Friday, 31 October 2008

Forgotten Books: Horn Silver by Frank C. Robertson

Frank Chester Robertson (1890 - 1969) was an Idaho sheep and cattle farmer who wrote more than 200 western novels - the first, 'Foreman Of The Forty-Bar', was written in 1925.
He was President of the Western Writers Of America (1959-1960).

HORN SILVER was the first adult western that I borrowed from the library and it left a lasting impression.
The story is quite simple - the hero, MacGruder rides into the town of Horn Silver to find the runaway daughter of a friend. He rides into a town that is living in fear and not just by the threatened closure of the Rattlesnake Mine - but by, possibly, one of the most evil lawmen that I have encountered in western fiction.
Marshall Huggard has one rule either work or get out of town - he won't stand for loafers in his town. Also, he has a quick answer to those who don't do as he tells them - he arrests them and then he, and his deputies, gun the culprit down 'while trying to escape'.
In the mix is Rosy Parnell who owns the Frisco Bar. He is a likeable character but a chancer as well who has his fingers in too many pies. The Svedin family who are fighting to keep the mine running against the odds - safety has been put to one side for the sake of greed.
With the various characters, including MacGruder, playing their own parts in the story Frank C. Robertson shows that these people are real and that there is good and bad in all of them. But Huggard, alone, is the only character without a redeeming quality.
Having re-read this book my childhood opinion is unchanged - it is as good today as when I first read it.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Jack Giles: Dealing With Memory Loss part 2

It is interesting just how much concentration that the brain has to handle. The obvious things that we concentrate on are driving, reading, writing, watching TV or a movie and listening to other people.
We have to concentrate on where we are going so that we can remember how to do that journey again.
Then, again, we also have to concentrate on what we say. This was something that I don't think that I realised until the stroke. I could only hold a conversation for a few minutes and the words that I uttered came out slow and slurred to the point that I would sound drunk.
At first, I could not watch TV or read a book - the slightest distraction would throw me.
The one thing that I always feared was losing my sight and never be able to read a book or watch a movie again. The loss of concentration never occurred to me - not until it happened.
Concentration and memory are linked. What was the point of reading something if I could not remember what I had read?
Rehab taught me to write things down as I read - just brief notes so that I could pick up a book and continue reading from where I left off. It was a long process but reading proved to be the best therapy. That and a Playstation.
I was a bit stunned when the therapist suggested that I tried a Playstation game to improve my concentration. Also, it proved a good aid for hand and eye co-ordination.
I spent a lot of time crashing, getting beaten and killed - because I had to do two things. One I had to remember which button did what and had to do that while concentrating on what was happening on the screen. By Christmas time I had just about got the hang of it and Jack gave me a game called 'Resident Evil' as a Christmas present.
'Resident Evil' is not just about shooting zombies and monsters. There is a storyline and problems that need to be solved - and it did play a part in the improvement in both concentration and memory.
Around the same time I was able to read a full chapter of a book and recall some of the salient points. Still had to make notes - but they were growing less and less.
Another thing the therapist did was to put me in front of a keyboard and a computer screen. It was like being at school and learning to write all over again. Hand, eye and concentration co-ordination.
At first I hated it for I was all over the place and half a simple sentence would turn out as a load of gobblygook. Despite all this there was a rebelious kid inside of me that was not going to be defeated.
As the last sessions came up the therapist just left me with a keyboard and a blank screen and nothing to copy. I wondered what she wanted me to do and she said that I could write whatever I wanted to write.
Like what?
She shrugged and said that I talk about my past so why not do a short piece about a favourite memory. And then she left me alone in the office.
I stared at the blank screen. I did this for several minutes.
Then I wrote - ROCK 'N' ROLL REQUIEM

'We lived for the moment then
We lived our rock'n'roll dreams
Black leather and denim
White silk banners in the wind
Jukebox tunes through expresso steam
Talking love and death of those unseen
Fighter pilots on 650cc steeds
The dream ton and those who died
No thoughts of twisted wreckage
Nor blood streaked scorchmarks.
Their names never adorned a memorial
Nor any roll of honour
Lives no less tragic than those of heroes
Of Buddy, Eddie and James Dean.
We were children of the war back then
Our spirits just as high
Our patriotism was to ourselves
And just as young - we died.'

I do not know where that came from but the title did not come until I wrote it. I had never written poetry - read poetry but never attempted it myself.
The therapist liked what I had written and I told her about the book that I had written when I was younger. She asked the obvious question to which I gave a negative response.
A couple of months into the new year and I ventured, as mentioned into the last post, into the library. I picked up a couple of westerns both Black Horse Westerns and I can even remember the titles: Elliot Long 'Marshall Of Gunsight' and Chap O'Keefe: 'Shootout At Hellyer's Creek' and David Whitehead: 'Law Of The Gun'. I had no idea who these writers were but they were all good reads - and since then have read all three books again in different circumstances. Of the three I had to renew one as it taken almost a month just to read the first two.
Now, nine years on from that stroke my concentration levels are higher and the average book will take two or three days to read. Writing takes a while and comes in short shifts - anything from one to three shifts a day though sometimes I will miss a day. It is all a matter of mind and whether I can concentrate.
What I do know is that I have regained control of my life - it has taken time and could not be acheived without the support of my wife and family, the people at the Rehab centre and countless writers and others who don't know how that they helped me over the years.
Along the way I discovered that I had become a writer but took the view that as I had acheived that goal - it was job done. That was until I came across a review of one of my books by Steve M on the Black Horse Express site which set a ball rolling to the point where I wrote my first Jack Giles short story 'A Time To Live' that was included in the anthology 'Where Legends Ride'. A story that led to the novel 'Lawmen'.
If someone told me, at the beginning of 2007, that I would have started writing again for real I would have dismissed it.
Thanks Steve.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Jack Giles: Dealing With Memory Loss

