26 May 2004

Sea Life. 1951. My First Ship

SS Modasa
Posted by Hello
First draft:
The SS Modasa above of the British India Line was the first ship I sailed on. She was an old ship built in the 1920s and scrapped in the early 1950s. The Modasa was a passenger cargo ship carrying upwards 200 passengers on the run from the U.K. to the East coast of Africa and numerous ports en-route.

M Class ship

This photo shows a more modern passenger cargo ship of the British India Line of unknown name. The British India Line was eventually absorbed into the P & O Line.

The B.I.ships used to service East Africa, India, Far Eastern ports and down to Australasia.

Passengers were mainly planters and government officials with their families. For this was the times of British colonialism in 1950s East Africa. Certainly a much more peaceful and prosperous Africa than it is today.

Sea Life. A Steep Learning Curve

I will be writing this descriptive piece soon
Posted by Hello

21 May 2004

This is our home when we lived at Sharrow Bay Posted by Hello

Once more this is a picture test. This was our beautiful home from 1943 until 1948. The shot was taken in 2000 when visiting Ullswater on our vacation from NZ.

This is OldEric. I'm the old one with my son, young Anthony.

This my first post of a picture using the "Hello" program. I hope to use more pictures in later posts if I find this method to be successful. I have viewed other weblogs using pictures previously and I have noted that they give a weblog a whole new diamention.

 Posted by Hello

26 March 2004

First draft: South Shields. Farewell South Shields

Two weeks after passing my examinations and then applying for a position with Marconi Marine I was accepted into the company. I was instructed to apply for a Seaman's Record Book and Certificates of Discharge. This Book complete with photo and details could also be used as a defacto Passport when necessary to join ships in other countries.

I was officially entered into the Merchant Navy on the 16 June 1951 at the South Shields Marine Office. Now all I had to do was wait until Marconi Marine needed me. At this point after a few days I headed for home at Kidside.

It was now farewell South Shields. I did not see South Shields again until 2003 when I made a trip to the UK and visited my cousin David living in Ponteland just north of Newcastle. Unbeknown to me he had made arrangements to take me down to South Shields and view some of my old haunts on the afternoon of my arrival. That was 52 years later but that is of course another story.

Reaching Kidside towards the end of June I did not realize then how long I would have to wait before a suitable position was available for me. In point of fact my wait for a position stretched into August before anything suitable was found.

I'm not sure how I filled in my time at home. I have only vague recollections now. In fact during the previous 2 years I do not really remember how I filled in my time during the holidays between terms. Most of my friends were working now and coming home after a hard days work, an evening out was not on the top of their list of activities. I do remember looking forward to Friday and the weekend activities.

Postscript to South Shields

Leaving South Shields I felt a pang of nostalgia, I still feel a little pang for South Shields even now. Although I had my ups and downs, trials and tribulations I enjoyed my 2 years stay. I learnt a lot at the Marine College, not only the syllabus of the course but how to work under pressure, to run to keep up. Not to be daunted by failure and not to refuse a helping hand. I enjoyed my leisure time and the company of the other students both at the hostel and at Mrs. Greenwell's. I knew when I left I would miss the harbour, Mill Dam and the Missions to Seamen, the town centre and the trolley buses but life moves along and I knew I must move along with it.

This concludes another Chapter of my life and the beginning of a new phase in the next Chapter, the beginning of a new learning curve.

24 March 2004

First draft: South Shields. Another Hand along the Way

I didn't leave Mrs. Greenwell's immediately after passing my Diploma, my scholarship was still running which covered accommodation costs. I had to find employment with my brand new "ticket", I was better up here at South Shields in the hub of things than at home.

The largest employer of Radio Officer's was the Marconi Marine Company who supplied its Radio Officer's on contract to the various shipping companies. They were always advertising for Radio Officer's and as the largest employer I though that this was a good place to start looking for a job. I penned a letter to the Marconi Marine Company and in a few days received an application form from them for employment. I duly filled in the required details, posted the application off and then came the expectant wait.

During this time a new boarder arrived at Mrs. Greenwell's, an older man who introduced himself as Stuart Mc Kay. Mrs Greenwell told me later he was Chief Engineer of a ship that was in dock for an engine refit. Stuart was a bachelor she told me whose ship was a lonely place in the evenings with no crew on board. Stuart as Chief Engineer had to be present during the engine refit. He periodically stayed at Mrs. Greenwell's when in port for the company, she told me.

Stuart would be... I guess now, in his late 50's, a thin man with sparse grey hair and he wore round wire-rimmed glasses, an easy man to converse with despite our difference in age. A few days after I had got my results of my Exams Stuart remarked as I came into the dining room that he believed congratulations were in order and then enquired what I was proposing to do. I told him I had just posted off my application form for employment with the Marconi Marine Company and I waiting for my acceptance. Presently he enquired had I got my uniform and tropical kit? I hesitated and then said that I had the Marine College uniform, which was basically the same as the sea-going uniform, but tropical kit? Stuart then proceeded to give me the rundown on the tropical kit saying not to delay; I could be required to report for duty the next day after my acceptance. I then remembered the question on the form. Would I be ready for immediate duty? I had ticked yes.

Stuart then said " right, if you like we'll go up to Newcastle on Saturday and sort out the tropical kit for you, there is a good marine men’s outfitters there". Again I hesitated and Stuart said "don't worry, the payment can go on my account and you can pay me later". I then replied that I would be glad of his help.

Saturday morning saw us on the electric commuter train from South Shields up to Newcastle and Stuart took me to large men’s outfitters specialising in marine wear. I had taken with me my uniform jacket to be altered too. As we entered the shop Stuart was obviously known here. He was greeted by a middle aged man with Good morning Mr. Mc Kay what can I help you with? Stuart said "fit this young man out with full tropical kit, please".

The man whipped out his tape measure and quickly had my measurements, waist, chest, hips then arm and inside leg. Suddenly the tidy counter was littered with boxes of all sizes. Shirts, shorts, knee-length socks and shoes all in white... including the shoes. Then came the tropical evening uniform, cotton jacket buttoning to the neck and long trousers, again all in white.

Next came the fitting first the shirt, shorts, socks and shoes... all a good fit on my then slim figure. Then came the evening dress uniform, a little long in the sleeves and leg. These were pinned up and the assistant said " we have a tailor on the premises, they can be altered immediately.

"Anything else, sir" said the assistant. Stuart barked, "Yes! 2 pairs Junior Radio Officer epaulettes and don't forget the cap covers and a M.N. cap badge". Stuart in charge was clearly enjoying this. I pulled out my uniform jacket and asked for the Junior Radio Officer's gold braid to be fitted on my jacket sleeves too. The tropical kit was parcelled up and we said we would be back in 3 hours to pick up the parcels including the altered garments.

Leaving the shop Stuart took me on a walking tour of the city centre pointing out the main features. As we passed through a small square in the city centre we stood for a moment and watched with a crowd of shoppers a one man band perform with his big drum on his back and instruments on stalks in reach of his mouth. The first one-man band I had seen. The gyrating figure today is etched on my memory as if it were yesterday.

