Friday 12 February 2010

Get knotted!

In a time - long long ago, I was a Boy Scout, for a while and like all good scouts dib-dib-dib we were supposed to be able to tie good knots in rope. I think I even got a badge - but it has been a while. Now I am a prospective full time boater, I suppose I should learn again how to tie some of the basic knots. The 42nd Scout Group in East Sussex must have heard about people like me and actually did something about it. They have created some simple animations that show how to tie knots.

In an attempt to stop their pages being ripped off by others. There is a notice that says "Do not copy these animated knots pages and text and publish them on the Internet or elsewhere. If you want to put animated knots on your website then please draw your own."

Towpath Tidy 2010 We’re planning lots of activities up and down the UK to tidy up, clear vegetation, paint and improve local canals and rivers.

British Waterways are organising groups to spend some time at the beginning of March cleaning up the bridge, canal and towpaths on our waterways system.

This started me thinking about what we could do to help. I have done a bit of conservation work in the past. Clearing ditches, repairing fences and improving habitat through scrub clearing etc. This is much the same sort of thing that I have done in the past for the RSPB. This year Towpath Tidy 2010 coincides with our holidays so we will not get a chance to do our bit.
Find details here.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Piss power for your boat.

I have just been on a "green and mean" sortie on the Internet. I thought, if we are going to cruise and park for a few days at a time, we need to look at additional forms of power other than marina power points. Should I go for a solar cell or wind generator system for power back-up on the boat?

Once more there is so much crap in depth on the interwebbie thingy. So much so that it is a real pain in the rear, just to wade through all the dross. It used to be a rule of thumb that the exchange rate was $2 = £1 now it seems that it’s the other way round.

So..... what will be a good live-aboard power budget to aim for 100-200 watts and what system would suit my needs?


Solar Cell.
  • Requires a solar regulator.
  • Estimated lifespan 20 years.
  • Low profile.
  • Quiet
  • Works while boat is on the move in daytime.
  • Best results in the summer.
  • Best efficiency in clear sunshine.
  • Monocrystallline Solar Panels.
  • Polycrystalline Solar Panels.

 100/200 watts = about £500/750.


Wind Generator.

  • Requires a regulator.
  • Estimated lifespan 10 years.
  • High profile.
  • Will not work while boat is on the move.
  • Best efficiency in the winter.
  • Needs a constant wind to work.
  • Works day or night.
  • Noisy.

100/200 watts = about £500/750.

Then I found this - a new Invention - A Battery Powered by Urine

Scientists in Singapore have invented a battery powered by urine. "We are striving to develop cheap electricity upon contact with biofluids such as urine" says Ki Bang Lee, PhD, MS, in a news release. Lee is a principal research scientist at the Institute of Bioengineering where the battery was developed. The battery is described in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

How It Works

The battery sandwiches copper, paper laced with copper chloride, and magnesium between two plastic layers. The "sandwich" is later laminated. "When human urine is added into the battery... the urine soaks through the paper between the magnesium and copper layers. The chemicals dissolve and react to produce the electricity. In tests, the battery cell produced a maximum of 1.47 volts, dropping a bit with time but keeping a constant voltage of 1.04 volts."

Part of their paper describing the battery was presented in Kyoto, Japan, at the 4th International Workshop for Power Generation and Energy Conversion Applications.

I bet you thought I was taking the piss.


Wednesday 10 February 2010

Why the "British Empire" is no more!

Do you remember that old Anthony Newley musical "Stop the World I want to get off" well there are times that I wish I could.

Nicole Mamo, aged 48, tried to place a help-wanted advert in a Thetford, Jobcentre. Being the owner of an employment agency (Devonwood Recruitment Agency), Ms Mamo wrote that any applicants for the £5.80 an hour position of cleaner "must be very reliable and hard-working." But the Thetford Jobcentre refused to take her ad. The reason given she said was "Because the Jobcentre could have cases brought against them for discriminating against unreliable people." The following day Nicole phoned Thetford Jobcentre Plus and was told The ‘offensive’ advert will remain on their website. Mamo told the Jobcentre. "We supply the National Health Service with staff, so it's very important for the patients that we have reliable workers and really, using your advice, isn't the term "worker" discriminatory against the lazy, too? Source: The London Telegraph.

