I was a member of the Methodist church from attending Sunday school until I began to drift away, after I joined the R.A.F. I was a Cub, a Boy Scout, attended Bible reading class, the Youth club, Sunday church and got well inducted into the world of Wesleyan Methodists. There was even a link with Whalley, as their Methodists were Wesleyan too. We put on shows, pantomimes, I even sang in the choir. (but to quote Billy Connolly, "I sang like a goose, farting in the fog") There were social evenings with hot pot suppers & dancing the Valeta! My entire life circulated around the social circle of the church.
My best friend was David Sixsmith, son of a lay preacher & pillar of the community. I think his dad was a bank official or similar in his working life. David had a life of education & a strict upbringing, full of classical music, pianos & conservative manners! I think I got to know him after we did a play called “Jan of windmill land”. It was all real Methodist church stuff. Their Jesus was gentle, tall, good looking & definitely white. They didn’t drink. (Well, not that you could see!). Very few displays of immodesty, and showing off were not encouraged. The entire church fittings were sober. Statues, icons & effigies were a complete no no!
I think it must have had an unconscious affect on my life. I have no recollection of any great sermon, any life changing events, it was just life surrounding me & I daydreamed my way through it. It was still very moving to stand in the choir and sing “All in an April evening”. Their music never left me. They used to say the devil has all the best music, but a few Methodists belting their lungs out, took some beating. I am certain I was too noisy & far to light hearted for the Methodist world, I made too many attempts at making myself popular through humour. Anyway, I had boundless enthusiasm, but that was viewed as showing off! Never the less, I was at the core of the church. These memories must stay with you. I only have to hear a Salvation Army brass band around Christmas and the tears well up. It just wasn't Christmas until you heard a brass band playing carols on the main shopping streets.So many years with few life changing events. It was the story of my entire life. I drifted into it, planned nothing, did things & carried on. I was fed religion on a dripping tap principle, nothing was forced, I was only asked a couple of times in my church life to commit to anything. One was to sign the pledge. I never did. I wasn’t wise, I just didn’t see the point & wondered if drinking the health of the bride & groom really was the first steps on the road to hell in a drunken stupor!
The second was Billy Graham attempting to save me at a rally. I have no idea why, it just made me think I was being conned. I thought you shouldn’t do something as big as this on impulse. I felt the need to go forward, as many did, but most of us sat still & committed to nothing. Was this the first nugget of my awful deep seated cynicism?
Of course, the church was just the centre of the wheel of my social interaction. Was that the reason I never went boozing or just the fact it made me ill and I didn’t like it? Maybe it was more to do with the fact it cost too much! I never did get the need to have a pint. It could be that I had my social life within the church community & didn’t need to interact down the pub. After saying that, I left active religion at about 18, lived with guys in the forces for 12 years who loved their booze & I didn’t do it there. In sales, late night drinking or playing golf got you up the promotion ladder. Didn't do either one! Mind you, I didn’t get up many ladders either!
When women came into view and raised my interest levels, they were lovely Methodist girls who were committed virgins & like Doris Day, they took it up professionally. They surrounded me. I did my “courting” by walking round the streets of Whalley Range talking for hours on end. All my friends were high school & grammar school educated. Our paths only crossed at the church but I reckoned with all the clubs, services & activities, it was unusual to be at home in the evenings. I was attending church, via services & Sunday school, three times a day on a Sunday. I guess I was at church, for some reason or other, about three of nights a week.I have early memories are of the clubs. Doing the wolf pack howl & standing round with two fingers together, pledging allegiance to the pack. Then there was Akela getting married. She was our club leader. There was a picture of me giving her a horseshoe memento on the church steps that was been lost a long time ago . Never knew her name, she was just Akela. (the name came from Akela, leader of the wolf pack in The Jungle Books by Kipling). We pronounced it Are-kay-lar. (No wonder I had trouble finding out how to spell it!) These were the years 8 to 10 before I moved up to the Scouts. Cubs wore a green woolly jumper, neckerchief & cap. This was immediately after the war. I wonder what sacrifices my folks had to give to afford the uniform? I vaguely remember subs; I think it as 3d a week. (Just over 1 new pence now) but that could be miles out.
The Boy scouts were more memorable. We were the 207th group. Hats like mounted police from Canada, jack knifes, sheaf knives, woggles, scout staves or poles, badges and rank Then there was the scout master (or "Skipper"). One of the later ones was Peter St.John Barlow. His memory will always remain. A good man, that drove a little Ford 10 van. His real job was radio repair man & probably later, a TV specialist! He worked hard as a leader. I got the sense he was from a middle class family and was giving service back to the community. Noblesse oblige is generally used to imply that with wealth, power and prestige come social responsibilities. The phrase is sometimes used derisively, in the sense of condescending or hypocritical social responsibility, but some people believed that if you had privilege, you owed it to the community, to pay it. I think Skipper practised that. I met his sister a couple of times, who was meant to be good enough to be a concert pianist and, by my standards, an accomplished artist. They were probably just normal & I wouldn’t have recognised the middle classes as they stood in front of me then. With hindsight, David Sixsmith, his family & house in Whalley Range screamed lower middle class. It meant nothing to me. Skipper once wrote me a long letter that reduced me to tears, he obviously saw the flaws in my character & I needed to help. I can remember nothing of the letter, just sitting on my bed in the attic reading it.I won a very nice elaborate sheath knife for a report I gave on a hike we did. It was stunning and far better than I could have hoped to ever afford. He did stress that all the reports were very poor and mine was only best of a bad job! It did seem that he expected us to know what he wanted, how it was to be done and how to satisfy something only he knew about. That outlook or expectation seemed to follow me everywhere. I never seemed to fulfil anyone's expectations but there again, maybe I never seemed to grasp what was wanted either. This applied to school, organisations, church and family life. There seems to be a thing that has followed me, of little praise in case you got ideas above your station, or a big stick to concentrate the mind. Peter was a cut above the rest. I think he tried to lead with enthusiasm, it must have been a struggle with us lot, but I never remember him giving up or not doing his best.