Visiting my cousin David Bell in 2003, he took me on a driven tour of Newcastle city centre but I recognised nothing, things had changed so much. As we turned to head for South Shields I saw the latticework of the Tyne Bridge, which I did recognise. The bridge was the forerunning design for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, the Tyne one much smaller of course.

We returned to the shop for our parcels, a quick fitting of the altered garments and Stuart said "put everything on my account please" and the assistant said "certainly, sir". We then headed to the station with our booty to catch the next train back to South Shields.

Stuart gave me the account slip to be passed on to home and money credited to his account at the Newcastle menswear shop. Back in those days people seemed to be more trusting of others than now in the 21st Century.

20 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The End in Sight

Time was fast approaching to re-sit my Theory examination papers and I think this time I was prepared. Towards the end I eased off study. I had been over and over my notes, attended lectures and I felt reasonably confident.

At last the day of the first Examinations came along. I remember feeling pleasantly surprised after the usual 10 minutes allowed to reading the questions through. I picked up my pen and ploughed steadily through the first 3-hour paper. I did the same with the 2nd paper. The practical examination followed and then all I had to do was wait for the results.

When the results were promulgated I found I had passed all with a reasonable margin. The pass mark was 60%.

I became a fully-fledged Radio Officer at the young age of 17 years and 3 months old and my qualifications were dated the 29 May 1951.

I remember well that day 53 years ago. I came down into the dining room at 47 Lawe Road and noticed some mail for me. I knew as I picked up the official letter, it was the results of the Exams. I opened it, unfolded the letter and as I scanned it my eyes riveted on the word Passed. I remember I just stared at the letter. I was I think, in a daze. I couldn't sit down; I couldn't scream, "I've passed". I couldn't do anything or settle; my mind was in a whirl. I went upstairs and grabbed my topcoat and I went for a walk, a long walk to release some steam. I wanted to be on my own and think.

It was a blustery, cold day and I walked up Ocean Road and on to the Market Place and Mill Dam then as I retraced my steps, my mind was still churning over. As I came to the bottom of Lawe Road I didn't want to go back so I continued down and round towards the South Pier breakwater and I came to the Groyne... an artificial construction built out into the harbour to prevent the shore washing away. It was concreted flat on top and had a low lighthouse on its short stubby end.

I slowly walked along the Groyne on this cold, blustery day and in the open aspect the wind was blowing fully in my face. I stood for a while taking in the harbour entrance scene and slowly a complete sense of utter relief seemed to envelope me, it seemed a large weight had been taken from my shoulders. As I stood I thought if you want something hard enough and try hard enough you could achieve anything. I then started to feel as though I was 10 feet tall. Still standing I remember distinctly stretching my arms upwards as far as I could reach and again remembering the words that I shouted, "I've done it, I've done it " at the top of my voice.

The words were whipped out of my mouth by the wind and carried by the wind but no one heard, just me. Anyway there was no one else foolish enough but me to be down on the Groyne on such a blustery cold day as this. I continued standing there for a few moments longer and suddenly I felt drained, completely drained and I retraced my footsteps slowly to Mrs. Greenwell's at 47 Lawe Rd.

Yes, I remember all as if it was yesterday; 53 years ago this coming May.

18 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. John Bainbridge

During the latter months of the course before my examinations a student arrived to stay at Mrs. Greenwell's. His name was John Bainbridge. John had come to South Shields Marine College to study for his 1st Class PMG Certificate before going to sea. Where he had taken his standard Certificate I have no idea now. In fact I don't know why he had come to South Shields instead of his old College.

The 1st Class PMG Certificate required a further paper to be sat delving more deeply into electrical and electronic theory plus a rise in the Morse speed to a minimum of 25 words per minute.

What I do remember is that John came from Lancashire and his father was a headmaster in his home town... was it Blackburn... I think it was, as my memory drifts back.

We seemed to click immediately as friends although John was at least 2 years older than I. Perhaps it was because both of us were studying hard and not going out too often which brought us together. For relaxation after study I remember we often went down to a local park entered from the bottom of Lawe Road although the park boundary was just across the road and a piece of open grass land from where we stayed. An iron railing fence and a steep bank prevented us entering up here.

We were not hermits of course we went up town as normal, went to the movies and down to Mill Dam. It was just that we reduced our leisure time.

John finished his course before I did and passed his 1st class PMG successfully. Soon, with a job awaiting him he said goodbye. We had exchanged addresses and a few weeks later a letter arrived from John from somewhere down around the Indonesian Islands on a cargo ship calling in on small island ports picking up and unloading cargo. It all sounded so romantic in his letters through this tropical region and this helped to spur me on with my studies. I could hardly wait to get to sea and experience this life for myself.

I was soon in my final term having re-sat and passed the Morse examination with the final hurdle soon to come of re- sitting the 2 Theory papers. I accelerated my studies, concentrating on my weaknesses and in one or two cases committing to memory more complex pieces.

I was determined not to fail this time.

15 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. A Good Samaritan

I thought over the Examiner's proposal and although it was scant on detail I thought I had nothing to loose, besides I had not been across on the ferry to North Shields before. I found the address on the piece of paper and knocked at the 3 p.m. appointed time and a lady opened the door, enquired my name and led me into a front room and I came face to face with the Examiner.

He was tidying some papers and suggested that I sit down. Then he turned and faced me, He then told me I needed some one to one tuition, if I didn't get it I would probably fail again. My faults had to be monitored and corrected, if I didn't all I would do was compound them.

He suggested that I think it over and he left the room for me to ponder his words. Quickly I came to a decision and on his return I indicated that I would be happy for some help with my dilemma.

He then suggested I put on a pair of headphones and he would send me a test piece of Morse at the regulation speed of 20 words per minute. On completion he took my copied piece and scanned it. Then he tried me for a few minutes of coded letters... groups of 5 random letters, then the same with 5 figure groups of figures. He then said to change places and I sent Morse to him and as he listened he made notes as I pounded away on the Morse key. After a while he sat back and indicated that I stop sending Morse.

He then told me he could straighten me out for the next Morse exams in just over 3 months and if I failed again there was a further Morse exam in 6 months when I would be re-sitting the Theory papers.

Then on the dot of 4 o'clock the door opened and his wife came in with a tray and afternoon tea.

Every Saturday afternoon for 12 weeks I caught the ferry across to North Shields and turned up on the Examiner's doorstep promptly at 3 o'clock. I practised for an hour under the Examiner's watchful eye and promptly at 4 o'clock his wife would bring in afternoon tea. He certainly straightened me out during those 12 weeks. He showed me with my left-handedness how to best position myself when sending. Over the weeks he brought me up to send and receive perfect Morse at the regulation speed and then on to and above the regulation speed.

