Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Once upon a time in the 60's

Spring 1966, a chilly early Sunday morning and four dishevelled looking nineteen year old lads were stood at the old Sheerness bus station, (since demolished long ago). Saturday night, as it regularly was, had seen the four of us spend the night sleeping on benches in the nearby seafront shelters. Pubs closed at 11pm in those days and so we would often buy a crate of beer and finish it off at the shelters, talking, playing guitar, smoking a joint, before finally trying to fall asleep where we sat. The tide whispered quietly as it gently broke onto the beach nearby in the dark and ship's engines thumped as they headed through the night towards the docks. It was rarely a long or comfortable night's sleep, hard wooden benches and chilly sea breezes saw to that and consequently by 6-7 in the morning we were stirring again.
We needed something warm inside us, to warm us up and make us feel human again, even if we didn't look it, and so the bus station at the end of the High Street and not far away, was normally our first destination. 7.00 in the morning on a Sunday in Sheerness High Street in those days was like being the only people left in the world, what few places that did open didn't do so until mid-morning and only us and the odd person going to work, broke the silence. Little moved as we stood there looking for signs of life, just the fish 'n chip wrappers from last night's treat at Jacob's fish bar, swirling in the breeze - silent High Street Sunday morning!  But the bus station was our saviour, outside was a hot drinks machine, which for a few pence, dispensed a cup of hot liquid. I say liquid because although there was a grand choice - tea, coffee, hot chocolate or chicken soup, at times they all tasted pretty much the same. I would normally choose the chicken soup, a watery gruel of which most seemed to be congealed and left at the bottom of the cup. But standing there in clothes damp from the night air, prickly-eyed from lack of sleep, dirty and slightly hung over, the soup was at least hot to hands and belly. So there we were, all dressed the same in denim jackets, denim jeans and cheap desert boots, slowly being revived by the hot liquid, until, "what shall we do next" - " let's go back up the beach" - groan, "we've just come from there" - "we could always go round Del's house" - " no way, my old man'll go mad, let's go back to the shelters till the cafe opens later" - so off we trudged, Derek and the Dropouts - that's me in the front below.

Our weekends were always like that during 1966-8 as we enjoyed the freedom and hedonism of those times. Three of us worked all week, one didn't, but we all, for better or worse, kept him supplied with beer in order to eek out his dole money. The weekends and holidays were always spent like that, dossing around Sheppey or hitchhiking to and fro to London and sleeping rough there. We went out on Friday night and didn't go back home until late Sunday night or early Monday, just in time to go to work. We would spend the daytime sitting around in our regular cafe playing guitar, sitting in a park next to Sheerness fairground known as the Paddling Pool, playing guitar, and visiting the pub at lunchtimes and evenings. We slept at the beachfront shelters and regularly in an old tent along the canal bank, or round friend's houses after drunken parties. 
One such party took place during August 1966. It was held at one of the tall, three story terraced houses along Marine Parade in Sheerness, known as "Shrimp Terrace" because of the pink colouring of their brickwork. The regular four of us attended, plus my girlfriend who was quite young at the time and had to be home by 10.00. I think I walked her home before returning to the party but things were getting quite hazy by then but I do recall that she was a tad tipsy.
The party was packed with most of the people that we knew around Sheerness and I mistakenly thought I'd look pretty cool continually swigging from a glass flagon of several pints of cider that I carried perched on my shoulder, pirate style. Much later I also copied the pirate's violent swaying motion, only I wasn't on a ship in a stormy sea!

The party finally ended for me some time before midnight. I vaguely recalled hanging over a window sill three stories high and being violently sick over somebodies Vespa scooter parked below, the next thing it was dawn the next day. I came too slumped by the window, might even of passed out still hanging out of it, and wondered where I was as I tried to activate more than just one eye, and pull myself up the wall. The scene I eventually surveyed was quite incredible and the silence only broken by varying levels of snoring and occasional farts, but there were bodies everywhere as though somebody had pumped some sort of knock-out gas into the room. Clearly most of the party-goers must of followed my example and passed out or fell asleep where they were and not only that, I had clearly missed out on something a bit special. Several of the couples wrapped in each others arms on the floor had little or no clothes on - for a brief moment to see the more intimate parts of girls that I could normally only admire from afar, so much on display, the severity of my hangover faded. 

I needed to move on and reeling from the pounding in my head, tip-toed quietly to the bathroom where to my surprise I found one of my gang stood awake against the wall. But that was secondary to the rest of the room, stale vomit seemed to be everywhere and immediately, the stench saw mine added to it. We needed to get out and get out fast, before anybody else woke up and the hang-overs and recriminations began and staggered painfully down the stairs and out into the cool dawn air, with me casting a side-ways glance at the scooter that I'd anointed some hours before. We wandered along The Broadway and into the deserted High Street, past the Brewery Tap, Belle and Lion and The Goat, we weren't going home and so there was only one place to go - yes, you've guessed it, the drinks machine at the bus station. Two of us, stood there with teeth chattering, clothes specked with vomit, heads pounding and waiting for Sheerness to wake up.
My diary at the time recorded it as "a good night out" - 50 years later I'd call it a nightmare, a glass of wine and some arthritis tablets are my night-time highlights these days.


  1. A funny read Derek. Are there others in that photo? I couldn't see them through that 'massive' hairdo.

  2. The wind had made my hair bush out just as the photo was taken Marc, although I did have a good amount of hair.

  3. The good old days, eh? A wonder you survived to drink your wine and down your tablets.

  4. There was worse than that Wilma, we dipped our toes in many of the excesses - sex and drugs and rock 'n roll as they say. I guess you must of had a few of your own.

  5. Top post Derek! I could swap similar horror stories, and at the time they seemed life affirming. More please...

  6. A superb yarn from life in the 60s! Sadly some of us can remember a few similar evenings !

  7. A superb yarn from life in the 60s! Sadly some of us can remember a few similar evenings !