Some things about a stroke are easy to talk about - others are difficult.
Waking up to an unfamiliar world is bad enough - but, though it took time, I adjusted to it and learned how to use these things. These are just material things.
The real stuff though, with memory loss, are those things that I can never experience again.
I was present when my first daughter was born; I was there when she spoke and took her first steps. Those are the things that are lost forever. A whole life that was lived in thirty years - it is as though it has never been lived.
How do you tell your wife and children and grandchildren that you don't know who they are?
I chose to keep quiet and grunt in the right places.
Except that it does not always work.
I felt confident when the doctor asked me if I knew what year it was - it was 1999 I had seen the date on a newspaper.
Any history of strokes in the family?
I was about to say no when my wife mentioned that my dad had died of a stroke. Just the sort of thing I didn't want to hear while lying on a hospital bed. So, I discovered later, had my grandfather - and I could not just ask who else in the family were dead.
Later, I would discover that most of the family that had been a part of my childhood had gone. Both sets of grandparents and many of my uncles and aunts. My mother was still alive and living in Australia where my sister and brother-in-law had emigrated to.
Sooner or later I would have to own up - but I was content to build on what I had.
About a month after the stroke I had to attend Rehab. There I had to do simple physical things like balance co-ordination that entailed being able to lift my left arm and right leg together and balance on my right arm and left leg. Sounds simple but the number of times I raised my left arm and left leg and fell flat on my face were quite a few. Got the hang of it in the end though.
The one person I remember was Heather the psychotherapist. She was very attractive and the 24 year old me opened up to her - though the 54 year old me had to keep on reminding me of my age.
Pretty soon she cottoned on that I could talk openly about my past (childhood and teenage years) and present but faltered and was vague about the thirty years in the middle. In the end I confessed and she talked to me about ways to talk to my wife. As she said I wasn't the first that this had happened to nor would I be the last.
It wasn't easy and, though Sandy understood, she found it difficult to accept. There were a number of reactions from the kids but time heals and now no one mentions the fact. Having said that one of the boys might say 'Do you remember....?' and I still grunt and they laugh and tell the story anyway.
Memory loss is no joke.
There are those who have lost a complete life and for others memory loss continues to the point that a person could walk to the shops and forget their way home. It has happened.
I know how that feels.
The first time I went into town on my own I went into a shop and came out a different door to the one I entered. I stood there in a panic before retracing my steps and finding the other door.
My wife used to take me into town until she felt sure that I would be able to find my own way around. She had to show me how to use money and how to price things. We had gone from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency. So many adjustments - my numeracy had gone to pot and I couldn't remember a simple thing like a PIN number. After explaining my difficulty to the bank we managed to devise a number that I could remember.
There were other things that I had to learn like I could no longer smoke on the top deck of a bus.
Also, on a visit to the library, that time had moved on and the popular writers of the past were no longer on the shelves. Thank goodness for westerns. There were shelves of these but all the writers were unfamiliar but I selected a couple and took them home. They were the best therapy for me.
But that's another part of the story.

Monday, 27 October 2008

James Reasoner - Western Writer

DEATH HEAD CROSSING by James Reasoner was, or so I thought, the first book by this author that I had read. I liked the characters that he had created and that mystery element that pervaded in the book. Not just a western but a detective story as well.
It was not until later that I discovered that that book had not been the first James Reasoner book that I had read.
Now I'm not a fan of the Longarm books by Tabor Evans. I had read the first couple but nothing more until I came across a book called 'Longarm And The Restless Redhead' that I picked up. The sole reason was because I wondered how the author was going to use the title.
The title suggested 'The Case Of The Restless Redhead' a Perry Mason novel by Erle Stanley Gardiner. For my 10p I got a Longarm novel that I enjoyed and there was something differant about the book.
Thanks to Steve M and his Yahoo site Frontier Times I began to learn more about James Reasoner and the fact that he had written under various 'house names' and that there are titles in the Trailsman and Stagecoach Station (Hank Mitcham) series that have James Reasoner's stamp on them. There are, probably, others that I have yet to discover.
James Reasoner lost his home in a devastating fire. Not only is he rebuilding his home and life but is still putting out new books and to me that is inspiring.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

To Re-Read Or Not - As The Case May Be.

Following on from Forgotten Books - my wife, Sandy, will read a book then donate it to a charity shop. In her way she says that once she has read a book it is unlikely that she will read it again.
On the other hand there is me - if I have enjoyed a book I keep it.
Every so often I will have a cull - cut out the dead wood as it were - though it's very rare that a western hits the dust.
So the result is that I have bookcases full of books that stand the test of time. Books from the forties through to around the mid-seventies.
With books by British writers these books were written before political correctness created a stranglehold on the written word. The characters in these books use the same words that the man on the street uses today - but a language that modern writers cannot re-create in their books. I wonder what would happen if someone, today, tried to write a book on the lines of Colin McInnes 'Absolute Beginners' or David Storey's 'This Sporting Life' today. The author would have to make changes - that is what would happen. It happened to one of the above books. I picked up a copy of a modern imprint of 'This Sporting Life' - just curious - and found that 'offensive' words had been deleted.
But I have the original and that works fine for me.
There is another reason for holding on to these old books - because it is by re-reading them over the years I have, somehow, gained something new. Something that may have been missed by a fifteen year old but picked up by an older me.
Very often I find myself thinking 'I don't remember that bit' and there are times when I think that a book is important. Take life in the Raleigh Cycle factory in 1950s Nottingham, or the plight of a single pregnant girl in 1960s London or back street abortions during the same period.
Alan Sillitoe, Lynn Reid Banks and Nell Dunn wrote about things that we 'knew' about but in re-reading those books I feel that there is a history there that most fifteen year olds have never heard of.
Detective fiction has changed. Erle Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane and others had central characters who solved crime. Nowadays, it seems that every detective book is about the 'hero' having drink problem, marital breakdown or simply sleeping around (very often all three at once) and takes up more reading space than the actual detection of a crime.
And, I'm aware that Steve Carella had a wife and others had girlfriends etc but the books were shorter and family life did not intrude too deeply into a book to the point that it took over from the crime being solved.
Sci-fi and fantasy hasn't really changed. David Gemmell was able to put more action and keep the interest going in 325 pages than a modern detective novel of the same length.
Another modern author who can do that is Martina Cole - but apart from a couple - they're not exactly detective novels. Certainly, a writer who's two books I have kept will be worth a re-visit in a couple of years time.
I'm always in favour of re-reading books. Maybe, it's a comfort zone that I can relate to - or maybe, it's just that books don't get written the way they used to be written.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Forgotten Books: Dark Wanton by Peter Cheyney

Peter Cheyney was born in 1896 in Whitechapel in London's East End - but it was not until 1938 that he began to write novels. He died in 1951 but in that short writing period he produced quite a number of books and short stories.
Cheyney wrote at a time when PC stood for (apart from his initials) Police Constable.
The interesting thing that I find with Peter Cheyney was that he wrote in different styles. Lemmy Caution is a tough G-Man with an eye for the ladies and a voice of his own. Told in the first person the story is told with a fast, slick patter.
'Slim' Callaghan on the other hand comes across with a liesurely pace as the English private detective solves the problem.
The tone of the 'Dark' novels is stark and, as the titles imply, dark.
'DARK WANTON' is the setting for a story set just after the Second World War and the Secret Service has 'mislaid' two lists of German war criminals. Peter Everard Quayle is the head of the Department concerned and he was responsible for the compilation of the list. Instead of handing the job over to one of his agents he decides to call in a group of people who had operated behind enemy lines during the war.
Michael Frewin appears to be too dapper and a bit of a fop. He is Quayle's second in command - but outward appearances are deceptive for he is a cold blooded killer.
Antoinette Brown, known as the Practical Virgin - elegant, sexy and not interested in men - but she is a problem solver. Her task is to recruit Aurora Francis, former agent and ex-girlfriend of the agent that Quayle wants to draw back to the organisation.
The former agent is Anthony Keirnan - a sauve debonair chap who has hidden depths.
Peter Cheyney fills the book with secondary characters - some who die while others pass through and leave their mark.
The final revelation does come as a surprise.
There is something about the Dark books that suggest the natural successor would have been James Bond.
Cheyney died in 1951 - James Bond arrived in 1952.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Jack Giles: 4: 9th August 1969?