Towards the end of the 12 weeks he pronounced that I should sail through the examination with flying colours, but to remember everyone can trip during an examination. There was always a second chance in a further 3 months when I would re-sit my Theory papers. On our last session he wished me good luck and said Goodbye, he would not be the examiner for the next Examinations.

Yes, as the Examiner predicted I did sail through the Morse re-examination with flying colours. I never saw the Examiner again, I cannot remember his name now at all, and if prompted I would still not remember it. I could have called him Mr. This or Mr. That when writing this piece but I thought it I would leave it just as I now remember him... The Examiner.

In today’s world I would have phoned him immediately with the good news of my pass results but in 1950 as I had written before, telephones were not the norm in private homes. He would have known the results the next morning; all the Examiner's used the same offices. But that is not an excuse, I could have caught the ferry across to North Shields and told him personally.

That was a long time ago in fact 54 years ago when I was almost 17 years old. I still puzzle as to why the Examiner took me under his wing. Over the years I have had all kinds of theories as to why he did it, but to this day it still puzzles me. After a bout of going over the reasons I usually come back to the same conclusion. He was simply a Good Samaritan... there was someone in need... it just happened to be me.

10 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Examinations

After 18 months study suddenly it seemed the exams were closely in the offing. I had tried my best with my studies I felt, but was that enough? I felt fatalistic and I remember thinking, "Well I can't do much about it now. Hopefully I'll scrape through".

The day of the exams arrived. There were 2 three-hour papers to sit.

1. Principles of Electricity and Magnetism.

2. Radio Theory and Practise.

Each paper consisted of 8 questions. Three compulsory questions and 5 other questions. Six questions to be attempted, 2 of which must be from the compulsory list.

Next day came a practical examination in operating and faulty finding procedures of marine receiving and transmitting equipment and other ancillary equipment.

Then we came to the Morse examination receiving and sending and operating procedures.

To cut a long story short I failed the examinations. I could not sit the 2 Theory papers again for 6 months and the Morse and operating examinations again for 3 months. Although I had scraped through in one of the Theory papers I would need to sit both papers again... in 6 months including the practical and operating examinations.

The Morse exam. I had failed miserably. The Westmorland Education Board were very good about the whole thing and I kept my scholarship. I was devastated at the time. It seemed the world had come crashing down on me. I wondered years later, was it my young age that saved me with the Board.

After the Morse examination the Examiner asked me to wait. At that instant I didn't know whether I had passed or failed. After the completed examination of the other students the Examiner came through to me. He asked me if I was aware that I had failed? Miserably I said, "Yes". He told me my operating practises were passable but my Morse sending and receiving was not up to standard... too many mistakes. He told me I needed a lots of practise. The Examiner then paused and asked if I would I be interested in some out of College tuition? He gave me a hand drawn map and suggested if I was interested to come to the enclosed address next Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Little did I know then, I had met my second good Samaritan.

23 February 2004

First draft: South Shields. Postscript to Brian

Over the next few days I heard through Dad the story of Brian. Apparently Brian had got off the evening Express bus at Milnthorpe and gone into the nearby Bulls Head Hotel to enquire the directions to Kidside mentioning Mr. Irving's name that the publican knew well. As an afterthought Brian had asked the publican if he could have a room for the night? "He didn't want to disturb the Irving’s with an unexpected arrival at this time of night". But there was a slight problem "could he put the bill on the account of Mr. Irving"? Brian said he had left one of his bags by mistake on the bus with unfortunately his wallet in it.

The publican very familiar with lost wallets and bad debts with some reluctance agreed. Next morning Brian enquired of a taxi service and was given Mr. Broomby's phone number who came and delivered Brian to Kidside.

The suspicious publican alerted Mr. Broomby and suggested he alert Dad. Mr. Broomby told Dad the publican's story of the "lost" wallet and the booked room account. Dad paid Mr. Broomby on the spot for Brian's taxi fare asking Mr. Broomby if he would kindly phone the publican on his return to say he would settle Brian's account tomorrow. We didn't have a phone in 1950... they were not too common in private homes. Dad did all this, without anger or a word of reprove to me.

I spent the rest of my holiday with feelings of acute embarrassment blaming myself for causing so much trouble. At last my holiday ended and I returned to South Shields to complete my final term.

Returning to South Shields I mentioned to Mrs. Greenwell of Brian's visit to our home. She almost dragged me into her kitchen and sat me down while I related the story. She then related to me the story from her end.

It appears Brian had arrived back from the crisp factory and true to his word produced a carton of packets of crisps 2days later. Mrs. Greenwell asked where the other cartons were. Brian said he was unable to get any more cartons and the crisp factory was going to refund her money.

Mrs. Greenwell then told me that Brian had been 2 weeks behind with his board money before I had gone on holiday and he kept blaming his problems on the pay clerks office, they had mislaid his records and consequently could not pay his wages. Mrs. Greenwell said she gave him one week to sort the problem out including the crisp money and then she would take stronger action.

True to her word she said that she first obtained the phone number of the crisp factory, called them and was put through to the foreman in charge and told him Brian’s’ problems with his missing pay. The foreman said to her didn't she know Brian had left the crisp factory and he had been paid up to date?

The foreman continued that this had occurred over 6 weeks ago; in point of fact he had been sacked for laziness. To add to this he said he had found Brian the laziest b..... he had ever come across spending most of his time sitting on his a... talking. As store man he was there to load cartons of crisps on to the lorries when they came in for delivery distribution. When one arrived Brian seemed to be always able to make himself scarce and the lorry driver to maintain his schedule ended up loading the lorry himself.

And as for the crisp order of half a dozen cartons the foreman said the order didn't exist and suggested he may have pocketed the money. Further more the store had a discrepancy of cartons and said he knew where to point the finger but no proof.

Later, if I remember rightly Mrs. Greenwell rang Brian's father who told her he had washed his hands of Brian, goodbye.

Mrs. Greenwell, confronting Brian with the evidence and said he readily admitted everything including pocketing the crisp money. She had no alternative to tell Brian to pack his bags and go and cut her losses and knowing full well she would not get a penny out of Brian only promises to "try and put things right".

What happened to Brian I'll never know. The trouble is that all who came in contact with him liked Brian including I and found him very pleasant company. Every so often I think of Brian and I wonder what became of him and I feel a pang of sorrow for him. Unless he mended his ways... I didn't think of this at the time... I had met my first confidence trickster. Is that what he became? I hope not.

20 February 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Life of Brian

I found after a while at Mrs. Greenwell's that old faces go and new ones appear. I arrived back after classes one day and found in the lounge a new face sitting reading the paper. He quickly sprang to his feet and introduced himself as Brian, an old resident of Mrs. Greenwell's.

Brian would be 2 years older than I, I suppose, just under 6 feet tall with lank dark blond hair parted down one side and straight across. I found him very polite with a well-modulated almost accent-less voice. He was I learnt an ex-student at the College and was here for a while.

