Brian the bachelor

Brian Shorrock
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Whilst my sporting interest was mainly football, I did play cricket for Hellifield on quite a few occasions. We played on the field immediately east of the church and alongside the main road. The pitch was a mown square surrounded by much taller grass where a ball speeding off the close-cropped turf would come to an abrupt halt when it hit the long grass or recently deposited cow dung. Lofted strokes were the norm but it was not as though many runs were ever scored as the pitch was unplayable most of the time. Fifty was usually a winning score. Many of the players had illusions of grandeur either as a batsman or a bowler. Ronnie was a typical example; it took him about fifteen minutes to get ready, five minutes to walk to the wicket, then a few more minutes taking strike, always immaculately dressed. Not for nothing was he known as speedy; like everybody else he failed quite early on, but would always come up with a plausible excuse: sun in his eyes, a fluke delivery, or he slipped. One stalwart opening bat was a small stocky man who always played forward to every delivery, head just over the top of the bat Once a ball which lifted and hit him on the nose, causing his early retirement, did not deter him and he soon resumed his normal stance at the wicket. The two openers were text-book cricketers - any attacking strokes were played along the ground so that the ball only reached the edge of the mown square before stopping abruptly. In consequence an hour would go by with no runs on the board, with much barracking from the few spectators. I remember my Father playing a few games, but he was worse than I was. Whilst a strong man, he invariably missed the ball after a wild swipe and would be bowled first ball. Then my Mother’s voice would clearly be heard shouting — ‘nay Harry’, adding to his discomfiture. Long Preston were great rivals and nearly always beat us, having some quite decent players like Stan Loveridge, Ronnie Watson and Stan Lees. The reverse prevailed at football when Hellifield always won and eventually Long Preston football club disbanded and most of their better players like Terry Moran, Brian Capstick and Freddie Harrison came to play for Hellifield. These three with John Mason, Ken Walker, Alan Cox, Jack Angus, Edwin Robinson, Clifford Hardacre, Les Arthurs and myself formed a nucleus of a really good football team, albeit at amateur level and winning quite a few trophies.

When a teenager I acquired my first means of motorised transport - a Royal Enfield 350 cc which carried me into a world of being frozen to death, soaked to the skin and bombarded by flying insects of all sizes. Apart from these minor disadvantages which prevailed most of the time it was quite enjoyable. This bike was very prone to punctures, usually in the rear wheel, which necessitated taking off the seat, the chain and numerous other things making it a lengthy job. I invariably made the mistake of not putting the tyre on correctly, so when driving down the road it felt as though I had a buckled wheel. After one puncture I left the bike in disgust on the side of the road on Newby moor and caught the bus back home, hoping someone would pinch it. No such luck, as we came back next day, repaired the puncture and drove home. When running my girl friend home to Tosside on a very wet night, travelling down Flat Lane, an undulating narrow road, I drove straight into a deep pool of floodwater which I did not see until it was too late. We were both drenched as the flood patch was at least two feet deep and the engine of course stopped. Luckily it started after a short while so we were able to resume our journey, albeit wet and cold. I had only one spill, more by luck than good management, travelling near Bolton by Bowland I had to brake sharply and due to my inexperience at the time, I just applied the back brake.The bike left us, leaving both of us in an untidy heap in the middle of the road. A passing motorist ignored us, no doubt thinking we were just a couple of young idiots. Luckily, apart from a few scratches and bruising, we were okay. My next motorbike was a Norton 500cc Dominator, a class apart from the Enfield and my later model a 500 cc Triumph. The Norton was comfortable to ride and you could travel long distances without becoming a physical wreck. We travelled to Gretna Green on one occasion (no motorway in those days) through Kendal, Penrith and Carlisle, which were all busy places even in those days. Also we went to Scarborough, Chester and many other places. My last bike, the Triumph, whilst a newer model and possibly with better acceleration seemed to bounce round corners and overall not a patch on the Norton. I also rode a BSA motor bike and sidecar when an electrician It was a real workhorse and in spite of frequent attempts to destroy it, using gears with no clutch, and letting the clutch out quickly, it steadfastly just carried on running. The only instance of an accident or near accident was when the sidecar hit a stone and bounced up, careering us across the road towards a wall. Luckily there was no traffic about and the sidecar came down before we hit anything. One hot summer’s day Ken Walker, Jack Coatsworth, Bob Capstick and I set off for Blackpool My clutch cable broke about halfway, but luckily a garage was nearby, and after an hour we got it repaired. Jack had a huge pair of stilsons slung round his neck which were about much use as a pair of scissors. We spent a short time in Blackpool before heading home. Unfortunately by evening the temperature had dropped considerably and by the time we arrived home we were all paralysed with cold.

