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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Colours I See With


Yet another look at Tasker Dunham’s childhood diary

March 15, 1965. Monday. Medical examination at school. Found I was colour blind. Have to go for a test. Also have to have my lugs syringed out.
May 28, 1965. Had my right lug washed out and found I have red/green colour blindness.

I was only three or four, drawing with my crayons at my grandma's house, when I first knew I definitely had a problem. I had drawn a house and some trees, and had just about finished colouring in the grass when Uncle Terence pointed at it.

“What’s that bit?”

“That’s the grass.”

“Why have you made it brown?” I took it to mean I was stupid and started to cry.

“Hold on,” he tried to reassure me. “It’s not too bad. We can make it right.

He shaded over the brown with a green crayon, pressing heavily. “There, it looks all right now.” But it didn’t.

It was not the first time I had got green and brown mixed up. I’d confused them before. To me they looked nearly the same. I had tried not to let on but people kept catching me out. When it came to colours I felt useless.

Later, at school, about seven years old, we were all making a fairground collage to put on the classroom wall. Some other children were busy painting a background of green grass and blue sky on a long piece of paper, while the rest of us were drawing and painting small characters and other objects to paste on to it. I had drawn a little man and, so as not to slice off his arms and legs, had cut around him in smooth curves, giving him his own coloured background to match the collage. Except it didn’t match. Not only that, when I stuck him into place, he looked about half the size he should have been.

“Which idiot put that silly little man there?” snorted Geoffrey Bullard, pointing at it. Everyone looked and sniggered.

“It was Tasker Dunham,” Peter Longthwaite said dismissively.

“Why is 'e stuck in a pile of 'oss muck?” That came from Harvey Gelder whose dad worked on a farm.

“It spoils it,” muttered Wendy Godley, and expertly detached my contribution from the collage, screwed it up, and threw it into the waste paper basket. Everyone seemed in agreement with her. That really wounded me because Wendy Godley was the one person I most wanted to sit next to. She had blonde hair, lots of freckles, an intelligent gaze and could do everything perfectly.

There was little wonder I publicly avoided all situations involving paint, crayons and colours. But there was no escaping the attention of the school nurse, a terrifying woman aptly named Nurse Pratt. After asking me spot the numbers hidden in circles of multicoloured blobs, which I learnt some years later were called Ishihara colour circles, she unfeelingly announced her diagnosis. “You are colour blind,” and put me on a list for further tests at the Bartholomew clinic.

The clinic, in Bartholomew Avenue, was a dreadful place, a square, flat-roofed, single story, unimaginatively designed building in functional Victorian redbrick. It had echoing bare floor and walls, tubular steel and canvas chairs, and a pervasive smell of medical disinfectant undiminished by the relentless flow of freezing fresh air from the always-open doors and windows. Through the years, we had been sent there with fluttering stomachs to queue for injections: polio and diphtheria at junior school, and later the awful BCG tuberculosis jab. It was where the school optician had put stinging atropine drops into my eyes and told my mother I was long sighted and had astigmatism, at which Nurse Pratt had loudly broadcast “You will have to start wearing glasses, and you will have to wear them all the time,” and the other mothers had laughed when I timidly said, “What, even in bed?” It was where Nurse Pratt tested your hearing by going to the other side of the room and whispering “Five five nine”, “Nine five five”, “Five nine five”, what a finely-tuned test that must have been, and then held your testicles and asked you to cough (apparently a hernia test). And it was where, one morning, after a week of squirting slimy oil into my ears, I had them whooshed out with a large syringe of warm water, and then found myself trying to sort pieces of coloured wool into matching pairs, and failing miserably. The shame of it!

Colour blindness is an inherited condition that bears a passing resemblance to a family version of the football pools. If you, your parents, and their parents, all have Xs in the right rows and columns, you get a first dividend. The main difference is that you don’t choose your Xs yourself.