A day or 2 later, it was Saturday and just about everyone was out and I was in the lounge pensively deciding what to do when Brian walked in. As we chatted asking each other questions, Brian's story slowly emerged. Brian came from the Home Counties near London and had attended public school down there. Wanting to go to sea his father had sent him to South Shields Marine College where he had completed the course and failed his examinations. Studying and sitting the examinations again he, with "a spell of bad luck" failed again and "Father was none too pleased".

Yes, Brian failed again for the third time and said "I'm afraid Father went a bit wacko when I broke the bad news and demanded I return home... immediately". Brian then said, " I gave him a few days to cool off before I returned home, usually by then Father can be reasoned with".

Brian then told me his father had washed his hands of him and suggested he make his own way in life. To this end he had given him a cheque to bank to give him a start and Brian had headed back to South Shields "where all his good friends were". He was now in the process in looking for a job and he thought his prospects were good through his network of contacts. He had returned to stay with "kind Mrs. Greenwell who always made him feel at home".

As the next few weeks passed Brian became the polite friend to everyone always ready to listen to anyone's story or have a sympathetic ear for anyone’s woes and a kind remark. He had got a job shortly after he arrived as a store-man in a local potato crisps making factory and as he told Mrs. Greenwell "everyone has to start on the bottom rung of the ladder" and he was "determined to climb that ladder to better things".

I hope the story of Brian doesn't get too mixed up from here on. Some of what I am about to relate came to my ears second hand a few weeks later after the end of term break, some before the term break and some from Brian himself.

One morning at breakfast Mrs. Greenwell popped her head round the lounge door and said something like "Oh. Brian I want to see you about the rent, can you drop into the kitchen before work?” As most of us left the lounge to pick up our books for classes we could see Brian in earnest conversation with Mrs. Greenwell at the kitchen door. I at least didn't think much of this at the time. A few days later Mrs. Greenwell again put her head around the door asking if everything was alright... about the meal that is and said to Brian "Brian have those tins of crisps arrived yet?” Brian said " within two days Mrs Greenwell, my apologies for the delay".

Again I didn't think much of this short conversation between Mrs. Greenwell and Brian. The term was coming to an end and I was exited and looking forward to going home to see my parents once more and all the familiar homely things. John and Gyp, to walk up the green paddocks and bike down to Milnthorpe and a hundred and one other things.

After a few days at home, one morning Dad had come in for his 10 o'clocks’ when there was a knock on the door and Mum answered the knock. A male voice asked for Mr. Irving could he speak to him. Dad came to the door and went out. I could hear the buzz of voices he came back in and said to Mum "Mary, can you get me some money from the drawer?" Mum returned with the requested amount and he went out again, there was more conversation and then the sound of a car starting and driving away. Dad came in and said to me "here’s' a friend to see you" and on the doorstep stood Brian. I can tell you my heart leapt, I didn't know what to say... or do. Without another word Dad went out to continue his work.

It was a woe begotten Brian who sat on the sofa and he told me his tale. He had been thrown out of Mrs. Greenwell's for rent arrears and something about a pay records mix-up at the crisp factory and no wages for him. Nowhere to go, he suddenly thought of me and "by jingo, my address just happened to be in his wallet, and here I am". "Could I help?"

All kind of thoughts were running through my mind, Mrs. Greenwell came flooding back, the rent, the crisps, my address... I didn't remember giving it to him. Brian didn't ring quite true. I sat there I remember saying little to him; a wave of embarrassment had flooded over me. Was it my fault he was here?

Dad came in at lunchtime and Mum appeared, she had made herself scarce, to leave Brian and I to talk. Brian stood up as Dad came in and mumbled an apology for the trouble and upset he had caused. "If only he could stay for a few days to get his self together, he'd be off". I remember Dad saying in a firm voice "No lad, we haven’t room for you here. There's an Express bus through tonight, I'll help you with the fare". I think Brian mentioned returning to South Shields, I'm not sure now.

So Dad ran Brian down to the bus and saw him off. I never saw Brian again or heard what happened to him. But there is a postscript to this tale.

11 February 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Tussling with Samuel Morse

Samuel Morse was of course the inventor of the Morse code and yes, I had quite a tussle in both sending and receiving of the code. With sending it was the case of being left handed and sending from a right-handed position. The flow of my Morse dots and dashes were uneven and not too good to copy.

With receiving I had a problem with pausing momentarily to think... what letter was that and in the end missing one or more following letters following letters. This habit took a lot of shaking off. In learning to receive Morse there are often two plateaus’ where you seem to stick and not be able to receive faster. These are usually 8-9 words per minute and again at about 15-16 words per minute. Mine were a little longer than normal.

When our speed of sending progressed into double figures we would all sit around the table and each of us in turn would do a period of sending to the others. Some of us were good even senders and easy to copy others were ragged and uneven and more difficult to copy. I was I'm afraid one of the worst ones and a groan would go up when it was my turn. The instructor once or twice a week at this stage would sit in on a session of sending and monitoring each student in turn observing progress. At the end of that student's session he would if it were necessary advise how to improve in the sending technique.

But we will leave that for now.

Adult Students

The College had a few adult students on a shortened course. These were ex forces personnel who had done their 2 years national service in the Army or RAF as wireless operators. Their Morse was close to the speed required and they just needed polishing and learn procedures. They had a smattering only of radio theory and practise so the course concentrated on this area only. Most seemed to be in their early twenties and to us seemed to be able to send at very fast speeds. We only saw them when they had one of their Morse practise sessions using the same room as us. They always ignored us teenage youngsters.

6 February 2004

First Draft: South Shields. A Financial Dilemma

Whilst at Lawe Road I had a financial problem, how this came about is now lost in the mists of time. All I remember is I had spent most of my pocket money during the weekend and I had expenses coming the week.

What little I had left I remember thinking glumly, I might as well have nothing at all. Suddenly a thought flashed through my mind. The dog track at the stadium at Westoe... go up there, take a chance... I can't be much worse off.

Off I went, I was all fired up walking all the way. As I walked that evening the knot of excitement in my stomach grew tighter and the Adrenalin was running. I joined the queue entered the stadium and looked at the race card which had been shoved in my hand. As I looked and worked out what to do I realised it was no good putting anything on the favourite, the odds always seemed short. I spotted the second favourite list , the odds were better. I divided my money up and realised I had enough for 4 races. Yes, I would put a bet on the second favourite each time.

I went up to the Tote window with the shortest queue and when my turn came I gave the name of the dog and proffered my money. The man looked hard at me and said " your not 18, your not even 16. get off with you!". I turned away a couple of paces and stood dejectedly, my face burning red with embarrassment . An arm came from the queue and tapped me on the shoulder and as I turned round a cheery voice said " I'll put in on for you, son. How much and which dog?" I gave him my money and waited. As he left the window he gave me my ticket and said " not a bad choice". Then as an after thought he said " if you want any more bets. Look for me " and he, as he started to walk away said again "if you don't see me go to the the tote when they are busy, they don't have time to check".

