I used to love the way he called you "our Mel" - it reminded me of my own grandparents, also from Manchester, and who'd passed away around the time we met. He was always so proud of His Girls.
I used to love the way he called you "our Mel" - it reminded me so much of my grandparents also from Manchester...He always liked to sit around and talk about his lovely girls.
This is something that will be alien to you .... courting .... this was when a young man tried to show the family of his beloved that his intentions were honourable, and that he wanted to marry her. Well your old man was courting your mum, he was madly in love with her, but she went on a holiday to Wales, so Don being Don went each day to see her, not on modern roads, it was a four hour round trip. So after leaving your mum and hoping to get a bit of sleep before going to work the next day he..... let us say .... did not spare the horses. He found out later that the police had chased him repeatedly but never managed to apprehend him, he was blissfully unaware of his pursuers. So the daft old bugger that you remember was not always so, he was something of a James Dean in his youth, daft old men were not born that way, that is what life does to them. Your mum and I knew a younger, wilder Don. Jack.
When I was little, there was nothing that I liked more than to escape. I put this down to 'The Great Escape' being released in the year of my birth. On this particular occasion I decided to break to warmer shores, the Caribbean, the Madives, Mexico?? I had my Go Kart...well actually, it was a twin pram but an excellent vehicle for screaming down Lords St with my BF Anne-Marie on-board. I managed to pass by the fun police (Mummy) quite easily and almost made it past the iron curtain (Daddy) until I was caught on Liverpool Rd ...bummer….how did he see me, I was so little...bet it was that huge purple Go Kart!!! Well, I was supposed to be going to the circus that evening but of course, that got canned very quickly. I was sent to bed on minimum rations (cheese on toast). No Circus, no Mexico...shocker of a day. I had my nose out of joint for a very long time until I finally made it to a Circus in 1978. Well, that was a bigger shocker that my failed escape...boring beyond belief. Go Daddy, you saved me from a fate worse than having to chew my arms of simultaneously as a result of abject boredom.
I didn't mean, that it was the last story that I would ever write, just that it was the last story that I could think of, I'm sure that my old and feeble memory will dig up some other stuff, he was my best mate for many years, we did stuff that I have difficulty remembering, like a young lad who was the local James Dean, a rebel without a cause, he was considered by the locals to be the fastest thing on two wheels, he challenged us to a race from Stair village to Keswick, the next day we did the run and never came down as low as the top speed that his bike was capable of, your dad was a nut case, as was I. Always remember, your dad gave up his wild side, to look after you and your mum, as did I, we may be dozy old farts now, but we were not always that way, ask your mum. I will write from time to time, when a tear pricks my eye, to tell stories, about my mate, my very special mate, he was not perfect, nobody is, he was just Don. Jack.
Don's Norton, it was a 600cc Dominator, slim line featherbed frame, blue and cream in colour, encased rear wheel, (God knows why he chose that) with .... get this, an Avon Speedmaster front tyre, and an Avon SM rear tyre. Do you know anyone else who could tell you which tyres were on a mate’s bike? I'm sorry but I don't have any photographs of the machine that scared the shit out of me on a regular basis ....... no that is not true ..... what scared me was the idiot with his hand on the throttle. We survived with remarkably few injuries ....... lots of stories .... memories that are priceless, your dad and I could have made a good living from after dinner speaking, were it not for the fact that I was there and I know that the stories are true ...... but I wouldn't believe them either. Your dad was special to you, and was special to me. Jack.
Another boat trip, Don had laid his hands on a smaller version of a shrimp net (about three feet across) so a trip to North Wales was planned (I think the word planned is in this case inappropriate) but we went anyway. We arrived and set up shop, we launched and the engine started without a problem, maybe today was going to go according to plan, (some hope) we went, as shrimpers do, up tide and shot our net, that is where the similarity between professional shrimpers and us ended, when the net hit the bottom, the boat stopped, the little engine didn't have a prayer, so there we were, engine doing its best and us going nowhere. Fortunately we were only in about five feet of water, and as I was the only one who could swim, was elected to jump in the water and tow (African Queen style) the boat back to shore. Up to now it's no big deal I just got wet, but your old man moved the goal posts when he said that he would not let me sit on his car seats wearing wet pants. Whilst sitting in the passenger seat minus my pants, he decided that he needed fuel, imagine the scene, he has gone to pay for the fuel, I am naked from the waist down, in a well lit garage, with people walking past. Now you must remember that homosexuality was a crime in those days, and my position didn't look good, people were going past saying things like "They just flaunt their perversions these days". Your dad has a lot to answer for, Jack.