The Xs are X-chromosomes. Women have two of them, one from each parent, and men only one, from their mother. Colour blindness is described as X-linked recessive, meaning that it only manifests itself in the absence of a more dominant unaffected X-chromosome. Because men have only one X-chromosome, then if they get a colour blind one from their mother, they will spend the rest of their lives mistaking grey cars for green, and colouring grass brown. That, at least, is the most common version. There are rarer types in which you can’t tell blue from yellow, or can’t even see colour at all. Actually, this traditional understanding has recently had to be revised in light of findings from the human genome project, which suggests that many different chromosomes, not just the X ones, are capable of causing deficient colour vision to some degree.

I got the colour blind X, as did my brother. We could talk car colours to the bafflement of everyone else. “I really like your green Polo,” except the log book said it was grey. “We'll be in a silver Metro,” except it was metallic green. But we both knew what we meant. Uncle Terence was colour blind too, but had learned ways to cope: how else could he have known I had coloured the grass brown, and try to be so helpful about it? Eventually, I developed coping strategies too. Although I would never have been allowed to become an electrician, I built my own stereophonic record player from a kit, which involved identifying the values of a hundred or so colour-coded resistors. It worked fine. I am all right with traffic lights too, but just in case of problems, red is at the top.

There are some advantages as well. It’s a good excuse for being slow at the pick-your-own fruit farm. Your wife thinks you can’t see the raspberries properly, but in reality your slowness results from a combination of ineptitude and gluttony. Also, some colour blind people can easily spot differences between colour shades indistinguishable to those unaffected - it is said they could easily see through camouflage during the war. Others find you interesting. And you can always play at political correctness.

“What colour does that look to you?”

“I don’t know, what does it look like to you?”

“It must be awful being colour blind.”

“That’s not very nice. I’m not blind.”

“Oh! Sorry … to have a ‘colour deficiency’. ”

“It’s just that my colour vision is not the same as yours.”

Once someone asked me “Tasker, what colours is it that you see with?”

That’s the best way of putting it I’ve come across. I just see with different colours to you.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Doing the Pools


A Life of No Publicity

Tasker Dunham takes another look at his childhood diary
January 4, 1965. Monday. Sent Football Pools
January 9, 1965. Saturday. No win on pools.
January 30, 1965. Saturday. No pools win.
February 27, 1965. Saturday. No pools win but got six draws.
March 13 1965. Saturday. Got 8 draws. 21½ and 22 points. But there were 17 draws overall so might not get anything.
March 18, 1965. Thursday. Pools winnings came but only 16 shillings as only 4 dividends were paid. Dad says I can have it all if I pay this week.

I began to do the football pools at the age of twelve. Yes, I know that isn’t allowed, that in 1965 you had to be at least twenty-one, and that even though the minimum age was later eighteen and is now sixteen, parents who allow their twelve-year-old to gamble on the pools risk being put on some kind of social services register, but I did indeed start at twelve. I submitted entries in my dad’s name, on his behalf, with his full blessing. He paid for the weekly, half-crown postal order, and I had the time and the inclination to work out the predictions, complete the coupon, and put it expectantly into the post box. 

The football pools, betting on the outcomes of football matches, was a massive business in the 1960s. Around ten million people dreamed of becoming rich overnight, gambling millions of pounds each week by sending in their coupons to the three main pools companies, Littlewoods which was the biggest, Vernons, or Zetters.

Our own entry used a special grid called ‘Lit Plan 30’, which amounted to an entry of thirty ‘lines’ at one old penny per line. Explaining what this means can get seriously complicated in lots of ways - not least old pennies, ‘Lit Plans’ and ‘lines’ - but essentially each ‘line’ contained a selection of eight football matches which you hoped would all end as drawn games. Each correctly predicted draw was worth three points, so a line of eight could give you a maximum possible twenty-four points, which would win a ‘first dividend’.

With ‘Lit Plan 30’, you picked twelve matches, and your thirty lines of eight were generated using different combinations of those twelve matches alone. So when in March, 1965, we correctly predicted eight draws as noted in the diary, it was eight out of twelve rather than eight out of eight, and none of the lines defined by the ‘Lit Plan’ corresponded exactly to the eight draws. The closest were worth only 22 and 21½ points, winning us a fourth dividend and a fifth dividend. I said it could get complicated. Believe me, that’s not the half of it. 