The results came up on the board, I'd won and in a daze I went to collect my winnings. The next 2 races I saw my cheery new friend and he put monet on for me again. I again selected the second favourite in each case. I won both times again. I was in a bigger daze. The next race My fiend was not to be seen. I took his suggestion and went to one of the windows when the tote was busy and stood in the queue, my heart in my mouth. The queue was backing up behind me and then my turn came. In a gruff voice with my coat collar turned up I said " a shilling on Black Baron to win". The man's eyes never looked up he took my money with one hand and turned the tote machine handle with the other and handed me my ticket. I breathed a pent up breathe and my heart raced, I'd done it.

Of the 8 races, putting my money each time on the second favourite I won on the first 4 races and lost on the 5th one. I won again on the 6th and 8th races and lost on the 7th race. I decided at that point not to chance my luck any further, be satisfied with my winnings and go home.

As I turned to go my cheerful new found friend passed and enquired of my luck. I told him of my 6 wins and 2 losses and with a surprised look said " thats better than I did, how did you manage that?" I then told him how I had picked the second favourite in each race because the favourite paid such poor odds. My new friend paused, digesting this piece of information and then he burst out laughing and said " you don't know much about dog racing, do you?" I said "no, but I've won over 16 shillings". He walked away still laughing and shaking his head in disbelief.

I left the stadium and caught the next trolley bus going back to Ocean Road. I was over the moon with my winnings, not only had I got my 10 shillings pocket money back I had increased it further by almost 7 shillings. I was full of the exuberance of youth, you can do anything when you are 16.


I never went back to the stadium again to try my luck. In fact I've seldom had the urge to gamble throughout my life other than the odd lottery ticket or raffle. Occasionally I will have a go in a sweepstake or go into the Casino to have a look and then spend my loose change. I've never had the compulsion.

4 February 2004

First Draft: South Shields. A Change of Address

Coming up the to the end of the first year I began to get the itch of change. I don't know if it was the regimentation of the hostel or the lack of my course companions... Jock had now finished his course and obtained his qualifications... or was it that everything was deck orientated at the hostel?

What brought it to a head was a conversation with another student on my course. He knew I was in the hostel and he asked me if I was interested in going boarding, the establishment where he boarded had a vacated bed. I thought it over and visited his boarding house. I liked what I saw and decided to ask my parents if I could move.

The Westmorland Education Department administered my scholarship and the decision to change was in the their hands. Mrs. Greenwell who ran the boarding house was registered with the South Shields Marine College as suitable and the boarding fees were ?4.00 per week, a little more than the hostel fees but were considered acceptable. I was free to change if I desired.

So after a year in the hostel and after the Easter break I moved down to Mrs. Greenwell's at 47, Lawe Road, a short walking distance from the College in Ocean Road. Lawe Road began at the bottom of Ocean Road and was on rising ground overlooking the park, the River Tyne harbour seawalls and out to sea. The terraced house was large and 3 storied with a semi basement level below. My room was large on the top floor and shared with 3 other students and our 2-dormer window looked out to sea, a terrific view. Even with 4 students and 5 beds and wardrobes the room still seemed large.

Of the other 4 occupants of the room I only remember 2 of them distinctly. One, Clive Jewel who was an Angelo-Indian, very quiet and polite. The other, I think his name was Ken was from Oxford, heavily built and dark tightly curly hair. His claim to fame was he always used to smell sweaty and his bed was next to mine. He was also very pushy and a bully if he was allowed.

Mrs. Greenwell in her early fifties was a pleasant lady and friendly, always willing to pass the time of day for a few moments in her busy day. She had a daughter of about 16-17 and a husband who appeared to be partly invalided and helped her to run the boarding house. They lived in the rear half of the ground floor and the basement below. Mrs. Greenwell ran a "tight ship" and was quick to point out any misdemeanour and that way we all lived in harmony.

Of the regular boarders, a mixed bunch, most were attending the Marine College. Some like me doing their initial courses and one of two upgrading qualifications. Then there was the floating ones, a chief engineer boarding while his ship was being overhauled, and a journalist who stayed occasionally. 3 seafarers from a Norwegian ship also in for overhaul, a failed ex student working temporarily in a warehouse. And more.

The permanent students numbered about 10 in number and today over fifty years later I only remember some of them now, the ones who caught my interest.

A large front room was set aside for the boarders? use and double up as the dining room at meal times. Mrs. Greenwell would come bustling in and shush out at meal times while she prepared the table and the seating. Sometimes if she had a full house with meals there would be 2 sittings.

It was here whilst at Lawe Rd at the age of 16 that I learnt to smoke? now to my disgust. Smoking certainly put pressure on my pocket money even though I only smoked a few at this time. I continued to smoke for the next 25 years until the mid-1970s when I saw the light and ceased, after watching a TV program showing the effects of smoking.

Yes, I enjoyed my time at Lawe Road with more to come.

3 February 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Study and Problems

As the weeks and months passed, the first term completed and into the second term I began to have problems. Small ones at the beginning. It really began with the concepts of A.C. theory and sine’s, cosines and tangents of the angle if you are into trigonometry. Each little piece of information was understandable but to put it all together and understand the basic concept wasn't. I did not fully understand it and as the course progressed I started little by little to drop behind.

At the start of this section of the course we were given a quick refresher into trigonometry. Everyone was conversant with it and I dare not put my hand up to plead my ignorance of the subject. Everyone was at least 16, sat their G.S.C.E. and passed in maths and therefore conversant with trigonometry. At 15 and not having attended grammar school I was a little out of my depth, especially when we moved on to the deeper the mathematical concepts.

To cut a long explanation short I did my best, learnt or memorised what I could, at 15 my mind and memory was fast and wide open to new information. Fortunately the tutors through periodic test papers realised my weakness and kept a sharp watch over my progress.

All course work was written down on the large blackboards. Whether it was explanations, formulae or circuits, everything was written in full. This we copied into our workbooks. If a particular explanation was too long to write up on the board it was dictated from the tutor's notes or sometimes direct from his memory. From these written notes and further amplified by the Admiralty Handbook everything we were required to know was at my fingertips.

I managed to get over this big hump with at least a working knowledge but it dogged me to some extent for the rest of the course. Otherwise I found the course work interesting and I enjoyed it especially when we came to radio theory and the time flew by. By this time waveforms, radio waves... sine waves, were starting to make a little more sense to me along with cosines and tangents. These were the basic building blocks of the understanding of electronics and radio.

The course by this time was moving at a fast pace and as I noted earlier I was having trouble keeping up. It was as though I was on a treadmill. As fast I had almost mastered one area we were into another section at full steam ahead. With the confidence of youth, I was virtually 16 now; I did not really think of failure, I told myself I would scrape through the course.

I just had to keep plugging away but more of that will come later.

Note: Like other entries I have written where I seem to be making excuses or seemingly complaining I leave the piece open to rewriting.

