A WHILE ago I described here my sojourn in the North East as a trainee journalist. From January to May, 1974, I was a miserable soul, chilled to the bone by the bitter east winds howling in off the North Sea. There were, however, a couple of moments the memory of which still makes me smile.
While I and two other Lancashire lads shared a three-bedroom flat in Northumberland Street, Wallsend (£3 a week each rent and £1 in the food kitty, the rest of our pay spent on rail fares, beer and records), a few hundred yards away in Coach Road was a house inhabited by another group of trainees, five rowdy Scots teenagers plus a chap from Middlesbrough with incredibly sweaty feet. And a proper den of iniquity it was.
The six were constantly trying to outdo each other in the outrageous behaviour stakes, and when stories began appearing in the papers about a new phenomenon known as streaking, they saw it as a challenge.
Hence one evening in freezing February, we all got off the train from Newcastle after work and three of the Coach Road mob stripped off on the platform, leaving their clothes and possessions with their mates, then legged it for home in just shoes and socks. I have never seen anyone move so fast; they seemed to fly through the streets. What they had forgotten was that they had left their house keys behind, and had to stand shivering bare-arsed in the street until the others caught up several minutes later.
The following day, as a report appeared in the Newcastle Journal about naked sprinters in Wallsend, the other three had their turn. How none of them got arrested was a mystery. The six then dared us Northumberland Street sissies to do the same but we argued successfully that, while their journey involved quiet back roads, ours traversed the main street. Phew!
Some time later, our training centre arranged a trip to the Army’s Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire to sample a day in the life of a soldier.
On arrival we were shown around, then informed that we would be tackling the assault course. I managed to climb over walls and crawl through tunnels but drew the line at swinging over a gorge on a rope, bearing in mind Bertie Wooster’s unfortunate experience one evening at the Drones Club, after Tuppy Glossop had dared him to swing across the swimming pool by means of the exercise rings. Bertie did this with aplomb, only to find that the nefarious Glossop had looped the last ring back, meaning he had to drop into the water in full evening dress. But I digress.
As I walked away from the rope, a fearsomely ugly sergeant bellowed at me: ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘Not across there.’
‘Do it! Now!’
His face contorted with fury (think Fulton Mackay when thwarted by Ronnie Barker in Porridge). He clenched his fist, then realised that he was dealing not with a recalcitrant squaddie but a possibly litigious journalism student. With a superhuman effort, he gathered what was left of his dignity and stalked off.
We had lunch in the officers’ mess and by cripes they didn’t stint themselves. There was a choice of main courses and I went for the chicken curry, which was delicious.
After which it was time for a riot. To prepare for the violent unrest in Belfast, an exercise had been devised whereby soldiers had to quell an angry mob. We visitors were invited to choose whether to be squaddies or rioters. You can guess which option I took.
We thugs were supplied with balaclavas and an ample supply of rocks, for the flinging of. Sadly no grenades or Molotov cocktails.
As Army vehicles edged towards us, we let fly. Despite its armour plating I managed to ding a wing mirror off a lorry while shouting in my best Irish accent. It was frighteningly easy to get caught up in the excitement. Before long, however, I was in custody, bundled into the back of a van with my fellow miscreants, and that was the end of my rioting career. Not a bad day out.
For readers of a certain age, the above heading will mean only one thing – Horace Batchelor, probably under the bedclothes.
In the 1950s and 1960s Batchelor sponsored programmes on Radio Luxembourg to advertise his famous ‘infra-draw’ method of winning the football pools. I was never tempted to take part, feeling that if he was so good at it he would have no need to sell the information. However, many thousands took him at his word and dispatched their hard-earned cash to ‘Horace Batchelor, Department One, Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M, Keynsham, Bristol.’
My understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, was that listeners would send their stake money to Horace and he would place it on the Treble Chance using his ‘scientific principles’. If he predicted the requisite number of drawn matches, he would take a cut of the winnings. If he failed, he was none the poorer. Another explanation came from a reader of the Times in 2003, who wrote: ‘My late father and I used to try to make our fortune from his “system”, but never won more than 15 shillings. Basically, the system devised to pick draws was as follows: Various features of a particular game were awarded points. For example, a local derby got points, if the away team were a certain number of points about the home team more points were awarded and so on. The advice given was to use one’s own skill to identify 16 games likely to be draws then the system to identify the eight getting the most points; those eight to be entered on the coupon. Apart from Horace Batchelor himself, we never learned of anyone who benefited.’
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band named their fourth album Keynsham in mock tribute to Batchelor and his voice is mimicked at the beginning of the opening track You Done My Brain In. He was also named as a spoof member of the band in The Intro and the Outro on their debut LP Gorilla. This brilliant routine includes the line: ‘And looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler on vibes . . . nice!’
A further correspondent in the Times wrote that he was a police sergeant in Keynsham in the 1970s. ‘Horace Batchelor was a well-known but reclusive celebrity who lived on Bath Road. One morning I heard over the radio that one of my officers had been called to his house. A short while later the officer told everyone: ‘I’ve just been to Horace Batchelor’s house and he’s dead, spelt D-E-A-D.’
Old jokes’ home
What do you call bears with no ears? B.
A PS from PG
‘Oh Brancepeth,’ said the girl, her voice trembling, ‘why haven’t you any money? If only you had the merest pittance – enough for a flat in Mayfair and a little weekend place in the country somewhere and a couple of good cars and a villa in the South of France and a bit of trout fishing on some decent river, I would risk all for love.’
PG Wodehouse: Lord Emsworth and Others