The 9th August - it's one day that I will never forget.
I woke up that morning with the mother of all hangovers. It was obvious that I had got paralytic because I just could not move.
I just sat there with my back against the settee and my legs stretched out in front of me.
The sun shone through the window and I knew, immediately, that I had woken up in unfamiliar surroundings.
At first, I thought that Tony had got lucky the night before and we had wound up at some girl's house.
My second thought was that there was something not quite right about this room.
Looking around with my right eye - I had to do it this way as my left eye seemed reluctant to open - I took a good look at my surroundings.
Along the opposite wall close to the front window was a sideboard. On top of this was a shiny, black plastic box with a load of dials on it. Next to this was an open fireplace and then a cabinet thing with a small black television on top. On a shelf underneath was another black box that displayed green numbers that changed every so often. Sitting on top of this was a small white box from which a lead ran to a half-moon looking pad with a couple of dials on it.
To the right of the settee was another table with a white TV perched on it.
This made me wonder why anyone needed two televisions in the same room.
This was silly, I thought.
This is just a dream.
I don't get drunk.
I closed my eye and dozed off again. I was pretty certain that when I woke up in the real world everything would be all right.
Only, it didn't work out like that.
I was woken up by a sound. My eye snapped open and there was this fourteen year old kid standing there dressed only in a pair of shorts with a small, silver disc on his finger. He stabbed at the black box on the sideboard and a drawer came out. He slid the disc into into the drawer which closed. After a few seconds the most godawful noise burst around the room as someone began to tell me that they were taking their daughter to the slaughter.
Just what I needed.
I tried to shout out and tell him to turn it down - only I couldn't get the words out.
Maybe, it was telepathy but he spun around, did a double take and turned the sound down.
'Hi, dad,' he said. 'Didn't know you were here.' he pointed at the black box. 'Do you want me to turn the stereo off?'
Stereograms I knew about. Big wooden boxes with a speaker at each end that played stereo and mono vinyl discs. Discs that were black and between 7 and 12 inches. Not small black plastic boxes and small shiny silver discs.
This was way over my head.
'You alright?' he asked.
I shook my head. Let's face it I was shaking all over and I knew that I had to do something about it. Somehow those three weeks that I spent in The St. John's Ambulance, when I was a kid, was telling me that I was going into shock.
The boy came closer and I breathed instructions into his face. I couldn't speak and it was the only way that I could do it. He got the message and was soon back with a black mug full of hot, sweet tea.
This kid, obviously, had a sense of humour for when I took a closer look at the mug it had the picture of a man in black with a wide brimed hat and underneath was the logo 'The Undertaker'.
While I was drinking the tea the boy turned off the 'stereo' and asked if I wanted the TV on. I shrugged, he took it as a 'yes'.
I had to blink.
This wasn't happening.
Colour TV?
What happened next - was going to throw me completely.
He took what looked like a book from the shelf above the TV and shoved it into the box with the green numbers on it. Suddenly, the screen was filled with a wrestling match. All I could see was a man in black approaching the ring who looked like the guy on the mug.
Right then I felt like the hero from H.G.Wells 'The Sleeper Awakes'.
Books that you put in a machine and the words came alive?
I passed out.
Concious again and the boy was dressed now and he was still in front of the TV watching a cartoon of a girl jumping and climbing over some ruins. Well, it looked normal until the girl made another leap and his body jerked as though he was jumping with her. That was when I saw that black half-moon pad in his hands.
It was too much.
'What are you doing?' I croaked, a sound that brought a smile to half my face.
'You okay, dad?' he asked, with concern.
'No, man,' I grunted back. 'Can't move.'
'Want me to call mum?' he asked.
I shook my head: 'Don't disturb her.'
He just shrugged: 'I'll text her anyway.'
Too much information and I just couldn't handle it - and I needed the toilet.
Only I couldn't just get up and walk - just couldn't get up. My left side had no intentions of doing what my brain told it to do. And I couldn't ask the boy to help -partly, because pride got in the way and partly - well the boy had disappeared.
Labouriously, I crawled or dragged my body up the room and got out into the hall. Through the door opposite I caught sight of a bath. Thank goodness for that - a downstairs loo. But by the time I got there and dragged myself up onto the edge of the bath I was too late.
That was where the boy found me. He said nothing but went off and got some clean clothes and helped me dress and undress.
Just as we finished the telephone rang and he told me to stay where I was.
I heard him say: 'Hi, mum. Yes, it's me - Jack. Dad's in a bad way. He can't walk properly and his face is all lopsided...............OK, mum, see you when you get back.'
When he came back he looked very serious: 'Mum and Scott will be back tomorrow. Mum thinks you've had a stroke. You want me to call an ambulance?'
I shook my head.
I didn't want to go to hospital - it was the logical thing to do - but something inside me made me resist it.
Maybe, it was just that I couldn't leave my son home alone.
There were other horrors that I would face that day - like seeing a lopsided, old man's face in a mirror seen through the eyes of someone who was convinced that they were still 24.
Only that morning I had believed that it was 1969 - but by the time that I went to sleep that night I knew that it was the 9th August 1999.
I had somehow managed to lose thirty years of my life.
Devastating as that was - I had to look at the plus side - I may have had a son that I don't recall growing up but that kid was a man that day. He stood by me. His was the shoulder that I leaned on.
His name is Jack Foster and I am proud of him.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Flash Fiction

Death Levels

I'd known Rosie for years. She'd been in and out of nick so many times that she was like a regular down the pub.
I knew her. Like I actually knew her. Talked to her. Told her to get out of 'the game' and Rosie'd just give that weak smile and I knew that she wouldn't.
Rosie had two kids - one of each and about a year between them. She didn't know who the fathers were but, then, she didn't care.
Give the girl her due she tried to get a job but not even the local supermarket would let her stack the shelves. No, all she had were her benefit cheques and child allowance and that had to pay for the gas and electric and the food etc.
The family lived in a small two-bedroom council flat. When she had the boy she went to the Council and asked for a three bedroom place. 'So what' they said. 'Be grateful with what you've got. There are others who are a priority.'
What no one knew was that those kids were Rosie's life. She wanted them to have better than her. She wanted them to have good clothes and toys just like other kids - and she wanted them to have an education.
'It's important," she told me. 'I messed up with school and look where it's got me.'
So, for the sake of her kids she went on the game - and to keep awake at nights she resorted to drugs. Rosie's life was on a downward spiral.
It didn't surprise me when I was called to a crime scene and found Rosie's body lying half-hidden beneath a tarpaulin at the back of a rundown warehouse.
Now she has just become another case to be investigated just the same as if that corpse had been the respectable Mrs Brown found dead in her front room.
What is it about our perceptions? Rosie was just another prostitute - right?
Just that we don't call no woman respectable until she's dead.
Not in the case of girls like Rosie.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Place In Time

