The date is imprinted on my mind, 14th April 1972. It was a Friday and it was the school sports day. I hated school sports day because if you are not the type of person who likes to be at the forefront of attention it was a day of dread!
The day started by having to attend school at eight thirty, taking with you your sports kit in preparation for the event. This instruction however, meant travelling two miles in the opposite direction from the event ground just to shout out “Yes Sir” to Mr. Grimsdyke, the form teacher at register before then having to make your own way on foot the four miles from Longbridge to Bournebrook sports ground where the sports day event was always held.
My group of friends who were a diverse bunch had met through previous years at the same school and had bonded in sort of strange way and always hung around together when at school. I think the reality of it was that we were amongst the poorest and we always had to find ways around anything that involved money.
Of course there were buses that passed the event ground, but that meant we would have to pay which was out of the question and none of us could afford pushbikes either, so we had no choice but to walk.
To amuse ourselves en route, we used to wave at the bus drivers and passengers as they sped passed using our specialised and crafted "Winston Churchill" gesture which involved the raising of two fingers. We couldn’t really see who was on the bus because of the reflection on the glass, but it didn’t mean anything to us, we were just fourteen and making the best of the situation we were in at the time.
The school could not afford to supply a bus either but they expected everyone to make your own way to the event, something that would not be allowed in today's world!
We knew all the short cuts, all the alleyways, all the cut throughs. They added that bit of danger to the journey because one of the group of friends would always come up with a story about a murder, a flasher or a rabid Alsatian that somebody or other had met with whilst walking down the very alleyway we were about to walk down.
The alleyway itself was at least half a mile long with thorn bushes lining each side. About halfway down was feather edge board fencing which someone had erected to border their garden. We all clenched our fists in preparation for any attack, mind you if it was a rabid Alsatian that made the attack, fists would have been useless! However, John Gaffney provided the answer, if Wayne went ahead of us, the smell of his pants would either scare away or indeed attract the dog and we’d all be safe!
Wayne Small for some reason always smelt of excrement, he was like a walking nappy. I pointed out the fact that we would be down wind of Wayne but it would be bearable given the possible outcome ahead and if there was a sudden attack on Wayne, the surprise causing a natural bodily function in the pants area would not make the smell any worse than it was now!
Despite his usual protests, he went on ahead. It was David Bevington who suggested we hide in the undergrowth. David had his own affliction as most kids do. His particular affliction was a constantly running nose and he always had what we called "a candle" hanging off the end of his nose. He also had a nasty habit of licking the snot off the end of his nose with an exceptionally long tongue. Nobody ever shared one of his lunch sandwiches with him!! However, as I recall, David was a hit with the ladies for a short time later!
So, we hid in the undergrowth, Tom Brown who was only part of our group because he provided the cigarettes and was allowed to smoke at home so always had a pack of twenty, started screaming like a banshee as if we were being attacked. We all joined in and on the signal, all went quiet and stood still hidden in the brambles. Wayne shouted, we didn’t answer; he became more concerned and ran to where he had last saw us. He called out again, panic in his voice. He came a little way into the undergrowth before we all jumped up screaming. He ran away, terrified thinking we were every bit the monsters we had talked about before walking down the alleyway.
We found Wayne just around the next bend. In fact we could smell him before we saw him. We all calmed him before pushing him ahead of the pack as an attack was still an option as we were still in the alleyway.
We were approaching the feather edge border which told us we were about three quarter of the way along the alleyway. Tom crashed the fags and with the only match he had left. We were lucky that there was no wind and we managed to light our cigarettes from it. We could see Wayne ahead, he did not smoke, but we wished he did as it would have disguised his unfortunate odour! Suddenly a huge dog jumped at the fence barking and growling, trying to get through the fence at whoever was on the other side. Wayne fell backwards with the shock; water ran from his short trousers. We laughed of course because we were at a safe distance. We could see the dog’s paws gripping the top of the boards, trying to grip enough to pull itself up and over the top to get at whoever had dared to go near his property. Wayne ran off. We found him further up the alleyway; he had no trousers or pants on and was cleaning himself up with a huge dock leaf. We all ran past the rabid dog and left Wayne with his ablutions.
We waited at the end of the alleyway and Tom crashed the fags again and we begged a light from a passing pedestrian. Wayne joined us a few minutes later followed by a dozen or more blue bottles hoping for a feed.
