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					                                  NOBODY SPECIAL

Who am I? Well, nobody special that‟s for sure. Just a “oldish” bloke looking back on
his fairly eventful life and trying to recall things before the old Senile Dementure
really kicks in.

Born on July 25th 1941 in Saltash, Cornwall, I was the eldest of three children
conceived by Jack and Cath Ashfield. I was a bit of a lump according to Mum but,
apart from seeing some of the old notorious “baby photos”, I can‟t really comment on
that fact. As an infant, I don‟t really have any memories of the war, but I do have a
vague recollection of being in the air raid shelter at the bottom of our garden when
the bombs were dropping, and hearing the terrified whinnying of a horse running
around in the adjoining field.

Ours was a happy home and we all had good upbringings thanks to our loving
parents. My primary school education was pleasant enough and, with the able
assistance of one teacher in particular, a Welsh gentleman by the name of Adrian
Price, I excelled at one subject in which I was interested, English Language. He
taught me how to read, write neatly, and express myself coherently, something, for
which, I will be forever in his debt.

The house we lived in was, (at that time), on the outskirts of Saltash and our back
garden backed on to the countryside which included an area known as Black
Swamp, and another known as Batten‟s Quarry. The quarry was a big hole in a
hillside and what it had been used for we had no idea but it was every kid‟s dream of
a playground. Our hide-out was halfway up a steep-ish cliff face and I still carry the
scars to prove it! Needless to say, during the daylight hours I was never home and
poor Mum had to accept the fact that I was an “outdoor” boy who literally only came
home when his stomach was rattling.

One of my friends at that time was called Fernley Williams and his father had a farm,
so from a very early age I learnt the art of “rabbitng” with a couple of nets and a box
of matches. All you had to do was find a hedge, look for the rabbit holes, put a net
over the hole on one side of the hedge, go to the other side of the hedge, put some
twigs and dried grass in the corresponding hole, set light to them, and wait. You‟d be
amazed how many we caught and Mr Williams didn‟t mind, as long as we didn‟t burn
the hedge down!

Unfortunately, Fernley and I had a “falling out” as kids do, and, after a fight in school
as the result of which I went home with a broken collar bone, things were never
really the same, but life went on and I found another friend called John Smith whose
father had a farm.

Being a little older, a little bigger, but not necessarily a lot smarter, we indulged in
things a lot more mature, like target practice in the long outhouse at the farm with a
.22 rifle trying to light matches over a distance of about 30 feet or more, in
preparation for using the gun to shoot rabbits rather than smoke them out! We also
spent many happy hours helping out at the local blacksmith‟s and the local slaughter
house as the result of which I often took home fresh liver for tea, and let‟s face it, it
doesn‟t come any fresher than that, it was still warm!

On top of all these external activities I had a paper round through which I earned
extra pocket money which was just as well because from the age of nine I picked up
a habit which is with me to this day, smoking! Obviously it was all very secretive at
that time but, if the truth be known, Dad, who was a smoker, probably twigged on
although he didn‟t say anything. As an ex Naval man who worked as the Welfare
Secretary in the Royal Naval Barracks at Devonport, Plymouth, he still brought home
the tins of 50 Capstan Full Strength or the equivalent, and must have noticed that the
odd couple were going missing every now and then!

Obviously, at that tender age, smoking had not affected my physical condition
because, being quite athletic I was picked to be boy captain of one of the three
sports teams, and our team won. I‟ve still got a little shield somewhere to prove it.

It was around this time I found my interest in Music, having been a choirboy where I
attended church every morning and evening on Sundays and attending Sunday
School as well. I‟m afraid my religious beliefs were severely shaken as the result of
standing in the choir pews looking down on the “righteous” congregation whose main
interests seem to be, noting how much other people were putting on the collection
tray, criticizing what other people were wearing, and getting the latest gossip in
general!

So it was that my days as a choirboy didn‟t last that long, but my love of music grew
and I taught myself to play the harmonica, ending up with a Chromatic Harmonica
which enabled me to blow sharps and flats and learn to play a tune played by one of
the greats of the era, Larry Adler. The tune was “Glow Little Glow Worm” and
required using the slide constantly.

I was very lucky with Dad working in the Naval Barracks because he managed to
bring me home an electric gramaphone, amplifier, and speaker, which was very hard
to come by in those early days, and I would entertain the whole street by placing the
speaker right next to the open bedroom window. Surprisingly, I don‟t remember any
of the neighbours complaining about the noise.

As time continued onward the Music Scene took a dramatic turn with the evolution of
Skiffle featuring the likes of Lonnie Donnegan, and so it was I gave up my
Harmonica for a guitar which I proceeded to teach myself to play, aided by what little
information was available at that time, which was not a lot. It was hard going to start
with, especially considering the action of guitars back then left a lot to be desired and
cut grooves in your fingertips that looked like they were there for life.
It was around this time that I passed the 11-plus and went to Saltash Grammar
School where, sadly, my interest in schoolwork gradually took a downward curve
because I was more interested in Music than I was in Shakespeare and the like. My
interest in the opposite sex was normal though because, having been caught kissing
a girl called Honor (of all things) behind the cycle shed I was given 500 lines by the
headmistress which went as follows: “I must remember at all times, and in all
places, that I am the School‟s representative, and must therefore refrain from any
word or deed that will bring discredit upon it”. It took me forever to write and I‟ll never
forget it! Sadly, I don‟t really remember much else about my Grammar School days
except that, as a keen footballer, I, and a lot of others mates, were incensed when
the PT instructor, who was Welsh, decided we should be playing Rugby instead of
Football, the nerve of the guy!

I do remember that in 1953 whilst in the Royal Naval Boy‟s Brigade I did some
boxing and still have the little trophy cup that I won somewhere amongst my
souvenirs, and had the privilege of being selected as a representative of the Boy‟s
Brigade at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. We were stood on the steps of the
Queen Victoria Memorial and had a wonderful view of the Royal Procession coming
up the Mall toward Buckingham Palace. I took a load of photographs with my
Brownie box camera which have gone missing as time‟s gone by but I still have the
memories, plus the memories of the night in the Union Jack Club bunking down with
Mounties, GIs, Gurkha‟s to name but a few. As you might imagine, the beer and
cigarettes were a never-ending flow and my friends and I were not backward in
coming forward to accept all these goodies! Mother would have had a fit!

As my schooldays drew to a close I was faced with two choices offered to me. The
first was to follow in my father‟s footsteps and join the Royal Navy, the second was
to sign up as an apprentice in Devonport Royal Naval Dockyard. I opted for the latter
and sat the entrance exam achieving a mark high enough to qualify for my pick of
the trades available. I chose to be, what was at that time called, an Engine Fitter.
This title changed to Fitter and Turner, because, as such, you were qualified, not
only in Benchwork, but the operation of every type of machinery at the time. As it
turned out, at the end of my five year apprenticeship I had risen to the dizzy heights
of being a Boring Machine operator, the king of machinery in that era which carried
with it the benefits of being a Grade 1 status and paid top money. It‟s sad looking
back to those days because, at that period in time, the work force totalled over
24,000 workers, and was the back-bone of Plymouth.

