- Sarah, Plymouth 1969
- Matt, Thornbury 1971
- Thornbury house
- Dursley topless bar
- Leyhill Prison
By this I mean the circumstances of the birth of our two children.
Sarah, Plymouth – 1969
I was playing rugby for one of the Plymouth combination teams, Prince Rock, and late in March I attended their end-of-season do, despite our first child being due in a fortnight.
There was a particularly evil brew called Plymouth Heavy, which was fine provided you could suspend your olfactory capabilities, not easy. It smelt bad but tasted good and was heavily alcoholic. I had despatched ‘several’.
The next morning I woke early to a horrendous sensation, the bed was wet. My immediate fear was that I’d wet the bed. It took me perhaps five minutes’ contemplation of the horror of this before I ‘fessed up. Actually, it was Jane’s waters having broken – what a relief!
We rushed to Devonport Maternity Hospital and Sarah arrived within a few hours. In those days they did not encourage husbands to be in the delivery room. I was ushered in after the event, given some minutes with mother and child and then ushered out again.
I left the hospital and found that Union Street (matelot central) still had some cafes and bars open so wandered into one to find it populated with a few of the ‘living dead’. It was unclear if they were still on an overnighter or if they were dossers keeping warm. No-one raised any enthusiasm when I told the barman I’d just had a baby. I sunk my drink and skulked back to the flat to phone our parents.
Over the next few days I met with another father-to-be in the waiting room. His wife endured a protracted labour culminating in a forceps delivery. I took him off to a pub as often as he dared. With your first child, you are footloose and fancy free, wandering about with a silly grin on your face.
ASIDE: One firm memory of Sarah as a baby was sitting up with her, just a few months old, to watch the Eagle, the Apollo 11’ Lunar Landing Module, landing on the moon and Neil Armstrong making his ‘one small step…’ speech.
Matt, Thornbury, 1971
Me holding baby Matt
When our second child Matt was born I was no longer the footloose father-to-be. I had Sarah as a toddler to look after. While Jane was still in hospital, I set about painting the new baby’s bedroom a sludgy green colour – very popular back then!
I’ve always done my own decorating but back then was a bit sparing with the set up. Just a few pages of newspaper sat directly beneath where I was working. I balanced the large pot of paint on the narrow window sill – and inevitably it fell off. Fortunately, much of it landed on my cursory pages of newspaper but it had tipped over and somehow the air got sucked into the pot and propelled the paint out with some momentum. It was thrown across the carpet (fortunately also green), it sploshed onto the opposite wall and up the painted door which was open. It carried on along the upper hall landing, also carpeted and green. It managed to reach another two bedroom doors (fortunately closed) and the stairs’ balustrade. The only good bit of news was that it was emulsion not gloss.
I set about washing it all down and the frantic activity attracted toddler Sarah to come and investigate. I broke off long enough to acknowledge her and point her away from the rapidly-drying paint. I then realised she had a stinky nappy (in those days terry-towelling ones). I changed her and rushed back to the scene of my crime. When I had done my best to rescue my situation, I looked down the stairs and realised Sarah had taken the big pack of Johnson’s Baby Powder that I had failed to flick-close, and tipped quantities on every tread and riser of the carpeted stairs (also green!). Within the hour I had delivered Sarah to her Grandma Vi’s and went off somewhere to imbibe lots of alcohol. Parenting wasn’t looking quite as straightforward as it had seemed.
THORNBURY – 1970
We have jumped a little ahead of ourselves as I had achieved something of a promotion and a slightly improved patch. I moved back to the Bristol area, and as revealed above we lit upon Thornbury in Gloucestershire for our next home.
12 Blakes Road, Thornbury, Glos BS35 2JB
ASIDE: The image above shows the house as it was much later (eg not our cars) but do take note of the pavement and that large white drain cover. I was fitting a new bathroom myself and couldn’t find an internal stopcock so turned my attention to a very small grating on the pavement. I found it full of detritus that I cleared out, ending up lying on my side with my arm just able to reach the stopcock, but not able to apply enough effort to turn it. I popped to a local ironmonger and bought a long metal arm that bridged the tap. It was still resisting, so I gave it some ‘welly’ and was greeted with a fountain. I had turned it the wrong way and the tap-head came off. Everyone else in the road was just preparing Sunday lunch and my efforts had the water switched off to the neighbourhood. A guy eventually turned up with a jack-hammer and dug it out to gain access to the stop-cock, fitted a new tap and a new drain cover – that’s the white drain cover above!
Thornbury was then a small Gloucestershire market town, but it was growing as we got there. We can hardly recognise it today. The sprawl of Bristol has certainly expanded it hugely. Thornbury had another great Round Table, and even a follow-on group for the over forties named Thornbury Round Table Old Boys or THROBs.
ASIDE: One of the Round Table members worked for BP and we did a remarkable money-raising event every Friday night throughout the summer. A service station on the A38 (the M5 did not yet exist) normally closed at night but allowed us to take it over from 8pm to 8am, giving us 1d for every gallon that we pumped. We also sold our own refreshments. It was a great fund-raiser and great for team spirit too. Anyone driving to the South West came past the garage. We’d get waves of Brummies, then Mancunians and we awarded a prize to our first Jock who usually turned up around 1am.
The Round table guaranteed a great social time, lots of dinner parties, canasta sessions, Round Table functions, croquet afternoons, plus of course we were then living close enough to our families to attend family functions and get-togethers.
I even got the opportunity to play rugby against John Pullen, the then hooker for Bristol, England (42 caps) and Lions (7 appearances). He was a local farmer and trained with a bale of hay to develop his neck, which appeared to go straight from his shoulders to the back of his head. I played hooker for a minor combination rugby team, but was assisted by the referee in this charity match who delighted in blowing for John having feet-up in the scrums.
ASIDE: While living here the Round Table had a visit to a club in nearby Dursley, Glos. It advertised a topless barmaid and strippers so we declared we were a different Table to cover our tracks with the booking. On arrival we saw no topless barmaid and when someone asked about this, a beefy barmaid pulled her wide-necked T-shirt down below her boobs. We were sorry he’d asked.
The club had a small cramped car park and all evening there were announcements asking customers to move cars and let people out. The MC made one such announcement and added that the driver waiting had no chance of getting out as the ‘Delightful, Delectable Delilah’ was just about to strip. When she emerged from behind the curtain she was not particularly engaging and some wag shouted out ‘I’ll move your car’. This was a new sort of club for the time, not at all PC today but those were Neanderthal times.
Another amusing interlude at Thornbury was being invited to debate with prisoners at nearby Leyhill Open Prison. This was a white-collar crime prison and its debating society had apparently beaten the Oxford University debating club. Our subject was The Magic Roundabout will bring about the fall of modern civilisation. They were to propose this.
Their opening gambit was that they first had to get permission to stay up late to watch it (17:50!) and they went on to suggest that this phantasmagorical programme was deliberately timed before the evening news to lull viewers into a quiescent state prior to hearing the horrors of the news. That was before they ridiculed Zebedee’s ‘Time for bed Florence’. They wiped the floor with us.
I sat beside a convicted accountant who had embezzled £300,000 (then a great deal of money). He boasted that he had hidden it and living for three years in prison with absolutely no overheads was a small price to pay.