One year Joe Coates, Brian Aitcheson, Geoff Bullock, Robin Young, Alan Cox and I went to the Isle of Man to watch the TT motor cycle races. The one we watched was the 500cc race. I have never seen anything like this before or since - these bikes hurtled round a public road which was not very wide, with spectators only inches from the edge of the tarmac. That day Surtees did a hundred mile an hour lap from a standing start for the first time ever. We thought the pre-race lap was fast but when Surtees came out from a corner on his four cylinder MV Augusta, back wheel leaping sideways with the acceleration, and all the time the engine emitting a high pitched scream, my hair stood on end. If Surtees had made an error in judgement he would have hit us before we could have even thought about moving to avoid him.

Father was one of those people who during the War held a driving licence but had never passed a test and it was only well afterwards that he owned or even drove a car. Not surprisingly his efforts to teach me to drive were not of much use: a case of the blind leading the blind. Our first and last lesson terminated a mile down the road when we nearly came to blows, so driving school for me but not father. He did in fact by trial and error become a safe and competent driver after a few years. At first, gears were only to be used as the last resort. After all, there were none on a railway steam engine. Going up a steep hill near Wigglesworth in top gear he banged the gear lever into first gear when the engine had almost stalled, and with a series of jerks and judders the car just managed to keep going. There was no comfort in those days. We all used to sit during the winter months with as many layers of clothing as possible, plus hats, gloves and scarves. Prior to departure on a frosty day a potato would be cut in half and the segments smeared on the windscreen, which stopped it freezing over for a short period. It was much later that cars were fitted with heaters.

Most Saturdays during the football season we followed a regular routine with the morning spent loafing around, with no thought in my mind to assist my parents. Football in the afternoon, then back home for a bath, usually plastered with mud, leaving the bath to be cleaned by my Mother, along with the filthy footballing attire. After tea, down to the Working Men’s club, a few drinks, then a drive down in Brian Capstick’s car to Clitheroe or occasionally to other venues like Skipton or one of the smaller villages, Tosside, Long Preston or Slaidburn. Then into a local pub to consume more alcohol, the favourite being lager and lime. We would eventually arrive at a dance hall about half a hour before it closed, much the worse for wear with drinking too much Needless to say the vast majority of decent girls had already gone home. After the dance hall closed we then wended our erratic way home, no-one being in a fit state to drive. Amazingly we survived, though traffic in those days was light with no rigid drink-driving penalties in force. Brian Capstick purchased a Berkeley sports car with a fibre glass body and a small Excelsior engine with the underparts nearly touching the ground. Brian and I were coming back from a dance late at night travelling down a steep hill on a section of the Gisburn road near the café and petrol station (now a private house) when we spotted something bounding down the road in front of us, silhouetted in the car headlights. It ran up a tree and then fell down into a roadside field. The car front suddenly collapsed onto the road - luckily it had only inches to fall, and we screeched to a halt with sparks flying all over. The object we had seen was in fact our front wheel; the aluminium flange had been cut through by much harder wheel nuts and down the road went our front wheel. I think Brian sold the car not long afterwards. He bought an MG sports car at one time in which we travelled to London and Wembley stadium to see the Cup Final between Aston Villa and Manchester United. We had of course, being hard men, to have the car’s canvas hood down to show off to what we imagined were admiring crowds, but in fact all we succeeded in doing was to freeze the upper parts of our bodies rigid.

Thankfully whilst I drank a lot, or at least attempted to do so, I very rarely smoked - only the odd cigarette and a futile attempt at pipe smoking. I soon gave the latter up as I spent more money on matches trying to keep the pipe alight than I did on tobacco.