Although I was an apprentice, my interest in music was still my first love and I played
with friends in a Skiffle group called “The Rebels”. Mum still has a newspaper cutting
showing a write-up done by the local paper showing us giving an impromptu concert
on the beach at the seaside town of Looe in 1957.

It was around this period in time that I became familiar with another adult habit,
drinking. My friends and I rented a small wooden shack at Notter Bridge, just outside
Saltash, which we named “Yertis”. It was in a field by a river and we spent many a
hour there stretched out sunbathing or swimming in the river. We also spent many a
happy hour in the Notter Bridge Inn, just down the end of the lane, and it was there I
got my baptism of “Scrumpy” (rough cider) which was 8 pence a pint. Needless to
say we guzzled a few of them frequently and would stagger back to our shack,
smashed out of our skulls, but there was never any bother. Mischief for us was
pinching some of the farmer‟s wife‟s eggs to put in our morning fry-up. We used to
have skiffle sessions in the pub gardens much to everyone‟s pleasure and, although
we were never paid as such, the landlord used to give us our drinks free. We were
all under-age but nobody seemed to worry about it. I suppose it was because we
never caused trouble and they got entertained into the bargain.

A couple of years on and I joined a rock and roll band called “The Blackjacks”, and
recall going to night-school at the Dockyard college dressed in my sequined jacket,
carrying my beloved Hofner Committee guitar, all ready to drive up to Torquay, or the
like, to do a gig when lessons were over. Needless to say I didn‟t get a lot of sleep
after getting home in the early hours and then having to be up again at 6am to go to
work!

There was also the time when we went on holiday to the Butlin‟s camp at Clacton,
taking with us all our band equipment. We made ourselves known and ended up
playing all the week in the Pig & Whistle, which was the huge entertainments hall on
the camp. At the end of the week we were approached by one of the camp‟s
representatives who offered us the same terms of contract that he‟d offered another
up and coming band the year before. That band became known as Cliff Richard and
the Shadows. As two of us were apprentices at the time, and didn‟t want to lose our
apprenticeships, we turned the offer down but I must admit, I‟ve often wondered
what would have happened if we‟d accepted. Still, as the saying goes, “there‟s no
point in wondering what might have been”. We did have one other claim to fame, we
appeared on “Opportunity Knocks”. Older people might remember the series on the
radio when it was introduced by Hughie Green. If ever there was someone I took an
instant dislike to, it was him. He was so full of you know what you could smell him a
mile away! Anyway, we‟d made it to the Final and were due to appear in the Star
Sound Studios in London. We arrived there with our band gear and were instructed
as to where to set up. Then certain things had to be done, we were told, to make
sure that the sound was acceptable for broadcasting. They covered the drums with
sheets to mute the sound, they covered the top of the piano to mute the sound, the
other guitarist had to use my small amp, and I had no amplification at all. Then, on
top of all that, Hughie Green, in his infinite wisdom changed the song we were to
play from what we wanted to one of his choice and it was awful. Needless to say, we
didn‟t win, we were beaten by some youngster who sang something guaranteed to
win the hearts of the more mature audience. Talk about a set-up job! As it was, the
“Blackjacks” became a very well-known band and all our gigs were packed out the
door and we were never short of gigs. Then, as usual, I decided on a change and
joined a new band in the making which we called “The Hepcats”. As with the
“Blackjacks” we became very popular and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I remember
Johnny, our lead guitarist getting one of the first Fender Stratocasters imported from
America, because up to then imports such as this were banned.

In 1962, when my apprenticeship was over, I left the Dockyard and went on the road
as a touring musician with a band called “Rocking Henry & the Hayseeds”,
Plymouth‟s answer to “Screaming Lord Sutch”! Funnily enough we quite often played
along-side Dave Sutch and the lads and had some merry old times. Like the time we
turned up at a venue and “Jelly” (Dave Sutch‟s pianist) found the piano was literally
unplayable and some helpful soul said that he had a piano that he could use for the
night, but we‟d have to go and get it. It turned out that this guy lived some 200 yards
away and so we had to push this thing along the street to the venue, and while we
were pushing it “Jelly” was playing it. You should have seen the looks on the faces of
the people we passed en route! Being on the road at that time, we frequently met up
other bands doing the same thing, and we‟d sit and chat in the old Transport Cafes
in the early hours comparing notes on the various venues we‟d played. Some of the
lads became quite well-known such as Sounds Incorporated, Freddie & The
Dreamers, The Swinging Blue Jeans, the list is long.

It wasn‟t always rosy, we were averaging 4,000 miles a month driving around Britain
like headless chickens to fulfill the gigs that we had been contracted to do and there
was no decent order as to the locations. We played in the “Two Eyes Coffee Bar” in
Soho, London, which was supposedly “The Place” as far as musicians were
concerned. It was, to all intensive purposes, a cellar, and a crummy one at that, but,
like the “Tavern” in Liverpool in later years, was the place to go.

I recall a gig in Scunthorpe when we were booked to appear along with Freddie &
The Dreamers. Those old enough to remember might recall the Freddie used to
jump around a lot, and on this particular night, he slipped and fell off the stage which
was a good six feet off the floor level, and broke his arm. Or, there was the time
when we‟d been booked to do a recording session at a studio just off St Jame‟s Park
in London. We literally drove through a snow blizzard to get there only to find that
another artiste was running late because of mistakes he was making in the takes.
Funnily enough, I met the gentleman concerned years later at a Country Music
festival I was playing in Oswestry. His name was Frank Ifield, and the song was “I
Remember You”!

Contrary to popular belief, the life of a touring musician isn‟t a bed of roses, it‟s hard
graft and not recommended for the weak spirited. Yes, there are great times, and
there are bad times, and unless you‟re lucky enough (if you want it) to join the ranks
of the big names, you‟ll never make a fortune doing it. You do it for the love of it, and
my love for touring gradually disappeared and I went back to a “regular” job. In fact, I
went back to my trade and carried on where I left off, as a Boring Machine operator
in the Dockyard.
I also changed the direction of my music at this time and started playing Jazz which
gave my guitar playing knowledge a whole new meaning. It started with an audition I
had when Harry Pook, one of the big band leaders of that time let it be known that he
was looking for a vocalist to front his Dance band. I stood on the stage of the old
Odeon Cinema and sang and strummed “Summer Holiday” and got the job. When
not standing up front singing, I would sit beside Vic the pianist, and I thank him from
the bottom of my heart for the guidance and encouragement he gave me in my quest
to learn more about music. I also attended sessions with other musicians keen on
playing Jazz and Big Band stuff and we all helped each other. As time went by I
learned a great deal and was happy to pass my knowledge on to others just starting
out on the long road. On one occasion in the Majestic Ballroom, which was our home
venue, the John Barry Seven were booked to appear with us as the supporting band,
and I met Vic Flick, a great guy. He even offered me his guitar to play during one of
our sessions which, looking back, was a huge compliment because we‟d only just
met, and in similar circumstances I‟d be very cautious about who I let play my
Gibson RD.

