My parents moved into the semi rural suburbs of Walsall in 1962. The house was in a row of others in Skip Lane but had fields to the front and to the rear. I used to roam the fields looking for adventure.
A new farmer moved in to the farm facing the house. He saw my friend and myself wandering around and asked if we'd like to come rabbiting with him that night. "Oh, yes please", we said. And so it was set.
We were to arrive at the farm house at 6.00pm and he'd take us out and shoot some rabbits. To say it was madness was to completely understate the situation. We arrived at 6.00pm promptly. Tractors then had a seat and two large mudguards above the two large wheels. No roll cages, no cab, in fact not much but 4 wheels, one engine, steering wheel and brakes.
He climbed into the drivers seat and told us to climb on top of the large mudguards and hang on to his seat. And so it was that we drove onto the field. The rabbits became transfixed in the headlights, he raised his shotgun and fired.
We were beyond terrified, travelling along a rutted field hanging for grim life onto a seat and sitting on a mud guard. It was a lethal combination. As soon as he stopped to aim we dropped off the tractor and ran away. I still shudder, he must have been mad. One slip, or my grip slackening slghtly and I'd have been under the wheels of that tractor and dead. He never invited us again.
One day I was wandering across the field opposite our house, when I saw two men who were out shooting. They shouted at me that I shouldn't be there and then one of the men raised his shotgun to his shoulder and aimed it straight at me. Time went into a stall. Sheer terror filled my body. Rationally I said to myself "He won't do anything."
He pulled the trigger - and I heard an explosion. I guess he must have pulled his aim up because I felt nothing.
Strangely I still continued to regard the fields as my domain and carried on wandering around them. Danger Everywhere Danger was there to be sought. Wandering around the fields for maybe a couple of miles in every direction I go to know every pond and every fence.
In autumn you could build a den from straw bales. I knew where the conker trees were. I knew the barns where you could play in the straw. I knew the ponds and how deep they were. I knew which trees you could climb and which you couldn't. I practised to see how high I could climb and then dared myself to see how high a branch I could jump down from.
Sometimes I wandered around on my own and sometimes with one of a very few friends I had. Building a den in the woods was always one thing which I did a lot. Sometimes the den would last fjor a week or two and sometimes just for the day.
There was a derelict house at the top of the Sutton Road, which I had never explored and I arranged with a friend to investigate it one summer night. In the event we never went anywhere near it, having found something more interesting to do. However my friends father had a rifle which he kept upstairs in the attic. When his wife came home she spotted the door to the attic open, saw the rifle had gone and panicked. She assumed that we had taken it and went to search the house. Relief descended later when her husband returned and said he had handed the rifle in because the police had an amnesty for weapons going on.
In the field at the corner of Skip Lane and Sutton Road was a mine shaft. It was covered by a mine wheel, a wheel made of a rim of wrought iron about 12 ft in diameter, with sold iron spokes which had been laid over the shaft. You could stand by the edge and throw stones in and listen for the splash a couple of seconds later as the stone hit the water.
The shaft was probably about 8ft square, completely vertical and, as far as I remember, had a brick lining. Inevitably throwing in stones was of limited interest and one day I decided it would be fun to lower myself into the shaft, hanging onto the spokes of the wheel and then progress round and round in circles.
In the event I lowered myself onto the spoke and hung there before starting to move hand over hand. As I kicked to start the movement, my wellington boot came off and splashed below. I realised the utter folly of the venture and pulled myself up to safety and never tried again. Sometimes even I, curbed my death wish.
A bit further down the lane was a field where a horse was left to graze. The field had a section of the fence that was a ranch fence affair. That meant that you could sit on the top bar and feed the horse. It was a friendly brown horse with a long mane. I went back every night for a week and gradually it became more and more friendly.
