It’s funny, isn’t it, how one can spend lots of time describing a few crucial months of your life, while you would be hard put to say more than a few sentences about other periods which lasted for years. I was only at Gorton Tank for six months, but in my mental filing system you’d find a whole cabinet devoted to it.
In the evenings I needed some kind of diversion from the monotony of the day. One night I went with a fellow apprentice to a night club in Ashton-under-Lyme wearing my only casual ‘going out’ garment, a heavy Donegal sweater. The Beatles were just becoming famous in a night club in Liverpool at this time and everywhere similar subterranean joints, with their own amateurish groups, were springing up. I felt hot and bothered and out of place in this one! Less so when I went to the ‘Hallé Band’, as they called it, at the Free Trade Hall, with Bob (from the white metal shop where I’d brew up at break time) and Jim (who worked near me on a milling machine). Sir John Barbirolli led the orchestra in masterful and overwhelming performances of the great classics.
Later I restarted piano lessons with a local organist. I would cycle to his dingy victorian house where he tried to enthuse me with Bartok’s microcosmos. This experiment ended when he told me I would get more value for my money if I consulted him for treatment of my catarrh!
My cousin’s husband was the university chaplain, and Sunday evenings I would attend a student discussion group at their house. I met a girl who invited me to supper. I got very excited about this until I discovered that her boyfriend was also invited. They spent the evening talking about Nietzsche, and whether he was responsible for Hitler, a subject on which I had rather little to contribute. I was sure, at that stage, that I would never go to university.
More on my level at the Sunday evening group were two railways enthusiasts whose main preoccupation was with travelling over the lesser known spurs of the North West. Their conversation consisted of gems like: ‘If we take the 18.37 Saturdays only Sheffield train from Central on 26th it is being diverted via X, over the Y spur which is otherwise used only for freight.’ Come 26th we would be aboard the said train as, in pitch dark, it cautiously negotiated the creaking and groaning spur in question.
At weekends I often went home to Northumberland with a free pass. I had a choice of routes, both of them taking around five hours if I left at the right time. Either I boarded a train to Newcastle which took in every industrial city it could get near to – Huddersfield, Bradford, Leeds, Stockton, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Gateshead – which I found immeasurably depressing; or I travelled via Carlisle, in which case after Bolton and Preston I was in the other North which I loved of moorland fells and stone walls. After a while I arranged to get off work a bit early so that I could always take the Carlisle train. This did, however, involve a long wait in the station café at Carlisle Citadel station which I would spend nodding off over my HNC homework to the sound of a huge hissing expresso machine.