Here are some of my childhood memories growing up in the seaside town of Scarborough, Yorkshire, in the 1960s.
Me and my mates never seemed to be skint when we were kids. This had nothing to do with being given lots of pocket money. We did get a small amount each week from our parents, but our main sources of income were generated around the harbour and seafront. Most of them were perfectly legal, one or two maybe not so.
Throughout the winter months, the main way we had of earning money was to do odd jobs for the local fishermen. This could entail anything from running errands for the skippers and crews, cleaning the galleys and living areas aboard trawlers, collecting dozens of wooden fish boxes from the back of the fish pier on huge wheelbarrows and loading them aboard the fishing boats, shovelling tons of ice, by hand, aboard the same boats before they sailed, helping the fishermen to move and berth the boats and scrubbing down decks or anything else the vessels needed doing in order to get ready for sailing.
One thing I particularly enjoyed, and would happily do without receiving any remuneration was spending hour after hour watching fishermen mend their trawl nets, all the time studying and learning this fascinating, dying skill.
The one thing I could do to help was `fill the needles.` This entailed `filling` the old wooden fishing needles with Courlene twine so that the net mender could carry on mending at speed with the next needle, without pausing to refill the empty one. I also learned how to splice rope and even make crab/lobster pots from scratch.
I will mention one caveat here. It was generally accepted that if the fishing vessel in question had recently had a lean spell, either due to a string of poor catches, or a period of time in port due to a breakdown, routine maintenance or bad weather, then any work we did was for purely the love of doing it, and payment was not expected or indeed given.
However, the situation was balanced out even when the boat had a good week financially, and often a small bonus was given.
I will add that some of the happiest memories of my childhood were spent around fishermen, on board fishing boats, or mending trawl nets on the back of the pier and doing so for no financial gain whatsoever. Just the sheer joy of being there.
Another way we had of making money was during the summer holidays. You must remember, this was a time before the package holiday. Most people did not go abroad on vacation. They came to places like Scarborough, in their droves.
That meant that we had a `captive audience` so to speak when we decided to start selling sea urchins to the tourists on the back of Scarborough`s fish pier. My trawler skipper father rented one of the small warehouses there and was happy to give us a key and let us use it as a base for our operation.
I don`t think, as a small group of naive twelve-year-olds, that we fully appreciated just what a fantastic `pitch` we had on our hands. I'm sure any adult entrepreneur looking on at the time would have been green with envy once we set out our primitive stall and offered our beautifully coloured, elegant sea shells for sale.
But there was quite a bit of work involved in getting them into such a pristine condition for selling. The good news was that we got them for free. My dad caught them in his trawler and brought in a box full for us as and when required. That's when the real work started.
Outside the warehouse, we would carefully scrape off the sharp spines on the back of the sea urchins with our gutting knives. Then came the really horrible bit as we cut open the soft underbelly of the sea urchins.
Yes, I know it all sounds rather strange now, but we all thought it was perfectly normal for twelve-year-old boys to carry knives back then, purely for working around the harbour. Once a hole was cut out in the bottom of the shell, we gingerly scooped out the gruesome innards with our fingers.
It's hard to describe the sights and smells that resulted in the process of `cleaning` the sea urchins, but, suffice to say, it was quite repulsive. Once this unpleasant task was done, we soaked the drab-looking shells overnight in a bucketful of bleached water.
The resulting effect was a wonderful array of brightly-coloured sea shells ready to sell to the visitors. And sell they did. Certainly enough to keep us in mugs of tea and biscuits from Harry`s Tea Shack, fish and chips, ice creams and sweets for the whole of the summer. Not to mention plenty left over to spend in the amusement arcades.
This brings me to another money-making scheme. One that wasn`t, shall we say, quite as noble and upstanding as cleaning and selling sea urchins. I wouldn`t go as far as to call it stealing, more like just taking back what was ours.
After spending all our loose change on flipper (or pinball) machines, and others designed to relieve us of our hard-earned cash, it was time to recoup our losses. We did this by shaking penny machines vigorously, or even lifting up and dropping them until coins poured out into the silver coin cups, often spilling onto the floor.
After quickly scooping them up, we bolted for the exit before the amusement attendant chased us, which they often did. And I can honestly say that we never got caught!