After some 3 years I decided I needed a change of direction again and, after a
discussion with a fellow worker of a similar mind, I decided to apply to join the
Plymouth City Police Force. I took and passed the entrance exam and was sent to
the Chantmarle Training Centre near Yeovil in Somerset. In hind-sight it might have
been better if I‟d waited a couple of months before applying because I joined in the
cold month of January 1966, and boy, was it cold doing the required physicals
necessary during training. It didn‟t help when we were all given the standard 30
second haircut for which the hair dresser (that‟s a joke) used only clippers, no
scissors. I think he was probably a sheep shearer in another life.

Three months later I was let loose on the general public, although obviously
accompanied by a more senior Police Officer for the first few months. I thought I‟d
seen a lot for my tender years (24), but boy was I wrong! As I mentioned earlier, I
joined the Plymouth City Police Force, and at that time Plymouth was very much
overrun by the armed forces, Army, Navy and Royal Marines which meant there was
always going to be trouble, especially down in Union Street, which was known the
world over by servicemen of every race and creed.

I started at Ker Street station in the Devonport area where my dealings were mainly
with the Naval revellers so my baptism was gradual. It‟s amusing, looking back,
when I recall having to do traffic duty outside the Dockyard gates at knocking-off time
when 20,000 odd workers are streaming out to go home, stopping the traffic dead
which included the countless buses there to pick them up. Imagine one bloke
standing in the middle of the crossroad junction trying his best to keep both factions
moving at a reasonable rate. I wonder how a young bobby would fare nowadays with
that situation, it seems to take them an extreme effort to get out of their cars, let
alone direct traffic!
During my tour of duty in the Devonport area they built a new station in Exmouth
Road, Devonport, and we all shifted into it on completion. Again, there were good
times and not so good times. Literally on the other side of the road there was a night
club where I had often played as a musician. The owners at that time put on shows
featuring some of the big names of that time, and one such show was being
advertised featuring a well known band called “Fairport Convention” who were a
popular Folk Rock band. Some bright spark further up the chain of command
decided that, bearing in mind what he‟d learned of the band, a drugs raid was to be
organized on that night. As the powers to be were aware of my past life as a
musician, and my knowledge of instruments and amplification, I was ordered to go
onto the stage and search the equipment overseen by a senior officer. So it was with
mixed emotions I went on-stage on the night of the raid and proceeded to do a
search of their equipment. On opening the fiddle case belonging to Dave S******ck, I
noticed a block of something and, unfortunately, the Inspector hovering over my
shoulder, saw it as well. When he queried what it was I suggested that it was bow
resin, but he had other ideas and Dave was arrested for possession of cannabis
resin and appeared in Court the next day. I saw him after his Court appearance and
he thanked me for my actions of trying to overlook the offending block. It was bit of
cannabis for God‟s sake, if it had been cocaine or worse it might have something to
shout about! Don‟t get me wrong, I‟ve never believed in drugs, and certainly never
used any, but the powers to be still haven‟t really made up their minds about the
legality of cannabis, now it‟s legal, now it isn‟t. I think, on this particular occasion, it
was a Police inspector trying to make a name for himself.

One day, whilst heading back to the station at meal-break, I was stopped by an old
lady who complained to me that her husband wouldn‟t speak to her, and on
accompanying her into the house I found the poor old gent had passed away in his
chair. I went next door and asked her neighbor if she would come in and make a cup
of tea and be with the old lady as I explained to her what had happened. It‟s a job to
talk when you‟ve got a big lump in your throat.

Incidents on a lighter note include a time when I found an old gent passed out and
stinking of drink in a local park. It turned out that his wife had sent him to the local
shop with money to get some bits and he decided to nip into the pub nearby, I didn‟t
envy him when he sobered up!

Another hilarious incident involved a raid on a local brothel run by a rather large lady
(20 stone plus). We were assigned in two‟s to enter the bedrooms and when we
opened the door we were assigned we were greeted by the sight of the madame in
her underwear laying on top of a poor little matelot half her weight and size, trying to
hide him from our view. All we could see was his arms and legs flailing in the air as
he fought for breath between her massive breasts. We couldn‟t do anything because
we were both crying with laughter. I wish the Police photographer had been there or
I‟d had a camera.
My next posting was in the Plymouth City Centre and the fun really began because
one of the beats was the notorious Union Street with all it‟s pubs and clubs. There
were some eighteen pubs plus numerous clubs on this road and there was trouble
literally every night between the members of the Armed Forces and the General
Public. We were backed up by the Naval Patrol, the Royal Marine Police, dogs, you
name it. We even had the Gurkha Patrol at one stage and boy, did they sort out
trouble makers!

During my time at the City Centre station I was given a good variety of assignments
including Jailer, driving Panda cars, and driving the Prison Van which included
ferrying prisoners from Plymouth to Exeter Prison to serve their sentences. At one
stage, there was a Postal strike and I was given the assignment of driving an
unmarked car around, in civvies, serving summonses. It was the cushiest period of
my time in the Police Force because I was permanent 10am to 6pm, give or take the
odd exception where I had to serve one on someone who wasn‟t home until after
tea.

It was while I was stationed in the City Centre that the authorities, in their infinite
wisdom, decided to amalgamate Cornwall Constabulary, Devon Constabulary and
the Plymouth City Police into one big organization called the Devon & Cornwall
Constabulary. It was, in the eyes of most members of Plymouth City Police, an
incredibly stupid move, and invited a lot of problems, the biggest of which was that,
officers who were used to the environment of city life were being posted out into the
sticks, while officers used to a quiet life were being posted into anything but a quiet
life. One young probationer was a shining example. He had been posted into our
station from Launceston and was a quiet type. He was the butt of numerous pranks,
some of which, I must admit to been involved in, but, I hasten to add, were all good
clean fun. On Night Duty, on one occasion, I was driving Unit 1, which was the City
Centre panda car, and two other officers were walking the adjoining beats either side
of the newcomer. On his beat there was a shop called Modes, and it had been
noticed earlier in the week that, at the rear of the shop they had put out a load of
shop dummies for disposal. So the three of us proceeded to place these dummy
parts around his beat where he couldn‟t fail to see them. There were legs sticking out
from under parked vehicles, arms sticking out of letter boxes and even a bust and
head hanging from a flag staff, but the best was yet to come. The block housing this
shop was three storeys high with a fire escape up to the flat roof, and it so happened
that the door at the bottom had not been locked thus giving access up to the roof.
Knowing approximately what time he would be in that vicinity, we arranged to meet
up on the roof before he arrived outside the shop front, and we had with us a box of
dressmaker‟s pins. When the newbie appeared around the corner checking door
security as expected, we dropped a pin onto the pavement. You would be amazed
how loud the ping was as it bounced off the pavement, but this was at 3am. He
jumped, as was to be expected, and another pin was dropped, and then another.
Eventually the guy holding the box just tipped the lot over and you couldn‟t see the
newcomer for dust, he was gone! We did notify the shop owner that the fire escape
wasn‟t locked.

