36: Long Ago In Llandudno…

 

Llandudno 1980s Style: The Prom

The association with North Wales began in 1980. Up until that year I hadn’t considered it as a holiday choice. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the place.

But in 1980, friends of mine, Mr and Mrs Post, were going to Llandudno for their holiday.

‘We’re off to see Llandudno,’ said Mrs Post.

‘And I’m off to see the Wizard…’ I re-joined cheerfully, bit my voice trailed off as two pairs of eyes gave me hard stares. ‘…the won…der…ful..wiz…’

Deciding my failed attempted at humour was over, Mrs Post continued. ‘It’s in North Wales. Our daughter was going with us but she’s decided to spend the week with her boyfriend,’ she explained. ‘We were wondering if you’d like to come along? Have the room she was going to have?’

I agreed. It was somewhere I hadn’t been and as such it’d be an adventure. Besides, I suspected they’d lose their money if they couldn’t get someone else to take the room; and it was quite a few years since I last had a holiday.

Fortunately, taking the room intended for their daughter didn’t involve dressing up in women’s clothes. I have always been one for trying something different but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere! Besides, it would have been a devil of a job getting something in my size that showed me at my best!

(Apologies to those of a weak disposition in whose head I’ve put pictures of a distasteful nature!)

Anyway, with the holiday agreed, I let my parents know (I was still living at home at the time). When it got around to how we were going to get there I said it’d be by train. However, Dad Fitrambler said we could use his car rather than fuss about with a train journey.

That being the case it made life a lot easier for the Posts and me.

So, the day arrived and off we went. I can’t remember how long the journey lasted but I do remember we made several stops. One of which was in a place called Ruthin where I managed to use the public toilets and find a shop which sold bottles of Old Peculiar; the two are not mutually exclusive! I bought four in a pack, roughly just under a half pint per bottle. Well, on many holiday one must ensure you stock up on essential supplies; first rule of survival.

A View From The Room 1

The place we stayed in was in Lloyd Street which led directly to the promenade and the beach. Unusually, if you went in the other direction it also led to the beach, although not directly and not the same beach. Llandudno had two beaches. The east and west beaches; something I’d not come across before.

The house was divided up into small self-catering rooms. Mine was one of the singles at the back and with just a view of other houses, along with one of the biggest features in the resort and that was the Great Orme. The Posts’ room was a double at the front and the view was the main street and the building opposite housed the Lifeboat Service.

My flat, as with all of them in that house, was self-catering and the room was equipped with a sink, a cooker, a fridge. On top of the wardrobe in the corner opposite the window and next to the door was a television. It was only a black and white set (only the double rooms got a colour set). It was a room I’d use for my visits over the next five years.

Once I’d unpacked and had a quick wash, I went to the Posts’ room and we all went out for a stroll for the evening. Mrs Post wasn’t in for the long walk or indeed a few beers so took advantage of the Bingo games going on. That left Mr Post and myself to try out a beer.

A View From The Room 2

After the long journey we went to The Albert (a Greenall’s Pub) for a beer.

The beer, a mild, didn’t taste too bad, in fact it was a lot better than I expected. I’ve always quite liked mild. So, I was pleased that quite a few pubs served a mild; it was to be the first of many.

As we had arrived rather late in the day so we got an early night, only having the one drink.
Over the week, we paid a visit to Colwyn Bay, the next day, and I had a half (I was driving) in The Park. There was a lot of work going on in the town, mainly along the coast. A little further in there was a mini-market with stalls selling a variety of things from records to sweets to foods, including Welsh Cakes. (It must be recorded here that The Pink Lady makes a wonderful Welsh cake which I’ve been lucky enough to sample on more than one occasion.)

The next day we made a trip to Conwy where I was rather impressed by the Castle. I managed to get one in at The Liverpool Arms; a half of bass.

The Self Catering Flats are now just Private Flats.

After that there was the day we drove up to the top of the Great Orme. I remember the facilities reminding me very much of the 50s and 60s; very minimal. It was like some of the early cafe’s where they did mugs of tea, bacon sandwiches and fry-ups. The tables were wash vinyl style. But on top the Great Orme it was like a vast assembly room from school with tables and chairs. A big difference compared with my more recent visits. So not much to get excited about except, of course, the view. That was quite stunning and remains so.

It only took a couple of days for me to decide it might a good place for Blameworthy and I to visit next year. That was mainly down to there being a vast number of pubs and I thought it beautiful part of Britain. It was also an area Blameworthy hadn’t been too. Of course, transport and getting from place to place would be important. As we would be drinking, me driving wouldn’t be a good idea, presupposing Dad would lend me his car again.

Llandudno itself isn’t on a direct rail route. Approximately three miles from Llandudno is Llandudno Junction which is a station on the main line. There are regular trains that go from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno and back again during the day; Llandudno Junction is a station on the main line The North Wales Coastal Line. This goes along the coast to as far away as Holyhead in one direction and Chester in the other. Between Llandudno Junction and Llandudno is Deganwy. Like Rhos-on-sea and Colwyn Bay, Deganwy and Conwy almost seem as though they are the same place

I did think about taking the tram up to the Great Orme but never got around to it. (Some twenty years later the Pink Lady and I did.) However, more importantly, only a few yards from the tram station was a pub; The King’s Head. I nailed that one (naturally) that evening. Pints all round as I wasn’t driving, and fish and chips from a place no more than ten yards away.