Looking back, I think the main attraction for doing this daring and dangerous feat, was not for the money, as we often went straight to another arcade and spent the lot, but for the excitement of being chased along the foreshore, weaving in and out of the tourists as we made our escape. Happy days indeed.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Childhood memories: The crack in the cliff.
I have a question for you. Have you ever heard the song, `Everybody's Free to wear Sunscreen,` by Baz Luhrmann?
If not I'll put a link at the bottom of this article.
I think everyone should listen to it at least once a year. Even if you don`t agree with all the advice Mr Luhrmann dispenses, it is, at the very least, a very entertaining way to spend five minutes of your life.
I wish the song had been around when I was a young man. If I had acted upon only ten per cent of the advice offered, I'm sure I could have saved myself much anguish and heartache in later life.
As I was out walking the other day along Scarborough`s Marine Drive, which is the road at the foot of the castle headland, I looked up towards the towering rocky cliff face and shuddered.
There it was. The crack in the cliff. A gap in the rock of the vertical cliff face no more than two feet wide at its widest. Just wide enough, in fact, for me, my brother and my mates to writhe and wriggle our supple, slender teenage frames through its maze of twists and turns, and clamber our way to the top. Our very own personal Mount Everest.
The prize for this death-defying act of heroism (or stupidity) was free entry into Scarborough Castle itself.
It wasn`t that we couldn`t afford the measly few pence admission fee, we could. We were never short of a few shillings in our pockets, mainly due to the myriad of ways we had of obtaining money as enterprising kids, growing up in a booming English seaside resort in the 1960s. Although most of these money-making schemes were perfectly legal, it is quite possible that one or two might not have been. All will be revealed in another newsletter.
We didn`t risk life and limb due to a burning desire to regularly frequent the old castle, previously occupied by the Romans and later the Vikings.
We did it simply because we could. Also, it was the thrill of not getting caught trespassing by the castle`s keepers, who, on occasion would spot us climbing over the perimeter safety fence and pursue us either on foot or sometimes even in their cars.
This happened once at the opposite end of the castle overlooking Scarborough`s South Bay, and as we fled for our lives whilst being chased by a very angry man in a Ford Cortina, we jumped over the wire fencing and slid thirty or forty feet down the grassy slope until out of view of our pursuer. There we waited for what seemed like an eternity for him to leave and for the danger to subside.
It was only upon further examination of exactly where we were that the full extent of our daring escapade hit home. We were perched precariously, very near the edge of a nine-hundred-foot sheer drop.
Another massive incentive for climbing into the castle was that when we emerged triumphant from the top of the crack in the cliff we found ourselves on the Lost Plateau. This was a small, secluded and extremely well-hidden patch of grass which was invisible from the prying eyes of tourists visiting the ancient monument and the castle`s keepers.
The gentle climb from the Lost Plateau to the summit was a piece of cake compared to the ascent through the crack in the cliff and the long approach climb to it.
Of course, apart from enjoying the stunning views of Scarborough's North Bay and breathtaking panoramic vista towards Flamborough Head, some twenty miles to the south, the one thing we had to do even though it was terrifying, was to shuffle our way slowly on our bellies to the seaward edge of the Lost Plateau and gingerly peek over it. Again, a sheer drop of several hundred feet straight down the vertical cliff face greeted us.
What made it all worthwhile, was the knowledge that we were part of a very small group of individuals on the planet who had bravely made their way to, and set foot on the magical Lost Plateau.
I think our imaginations must have run away with us somewhat,because we had just seen a feature film on TV called, `The Lost World,` based on an Arthur Conan Doyle book about a lost plateau in Venezuela inhabited by cannibals, dinosaurs, carnivorous plants and giant spiders.
So, as I strained my neck the other day to gaze up at the infamous crack in the cliff a thousand childhood memories came flooding back. Then I thought of my own grandchildren today. How, compared to my generation, they seem to live much more cosseted, restricted, even, dare I say, unfulfilled lives.
My childhood seemed to be filled with action and adventure on an almost daily basis. With no computers, iPads, Xboxes, smartphones or even daytime TV to keep us in, we couldn`t wait to leave the house straight after breakfast, sometimes before, often not returning until teatime or even dusk in the summer.
I appreciate we live in different times nowadays, and that the evils we were warned about as kids were more tangible and visible. But I can`t help thinking that I had the best childhood anyone could wish for, in a time when life was generally much simpler, and fear didn`t overshadow and rule the way we lived our lives.