If I wrote a Western set in1877 that had a bounty hunter handing over a prisoner to Wild Bill Hickock - I imagine that I would get a pile of letters telling me that Hickock wasn't the law in Abilene at that time.
Same would happen if I had a journalist covering the battles of the Ameican Civil War with a portable typewriter on his back - or that The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was carried out by gangsters armed with Uzzi machine guns.
So, why is it that some authors today make that sort of mistake today?
It's a small mistake but the number of times that I have come across it is getting riduculous.
I refer to two small four letter words that begin with 'F' and 'C'.
Now, I'm no prude - any book set in the 1960s to the present day that use those words I do not have a problem with.
But when those two little words turn up in a western or a book that is set in the decades forward to the Sixties - it kind of jars with me.
After all if those two little words were in common usage it would be reasonable to assume that the likes of Mark Twain, Owen Wister, Ernest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac and Raymond Chandler would have used them in their books.
The thing is that until the publication of D H Lawrence's ' Lady Chatterley's Lover' in the early Sixties those two little words were virtually unknown.
The thing that gets to me that a lot of these books have been researched but, not with the authentic language of the time. In everything that I've read about The Battle Of The Somme I never heard anyone mention '....the mud in the trenches....' nor, in the 1950s, did Derek Bentley standing on a factory roof say: 'Let 'im' 'ave it.' So, if they didn't say it - why should modern authors say it.
Just keep the books in their place in time - maybe, I'd read more.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Vic J Hanson - Black Horse Western Writer

In keeping with the theme on The Tainted Archive blog about Black Horse Westerns - see side panel for link.

Victor Joseph Hanson was born in 1920 in West Bromwich up in the Midlands. In the 1950s he moved to Orpington, Kent and, later, to South Croydon, Surrey. He died of a stroke in 2001 at the age of 81.

Vic J Hanson's first western novel 'Lannigan's West' was published in 1949 and his last is pictured left and published in 2001.
By strange coincidence this was the same book and the same year that I discovered the books of Vic J. Hanson.

On a trip to Orpington I found a copy of 'Requiem For Pilgrim' by Jay Hill Potter. Inside it had been signed by the author but there was another message in it that was signed simply 'Vic'. Bells rang - as they do - and I read a few pages and had just a suspicion. Fast forward another few years and I found out that my first impression was the right one - thanks to an article by Steve Holland. The biggest shock though was the discovery that Vic J Hanson (though a lot older than me) and I had lived in the same area.
Vic J. Hanson has written many stand alone books and it is these that I have read. He did write a series of books featuring a lawman named Amos Crowle - but I had not come across any of those books. I do now just having won one on Ebay.
As Jay Hill Potter he wrote the Pilgrim books as well as stand alones.
Hanson's books are superb - the kind of book that I put in my bookcase because I will read them again. The books read as though the writer has a story to tell and from the outset you want to hear it.
It is strange to think that this writer would be there in ways that I never expected. He wrote Sexton Blake stories; he contributed to Western Adventure Library, Cowboy Adventure Library and Combat Picture Library. He wrote stories for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine (a favourite of my grandfather) and boys annuals - all of which relate to my childhood and youth. He had written detective novels and, when I think about it, his output must have been phenomenal.
His editor at the time was Keith Chapman also known as the Black Horse Western writer Chap O'Keefe.
Vic J Hanson is just one of those Western writers that you have to read - he is certainly one of the best western writers there is and it's just sad that he reached Trail's End.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Blaze Of Glory

This comic ran for 4 Issues that were published by Marvel Comics in 2000.
The writer is John Ostrander with artist credits going to Leonardo Manco.
The story is about the town of Wonderment and it's inhabitants of ex-slaves and poor whites who have built a successful life for themselves.
The town is attacked by a bunch of white hooded Nightriders who are intent on destroying everything and everyone.
Enter the Western Heroes a kind of Magnificent 7 - western characters from the 40s to the 60s.
Kid Colt, The Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Reno Jones, Caleb Hammer, Red Wolf and The Outlaw Kid. Also, there are appearances by Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock.
For me the arrival of the original Ghost Rider was a good moment.
The comic book says: "There is the west of fact. There is the west of legend. This story falls somewhere in between."
'Blaze Of Glory' is worth tracking down - if you like a good western yarn.


Just to show that I am not biased - QUADROPHENIA - is the best (well, it is the only film to be made on the subject) depiction of the Mod culture.
Phil Daniels is excellent in this film and I believed in his character.
There is a great moment when Daniels meets up with an old friend in the public baths. They do some catching up on old times and they plan to go down to the local cafe - that is until the friend emerges in his leather jacket.
This was the way it happened - friends became distanced because of who they were and the culture that they followed.
The film ends with the Battle of Brighton and is, surprisingly, accurate.
The music is from the time with contributions from The Who - though classed as a Mod group, 'My Generation' was played in Rocker Cafes as well.

Rockers by Johnny Stuart

Probably, the best book on the Rocker era.
Not many books have been written about this but Johnny Stuart does do a creditable job.
He talks about the rock 'n' roll music and how it changed and the history of the motorcycle cult.
The only flaw is the claim that the Rockers speak with their own voices - and the interviews have the flavour of the old TV interviews that had people calling the Rocker morons.
Apart from that on a historical basis well worth finding.
The book contains many photographs.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Jack Giles 3 - The Rebel - 1962 to 1969