Fitrambler in paradise!

The next day was a drive to Rhyl. It was the furthest we ventured that week. A strong memory of that trip that remains after all this time was Mr Post and I having a drink in The Abbey Vaults. It was in this public house that I tried my first half of Marston’s Pedigree. Again, I was playing it safe as I was driving…

The Albert (Picture Courtesy the Blameworthy Archive)

There was a television in one corner, high up on the wall. A Gerry Anderson series called Joe 90 was just starting and brought back memories of my childhood. It wasn’t best series Gerry Anderson produced (I’m more of a Thunderbirds fan) but it was entertaining enough. I would have liked to have watched the episode all the way through as it didn’t seem to get many repeats in the Swindon area. But Mrs Post was outside and it was unfair to leave her there on her own, despite the weather being rather good. Some years later, video would be mainstream and owning TV programmes would become commonplace.

Conwy From The Outside

The Rhyl monorail made an impression on me. I hadn’t seen anything like it before (nor since) and had to have a photograph. Up until recently, I always thought it was around for years but that wasn’t the case.

Conwy From The Wales of the Castle

The monorail opened for business in August 1980. It was about 15 feet in the air on specially made pillars and ran about six hundred yards. It was doomed to failure because it suffered regular technical faults, most of which were between stops. I don’t suppose the sight of passengers climbing down ladders was a good advertisement for the ride. The sight probably caused some amusement; except if you were one of the passengers and suffered from vertigo.

It lasted six weeks and ran up debts in of over of £650,000…

Another of many Pubs We Drank In.

Another thing I noticed within the amusement arcades and that was pool tables. Blameworthy and I were rather partial to games of pool. In fact, we began an annual pool contest on the strength of the many opportunities we got to play.

The Doomed Rhyl Monorail from a distance

Having had good weather all week I got back home feeling it was money well-spent!

A few days after that first week, I managed to persuade Blameworthy that North Wales, with Llandudno as our base, would make a good place for a booze-hound week.

So, the following year, again in my father’s car – he was kind enough to lend it to me again – Blameworthy and I began our journey. It was no surprised he’d prepared a route which would take us to some good pubs on the way.

Of course, I played it sensibly and only drank shandy…

A Closer Look At The Monorail

All was going quite well until the final part of the journey and negotiating a lot of bends high up in North Wales. I don’t think, up until then, I’d ever been around so many bends and certainly not as many so high up.

We’d been travelling a few miles when disaster struck!

It was my fault, really. I made the mistake of spending too much time looking in the rear-view mirror at the chap behind and not enough on the road ahead. With each bend, I could see him get closer. It wasn’t a sensible preoccupation and I found that out when taking a bend that seemed to suddenly creep up on me too fast!

I swerved to avoid and narrowly missed – and I mean by mere inches – the car coming the other way; having strayed to the wrong side of the road taking that bend. Then I found that I was heading for the other end of the bend, the one with only a barrier between the end of the road and a very long drop. I turned the wheel again and we hit a barrier side on, smashing it, the poles either end of the barrier hit the front and back of the car before we came to a halt. A little further and we would have plunged over the edge and not only could I have been done for reckless driving but also for flying without a pilot’s license!

It was only when I got out of the car to inspected the damage that I realized what a drop it was.
Although it was probably of little importance in the scheme of things, the half dozen eggs given to me by Mum, were still intact in the box. However, some of the butter had got into Blameworthy’s jacket and it seemed to reappear throughout the course of the week.

From the car I nearly hit, a man charged over. At first, I thought I was going to get a crack on the conk. I’d come so close to smacking into his car so I couldn’t blame him. However, he was quite good about it. He asked if we were all right and if he needed to get the police or an ambulance. Blameworthy dismissed that idea.

‘You scared my wife. Anyway, best get back, she can’t seem to get her hands off the steering wheel, gripped it so hard when she saw you coming at us.’

I apologised as I remembered how close I’d come to smacking into his car. I guessed he’d take over the driving, once he’d prised her hands off the steering wheel…

The man strode off to his car and left us alone.

A few minutes later, I was, all things considered, feeling lucky. Part of that was because we hadn’t gone over the edge and partially because the dent in the front missed penetrating the radiator by millimetres; that really would have put the tin lid on things. We wouldn’t have been able to get to Llandudno in it; or indeed anywhere in it.

The bonnet was in a mountain shape but was soon bashed down but we tied it down with string; not sure where that came from? It rattled a lot and made things tense as I imagined it would fly up at any minute and block my vision. Another accident wouldn’t have been welcome!

As we changed the back tyre, a shard of wood puncturing the tyre, I thought about how I was going to explain this to my father, the grievous bodily harm I’d inflicted on his pride and joy. I worked on it for most of the journey to Llandudno.

