98 yr old Miss Berry lived next door but one with her older brother!   He by the way used to be a builder and apparently many years ago built our house.  Now at a ripe old age of 102 he wasn’t in the best of health and aled a thing or two!  She used to come round to our house through the back yard shouting ..”Nurse!.. Nurse!”..  My Mum by the way was a nurse at Accy Victoria hospital and worked nights.  Miss berry regularly woke mum up!  Her favorite saying was “Thats what they all say!”  Well I got a little fed up with this continual disturbance so one day whilst sitting in the bath squirting the lightbulb with my water pistol, I hatched a plan!… You would get quite a bit of warning of her unwanted visits.  Her chants would start as she came out of her own house, then along the back street and into our back yard.   So with this in mind I tied a piece of cord at ankle height to the drainpipes between the washhouse and the coal shed and waited for the inevitable!  The back gate burst open …Nurse! Nurse!…I peered expectantly  through a small gap in the wash house door.  Miss Berry skipped over the lethal hazard like 10yr old and disappeared into our house waking up Mum again!

I could be a little bugger in my younger years, many a time I have got into mischief!  Not that my mum & dad knew!   In those days you got a good hiding if you got caught.  Even the local policeman “PC Dean”would offer to give you a clip around the ear or else he would take you to your parents!  We always settled for clip around the ear!

As manufacturing in the area dyed out,  many factories and terraced properties became derelict.  After school we used to go exploring these streets and if the other kids hadnt beat you to it you would throw stones at the street lights and smash windows. I became very good and accurate at throwing stones and would have been good at games like cricket!  I not one for team games, my release was exploring.  I did however get picked for the junior football team because I could throw the ball furthest! I didn’t like football, its just that you got to skive out of the last lesson once a week.  I just ran around avoiding the ball untill a throw in was needed!

Talking about football I was once persuaded by a school friend to go to watch an evening match between Blackburn & Bolton.  This involved catching a special train to Bolton.  I was 14 at the time and had no idea what was about to happen…  It was 1974 and Football hooliganism was rife.  It all went well until we reached the ground. The stands were made from cinders and missiles rained down from the opposing fans.  I watched a dart, then a half house brick fly past my head.  Things got worse when we started the journey back on the train.  Word was given out to close all the window blinds and to hide under the seats.  “What hide under the seats!”  As soon as we left the station you could hear stones being thrown at the train,  people were injured, little kids cut by the flying glass.  An old man under the next seat to me was bleeding profusely.  It was absolutely surreal!  Just about every window on the train was smashed, the blinds flung open as missile after missile peppered the carriages.  The floor was full of  glass and limestone rocks hurled from the trackside.  Eventually it stopped and went quite.  We swept the glass off the seats with our sleeves and sat down.  The train entered Entwisle Railway Tunnel on its way back to Blackburn.  I looked through a huge hole in the window and waited to see how long it would take the train to go through.   As we emerged I turned away to talk to my friend and in a split second a half house brick was hurled through the hole in the glass right where my head had been moments before!   I didnt go to another football match for another 20 yrs!

One evening a couple of us thought it would be clever to walk the full length of the railway viaduct that goes across the town.  This was very exciting as trains were quite regular so timing was paramount.  It would have been impossible to get away with this prank as few years earlier as there used to be a signal box at either end of the bridge but Dr Beeching had got rid of those, so it was unprotected.

Accrington railway viaduct around the time we walked over!
Accrington railway viaduct around the time we walked over!

We even stopped briefly mid way across to drop stones into the river Hyndburn, or “river stink as it was know”.  “The river stink is clean now and if you look carefully will spot brown trout swimming amongst the Asda trolleys and Mcdonald’s cartons!”  Anyway on reaching the other side we got another clip around the ear as we had been spotted by the cops!  I hate that feeling the moment the police step out from their hiding places and nab you!