In September 2007 my wife and I took our fifteen year old granddaughter down to Brighton. It was a hot, sunny day and Madeira Drive was crowded. Lambrettas rubbed shoulders with Harley Davidsons and Vespas with Triumph Bonnevilles. Angels and Outlaws; old school rockers and mods mingled with families and holidaymakers.
So differant to that Bank Holiday in 1964.
In 1964 there were no happy families or holiday makers lazing away on that stretch of beach between Brighton's two piers. Back then the only people on the beach were a bunch of Rockers - some skimming stones out to sea while others talked or messed about - as we did. Up on the promenade the Mods were on the march. Suddenly, they were swarming down the slipways and down the steps and charged the Rockers on three sides pinning them against the sea. The chase and the Battle of Brighton had begun.
I always had a passion for motorbikes. This was born when my Uncle Peter used to give me a lift home, on the back of his Royal Enfield, from cubs. When I grew up I wanted my own bike but my parents were against the idea but they paid out for driving lessons. I took my first lesson on the 29th September 1962 and passed my test on the 17th October 1962 - much to the surprise of everybody including me.
There I was with a full licence to drive a car but amongst all the other categories I discovered that I had a licence to ride a motorbike.
Before I go any further - prior to 1963 young people who rode motorbikes were known as Leather Boys or Ton-Up Boys or Cafe Cowboys. Bikers we were not - that is a modern term and the term Rocker did not come into fashion until the arrival of the Mods.
The cowboy idiom came about because the early Cafe Cowboys wore denim jackets, Levi's and boots. The denim jacket was replaced by the black leather jacket but the white silk scarf was worn either across the lower face or knotted to one side. Brylcreamed hair combed into a quiff and sideburns finished the picture.
And they got into the saddle and flicked the handlebars around like reins.
My friend Tony - I had known him through school. We had met up one day while collecting wood for a bonfire for Firework night. A large branch had fallen through a hedge - I was on one side and Tony on the other. Neither of us was aware of the other until we started a tug of war which led to a punch up until we just sat down laughing wiping blood from our noses.
In 1962 Tony bought himself a bright blue BSA and I would ride pillion. Sometimes I would ride it myself but well away from home.
1962 started out pretty uneventful and we'd had a pretty good summer. During September I started Evening School and was ready to knuckle down and study for a couple more GCEs. That was until the Russians decided to send missiles to Cuba. John F Kennedy, the President of the USA said that that wasn't going to happen - and Nikita Krushchev of the USSR said oh yes it was. And so it went on and all the time the Russian ships were closing in on Cuba and the USA were sending ships to intercept or sink them.
A group of us were walking up to the school and, being young, we were cracking jokes. But one of our group wasn't laughing. Quite suddenly, he stopped and yelled: "What's the matter with you lot? Don't you care that we could all be dead tomorrow?"
" Then what the hell are you doing here?" I asked. "If I knew for certain that I'd be dead - then I wouldn't be here. I'd be down town looking to do something that I'd miss out on."
Besides, who would have been stupid enough to press the button.
In the end Kennedy didn't have missiles in his backyard and Krushchev got rid of the missiles in his frontyard.
The confrontation, though, made me angry to think that a bunch of politicians could play with the lives of millions like that.
Also there was a hostile reaction to teenagers by older people who made being teenage like a disease. Rock 'n' Roll had come and gone - but the beat went on. We were criticised for what we wore and the 'culture' that we followed.
Into this mix came a rock 'n' roll band who had wowed the audience in Hamburg, Germany. They had worn leather jackets and jeans - but, by the time, they hit the big time they had ditched the gear for suits and mop tops. With The Beatles came the Mods.
And I donned a leather and rode a Triumph 250 - and, because my parents disapproved, I kept the bike and gear at Tony's house.
We used to meet up at Div's (Divitos) in Orpington High Street. If we weren't there then it was Johnsons up near Brands Hatch, or The 'Gale (The Nightingale) or the Salt Box over at Biggin Hill. After a while we could be found on Chelsea Bridge on our way to or from The Ace Cafe.
It was a time of burn ups and general fun to do with bikes and, like all groups, there were those that caused a few problems.
Whichever way you look at it the Leather Boys were trouble.
When I did the ton I was riding a friend's Bonnie and I was taking it home from for him from Johnsons Cafe. I just opened the throttle and away I went - straight down Death Hill without a care in the world. Well, you only get one life so live it to the full before some idiot pressed the button that would end it all.
There had been so many accidents and fatalities on Death Hill that it seemed as though an ambulance had been permanently stationed at the bottom.
I did that ton and it was the only time that I did it. I never saw the point in doing the ton again because the rush wouldn't be the same.
As I have said with The Beatles came the Mods with their nice suits and clean looks. The newspapers with nothing to report now that Missile Crisis was over made a big deal about both The Beatles and the Mods.
In simple terms: Mods were middle class and office workers - Rockers (a newspaper term) were lower class, factory workers and slackers, dirty and greasy. Not sure where I fit in, then, I worked in an office - another of the regulars worked in an estate agents and another in the accounts dept of the local council.
Mods rode scooters that they embelished with fox tails, mirrors and headlights.
No mention of how the 'Rocker' worked on his bike and because some parts were expensive made their own parts. Or that it was the ordinary 'Rocker' who had taken a Norton frame and combined the best bits of a Triumph on it. Then added a larger, squared fuel tank to create the first of the Tritons. Later, the Triton was manufactured.
The Norton Dominator was a great road holder while the Triumph Bonneville had a great burst of speed. The Triton was the best of both worlds.
That's newspapers for you. They hyped the Mod and put down the Rocker so when there was a clash at Clacton in 1964 it looked as though the poor Mods had been set upon by the apelike Rockers.
The scene was set for The Battle Of Brighton - and, I still believe, that it was the press and television that engineered the whole thing. For once the fight was over and the newspapers got the quotes like 'teddy boys with their flick knives' and the famous ' sawdust caesers' they lost interest in the Mods and Rockers. We all got lumped together as out of control teenagers.
By 1966 the Mods had disappeared and the moral victory went to the Rockers who carried on riding their bikes.
In 1966 I wrote my first ever novel called 'The Rebel'. As can be imagined it was the story of a Rocker and stretched from the Cuba Crisis to just after the Battle of Brighton. The story was accurate and true. I collected a number of rejection slips - so I re-read and re-wrote it but still collected rejection slips. The best of these were the comment that the book was not realistic and did not conform to the facts.
Oh! Well! At least I had tried and decided that I was not destined to be a writer.
I swapped my bike for a white Mini - and, out of boredom, joined the Young Conservatives. They wanted someone to do a weekly piece for the local newspaper and I, reluctantly, volunteered. These little pieces were my first in print but that was all the writing that I did.
One good thing to come out of the Young Conservatives - I met the girl who became my wife.
A good thing - considering my next recollections.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Jack Giles 2. Learning To Write