During my time in the City Centre I acquired the knick-name “The Peacemaker”
because I always tried to sort out situations to everyone‟s best interest. On one
occasion I was directed via my radio to go to the entrance of Woolworth‟s where a
large crowd of teenagers had gathered and were viewed as a possible Breach of the
Peace. I got there to find bunch of boys and girls standing around listening to a
couple of lads playing guitars, not really causing any nuisance. I got talking to them
and took one of the guitars and played a little bit much to their appreciation. As I was
stood there talking to them, another call came over the radio concerning a little boy
who had gone missing from his mother two streets away. A description was given
including the toddler‟s name and so I said I would go looking for him. The group of
youngsters all offered to help and, as it turned out, it was one of them that found him
which just goes to show, if you treat people right, they‟ll help any way they can.

On another occasion a guy, full of drink, had staggered off the pavement straight into
an oncoming car which knocked him down. I arrived on the scene to find the car had
a huge dent in the bonnet and the driver protesting that the drunk came out of
nowhere giving him no time to swerve or brake. The drunk was sat on the pavement
with his back to the wall but had no apparent injuries. I took the driver‟s details and
informed him not to worry, I‟d contact him later and sent him on his way. I radioed for
an ambulance and had the drunk taken to Casualty to be checked out. Amazingly he
didn‟t have a scratch and, apart from being paralytic was as right as rain. Needless
to say he slept it off in the cells and was up in front of the magistrate the next day. A
few weeks after the incident a postcard was delivered to the City Centre Police
station addressed to me and it was from this guy who was a merchant seaman and
had written from Africa, where he was at that time, to thank me for looking after him
that night. The looks on the other officer‟s faces was something I‟ll never forget, and
I‟ve still got that postcard somewhere!

The Police Force, like the Armed Services, is very sport-orientated, and I was a
member of both the basketball team, and the Life Saving team. I remember one life
saving demonstration I took part in where we had to dive into the murky water at the
Barbican in Plymouth to perform a rescue. The water was filthy and stinking of diesel
fuel, and I remember reading an article in a newspaper in the ensuing weeks about
someone falling in off a boat who had automatically been taken to Casualty and
given a tetanus shot, and we‟d been diving in without a thought!

As with everything else I had tried in life to date I finally decided, after six years, it
was time for a change. The main reason for my wanting this was the general feeling
of disdain for the so-called superiors whom I had lost respect for. A Superintendent
who was more interested in Parade Inspections than Police work, an Inspector who
was more interested in not upsetting the branch of Free Mason‟s of which he was a
member than the rights of the general public, and mostly, a Chief Superintendent
who loved it while I was running disco for the children of Police officers, organizing a
group of police Officers who were mediocre musicians to play at Police functions,
and getting civilian musician friends of mine to play at the big posh do‟s like the
Holiday Inn etc but objected strongly to me getting paid in any way, not even
overtime. I eventually let my feeling‟s be known and moved on.

I must admit that it‟s an eye-opener when I think back to the those days compared
with how things are today. When I joined the Police Force the majority of us walked
the beat, and a few had bicycles on the out-lying ones. We had to report into the
station by telephone every hour on the hour. Then they introduced radios which we
had to carry. Unlike today‟s little units, these things were huge and you had to pull
out a long aerial to get a signal, it was comical looking back, but, at the time, it was
the latest technology! I also had the dubious honour of being one of the first Panda
Car drivers, the good old Morris 1000, while Traffic were using Zephyr 6‟s. Things
have certainly moved on since then.

The new direction was a job with Greenbank Hospital as a Renal Dialysis Technician
which, to the less technically minded means I maintained and repaired kidney
machines. A bit of a jump from what I‟d done to date but, once again, with the
assistance and guidance of a good friend, who was in fact, in charge of the Kidney
Unit maintenance, I did the job to everyone‟s satisfaction. Back in1966 kidney
machines were monstrous things, around five feet tall, weighing in at around two
hundredweight and were a nightmare to install in some of the required locations in
patient‟s houses. I had the misfortune to bear most of the weight of one of the
machines whilst four of us, one on each corner, were attempting to carry it down a
flight of steep steps. The guy on the top corner slipped and, as the rest of us tried to
regain our balance, I bore the majority of the weight with one foot on a step and one
foot on the ground with my body twisted. I still get back trouble occasionally to this
day thanks to that little episode.

Another little incident which occurred whilst I was employed at the Hospital was, in
point of fact, nothing to do with my work. For many years I was a keen snorkel diver
and loved spear-fishing. As with most hobbies I took up, I took it seriously, and had
top of the range equipment. My wetsuit was a tailor-made two piece in 8mm double-
skinned neoprene which kept me reasonably warm on my dives which would last
anything up to 3-4 hours duration. To counter-act the buoyancy I made a lead strip
weight belt that weighed in at 22lbs, it was the only way I could get down. It was on
one of my dives that I surfaced right in front of a speed-boat with no time to get out of
the way. I put my hand on the bottom of the boat to push myself away and the
propeller sliced it nearly removing two fingers. I was rushed into Casualty in an
ambulance and given some gas on the way. In the hospital, although dopey with the
gas I heard someone say they‟d have to cut off my wetsuit, but I was with it enough
to protest strongly to this and insisted on taking it off with their help. The cut required
a lot of stitches and I was told I was extremely lucky which I suppose I was, it could
have been my head. A week or so after the incident I went on my holidays to my
favourite place, the Isles of Scilly, and, of course, my diving gear went with me. I
tried to tie a plastic bag around the hand to keep the water out but that failed
dismally, so it just got wet. It was the best thing as it turned out because the salt
water healed the cut a lot faster and it healed in record time.

As a Renal Technician I came into contact with people unlucky enough to have renal
failure, but my days in the Force stood me in good stead as to dealing with them. It‟s
not a nice existence, and entails (or did back then) using fistula needles, (which are
quite large), to pierce their veins for the blood to be re-cycled. After so long doing
this, the patients had to have shunts fitted because they ran out of places where they
could inject themselves. It‟s a gruesome subject that I won‟t dwell on. Suffice to say,
I felt for them.

A couple of years later, in 1974, I was on the move again, this time to a company
called Beale & Cole who dealt with central heating and, with my knowledge of both
things mechanical and electrical, I was hired as a trouble-shooter, driving here and
there sorting out problems which arose. The business next door to our base was a
tool supplier to the various trades, and one fateful night, they had a fire. Luckily it
was dealt with efficiently by the Fire Brigade before it spread to our place, but there
was extensive damage caused to their stock, so it was decided that they would clear
the fire damaged goods by selling it off cheap. It was Christmas come early and we
all stocked up on our tools at VERY reasonable prices, especially considering the
fact that, if you hadn‟t known there‟d been a fire, you would have thought the gear
was new!

