When I was a young boy in the late1940s and early 50s, I was a bit of a rogue and frequently found myself on the wrong side of the law. To put it bluntly, it was the most natural of responses for me to commit small acts of theft and moderate criminal damage to the property of others during moments of trespass and reckless regard and high spirits. Please note, that I did possess some moral compass and social conscience, and like the outlaw, Robin Hood (who, incidentally, is said to be buried in Kirklees’ Woodlands: one mile from Windy Bank Estate where I grew up), I only stole from the rich and always re-distributed my stolen booty between the poor (or to be more specific, between gang members from ‘Windy Bank Estate’. I only trespassed on the property of the richer class in society who lived in the higher house market brackets of Hartshead and other posh areas of Liversedge.
Wide gaps of everything important have existed between the rich and the poor since the days of Adam and Eve, and the years that I grew up in the 50s were no different. Just like there are glaring wealth and health divisions between the North and South in England today, where diametrically opposed neighbours of prosperity and decline live across different sides of the dividing line of opportunity; then, so it was in my day too.
There was a mile-long road that stretched from the top of ‘Hare Park Lane’ to the town of Cleckheaton at the bottom of the hill. This was called, ‘New Road’ and represented the presence of the widening disparity between the posh and the poor. The poorer and richer neighbourhoods stood North and South of ‘Hare Park Lane’, which was the symbolic line of class division between the two communities.
The disparity between rich and poor neighbours who lived at opposite sides of ‘Hare Park Lane’ provided a marked contrast in health, wealth, power, prospects, cultural values, and educational attainment. There was a marked difference between the camps of poor and rich in respect of general values and attitudes displayed towards each other also.
Each year would present the children with the long summer school holidays. We would breakfast and play out all day until teatime in the evening. This would be the part of the year when we would be at our most delinquent and most likely to do some damage to the property of others. One year, I recall a gang of us setting fire to a hedge down ‘Green Lane’ that stretched for two miles without a break in it. It was only during later years that I learned that, at the time, the offence of Arson carried a life sentence with it! We would climb the rocks of a disused quarry nearby, pretending it was Mount Everest. Almost everyone in our gang broke an arm or leg at least once between 8-15 years of age. Indeed, we would regard such breaks and scars as a mark of courage and rites of passage with some estate gangs. We would make our own bows and arrows from a nearby willow wood and insert darts in the end. A few of the gang would get hold of an air rifle or air pistol and we would have battles down the fields. Some even borrowed axes from their father’s shed and flung them through the air at attacking raiders. One boy spent two weeks in the hospital after an arrow with a dart, in the end, hit him in the head. It was a close shave and he could so easily have died as a result. A common game of dare was running back and forth across railway lines when a train approached, or on a busy street in Cleckheaton. We would also race each other across the railway bridge in Heckmondwike, but the two competitors ran across the coping stones (18 inches wide) of the bridge walls which divided each side of appropriately named ‘Cemetery Road’. One slip and the unlucky runner would fall sixty feet to the railway track lines below. We were so lucky that nobody died from such wild games. We did have two teenage motorcyclists doing ‘a ton’ (100 mph) die, after racing each other to Blackpool when we were in our late teens, and I will never forget one male friend fall from the fairground Big Wheel in Cleckheaton and land on a young woman. He was crippled for life and the young woman he landed on died before reaching the hospital!
Back to ‘New Road’. The residents of this long road were doctors, lawyers, solicitors, bank managers, mill owners and all manner of high-earning professionals. All the houses were large properties with huge garden areas. My favourite time of the year when most of my illegal earnings could be made was when England had a day of celebration that invariably brought all the community out to engage in one festivity or another. On such days, most of the wealthy occupants of ‘New Road’ would be out, and this was the best time and steal their flowers and plants from one house, before selling them to other houses along our route of theft from the rich. I would usually pair up with Geoffrey Griffiths but if he wasn’t around, I’d gladly pinch on my own.
What has all this to do with today’s song you might ask yourself? One of the most praiseworthy things anyone could say about another person when I was growing up was, ’He’s a fine man’ or ‘Isn’t he fine?’ Indeed, if a young person was too well mannered and polite in adult company, they might remark, ’He’s so fine’. And if ever a mate or even an adult approved of something you had done (either good or bad) they would simply give you the ‘Fine on you’ sign of a ‘thumbs up’.
I will never forget during my years of getting into trouble when an elderly neighbour called Mr Spivy from Windybank Estate once intervened in a confrontation I was having with another neighbour who was verbally reprimanding me for some minor criminal damage I’d caused to her hedge. As she was letting go with all her verbal anger, Mr Spivy, intervened and told me to instantly go home, as the offended neighbour looked close to belting me one. As I left the scene (I was about 8 years old at the time), I heard Mr Spivy say to the woman who’d been giving me ‘what for’, the following words that I never forgot. ”Don’t you be too hard on the boy. He’s good at heart. He’ll do well for himself. He's fine'.
So, the next time you might be feeling bad about yourself, simply look in the mirror and give yourself the ‘You’re so fine’ thumbs up sign. I dedicate today’s song to all my gay friends.
Love and peace Bill