MORE MEMORIES OF KNOTTINGLEY
Another huge wave
smashed against the side of the ship, inside the vessel I was flung against the
bulkhead. A few moments later the thirty five thousand ton vessel pitched,
lunging the bow into a raging Atlantic. When a ship does this, occasionally the
propeller comes out of the water making the stern vibrate which finalizes the
whole experience as a day in hell.
I wished I hadn’t
played by bank dole lock, on those rusting ‘Harkers’ barges as a child. It
is probably what inspired me to join the merchant navy.
|Photographs of Mike Edwards
We’d been at
sea for five or six months, our ship the M.V. Letchwoth had been under arrest in
the Persian Gulf (Don’t ask, it’s a long story) Now heading for England, we
were deep at sea and in the middle of the worst storm I have ever seen. I
thought I was being a wimp but some of the seamen who’d been at the sea for
years were getting edgy. I always envisaged a storm at sea as an exciting
adventure. The Hollywood cliché of a choppy ocean projected onto a screen
behind a rocking boat, with stagehands throwing the odd bucket of water was
wrong. Very wrong!
When I looked
through a porthole the foam would eventually clear, what you could see through
the spray was a religious experience. It resembled the Yorkshire Dales, but
alive and composed of angry dark water. Huge waves would lurch above our ship
with a foreboding sense of doom. Then we would rise up on a similar wave looking
down into a brooding valley of brine.
Staggering to my
cabin terrified I felt sure death was approaching. I would end up like one of
those mariners, whose gravestones I had seen around St Botolph's church in
Knottingley. What I would have given to be back in Yorkshire with my wonderful
mother and sisters. This was the first time I’d experienced something worse
than life with my father.
The floor of my
cabin was wet. Every time a wave bashed against the ship a trickle of seawater
would seep through the edge of my porthole. It came through with a low growling
hiss, which was most disconcerting. The ship was rolling so badly I had to stuff
my lifejacket under my mattress to wedge me into my bunk. As a youth I always
tried to act tough and deny any type of religious affiliation, however it’s
surprising how, pure fear is an excellent soul searcher. If there was a God I
was about to meet him, in fact they wouldn’t even find my body, so the
privilege of a burial in St Botolph's was probably out of the question. Kneeling
down I said the Lord prayer just as Mr. Pearson had taught me. I finished it off
with a promise to God ‘Lord get me out of this and you exist.’
I got into my
bunk fully dressed (There was no way I was going to be found dead wearing my
pants and a vest) I’d been awake for days so it wasn’t hard to drift off. As
I fell asleep I went back to my 60s childhood in Knottingley.
My father had
been sent to prison, which was good as it meant he didn’t take my mothers
family allowance. As a result we had our electricity put back on and began to
were the streets of Knottingley and what wonderful playgrounds they were. ‘Middy’
(Martin Middleton) and I used to drag each other through the snickets and
ginnels of Knottingley (usually in the pouring rain) in an old pram. Though we
must have looked complete pratts, to us it was a racing car, a tank and once
when he shoved me down the hill from Shepherds Bridge, a plane crash. It was
about this time I met a friend who I went all the way through School with. He
was a cocky lad called Steven Temple. He spoke in a perfect ‘Knottla’ tang,
lots of ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ and said ‘coil’ instead of coal. His face
had a perennial autumn colour due to an even sprinkling of freckles. He had the
most amazing ‘V’ shaped gap in his two front teeth; this gave him the
ability to spit so accurately he could pin it on a tanner. He hailed from
Becketts row on Weeland Road. I can’t remember the number, but it was the
house with the archway to the right of it.
and his friend Martin Middleton
When my father
returned our life took a turn for the worse again. Our short-lived jolly
atmosphere turned back into a heavy curtain of doubt and fear. One of my only
memories of Wakefield was our dog snowy. His name suited him perfectly for
despite being a mongrel he had half a coat of pure white fur. Only his face and
his tail were black. He was a bouncy thing with sparkling eyes and a carefree
nature. One day he jumped up and tried to lick Catherine’s face, (my sister)
as he fell down his paw left a small scratch on her arm. Dad, having just got up
from a night of drink picked snowy up and rammed him onto the back of a door,
stabbing him through the back of his head with a broken coat hanger. Snowy made
no noise and there was no blood just a heavy silence throughout the house.
We learned very
quickly that any type of obvious warning very rarely preceded our father’s
fury. However if you watched him closely his teeth used to clench, hidden behind
his lips. His face would go pale and the muscles behind his temples would flex
back narrowing his eyes and slightly lifting his hairline putting his whole face
into a silent snarl. Whether it scared you or not, it didn’t matter because
what usually followed was devastating.