This was a peach of a job, I was travelling all over Devon & Cornwall) and doing a
multitude of different things, there was never a dull moment. One project we took on
was the removal and replacement of an extractor fan in a kitchen in an Old People‟s
home in Penzance because the one they had wasn‟t man enough for the job. One of
our bosses had been there, consulted with the owners, recommended a fan, ordered
it, and given us the job of fitting it. All sounds pretty straight forward I suppose, but
you needed to see the size of this fan to appreciate the trouble we had in fitting it.
The fan, mounted on a backing plate was so big that we couldn‟t get it down the
narrow flight of stairs which led to the kitchen, so our only alternative was to come at
the job from the rear of the establishment. Once again, sounds simple enough but it
wasn‟t because we had to get the thing over a wall which was around 10 feet high!
We began to realize why none of the local, nearer contractors had wanted to take
the job on, but we weren‟t going to be beaten, and, after a lot of swearing and
sweating we did it. When the fan was finally installed and they switched it on, it was
like being in one of those wind tunnels, it certainly cleared the air, it‟s a wonder it
didn‟t suck the pots and pans off their hooks on the wall! In my humble opinion it
was more than a bit OTT, but the proprietor was happy, so who was I to spoil his
satisfaction.
Another project was to install warm air heating into a split- level house being built by
a fireman who had bought the plot of land and built his own house, it was a work of
art. It was two storeys high, and to access the front door from the road, you had to
cross a wooden bridge because the door was literally halfway up the front of the
house. You entered on a landing and had to go down stairs for the ground floor, and
up stairs for the bedrooms etc. The lounge was huge and was literally from the
ground to the roof, with a massive stone-built fireplace in the middle of the room,
which had a beautiful beaten copper canopy and flue encased on two sides by
brickwork going all the way up. The fireman, in point of fact, was a highly qualified
brick-layer, and what he‟d built was a shining example of his capabilities. It seems
that, like me, he had become restless, and wanted a change of direction from brick-
laying. He had accumulated a substantial amount because, let‟s face it, good
brickies can name their own price, and he‟d invested a lot of it in this property.
Knowing I was doing the electrics of the warm air installation in his house, he asked
me if I would be interested in doing all the other necessary electrics. He showed me
the plans and it was a mountain of a job but I said I was interested and accepted the
job on the understanding that I could only work in my own time, and so it was
agreed. I must admit, there were times when I thought I‟d bitten off more than I could
chew but I finished everything to his delighted satisfaction. I can‟t remember exactly
how many rolls of 1.5mm and 2.5mm cable I used, but it was quite a few. In the
lounge alone there were 16 lights of varying colours and sizes, some of which had to
mounted in certain places in different colours to highlight the beautiful copper
canopy. Until then I had no idea that you could get a switch-plate with that many
switches on it! The consumer units, I say “units” because there were two 8-ways
needed, were fitted in the huge double garage and, I was extremely pleased with
how it all turned out having followed the circuit diagrams to the letter.

Sadly, as is the way things go, this employment came to an abrupt end when the firm
went bankrupt. They had taken on contracts with big companies who were
notoriously slow in paying what was owed and our small firm was soon in financial
straits, so I had to move on, and so it was, in 1975, I found myself back operating a
boring machine in the good old faithful, the Dockyard.

After about a year, having the feeling, “been here, done this”, I took an aptitude test
which I passed and became a PPT. That‟s a Progressman Planner Technical and
involved examining items set for repair, ordering the necessary parts, writing up the
work instructions and maintaining Quality Control. In other words I had to supervise
while somebody else got their hands dirty!

Meanwhile, on the Music scene, I had been playing with numerous big bands and
was, by then, playing for the Bob Francis Band. Bob was, in fact, an electrician who
owned a shop at Plympton (on the outskirts of Plymouth), who had quite a few
musicians working for him. It was a strange set-up because Bob had his fingers in
umpteen different pies including a contract with a Holiday Camp, a Hotel, and
various outfits like the Free Masons, so there were always plenty of gigs. He would
issue each of us a work sheet of the next week‟s gigs and pay us what was owing at
the end of that week. The only trouble was he had some strange ideas on what
made up a decent band, and some of the combinations I was put out with were
pretty dire to say the least! Eventually I voiced my feelings on the arrangement and
told him that if I could pick three of the musicians he had on the books, I would gladly
fulfill any gig he wanted me to do. One other thing I stipulated was that I wouldn‟t
wear a dinner suit because I always felt restricted as I played and sang. I came up
with a satisfactory alternative which was a black leather waistcoat instead of a dinner
jacket. It looked quite smart if I say so myself and was accepted wherever we
played be it a posh Naval affair or a night at the Holiday Camp. One thing I did find
out was that the fee being charged to do the gig didn‟t reflect what Bob was paying
us lowly musicians. He was laughing all the way to the bank! So I decided enough
was enough, and set out on my own with a couple of others and “WEETHREE” was
born.

 The trio consisted of Mike Rowe on bass, Al Collins on drums, and me on
lead/rhythm guitar and vocals. Those who have tried it will verify that, for a 3-piece to
play Dance Music and create a full sound, it is extremely hard work, and I used to
go home each night leaking wet from sweating with the effort we‟d put in, but at least
we knew we‟d done a good job. WEETHEE became an extremely popular band and
we were always busy, but, as is the way, things never last and the drummer left to
join another band so I set about finding a good replacement. One of the drummers
I‟d had the pleasure to play alongside, Art Danes, who is sadly no longer with us,
heard I was looking for someone and suggested I gave his son Paul an audition.
Paul was very young and very keen. He was also a natural having a great sense, not
only of rhythm and timing, but expression, which is, to me, all-important. It was
obvious from the moment he picked up his sticks that HE was what I was looking for
and he sang as well, which was even better! A little further down the road in time he
informed us that he had a cousin called Warren who was looking to join a band, and
that he had not only an incredible range vocally, but was also no mean guitarist.
After another quick audition I had to change the name of the outfit from
“WEETHREE” to WEETHREE AN‟ „IM”, and we went from strength to strength with
the range of songs we did between us. We were doing Eagles numbers, Beachboys
numbers, you name it, the harmonies were awesome!

One hilarious moment (well, to us anyway) was a night we played a small social club
where the stage was literally a little box at one end of the narrow room. Getting a 4-
piece outfit that had 3 amps and a full 7-piece drum kit in there was a nightmare. Add
to this the fact that a guy used to sit right in front of the stage (which was floor level)
calling out the bingo numbers, right in the way. On this particular night he was
shouting out the numbers when one of us (can‟t remember who) accidently knocked
over one of the big cymbal stands and it crashed down on his head bringing the
bingo to an abrupt end. Boy, were we popular!
Yet again a good thing came to an end when Warren opted to join another new
outfit, and Paul went with him. It wasn‟t too much of a surprise as they were both
considerably younger than the bass player and I, and obviously wanted to explore
other avenues of music. After talking things over, Mike the bass player and I carried
on as a 2-piece using a drum machine and we re-named the duo “TWO‟S
COMPANY LTD”. (very original!). Still, we managed very well for quite a while, and
apart from the numbers requiring a lot of harmonies, we played a wide range of stuff
and had a full appointment book.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or should I say the Dockyard, another shift came
about in 1981 when I gave up my position of PPT in favour of a position as a Bench
Fitter in, what was known as the Turbine Shop. I was back to my tools stripping,
repairing and refitting the huge Turbo-driven Forced-draught Blowers used on Naval
vessels. The fans on these things were about 5 feet in diameter, weighed umpteen
hundredweight, and were tested to speeds up to 22,000rpm. When they were tested
on the test rig you could hear the scream of it a mile away, Needless to say, ear
defenders were a must!