31 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Mill Dam and the Mission

We often went down Mill Dam jetty to look at the ships and the busy jetty activity. On the way we would call in at the Mission to Seamen Club. This was run by the Anglican Church for the welfare of seamen of any nationality. Here could be found snooker tables or darts, get a cup of tea or a meal, relax in the lounge or a quiet read in the reading room. Religion was there for those in need and the Chaplin was always available. Otherwise the place ran just as any club would. Religion was not normally mentioned but there if it was needed.

It was only open to active seamen and we as prospective seamen were allowed to use the facilities, which we did. We would often call in even if it were only for a cup of tea or a meal or a game of snooker. Recently looking at their website and I see they are advertising bar facilities. Whether or not they serve alcohol or not I do not know at this point of time, they certainly didn't in the 1950 era.

The Mission had a roomy launch and on Sunday's the Chaplain would do his rounds of the new ships in port. He would go aboard each one and check for any welfare cases there might be in need of help. More often than not the visit was just a chat with the officer of the watch and the exchange of local news.

The roomy launch would hold quite a few more than the Chaplain and the launch master so the Mission ran a list to book a place on the launch. On a sunny Sunday it was pleasant on the river seeing all the berthed ships and sometimes laden vessels coming and going on the top of the tide. If the Sunday river activity were quiet the launch master would turn the wheel over to one of us and tell us to steer towards that buoy or that marker. He always made sure each of us had a turn of the wheel. Newbie?s always got first chance.

Just up from Mill Dam each summer 2 large ships called the Southern Venturer and the Southern Harvester would berth for cleaning and refit. These were whaling factory ships returned from the southern ocean. It was summer in the UK but down there in the high latitudes of the southern ocean winter reigned.

Everyone knew when the factory ships arrived; the smell of them would percolate through the town. Even after a thorough clean down they still smelt when we went down to Mill Dam. Tales would be told of how much money the crew had earned during the whaling season with high wages and catch bonuses. Of course the figure would increase as the tale was told and re-told but yes, the returns were high for the crew. It was a hard life for them down in the freezing cold wastes of the southern ocean and a lonely life too.

I'm not sure why Mill Dam was so called, may be once a stream entered the river here to be dammed for mill operation. I looked on an old 1860s map but Mill Dam was marked as a jetty and wharf even then. This was an old part of the town and I remember everything was old, who knows what existed here long ago.

Yes, Mill Dam was a busy jetty with seamen, shipping officials and other visitors coming and going from locally berthed ships picked up and set down by numerous small boats and launches. One boat, a dingy I remember clearly. Just 6 feet long, the operator rowed standing with one oar only from a rowlock on the centre of the stern. The blade of the oar was operated in a figure of eight motion and the dingy would shoot along in a twisting motion fast as if he had a motor on the stern. I remember him as proudly aware of his skills a little smile would start to appear at the corners of his mouth when he caught someone watching him. He always seemed to be delivering parcels and packages to the nearby ships.

And yes, Mill Dam was one of my favourite stopping places.

30 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Hostel Again

After College sometimes I walked back to the hostel in Westoe, at other times I would catch a trolley bus back to Westoe. It all depended on the state of my finances and the state of the weather. According to a cost of living index I consulted my 10 shillings pocket money per week in 1950 would be multiplied by 20, in 2000 terms equivalent to 10 pounds per week.

The Westmorland Education Department's suggested 10 shilling a week pocket money was to cover bus fares, sundries like toothpaste and soap, leisure activities, snacks, dry cleaning and a myriad other odds and ends. Mum used to send a ten-shilling note by post each week planning it to reach me by Friday.

Like breakfast the evening meal at the hostel was filling to even the hungriest student. The hostel manager and his wife were pleasant people and seemed well used to managing a crowd of boys. The manager had been a ships bosun (short for boatswain) who managed the deck crew on merchant ships; this would be the equivalent of a foreman on land. They kept a strict eye on us and made sure all rules were obeyed. The strictest rule was curfew, the door was locked and lights out at 10.30 p.m. sharp. Most of the students did not stir far during the week nights by the time dinner was over, some study completed and maybe a short walk 9 o’clock supper came round and with it a big mug of cocoa. Yes, we ate well.

Of our meals tinned bacon at breakfast took a bit of getting used to. It came in large commercial catering tins and pickled in brine and the colour of the bacon was very pale. The first thing I noticed unlike normally cured bacon, it easily dropped to bits, particularly the fat portion and the rind. The taste was different too but one got used to it after a while. It had one advantage, I had never liked the fat on bacon and I had always cut the fat away. With tinned bacon this was easy. When I was young I was often chastised for not eating the fat of the bacon but much later we all learnt the fat was harmful to us. All in all tinned bacon was not such a bad deal, it was just the peculiar taste and it was always wet from the grease and brine... and it did drop to pieces.

The hostel boys were in the main a pleasant lot. I remember only 2 names Catchpole and Leeming but no others at the moment, maybe the names registered only as neither was of very pleasant character.

A number of us seemed formed a loose group who went out together. At weekends we would often go along the cliff tops between Westoe and Marsden Point then catch a bus back to Westoe. At high tide the sea rollers would come in and smash along the base of the cliffs. Sometimes we would go along the bottom of the cliffs if the tide was out or at half tide jumping from rock to rock to clear the pools and timing the jumps to miss the incoming swell in the channels. A dangerous practise really especially at half tide as demonstrated when I the last across one swirling channel missed my footing and dropped into the cutting. Dripping wet from head to toe I had no recourse but to back track and go back to the hostel. Who would let me on to the bus when we got to Marsden Point? Besides I was shivering cold, luckily we were not far into the walk.

Sometimes we would visit downtown and go up to the market square on a Saturday morning and watch the fast talking salesmen with swift patter giving away dinner sets at a ridiculously low price to the first buyer and discounting to the additional buyers to start sales rolling. Then we might go a little further along down to Mill Dam and watch the shipping come and go to and from the various docks and wharves and wonder if and when we would go to sea and where we would go. The River Tyne was a busy place in the 1940s and 50s.

Especially in the evenings we would at times walk down to the bottom of Ocean Road where a permanently sited fun fair was located with a cafe and large American jukebox with its flashing neon lights and latest pop music records. Jazz was still popular in the 40s and into the 50s eras and the jukebox was always busy playing the latest tunes. This was a popular area both with locals and students as well as holiday people in the summer for South Shields was a popular holiday destination with its close proximity to Newcastle and heavily populated surrounding areas. South Shields popularity for holidays was its large expanse of sandy beaches and its pleasant town atmosphere then in the 1950s.

24 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Course Work

The syllabus was split into 3 main areas:

1. The Basic Principles of Electricity and Magnetism. Theory and Practise.

We were taught the Atomic theory... electrons, nuclei, protons, ions etc.
Basic electricity... volts, ohms current, watts, joules, calories, etc. and all formulae.
Principles of magnetism and its applications. Formulae again, hysteresis loops, rules of operation, etc.

We were taught these principles all in depth up to motors, alternators including batteries, even the changing chemical action formulae from discharge though to full charge of a lead acid battery was taught.