Yet another event, Don and I were camping for a few days in the Lake District, now the Lakes (this is not bad English, even though lakes are plural, the lakes as an area is singular) is an area known for rain, lots of rain, that is from where the lakes originated. So your dad and I were stuck in a two man tent watching the rain fall for a couple of days, there was no way that we could light a fire, so no way to cook ( we couldn't afford a primus, and gas stoves hadn't been invented yet), as we reached the point of considering cannibalism, your dad had a stroke of genius, we had two candles with us, and by cutting them into two pieces, we had four flames. And on those little flames he cooked bacon and eggs .... Well to be more accurate ... I got bacon and egg because he cooked mine first .... He unfortunately only got bacon because the candles ran out before he got his egg cooked .... Now that is a mate .... Fed me first, though he might have done things differently had he known that the candles were going to run out. If you don't believe me try it yourself, break two candles in half and get the old frying pan performing. No funny endings or punch lines this time, just part of your dad’s life, he had a good life, not always easy, but he, like me, was blessed with good friends, and a loving family. Jack.
Yet another story springs to mind, your dad and I were nuts, at Christmas with lots of food, and with booze coming out of our ears, what did we do? .... We went camping.... bloody camping, we should have been locked up for our own safety. However, camping we went, we went to the Goyt valley in Derbyshire, we arrived before dark on a chilly but pleasant evening, pitched our tent in a slight hollow where the sheep had eaten the grass down to a bowling green length ............ perfection. We consumed most of a bottle of Scotch which I happened to have about my person, and then hit the hay.... that was when things started to go wrong. It started to rain, no big problem, ...... yes it was, the gentle hollow with short grass became a stream bed after rain, we were both lying in a stream, not only that the temperature had dropped to freezing. How do you survive when you are wet through and the air temperature is at zero, if you are lucky enough to have a 500cc twin, you get an exhaust pipe each, wrap yourself around it (with the bike running of course) and wait for daylight, that has got to be the coldest night of my life, and even after we got home we took all day to thaw out. Girls whatever you do, use your parent (not parents) as a defence, he and I were complete idiots, so it's not your fault, your genetics caused you to do whatever you did. I wouldn't have missed a minute of it for the world. Jack.
I'm not sure if anyone else has told you anything about the FF (Famous five) so I will have a go. Four of them, John Banham, Arthur Dixon, Tony Rutter and your dad, all met at Salford Technical college, where they were in full time education, I had not met them at this time. After leaving school John, Arthur and Tony stayed on at Salford for higher education in engineering, Don did his stint at the same collage as me Stretford tech, where he did engineering and I did building. After meeting each other the five of us soon became close friends, lots of things in common, a love of motorbikes, traditional jazz and beer. Although your dad was a bit slow off the starting blocks in the beer department, but caught up and was soon an expert. There is a toast that you may hear from time to time, first proposed by your dad after a particularly good nights drinking, your dad was trying to prove that you couldn't get drunk on Babycham (something always considered by the lads as a girls drink). We had toasted everything from higher education to the hairy caterpillar, so as you may imagine we were quite drunk, when your dad lurched to his feet with his glass held high and meant to toast "Lousy two strokes" (he hated the two stroke engine), what actually came out of his mouth was " Here's to twosy loustrokes" and promptly passed out. For the rest of his life he was reminded of his toast, and also reminded that you can get drunk on Babycham. I shall tell more tales about the daft things we did in later letters. Jack.
Another story about your dad, one weekend we went for a burn up around North Wales, and a young chap called Sach Bowers wanted to tag along, a nice enough lad but not used to the kind of speed we normally travelled at, so after staying with him for hours we stopped in a lay bye and said "Don't try to keep up we are going for a blast, we will wait for you in Conway". So after leaving a bit of rubber on Welsh roads we waited as promised. Five minutes, ten, something was not right, so we set off back, we could see the ambulance from a long way off, and Sach's Gold Star on its side. He had tried to stay with us and misjudged a bend hitting a wall, he was in no danger but had made a mess of his left foot. Off we went to yet another hospital in Llandudno, made sure that he had everything he needed, then home, or rather to Sach's home, his mother was hysterical she was convinced that her boy was dead, after much persuasion she was eventually convinced that he was alive. Her next thought was how to get to the hospital in Wales ....... it was at that moment that Don came out with one of his best "I'll take you on the bike if you like, I can have you there in an hour" A smashing bloke, a heart of gold, but couldn't see that the last thing in the world she wanted at that time was a fast ride on a motorbike. Jack.