Orpington, Kent in the 1950s was like a small country town surrounded by open areas and countryside within a few minutes walk.
The housing situation following the second world war was desperate and to compensate two big estates were being built at St. Paul's Cray and Ramsden.
When we arrived in Orpington to look for a house we went straight to Ramsden - a huge muddy lot that would one day become a sprawl of private and council houses.
The queue of people hoping to get their feet on the housing rung just stretched and stretched and it took hours of patient waiting to get to the site office - and by then we were too late. All the available plots had been taken up but there was one advantage my dad had as he was a carpenter and therefore one of 'the trade'. He was put in touch with a small builder who was building six new houses up Tubbenden Lane on the site of the old Cooks Farm - of Buff Orpington fame. Dad got a pick of the plots and we went home happy.
The Orpington I lived in looked very much as the picture above.
It was a wrench to leave my friends back in Finchley and I would have loved it if my parents had chosen to go back there.
The move to Orpington was made at a time when London's overspill began to pour into St.Paul's Cray and Ramsden. Public opinion in Orpington was very anti - and I encountered prejudice from both fellow pupils and teachers - I wasn't one of 'them'.
The road that I lived in was unmade and at the bottom of a steep hill - great for sledding down in the winter and the road thick with snow. Even better for riding down on my new Hercules racing bike - until I came off my bike halfway down and slicing my right arm open. I cleaned up the cut but it soon became infected and swollen. My mum applied an 'old wives remedy' poultice to the swelling but it was too hot and in the morning the inside of my right arm from elbow to just above the wrist was blistered. We went to the hospital where the blister was cut away and I watched as I saw a glimpse of bone - that was how deep the scald had burned. For the next 18 months my arm was bound up so stiffly that I could not use it. I was in and out of hospital for all that time having the dressing changed.
As my right arm was unuseable I had to become left-handed and had my knuckles rapped for not writing fast or completing schoolwork. What with all the prejudice and this problem with my right arm I began to withdraw into myself and escaped into books and movies. During those eighteen months I made no friends apart from an older boy, who like me, had come from north London.
The prejudice would dog my tail into secondary school - but there I would meet up with a gang of older boys - a mixture of gypsies, East and North Londoners. From the moment I arrived I was warned to stay away from that gang but it was they who approached me. I had befriended one of the gang at Primary school so I was 'in'.
There was one master who taught history who bragged about his experiences in Malaya - to the extent that it could be assumed that he 'won' that theatre of war. But when the Suez crisis blew up I saw another side to him when he began to fear that he would be called up again.
His favourite punishment was the slipper - the slightest excuse and he would use it. One day I was so fed up with this form of punishment that I hid it on the rafter above his desk. What I did forget is that size 11 plimpsolls came in pairs. He did, eventually, find his original slipper - or rather it found him. During a violent thunderstorm the slipper was dislodged from the rafter and hit him on the head.
I was once slippered by him for correcting him. He was teaching us about the English Civil War and talking about firearms ' .....not like in the American Civil War when they had repeating rifles...' So, I corrected him, got the slipper and a reputation for being argumentative.
The third year was good and so, life improved from thereon.
Mr Bethell taught English and would read stories from various authors like O.Henry and Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan-Doyle. The Holmes' story 'Silver Blaze' stuck in my mind.
From then on every composition I had to write had to be a story. For example write something about a drawing pin became a mystery thriller in which the description of a drawing pin is wrapped around the disappearence of a micro-dot.
Of course, my school report claimed that I allowed my 'imagination to get out of hand'.
And my reading went in other directions as I picked up books by D.H.Lawrence (I still have a pre-trial 1960 Penguin book of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'.)
This book would in turn lead to an interesting discussion when I, as a butcher boy, delivered meat to a certain Margaret Thatcher. She thought that I had just read the 'dirty bits'. My response was that that would be pointless - the whole book would have to be read to appreciate it.
In the fourth year I was taught English by Mr. Keeble. He liked my short stories to the extent that he thought that I should get them published. I thanked him but said I wouldn't bother - authors were all older and more experienced than me. But he did say-'one day you will be a writer'.
But, I had eyes on another idea. I had picked up a book called ' Criminal Law In A Nutshell'. A fascinating book that led me to borrowing more law books that I read tucked behind the Bible during Religious Instruction lessons. The Law of England had more to interest me than the Law of God.
When the careers oficer came around and I had my interview with him and he asked me what I wanted to do - I told him straight that I wanted to go into the legal profession. After my interview I was summonsed to the headmaster's office where the careers officer was telling him about our interview. The headmaster looked at me sternly and told me to be serious and that he, personally, would see to it that I took up an apprenticeship in some factory.
I just shrugged.
He could do what he liked - I was the one who knew what I wanted.
I left school and went to work as a junior clerk in the Parks Department of a local council. Where I got into trouble for a) giving a chap an allotment without putting him on a non-existant waiting list and b) going over the Department head to get a job in the Council's legal department. After 6 months I was given the sack.
A week later I was working as an outdoor clerk for a firm of solicitors.
This job would give me a funny aftermath.
My headmaster was, also, a Justice of the Peace. I was attending the local county court when he walked in. On seeing me he said ' Ah, Foster, I thought you'd end up in front of me.' 'Yes sir, I'm here representing the Plaintiff - told you I was going into the legal profession'. His face dropped -but I had not intended my comment as a jibe - just a statement of fact.
On the whole school was good. There was plenty of school playground trade going on. War comic or comics in general were swapped around. My own choice were for books - traded for comics or rare bubble gum wrappers.
After school I went to night school - to improve on my goals I needed to improve on my education. I continued to write short stories that went into the bin after a while - I just liked to write but I don't think that I had found a voice or a reason to be serious about writing. What kid didn't think about writing THE novel - a bestseller that became a movie etc.
What I didn't know, as 1962 dawned, was that events were going to occur that would change a lot of lives. For the good or the bad I still don't know.

Jack Giles 2: Orpington

Friday, 10 October 2008

Forgotten Books - The Leather Boys by Gillian Freeman

Okay - I've done the movie now it's the turn of the book.
Gillian Freeman was born in London in 1929 and wrote both the book and the screenplay for 'The Leather Boys'. The original was printed by 4 Square books under the author's alias of Elliot George. NEL reprinted it in the 1970s.
Sadly, this is a neglected book - and the selling features of the edition shown do not do the book the right justice. What the blurbs states is that this is a book about ' Britain's Wild Ones -the motorcycle cowboys who live for fast machines and faster girls..........THE LEATHER BOYS is a savage, brilliantly told novel of these aimless young men and women.....and a strange, twisted love....'
Just the sort of blurb that would make me put the book straight back on the shelf.
Because I know that that is not the basis of the book.
The importance of the book is that within it's 126 pages is a snapshot of life in the early sixties. From the dark crumbling houses with an outside loo - they did still exist back then to a youth culture that was in it's birth pangs. A time when teenagers wore leather jackets and rode motorcycles - anything from a 250cc up. Nobody had stuck a label on them calling them 'Rockers', 'Greasers' etc. - but they did live under the legacy of the Teddy Boys (who wore drapes, drainpipes and brothel creepers) and they did get labelled that way.
Though the themes remain the same the film and the book are differant - and the book continues where the film leaves off.
The story concerns Dick who is an insecure person who tries to be everybody's friend and Reggie who marries too young to Dot. Dot makes life a misery for her husband and is completely unaware that she is the author of her own misfortunes. Reggie, on the other hand, married for sex and his idea of a good time is going out with his mates down at Ned's Cafe. And a good time included admiring each others bikes and having a conversation over a cup of coffee or a Coke.
Against this background the reader is introduced to the general prejudices of the time against youth, the quest for a bit more elbow room. Dot's own me-me-me attitude begins to reflect these prejudices as she tries to force Reggie to 'grow up'.
The more the pressure is put on Dick so he turns to Reggie, who lives with his grandmother, and they begin some male bonding and moves in with him. In the end they decide to get away from the situation and the squalor. They go to Southampton to find work on a ship and meet up with a group of men that makes Reggie think.
"Dick thought of the ugly, middle aged powdered faces. He had never seen homosexuals like them before. He had never thought of his relationship with Reggie as being homosexual."
And so Dick returns home alone.
That is where the film ends - but the book continues on for Reggie chases after him and they plan to rob the local cinema and get away together. But lurking in the background are former friends who have suspicions about the closeness of the two friends and it is this that leads to tragedy.
In the 1980s the Gay Press issued a copy of this book - I suppose that the assumption is that it is a book errs in that direction.
Even today having re-read the book I'm not sure that that is it's sole selling point. It's more a book about a fragment of time, about prejudices and their consequences. Certainly, Reggie and Dick become more dependant on each other - their weaknesses are counter balanced by their respective strengths. While Reggie may want the relationship to go further, I feel that Dick did not and was just content with a male bonded friendship.
Is the book relevant today? I think so, for as the book is read, the reader picks up on something and thinks -and if a book makes you stop and think - then it has to be relevant.