I have recollection of a camp in Cark in Cartmel. We were to take this hike as a group (probably as a patrol) I remember Bill Mottrams was with me that day. The skies opened & we decided to shelter. It was obviously in sight of, or next to, a house that held two very nice people. There seemed old to us, but they invited us in, gave us drinks & food. They were so open, generous & kind. We wrote a letter of thanks on our return (probably at the prompting of Skipper). I had lost the letter & address by the time I became a rep and covered that area. I would love to have found them & repaid their kindness.
We camped in Fairy glen on the Isle of Man once. Not a thing you would brag about now, Boy scouts & fairies aren’t words you want to put together! I’m sure my mum & dad were on holiday. I seem to remember them coming down to see us. We splashed about on the brook & on a small beach. I didn’t swim, mainly because I couldn’t!
Another time in Nottingham, my scout badge saved my hide. I saw a kid flying a kite. Thinking it was helpful; I wound the string from the other end & handed it to him. Later on, an irate father demanded to know why I had got his kids kite string on a right mess! He saw my scout badge & assumed I was really OK and that I just made a mistake being “helpful”.
It was like that doing “Bob-a-Job week” to raise scout funds. The idea was that a Boy Scout would do any small job in return for a "Bob" or one shilling (5p) towards scouts funds. I was willing & able but probably did more damage, pulling up flowers instead of weeds! I see people doing the same thing nowadays to raise money for charity, like washing cars. (There weren’t many cars to wash in my area then). Those were the days when you went alone up to people’s doors & no one every thought of paedophiles! In the days of non-P.C. we were left open to risks. We hiked in a group in strange areas. Got shown nothing but kindness & generosity but today, maybe, no one will take the risk of inviting us in, through fear of attack or the risk of accusation. Now the scout movement must find it hard to recruit leaders. We all carried weapons of mass destruction! We carried poles that could cleave your head open and knifes big enough to butcher bison but then it was combined with a background of knowing right from wrong, social responsibility and a duty to help your neighbour. It was then you could have a fight. If you got knocked down or drew blood, you'd won. It was not part of the plan, as it seems today, to kick anyone to death.We attended a couple of Jamborees. One was an international affair (Dunham Park 1950?) & I asked Mum to let me bring back some German boy scouts for tea at our house. This must have been only five years after the war ended. Peter was chuffed and I was delighted but my usual stupid self. I didn’t realise that this talented bunch of guys were ambassadors for Germany after world war two. They played the guitar and sang as a small choir. They spoke excellent English of course (so what’s new?) They had obviously been hand picked & coached to come to the Jamboree. I never associated them with the war but sure enough, one of the lads said his dad wouldn’t be coming to see them, as the only good German, was a dead German. I had heard this so often but of course, never connected it with real life! Were my parent’s brave & generous to allow the recently passed enemy into our homes? Was it a generous gesture when you’re short of money? Did other people say things I didn’t hear? It only shows me that life went past my uncritical & non-analytical brain. I was obviously not curious, didn’t connect anything that happened around me to any of life’s problems or what the real world was presenting me with.
I never forgave Baden Powell though! It was his book "Scouting for boys" (you could never use that title today!) that said, all you needed were two blankets & two blanket pins for a good nights sleep. In the Africa veldt - maybe! But in England around April, little boys die from hypothermia! The camps were always weary affairs, there was always some ace troop making your efforts look abysmal. It was deemed necessary to light fires with one match. You were expected never to leaving a trace of you ever having been there. You had to make great gadgets to hang tin mugs on. You had to know obscure knots & lashing, only ever used by Portuguese seamen in storm conditions off Heligoland. We were sleeping in cold damp conditions under canvas on a slope. Eating food full of ash & bits of stuff you never recognised. Visiting horrible toilets that you were really to shy to go to! Nevertheless, everything as done with the very best of motives. Its just that putting into action the thoughts of an upper class officer that served in the Africa sunshine, via poor kids in smoky, dirty, damp Manchester was always going against the tide! Nevertheless, scout leaders, church & parents believed all this stuff.We were the owl patrol and got ourselves a patrol hut in the air-raid shelter at one of the lad’s houses. (I think it was in Bishop St. towards Yarburgh St.). I was the patrol leader and we were having a good night, (I vaguely remember I was teaching knots). There was an oil stove with a pan of milk on it. (we were going to have cocoa as I recall). Someone said, “Shall I turn up the wick?” and the next thing I know, I was badly scalded over my legs. With hindsight, I was in charge & my stupidity got me scalded. Thank God, I got it and not someone else. Could I have lived with that? Would I have been blamed for ever as the idiot who scalded someone's child? Getting scalded is bloody painful and the damaged skin still shows on my foot now at 70. Dad panicked a bit, mum was out that night. I had my first ride in an ambulance as the Mottrams used their phone to call for one. I can remember my sister Irene blowing on the skin, to ease the pain, until she got dizzy! Lots of hospital visits, it got more painful as it got better. Nevertheless, I thought this was perfectly normal. No one sued anybody, there was no health & safety, it was just an accident through kids being careless.
I loved the scouts & strived to get badges, like everyone else. Morally, it was very correct, no violence and it's purpose was for character building. I can still tie the knots and once spent the night in a tent with Andy & Ian in 2003 when I was 64. They said it was a four man tent ... four corpses that don't move, maybe. It was cold and wet, especially if you brushed against the tent while trying to get your knickers & boots on! I hated it & we laughed like drains ... so nothing has changed!