much more of an effort and the smart phone has made it completely unnecessary so I no longer bother t remember peoples numbers or their car registrations, or the like.
My next job was for a bank in the city of London, the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. Working in the City was exciting and the job was much more interesting. The 1st thing I did was to memorize the capital cities of all 7 of the Australian states. I created an acronym to do this, using the phrase “Some Mothers Bring Awful People Home to Coffee”, with the 1st letter of each of those words representing the name of the capital, which are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart & Canberra. I don’t know if this was ever of a practical use but I’ve never forgotten it, even though I sometimes forget where I am these days.
My job at the bank was specifically dealing with War Bonds issued during World War 2. They had become due for redemption (1972), and I had to process all the claims; tens of thousands of them. Every day for 2 months I clocked into the bank at 7.11am and clocked out at 5.11pm, and got them all processed. I had jut finished the last batch when the Department manager came over to tell me what a good job I had been doing. He then asked me if I liked tennis, which I did and told him so. He then handed me a ticket for the Wimbledon final between Stan Smith and Ilie Nastase; the bank was a Wimbledon sponsor that year.
I had never been to Wimbledon, let alone to see a final. It was an incredible exciting day, and match, and I’ve never forgotten it. Nowadays, that ticket would be worth many thousands of pounds but it was priceless to me. (When I met Rod Laver many years later, we talked about that match. I remember him telling me that Stan Smith had the purest stroke in the game).
Soon after that though, I left the bank and embarked on my military career.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading or listening to this chapter as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and recording it.
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