As we got into Llandudno, it began to pour down with rain and we eventually made our way to the flats. By the time we had settled in, the rain had stopped. Blameworthy wanted to get out and around a few pubs. I suppose the alcohol would sooth his shattered nerves, if they were shattered. He seemed remarkably calm considering what had happened to us…

Over The Top Of The Entrance To The Fun-fare At Rhyl

However, I rang my father first. I used a call box because in those days iPhones or indeed any sort of mobile phone were not common place. I felt it was better to get the bad news out-of-the-way first. I told him what happened. He asked first if either of us were hurt and when I told him we weren’t he said not to worry about the car, we would talk about it when I got back…

Later, I would find out that my sister retorted ‘…and then he’ll kill you!’

Despite the bad start, or perhaps because of it, it was quite a good holiday. There was no chance of using the car but a couple of places were within walking distances and others we got to by train. We discovered a weekly train pass that allowed us to travel anywhere along the North Coast – Holyhead to Chester. It was only nine pounds. A bargain however your looked at it.

Being in a new area and one that was hundreds of miles from home was the different sorts of beers available. We certainly allowed ourselves to sample as many of them as we could over the week. It was also an opportunity to try many different pubs. I think we went around 40-50 during that week in 1981.

That first year I believe we began a tradition that seemed to last quite a few years – being forced to walk from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno. For some reason, every time we got the last train back from Chester it was late and because of that we missed the last train from Llandudno Junction to Llandudno.

Boo hiss!!

The Links Hotel in the 1980s

The station between those two was Deganwy. For some reason, Blameworthy and I thought it sound like a South African state. So much so that we took to punching the air and saying rather too loudly, ‘Deganwy!

Well, we laughed!

By the end of the week the ‘joke’ died somewhat and we gave a slight raising of the hand and only muttered ‘Deganwy,’ almost instinctively while distracted by reading the paper

Of the pubs’ we visited (numerous times) in Llandudno was The Links Hotel; it served JW Lees beers; a beer I hadn’t heard of prior to the holiday. It was like Marston’s the previous year.

There was also The Washington where we played darts quite often. In those days it was an Ansell’s pub. I can remember the Ansell’s brand from the commercials. Several men, walking to the pub with the designation ‘The Ansell’s Bitter Men’. I didn’t qualify for the title as I tended to drink the Ansell’s mild; rebel that I was. Then there was The King’s Head, another favourite; we had quite a few late-night drinking sessions there.

Something else (besides the forced walk from Llandudno Junction after a visit to Chester) that became something of a tradition was a walk to Conwy. We did most of the walk along the beach, then across the bridge that led to the little town built inside castle walls. We seemed to always have the right weather for that walk, dry and sunny.

In those days, my focus would have been more on the beer and the walkies, the odd game of darts and pool – and no one plays odder games than Blameworthy and I.

After a week of drinking I remember that we got an early night on the Friday and began our journey home at 5am Saturday morning. This was because of the state of my father’s car and wanting to avoid too much attention of the way home; a flapping bonnet was inclined to be something of an attention grabber.

Initially, on my return home, my father wasn’t home but once he returned he seemed a lot more relaxed than I expected him to be. However, a few hours later that changed; a closer inspection gave rise to the full extent of the damage. His main complaint beyond the obvious was how I managed to hit three sides of the car; the back, the front and the side. At first, he developed the theory that I hit the side first and then had another couple of attempt to hit the back and front. I let the accusations go as I knew the full impact (no pun intended) of the damage had got through to him. I couldn’t really blame him for being angry. It was a mess!
After that accident, I made one of those promises that you make after an evening putting away too much booze; and that was never again. I decided I would give up driving.

However, later in 1981, friends of mine got me to hire a car and drive them to Cornwall, Bude to be precise. I got the taste for driving back. So much so, that the following year, 1982, in an Auction in May I bought a Yellow Mark III Cortina for £390.00. The only other car I had ever owned prior to that on was a mini, in a similar colour. The new car had a problem driver seat (and some might say a problem driver) but that and a few other irritations were fixed by Neatentidy. He was always rather good with cars.

It was in this car which I christened ‘Chloe’ but others later called it ‘The Yellow Peril’ that I made my second visit to Llandudno in, with Blameworthy. After the previous year’s accident, I felt he was very brave to go through that journey with me a second time and he did it without a sedative. Fortunately, this time I got us there without a redesign of the car’s bodywork. I did consider having another accident so that Dad would feel less paranoid about me crashing his car but felt Blameworthy’s nerves probably couldn’t stand it. I knew mine wouldn’t.

The funny thing about these holidays is that I remember it as being Sunny all the time.

Roughly seven weeks over five years and not a single rainy day seems quite preposterous in Britain. Still, memory is often selective.

Betws y Coed

I did most of the cooking as our holidays were self-catering. There’s another sign of Blameworthy’s bravery in the face of adversity. I sometimes think, what with my driving and cooking Blameworthy should have been awarded the George Cross years ago; but then, that medal is generally awarded posthumously. I am sure when given the choice between being alive without the medal or getting the medal and being dead that he would choose the former. I certainly would.