Mind you, having just recollected to you my daredevil expeditions scaling Scarborough`s very own Mount Everest, I sometimes wonder how on Earth I survived my childhood!
Maybe I already knew what Baz Luhrmann hadn't yet told me: To do one thing every day that scared me!
Here's the link to Baz Luhrmann`s, `Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen.` https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI
Boris Didn`t Work
Just to clear this up from the start, this has got nothing to do whatsoever about our ex-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson! It's about a new type of trawl net invented in 1958 by a company called Boris Nets. They were asked by the Ministry of Defence to collect the wreckage from a Victor Bomber which crashed into the sea off Milford Haven.
The nets for this operation had to be robust and the traditional nets of the time were made out of cotton which was deemed to be too fragile.
Boris was asked to make the nets out of the new `wonder fibre` Courlene.
Up to this point, it was thought that Courlene was too difficult to use in the manufacture of fishing nets. Boris proved them wrong. The fishing boats using Boris Nets managed to collect over 80% of the Victor Bomber, many pieces of which were smaller than 1” square.
Gradually, the word spread and soon the trawlers of the UK fishing fleet began using these `wonder nets.`
And so, one bright and sunny, calm Sunday morning in the summer of 1966, my father`s trawler, Brilliant Star, steamed north from Scarborough to the fishing grounds off Whitby to test out her brand new Boris net.
As a ten-year-old boy, keen to witness this historic event, I went along too. Even I, for one so young, could sense the feeling of expectation in the air. This was heightened due to the fact that it was `spawny season.` This was when huge shoals of Herring migrated to the Yorkshire Coast to spawn during the late summer and early autumn. But it wasn`t the Herring that Yorkshire fishermen were after. It was the Cod that followed them.
So there was quite a lot riding on the success of this new-fangled trawl net.
When we arrived off Whitby, there were several other trawlers already there engaged in fishing, so we came to a halt and shot the net. Then the boring bit. We then had to drag it along the seabed for about three hours. However, after about an hour we approached my Uncle Mick`s trawler, Caroline, who was in the process of hauling her gear.
We watched in awe as her cod end, full to the brim, was winched aboard several times to deposit tons of prime cod on her decks. You can imagine the sense of anticipation now aboard our boat as Caroline, with her decks awash and full to the gunwales (pronounced gunnels) with fish, and less than one hundred yards from us, set off for home.
My dad gave the order to haul in the net. The old belt-driven winch seemed to take forever to heave in the trawl, and slowly but surely the new Boris net eventually broke the surface of the sea. The jilson hook was lowered to heave up the codend, but long before this, the faces of the crew couldn`t hide their disappointment.
As the codline was released to open up the bottom of the codend, I remember the sound of seawater running off the net and splashing against the hard wooden deck. But instead of hearing the wonderful sound of a ton of fish dropping like a stone into the fish pound, unfortunately, all I heard was the disappointing slaps of five solitary wet fish as they slithered out of the codend, landing with a damp splat in front of me.
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I would have dismissed it as an old fisherman`s tale.
This memory and the overwhelming disappointment felt by all on board that day has stayed with me all these years. Fishing can be so rewarding, yet so cruel.
The good news, however, is that after we returned to port, a few adjustments were made to how the new net was set up with the rest of the fishing gear, and before long my father was back out to sea and catching fish again.
Catch Me If You Can!
At the time of writing it's that time of year again when the kids have just returned to school after the long summer holidays. This got me thinking about my own childhood, when I seemed to spend every waking moment outdoors, unlike the kids of today, cocooned inside their rooms glued to their devices.
I suppose I was lucky growing up in a beautiful seaside resort on the Yorkshire Coast at a time when kids were allowed to be just that; kids.
1960s Scarborough was a completely different world to the hi-tech, high-speed society we live in today. There were no computers, Ipads, games consoles or mobile phones to keep us entertained at home.
The simple truth is that it was far more exciting to create our own adventures out in the big wild world than it was within the confines of our own homes.
I can honestly say that boredom for me was never an issue during my childhood, and indeed, still isn't today.
Of course, I`m not saying that my mates and I were never bored when we were kids, as I'm sure that at times we must have been. But it was never for long, as one of us always came up with a suggestion to do something.