Terrell L Bowers - Western Writer

Cover for just published novel - 2008 - Black Horse Westerns.
I know very little about this writer except that he was born Laporte, Indiana in 1945.
What I do know is that he has had books published with Avalon, Leisure as well as Robert Hale's Black Horse Westerns.
Looking around the net it appears that there is no information about him apart from an impressive bibliography.
Nor has anyone appeared to write about Terrell L. Bowers and, maybe, I'm not the best qualified to do so - but I'll give it a go.
I first came across Terrell L. Bowers when I borrowed 'The Banshee Raiders' (Hale 1984) from the local library and was impressed by his writing style - it was easy on the eye and the mind.
When I came across a copy of 'THE PETTICOAT WAR' (1985 - Robert Hale) and read the blurb and came to the part that said: "But he couldn't turn his back on a town full of defenceless women and children. His one chance to turn his Petticoat Army into an able bodied fighting force' my immediate reaction was - The Magnificent Seven Ride.
Except that this book is not a reworking of the themes from that film but a well structured story the deals with good and evil.
Marc Kannon is a man on the run after killing a Mormon in self-defence. On his trail is U.S. Marshall Nate Child's, also a Mormon, who never gives up until he has caught his man. Added to the mix is that Kannon fought for the Union and the town of Rio Diablo is full of Confederate die hards. Sounds all straightforward - but Terrell L. Bowers builds his book with interesting characters like the bandit leader Paco Basada and Marc's brother Steve who is a member of Basada's gang of outlaws. Steve and Marc are chalk and cheese - but they do care about each other.
Where Terrell L. Bowers strength lies is in turning ,what should be a traditional western, into something else. What appears to be predictable doesn't happen or if it does then it does in a way that you didn't forsee.
In 'DELRYAN'S DRAW' (1986 - Robert Hale) gambler Delryan wins an Indian, mute slave girl who turns out to be white. As he doesn't want her he gives the girl, Capricho, her freedom but she doesn't want it
Into the mix is Faro Link, Capricho's former owner and an army scout, Short Change, who thinks that the girl can lead the army to capture Jutemayo a renegade Indian.
Delryan is caught in the middle and there are those who want him dead. The pace just doesn't let up and the reader (well, this reader) wanted Delryan to survive.
Terrell L. Bowers, in my opinion, has gone from strength to strength with books like 'YANCY'S LUCK' (2002 - Black Horse Westerns) where a simple job for Yancy Nodean's mission to clean up Pine Junction is anything but that easy.
Terrell L. Bowers is one of those writers who should be better known - and I can only guess at his influences - but he could stand with them and some of his better known modern contempories.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Yellow Teddy Bears - 1963

Out on DVD.
No, this is NOT a porn movie despite the picture on the cover- so I'm not going to give you the blurb from the back of the box.
In the wake of the kitchen sink dramas of the sixties came this little number and it was just a second feature.
The movie does a good job about telling the story of a group of schoolgirls who form a 'special' club for those who lose their virginity - the yellow teddy bears that they wear is the only outward sign that they belong to this club.
The leader of this group, Linda, becomes pregnant by aspiring pop singer and window cleaner with the nickname 'Kinky'. What follows is a tragic tale of a girl who, because of the climate of the time, is unable to talk to her parents and the only 'friend' she can confide in turns out to be a prostitute. The 'friend' arranges for Linda to have an abortion and the only way open for Linda to pay for it is to do her 'friend' a favour.
Into the mix is a teacher who discovers the reason for the yellow teddy bears and tries to help out with her own brand of sex education to the extent that she puts her own career on the line.
Maybe, not the best Sixties movie - but within it's 88 minutes running time it deals with a lot of issues - issues that still exist today.
The film was based on true events in which a group of grammer school girls advertised the loss of their viginity by pinning a Robertson's golliwog to their uniforms.
Again this was a movie aimed at a certain audience and was given an X certificate by The British Board of Censors. However, that audience did get to see this film at special screenings in certain areas (Orpington I do know about - as the screening was at the Commodore). I do know that the 5th formers of two schools went down with their teachers to see it.
Of course, there was outrage as parents thought that it was their job to give their children sex education - a debate that still seems to be going on.

The Festival Of Britain - 1951

Recollections of my childhood would not be complete without a mention of the Festival Of Britain back in the summer of 1951.
It was a fantastic sight with the newly built Royal Festival Hall almost hidden by the Dome Of Discovery and The Skylon.
It was built on the South Bank of The Thames and replaced the warehouses that had stood alongside the river.
It was built, or so I am told, to celebrate the victory of the Second World War and 'cheer up a despondant people'.
Well, I don't know about that - I was just coming up to 6 years of age.
The exhibition not only looked back at the past but forward to a bright new future. Clean cut kitchens with Formica topped tables and fancy fridges. It all looked good but my mum was very dismissive as it all looked too expensive.
Five years later we would have a clean cut kitchen with Formica topped work services and a fridge.
It is estimated that over 8 million people went to the Festival and, I think, they all turned up on the same hot, sunny day that I was there.
Nearby, Battersea Park had been turned into an Amusement Park and funfair. But for me the high point was the Guiness Festival Clock.
Was it all worth it?
For a child it was an insight into the world that I had been born into - and my mum enjoyed the day out. Only the adults understood what it was all about - but for me it was a day of excitement and awe.
All too soon the site was demolished and here I am, in my later years, thinking what a waste of money it was. Especially, with the news that they want to rebuild The Skylon - should have just left the original in place.
Another building would eventually suffer the same fate - The Shot Tower. This was a relic from the 1850s with a tall chimney like tower where lead was dropped to create shot. It became a casualty to make way for the expansion of The South Bank.
Well, that's progress - and The Festival Of Britain has become like a forgotten memory. Many of the things that we take for granted today - well, kids like me saw it first back in 1951.

The Festival Of Britain

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Jack Giles: Childhood Reflections

Just thought that I would add one or two things to my last post - and the comments did jog my memory.