Don was a dear friend, one of the few people who you meet in life, but that didn't make him immune from being daft, one night we were going to Salford to where Tony lived, I was riding pillion behind your dad. Before we set off because of the icy conditions I pleaded with him to take it steady "The road is like a sheet of glass" I said, "Yeh yeh yeh", was his usual response, all went well through Cadishead and Irlam, till we hit the Barton stretch, he had a problem with that road, it took over his mind, and going around Salty corner at less than 80mph was not an option, it is burned into my memory, looking over his shoulder at the speedo reading 85mph as he tipped it into Salty, a corner which claimed many lives ...... "Hail Mary mother of God" was passing through my mind, but by some miracle it stayed the right way up. We continued on to where Tony lived and as we turned into his street at maybe 5mph, the bike shot off leaving us sitting in the middle of the road, where Don rubbed his hand on the road surface and said "You're right Jack it is bloody icy". Daft as a brush, but dependable, someone you would want on your side if you were in trouble, someone I am proud to call my mate. Jack.
Just to be fair, and not laugh at your dad all the time, tonight I shall tell the tale of Barry Urmston and the 350cc BSA Your mum will no doubt remember the tale, but here goes, I had serious doubts that the story that I was told was true, but it was confirmed by Barry himself. Most of us then were riding 350cc and 500cc bikes, big heavy brutes in those days, Barry was not very big but insisted on buying a 350cc BSA to be like the rest of us, (half the time he wasn't heavy enough to kick start the thing). Day one, Barry under instruction of how to ride the beast, somebody kicked it up for him, then told him "Give it a few revs and feed the clutch in gently", Barry interpreted that to mean, open the throttle wide and just let go of the clutch. As I said he was not very big so the bike was not bothered by a heavy load to shift, it leapt into the air with Barry clinging on for dear life, after that an unfortunate set of circumstances occurred, where he lived (and where the instruction was taking place) there was a 90 degree turn, which Barry was most definitely not going to make and facing him was a gate, matchwood was all he left of the gate and he continued across the yard. Next came three steps up to the back door of some unfortunate neighbours house, bump,bump,bump, then the door like the gate was matchwood, he was now inside the house with the engine still screaming when he hit the wall and the engine stalled. An old chap was attending to his fire, who, when looking round to find out what all the noise was about was confronted by Barry and his bike propped up next to his sideboard, now the punch line will be hard to believe, but if you had known Barry it was just like him, He raised his goggles and said without a smile "My mother says can we borrow a cup of sugar So your dad and I were quite normal in the circles in which we moved. Jack.
Your dad and I were close, too close for him sometimes, when I came to OZ just before Christmas and he was complaining about the local kids doing exactly what we did, I would say "Hey, remember me, I was there when we were just as bad as them" his response was "Will you never let me forget my past"? In the 1960's to be a friend of a suspected communist was dangerous (I was a bit left wing in those days), you could end up unemployable, but I had mates who would not be intimidated by the system, that is why after 50 years we are still close, these were people of commitment. Barry and the stags head ...... to set the scene your dad had not passed his driving test for a car but had his motorbike license and because they didn't have a reverse gear he was allowed to drive a BOND MINICAR, they were awful things. (see attachment) however we went all over the place in that sardine can. On this particular occasion I was not present, so Barry and your dad went off to the lake district for the weekend, they did, as was usual, enjoy the odd glass of loopy juice and by the end of the night were quite happy. I will continue the narrative as it was relayed to me by your dad, he said "Barry told me to go back to the car first because he needed the toilet, so I was sitting waiting for him when" at this point he was setting the scene for me "You know those old films when you are looking down a pitch dark street and you see something coming towards you that is intermittently lit by a flashing neon sign, well that was it, that daft bugger Barry was running down the road with a huge stags head which he had stolen from the pub". "The bloody thing was bigger than the car, so I made him leave it behind, I said look you clown the damn pub is called the Stags Head his reply was typically Barry, that they had two choices, they could call it the Stags Arse or perhaps the Railway because the station is next door". The following morning in the cold light of day your dad made him take it back. Happy days, Jack.
Don's dad, your granddad, he really was a character, he got your dad started on the selling scene, we had to keep quiet about going to see him because Dons mother would not have been pleased. He used to tell stories about the war, when everything was in short supply, and he was the man who could find anything, he was at one time transporting an illegal calf in the sidecar of his motorbike, when a policeman jumped out in front of him, he managed to stop but the calf didn't, and shoved it's head through the windscreen. You have an excuse whichever way you turn out, your mum's family were like me socialists, and your dad’s side were ..... let us say venture capitalists. Another story of him driving like a madman was when I was in my moto cross days, we would attend a race meeting with me as rider and your dad as mechanic, I had been on nights the night before the meeting, so on the way home I fell asleep in your dads car, only to be rudely awakened by your dad and a policeman exchanging words about the speed limit with regard to bike trailers being towed. The limit was 50mph, and as per usual he had been caught doing 60mph, the copper was very reasonable and let him go with a ticking off. "That was lucky" I said to him, "It was even more lucky than you think" was his reply "If he had caught me five minutes ago I would have been doing 85mph". And finally my dad's favourite Don story, your dad was telling my family about meeting an idiot driving a Lotus, "Mad as a hatter he was, all over the road, going like a rocket" he said, then a slight pause, "Took me damn near 10 miles before I got past him". Jack.
