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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Ever since Michael Norfolk has published my memories on his website I have had many a kind letter from the people of Knottingley. However, recently I’ve had a few emails from old friends giving me a friendly written clout and asking me why I haven’t mentioned them? Well…. You asked for it, here goes.

In the late sixties I had been dragged from Wakefield and dropped at Church school. On my first day as my new classmates eyed me curiously, I felt like Captain Cook just before he got his head bashed in. However Miss Elliot gave me a good introduction and I soon realized I was not going to be eaten.

First kids I met were Steven Temple and Martin Middleton who are still good pals to this day. There was also a boy called Christopher Aaron a kind lad with red hair who seemed very introvert. His accent wasn’t like the others, he didn’t have the Knottingley tang; and he spoke in hushed tones, choosing his words carefully. A tall lad walked by called Andrew Tennant. This curly jolly boy gave away smiles by the dozen, which was most welcoming. On one occasion a pane of glass fell from the Victorian swing windows upon high. It chopped the back two inches off his desk as if it were cheese. If Andrew hadn’t had his seat pushed back he would either have; no fingers or Toulouse Lautrec legs to this day.

Sat over the other side of the class was Richard Bagley he had a warm intelligent gaze. I could tell he was bright just by the cut of his Jib. On one occasion a teacher was shouting at me for daydreaming. She enquired what on earth I was thinking about so deeply. Richard bravely put his hand up, "There are some houses being knocked down where he lives Miss?"

She just snapped at Richard and ended the subject. Weird thing was, he was completely right, that’s just what I was thinking about. Her and I fell out even more when I peed in her bucket used for soaking blackboard clothes.

The royalty of the class was William Garbutt, a good-looking boy who was tall and lean similar to Bagley, but with curly dark hair and a stern gaze much older than his years. William was the ‘Cock of the School.’ If you don’t come from Knottingley that means, he was the Alpha Male who could physically defeat, squash, batter and would have no qualms in destroying any possible competitors. I was lucky, William looked me up and down and decided he liked me. He told me our fathers were acquainted. "Me Dad said your Dad’s a right bastard." Who was I to argue?

Later on another boy arrived. Mark Purchon.  He was very broad across the shoulders and with powerfully thick legs he could run like the wind. He came from a far off place called Portsmouth and his accent blew us all away. To us he was the first cockney we’d ever seen. His Athletic presence must have been threatening because William set about placing him in the pecking order. As a new arrival (similar to me) he was only interested in fitting in, and took his bashing like a man.

Mark and I were to become very good friends. He familiarized me with my childhood hero Horatio Nelson. One time we both went to a jumble sale and stood dumbstruck at the sight of Nelson’s death at Trafalgar, upon the wall of Pontefract Town Hall. Mark studied like hell through school; his heart and soul were set on being an officer in the Royal Navy. On the last couple of years at church school I remember standing in the back playground next to Simon Millard. We both watched in awe as we could clearly see Christchurch being demolished in the distance. I couldn’t help feeling my new town was been torn down. I loved Church school dearly; it was a haven from the uncertainty of home. The greatest gift it gave me was the ability to read. The freedom from hardship in a place like Knottingley was through the town library.

I can only remember two girls at Church school, Linda Holmes and a lass called Julie Kiernan.

As the seventies arrived we all attended Knottingley High School and our lives changed forever. William Garbutt was concerned about his promotion to ‘Cock’ of the first year, which he executed with much gusto. There are many schools that move up to Knottingley High so he truly had his work cut out. I much admired ‘Garb’ during these years. With a long series of combat that resembled the ‘Gladiator,’ he eventually punched, kicked and head butted his way to ‘Cock’ of Knottingley High.  A lot of teachers and people used to patronize this type of ‘Anti social' behaviour, and I myself have good reasons to abhor violence. But if you look at history, on quite a few occasions the government has asked the youth of Knottingley to pick up a rifle and go bayonet and very often shoot people in the face.

Mark Purchon flourished and really shone as a rugby player. Messrs, Bagley and Aaron were whipped off to X Alpha type classes where their acumen could reach its full potential. I ended up in a class called Delacy alongside ‘Temp’ and ‘Garb’ where I met a whole new bunch of friends. Here I saw my first West Indian boy named Arthur Henry, he and I proved equally crap at football. During those Knottingley winters we always ended up huddling together on the soccer pitch. He used to lament bitterly, "Why the hell did my dad bring me to such a bloody freezing country?"

It was at this school I realised that artistic ability was a gift, and it could be developed but never acquired. We were all drawing pictures in some dodgy art class, my attempt looked like a tarantula with chronic diarrhoea. Tempy’s picture looked like he’d been sick all over the paper. Then we saw David Millington’s charcoal drawing of the American War of Independence. It could have been a photograph apart from his improvisation on shading plus his personal control of the light. I could not believe his powers of observation. With that amount of talent he should have looked geeky, it didn’t seem fair that he was also good looking and sporty. He also possessed the straightest hair I’ve ever seen.