Twelve months later another peach of a job came up for grabs, Dynamic Balancing
Technician. It was a part of the Turbine Shop, a building within a building so to
speak, and a little empire of it‟s own. The old Fitter was retiring and the powers to be
were looking for a suitable replacement and, as luck would have it, I got the job. It
really was a peach of a job, top money and time on your hands as, obviously, there
were only so many Blower fans etc to balance at any one time. If you‟re wondering
what I mean by “balance”, just think about when a new tyre is fitted to a car wheel
and then balanced, and then imagine a machine a lot bigger to incorporate a huge
multi-bladed fan!

Life was good, and I used some of my “free” time engaged in the time-old tradition of
“rabbiting”. Not, I hasten to add, the furry variety, but the making of things not work-
related. I still have the chess set I made on a small table in my front room. The
pieces were brass on one side, chrome-plated steel on the other and were set at
either end of the board in their little individual holes in a teak board into which I inlaid
a hand-crafted leather playing area. Nice!

Five years later, in 1987, the Naval Dockyard had been sold off (as seems to be the
way of things), to an American firm who were doing what they do best, cutting down
the work force. They were dangling the carrot of a big pay-out if you took Voluntary
Redundancy, and I, like thousands of others, grabbed the carrot with both hands,
and so began yet another chapter.

I have made no mention until now that, in fact, I got married in 1963, and it lasted for
32 years before it ended abruptly in divorce as is the way. Opinion would probably
say that it was my fault and much of it probably was but, as they say, it takes two to
tango. We had two children, a son, and a daughter, neither of which I have seen for
a considerable time but I won‟t lose any sleep over if that is their decision. We
bought the council house we were living in as did a lot of other people and it‟s one of
the reasons I‟m now mentioning this because a portion of the payout I received from
the Dockyard helped pay off the mortgage. Another bit of was used to buy my wife‟s
car, another bit of it I used to buy a boat, and another bit I used to set myself up in
my business Pressure Washing.

The equipment I used in the business was a tailor-made rig I had built by a firm who
specialized in that sort of equipment. It consisted of a mains generator, a heater
capable of producing steam, and a heavy duty water pump by which I could attain
1100psi at a constant rate of water or steam. These were all incorporated on a 2-
wheeled rig which I towed behind my estate car in which I carried everything else,
hoses, tools etc, with two 3-stage ladders on the roof rack. I travelled all over Devon
and Cornwall, and remember once being stopped for speedway with this lot. Silly
really, never mind. The glory of my rig was the versatility and I acquired a wide
variety of work including ongoing contracts with a big firm building the Pavillions in
Plymouth, and the local Council cleaning the many slipways in the Plymouth area.
Unfortunately (again) things didn‟t last as other people decided it was a good thing to
get into and eventually there were too many doing it for it to be viable. Luckily, one of
the firms I had done contract work for, offered me a position with them and bought
my pressure washing equipment.

The firm was M G C Technical Services and had big contracts with, of all people, the
Dockyard, my old stomping ground, and others. The work was varied and steady,
and there was plenty of overtime to be had if you wanted it but, of course, with my
other activities I always turned it down. Why would I want to be working when I could
be out fishing in my beautiful 22-foot Seaworker boat which I‟d fitted out with
everything necessary like a radio, satnav, I even had an auto pilot system!

On one occasion I sailed, or should I say, motored (because I had an big inboard
diesel engine) down from Plymouth to Porth Leven (near Penzance) where I stopped
off to pick up a friend before steaming on to the Isles of Scilly, a distance of
110miles. Then, after a great 2 weeks holiday I sailed home again alone with no stop
on the way. It took me about 12 hours which was a good average speed. “Sea
Hawk” she was called, and she was a beautiful boat. Unlike many boat users, I didn‟t
have a season. I used it 12 months of the year, only beaching it when maintenance
was necessary like anti-fouling. Obviously my Boat Insurance was sky-high but it
was worth it. Then one fateful day I had the worst luck imaginable. In the beginning I
had bought a mooring from someone and it was mine, I thought, for life, or as long
as I wanted it, but the local Council had other ideas and I, and everyone else with
moorings in that stretch of water were evicted and directed to become members of
the Mayflower Boat Owners Association to have a mooring elsewhere. The moorings
were still at the Barbican in Plymouth so, at the time, it didn‟t seem to be too much of
a bad deal. How wrong could I have been, after the first couple of years the
moorings were being charged for, and going up at a ridiculous rate. The last year I
was there was costing me £100 a year! That wasn‟t the bad luck I was referring to
although that was bad enough. Most of the members of the association were fine
weather “yachties”, and, as such, took their boats out of the water from October until
the following May. All the moorings would then be lifted and put into storage, all that
is but one, which was left for me to use during the Winter months. I should mention
at this point that, when the moorings were first laid, it had been necessary to perform
some underwater blasting to break up and remove several large limestone rocks.
Unfortunately, one rock that, it was decided, did not offer any threat because even
on low tide it was well below the surface, was left there and on one fateful day,
because of the offshore wind, and the lowest spring tide ever recorded, the hull of
my boat was ruptured and it began to sink. The only Saving Grace was that I went
down that morning to check the boat and, with the help of the local lads and the Pilot
Boat, we were able to stop her sinking beneath the waves completely. I‟m not
ashamed to admit that I broke down and cried because water and electrics don‟t mix,
and, although I‟d taken home the radio and satnav, the Auto Pilot and all the onboard
electrics were damaged beyond repair. It took 3 months in a boatyard to repair all the
damage and she never felt the same again. It was shortly after that that I sold her to
someone up in Dartmouth, Devon, and I‟ve never been on a boat since. What with
that, and the ever-increasing cost involved, the magic was gone.

As you can probably appreciate, trying to write all these things down and keep
everything in chronological order is a bit of a nightmare, especially when the
memory‟s not as good as it used to be.

For several years I had suffered with continually-blocked sinuses, and had been
using Sinex sprays like they were going out of fashion to no avail, so I finally decided
to see my Doctor and tell him about the problem. After a thorough examination, he
arranged an appointment for me to attend at Derriford Hospital for a barium x-ray,
which entails swallowing some goo while they take pictures to see what‟s happening.
It turned out that I had a Hiatus Hernia which, in my case, was at the diaphragm
valve above the stomach. This valve has 3 muscle-controlled flaps which open to
allow food etc through and then close to stop it coming back up again, and, in my
case, the muscles were gone on one of flaps which meant it was flapping in the
breeze so to speak. It wasn‟t until then that I fully appreciated what they meant by
Ear, Nose & Throat, but it was explained that acid coming back up from my stomach
was congealing as transparent, thick mucus in my sinuses, hence the blocked nose.
The damage must have been caused by a lifetime of singing, which involves using
the diaphragm, and continual usage had weakened one of the muscles beyond
repair. Anyway, it was something I‟d have to learn to live with, and adapt my life
style, especially food and drink-wise, accordingly. It‟s not that much of a chore
because I‟ve always been a meat and potato man, although I‟ve had to sacrifice
some favourites, like a nice big steak, which is hard to digest at the best of times. Eat
little and often I was told, so that‟s more or less what I try to do. Occasionally I
overdo things and pay for it by having to sleep sitting up in my chair but hell, you‟ve
got to have a treat sometimes even you do suffer the consequences!