That something could be to have a mammoth game of footy on the South Beach, if the tide was out, often meeting up with other groups of like-minded lads also looking for a game. If it was high tide with very little beach available, then we would hike the ten-minute, steep, uphill walk to `Annie Bront`s graveyard` and play footy there.
`Annie Bront`s`was part of St Mary's Churchyard. A large open expanse of grass high upon the castle hill of which only about 10% had been used to bury the dead.
One of the last people to make it her final resting place was one of the famous Bronte sisters, novelist Ann Bronte, who it is thought died of pulmonary tuberculosisat the tender age of only twenty-nine, on 28th May 1849. Luckily for us, this large, gently-sloping grassy field made a perfect football pitch.
Unfortunately, if the local Bobby walked by he would tell us to stop playing and move on, presumably so as not to damage the gravestones. Being respectful to an officer of the law, we duly obliged and mooched off up the castle to play on the swings and roundabout for a while before returning to Annie Bront`s to finish our game.
St Mary's churchyard also made a great location to play another one of our favourite pastimes. Tig. In other words, hide and seek. For reasons I`m not really sure of, if we ever embarked on a game of tig during the day, it was always centred around the harbour, but evening games were nearly always played in the eerie, spooky rambling churchyard of St. Mary`s Church.
First built in the 12th century, St Mary`s Church was and still is one of the oldest buildings in Scarborough.
These games of tig were no ordinary ten-minute affairs. They were sometimes known to go on for hours. If played around the harbour in daylight we would often split up into small groups of two or three, depending on how many were playing.
But often, we would all run off and hide on our own. There were so many places to hide. Behind (or inside) huge stacks of wooden fish boxes on the back of the fish pier; under trawl nets, behind stacks of crab and lobster pots, on top of warehouse roofs, or sometimes onboard fishing boats tied up in the harbour (especially my dad`s as I knew where he hid the key to the cabin padlock.)
We even sometimes risked life and limb by climbing down the steel ladders on the side of the pier in the harbour entrance, balancing precariously on the slippery wooden piles enveloping it.
If anyone had fallen into the dangerous swirling waters and underwater currents of the harbour mouth it could have proved fatal, especially for me as a non-swimmer!
Strangely enough, this somehow increased the excitement of it all.
Whilst the element of danger was drastically reduced when playing tig in the churchyard at night, the scariness increased tenfold. If you found yourself hiding behind an old, sometimes damaged gravestone in a dark, secluded part of the sprawling grounds for an hour or more, your imagination could easily start to play tricks on you. Especially if the previous hour before the game was spent telling each other ghost stories.
Not surprisingly, on more than one occasion it was known for the game to end sooner than expected, and one or two participants to be left behind hiding in the gloomy shadows of the graveyard for hours, still thinking the game was still going on.
St Mary`s Church also had its own dedicated group of volunteer bell ringers. Hearing these bells ring out across the town was literally music to our ears. It was for us, yet another opportunity to `have a laugh.`
If we felt in a particularly mischievous mood, we would enter with trepidation through the door of the bell tower and slowly creep up the narrow, claustrophobic staircase of stone steps, spiralingall the way to the top of the church tower.
Once at the top, the volume of the huge church bells ringing out across Scarborough was quite deafening. The brave, (or unlucky) person who drew the short straw of leading the line of daredevil marauders would then bang loudly on the old wooden door, thus disturbing the poor campanologists who were only trying to carry out their unselfish act of public service.
The dangerous stampede that followed to escape to the relative safety of the ghostly graveyard below, could best be described as bordering on hysteria, as uncontrolled screeches of nervous laughter echoed down the dimly-lit stone staircase as we raced to the bottom.
The powerful boost of adrenaline rushing through our veins lasted for several hours afterwards.
To this day I will always feel a tinge of guilt when I hear St Mary`sChurch bells ring.
How to Lose Twelve Hours of your Life
For those of you who read my newsletters regularly, you`ll know that I was brought up in a fishing family in Scarborough in the 1960s.
I first went to sea on my father`s trawler at the age of just six years old in the summer of 1962. I can vividly remember him waking me up at about 3.30 am to make the short walk from our house in the Old Town to the harbour. I can recall standing behind the tiny wheelhouse near the back of the boat, whilst my father went below to start the engine.