A spokeswoman for the Campaign Against Political Correctness described the decision not to display Nicole’s advert as ‘ridiculous’. She said: ‘This situation is absolutely ridiculous - of course people want reliable workers and of course employers should be able to ask for them. ‘If they can’t advertise for what they actually want then the system is broken. They won’t be able to find workers who meet their criteria. In order to have decided that the word “reliable” can’t be used they must have put a great deal of thought and time into it. That time could be better spent getting the right people to apply for the right jobs - which is what this advert was trying to do in the first place.’

I hear you shout "This is supposed to be a Narrow Boat blog - get on with it."

There is an old saying "Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool." Today - I felt for a fleeting moment that my talents had breached their bounds. Why, because I considered not trying to get my employers to push me gently towards the door with my pockets stuffed with promissory notes. I gave thought to waiting a few years more until my real retirement day came around. I think it was the coffee that jolted me back to my senses.

Last night, I caught the Mem-sahib looking at boats for sale on the RugbyBoats website. There's nothing new in her perusing the boats available on the web. However, for the first time, she did not pass comment on the boats lack of colour co-ordinated curtains. She chirped on about cabin layouts, fit-out finishes, calorifiers and stoves. It must be getting serious.

So what about the colour scheme and how important is that going to be to our choice. I must admit this is not something that I had spent much time pondering on.  How about a copy of the best looking car ever to stand on the F1 grid - Colin Chapman's Lotus JPS - Now there is what I would call a colour scheme.... mmmm! A deep black with gold stripes and text...... mmmmm!


Monday 8 February 2010


I am feeling a bit better today after the bitter disapointment of yesterday.

So I am back to my normal cheery self and the matter in hand. Most of my narrow boating experience has been gained from the occasional use of holiday hire boats. Most of it enjoyed over a period of twenty years or so. Our first experience being on the wonderful "Shroppie" which I have been back to a few times. Later spending a few family holidays on the Norfolk Broads just by way of a change.  As boating went, I found the whole experience very enjoyable. However, I was never in a position to devote the time as well as the family budget towards owning a boat. I suppose like many born-again-boaters, I did flirt with ideas around ownership. However, when it came to the real nitty-grity, I just could not make the final decision.

Now the chance of retirement has come around. We are about to become reborn so to speak. Our first faltering steps towards ownership was to get myself up-to-date with current ownership rules and regulations. Allied with this was a need to know of current technology. As much as to see for myself what was available in the narrow boat market. I started with buying boating magazines and searching on-line. This first of all enabled me to see how new and second hand  prices compared.  As well as to look at what features were being included in the more modern boats that might be needed by way of an upgrade to any second-hand purchase..

Suddenly I realised that what I needed was a itemised narrow boat check-list. I am good at lists! This was good because it made me think in a more structured way as well as guided my thoughts to what we would need. As I started compiling the check list, I soon realised that it was like Topsy. The check list grew and grew and grew. The more thought I put into the check list, the more I was forced into converting my superficial broad brush strokes approach.  It was only then that I realised I was actually drawing up a list of preferences and creating a specification. So a second hand boat can be specified just like a new one. Albeit, a second-hand purchase might need converting.  Or more likely, for allowances to be made to finding a boat that was a-best-fit!

So, I split the list into ouside and inside. Then split it again into include documentation and engine. Then split it again to include outside - fore, aft and middle. Then inside - cabin, galley, berth and saloon. Here I am with a six page document which, I am sure will grow even more. See, I told you I was good at lists!

As boats go - I am not a purist. I don't need to feed an ego based on the traditional styles and methods of operation. However, I do understand why people do that. For my sins I still have a 45 year old 250cc motorcycle that I purchased as my first ever new motorcycle. But I choose to ride a modern 1300cc bike on a day-to-day basis. However, what I do want to feel is all the creature comforts on board. Comforts that new designs, materials and technological changes can offer. Efficiency is the new watchword. Whenever efficiency is measured it is often quantified as a cost saving. However, If your of the green persuasion it can be measured in angst by ones carbon footprint.