Not only were your dad and I stupid on motorbikes, we were fairly idiotic in boats as well, when we were young we, or rather he bought a tiny 9 ft 6 inch fiber glass dingy and I bought a equally small outboard motor, the scrapes we got into in that thing would fill a book. On our first outing we went to a place called Formby point, of course we didn't consult a tide table (far too sensible) and the damn tide was miles out, and when the tide goes out around Formby and Southport it really goes out, the pier is a mile long with a train service, and when you get to the end you still can't see water. So we dragged the boat, engine and all the fishing gear to a channel, about three quarters of a mile from low water mark. We launched the boat Don at the front, a chap called John Massy on the oars, and yours truly on the outboard, now this channel was pretty fast flowing due to the water passing through it to the open sea, and John was having to work hard to keep us in the same place against the flow. Splutter, splutter etc etc no way would that engine start, back to shore we went, out of the water it started like a dream, "I know what the problem is" your dad said, "It's a new engine and a bit tight, what we need to do is start it out of the water then immerse the propeller whilst it's running". Now this was a cheap little engine, no fancy things like a clutch or gears, when the engine fired the propeller rotated and that was that, so the plan was, as I was the only one with wellington boots, we would start the engine slid up its mounting bracket and therefore out of the water, I would push the boat away from shore, your dad would start the engine then slide the propeller into the water, then come back for me ..... smart eh. OK in theory but what happened in practice was, engine up, start engine, this should have been where I pushed them into deeper water, but he let the engine slide down, have you ever seen the mess when an electric egg whisk is dipped into a liquid at full speed, believe me it has got nothing on an outboard motor, a column of water about a foot across hit me square in the face, your dad panicked and turned the tiller to avoid drowning me, with the effect that the boat did a U turn and shot up the beach. Right, we had proved that the out of water theory was a possibility, but as I was in no hurry to drown, we would all have to be in the boat, so back to the old format, Don at the front, John on the oars, and me doing the out of the water juggling at the back, the sod still wouldn't start and by this time John is exhausted "Chuck out the anchor Don, I'm knackered", "OK" said Don. I am hanging over that back of the boat still trying to start the engine when I thought "Either our anchor is not holding or that lighthouse is moving", "Don just check if the anchor is holding" ...... "Err about the anchor, nobody told me to tie it to the boat" he said. Jack.
As I have already told you, your dad and I shared a partnership of a tiny boat with a useless engine, but that didn't stop us in our endeavours to catch fish, we went on a camping holiday to Beaumaris on the isle of Anglesey. Between Anglesey and the mainland of Wales are the Menai straights, a stretch of very fast moving water when a 10 mtr tide is rushing through, most of the time we could fish in complete safety by tying up to the various moorings dotted about the place, till some daft bugger in the pub told him that big fish were being caught just around the headland. Just around the headland involved passing through the sound, the sound being a narrow channel between a lighthouse and a rocky shore, where the water was like a pinched hosepipe, it moved bloody fast. You must remember that I was quite a strong swimmer, and your dad couldn't swim a stroke, and I was trying to persuade him that going through the sound was not a good idea. "It'll be quite safe" he said, "That's why they built a bloody great lighthouse, because it is quite safe" I replied. He saw sense and accepted my arguments. It was on that same holiday where I lost my wallet with all my holiday money in it, no problem, your dad being the mate he was just shared his money with me, then on the way home I slammed the car door and something fell on my feet, it was the missing wallet, so when we got home we had plenty to spend in the pub. Jack.
The last story that I can remember, is when we went over to the east coast (camping as usual .... it was all we could afford) we went to Robin Hood bay and all the other quaint places, and had a great time. However one day we went to Runswick bay, a beautiful place, a bit windy though, white horses were showing on the sea, this should have given us a clue, and the fact that all the other boat owners were sunbathing with their boats well above the water line, but no, el stupido and el idiotino, decided to launch. Not only did we not know that we shouldn't have launched, we didn't know how to launch anyway, I was on the oars and your dad was pushing us out. A bloody great wave came crashing on to the beach, now in retrospect it is easy to know what your dad should have done, it was obvious, he should have lifted the back of the boat, but the obvious is not always obvious in that kind of situation, he pressed down on the stern, this raised the prow, and flipped the boat over, so there we were like a beached turtle, chucked up ashore with a boat on top of us. There must be east coast people telling stories of the idiots in Runswick bay, and they will not be believed. We had a lot of fun, and somehow we survived into our seventies, so don't weep for us, weep for the poor buggers who die before they reach teenage. Your dad and I had a great time, and I wouldn't have missed a minute of it. Jack.