What sounded like an injured wild animal, screeching and screaming out loud in pain before thundering towards me out of the engine room hatch, was indeed the 88-horsepower Kelvin diesel engine bursting into life. This was soon followed by the overpowering smell of diesel and Diethyl ether wafting up on deck.
Once the two crew members, Fred and Harry had joined us, we sailed out through the darkened harbour entrance at around 4 am and out into the South Bay.
The sea was calm, and we soon reached one of my dad's favouritefishing grounds close inshore near Filey Brigg. Apart from a compass, there was no radar or other navigation equipment on board, and my father used buildings in Scarborough and other clifftop landmarks, known as metes, to pinpoint the exact place to shoot the trawl.
Of course, this was only possible on clear days. If there was a sea fret or foggy conditions prevailed he couldn`t see the metes, so would have to fish further out in deeper waters.
As the fifty-foot boat lay broadside onto the gentle swell, she began to rock sideways with increasing velocity as my father and his crew threw the net overboard. Thinking the boat was about to capsize I grabbed the inside of the wheelhouse window frame I was perched on, hoping this would somehow stop the vessel from keeling over.
Once my father reassured me that `keelboats,` as these small inshore trawlers were known, were the safest boats afloat and would not capsize, the fear subsided and I settled down and thoroughly enjoyed my first trip on a trawler.
Looking back, the good news for me was that I survived the trip without being seasick. This, however, did not last, and in nearly all the subsequent fishing trips I made as a child, I was seasick practically every time. Sometimes just the once, usually quite soon after leaving port and then recovering to enjoy the trip.
But quite often I would be terribly sick all throughout the voyage. Luckily, my father only went out for the day, from 4 or 5 am and was usually back in harbour by teatime, but spending 12-15 hours throwing up was quite a harrowing experience.
Now, you'd think after suffering like this only once that I would never set foot on a fishing boat ever again, wouldn`t you? But strangely enough, it didn`t stop me from repeating this horrendous ordeal time after time. All these years later, I still can`t really figure this out. Even to this day, I still suffer from seasickness, but I am still drawn time after time to travelingon boats and shipswith every opportunity that presents itself. I think the magical lure of the sea must be too powerful for me to resist.
And as horrible as seasickness is, sometimes you've just got to see the funny side of it.
In May of 1972, aged sixteen, whilst on Easter leave in the Royal Navy (where funnily enough I was never seasick) I went out to sea on a local trawler, of which my best friend was a crew member. We steamed the six or seven-hour journey south from Scarborough to fish off a place called Mablethorpe in the Humber Estuary.
After fishing all day (and yes, I was seasick even though the weather was reasonably fine) an Arctic storm was forecast to be coming straight for us. The skipper decided to carry on fishing for a while longer before hauling in the net and heading back to Scarborough.
We soon ran headlong into the teeth of the gale and I was so ill that I went below and turned in, spending the rest of the trip home shamelessly hibernating in my bunk, whilst throwing up periodically in a nearby receptacle. After a hair-raising few hours of being violently thrown around inside the bunk, and on several occasions nearly thrown out of it, we finally arrived back in port.
Having not eaten now for about 24 hours I was starving. I glanced at the cabin clock and smiled. It was 7.30. Harry`s Tea Shack would now be open and he made the best mug of tea and bacon sarnies in the world. I licked my lips at the thought of devouring a hearty breakfast as my friend entered the cabin.
I excitedly told him that we should both head over to Harry`s as soon as we had landed our small catch. He smiled a wide smile and nodded in agreement.
Staggering out on deck into the harsh, glaring daylight I rubbed my eyes, yawned and stretched out my arms, breathing in the fresh, clean morning air, amid looks of derision from the other crew members for spending practically the whole of the trip below deck in my bunk.
A quick look up towards the clock on St. Mary`s Church confirmed the time. A quarter to eight. After repeating out loud my plans to go for a hearty breakfast at Harry`s, I was met with looks of confusion and disgust from the hard-working, tired and grumpy crew.
`You`ve just slept for 12 hours solid, you lazy little bugger!` snarled one particularly irritated fisherman. `Harry`s won`t be open now. It's nearly eight o`clock at night!`
I`d just lost twelve hours of my life.
If you'd like to check out my new novel, `Dorothy Hood` set on board a Scarborough trawler in the 1970s, please click or copy and paste this link into your browser:tinyurl.com/yyntykcw