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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



I once stood in the Sahara Desert panting like a dog. The insane heat combined with running over hot sand was exhausting. Our guide, Driss who usually worked with geologists, had dragged us from the Land rover with a promise of seeing something special. I saw him wave and shout to someone in the distance who was surrounded by camels. Minutes later he was conversing with a young person. I got my breath back and walked over. To my amazement it was a woman. I pulled down my Arab style headdress and asked him what a woman was doing in the middle of the desert alone with a bunch of ugly bad tempered camels. He beckoned me to wait and said. "I do not know what tribe she’s from. I am having trouble with her language."

Driss was as excited as a birdwatcher with a Dodo. He continued without looking at me, "The men are in the souk trading goods."

I looked around me at an endless ocean of undulating sand. "Souk? We’re in the middle of nowhere."

They both laughed as they seemed to begin communicating. My companion Mark reached us, he too was wheezing like an old dog with asthma. A week earlier Driss had informed us that we would mingle with the locals much better if we dressed accordingly. This was the only excuse Mark and I needed to dress up as Arabs. Driss took us to the local souk (market) where his mate Mustapha kitted us out in full. My whole outfit was Blue. Mark’s was black. I did wonder for one second if the locals would accept us looking like a giant Smurf and a Ninja.

The woman now standing in front of Driss pulled down her multi patterned headscarf and stared straight into my eyes. Sweet lord baby Jesus, she was absolutely gorgeous. I have never seen eyes like that before or since. They were a million shades of green. I stood captivated within her piercing amber gaze thinking nothing could be prettier.

Then she smiled. She was so beautiful I felt cleansed. My jaw must have been on the floor as Driss started laughing. "Michael. I think she likes you."

"I can handle that Driss."

He continued. "She’s not Bedouin or Berber but she speaks a bit of Arabic."

She turned to Driss and began to speak. Behind her I saw a young girl and a teenage boy approach us. The young lad looked familiar he reminded me of a gypsy I used to know in Knottingley. Our guide was right this was special. I had seen tribes people before in South and Central America. Upon close inspection they always had Nike trainers on or fake Rolex watches, or a bottle of coke sticking out their arse pocket. These people were different this was like glancing into the past.

She looked at me again and burst out laughing. Her gaze then fell to the floor with an almost flirtatious air. I looked at Driss to find he had a wry smirk on his face.

"What did you say to her?" I asked

"I told her you think she is beautiful." He chuckled.

I now had butterflies in my stomach. This was flirting from another century, flirting that didn’t include sexual innuendos or lurid comments; it had an antiquated dignity that was as much refreshing as it was original. It was all done with a glance, and my God what a glance.

Mark wasn’t laughing but joined in with a worried tone. "Mike, are we about to be shot by some Arabs?" I ignored him and whined to Driss.

"What a completely kissable face." To my horror he called my bluff and relayed my words. She burst out laughing and blushed. She then mumbled some words which Driss translated. "For a kiss you would need many camels."

I laughed loudly. She smiled at me, waved then walked away into the desert. She turned and waved once more from the distance. I never saw her again but her face haunts me to this day.

The Desert Boys face was equally haunting it took me back to the late 60s when I was living in Harkers street, Knottla.’ My childhood friend ‘Middy’ and I had got involved with the wrong sort of boy. I’ll call our gypsy friend ‘Heathcliff’ for he was just as dark as the Bronte’s man but twice as brooding. We were following him like sheep. The new Screw Bridge was being built and we stood watching him vandalise the work that had been done. "Come on you two. Get stuck in." He was much older than us and we both new he could get nasty. He ordered us to carry on as he intended to break into a lorry and drive it into the cut. I felt quite relieved at the possibility of watching him drown. I knew from my father, that the great thing about criminals is that they are usually stupid. Then as he entered the lorry and began to rip out wires I saw a blue flashing light behind us. The copper grabbed us both, clouted me and then ‘Middy.’ After ramming us in the police car he then stood and shouted to Heathcliff, "You’ve got two seconds to get outta that lorry. If I have to come and get you it’s gonna’ hurt lad!"