The reason for going into everything in depth even apparently simple things was if you had a full knowledge and understanding of the basic principles you would be able to carry out equipment repairs at sea or rig alternative means if humanly possible. At sea there was no one to ask, " What do we do now" if something broke down. You were the Guru, the fountain of knowledge.

Batteries were of prime importance in the fact if the ships electricity supply failed large banks of batteries took over to power the radios and high power transmitters.

2. Radio Theory and Practise

Again we were taught in depth from A.C. theory through to radio and transmitting circuits, even taught the construction and operation of individual components. We learnt words like impedance, reactance, resonance, phase and their complex formulae. Even today in 2004 as I pen this I can still repeat these formulae at will. Draw the circuits and the graphs, the waveforms and add phase angles. These are just a few of the things we were required to commit to memory. They are all imprinted on my memory even now.

3. Operating Practise and Procedures including Morse.

Morse was just plain practise, practise and more practises. Initially we committed to memory the dot and dash combination of each single letter and digit. Then the instructor would send each letter slowly and pause and you wrote the letter down on paper. At first there would be gaps of missed letters but over the days and weeks missed letters would diminish and the speed of the instructors Morse speed would slowly increase.

Practise was usually sending and receiving text out of a book or magazine. As your speed reading of Morse increased the combined dots and dashes had an individual sound that you remembered. Then as your reading speed increased further the sound of the combined letters of small words had their own individual sound.

As well as sending and receiving text we were required to send and read code. These were 5 figure groups of letters or numbers. With groups of random letters or digits we had to be able to send and receive perfectly? every time. With plain text any errors could usually be deduced. Random letters or numbers couldn?t.

Note: I have emphasised how we were taught the theory basics in depth for a reason. Not only because we needed it at sea but how it served me in later life. As I progressed in my electronic career down through the years I found this depth of basic principles very useful in solving and understanding various aspects of my work. It gave me an edge over others in the electronic field and I often thanked this in-depth teaching for it.

20 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Marine College in 1949

The Marine College was originally built in the 19th Century as a training school for Deck Officers in the Merchant Navy and it was not long into the 20th Century before the Marine College started to outgrow its building in Ocean road in the heart of South Shields and then started to moved the Marine trainee facility up to the Westoe area of South Shields.

The old building in Ocean Road then became the training facility for Marine Radio Officers a recently formed department in the Marine College.

Jock delivered me to the reception and I was shown to a room containing a few other boys and as I waited others also were shown into the room. We numbered about 20 in all. I was the only one residing at the hostel the other students, all older than I were in private accommodation with a few from the surrounding areas travelling daily. We were a very diverse crowd coming from all over the UK.

We were introduced to our tutors... all 3 of them. Mr. Moore was head of department, mid-50s, and dark haired with horn-rimed glasses and smiled little. Then there was Mr Fergusson, we saw him the most, a dour Scotsman with no sense of humour and a sharp biting tongue but a most thorough tutor. The 3rd member, I forget his name now was a quiet man, the most pleasant of the three... at least to a 15 year old.

We were each issued with a hard backed workbook. When opened the left hand page was feint graph lined and the opposite page was normal lined. I found later these books were ideal for our study notes, many circuit diagrams, graphs, and masses of formulae.

We were also issued with a large thick green book with a large title The Admiralty Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony, which was our "bible". The theory of everything we needed to know was in that handbook in great detail. The 3rd book was a thin book, a set of logarithm tables, 55 years later I still have them somewhere, I come across them now then when clearing out and each throw out I can't bear to part with them... it is a part of my past. We would be working with large numbers in our calculations like 10 to the power of 6... a million and 10 to the power of 12... a million, million were common numbers we would use in our calculations. No slide rules to be used and electronic calculators were yet to be invented in 1949. Logarithm tables are an aid to simplify the multiplication of large numbers. John Napier first published the original tables in 1612. I didn't know the tables were so old until I looked it up.

The last thing we were issued with was a pair of Ericsson headphones... I still have them; these were to be used for our interminable sessions of learning the Morse code, to a speed of initially 20 words per minute with no mistakes. We were told to identify mark them; it was common practise to leave them plugged in at the desks and lose them. I filed 6 notches on the metal headband and etched my initials on to the metal diaphragm of each ear piece. The marks are still there today. It may sound silly but I cannot part with these either.

I bought myself a good Parker fountain pen... a bottle of Quink royal blue ink but gravitating to green ink later... and some good HB pencils and ruler. I was set to do battle. No Biro's here either, these too had not been invented in 1949.

Tomorrow we would start our courses in earnest.

15 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Hostel

In 1949 I left home after Easter and travelled by bus and train from our Kidside home to South Shields. I had been supplied with travel warrants by the then Westmorland Education Department to get there and the address of the hostel.

I managed to get there in one piece and wondered on the journey how I would get on living away from home for the first time. I used to go and stay in the school holiday's with relatives and our good friends, the Proud's at their farm in Ainstable. I used to often get homesick on these holidays and I hoped I would not have a similar problem with homesickness when I arrived in South Shields. I was to be away from home for the whole 1st. term at South Shields and It was too far away to come home for weekends.

Fortunately homesickness did not happen, I was kept too busy.

The hostel was in the area of Westoe and was one of a number of old dilapidated large Victorian brick houses built around a square, green, open area. The 3-story hostel stood in its own grounds with accommodation for I would estimate 20 boys. We were mostly all new to the hostel and the first thing I noticed as far as I could tell they were all older than I. Only one other boy turned out to be 15 like myself. Most were at least 16 with a few 17 year olds. Another thing I learnt was that everyone with one exception was there to do pre-sea training as cadet Deck Officers also known as Apprentices. The only other trainee Radio Officer was a Scotsman from Berwick and he had been at the college for some time. He told me that the Radio Officer?s course was a minor department and the vast majority of the trainee's were for cadet Deck Officers. I was assigned to a bedroom with 3 others, one being the Scotsman.

Next morning we were wakened early by the sound of a clanging bell and a head came round the door shouting, "Wakey, wakey rise and shine, shake a leg". It was the hostel manager and it was 6.30 a.m. I was soon to get used to this regular morning procedure. Jock just across from me said "quick, get to the bathrooms, its a long wait if you don't". I found out later the last ones downstairs got the breakfast scrap ends. Weetabix left only and the sugar all gone. After cereal came a hot breakfast at the kitchen hatch usually egg, baked beans, sometimes a sausage and something that seemed to resemble bacon. My first introduction to tinned bacon... more about that later... all swimming in large shallow pans of hot fat and dripping into pools on our plates, as the hot breakfast was ladled out. Toast and large metal teapots were on the long tables and god-awful stewed coffee from an urn. One thing there was plenty of breakfast and one soon learnt to eat heartily in the mornings, it was a long time to the evening meal.

The first morning Jock grabbed me to show me the way to the lecture halls situated half a mile away. The marine Cadets all went in a different direction to Jock and I, they went through the Cut that I came to know well and we went down to busy Ocean Road a good half mile away in the city centre.

