A Bloody Good Night Out, Aged 17

It seems like such a long time ago now and yet in my mind its only a very short time indeed, it seems like just a few years have passed since I left school on a Wednesday afternoon in July1974, well, when I say “left” it sounds like it was a mutual consent sort of thing rather than the Head of Sixth Form suggesting that it might be better if I handed over all of my school text books, the key to my locker and the school tie and never darken his common room again, a viewpoint confirmed in his mind as correct when I told him that I didn’t have a locker in the sixth form block because I had no text books to put in it, his presumption that I hadn’t done a scrap of work all year being confirmed in that instant.

So I left school at 17 years of age on that Wednesday, informed my father of the fact that very same evening, was thrown the Situations Vacant page of the Yorkshire Evening Post along with a suggestion that it would be a very good idea to get myself a job very quickly if I were to retain the family surname, continue to enjoy the hospitality in his house and continue to be a beneficiary in his will as and when he decided to die.

The very next day I had lined up three interviews at local company’s, on the Friday I attended the first and was offered the job there and then, started work on the Monday morning, yes kiddies, it really was that easy to find employment in 1974.

A stipend of £960…

…a year.

And only the pub to spend it in.

In days of yore we had only a small selection of pubs to frequent that could be reached on the bus and yet be close enough to home to walk back when you were completely blathered, had spent all of your money on beer, and a six mile walk home didn’t seem so far at all really, Headingley was the central meeting point for us all and The Woodman was the pub of choice, two other pubs within fifty yards being ruled out because the Three Horse Shoes was an old mans pub and The New Inn was frequented by off duty policemen, and my dad.

I know for a fact that I had no savings to speak of at all during my youth and that I only paid board to my mother sporadically and in minute amounts, which means that I was spending most of that £960 per annum in The Woodman every weekend, it doesn’t sound like much though does it, not until I tell you that a pint of Dark Mild was £0.18 – by means of the very handy Microsoft Windows beer calculator that is provided with this computer here I can very quickly work out that my annual stipend would retail me 5333 pints of Whitbread Dark Mild, thats 102 pints a weekend.

Sounds about right.

No wonder I now have a pathological intolerance to alcohol.

I do recall that the car park of The Woodman had a rainwater drain right in the middle of it and most nights, nay almost every night I would take a short perambulate into the car park, and spend a refreshing five minutes or so hockling up the dark mild that I’d consumed thus far, only to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, say out loud to no-one in particular “Thats better” and go back in the pub for more beer.

But at least in those days of olde we only drank beer for beer was all we had, and at least with beer there is the regulator of your own stomach to prevent you overdosing on alcohol as the feckless youth can so easily do in these modern times with their fancy cocktails, cheap spirits, and shots – when we were feckless youth lager was for girls and only sold in half pints with blackcurrant or lime and only your dad drank spirits at the end of the night, and then drove home of course.

I have a memory once of walking a girl home from Headingley to West Park, it was on my way home so I wasn’t exactly putting myself out or anything but when we veered from the main road into a maze of streets of very large very posh houses the beer fog descended and I started to wonder whether or not I should be laying a trail of bread behind me in order to find my way back to the main road again.

We got to the front gate of the mansion that she lived in, she said goodnight and then the gateman of their house shoved me back out on the street and shut the gates behind me, yes, I told you it was posh, there I was, pissed in West Park late at night, knowing where I was in theory but not recognising anything at all around me.

It could have been hours, or days that I wandered those streets, it was nearly time to get up and go to work by the time I got home and because my father wisely didn’t trust me with a key to our house (I was only 17 at the time after all, 17 and untrustworthy enough not to have a front door key) I had to sleep in the porch and be let in by him at 7am with a shocking hangover, ten minutes and a cup of sweet tea and a slice of toast later I set off walking again, for work this time.

And again, in those more enlightened times it was commonplace to turn up for work still pissed from the night before, I was apprenticed to a surveyor called Eugene who would not have looked out of place in one of the recent “Life on Mars” episodes, a young trendy geezer with Barry “Bee Gees” Gibb hair style and a favouring of suits in loud check with wide lapels and ties wide enough to use as tablecloths, Eugene liked a pint of an evening, every evening in fact and countless were the times when he and me would sit facing each other across our desks holding our heads in our hands and moaning about the splitting headaches we both had, his excuse always being that he’d had a bag of crisps in the pub and one of them looked a bit green…

In fact the first job that I ever learned to do as part of my £960 a year employment was to make the coffee strong enough to match the ferocity of his hangover each day, and to keep it coming until the hangover left, without exaggerating some mornings we spent until lunchtime just making and drinking coffee before he was fit to start work.

It was long ago and far away, the world was younger than today, and dreams were all they gave for free…

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