We arrived at the event and duly reported to Mr. Grimsdyke to check in. He never said anything until he got to Wayne and he took him directly to Mr. Lewis the history and gym teacher. We saw Wayne get into Mr Lewis’s Morris Traveller car and Mr. Lewis took him off after opening all the windows of the car.
The event itself went well with me, Julian Race coming second in the javelin, John Gaffney coming second in the sack race, Tom Brown winning the shot put and Wayne, well he arrived at the end and it was the sweetest we had ever smelt him! Mr. Lewis had taken him back to Wayne’s house where he was made to bath and change by his mother before being brought back to the event just in time for him to join us in the four mile walk back to school!
We had to report to Mr. Grimsdyke before leaving and he congratulated us all on our achievements and told us to report to him as soon as we arrived back at school. We did not think there was anything wrong with that instruction as that is what normally happened on sports day, it was a way of making sure you didn’t bunk off early!
We arrived back at school earlier than we would normally have done if we walked all the way back. We had just reached a bus stop and Todger Brown who was allegedly attracted to other boy’s, hence his nick name and the odd brother of Tom was waiting also. The open back double decker bus pulled up and Todger got on, flicking his hair back with a backwards nod of his head as he always did. The bus pulled away and we all jumped on to the platform at the back. We managed to stay on for three stops before the conductor threw us off for not paying.
Mr. Lewis pulled up in his Primrose coloured Morris Traveller car and surprisingly offered us a lift back. We all squeezed into the back because Mr. Lewis liked to stand and watch the boy’s go through the showers after a cross country run, we were never sure of him although he was a married man.
We arrived back and reported to Mr. Grimsdyke, he wasn’t back yet so we waited in the class room. Suddenly the classroom door was kicked open and in walked Iain Ferris & John Joyce the school’s best fighters. They had arrived at the start of the term from another school at the other side of Birmingham (UK). Since joining they had fought their way up through the ranks of school fighters to become the best. They were feared wherever they went. I suddenly had the urge to urinate as Iain stood face to face with me. Julian he said with a smile on his face. Hi Iain I replied wondering why he was calling me by my first name and not Race as was the norm, you OK mate? A dickey bird tells me you play a musical instrument he asked, guitar I hear? Err a bit I said just in case he played guitar as well and did not want to imply I was better than he was. Play me something he said. Sorry Iain, I broke a nail this morning on the javelin, it smarts a bit I said defensively. I’ve heard through the grapevine that you are pretty good he said? Who said that Iain, well he’s a liar and I’ll.. John interrupted and said I did! Well not too bad feigning pain from my allegedly broken nail. Grimsdyke plays nursery rhymes to the first year on guitar said Iain and he walked to Mr. Grimsdykes stock room and opened the door. Here’s his guitar, play me something. Sensing Iain’s urgency I told Tom Brown to watch for Mr. Grimsdyke at the door. The three of us, Iain, John and I crowded into the small space of the stock room. I checked the tuning and gave them a full rendition of T Rex, Hot Love with vocal. I looked up from the G chord and Iain and John were smiling. At the end, I put down the guitar and we exited the stock room. Iain then astonished me by asking if I wanted to join his new band as a guitarist. I quickly ran through the pro’s and con’s of the offer in my mind and after thinking of the benefits of having the two best fighters as band mates, I accepted and roped in Tom, Wayne, David and John as the road crew.
Mr Grimsdyke came into the room. What do you want Ferris, Joyce? Nothing Sir, we’re just talking to Julian about band practice. Mr. Grimsdyke looked at them suspiciously and they left. He turned to me, Wayne, Tom, David and John and said right you lot, what the hell gives you the right to stick two fingers up to me when I was on the bus this morning, I want you all to write out one hundred lines after school, he picked up the chalk and wrote on the blackboard “To learn from my mistakes I must write out one hundred times, I must not stick two fingers up to Mr. Grimsdyke”.
I think of those day’s sometimes and wonder where all the other people who were in my class are now. A tear comes to my eyes every time as I recall that John Gaffney was killed on his first outing on his 50cc moped, David Bevington drowned in the River Cole after an accident on a cross river swing, he apparently knocked himself out and fell face down in the river, no one else was with him. Tom died of leukaemia at sixteen. Iain lived till he was forty nine and died from a heart attack, I’d seen him a week earlier at a restaurant in Alvechurch, he was morbidly obese and I was shocked that such a nice looking lad had changed so much. John Joyce went into the army at seventeen, unable to find work; he was killed in Ireland a couple of years later. Wayne, I lost touch with Wayne after his parents moved away as he finished education; I can still smell him though...
©Julian Race 03/05/2020