So what am I looking for?

It is the use of more efficient insulation materials for instance, which will go some way to energy saving. Not only this, but more modern and harder wearing materials, for a better replacement life cycle. Better use of renewable energy, be it wood, solar or wind. Does any boat builder produce one of those EU Energy label  that indicate the efficiency of white goods – but for the efficiency and comfort of a narrow boat. And if not - how soon will EU micro regulation require this?

The EU Energy Label is a compulsory notice that is applied to all white goods and home appliances sold within the EU. It allows consumers to clearly see the efficiency and energy consumption of a product.

Someone once said - "If you have to ask, you'll never know".

Now where did I put that list.....


Sunday 7 February 2010

Life is like that.

Looking out of the window - its a "cold and overcast" day. Bit like me at the moment. I had feedback yesterday about my application to retire early. You have possibly guessed already, the answer was in the negative. This is a bit curious as there are two of us, that are essentially doing just one persons work. A few years ago our two teams were merged together forming something that resembles the oxymoron "marital bliss". This understandably creates a bit of confusion within the wider team that we both manage. I want to go and sail off into the blood red sunset (occasionally seen between showers of rain) over the canals. Whilst at the same time my "oppo" wants to stay on.

I have always been somewhat lucky in life he says as he sit here at the computer quietly humming to himself, "Regrets, I have had a few, but there again too few to mention." It seems that whenever something has gone wrong or not worked out. It has always turned out to be for the best. So, I have come to expect that the same will happen again and again. There is some hope all is not lost. This is because we are in the middle of the latest bi-annual (four in the last 8 years) business re-organisations. I expect that I will have been ear marked as usual for nothing in particular. So I shall studiously make myself a very disposable member of staff. Roll on the summer, which is a time when the dust finally settles on reorganisation and the chance to leave early will come around again.

Today, we are off to look at a boat near Doncaster. However, because everything is on the back-burner I am having a great deal of difficulty containing my indifference. We had both expressed a wish to view the boat before the good news messenger arrived. So as a salve to one of life's little disappointments, we will make the trip anyway. I shall buy SWMBO lunch and Poppy will get a chance to walk the towpath.

I have the instant antidote to the doldrums, "Narrow Dog to Carcassonne" by Terry Darlington is on my bedside table. I read out aloud the first few pages. Mag's was soon chuckling  as "Brynula Great Expectations or as was suggested Boney Maroney" thereafter to be known as "Jim" was named. Maybe it's time to read it again.

Time for breakfast....

Later..... The boat was actually in excellent condition. The owner fit-out was done using re-cycled solid oak timber, that had been reclaimed from a school gymnasium floor. It also had solid mahogany doors throughout. We would make some changes to the decoration. But the boat would be more than good enough for the first voyage over the summer.

Saturday 6 February 2010

It's in the blood

The impending ownership of a narrow boat has certainly entered my blood. So much so, that I have been and registered a couple of domain names.  The first domain is  This will give me some scope to develop a whole new website once the early retirement option comes around later this year. I have not given to much thought to the content and direction it will take. My academic background relates to "Networked Information Engineering" so developing the website will give me more of a challenge than the underlying server hardware.

The other domain is which is currently directly pointed at this blog. This relates to the name we have chosen for our narrow boat. (which just happens to be the same as our home!) I expect I will move this blog onto a server of my own - at some point in the not to distant future. Maintaining input to the blog is a bit low on my radar just now, because I have little free time to spare at the moment.

Just a little bit further down this years calendar is a short holiday coming up at the end of this month. When we will be out and about on a hire boat. Cruising somewhere on the Oxford canal will be our venue for a few days. We have a couple of friends who are coming over to house sit the cat's for a week. Whilst at the same time they will try living at ch√Ęteau Wits-End as they are possibly going to come and live here whilst we are away for a year or two. Other friends are forming a disorderly queue offering  to house sit the boat whenever we take a break and go abroad. Well I guess that's what real  friends are for.

