Let me set the scene : the year was 1970 and the date was Thursday 18th June. Two days earlier I'd left boarding school for the last time and I was now going to go to England to take up a 'maybe' summer job offer from United Biscuits. It would my first time out of Ireland and my first plane flight. I would be on my own and I was going to London with no firm job, no place to stay and not knowing a single soul there.
Ahhhh the impetuosity of youth. I was 17.
Here is my diary entry for that day..........
Today was certainly one to remember. Got up at 6am and set off for the airport. Arrived 40 mins early so Mum & Dad left for home. I boarded the plane with apprehensions and got a seat beside a window and just behind the wing. I'd have enjoyed the flight but my ears were sore and I was scared every time the noise of the engines changed. It was raining when we left but sunny above the clouds and also when we landed exactly 75 minutes later.
London airport is enormous and it took me 1/2hr just to get out. By using 2 buses I reached Isleworth (pronounced eyes-il-worth and not isle-worth) and leaving my bags in a shop, proceeded to look for digs. I spent from 10am to 4pm looking. I just couldn't find anywhere. Very bad district and most houses have only 2 rooms. I went to the factory but they were very officious and said to come back tomorrow. I even tried the Parochial House to see if they could get me somewhere to stay but no luck.
Finally the man in the shop telephoned me and I got a boarding house at 64 The Grove ( doesn't exist anymore ) but the only room was a large 3 bedder at 30/- bed and breakfast. I hope some arrangement can be made later if a smaller room becomes available. I settled in gratefully and then for 6/- return, I went to Waterloo Station by train. I went across Westminster Bridge, saw Big Ben etc and then went to Trafalgar Square to see lots of TV cameras and 2 big screens up for the General Election. It didn't start till 10pm so I walked to Piccadilly Circus and was offered 'strawberries' by a junkie, picked up by a Greek bloke who wanted to take me on his scooter and to stay at his flat (I ran away from him at a pedestrian crossing) and after seeing Downing Street etc, watched myself on telle back in Trafalgar Square and returned to Isleworth at 11:30pm.
A most memorable day I must say.
Ok so it's not up there with the death of Kennedy or the Moon landings but it was eventful enough for a naive kid from a small town in N. Ireland. I'm not sure how that shopkeeper who was minding my bags managed to phone me in the days before mobile phones but maybe I rang him to check he still HAD my bags. Donno. Despite being excited and very tired when writing that entry, I seem to have pre-empted the idea of the mobile phone by several years.
I remember a talk we were given before leaving boarding school about the evils and perils of going to sin ridden England where awful things could happen to sweet, innocent boys like wot I was. Given that this talk was given by a priest, even back then the irony was not lost on me.
But as it happened, on that first evening in London, I could've been another crime statistic. I remember being in a park with a lake and whilst standing by a wire fence admiring the ducks, I was aware a man was standing very close to me and inching closer by the second. Suddenly his leg met mine and slow rubbing ensued. I just walked away and that was the end of it.
The bastard never wrote, never rang..........
Then later as my diary entry testifies, a Greek man (not sure how I knew he was Greek so I apologise for smearing that wonderful nation that has no history of such things whatsoever !) came up to me and asked me if I wanted a ride on his scooter. (I do hope that wasn't a euphemism). As he had my arm, I started to go with him and even at 17 and pretty wet behind the ears I was already thinking how to get away from him. As we walked along he said I could go back to his flat and I was thinking "damn, where were you a few hours ago when I'd nowhere to stay ??" No I wasn't. I was actually pretty scared by then.
We got to a pedestrian crossing and while we waited for a break in the heavy traffic, I suddenly sprinted across and left him behind. Happy days.
The 30/- a night for the bed and breakfast may confuse the yute of today. It means 30 shillings and in those pre decimalised days, there were 20 shilling in a £. I know that doesn't sound much but remember the average weekly wage back in 1970 was £13 and so that was costing me about 12% of a weekly wage or say, £70 in today's money. For a tatty b&b.
My sums and conversions may be out but in any case, it was a LOT of money to me at the time.
My 1970 diary (the page-a-day kind) is a very interesting historical record now as I tried to mention important events of the time so I may post a few entries another time.
By the way, the election results the next day showed a surprise victory for Ted Heath's Conservative Party over Harold Wilson's Labour party.
And they say this blog isn't educational !