Thursday, 14 May 2015

Young Love Tries To Move On

After the breakdown of my first romance in Sept 1964 and a short spell of getting over it, I decided that there were plenty more fish in the sea and so moved on and cast my net. The result, over the next year, was almost sod all caught, clearly I didn't have the appeal that was necessary, which wasn't surprising.  I was 17 going on 15, and girls my age were looking at guys closer to 20 years old, plus I was growing my hair longer, as was the fashion then, I wanted to look like the Stones, the Kinks - everybody on "Ready Steady Go". That first year growing my hair just didn't work, my hair just seemed to grow thick and tight like sheep's wool and at one stage it looked like I had a German helmet made of hair stuck on my head. But I stuck at it and by mid 1966 and later, coupled with a moustache, I had eventually achieved a look that resembled the guys in the charts and seemed to do OK with the girls, but in late 1964 that was an awful long way away.

So it was simply back to spending an awful lot of boring evenings round the house of my old school mate in Minster. We cycled to and fro to each other's houses, we played chess, we hung around with the girl next door and her mates and dreamed of romance and pop stardom but in reality achieved none of it. But by the end of 1964 we had achieved something, despite being under-age, we had discovered the pub, the "Halfway House" pub to be exact. Today, it's one of the few pubs on Sheppey that still remains open, as you can see below, but back then, even in the small area known as the Halfway, there were two pubs within a few hundred yards of each other, the "Halfway House" and the "Oddfellows" and for the next several moths we frequented them both.

Unfortunately the "Oddfellows", the large white building below, ceased to be a pub years ago and is now a collection of rather tatty flats. It's hard to believe that the entrance door used to be where the middle downstairs window is.

Also, in November 1964, my work location changed. As part of my continuing training as a Groundsman, the Kent Education Committee (Estates Dept) decided that several months working at two other sites the other side of Maidstone was necessary. So I was firstly transferred to their plant nursery at Boughton Monchelsea and later, to the Maidstone Police HQ sports grounds. This entailed the daily chore of catching the 7.30 commuter coach from Sheerness to Maidstone and then a trolley bus out to Loose, close to where I worked. It also meant that every Tuesday I had to attend one of the Maidstone colleges in order to learn about and pass, exams in horticulture and agricultural machinery, which I eventually did.
I was not at all happy, I was getting home two later than I would working on Sheppey. However, as is always the way on daily commutes people form little cliques and normally sit in the same seat each day. It soon became clear that a pretty girl sitting near the front was always going to be on the same coach and that she normally had the attention of two rather flash guys a year or two older than me, in suits. However, because I got on the coach a stop before them it meant that the seat next to her was always empty and so I quickly claimed that as "my" seat. So that's where I always sat and for the next eight months we became good travelling companions and I fantasised many times about how nice it would be to ask her out, but never did. I bought her chocolates for that Christmas, I sneaked a kiss or two for New Year and she even visited the "Oddfellows" pub a couple of times when I was there. Sometimes if she absent with sickness, I would even ring her at home to ask after her health. But despite us being the same age, I'm pretty sure that she never saw me as anything else but a pretty immature boy with funny hair who was OK to travel to and fro to work with. Eventually I believe, she did in fact go out with one of the suits. When I was eventually transferred back to Sheppey in July 1965 I rarely ever saw her again and anyway, soon after that, my world went off in a totally different direction to the one that I imagine her one did.
Two things that I do recall from those coach journeys were both the route and the lack of public holiday. In those days the A249 did not go past the bottom of Detling Hill as it does now, it turned into and through the little village of Detling and came out further down. Secondly, we still travelled over to work at Maidstone on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and worse still - New Years Day! It wasn't a public holiday then and that was always a difficult morning after being out till after midnight.

Back home my social scene changed very little during the first half of 1965. When our meagre funds allowed (wages then were c. £5-6 a week, but you could get drunk on £1) my best friend and I visited the two Halfway pubs and very rarely a social event such as a dance. In the winter of that first half of 1965 we had also bought electric guitars and small amplifiers, in my case a bass one because I wanted to be like Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. For the next few months we spent many noisy days and nights at my friend's house trying to convince ourselves that we were turning into a group and thoroughly annoying his parents and neighbours in the process. Purely because I didn't have the patience to learn the basics of bass guitar first, I never did learn how to play that bass guitar properly. However by mid-summer, after I'd been turned on to Bob Dylan by a guy at work, we ditched the electric stuff and bought cheap acoustic guitars and then I did it properly and became a reasonable folk guitarist. From then on, while the likes of Bob Dylan and Donovan became our principal interest, we also began to expand out into all kinds of folk and blues music, something that stuck with me for the rest of my life.

Aside from that I also grew all manner of vegetables and flowers in my parents garden and my greenhouse, with some of the plants unofficially brought back from the nursery where I was working at Boughton Monchelsea. I still occasionally visited the older groundsman that I used to work with, still cycled to and fro to my best friends house in Minster - in short it was a pretty unspectacular time in my life but by late summer it was to change quite dramatically. In July I transferred back to Sheppey and joined a gang of men that travelled round several school grounds, each week, maintaining their sports fields, etc and then on Sheerness Carnival night in early August I met the gang of long-haired and like-minded youths who became my way of life both overnight and for several years afterwards. It's an event previously written up by me a couple of years ago but perhaps I'll re-visit it soon.

One last point before I go, there are one or two readers of this blog who are old ex-Sheppey followers and aside from the demise of the "Oddfellows" pub pictured above, they might be interested to see the following photos.
Below is the old Victoria Working Men Club (the VC), for so long part of Sheerness's drinking history, as it looks today - now a block of apartments.

Below in the background, is the Conservative Club (the CC) and still going strong.

This is the old "Prince of Waterloo" pub at the top of Minster Hill, closed for several years and in the process of being changed into a restaurant.

Lastly, the old "British Queen" pub, by Oak Lane, Minster, closed for several years and now a private house.


  1. I guess some folk complain that your writings aren't always bird related but I love the varied content. As always Derek, thanks for all the memories that you stir up !
    Ken L

  2. Well if they do complain Ken, I've never heard them. I always intended my writings to be both about Sheppey's wildlife and it's and mine's, history.

  3. And long may your writings continue in the same vein Derek !
    A little sad to see the photos of the British Queen and the VC in particular - time moves on I suppose but great memories linger.
    Ken L