Due to my poor lifestyle I usually dressed quite badly. Although every one moaned about the school uniform I was damn glad of my social service supplied attire. If not for the uniform rule I would have been sent to school like someone from the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ On one occasion my mum cut down a pair of women’s P.V.C. knee high boots. She and my sisters promised me they looked like platform shoes. They Didn’t! When I arrived at school the first thing ‘Temp’ and ‘Garb’ uttered was, "Eddie, what the **ck have you got on your feet?" They then laughed themselves into a stupor. Things got worse when it started to rain, the P.V.C. got wet and flopped down so that it looked like I was wearing a couple of soggy bananas on my feet.

I was saved by a guardian angel called Joyce Temple, who gave me a second hand pair of Dr, Martin’s. Being such a dapper fashion guru didn’t really make me popular with the girls. I was much too shy anyway, but that didn’t stop me admiring them from afar. There was a girl called Colleen Bales, My word what a delightful creature. She was blessed with Jet-black hair tied back in a single ponytail. There is something about a girl’s hair with no dye in it. It has a satin quality with a glossy sheen. Her skin was so smooth it could have been white velvet. She used to scowl and frown through dark feline eyes, like some sort of exotic wildcat. Being that good looking just increased her appeal. One games lesson she floated by wearing a gym skirt and some type of netball top, her thighs and calves were like warm polished marble. This raven beauty looked straight into my eyes and spoke, "Get outta’ my way Eddie" She scowled while passing. I thought she was about to spit in my face. I cared not I would have taken that as a high-speed kiss. There was another girl called Carol Tempest who, like Colleen resembled a woman rather than a schoolgirl. Sandra Edwards was rather nice too.

Someone I must mention here was boy named Neil Tyson. I only knew this ‘Hombre’ for about three years but he’s a lad I’ll never forget. He appeared about halfway through Knottingley High as he’d been expelled or kicked out of somewhere else. A handsome boy, tall for his age, athletic and very strong, he had skin like Colleen Bales but masculine film star looks, which made him devastatingly attractive. The girls fell before him like ninepins. He had an inflammable mixture of intellect and recklessness. With a wicked glint in his eyes, anarchy was his watchword. Time spent with Tyson was unbelievably exciting, but you didn’t want to do it too often. It was rather like running through a war movie to get past a horror film only to end up in a porn flick. As a cross between the Zorba the Greek and the Poet Byron he was definitely 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know'.

A night out with Neil Tyson consisted of a couple of fights in a disco then try and seduce some hot vixen, only to finish up with fish cake, chips and mushy peas at moor’s chip shop.  He differed from Billy Garbutt in the fact that he wanted more than ‘Cock ‘O’ the Year’.  Tyson regularly fought in the year above him and the year above that. Sometimes with disastrous consequences. He was much younger than us but that didn’t stop him picking a fight with my dear buddy Mr. Purchon. Mark wasn’t really bothered about ‘fitting in’ at this stage so was quite prepared to defend himself. One thing I forgot to mention about Mark is that he was very skilled at Judo. This came as a big shock to Neil and the whole thing turned into a ‘Cage fight’ outside Kellingley Social Club. When Neil got up off the floor and could breath again he became very angry and set about Mark with a broken pop bottle. It took me half an hour to drag Tyson away with only the promise of fish cake and chips to calm him down.  If I had been that good looking I should have worried about my looks. One thing you couldn’t accuse Tyson of was vanity. Bye you do muck about when your kids don’t ya!

As I got to know him I discovered his aggression came from a sensitive side to his character. This he protected with endless vigour. Neil Disappeared as fast as he’d arrived. I don’t know where he went but I loved him dearly for making that part of my childhood so exciting.

Another guy I met through ‘Middy’ was Gary Slater, a quiet lad and a deep thinker. This he had to be, as he possessed the wildest funky hair in town. A flaxen mixture of corkscrew curls and explosive spikes. Halfway between Jimmy Hendrix and Harpo Marx, he had an exotic face for a northern man, with a pale Anglo Saxon complexion. He was good company and with that wonderful hair on a foggy winters night, put a ‘Knottla’ streetlamp behind him, he could have easily been a Gorgon. Gary became a close pal, he was patient sensitive and always calm. In retrospect I realize he possessed maturity that none of us appreciated until later years.

They say the quiet ones are the worst, this was true with Gary. When my mother was living in the Aire street flats, as Gary left us one night he ignited an Air bomb repeater (Firework) in the stairwell of our flats. The physics of the building made it the largest echo chamber in the world. It was the loudest explosion I’ve ever heard in my life, which of course was followed by two more of equal intensity. Although it was stupid thing to do, I cried with laughter for an hour afterwards as my mother and all her neighbours thought the world had ended.

I think about all these boys recently probably because my mother died last Christmas. She was the emotional refuge all throughout my childhood, but most of all she was the best friend I ever had.

Mike Edwards
February 2004

[Memories Index]

Also by Mike Edwards:

Africans and Communists
Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley
More Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley II
Stranger Things Can Happen At Sea
Happy Days
Teachers of the 70's

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