As a young lad I collected birds eggs, much to my regret in later years, though it is doubtful if any lasting damage overall was done to the wild bird population. In looking back with my present day knowledge I realise that some eggs I collected were not the species I thought they were at the time. A merlin’s egg was in fact a kestrel’s and a yellow hammer a reed bunting. Other short-lived hobbies came thick and fast - cigarette cards and packets, with cigar packets a real rarity. Stamps were also collected but no penny blacks were ever found. I also I collected books, being an avid reader. This interest persists today; I give away and sell many books but the overall collection never seems to diminish. Most books I have today are natural history ones - usually bird books, and to a lesser degree butterfly, dragonfly and mammal ones. Probably the best books, other than natural history ones in my library, which have given me the most pleasure are Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. When I first attempted to read these books I thought they were rubbish, but a second read changed my mind, and since then I have read them at least six times. War and Peace by Tolstoy is also a wonderful read once you get to grips with all the Russian characters. At one time I had a large collection of Dennis Wheatley books -The Devil rides out, The Haunting of Toby Jugg etc. which I thought at the time very thrilling. The first books I remember reading were borrowed from Mrs Bownass at Mart Farm in Hellifield where my Mother worked part-time as a home help. They were Edgar Rice Burrough’s novels, War Lord of Mars, She and the Tarzan series. Present-day reads have been Bill Bryson’s brilliantly funny books, A Walk in the Woods, Neither here nor There etc, nearly as funny as Eric Newby’s travel books, A short walk in the Hindu Kush, Slowly down the Ganges and many others, and last but not least, Mark Twain’s very funny Roughing it and Innocents Abroad.

When I was courting with my wife we regularly attended the Nuvic cinema at Settle, now the Co-op food store, with excellent cheap entertainment at 3d or 6d a ticket and four different films a week, with double seats a bonus. This was in the 1950s; I remember well going to see The Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. After the film ended the National Anthem was played and in theory everyone would stand up until it finished. Not at Settle though, just a mad rush to get out to the fish and chip shop before anyone else, in spite of efforts by the attendants to stem the flow and make us honour our King and country. They eventually gave up this futile exercise and made only a token gesture. One big problem at the cinema was the amount of smoke generated by the audience puffing at their obnoxious weeds. A blue haze covered the whole area and at times the screen was barely visible. Back home at Hellifield the Working Men’s club was also a bastion of the smoking fraternity; the walls and ceilings had long since turned brown with tobacco from pipes and the odd cigar. The rooms were low so the atmosphere was always polluted. The main room was heated by a coal fire, but we saw little of this as Bill Lindley, a plumber by trade, would stand in front of it for hours, blocking out most of the heat and incurring the wrath of other members of the club. There were many characters in the club. A tumulus between Hellifield and Otterburn by the side of the road was being excavated by a few people, all amateurs. Amongst them was Roland, a tall rather over-weight person with a large handlebar moustache. He was frequently pestered by other club members as to what he had discovered at the site. One day no doubt fed up with these daily questions he announced that he had found something of significance. All agog they asked what it was and Roland said with a straight face that he had found a jawbone of an elephant’s ‘rear end’. He was never pestered again. His companion was Wilf Jones, a local barber whose shop also ran a private library. Everything was crammed into a small building, which was not much larger than a hen hut, next to the church. With George Bowker and Fred King they formed a trio not unlike the characters on the TV sitcom ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and every bit as funny. All three would go for long walks in the vicinity of Hellifield. George was a tall slow-speaking man with a dry sense of humour, Fred was a short bald-headed man who always wore a flat cap - a witty person indeed - and on the local council. Wilf was a large bespectacled red-faced individual who always assumed he was in charge.

The vicar at Hellifield was a rather superior person who it was said could speak at least six foreign languages fluently. He came out with an extra one when he nearly caught us pinching apples from his orchard at the back of the vicarage which was opposite the church gates. Why such a highly-educated man spent many years in a backwater like Hellifield I do not know. With his long gown and black regalia Canon Evans was an imposing figure in the village. My so-called religious upbringing was in the Baptist chapel down Gisburn road, now a private residence. Belle Coates was the lady in charge, aided by Bobby Earnshaw. Books would be handed out as prizes for good behaviour - usually religious books like Pilgrim’s Progress - all very dull to a lad brought up on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. Bobby Earnshaw was also the local cobbler/shoemaker in a small shop on the village green opposite Ahernes clothing emporium, which sold high class outfits at a very high price. Sunday was a very busy day there with people coming from far and wide.