Hopefully, I will be able to chronicle our travel along the cut and update the blog on a day-by-day basis.


Friday 5 February 2010

Early meanderings.... Pt2


In the juniors each class was sub-divided and we were assigned a "house". The choice was either Alma, Rockingham, Boston or Scott - ARBS - the initials of Alma Road Boys School. I was assigned to Rockingham House, this turned out to be quite prophetic later in life. We strived to do good work in class and to try and beat the other houses by amassing a bigger tally of quarter, half and full gold stars. Rockingham never won the shield in my time at Alma road and so I never enjoyed the prize for winning - whatever that was.

After a year or so, I progressed into the class of my nemesis Lindley a real brute of a man. He proved to live up to his reputation and was somewhat free with the cane (which was named Doctor Malacca and kept in a cupboard by his desk) and the size ten slipper. He was universally feared and at the same time loathed by everyone in his class. I diligently avoided any eye contact and was always careful to never stand out or to be tardy. Watching in muted fear as he caned my class mates for sneezing or other similar pretexts.

Nevertheless, I was for a short period the main focus of his ire. It was a very uncomfortable position to be in. So much so, that for the first time I started to skip off school. On the second or third day I was spotted by my uncle. He coaxed out of me what the problems were. He got me to promise to return back to school the next day. When I did Mr Lindley seemed almost indifferent to me from that day on and for the rest of my school life at Alma Road. In hindsight, I progressed through the school with little or no attention from him ever again. My mother and father never knew of this little hiccup in my school life. Had they known that I had bunked off school I would have been in serious trouble. It was some thirty years or so later before I found out that my uncle had made it his business to meet up with Mr Lindley. He had left the teacher with no doubt or uncertainty in his mind about the consequences of what was to happen if I was ever subjected to his attentions in the future. The typical slinking reaction of a bully when confronted by someone bigger and stronger!

Some years later he was confronted by one of my classmates who by this time was himself a man. I don't know the detail of what happened. Only that it ended up in the courts. By the time I knew it had been and gone from court. Otherwise I would have quite happily stood as a character witness for bully Lindley! I still loath and detest the man.

I was however, able to "help" him progress his career within the LEA (Local Education Authority) but that is another story for another day.

But again I digress.....

Towards the end of my time in the ARBS juniors I progressed into Mr Parkin's class. He was quite a formidable character who could shout for England whenever the mood took him. He had deadly aim with the chalk and was not averse to launching the board rubber. However, I soon learned to like and respect him. He had a style of teaching that I could identify with. Subjects were broken up with little anecdotal quotes. Some of which I still clearly remember over fifty years later.

The corridor between the class rooms had a long row of fish tanks. There were the usual freshwater fish and a few exotic ones like Japanese fighting fish. I never did see the fish fight even though I watched them at every opportunity. The headmasters office was just along this corridor, the usual school ruffians were to be seen skulking at his door awaiting some sort of summary justice. On the odd occasion, I was sent out of class to the headmasters office. I was there to collect the "punishment book". In the book were recorded the names of the kids and a description of the punishment they had received. Not all canings were put in the punishment book, only the ones where the kids had been more disruptive or daring than usual in their opposition to the austere classroom environment.

It should be remembered that leisure activities for kids were quite sparse at the time. There was a youth club run within the school by my old nemesis Lindley and so there was no way I or any other child would voluntarily go there. There were the scouts meetings held in the same hall we had our school dinners in. However, my main activity was an almost daily visit to the "new" swimming baths on Westgate Green after school. The "old" swimming baths on Main Street were only visited during the winter months when the new baths were closed. I learned to swim and then to dive in from the board's, at the new baths. However I was only brave enough to jump in from the "top block" as it seemed to be too much of a life threatening plunge if done head first. Other activities included helping to pull the heavy roller round the pitch at St Peters cricket club or playing in the remains of the old Wheathill Street Foundry. On occasions I would have a free ride on a barge going up the Don towards Sheffield (but you had to help heave the locks open and closed) On some days if you were lucky you could even get a ride on a barge going back down river to Goole to save the long walk back home.