On one occasion, deciding on a cooked breakfast, he told me he liked his bacon crispy, so I did my best. He ended up with bits of bacon so crisp that when he tried to cut into it sent pieces charging across the plate like shrapnel from a cluster bomb.

Then there was the curry, the one I tried to do without a packet sauce. Half-way through he told me he felt the chunks of pineapple – as he identified them – were a bit over the top. It puzzled me and then when he pointed one out I corrected him and told him they were cloves of garlic. He didn’t look too comfortable about that, especially as he had chewed and swallowed about four of the things. (Unlucky, as there were only four in the whole mix – what are the odds?) Still, we had little trouble getting to the bar in crowed pubs, he just breathed a pathway.

It was the day we were going to check out the pubs in Prestatyn, I’d run out of milk, so we ate our muesli without it. Our enjoyment of the macabre was such we finished a whole packet of the cereal. It seemed funny at the time.

There were quite a few regrets during that day; the beer we drank seemed to expand the cereal in our stomachs. I am sure I must have got a bout of wind that compared to thunder for the rest of the day; jet propelled or what!

Fortunately, not all breakfasts were disasters, (well, unless I cooked them!) We had many days when we just went for the breakfast cereal (with milk) and it was only the excesses of beer that did for us on occasion. To be fair, though, I cannot remember getting a single bad hangover on those holidays. But then, I suppose you need to be sober to get a hangover.

Over the years, we must have been in most pubs along the coast of North Wales and played pool in many of them. We did have an annual pool match every year. A lot of the games I remember playing in Rhyl in one of the large amusement arcades; this was when pubs shut between 3pm and 5.30pm.

During one of these games in the arcade, I went and got two hotdogs for Blameworthy and myself and decided to be very over generous with the mustard; again, it seemed funny at the time. As it was me who’d done the damage to the hotdog I felt I obligated to finish mine with all the mustard on; I think Blameworthy was sensible enough to remove a lot of the mustard on his; giving me a slightly disapproving sideways glance as he did.

Once the first couple of years were over and we had been to most pubs once we tended to go back to the best ones which often had a pool table. One of those was the Dudley Arms in Rhyl.

We drank in there quite often and played quite a bit of pool.

One year, much to Blameworthy’s annoyance, of each game we played and I kept the score in a small notebook, meticulously recording the results of every game.

After a few days, it became known as ‘that bloody book’. Looking back, I can’t blame him for getting annoyed, I think I even got to hate it, but it had to be filled in. I don’t know why it did, but the OCD in me said it did!

On the return from a drinking session, quite possibly in the King’s Head, we got Fish and Chips from Tribells (still going today and it’s really called that and I don’t think it got its name from a Star Trek episode.). It was only a few hundred yards up from where we were staying. We got a few yards away from the chip shop when Blameworthy, for some reason I don’t remember, decided he didn’t want his fish and chips and lobbed them across the road.

There was no way any of my portion of fish and chips would end up taking flying lessons. I kept a tight hold and ate mine alone in the flat. Unfortunately, I still felt hungry after mine. So, and I put it down to the vast quantity of beer I’d probably drunk that night, I went back outside and looked for Blameworthy’s thrown fish and chips. A grin to rival a Cheshire cat’s spread across my face as I found they were still there. Fortunately, wrapped in several layers of paper and undamaged.

What’s the old expression? Waste not, want not. Well, that was certainly my motto that evening.

And yes, they went down rather well.

The next morning, I planned to confess what I’d done and pay Blameworthy for them, but in the cold light of day I felt a little embarrassed. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

The Washington – we played a lot of darts there

I think it was the third year, 1983, that began the mystery of the disappearing jeans pockets. It was something that bothered my mother for a few years. When I got back from Llandudno, when washing my jeans, she noticed the inside of the pockets were missing. It wasn’t as if they were worn away because there would have been traces of them, they were gone!

Eventually, I confessed. There were a few times when I used some public toilets and unfortunately there wasn’t any toilet paper, so one had to improvise. Don’t judge, the alternative wasn’t a pleasant option!

And talking of toilets, in the place where we were staying, there wasn’t a toilet on suite. But one on each floor. My memory tells me the one of my floor was just a toilet and there was a separate bathroom. From the door to the toilet itself was quite a few feet. It also had a slightly faulty lock. You thought you were locked in and then it would click and the door would slowly open.

The first time this happened, I’d just sat down and the door creaked open. Not wanting to be exposed, I got up and moved to the floor. Unfortunately, as my trousers and pants were around the ankles, I fell forward. For a few seconds, whilst laying there, I had visions of another guest walking by and seeing me flat-out on the floor white buttocks on show – not a pretty sight!
Fortunately, I got up, pulled up the trousers and made sure the lock was engaged properly before without being seen! I could then conclude my business without interruption. Fortunately, there was always toilet paper in there so the jeans pockets survived!

I think the last time I went to North Wales with Blameworthy was 1984. I’m not sure why we stopped, it could be we had done North Wales well and truly.