14 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. Education Summary To-date

At the age of 11 and living on the shores of Lake Ullswater I had failed to pass the 11+ examination to attend Grammar School and I was sent from a 2 teacher country school to Penrith Secondary Modern School to try and improve my education level which it did.

At the age of almost 14 we moved to Kidside, Milnthorpe, near Kendal and I was back to a 2-teacher school.

My interest was in electronics, I wanted to be a sea-going Radio Officer, and the minimum educational level of General Certificate of Education (GCE) was required to train with passes in English, Maths and Science.

Meetings with the local Department of Education, I was offered a funded scholarship provided I could pass a set examination in English and Mathematics at GCE level.

At Grammar School, GCE was sat at 16 years. I was almost 15 this being the mandatory age to leave school in 1949 when not attending a Grammar School.

Milnthorpe school headmaster took me under his wing and daily after school taught me a crash course of mathematics in a few weeks to the required level.

I sat the required papers in Maths and English. Science was arranged by the Department of Education to be waived. I passed the 2 papers.

In 1949, I was in the month of February, 15 years old and I was offered a place at South Shields Marine and Technical College to start after the Easter break.

12 January 2004

Ullswater: Foxes and Herdwick’s.

Foxes of the Lake District were the sworn enemies of the local farmers. Besides taking poultry, rabbits and small game, lamb was a favourite on a fox's menu in spring and summer particularly. In winter on the fells large adult dog foxes would under the right conditions tackle and take fully grown sheep.

Thus grew in times past the beginning of culling of foxes by farmers with their dogs, banding together and hunting foxes. As time progressed the modern day hunt was formed with a pack of hounds and employing a huntsman with his assistant whipper-in.
Hunting in the Lake District was a serious business and was done mainly on foot. No horses here, or dressing up in the approved riding gear, jumping fences and hedges in a social atmosphere it was a serious business to keep the foxes' at a manageable level. It was hard work on "shanks' pony" following the Huntsman as he follows the fast moving hounds in the chase. Knowing the hunting area intimately he would take short cuts to where he knew the fox was most likely to go to ground.

The Huntsman wore a red coat and black peaked hat similar to a riding hat as his badge of office. Everyone else dressed in warm wet weather gear and stout boots. The Master of the hunt if present wore his badge of office, which was said to be a red waistcoat. The fell hunts I attended, I did not remember seeing the Master so dressed.

I followed now and then as a boy, the Ullswater Pack when we lived at Sharrow Bay in the 1940s and later when we moved to Kidside, Milnthorpe near Kendal the Coniston Pack. The Ullswater Pack huntsman was Joe Wear at the time and I was a friend of his son, Mason Wear, we went to school together in Penrith. We did not follow the hunt together we lived to far apart. He at the Patterdale end of Lake Ullswater and we of course, at Sharrow Bay.

The huntsman prior to Joe Were was Joe Bowman, if my memory serves me right, a huntsman at least as famous as John Peel; some say more so, in the Lake District that is. There was a song wrote of Joe Bowman, the huntsman. I must try to find it and add it to this piece. I remember only a few odd lines now.

At later at Kidside in the 1950s when I was on leave I would occasionally follow the Coniston Pack. In the evening after the hunt was over it was usual to have a few drinks in the local pub where tales of old were told and local hunting songs were sung. I still see in my minds eye, the small bar room with squashed in bodies, everyone with a smile of enjoyment, we all bellowing out the words of the old hunting songs.

It is said that the Lakeland fox was hunted almost to extinction and to maintain the sporting side of fox hunting the southern fox was introduced. Whether this is true or not I do not know.

To me although it is a beautiful, intelligent animal the fox if not hunted would reach plague proportions and do great damage to the livelihood of the local people of the Lake District.

Some say fox hunting is barbaric; others say it is an old traditional sport. I don't really agree with either. I believe in live and let live but if something becomes a pest it must be either eliminated or held to manageable levels.

How do you control the fox in the rugged Lakeland terrain other than by hunting? No practical solution has been found yet.

11 January 2004

 Ullswater Foxes and Herdwick's 1.

Yes, I here you say once more... Foxes ok, but Herdwick?s?

Well Herdwick's are an old breed of sheep that have roamed free on the Lake District fells for a few hundred years now. They are a small tough breed of sheep with an exceptionally thick, shaggy coat, dirty grey in colour and often with a black fleck or occasional dark patches running through.

These initial memories go back first to our 1940s time at Sharrow Bay.

The tough Herdwick's roam the fell tops and steep fell sides and crop the vegetation as close as a lawn. The steep fell sides angling up to 60 degrees or sometimes more, are patterned with undulating horizontal sheep tracks which the sheep use for grazing and moving up or down the steep fell sides.

There are no walls or fences here and each farm's Herdwick's roam together and a tar mark on the coat identifies the owner. The sheep tend to stay within the local area and not often mingle with other flocks in adjacent areas. This has been inbred into the Herdwick's over hundreds of years as is also the sense to come down off the tops and fell sides in winter for shelter when snow is sensed approaching. We humans knew when the snow was coming as we looked out the window and could see the sheep winding their way slowly down the fell side, never mind what the weather forecasters predicted.

The sheep arriving in the fell bottoms would huddle in groups behind the large car sized or larger boulders and behind the drystone walls on the leeward side and hole up here until the storm was over. The snow would blow off the steep fell sides and down into the valley bottoms and form into deep drifts, walls and boulders would be covered, buildings would have snowdrifts to the eaves and the sheep would be more often than not, buried. The heat from the huddled sheep would start to melt the snow and soon an air hole would form tinged with yellow from the hot fetid breath and body heat of the sheep. In times of severe snow storms and especially at early Spring lambing time the farmers and shepherds would use these yellow tinged markers to locate buried sheep and new born lambs. And the sheepdogs knew where to sniff too!

The Herdwick's knew when the storm was over and after patiently waiting would start to trample the snow in the hole until a pathway was trampled to the surface. They would move out onto the fell side blown almost free of snow and nuzzle the remaining snow aside to reach the vegetation below.

During the late spring was the time for shearing. The local farmers would band together with their dogs and herd the sheep down off the fell tops and the fell sides down into the bottom. The dogs would be black dots bounding up the fell sides searching in all the nooks and crannies of the crags for reluctant stragglers. The newly shorn sheep were marked with each farmers tar marking and the unmarked part grown lambs of the present season were identified by their staying in close proximity of the mother and then branded with the mother's mark.

The newly shorn animals would wend their way back up as white coloured dots against the dull grey-green fell side cropping as they went, no doubt to their favourite feeding sites.

In the year 2002 foot and mouth disease hit Cumbria badly and many animals were slaughtered, also any other stock within a designated radius of the infected stock. There was great fear held for this ancient breed of sheep as farms bordering the Lake District fell areas became infected.

Fortunately the Herdwick sheep flocks were spared.