Later I was to become a Liverpool fan in the days of football legend Bill Shankly. Then, until the present day a Manchester United fan. My early interest in football was at Rotherham United's Millmoor Ground. It was another opportunistic pass time for me. I had discovered a way to get into the ground for free. I did this by going along the canal bank and up onto the old railway line that once upon a time went into the old Westgate station. It was possible (but only if you were small) at one secret point to wriggle into the ground through the fence.

The main source of family entertainment at that time was the old wartime radio. The radio had a long piece of wire out of the back that ran across the yard to a bamboo pole fastened to the outhouse. I sometimes used to sit and twiddle with the knobs. Watching the cursor pass names like Hilversum and Berlin and listening to all the foreign voices from exotic places in Europe. It was better reception at night as stations from much further afield could sometimes be heard.

I came home from school one day to find a couple of men installing an Ariel on the roof. I thought at the time that it might improve the reception of Radio Luxembourg. It seemed to me that in those days, that just about everybody listened in to Radio Luxembourg. Most people found that Luxembourg was always fading in and out and could be quite difficult to listen to at times. However, my dream of improved coverage from Luxembourg was to be short lived, it turned out to be a big H shaped television Ariel that was being fitted.

Our family were now the proud owners of a Bush television set. I can see it now in my minds eye, a brown Bakelite box with a greenish glow to the tiny screen. I only remember taking a child's interest in the programs available, especially Muffin the Mule, Whirligig, Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot men. 

There were other regular features like the man who produced pots on the potter's wheel. Angel fish, swimming round in a large, dark tank and a windmill that just went round and round. But the radio was still the main focus of entertainment for me. The radio was duly moved to the front room so that it would not disturb anyone watching TV in the kitchen.

Before I could move up into South Grove School or the Grammar school, our family were re-housed and we moved out of the old Alma Road and South Grove school catchment area. Unusual for the time (and in particular for the area where I had previously lived) I had somehow by way of a miracle passed my eleven plus examination. Most of the kids I went to school with eventually went to work either down the pit, in the steel works or on the railway. Though one or two did go into the forces as an alternative. I didn’t know it at the time, but a whole different life was mapped out for me, ultimately leading to a life in academia. But that’s a whole new story and came about much later in life.

When we moved, my old out of school and leisure activities were transformed. The new locality we moved to was very rural, with open fields and woods close by. I soon learned my way round the Wentworth Estates much to the chagrin of Colonel Nutter and his gang of game keepers. At weekends, in the summer holidays or on summer evenings after school I was out exploring in the countryside. I spent many free hours in pursuit of my interest in all kinds of wildlife. In those far off days it was not unusual for kids to go out and collected bird's eggs, However, I only wanted to know where the birds nest's were located. Even in those days, the whereabouts of a birds nest was a secret never to be divulged to anyone who collected eggs. It gave me great pleasure to watch from time to time as the chicks progressed to eventually fledge and leave the nest.

I soon realised that I needed to have a pair of binoculars. I saved hard and bought myself a pair of second-hand Lieberman and Gortz 10 X 50 binoculars. My new interest in wildlife blossomed into my main interest. In those days I was always anti-hunting and if I saw anyone with an air rifle. I would watch them from a distance to see where they hid their gun. Most parents would not let their kids have guns and so I would wander over in the evening and confiscate the gun. I obtained four or five guns this way. I did not think I was stealing, I thought I was doing my bit for anti-poaching and protecting my much loved wildlife.

I can fondly remember (although I did not know it then) as a young man seeing my last free roaming Yorkshire Red Squirrel in the trees near  Scholes village. The joy of seeing my first (somewhat fearsome looking) Little owl perched on a tree branch in almost the same spot but a few years later. I have fond memories of the many times I went fishing in the Wentworth lakes with just a few yards of fishing line tied to a makeshift fishing rod made from a willow branch. Exploring in the ruins of what was left of the buildings that used to be the Squirrel Castle coal mine. The joy of finding three Kestrel chicks (long before the book Kes was written) which had nested in a hole in the ruins.