But then, I didn’t know that I was far from finished with North Wales and Llandudno because 20 years later…

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6: The School Conundrum

My early, very early, years seemed to me to be a very good arrangement. I knew where I was with them and the consistency was conducive to a happy state.

The first house I ever lived in was number 113 Commercial Road, Swindon. I was actually born in Seymour Clinic on the corner of King’s Hill and Kent Road, Swindon on 17th November 1957. Oddly enough, very few history books carry this momentous date in history. Though, come to think of it, even I rarely celebrate it these days, either.

So from Mummy Fitrambler’s womb to 113 Commercial Road, obviously a bigger place in which to play; something I was going to gain a great deal of pleasure from in those early days.

I have to confess I don’t know much about my days in Number 113, other than it was a little crowded. Living there at that time was Granny and Grampy Fitrambler, Uncle Fitrambler and Mummy and Daddy Fitrambler. This would no doubt account for us moving to larger premises some eighteen months later.

The place we moved to was a relatively new council estate, created, rather like me, in the 1950s. Number 3 Ripon Way, to all intents and purposes was where the memories really began. Then, there was no such thing as the dual carriageway, the Queen’s Drive was single lane road and a rather large piece of grassy land between it and our house.

The estates of Park South and North went as far as Shaftesbury Avenue and beyond Shaftesbury Avenue there was nothing but fields and an old farm-house. Eldene and Liden didn’t exist.

But in those days of youth there were the fields. But these were no go areas until I, and my friends of the time, were in double figures. It didn’t mean we didn’t go to these areas, it was just that we shouldn’t.

One of my earliest friends in those days was Velocipede, who hadn’t long moved in. He and his family were from the North and therefore, as far as I was concerned, had a funny accent, especially his mother and father.

We became great friends and shared many adventures based around the popular science fiction shows and comic books we consumed at an alarming rate.

I think I was approaching about four and a half years old when my cosy existence was first threatened. The darkness came and enveloped me for about thirteen years.

School reared its ugly head and its evil mouth enveloped me.

As far as I was concerned, being at home with the family was fine by me and I didn’t want to upset the status quo – I’ve always tried not to cause trouble. I was happy with Daddy and Mummy Fitrambler, Granny, Grampy and Uncle Fitrambler. I needed little else.

I’d heard of school of course, knew a few children that went, but no one then really explained the purpose of school? Why get up early in the morning to go to a place you didn’t know, especially in winter when it’s cold, when you can stay in the warm at home?

I didn’t really get an answer to that!

Then there was what you would do for the hours you were in this strange building. Apparently some adult would bang on about things you didn’t really want to know but for some weird reason were expected to learn. Why do that when you could be at home playing games you wanted to play?

I didn’t really get an answer to that!

You would also be amongst other children at a strange dinner table in the middle of lots of other dinner tables with other children, eating dinner prepared by strangers. Why would I want to do that when Granny Fitrambler prepared very good food at home?

I didn’t really get an answer to that!

Here’s the thing, as the school had hundreds of other children in it, did they really need me to go? After all with the other hundreds of children, surely they wouldn’t miss me?

I didn’t really get an answer to that!

What I was told, I remember, was that if I didn’t go to school then there were these men who’d come and take Daddy Fitrambler away to prison for a period undisclosed to me. (It wasn’t an easy decision for the young Fitrambler to take.) If it was to be a short period of time, like the time Daddy Fitrambler spent at work, then maybe not attending would be not so bad…

But, I was led to believe Daddy Fitramber would have to be away for a very long time and I didn’t like that idea. I was rather fond of Daddy Fitrambler! Besides, if he was away in this prison place, then who’d read my books and comics to me? You have to have a sense of priorities in life, I mean you’ve got to think of these things!

However, looking back, I must say that although I love my father I do feel rather miffed he hasn’t ever thanked or even acknowledged the thirteen year sacrifice I made to keep him out of prison!

So, young Fitrambler was left with no choice, I had to go to school or Daddy Fitrambler would be taken away. (And of course there would be no one to read my comics and books to me). So, being, as I see it, a reasonable sort of chap, I compromised. My idea of a compromise went something like this…

I would turn up.

That was it. I would turn up everyday for five days a week and sit in the classroom. To me it was the simplest solution to everyone’s problems. Once my time of sitting there was over, I would, of course, go home. A plan of the utmost simplicity and fairness, I thought…

Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised the extent of the selfishness of the education system. The compromise wasn’t enough for them. I had to do something while I was there. And not only did I have to do something, but it was the sort of something that I wasn’t particularly interested in.

Pretty soon I was beginning to feel vindicated. I was right, this school wasn’t all that pleasant and it certainly wasn’t going to be fun!

One thing they wanted was for me to learn to read. Well, how stupid! Why would I want to learn that? What was the point? It was of no use to me. I did try to explain this but it was explained to me that life would be difficult without being able to read.

“Why?” I asked, for I was a curious little chap then.

“Well, you like comics, well if you learn to read then you can read the comics.”

Dad reads me my comics.”

“Ah, but what if Dad isn’t there?”

“Then I wait ‘til he is.”

“But it’d be better if you could read them yourself, wouldn’t it?”