Queens Rd is in a nice part of the town and next door we had some “Posh neighbours”, who by the way were very nice people, but you could not help but get the impression that we were a little looked down upon.  For example they had a cat named Nacita and their son was called “Dave-hood” (not “David” as we would say it ) no, Dave-hood!!   My Dad was an engineer in a local factory and Mum a nurse.  We however were surrounded by Doctors, Solicitors and Teachers!  Well It was one fine summer’s day when our idle hands set about redressing this social imbalance!!  Our lovely neighbours were enjoying afternoon drinks & snacks whilst sunbathing in the corner of their back Garden.  Our back yard was too small for this activity so my older Sister Barbara hatched a plan and orchestrated the proceedings from the upstairs bedroom window!

Within a few minutes involuntary screams could be heard along the back alley as I threw freezing cold water over the wall onto them.   My sister disappeared from view the moment the water left my hand!! Then as quickly as is humanly or (inhumanly as the case may be!)  possible, took my retreat.  They must have known straight away it was us as we tried unsuccessfully to keep the sniggers below an audible level!

At the end of our back street was a big Hawthorn tree next to some garages.  I used to sit and hide in this tree whenever I was in trouble or just needed a little time to gather my thoughts.

Accrington Baths…

I used to love swimming and spent a lot of time going to Accy swimming baths.  They wouldn’t let you in if your neck didn’t reach the height of the reception counter.  It was 3ft 6″ high, the same depth of the shallow end.  So just to make sure I used to walk in on my tip toes!  It was there where I had my first ever cup of hot chocolate out of a vending machine and outside was a brilliant little chip shop that sold flippers, swimming hats & goggles!  After we had scoffed our 6p worth of chips and fish scraps it was down to the market hall for a bag of broken biscuits then home for tea!

We used to sit under the hot communal shower for half an hour at a time, sometimes blocking up the drain hole with a bar of soap and watch if fill up to paddling pool depth.  Then we used to have a cold shower and then jump into what seemed to be a hot swimming pool!

I used to swim in the school galas.  The sides were packed with parents willing their offspring on.  The master of ceremonies was always “Leslie Dean”  a teacher from Hyndburn park school.  He had a trade mark way of starting a race.  He would say ” On your marks… ….. … … …GOW! ”  Some participants used to fall into the pool prematurely with this long pause.  It was quite funny!!  I used to love the galas and always did well.  One year I even became the best diver in the town.

Old Accrington swimming baths did have its dangers however by means of two powerful jets of water that blew in from the shallow end.  These jets would quickly push unsuspecting non swimmers out of their depth!  My wife tells me of the time when she too got into difficulty because of this and was too frightened ever to return!   Its a good job no harm came of her as we hadnt met yet!. To me those perilous water jets were a great way to carry me out into the pool while holding my breath!

Accrington Swimming baths
Accrington Swimming baths

One day I saw someone just hanging motionless in the water, his hair just on the surface.  I thought ” Is he pretending or is he drowning?” I watched for a few more seconds then jumped in to see and find out.  I grabbed hold of the lad who immediately latched on and tried to clamber on top of me..  I was pulled under with him..   He was bigger than me and was definitely…drowning!!  I managed to break free but knew by the length of time he had been like this, had little time left.  I came back to him in desperation and gave him a push… He instinctively reached out again and I grabbed his wrist pulling him another vital few more inches… by now he was calming down and at the very edge of unconsciousness…  Again I came in with another push and then swam around him, grabbing the side of the pool and at full arms length I reached out and finally pulled him in.  There was nothing for 30 seconds or so,  I kept his head above water whist looking for assistance.  My shouts went unheard amongst the busy echoing pool.  He took a breath and moments later opened his eyes ..Phew!  I climbed out,reached down and pulled him up and over the edge.  A few moments later and he was away without a word.  I told mum when I got home and the next day we both went down to the baths to report the near tragedy. The lifeguard on duty was summoned.  He stood there before us and said yes he had witnessed the whole thing!  There was a pause we all looked at one another for a few moments and went on our way!  Strange but very true!

Many years later I was having a few drinks with a friend I had met up with through fishing.  Later that evening this story somehow came up in conversation.  He said “I remember that it Was Me!”  What a fantastic moment that was!  Truly wonderful.


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