Climbing to the top of Keppel's column (now closed) and being able to survey from the viewing point at the top, my old and new childhood domain. Sometimes even charging visitors to climb to the top, though it was nothing to do with me. I always was a little entrepreneurial. (This is the very spot where I first met with my partner in life Mag's, she was 9 and I was 12. But we did not meet again for another twenty years or so - but that's another story for another day.) 

You had to be resourceful in those days. Sometimes I would wonder around the estate parkland visiting Hoober Stand or the Doric temple. Sometimes visiting the Fitzwilliam Mausoleum and the odd secretive trip into the walled garden behind Wentworth house. I was often out and about in bad weather.  Including snow, I always loved the snow, because of the animal tracks that were left behind. During prolonged cold spells like in 1963, I remember visiting the Wentworth lakes at Greasborough, just to test the thickness ice. The ice was so thick that year, it would have been possible to walk across the lakes, but I did not have the courage to risk it.

I wasn't aware of it then but many changes in the way the countryside is managed have destroyed much of the wildlife habitat I roamed around. Trees where I knew Tawny Owls nested every year have been felled. Trees which had small groups of bats living in holes have also been felled. Small pools and old streams have long since dried up. Hedgerows have either been removed or are mechanically trimmed far too short for wildlife to find food and shelter within. Skylarks that once were numerous are seldom seen on their old grounds. Lapwings have gone, much the same way. The secretive voles have disappeared from the banks of the long dried up streams.

It's not all doom and gloom for the wildlife habitat. There have been some significant improvements. Some of the pit waste tips have been sculpted and grassed over. My childhood playground was quite a wonderful experience in reality. Full of simple pleasures and yet one that would be lost on the internet children of today. This childhood kindled in me a life long interest in wildlife which is still a passion today. I am a keen bird watcher, a conservation volunteer and observer on wildlife.

Today, I still live in the same area. Every morning from my home on a high vantage point I can look out from my dining room over the fields where I roamed. Now I can watch as the geese and ducks pass overhead. The flurry of golden plover flocks as another winter draws near. The occasional swoop of the sparrow hawk as it come in along the hedgerow and tries to catch birds off the bird table. Visits from the occasional Jay and the constant cooing of Pigeons and Collared Doves.

I marvel now when I see house sparrows that once were so common. The sight of young Starlings in their wonderful etched plumage. Dunnocks that skulk at the bottom of the hedgerow with Wrens and Robins. Most of all, it's the rare but welcome visit from Bullfinches to the bird table that can make my day.


Early meanderings.... Pt1

I was born almost at the confluence of the River Don and the River Rother. Born into (in hindsight) what was considered to be a small family of seven in those long off days. We lived in a two-up and two-down with an attic space and a cold dank cellar. Other bits included an outside toilet and wash house across the back yard.

Other families who lived nearby often had ten or more children all crammed into their little two-up two-down houses that seemed to abounded in those days. However, there was one notable family of about sixteen children or maybe there were even more. At this distance in time, my memory might be flawed but the family was quite prodigious. Just like everyone else, they all lived in a two up, two down house a few hundred yards up the road. The eldest son Derek was a school chum and he seemed to have one dad and one or more different mums from time to time. The surfeit of mums always puzzled me, but as was normal in those days, kids never asked and Derek never broached the subject.  I can't help but wonder where everyone went at night in Derek's home. Maybe they were all stacked on pallets?

But I digress.

