Homework for Thursday 1st February. 2018 Haringey Literary Live.
My teenage years.
- I am now in my teen years.
The war has ended and with it the daily excitement of the latest news from the front.
At school I have just been moved up a stream from M2 to T3, after losing nearly a year of education while in hospital and in a home for frail boys.
There are three streams in our school, C for the bright kids, T for the not so bright and M for the rest of us.
I leave school at 14 and look for my first real job, although I had been working as a delivery boy since I was 12, for a wage, in today’s money, of 45p.
I gave my mother 35p and kept the rest, I spent this on model aircraft kits and Pippernell Izzi’s lovely ice cream.
In the first month I had three jobs, the first one lasted only one day, I cut the top of my finger off on an unguarded circular saw, in the next job, the bandage on this finger caught up in a drill press, luckily it was loose and I managed to pull it off, before I was pulled into the machine.
My mum told me to get a safer job, “What about a postman?” she asked, this sounded pretty good to me, as I would have a company bike.
Instead I decided to try for a job working in a boat-building firm on the Thames, I loved it, I stayed for two years.
I reluctantly left this job because the bus fare went from 2p a day to 4p, and as I only earned 95p a week I couldn’t afford it.
Girl friends were no problem for me, I just didn’t have one.
Our bunch of boys thought it would be disloyal to break away and start to go out with a girl.
Apart from the job on the Thames, it was the most boring few years of my life. I had several other dead-end jobs until I was eighteen, I was then called up for National Service.
National Service changed my life, amazingly I was chosen for the Royal Air Force, normally only boys from grammar or private schools seem to be lucky enough to join the RAF.
I received a travel warrant to go to Euston to have my medical examination. Although I lived only 20 miles away, I had never been to London..
I arrived at Waterloo station and looked for a sign saying Euston, with so many people rushing about, I didn’t like to ask the way, after about half an hour I gave up and went home.
A week later I tried again, this time I found Euston, it was miles away, I hadn’t realised London was so big.
The medical was very strange; I joined a queue of young men, completely naked with our hands in front of us hiding our bits, we were being examined by a group of doctors and nurses, I felt very uncomfortable.
I was afraid I would fail the medical, because for the last two years I had been weight training to try and gain some muscle; I had overdone this and had a rupture in my groin.
When I came to the ‘coughdoctor’ who was checking our ‘nether regions’, I tensed my stomach muscles and when he asked me to cough he didn’t notice my hernia.
He then asked me to urinate in a little bottle, but as usual nothing happened, when, eventually it did start to flow, it wouldn’t stop. “Just finish it in the bucket” he said, but the bucket was already full, and unable to hold back, I caused a flood.
I can still see the look he gave me as he sort of danced around the pool spreading towards him.
They still let me join though.
Then we queued for our inoculations, still completely naked, all still with our hands in front of us so that we didn’t embarrass the young nurses, giving these ‘jabs’ as we called them, It was like a production line; first a nurse wiped your arm with an alcohol swab. At this point some of the chap’s fainted, even before a needle had even touched them.
Here they were, the pick of the nation’s youth, now with their manhood fully exposed and legs ‘akimbo’, felled by a young woman with a bit of cotton wool.
It was not a pretty sight.
After a drink of water I soon recovered though.
When I told my friends I was joining the RAF they told me to keep a lookout for ‘queers’— as gay’s were called then.
In the next room, now fully clothed, the chap filling the forms with our hair colour and other features, was sitting in front of me. He looked very closely at my face and said “Umm, you have nice little scar on your top lip” he then entered this on the form, he next leaned forward even closer and looked into my eyes, remembering my friends advice, I moved away quickly, I thought he was going to kiss me, “ Sorry”. He said, “I’ve got to put down the colour of your eyes, let me see now, I think they are a rather nice dark hazel”.
I’m glad my mates weren’t watching. I now think he was just winding me up.
My pay was £1:40 all found, I had never had so much money to spend, I volunteered to have £1 sent home to my mum every week, as many of the other recruits did. Then we were told if we signed on for three years instead of two years, we would double our pay to £2:80; I did this and sent my mum £2 a week.
Still only eighteen, I was posted to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, we were taken across the North Sea to Holland, and then through Europe by various trains to Trieste. Lastly by an old ship to Egypt, the whole trip took two weeks, just like an expensive cruise.
In just six months I had gone from not knowing where London was, to sailing down the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, and then seeing the Pyramids in Egypt.
The camps along the canal were mainly tents in the desert. I was pleased that there were no girls to complicate things, which I welcomed. But it soon became obvious that the warning about ‘queers’ was very real.
It was a criminal offence to be open about this, but we soon knew who they were, being ultra smart and always wearing their uniforms, I made a point of wearing ‘civvies’ when ever I could and being scruffy, as if anyone would fancy me.
In fact some of them became my best friends, I felt sorry for the constant teasing they had to put up with in those days.
One these mates was L,C, Jones, on the pay parade, it was always amusing to hear him called ‘Elsie’ Jones by the paymaster.
My job was a driver/mechanic, the driving test for the roads of Egypt, consisted of driving a small lorry for about a mile, I had never driven one of these but passed, it was impossible to fail.
I soon learned that the British armed forces treated Egypt and it’s population as second class and we could do as we pleased.
No wonder they hated us. They eventually chucked us out.
My first journey was to Port Said in a small convoy, the lorry I was given to drive was a 10 tonner plus a 5 ton trailer, I was terrified, I had never even seen one of these before, let alone drive one.
In 1952, I left my teens, it ended up being the most exciting time of my life, from a slow boring start to doing things I never thought possible.
I stayed in Egypt for a total of two and a half years, I loved it, swimming in the Great Bitter Lakes every day of the year, it was just one long holiday.