My song today is ‘(Sitting On) the Dock of the Bay’. This song was co-written by soul singer, Otis Redding, and guitarist, Steve Cropper. It was recorded by Redding twice in 1967, including once just days before his death in a plane crash. The song was released on ‘Stax Records’ in 1968, becoming the first posthumous single to top the charts in the US. It reached Number 3 on the ‘UK Singles Chart’.
Around the age of 10 years, my parents were allocated a new council house on Windybank Estate, in Hightown, Liversedge, West Yorkshire. I was the oldest of seven children and I lived there until my marriage at the age of 26 years. Our new council house represented an upmarket property for the Forde family who had previously lived in a small tied-cottage that had been rented to my mining father by his employer, the Yorkshire Coal Board.
Our former property had one bedroom where my parents and their first four children slept top-to-tail in the same bed. We also used a chemical loo outdoors and kept hens to supply the family with eggs and a seasonal bird. Our nearby neighbours who occupied a row of six terraced houses shared the same outside lavatory, but at least theirs flushed!
When we moved into our new council house on the new estate which had been built half a mile away (from where mum gave birth to another three children), it felt like we had moved into heaven. We were living in comparative luxury to the tied property we had previously lived in. We now had three bedrooms, and although myself and my next two sisters had our own bedroom, we still had to share the same double bed. We had two flushing toilets, one inside the house and one adjacent to the outhouse shed (which was a red-brick extension to the house), and we did not have to share our lavatory facilities with the next-door neighbours either!
As to our bathing facilities, our bath was now a ceramic one affixed to the wooden floor upstairs with hot and cold taps and was housed within its own private room with a bolt on the door to ensure privacy. The enclosed walls gave the bathroom the sound of an echo chamber that made all singers who warbled there sound infinitely better than they were. Often as I lay luxuriating in the hot water whenever I took a bath, my mind would recall my old bath which my parents and my siblings had used in our former property. It was half the size of our current bath and was a tin tub that hung on the kitchen wall between uses. Each Friday, all the family would bathe in turn, with my mining father first. The tin tub would be filled with a dozen boiled pans of water. Dad would get the first bath (the cleanest and hottest bath), and when he got out, I jumped in. The water would naturally be colder and dirtier with the grime deposits of my father’s working day and the lost heat would be topped up by another pan of boiling water. Each of my siblings would bathe in descending order of age, and the next one in line to have a bath would scrub the back of the bather before them, and pour a pan of warm water over the bather’s head to rinse out the soap. My sister Mary who followed me would always ensure that the ‘warm water’ she was supposed to pour over my head was in fact ‘freezing cold’; cold enough to shiver my timbers’, and with the hope that I would jump up in fright. The change over of tub between one bather and the next was performed with military precision, with my mother acting as holder of the protective towel to preserve the modesty of each bather. It was the same towel that would be used by five successive bathers. I never knew when my mother got her bath as I cannot remember ever seeing her in the tin tub. It was probably when all the children were in bed.
Apart from having a large garden at the back of our council house and a good-sized garden at the front, there was one more luxury in our new house which nobody but myself used until my three younger brothers grew older. It was the roof of our outhouse shed. The L-shaped shed was around eight feet high with a roof area above where I spent many an hour out of my parent’s sight and beyond the reach of my younger siblings. The shed roof served many secretive purposes from my 14th year of life onwards. It was the place where I could light up a cigarette and puff away without my father seeing me. It also acted as a heavenly den where half a dozen mates would plan our mischievous adventures. And most importantly, it was the place where a large part of my sex education occurred. I was often joined up on the shed roof by my next-door neighbour’s daughter, Sylvia Hinchcliffe. Sylvia was a few years older than I was and could accurately be described as a bit of a Tom Boy as well as being a good-looking young woman. She taught me how to kiss with tongues and lips. She called this practice ‘kissing the French way’, and she and was the first female who played the explorative game of ‘I will if you will’ with me. I can only presume that Sylvia used me as her practice male (her first toyboy so to speak). That did not bother me in the least, and over the next two years, we both mutually benefited from our ‘on-the-roof’ experience as we ‘got up’ to all sorts of unmentionable things. Our shed-roof arrangement lasted until I was aged around 16 when 18-year-old Sylvia started dating a man three years older than her. There was an amicable parting of the ways.
During my teenage years, a new lad came to live on the estate. He hailed from Liverpool and when I told him about hanging out on our outhouse shed roof on sunny evenings, he told me that when he was younger, there was a place near the docks where he and his friends would hang out. This song reminds me of my old outhouse shed roof which made my life a far more enjoyable place to ‘watch my ship come in’, but the only ‘docks’ I ever saw up there were the fag ends we would save up to enable us to roll another smoke.
Love and peace xxx