“But then what would Daddy do?”

So, despite their best efforts, I didn’t learn to read – well not right then. I would take home the book they’d given me to learn from. I’d get Daddy to read it to me over and over, then memorised what he said on each page and when the teacher called me up for reading I would recite what was on each page through memory of what Daddy said rather than any recognition of the actual words.

Then, by accident, Teach turned two pages over and that threw me. We always read in order, so I was found out. Teachers can be nasty, deceitful people!

If that wasn’t bad enough, Daddy suddenly decided I was old enough to learn to read and wasn’t going to read my comics to me (traitor!). No, from then on I would have to learn to read for myself. He’d help me with words but would expect me to be able to learn. Can you believe that, after the sacrifice I made to keep him out of prison! The ingratitude!

So Fitrambler the younger was on his way to getting an unwanted education. It was blackmail of the highest order. There was no way I was going to allow myself not to be able to understand the adventures my favourite comic book characters were having each week. I’d have to learn!

Of course in with all this was the other children. There were one or two I got on with rather well. Unfortunately, there were several bands of children I didn’t get on with and they decided to elect me as their kicking and punching bag. (I think the election was done by a show of hands and exclamations of ‘Yeah, go on, do it, beat the crap out of the ginger haired bastard!’)

At that time there were only two children bullied as I remember. One was a coloured child from the West Indies, and the other was me, the freckled, skinny, ginger-haired child. Both of us had one thing in common, there were no others like us. In his case it was the skin, in mine it was the freckles and ginger hair!

It was during those few years in junior school that Mummy Fitrambler was caused some embarrassment – other than reports telling her and Daddy Fitrambler that I was intelligent but lazy – when the teacher stormed out of the class at home time and approached my mother. She told Mummy Fitrambler I was the laziest boy she’d ever know, couldn’t get me to work. Mummy Fitrambler wasn’t happy.

I wasn’t too happy then either. That particular day I’d worked quite hard. Old Teach had read a story and then asked us to write what we’d heard and I liked the story so much I worked very hard to put it down on paper. Of course, that day was laced with a liberal dozen of thumping’s from the enemies I made by just existing.

Ah yes, the memories flow. I wasn’t lazy at everything as far as school was concerned. Oh no. Within a short space of time my geography improved, my stamina improved and my sprinting improved. But then, the incentive was there to improve those skills. Either that or find a way to deploy Superman’s power of invulnerability…

To explain, the geography improvement related to where I was, the layout of the streets around me and all the various ways I could get home. Very good for out-witting the groups of children who wanted to give me my daily thumping after school. The stamina and speed were also a great advantage in out-running those children after me to give me my daily thumping.

Learning not to go through narrow alleyways which could be blocked at the end by one’s enemies, always ensure you take a seat where you have a good view of everyone and no one can sneak up behind you…always avoid groups of people, three and upwards…

Even today I tend to avoid groups of people or am weary of them and change course…

Of course, the kids grew out of the bullying, and so by 12 years old it was practically over, all bar the shouting…of insulting names. By then, I’d learnt to read and write very well. I still read, predominantly, comics, American ones with the superheroes in but at around 14 years old I read a book which really encouraged me to move onto books. “Rex Milligan’s Busy Term” by Anthony Buckeridge.

It was around this time that I began to improve at art and English. The interest sparked from comics. I wanted to write and draw my own comics, so felt it was pretty obvious I should teach myself these subjects, which I did. Spoken English hadn’t been much of problem as I started talking at eleven months, holding a reasonable conversation at around then; apparently amusing my next door neighbour no end. Art and written English I hadn’t been all that good at but now felt there was a reason to learn and so did to a reasonable standard.

So I began illustrating my own comics, writing the scripts as I went along. Then, when my aforementioned interest weighed more heavily towards books rather than comics I began to attempt to write books.

I still didn’t like school much, I still found it oppressive. But in the end there were things about it that gave me access to an education I wanted rather than the one they probably wanted to give me.

I always remember my father always telling me that I’d look back on my school days as being amongst the best of my life. It was a thought that rather terrified me. I considered that if my school days were going to be the best, then I was in for quite a shitty little life.

1: It Wasn’t The Drink, Honest!

 

Wednesday evening usually starts around 8pm where Neatentidy (a best friend of many years standing; known for his immaculate ways) gets a taxi to my house and from there we go to the first pub. Quite often the first hour is only us but after that we are joined by Pointyview (who has rather strong views on many a subject) and Movinon (who seems to always want to move on after each pint.).

We began at the Railway, Old Town, Swindon. From one of a selection of six beers we chose “Proper Job”. Forgot to check the brewery, though.

We talk a little on the new design of this very Blog – which from Neatentidy’s comments led me to believe I’ve got two readers. (It’s a start, it’s a start, ok! Little acorns and all that!)

I try to explain why I was doing it but sometimes explaining things can make them seem even more pointless than before you explained them…if you see what I mean?

In the end I settle for the fact I’ve got a lot of words trying burst out of my head and they needed to go somewhere, lots were siphoned off to the six books I’m at various stages with. The Blog seemed an appropriate home for the balance.