Meanwhile, back at MGC headquarters things were taking a downward turn and, in
1991 there were inevitable redundancies, myself included, and for the first time in my
life I joined the ranks of the unemployed. As anyone of a similar age will tell you,
trying to get a job when you‟re that sort of age is nigh-on impossible. As far as
employers are concerned you‟re either over the hill, or, too qualified for the meager
wage they are willing to pay. As I fell into both categories it was a foregone
conclusion that I wouldn‟t find a job. Plus the fact that my 3-page CV was a bit
daunting to would-be employers. With this in mind, I decided to go back to being a
professional musician, only this time I would be on my own, as with the great
advancements in computer technology it was possible to create your own backing
band! I have to thank Dave Brown, a great friend, for his help and guidance along
this road, because before this I had often stated that I wasn‟t into computers, and
didn‟t really want to be. How things have changed, I‟d be lost without one now! With
Dave‟s help I set out to achieve what I wanted to do and, as the years past, and
equipment improved, even I was amazed by what it was possible to do.

In May 1991, Fate decided to throw me another wobbly. I had driven down to the
local tip to get rid of some bags of rubbish, and was asked to throw them up onto the
back of a high-sided truck parked there. I threw the first one in, bent down, picked up
the second one, swung it, and the next thing I was sat on the floor. I‟d felt a quick
sharp pain in my lower left leg and then nothing but my foot wouldn‟t do what I
wanted it to do, I couldn‟t move it, or stand on it, there was no feeling at all. I
managed to get into the car and drive home which was more by luck than good
judgement. I crawled up my front steps, let myself in, and phoned a friend, who lived
nearby, asking if he could around and drive me to the Hospital. I was reasonably
sure by this time that the tendon was damaged but I‟m no doctor. He came around,
drove me to Casualty and helped me in. A quick examination confirmed my fears, I
had, in fact, snapped the tendon which is not that common, normally you just tear
them but I had to be different. Needless to say I was kept in, had a 3 hour operation
during which they pulled the tendon back down my leg and stitched it back together,
set my foot at the correct angle to alleviate as much tension as possible, and set it
in plaster up to my groin. This was all done on a Wednesday and by Friday I was
going stir crazy. The only place I could smoke was a rest-room along the corridor
from the ward, and on the Thursday I was fine because they‟d left the wheelchair
beside my bed, so any time I felt like a smoke I just dragged myself into the chair
and set out for the rest-room. I woke up on the Friday to find the wheelchair was
gone so I asked a nurse if there was one I could use and was told sharply that
nobody had time to get me one. My response to the reprimand was to take out a
cigarette and light up in the ward much to everyone‟s dismay. They ended up
pushing me down to the rest-room in my bed! Obviously this wasn‟t going to be a
viable way of doing it so, when the surgeon did his rounds, I asked if it was possible
for me to go home. His reply was, if I could handle a pair of crutches, I could. I was
given a pair and, after a short demonstration, including going up and down stairs, I
was allowed to leave as soon as my lift arrived. The nurse who tested me was
amazed and commented that I must have used crutches before, but I assured her
that I hadn‟t, it was just sheer determination to get of the place so I could have a
smoke or a cup of tea whenever I wanted to! In all, I was in plaster for 12 weeks, and
had 3 different plasters fitted. After the first month the second plaster was fitted with
the foot at a slightly different angle which put a bit more pressure on the tendon, and
a month after that I was fitted with a fiberglass one which set the foot at the normal
angle. When that one was finally removed they saw it was cracked on the bottom
and that happened because I‟d been driving the car. Another thing they weren‟t
aware of was, although I was on crutches, I had, in fact, been out doing gigs with
another guy from 2 weeks after the accident and the time was drawing close when I
would be going out on my own.

It wasn‟t nice having to tell Mike, the bass player who had been with me for the best
part of 18 years, that I was going on my own, but it was the only way out financially.
I worked 18 hour days putting my backing tracks together and over the years have
amassed a sizeable very varied collection covering everything from Jazz and Big
Band, through to the love of my life, Country music. It was hard graft but well worth
the effort, and I found, being my own drummer, bass player, and pianist etc so to
speak, gave me the opportunity to present each song exactly how I wanted it. As
most places I went already knew me, I just went out as “Mike A”, and it‟s been that
way ever since.

In 1995 came the time when my wife and I finally went our separate ways, and I left
with 2 carloads of possessions, one of which was made up of my band gear. I left my
ex with the house and everything that went with it all paid up and stayed at Mum‟s
until I could get on my feet.

I had a relationship which lasted for around 5 years, during which time I was living in
London, coming down to Saltash occasionally, but it was doomed to failure. The lady
concerned suffered from a nasty complaint known as ME, which stands for Myalgic
Encephelomyalitis. I‟m not sure about the spelling, but I am sure that it‟s a little-
known illness that is very nasty as it appears to affect the person in both physical
and mental ways, making their (and everybody around them‟s) life a misery. Medical
experts have been baffled regarding this illness and opinions are very varied as to
treatment of it. The only thing which seems to be agreed on is, there‟s no known
cure and the person who suffers from it can be hell to live with, as I found out. I
ended up going back to Mum‟s place in Saltash suffering from severe depression, to
the point of being suicidal, and was on medication for months.

When I was feeling better I registered again at the Job Centre and found myself a
little flat down by the river Tamar and it was at that time that my beloved Chris joined
me.
It‟s funny when I think back because I had, in fact, known Chris to speak to for
several years as she used to frequent one of the clubs I played at. I always assumed
she was happily married but it just goes to show how wrong one can be about
appearances, she‟d even booked me to play at her wedding! The why‟s and
wherefore‟s I‟m not going into but one day the door buzzer of my flat went and when
I opened the door, she was standing there with a bunch of flowers to celebrate my
moving into my flat. Not long after that she got divorced and we‟ve been together
ever since.

My Job Centre visits came to an end when, on my 60th birthday, a member of staff
informed me that there was no longer any need for me to sign on every week, and
breathed a sigh of relief as I walked out the door! Anyone who is more mature and
looking for a job these days has my heartfelt sympathy, especially those with
impressive qualifications.

A chance encounter with a guy from Wales started another change in life style. How
he came to be in Saltash escapes me but, as the result of our conversation I was
back on the road again, this time playing nothing but Country, which was right up my
street. It was arranged that we would travel to Wales to play at a Country Music
Festival. I say “we” because, wherever I was playing Chris came with me and, the
fact that she had always loved Country music as well was an added bonus.

We joined a local Westerners club called “The Renegades”, bought all the gear, and
went along every Sunday evening, unless of course I was booked to play
somewhere else.

The weekend of the festival in Wales, those club members with caravans went with
us, with it having been arranged for Chris and I, and two other good friends Mike and
Linda to share a tent. It was a great weekend and we met and befriended the other
artistes that were appearing there. I also bought a Sprite caravan from Eric, the
organizer, which certainly came in handy in the travelling to come. It needed a lot of
work to make it comfortable to stay in but we literally gutted it and built the inside
from scratch. Everyone commented on the incredible difference we made to it which
is not surprising when I say that, having bought it for £50, I then spent the best part
of £500 doing it up! It was our little palace on wheels, and served us proud on the
thousands of miles we covered during the ensuing years.