The pic is of the house that I grew up in. Nowadays, it is a four bedroom house but when I lived there it was divided into two flats.

The small window to the right (as you look at the pic) was the kitchen. The big bay window was the front room and my bedroom. Then to the rear of that was my parents' bedroom which they shared with my younger sister.

I often wonder if the author Alan Hunter, the creator of Chief Superintendant George Gently, ever lived in my road as he has his creation living in North Finchley and the description of the house he boards in is exactly as I remember the above.

When I talk about my childhood I often err to the brighter side of things but I come back to earth with the memory that I grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War. I could not go to London without seeing the bomb damage - even five or six years on they were still re-building the City.

Rationing was still in force. Despite the shortages somehow or another people got through.

My mum shopped on a daily basis - not like today where we indulge in bulk buying and shove it in the freezer. Even during the blizzard of 1947 my mum went shopping - the snow, so I am told, was so deep that my pushchair was buried halfway. I just imagine myself as a kind of human snowplough.

As a small child I knew nothing of the crisis that blew up in Germany a year later with the Berlin Airlift - but I did become very aware of the Korean War. There was a fear in our house that, despite the existence of National Service, all the ex-servicemen including my dad would be called back.

I recall my mum's fears as we sat and watched the newsreel showing a group of white, arrow shaped missiles. 'I hope those things miss you," my mum said. I said: 'If I saw one of those big arrows coming I'd just roll to one side so that it'd miss me.' No one told me that those arrows exploded and if I had rolled to one side.....

I guess, as children, we more more involved in building on our childhood than worrying too much about what was going on around us.

To see a bunch of kids sitting outside a pub was something that was natural. Parents took their children to the pub and the children would sit outside with a glass of lemonade or ginger beer and a packet of crisps into which they would shake salt from a blue wrapper. Not all parents dumped their kids while they got drunk - it did happen, but for the majority I would see parents attending to their kids. As I went to school with some of those kids it was not unusual to be offered a glass of ginger beer by one of their dads.

That was what it was like back then. People knew each other and they talked to each other.

We played in the street - the sight of a car was a rare thing. But some politician thought that we children should be made aware of a certain danger. So they came up with an advertising idea and a film, aimed at children, about the dangers of taking sweets from a stranger. The very people that this film was aimed at would never get to see it as The British Board of Censors gave it an 'X' certificate.

Blissfully, we played on. I still caught the trolley bus on my own and went down to visit my grandparents. Carried on going to the park on my own and we took sweets from strangers for there was never a hint of an ulterior motive. But, then, most of the sweet givers were the parents or grandparents etc of another child that I knew.

Even as a ten year old I could travel from Orpington in Kent back to Finchley on my own.

Were things differant back then?

I think so - we had far more freedom than our modern day counterparts - but, our modern day counterparts live in a totally differant world than ours.

We grew up with the radio - from 'Children's Hour' to Jet Morgan and Paul Temple. Most people didn't have a television until the Queen's Coronation - and then it was one channel in black and white and not on 24/7. There was a children's hour from 5pm to 6pm and then a break to 7pm when the grown-ups television began with the Newsreel. The gap was to allow parents to put their children to bed. Television closed at 11 pm with the Epilogue and the National Anthem. Then it was a case of watching the screen until the little white dot disappeared.

Jack Giles: Childhood continued

Monday, 6 October 2008

Jack Giles: 1. Childhood 1945 - 1955

If they only knew......I was about 5 or 6 when this photo was taken in my grandparents back garden.
Even as a child I lived and breathed all things to do with cowboys.
My mother made the vest in this pic but I'm holding a pair of Chad Valley Colts.
Another thing that I'm reminded of is that the outfit was made after meeting Gene Autry at Harringey (North London).
Like all kids I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up - well, there you go.
Our first home was a small flat in North Finchley and my bed was in the front room tucked behind the settee. Later, when we got a black and white television, I would lie upside down and watch things like 'War In The Air' and various plays.
In those days they either showed a play from the West End or a good drama. Unfortunately, my upside down antics were discovered and I was banished to my parents' room until they came to bed.
Watching these plays not only stimulated my imagination but made me wonder if I could become an actor.
Yes, I made it on to the stage at St. John's Primary School's production of 'Rumpelstiltskin' where I played a soldier along with two friends Raymond Marsh and Philip Snow. We always hung around together but that appearance was to be the last for us. The following Easter Philip was killed crossing the road outside the Tower Of London. Ten years later on August Bank Holiday Monday Raymond died in a motorcycle accident.
In 1954 we moved from North Finchley to Orpington, Kent where I found myself being cast in lead roles in the Warren Road Primary School plays. It was when I was in 'The Pied Piper Of Hamelin' that I added something new. The teacher wanted a narrator to introduce each scene but there was no script. So I took the role of narrator and wrote my own lines - much easier to learn.
And that concludes my acting career. I found that the writing was far more interesting.
I learned to read at an early age - in fact I was reading before I arrived in Primary School - and was to produce a kind of rebelliousness in me.
On the classroom wall was the alphabet and with it a picture of an item that began with that letter. We were taught A is for Apple etc and every day we repeated it all by rote. Then we had to do it child by child. The teacher would point at a letter and asked a child what it stood for.
Teacher to me pointing at the letter 'H': What word begins with that letter?
Me: Hoop
Teacher (pointing at picture): No - it's horse.
Me: But, miss, hoop begins with H.
Teacher: It's horse. That is what you are supposed to say.
Me: Hoop begins with an H.
Teacher: Yes, it does but that was not the answer that I wanted. And if you are going to argue with me you can stand in the corner.
I learned one thing - how to rebel but I didn't realise it then.
The first book that I bought was Pat Reid's great escape book 'The Colditz Story'. Still have that book though the pages are fragile, browned and the spine reinforced with black tape. It cost me two shillings (10p) and weeks of going without sweets etc. I didn't lose out on my 'Eagle' comic as my dad could see that I was making an effort to save so he paid for the comic.
In those early childhood years books and comics were the main stimulation. Those and Saturday morning cinema at the local Odeon where we would get a cartoon, a serial and a movie (more often than not a cowboy film). We would come out of the cinema having a shootout or swashing an invisible blade as we emulated Zorro.
Later, I would find a kind of de ja vous when the BBC followed the news with a cartoon, Doctor Who and a Western.
Back in the fifties I was already watching 'The Lone Ranger', 'The Range Rider', and 'The Cisco Kid'.
Our local park, commonly known as The Sandpits, catered for children by building a wooden stockade for the boys and a playhouse for girls. The fort was built close to an area of the park simply known as 'the bog'. This was a muddy, marshy place hemmed in by trees close to the pond where we fished for newts and sticklebacks and stuck them in jam jars. The bog was the fort's weakness for we could creep up on the occupants from this side and they just wouldn't know we were there until we were inside.
Great days - but therein lay the building blocks that would shape our lives.