…and while our dad took another shortcut to avoid the traffic lights in the centre of Malton which inevitably would take us about an hour out of our way, would involve driving across fields and down narrow tractors-only lanes, through closed farm gates, into and through farm yards that were closed to the public, and then a full hour later emerge again onto the A64 exactly one car further back in the queue than we’d been before we took the shortcut, all the while the radio would fizz and crackle from its position hanging from the rear view mirror.
The road to Cayton Bay was long and arduous in the 1960s, in the days before dual carriageway by-passes around Tadcaster, York and Malton the whole city of Leeds would close all of its factories for the first week in August and everyone’s dad would load his family in their old car and join the back of the queue on the York Road in the centre of Leeds to inch forward, yard by yard, all day long, until eventually, car radiator steaming, kids exhausted from a full day of fighting in the back seat, you’d arrive in Scarborough, traditional holiday resort for Leeds factory workers since time immortal.
We’d leave Burley at the crack of dawn, us kids under a huge pile of woollen goods on the back seat for you can never have too much woollen clothing in Scarborough during an English summer, our mother would get the dates wrong to cancel the milk every year and on the morning of our departure there would always be two pints of milk on the doorstep where there should be no milk that day and so the last thing she’d do is jump out of the car declaring “Oh the milk, I’ve forgotten the milk” and dash to the front doorstep to pick up the two bottles and our dad would tell her to give them to the neighbours, neighbours poorer than we were who clearly could not afford a week in Cayton Bay in August and who would surely benefit from two pints of over-ordered milk.
“Give them to the Germaines” he’d shout from inside the car, “they’ve more kids than they can count” as indeed they did, we were never quite sure how many kids lived at the Germaines over the road as the number seemed to change every time you thought you’d got them all together in one place, lets put it like this, when Lawrie Germaine applied to emigrate his family to Canada in 1963 the state of Ontario doubled in size overnight.
“Give them to the Germaines” he shouted from inside the car, “you’re not putting two pints of milk inside the car woman”
“I’ll put them on the floor” she’d insist
“You’re bloody not you know” he’d yell back, we went through this palaver every year, every year was the same and every year it would result in our mother winning the day but having to sit bolt upright in the front seat with her two feet gripping two bottles of milk on the floor, for seven hours.
By lunchtime we’d have made it to York, still in the same queue that we’d joined the back of all that time ago at the crack of dawn and Ned and I would crawl from beneath our separate piles of woollen clothing to stare at the ancient stone walled city and especially at the Micklegate Bar which you had to pass through and we’d get our dad to tell us once again, as he did every year, of how they used to execute thieves and vagabonds here and stick their heads on poles on top of the ancient walls and as far as we knew he was talking not of a time during the Middle Ages, but of time within his memory for of course when you are five years old you think your father is ancient and if he tells you of a time when they chopped off heads and stuck them on top of Micklegate Bar then he must have witnessed that very deed himself.
But the radio, what of the radio ?
You see, in the 1960s your run of the mill car didn’t have a radio fitted in it, some Rolls Royces had record players fitted in them, yes seriously, must have been a bugger to keep the needle on the record, but still, Austin A40s definitely didn’t have radios in them, in fact we had to wait until the end of the 60s for our dad to buy a Morris Oxford, a huge battleship of a car, to have a car with a radio in it and he went and blew that up one holiday while trying to fit a new aerial to it so that he could get a better signal in Cornwall, it caught fire and everything and he had to tip a bowl of water down the air vents in the dashboard and hope the water would find its way into the radio to put the blaze out, oh how we laughed.
So, in the Austin A40 our dad brought with him a transistor radio, the marvel of the age, until the 1960s your average house radio was the size of a sideboard…
A sideboard ?
You don’t know what a sideboard is, jesus, sometimes its hard work being old and having to explain everything to kids who were brought up with Ikea kit furniture.
OK, a sideboard was as big as your family three seater settee and was basically a cupboard that you put all of the family valuables in, in our case that meant some broken plates, a tea service for three people, should have been six but three cups were broken and four plates had gone missing, our mothers sewing box and whatever she was knitting now, your sideboard would be a huge affair that filled one wall of your living room, would be made of some solid but cheap wood and was so heavy that you couldn’t lift it without four blokes from the pub coming around to give you a hand, many a quiet night in a local pub has been ruined by someone dashing in and shouting, “Four lads needed at number 43, wife wants the sideboard moving so she can decorate behind it”, most people just decorated around their sideboards.
So your average family radio used to be the size of a sideboard and worked with valves that glowed when switched on, and on your average huge family radio you could receive radio programmes from all over the world if you really wanted to, well you might as well because there were only two radio stations in the UK anyway – in fact, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, most people in the UK just attached another six foot of wet string to the aerial outlet on their old valve radio and they’d receive the radio signals all the way from the moon, Houston Mission Control not needed.
Where were we, ah yes, in the 1960s all of that changed for in the 1960s the transistor was invented and suddenly you didn’t need valves in radios, no-one knew what they were for anyway its just that when your radio went wrong someone down the pub would suck air in through their teeth and say “ooooh, that’ll be the valves that will”, but without the need for valves any more we could buy transistor radios small enough to carry around with you, unheard of technology, you couldn’t receive a signal worth a piece of shit on them, not like the big old valve sets, but still, every now and again if you pointed your transistor radio into the wind you’d get a crackling signal of some pop music in that there London Town.
So our dad bought a transistor radio and he hung it from the rear view mirror with its cheap leather case handle and more in optimism than expectation he switched it on when we set off for Scarborough, “lets have some music on eh ?” he said, fiddling with the tuning dial while also trying to steer and also trying to change gear and also trying to watch the road ahead.
And by sheer fluke he got a signal first time, all the way down Burley Road we could listen to Ed Stewpot Stewart playing “The Runaway Train” on Junior Choice until he turned left at Westgate, the radio lost the signal and all we got was crackling and fizzing.
“Bloody thing” shouted our dad at the radio which was now swinging to and fro across the windscreen, hanging from its now stretched leather strap from the rear view mirror, and he’d slap it a few times and then the signal would come back and he’d declare “Ha! See! Who said it would never work in the car eh ?” and our mother would shrug her shoulders, not her, it wasn’t her that said it would never work in the car, as far as our mother was concerned they worked by magic not radio waves, she was a bit dim was our mother.
And then he’d turn onto York Road and the radio would swing around again and lose the signal, “Oh you bloody thing” he’d shout and start slapping it again all the way up York Road, switching it on and off, tuning it again and again, shouting and swearing at it, “You bloody useless piece of bloody junk, bloody work, see!” and our mother would just tut and him and in a hushed tone remind him that Ned and I were sat in the back rolling with mirth and clutching our ribs underneath our mountain of woollen goods and everything from the house that wasn’t officially furniture.
Repeat all the way to Scarborough, for seven hours he fought with that radio to get a signal and only in the last five hundred yards of the journey, as we actually turned into the gate of Cayton Bay Holiday Camp, would the signal suddenly blare out music as loud as can be and he’d sit back satisfied, point at the radio and declare “See, it works in the car, ha!” and then have to slam the brakes on because we’d arrived.