Needless to say, within minutes he too was in the police car. He didn’t look so tough then. The copper knew Heathcliff by name which verified our worries. After a massive lecture we then drove to where Heathcliff lived. Middy and I were left in the car while the policeman took the Romany boy to see his father. As the copper walked back to the car we could clearly hear Heathcliff getting the beating of his life. The sounds of him begging then screaming were quite terrifying. As the officer got back in the car he looked at me and Middy. "That’s what happens to vandals."

We soon arrived at Middy’s; well it was actually his Auntie Marylyn’s. This saved his life. The officer then turned to me..."What’s your dad called son?"

As I relayed his name my father’s reputation preceded him before my very eyes. The coppers face softened and he looked down. "Oh I see." He thought deeply for a minute then smiled. "Look I’d better not take you home to him, but if I see you with Heathcliff again you’ve had it."

That had been a crossroads in my life. Neither ‘Middy’ nor I have ever been in trouble with the police since. One thing we did learn from the experience is to choose your friends wisely. The following year Heathcilff ended up in borstal.

I remember my father getting nasty one time so I ran from Harkers street, I could take being bashed but I could not handle my mother being hit. I think ‘Temp’ found my crying in Howard’s field somewhere. He took me to his home where I stayed for weeks. ‘Temps’ family were so kind to me. His Dad Charlie Temple Looked like Fred Dibnah complete with flat cap but without the glasses. Charlie had a kind heart and he provided well for his family. He never swore in front of the kids and he could hold his ale. If he’d ever had one gill too many he just became jollier and even more animated. He and his wife Joyce always did a great Sunday lunch. We’d all sit at the table Charlie and would gently enforce manners. This was the first time I had seen dining etiquette. Joyce would sometimes make a big round Yorkshire pudding that you ate before the main roast meal. Temp also had a little sister called Linda; she was a bubbly bright eyed little girl with a wonderful nature. Charlie worked at the Tar Distillers down by Bank Dole. He rode there on his Honda 70/90. Temp and I constantly begged him to let us have a ride on this wonderful petrol steed.

"No no lads you’re far too young."

One day Charlie had a change of heart, plus a few gills. It was about 11 o’clock at night (No, we weren’t usually allowed up that late) Charlie called us into the living room.

"Boys it’s about time for your passage of rites. Tha’ll soon be men I think tha’ should take mi motorbike for a spin. I know that when I’m in bed after a night shift you two have practised riding in the back garden or sleepy valley. So off you go. Don’t get caught!"

Temp and I were elated apart from a slight problem; we only had one crash helmet. Charlie had a shot of whiskey and came up with a solution. "Necessity is the Mother of invention." he added.

After disappearing into the garden shed and falling over about five times he appeared with a cheap plastic football. A large carving knife was produced and he cut the ball into two halves. He plonked one half on Temp’s head.

"Bob a bit of lace through that and you’ve got your self a chinstrap lad." Temp looked horrified. Even if he did look like Max wall it was probably the best bald wig in the world. Charlie’s next Idea had me in silent tears of joy. He produced a biro pen and proceeded to draw a moustache on Temp. After a couple of minutes my poor comrade resembled a Mexican Bandit who’d lost his hair.

"From a distance you’ll look just like an adult." Said Charlie. I couldn’t help thinking that even from a hundred yards away any police man out that night would have seen us and said, "Look there’s two kids on a moped and the one with the oily face has got half a football on his head."

As we walked into the night Temp was very brave, he uttered no protest. After all he didn’t want to jeopardise our ride on Charlie’s hog. Mr Temple bid us farewell with his favourite maxim,  "Happy Days."

We bombed up England’s Lane with the wind rushing by my face, and sweeping over Temp’s football. Hardly a scene from easy rider, but boy we had fun. Even for a child Temp was a skilled rider. I was not so lucky; we shot under the railway bridge and up the dirt track towards Metcalf’s farm. I was going far too fast and I heard Temp scream. "For God’s sake slow down, I’m wearing a football on my head!" It was that point that I went through the hedge. We flew through the air to have our fall broken by potatoes plants. Temps foot got stuck in the back wheel and the exhaust burnt his leg. ‘Happy Days.’

I had a million wonderful memories with the Temples. I adored Charlie and Joyce. I can never thank Steven Temple enough for his friendship in those early years. I think he always new what a difficult time that was for me. If you’re reading this Temp. Thank you for everything!

Mike Edwards

[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
Knottingley Compatriots
Teachers of the 70's

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