My dad had converted the loft space into an attic bedroom in our house. It was into the attic that my brother and I were consigned to sleep. We slept in an ex-army bunk bed that was later replaced by a double bed mattress on the floor as our feet eventually outgrew the bunks. My two sisters had the front bedroom (this was illuminated by the street light outside) and mum and dad had the back bedroom. This arrangement was to help dad sleep free of traffic noise in the daytime when he was on night shift. The family dog had the run of the kitchen with a bed on the hearth. However, on very cold nights he would be invited into our bedroom to add a little localised heat in the form of a living hot water bottle for me and my brother to share. However, he would also share a fart with us which would see him banished to the bottom of the bed. In the winter we would put on more blankets and on very cold days we would even throw on a few coats. Cold days were normal during the winter months. However, very cold days were characterised by ice forming on the window panes, on the inside as well as the outside.

As a miner, dad had regular deliveries of "ome coil" (home coal) which was delivered by a small tipper truck and tipped straight down the "coil oil" (coal hole) and was used to provide all the heating and cooking with a Yorkshire range. The old Yorkshire range and white enamel Ascot gas boiler was later ripped out and replaced by a tiled fireplace with a back boiler, for hot water and cooking was switched to a gas cooker.

Bath nights depended on your physical size, when I was very young, I was dunked in a small galvanised tub. A few years later, I progressed to the "Tin Bath" which was to be found hanging on a peg in the old back garden air-raid shelter. On bath night, I was fourth in line after my brother and sisters. The bath towels and soap that we used came from the pit head baths and was always of good quality. I would always have the smell of Wrights Coal Tar Soap about me, and it is a soap I still use today. On bath night (Friday) the tin bath was carefully placed in front of the kitchen fire. When my sisters went in, the always full clotheshorse was used to protect their modesty. The one abiding memory was that after each child was dunked and scrubbed, a kettle or pan of hot water was added before the next one went in.

We also had a wash house in the shared yard round the back of the house. However, it was used to store bikes and toys rather than be used for washing clothes. Mother had a service washing machine, complete with the latest electric mangle attachment. I can remember watching sheets and other such items being passed through to squeeze out the water. There was a small lever on the side which controlled the direction of travel. One day I managed to get my fingers caught in the rollers and my arm was "mangled" almost up to the elbow before I managed to throw the lever the other way and watch my arm and hand come back through the rollers. Surprisingly it did not hurt!

The war had been and gone and Rotherham was returning to some sort of normality by the time I put in an appearance. However, as the reader is about to find out I was old enough to remember some of the austerity of the early post war years. My childhood was a comfortable time as I was the youngest in the brood. Most of my good clothes had been worn by my elder brother prior to being handed down the chain to me. My normal day-to-day attire was mostly hand made, sometimes by my mother or they were produced by an aunty. I never understood the real family relationship, but it was always handy to have the surrogate aunts who would supply the odd penny for the sweetshop from time to time.

Ration coupons, was a word I did not understand either, other than if I had some pocket money to spend. The coins were worthless without the coupons. A trip to the local shop to purchase sweets - required some careful planning mostly done outside Mrs Crofts shop window on the corner of Westfield View. I would carefully note which of the jars were about to run out. The shop was in reality the front room of someone's home with a rough and rickety home made counter made out of several up-turned bread trays. The window had a wooden cubicle round it with several shelves displaying various confectionery items. The tall glass sweet jars contained loose "boiled spice" which would be reached down and the contents slowly shaken into a brass cup on the scales whilst the pointer climbed to the appropriate place on the scale. I had noticed quite early on, that if you chose a jar which only contained little more than you wanted, the remainder was often emptied into the brass cup for free. I quickly became quite adept at choosing this kind of sweet jar. Hence the time spent studying the level of each jar's content through the window.

I don't actually remember the end of rationing or not needing the coupons. I don't remember any significant change taking place other than over time the number of sweet jars grew and one wall behind the counter had extra shelves fitted to contain them.

School was something my mother had carefully prepared me for and I was able to read and write fairly well, even before I started. I can remember being a bit excited whilst at the same time reticent about the whole school prospect. The day dawned and I was escorted to Alma Road Infants School, as were many other kids by their mother. I was very loathe to leave my mother in the playground and to go indoors. Etched indelibly in my memory is the face of my new teacher Mrs Ducker - as she bent over and looked me straight in the eye and I looked her straight in the smiling mouth - which was full of discoloured teeth and accompanied by a strong smokers breath. I was instantly filled with a sense of foreboding of what was to come. I was not about to be disappointed!