It ate out of my hand and allowed me to pet it. Gradually as it's trust developed I decided that it would be a good idea to take it for a ride. It couldn't be that difficult after all. I'd seen the cowboys and indians do it after all. The trick would be to persuade the horse to stand parallel with the fence and I'd stand on the top bar and then simply stand astride it. Simple.
Getting the horse to co-operate, proved somewhat time consuming, but eventually I managed it. I stood on the top bar and jumped onto the back of the horse. I had expected the horse to accept the situation with good grace. It didn't!
It jumped and shook, it reared and ran. I didn't stand an earthly of staying on. I hit the ground hard and limped back home. I had a stiff neck that hurt like hell, but of course I couldn't admit it because there was no way that I should have been doing anything like that.
There were a few ponds within easy walking distance of the house. One was only about 200 yards away. It was always half covered in thick green pond weed. I spent hours practicing how to skim stones on the open water. My technique became pretty good.
In winter the ponds would freeze and you could make slides on them. Inevitably I would decide to go skating before the ice was fully formed and after it was half melted. Many times I'd go half through and end up slithering on my belly desperately clinging to a large chunk of green ice and fighting back to the bank.
One day in the summer I found a large packing trunk, like the ones they use on big ships, which some one had thrown out and thought it would make an excellent boat. I manhandled it back to the pond and managed to remove the top. So I was left with a large wooden box. It seemed to be too good to be true.
I saw myself being able to navigate the pond for hours. I managed to get into the trunk and push off from the bank. The trunk was not a stable platform and promptly capsized and threw me out. I emerged as a green soaking mass, covered in weed and ran back home to get clean.
It seems incredible now but at the start of one summer holidays, (1965?) I decided to put a dam across the middle of the pond. I'd collect branches, stones, rubbish anything and lay it across the middle of the pond. I took to borrowing a wheel barrow and a spade, digging up soil and then pour it into the pond. So the dam progressed in by inch until eventually toward the end of the holidays you could actually walk across the centre of the pond. It seems incredible that no one ever said anything or tried to stop me.
The only time I remember any one objecting was when I decided for the sheer pleasure of it to destroy a large clump of nettles that were near the pond. Some people decided that this was destructive and asked me to stop. As if building a dam wasn't!
Skip Lane didn't have much traffic but one hot sunny Saturday afternoon I was messing around on my bike when a car went past. Because it was hot I was only wearing a pair of swimming trunks. As he drove past I decided to see if I could keep up.
So the car went along the lane with me pedalling furiously behind him. I was doing pretty well. Then the car stopped . Unfortunately the side of the road was covered in gravel and I couldn't stop properly. I went over the handle bars and sliding down the road on my front. If you want to understand sore, try grazing your tummy and chest and legs simultaneously. It stung like hell in the bath.
One day when I was on holiday and only wearing shorts I rolled into a bed of nettles. Which stung more I could never decide.
Patch The Owner of Skip Lane
I was given a dog for Christmas which we called Patch. I thought he was brilliant. Unfortunately he decided that the lane belonged to him which was a problem because he decided that no traffic would be allowed to pass.
Given half a chance he'd launch himself at any car that had the temerity to drive up his lane. We couldn't control this antisocial behaviour and he had to go.
My parents told me he'd escaped but about 15 years later they admitted they'd had him put down.
The early 60's were a time when the winters were winters and snow regularly drifted and closed the lane. The winter of '63 was the worst in living memory. Snow lay around for months. The lake on the local park, Walsall Arboretum, was turned into a skating rink. You could hire skates. There was a hot dog van parked actually on the lake. The temperature never rose above freezing for weeks on end. It was magical walking down the Lane when it was blocked. You could dive into drifts. You could kick them to pieces. You could throw snowballs.
You could roll into the snow. When we asked at school to write a poem on snow everyone else wrote poems complaining I wrote one asking for more!
I went to Grammar School in 1966 and the work schedule got heavier. I got into books and chemistry and somehow wandering around looking for adventure seemed to lose it's attraction.