Born in 1921, he left school at 14 and went to work in his mother’s corner shop; his parents preferring that to the only other employment available at the time, which was to go and work down one of the local pits. When the war started, the choice was to go into the forces or go down the pit, a reserved occupation. Under pressure from his parents, he chose the latter and remained there for the rest of his working life.
I know he hated the pit, but he soon had a wife and daughter to support, so alternatives were few. He spent every free moment out and about in the fresh air, rambling all over the UK over the next 40+ years, I suppose to blot out the endless sweating hours spent underground.
He was 26 when he had the opportunity to go on a walking holiday in the Pyrenees. How it came about, I really don’t know, but he seized the chance with both hands. I suspect that, having just become engaged to my mother, this might have been a last burst of freedom, before settling down. I know it was one of the highlights of his life so far and it left him with an insatiable desire to see more of the world, which, in later years, he did, with me and my mother in tow.
This is where it started.
There’s quite a lot to it and I’m typing it up from a tattered copy he left me when he died in 1991. More will be added as I manage to type it up. I hope other people enjoy it as much as I did.
Saturday 2nd August 1947
The first minute of this auspicious day found me rolling towards London seated comfortably in the 3rd class compartment of the 11.45 p.m. from Sheffield.
The story actually starts during the afternoon of Friday the 1st of August, when I began to pack. However, those experiences, while heroic, were purely domestic and cannot possibly interest a reader, except for those kindly disposed people who found in my mother’s bread cakes some solace from the monotony of the journey which was our lot until we reached L’Hospitalet. Suffice it to say, therefore, that I was in a hell of a mess until 10.20, at which point I stuffed in what I could, left the rest with little regret and watched as my doting mother, a man’s best friend, I am given on good authority, waved me goodbye as I caught the bus to Sheffield.
The company with which i travelled was varied. A family, large and noisy, seemed to compose the major part but there was also a crinkly haired youth and a demure young female. The journey south was uneventful and my suspicions about the crinkly haired youth’s morals (I could have sworn that he intended to make advances towards the girl.) proved to be quite unfounded.
We arrived in St Pancras about 3.50 a.m. and I discovered myself to be the aggrieved possessor of a stiff neck, a touch of rheumatism and a headache. I was therefore unappreciative of the somewhat doubtful beauty of London, which met my eyes as I burst forth from the station entrance.
Left with four hours to waste, I decided to make the journey to Victoria on foot. My only guide was an R.O.P. motoring guide and a very inefficient guide it proved to be at that. I spent moments of frightening indecision at every street corner until I found a sign marked “To the City”. I followed this direction, deciding that, once I reached the City, I would at least be able to take my bearings from the river. The faith and optimism of mortal man is a wonderful thing but in this case completely without foundation. I found the river but no bearings. Pausing to get a cup of coffee just over London Bridge, I was in time to see a little old tramp thrown out of the shop by the proprietor, a fair haired Adonis of quite magnificent proportions.
Over coffee, I gave careful consideration to my position and finally made the grade. Having convinced myself that I could find my way, I set off again and, a couple of miles past Westminster, I did indeed discover Victoria, so to speak. It was 7.30 a.m. and none of the cafes of buffets were open so I composed myself to rest on a seat until such time as they did open. I awoke about 8.30 in rather a panic and found that the buffet was open – and already full. Simmering, I made my way out of the station and managed to obtain a less than satisfactory meal in the company of a cyclist from Liverpool.
Returning once more to the station, I enquired at the Continental Enquiries desk for the I.T.T party, only to be met with blank looks and pitying smiles. A menial opined, however, that my quarry might be found on platform 7 or 8. Forthwith, I proceeded thence, only to be informed by an irate and harasses official that it was more than likely that the I.T.T man would be on platform 15. Which he wasn’t. No further information was forthcoming there so I stopped and watched the arrival of hundreds of other people, each of them as confused as his neighbour and all seeking information which they universally failed to receive. This evidence of chaos and confusion served to improve my morale and i returned to my own search with renewed vigour.
Waving my ticket in the face of the collector, I dashed forth into the fray and the ticket office. There a motley assortment of people, each wearing an I.T.T. badge congregated around a grey haired man, upon whose face reposed a much harassed expression. This gentleman was Peter Harris, our Guide, Philosopher and Friend for the next 16 days.
Shaking hands with me cordially, he gave an absent smile and dashed off in searched of other errant sheep. The crowd being more or less identified now, I looked them over with interest.
Who knew what friends I might make over the next two weeks?