We moved on after Neatentidy finished his second pint and I my first (I’m not the drinker I once was). We are to meet the other two, Pointaview and Movinon in the Plough.

The Plough is an Arkells pub in Old Town, Swindon. Many years ago I loved Arkells, despite it’s reputation of going through the intestines and stomach rather like a sweep’s brush through a chimney.

I braved a pint in the Plough but not to my taste.

Soon Movinon and then Pointaview joined us and the conversations, as they do, fragmented. From work to cars, cars to beer, beer decorating…

According to type, Movinon, wanted to go elsewhere after the first pint. So we ended up back at the Railway, and Proper Job. Somehow, second time around it didn’t taste as good. In fact after a few sips and knowing I’d be leaving in less than half an hour I intended to bequeath the remains of the beer to Neatentidy; whereby he and Pointaview would go on for another hour.

By this time we’d got onto the subject of Laurel and Hardy. It was the one where Stan has been guarding a post on a island for some years after WWI. He’s found and put into a nursing home to much publicity and Ollie decides to visit. We’d got to the bit where there was a mix up over Stan’s legs and Neatentidy and myself were wheezing over it and the cough began and didn’t seem to want to stop…

After a minute my head felt ready to explode and I was going to try and take a swig of beer to dampen the cough, when….

Well, that’s it, I don’t know. Wednesday seemed to disappear. It was gone, over, home, other things were done, new days began and went, or so it felt…

Then…

For some reason, for a split second, I feel I’m in bed. Quite comforting, really, then it begins to get noisy and I open my eyes. I feel carpet next to my cheek and Neatentidy kneeling over me…

“Are you alright, Fitrambler?” he asks.

“Of course,” I respond, “Why am I on the floor?”

A young woman from the bar brings me a glass of water and asks if I’m alright? I say yes and drink the water gratefully. Although I admit to being a little shaken (not stirred) and surprised I didn’t actually hurt myself. The girl moves away and after a few seconds I wonder if she really belived it was the cough or just thought I was some old fart who couldn’t handle his drink anymore…

Although, I left feeling a little disorientated, I felt I was alright. That turned out to be a false dawn as I found on the way home when my left temple began to throb and by the time I slipped into bed my shoulder was aching like mad!

On the way home Movinon tells me they thought I was just messing about when I fell out of the chair…

Pratfalls in my fifties, I think not. I mean the old body just isn’t up to it these days!

Movinon convinced me I should see the doctor tomorrow. I was also annoyed that I broke my glasses in the fall. I was overdue for an eye-test, but kept putting it off. Now I hadn’t any choice. It was weird seeing most things around me as a blur, after only three pints!

As we said Goodbye, Movinon said ‘I hope you wake up in the morning…’

Hope you wake up in the morning? Hope you wake up…

As if I wasn’t worried enough. I’d passed out, the aches and pains were coming, thoughts about the expense of new glasses…Now he’d planned doubt about whether or not I’d get up in the morning! I mean, what if the bop on the nut was more severe than I thought? What if there was more damage – a nasty concussion? Maybe I was leaking blood already to the brain?

Aahhhhhhh!

All those thoughts went through my brain as I got into bed. I began to wonder if I should drag my copy of “War & Peace” off  and use it to fill in time until morning! No, too much trouble with the names of the characters. It’d been difficult enough getting through “I Claudius”, and “Claudius The God”, with all those Roman names!

Eventually, I turned the lights off – hoping my personal lights wouldn’t be turned off – and tried to get to sleep. It took about an hour but I managed it as tiredness defeated the fears!

Next morning, booked an appointment with the Optician’s for later that day and then got an emergency appointment with the doctor.

He checked me out and sort of agreed with my own diagnosis (obviously an intelligent man) but flowered it with technical terms (smarty pants). Excessive coughing (in layman’s terms) stopped any oxygen getting to the brain and shut something down that caused me to faint! Hmm. Faint? I prefer passing out, less girlie. He’d get me fixed up with an X-Ray, because I’d had the cough for so long; and then sent me away with a prescription for some liquid to ease the old throat.

Getting that at the Pharmacist’s almost led to my first (of two) muggings. The 500ml bottle would cost with the prescription £7.25! If I took the 200ml bottle, and didn’t use the prescription, however, £1.96. It was the proverbial no brainer!

Later at the Optician’s, I was having the eye test. You know how it works, half-blinded with a pencil flashlight, then asked to read things. After the tests, he asked what glasses I was using now.

“None,” says I.

“None,” replies he.

“None,” confirms I.

“With your eyes, you need glasses. I’m surprised you haven’t got any.” It was then I placed the two pieces in his hands. “Ah,” he said.

“Ah,” I replied, because I agreed with him. I quickly explained, however, offers to repair came there none!

He then finished the prescription for the glasses and took me downstairs to choose my frames. It was here that the second mugging came in. The young lady started to tot things up. I was expecting around £150.

