In which we have served - part four

Weekend life with the Wood family in the city of York was something for me to look forward to throughout my  working week at  R.A.F. Full Sutton. I would either embus or ride my service bike the twelve miles through the pretty little village of Stamford Bridge into the city. At Tang Hall Lane Joan's mother, a fine Yorkshire lady called Triphena, cooked such wonderful meals. Saturday was the big night out with Joan's father, Ted, her elder brother Derek and younger brothers Peter and Michael - not to forget my future brother-in-law, Digger. In recent years Dee and I often stayed with Joan's sister Hazel and husband Digger. And I always look forward to meeting those of the family still with us and still living in those same houses that each of them purchased on mortgage all those years ago after getting married in their early twenties.

In the afternoon we 'men' would take the bus for the football or the rugby league match. After coming home for the inquest and tea, most often we walked to the Tang Hall Hotel where Ted would play dominoes with his pals whilst he, the young brothers and I would drink ompetitive volumes of  Tadcaster bitter beer - 'Taddy Ale' as it was known. But in truth there was no way I could keep up with them. I think they enjoyed watching this protesting 'soft southerner' who had fallen for 'our Joan' as his reserve pints piled up. They certainly enjoyed the sight of him losing most of what he had consumed in somebody's privet hedge on the way home. On arriving, out would come the bit of supper and the pack of cards on the little table in front of the coal fire. We played brag for sums of money we could barely afford to lose - or, rather, could not at all afford to lose - until father Ted was a winner. He was a legendarily poor loser - it was not unknown for him to overturn the table, sending cards and coppers and silver coin flying in all directions. So in the end we more of less gave in to the old man if we wanted to get any sleep that night!

With all the family crammed into a three bedroomed council house and decorum being strictly observed, I often found myself sleeping on a pile of settee cushions in the downstairs bathtub. The bathroom was entered into from the kitchen. Triphena would wake me with a cup of tea at some ridiculously early Sunday morning hour. If I protested the response would be something totally unsympathetic but kindly said and kindly meant, like; Well, if tha will play silly bouggers half  the night wi' that daft lot .

But the Sundays were for Joan and me. There were no motor cars in the family of course. Nor were any of the shops open other than newspaper shops. We would walk the empty city centre streets - The Shambles, Whippma-whoppmagate, Mickellgate and all the other historic streets of York. Or sometimes we would take a bus or a train to Scarborough, where Joan's Auntie lived, or to Bridlington or Whitby. In truth it mattered not where, for we just wanted to do things together, talk about things together.

Joan Margaret Wood was a dark haired beauty, slight of figure, always immaculately hairstyled and dressed besides being, it seemed to me, very intelligent. To the best of my knowledge she'd gained the best school leaving results of any of the family. Like almost everyone in those days she'd left school aged fifteen and then had secured a job on the York telephone exchange. Joan had inherited plenty of Yorkshire fire and was something of a rebel. As, I fancy, was I. A telephone exchange Supervisor called Starke (the girls nicknamed her 'Spitty') was her sworn enemy. From my R.A.F. base I would often find time to telephone my girl at work in the exchange. Private calls to the operators were strictly forbidden of course.Whichever of the operator girls picked up my call would warn me if Spitty was on the lookout before putting me through for a free of charge chat. 

One Saturday I missed the bus into town and found that my precious bike was missing. Because of the sheer size of that airfield all the airmen were issued with bikes in order to get around. The 'owner's' last three service numbers were painted on the rear mudguards. (I was number 4100031) Undeterred but extremely angry I walked the 12 miles into town, which tended to take the edge of my date with Joan. I caught the last bus back to camp. I was going to be in for it if I couldn't locate the missing R.A.F. property by Monday.

We lived in Nissen huts. On straggling back in the middle of the night we it was customary for we 'residents' to gather round the hut's central coke stove, exchanging our Saturday night adventures.  The stories always centred around drinking, fights or girls - or all three - and were certainly a great deal more of fiction than fact. However, word had spread around the camp that 'Fritz' was looking for whoever had nicked his bike. (Fritz was my nickname on account of my German crew cut hairstyle and besides, by then I had developed something of a reputation. Plus everyone knew that 'Fritz' had sparred with Bruce Wells, the All Services - and future British - middleweight champion. The fact that he hadn't seen most of the blows coming was neither here nor there!

On the Sunday morning word came back. My bike had been taken by one Ingles, a rather large Glaswegian teddy boy and cook. Ingles was the king of the cooks - cooks being always at the centre of any nastiness - and always in some sort of trouble with downtown York authority. In fact it was generally conceded that he was something of a psycopath, much addicted to violence.

My heart did sink but there was no way out. Followed by most of my pals I headed for the cookhouse. 'Fight, fight, was the expectation. My bicycle was outside all right. Ingles was busy dishing out the bacon and eggs. I walked up to him. "You took my bike," I said. "Yeah, so what you going to do about it?" responded Ingles. That's when I noticed the senior NCO watching the procedings and when discretion proved to be the better part of valour. "You do that again you'll be in a lot of trouble," I snarled. Ingles laughed his ugly laugh. I turned away and gathered up my bike, my reputation in need of urgent repair.

And so, soon, to R.A.F. Valley.

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