I remember him
‘teaching’ me to tell the time. Every time I got it wrong he would smack me
across the face, hard. His palm felt like oak, and before he gave up he’d
walloped me so many times it was beginning to look like the Russian roulette
scene from the film ‘The Deer Hunter’ This type of bullying affects you in a
strange way. Even years later when I was at sea someone would ask me the time,
when I looked at a clock my heart would start pounding and the numbers would not
register to me in any type of order. I always tried to keep everything from my
mother; otherwise she would intervene and end up on the floor bleeding. That
hurt me more than any smack in the mouth.
I remember a man
coming round to collect the rent. He a large cloth bag containing loose change,
he wore a Deerstalker hat like Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately he met my father
who told him to kind of ‘Go away.’
From my hiding
place at the top of the stairs I heard the man shout; "Right I’m gonna tell em
that you put the electricity back on yourself!"
I then heard
three loud thuds and saw the ‘Deerstalker’ fly up into the air. I jumped up
to the window and saw coins all over the street. The rent man was lying on his
back holding his face. My Father leaned over him and whispered something I
couldn’t hear. The man quickly picked up his coins and left.
The councillors of
Knottingley must have hated my playground. During the late 60s and early 70s
these idiots began to systematically demolish the town. The Red Lion went, so
did the houses either side of it. Their biggest crime was Aire Street. This
evocative esplanade of infinite character was the heart and backbone of
Knottingley. Looking like a set from a Catherine Cookson novel, it could rival
Haworth High Street any day, due to its length and diversity of Victorian (and
older) architecture. OK it didn’t have the green hills as a backdrop, but the
River Aire was just as imposing.
I tried to spend
as little time as possible at home. With my newly acquired friend Steven Temple
I really got to know the town. ‘Tempy’ (as he was known then) knew
Knottingley like the back of his hand; he took me fishing for sticklebacks at
the ‘Pot Dicks’. We made dodgy rafts and went on the canal and river Aire.
We also (like every other kid in Knottingley) stole apples from the vicarage.
with Joyce Temple
One night when I
returned home my father was sat waiting for me,
coat back on we’re going out."
As we hit the
night air he produced this weird looking handcart, "Get
in." Riding in this contraption was quite fun……for a while, until I
cottoned on where we heading.
We proceeded down
Common lane for ages, in the pitch black until we came to
a large hole in a huge fence behind Kellingley. We could then see very clearly
as there were massive floodlights illuminating a long mountain of coal. The most
shocking thing was the amount of people. It looked like ‘Ponte’ market on a
Saturday morning. I recognized a lot of faces, as some of them were my friend’s
fathers. The atmosphere was jolly if perhaps a little rushed. Everyone was
filling any container they could with black gold to heat your house; there was
even an old ambulance. I was brought out of my daze by a nudge in the back from
my father, "Start filling, quick." As we set off back into the
darkness my dad had yet another surprise for me. A rope was put around my waist,
"Get pulling. Don’t stop till we get home." I don’t know how good
my father was in the army, but what I do know is he was crap at tying knots. The
rope around my waist was a lasso. The more I pulled the more ill I began to
feel. People were overtaking us on bicycles and mopeds anything with wheels, all
weighed down with coal. My father stopped dead, "Listen." He hissed.
All I could hear was some type of police siren in the distance. My father pushed
the whole cart into the ditch next to the road; of course I followed rather
quickly having been tied to it. The taste of that water is something I’ll
never forget. As I raised my head I clearly saw the ambulance whizzing by full
of stolen coal, and yes the idiots had the siren on. I got home soaking wet,
half strangled with about two buckets of coal. Crime really does pay.
When the houses
began disappearing around Harker and Aire Street most of my friends went with
them. Knottingley was becoming a lonely place. My mother told us we maybe
getting a council house on an estate called Warwick.
When the Osmonds
and David Cassidy hit the pop charts I started Knottingley High school. The
thing I wanted most in the world was a Parka with a fur rim around the hood.
Alas with our lifestyle it would never come.
From that time
Tempy became my best friend. When things were bad in our house his mother and
father (Joyce and Charlie) gave me haven in their own home. Joyce and Charlie
were the first people to take me to the seaside. I’ll never forget getting off
the Wallace Arnold coach and seeing the ocean for the first time in my life I
was gob smacked I’d never seen anything like it, even if it was Blackpool. I
vowed to myself there and then I would one day go to sea.
When I woke up
the storm had gone. I went on deck and smiled at the ocean. It looked like a
giant mirror stretching out to a crimson horizon. Upon returning to the mess
room it had become literally a ‘mess’ there was tomato ketchup, chutney and
a million other condiments smeared all over the bulkhead. One of the deckies
walked by an laughed, "Who didn’t batten down his area properly?" I
didn’t care, as I scrubbed it clean. I had been spared Davey Jones’s Locker.
26 March 2003
Also by Mike Edwards
Memories of Knottingley - My Knottingley
Stranger Things Can Happen At Sea
Teachers of the 70's
Africans and Communists