“You want photo chromic lenses,” she said, to which I nodded (always did, saved on sunglasses. “Two pairs for the price of one..a pair for reading?” Again I nodded. “So, the optician recommends anti-glare?” I shrug and finally nod. “Anti-scratch?” I hesitate and then nod. “Then there’s the cost of the eye test.” To which I had no input.

Kerching!!!

“£266,” she says.

“£266,” I croak hesitantly. “Seems a lot compared to last time. Over one hundred and two quid more.”

She frowns, looks at the records, a little worried, and then smiles as she’s found the perfect out… “Ah,” she begins, and I lean a little nearer. “Last time the anti-glare was on special offer and the photo chromic lenses were free for a short time.”

The smile told me I should be grateful I didn’t pay that last time and so shouldn’t be so surprised to pay it now. She was a little put out that I wasn’t falling over with gratitude, kissing her hand, singing ‘Praise be,’ to the Company.

“I need to do a fitting for the glasses, so that we have the vari-focal lenses made correctly.”

For some reason I lingered on the word ‘fitting’ and part of my brain amended the phrase to ‘fitted up’ for the glasses to the tune of £266.00. Oh the pain, the pain of it all! It was becoming an expensive bash on the nut!

Finally, “Shall we go up and pay now…?” The ‘we’ therein, gave me false hope. She didn’t actually chip in a penny…

A few minutes after I left I got a text from Movinon. ‘Did you wake up that morning?’ For a second or two I lived with the hope that my visit to SpecSpenders was a nightmare…

Unfortunately, it wasn’t and my wallet was £266.00 lighter!

It’s quite amazing what comes back after an incident. I could compare my hitting the pub carpet to being drunk.

How so? Asks you?

Well, says I, sometimes (ok, all the time) an excessive amount of alcohol blots out a lot of what happened the night you guzzled it back. Often, bits and pieces are put together by the memory, and other bits by friends who may have shared the same volume of alcohol.

The same sort of thing applied to my passing out and hitting the pub floor (scoring high on Richter scale, I might add) where things come over a period of a few days. Like eleven days ago when the laughing and coughing fit starved the nut of oxygen, and then a second or two after grasping my pint, to refresh the throat, I’m out.

Dead to the world. For ten seconds, thereabouts.

I suppose the weird thing is that usually when I slip into unconsciousness it’s because I’m overcome by tiredness. But on those occasions, from falling asleep in the chair (more often these days as I get older) to just being overtired and getting my nut down late at night. However, the thing in coming with these things are that I usually dream, a sort of narrative that might not make sense, but something that is with me the moment I wake up and throughout the day, if I think back.

I have never passed out like I did in the Railway; not even in my high guzzling days with Blameworthy; that great man who introduced me to the delights of Real Ale when I’d all but given up beer.

Anyway, the night I dropped to the floor. Well, then, it was like nothing happened inside my head from the moment I was about to swig at my beer, to the moment Neatentidy was shaking me to see if I was alright. Even then, for milliseconds afterward, information started to come back slowly.
First, I concluded I was at home, in bed, and the Wednesday night was some time ago, even though there was no memory of its conclusion easily assessable. (This was incorrect.) Then, there was the realisation that I was lying on a carpeted floor, not in bed, which seemed to make more sense that Neatentidy was kneeling in front of me. More information trickled through in those milliseconds. The smell of beer, a familiar pub chair and the bloody annoying fact my glasses were in two pieces.

It was then that Neatentidy asked if I was ok and I answered. After that memories came back a lot faster. I was getting up when I saw a man, just below one of the televisions, thick grey-white hair, brushed back, leathered complexion, I guessed about late sixties. I remembered he was reading a paper long before I passed out, on his own, fresh pint in front of him. As I was getting up, that flashed through my mind and now the present, him still reading a newspaper, as though nothing had happened. Unlike others in the Railway, he seemed quite disinterested. What went through my mind was that he probably thought I was some ‘youngster’ who’d drank too much and suffered the embarrassing consequences for it; it was all beneath his interest.

Next thing, Neatentidy is helping me back to my feet. I note that my beer glass is in my hand empty. Fortunately, especially as I was wearing one of my best jackets, it’d spilt all over the floor and not on me. Well, pub carpets can take it; it’s a pub carpet occupational hazard. At least they didn’t have to contend with the cigarettes anymore.

As I was settling back into the chair, concerned comments coming from Movinon and Pointaview, I noticed the young girl from the bar. At first, I thought I might be thrown out for drunken behaviour, which would have been upsetting for Fitrambler, having only drank two pints and never been forcibly ejected from a pub in nearly thirty-seven years. Fortunately, it was concern and a glass of water she brought over.

Of course, since then, a lot of thought has passed through the noggin. Coughing particularly became something worrying rather than just irritating. Hitting the deck was not something I wanted to be a regular feature of my life.

I am happy to report that coughing occasionally makes me a little dizzy, but with the medicine I’m taking it’s become rare.

In my quieter moments, like walking to work, the experience did make me wonder whether it was like (often reported) near death experiences. Somehow I doubt it. But if it was, then…

No white light, no St Peter, white gown with flapping wings and a harp beckoning, just lights out, that’s your lot mate, hope you enjoyed it because you aren’t going to get another go!