By this time (2000 – 2001) my band equipment had improved drastically and,
although still playing on my own, the sound was as good as any band could produce.
I‟d even started recording my own CDs and they sold very well. I‟d said on many
occasions that the sound I was recording in my front room was as good, and in some
cases, better, than what I had achieved in some of the so-called professional
recording studios. I don‟t suppose many people have noticed but on the bottom of
every CD it says “Recorded at Front Room Studios” and then the month and year of
the recording.
As time went by I was contacted by an increasing number of Western clubs and
Chris and I were travelling up to Wales and the Midlands more and more.
Westerners are lovely people and we made a lot of friends everywhere we went, it‟s
like a huge family. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule but that‟s life.

In 2003 I played my first Brean Festival and it really was an eye-opener. For those
who don‟t know, Brean is a seaside resort in Somerset, and during the first two
weeks of October annually, it‟s taken over by thousands of Westerners who come
from all over the UK (and probably other places as well). There are umpteen clubs
and bars along what is known as “The Strip”, and they‟re all packed to the gunnels
with people listening to a multitude of artistes.

I had been booked to perform at a place called “Jay‟s” and the crowd we befriended
were a great bunch, including my good friends Ramrod and Syd Newman. In the car
park outside the club numerous traders had set up stalls selling Western
merchandise, and one who was known as “Shalako” sold T shirts on which he would
put the transfer of your choice. I decided to get one and asked if he could put on it a
picture of me plus the words ”The Grey-haired Old Bugger”, and he did. The next
thing I knew I see both Ramrod and Syd had similar T shirts with logos on, and
there‟s one similar to mine except the word “Shoot” had been added at the front of
the lettering! Needless to say, over the rest of the time there we had a whale of a
time with, what became known as “The T Shirt War”. Shalako had his best sales
ever and must have laughed all the way to the bank thanks to us.

A couple of weeks before Christmas every year the Westerners book a hotel in
Torquay, Devon for a long weekend and in 2004 an incident occurred that I have
never been allowed to forget. Dean, one of the artistes, was performing one of his
sets, and our crowd were sat relaxing, listening to the music. The next thing I knew
there was a flash from a camera and everyone was laughing because I had settled
down in the comfy chair, and dropped off to sleep much to everyone‟s amusement.
The following year, on my birthday, I was presented with a cake, cleverly made by
someone, which was a man, flaked out in a chair nude, except for a cowboy hat, fast
asleep, holding a CD entitled “Dean‟s Lullabies”!

For the next two years Chris and I toured around, caravan in tow, playing gigs here,
there, and everywhere, but then I hit another snag. The old Hiatus Hernia was
gradually making it‟s prescence more prominent, and things came to head in Brean
in 2005 when I contracted pneumonia into the bargain, and spent the entire two
weeks sleeping in the sitting position because I couldn‟t lay down. Since then I have
had to increase the number of pillows I sleep on, and occasionally have to sleep in
my desk chair. After Brean, in fact, I slept in my chair for about 3 months, and
haven‟t really slept in the caravan since. Needless to say, the touring side of things
was reduced dramatically, and we only went where our friends could put us up.
In 2006 I had to find a new place to live when my landlady sold the flat I occupied in
Saltash, and the new owners wanted almost double the rent, which was out of the
question to someone with my income. For a short time I was actually homeless with
my furniture in storage, but Chris made sure I had a roof over my head until I was
lucky enough to find the flat that I presently occupy. It required a lot of work but we
did it, even if it did take us 6 months to complete.

In October that year, Chris, bless her, gave me the belated birthday present of a
lifetime. She paid for us both to fly to Nashville, Tennessee, in the good ol‟ US of A.
It was something I‟d always wanted to do but never got round to doing, and it was
only through her determination that it happened. It was an unforgettable trip but, as a
“homebird”, not something I would really want to do again. The music was, in the
most part, fantastic, and we saw and met some very talented people, who we still
keep in touch with. I know they say we live in a “throwaway” age, but, take it from
me, we‟re amateurs compared to the Americans. For the most part, unless you go to
a posh restaurant, you eat and drink off polystyrene plates and cups with plastic
knives and forks. In the snack bars etc, there are huge “wheely” bins all over the
place which are emptied numerous times a day. Their waste disposal plants must be
massive. The food, in Nashville anyway, is, for the most part, extremely spicy, no
doubt because of the large Latin population there, and was certainly no good for my
consumption. I spent the first of two weeks there living on special fried rice because I
couldn‟t find anything more palatable. Another thing was the size of the food
products. The smallest bag of sugar I found was 8 pounds in weight, and the
smallest carton of milk was a gallon! I only needed these items for the odd cup of tea
on our room, needless to say, there was a lot left over. In my humble opinion,
Nashville is living on a past reputation as the Country Music capitol. No doubt in
years gone by it was, but not anymore. Even the Grand Ole Oprey is a bit of a joke.
The original was called The Ryman Theatre and we visited there because of it‟s
historical value, but a new, bigger building took over the “Oprey” title, and “bigger” is
an understatement, that place was huge, and could seat hundreds of people. We
paid two visits, each on a Friday night, and it was a joke. At one side of the huge
stage there was a booth for the MC and, from there he, not only introduced the acts,
but spouted off a load of advertising as well between the acts. Can you imagine the
reaction of a British audience if they did that over here? The actual sound mix was
dire, and when I commented on this to two of our newly-made friends, I was told that
it was produced that way for TV broadcast and the audience could basically like it or
lump it! The whole way of life over there is very much money-orientated. All that
being said, it was a great holiday, and certainly a memorable one, I just wouldn‟t
want to go there again.

Life went on as normal except my gigs were gradually becoming fewer and fewer
because that‟s the way I wanted it. Having spent over 50 years in the music business
I was quite happy just to go out now and then. From July 2006, I was an Old Aged
Pensioner with a Bus Pass, much to the amusement of Chris, but I must admit, it has
it‟s perks. My new home is only about a 12 minute walk from Plymouth City Centre,
so we often walk in and catch a free bus home which means I save on fuel and
parking fees.

Then the Government brought in the “No Smoking” law which was the death knell of
the pubs and social clubs. That, along with the ever-rising price of fuel made
travelling around doing gigs an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs as far as I
was concerned, so I went out even less than before. I felt extremely sympathetic
toward those of my friends who were doing their best to make a living because it was
definitely not going to get any easier, and thanked my lucky stars that it all came
about at the twilight of my long career.

Now, at almost 68, I‟m happy to let the world go by. I have recorded 18 CDs,
produced a DVD, and still keep busy maintaining my website which seems to be
quite popular with world-wide hits. I keep in touch with many friends in the music
business, and go out playing gigs now and then just to keep my hand in.

Well, that‟s about it. There are obviously a lot of other things I could have included
involving more personal details of those I‟ve met along the road of life, but that was
never my intention. All I wanted to do was roughly portray things I‟ve experienced to
date, and I hope you think I‟ve succeeded. There are things I regret, and things that I
don‟t, but that‟s what Life is all about. I feel privileged to have been born when I was,
we certainly saw the best years, and I don‟t, for one second, envy the generations to
come. Ours were certainly The Golden Years.
The Golden Years.

				
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