I have a few vague memories of that first day, of being sat in a green walled classroom with tables and chairs which seemed to be, even then, far too small for comfort. There were kids wearing glasses with sticky tape over one lens and one or two with purple dye on their heads. It was the summer and some kids were wearing Wellington's that had been turned down at the top. At the same time, there were strange pictures on the classroom wall done by some previous class of infants. On the wall next to the blackboard was a strange plinth like box, with a small switch underneath. I found out much later it was the "Rediffusion" an early form of cabled radio. I have memories of listening to children's stories being read out over the rediffusion radio.

The next morning my mother came into our bedroom to wake me and my brother up. She said it was time to get ready for school. I reminded her that although she seemed to have forgotten, I had actually been to school the day before. It came as a shock to my system to be told I have to go every day Monday to Friday. I remember thinking that it would soon be Friday and my ordeal of going to school would soon be over. The following Monday it came as an even bigger shock to find out that I would be going to school every Monday to Friday for the foreseeable future. What puzzles me now is that I never noticed previously that my brother and sisters were disappearing off to school each day.

At school lunch time we were lined up in pairs along with children from other classes. Into what is called today a crocodile and marched off hand in hand down the road. We went to a small hall where we were seated and supplied with lunch. The food at that time had a peculiar all pervading smell and taste which seemed to be ingrained deep into the greasy hard plastic plates we used. Our teachers however, sat at a posh table on a small stage, where they had glasses and a jug of water to share. Water was something which the children were never provided with. The food we had seemed to have been boiled into submission and all vestiges of goodness would have been removed. I remember telling my mother about my experience and not long afterwards I was escorted home each day for a real meal at home.

School milk was something I enjoyed in the morning, but loathed if it was served in the afternoon. In a morning it was still quite cold, refreshing and usually palatable, in the afternoon after it had been stood in the sunshine in the school yard It was often quite warm. Not only that but the cream had risen to the top and congealed to form a plug, that you had to pierce with your finger or tongue.

Later I progressed through the infants and on to Alma Road Junior School where a whole new lot of teachers had to be coped with. The schoolboy anecdotes recited by our older siblings about the teachers - left us in the infants - somewhat scared and wary of ever going up. Names like "flogger" Parkin and "caner" Lindley did nothing to inspire confidence. The names were etched into my mind as teachers to be avoided at all costs. However, in truth some teachers like Mrs Garrison (who was the wife of a local policeman) were in fact quite warm and friendly. However, others were at best indifferent, whist others were proved to be true to their reputation - that had preceded them.

My happy life in the infants was rudely shaken apart by moving into the juniors. Bigger "bully boy" classmates were a constant threat to personal safety. However, this threat was somewhat mitigated by having an elder brother who could be called upon for backup as needed. I soon learned that it was better to stand your ground despite the consequences. There was a need to be prepared to lash out, and to be first to do it. This also needed to be a sustained attack continued until such time as we were pulled apart. That way I tended to come out somewhat unscathed. At the same time I earned the reputation that I was not to be messed with.

Like most boys in this period who were a bit short of stature - our dads arranged for some boxing lessons at "Steelo's" (Steel Peach and Tozers) boxing club on Sheffield Road. I learned not only how to hit, but more importantly also where to hit. After attending for a few months I let the boxing drop, it was not something that I enjoyed - but it had given me some much needed confidence and advantage of some pugilistic know-how. (Steel, Peach and Tozer by Terry Gorman.

The Alma road junior girls school was up a set of cast iron stairs from the school yard. The boys would to position ourselves to get the best view of the girls going into school. The more adventurous boys trying to sneak a peek up their dresses to see what colour underwear they were wearing. There would be the odd "wolf whistle" emanating from the boys hidden in the toilet block. It was not good to be seen wolf whistling as this could mean that you were summoned upstairs into a classroom full of girls to explain why you were whistling at them.

To be continued.....