Some weeks, a first dividend could be worth a colossal fortune. It depended on how many games on the entire coupon had resulted in draws that week. Sometimes there might be fifteen or more, in which case lots of people would have managed to pick eight, and, shared out between them, the first dividend could be as little as just a few pounds. Other weeks there might be only eight draws overall, with only one person in the entire country predicting them correctly. That was when you won the whole jackpot. It could be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds. 

It is incredible now to remember just how much of a national obsession the football pools once were. Before the National Lottery it was the only way you might win astronomical sums for small stakes. Systems which claimed to maximise your chances of winning were advertised in newspapers and on the radio. Ask almost anyone born before 1950 to tell you about “Keynsham”, and just about every one of them, correctly pronouncing it “cane-sham” not “keen-sham”, will spell it out meticulously, pausing between letters in exactly the same way:  “Department One, Keynsham, spelt ‘K’, ‘E’, ‘Y’, ‘N’, ‘S’, ‘H’, ‘A’, ‘M’,  Keynsham, Bristol”. Such was the incantation of one Horace Batchelor every evening on 208 Radio Luxembourg when he advertised his ‘famous Infra Draw Method’ to help you win the jackpot. He persuaded listeners to send their stakes to him, and then filled in their coupons for them, only asking for further payment if and when they were successful. 

It seems, though, pools companies aside, the biggest winner was Horace himself. In comparison to our own paltry thirty-line entry, the ‘famous Infra Draw Method’ effectively gave him a personal share in an enormous combined entry of tens of thousands of ‘lines’ each week, . By submitting such a large number of entries, he increased the chance that one of them would win a large amount, exactly like buying ten thousand different national lottery tickets, and when one of them won, he got his percentage. When he died in 1977, he left a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, around five million in terms of average earnings today, the equivalent of several top dividends. 

Big winners found themselves thrust into the public consciousness to serve the pools companies’ marketing machine, especially if they were young and photogenic. Perhaps the most famous was blonde, twenty five year-old, but otherwise ordinary Castleford housewife Viv Nicholson, who won one hundred and fifty thousand pounds in 1961. Actually it was her husband, Keith, who had won, but the press preferred to make out it was her. She announced in a firestorm of publicity that she was going to “spend, spend, spend”, as indeed she did, fascinating the press for years through her exuberant extravagance, the tragedy of Keith’s death in his crashed Jaguar, her subsequent marriages, and her inevitable bankruptcy. 

Jim Anderson Football Pools Win

Top prizes gradually grew in size and began regularly to exceed the million pound mark in the 1980s. I still have a Littlewoods booklet from around 1988 showing photographs of euphoric winners receiving large cheques from smiling celebrities. “Lorry driver Jim Anderson picked up a world record load, a £1,339,358 cheque from Littlewoods.” The booklet appeals to our greed and taste for the high-life. “A sleek ‘limo’ swept Jim and his family off to London … After a night in a top London hotel, it was on to the Ritz for the celebrity presentation of that massive cheque. For Jim, Elaine Paige’s voice has never sounded sweeter.” The record win of all time on the traditional pools, just under three million pounds, occurred in 1994, coincidentally in the first week of the National Lottery. 

We never did make it to that top London hotel and swanky celebrity presentation, but even if we had won a million, there was an unobtrusive little box in a corner of the coupon which said “tick for no publicity”, and we always ticked it. Of course, the pools companies always tried their hardest to persuade winners who had ticked the box to change their minds, but if we had won, I know for certain Dad would have wanted to keep it all as quiet as possible. 

In due course, I became old enough to send in the coupon in my own name. The age of legal majority in England and Wales changed to eighteen from twenty-one on the 1st January, 1970, which was after I became eighteen, but before I reached twenty one. I became an adult, legally speaking, allowed to submit pools coupons in my own name and to do other almost as important things such as vote, at the age of twenty. 

I continued the pools for over forty years. Over all that time I must have won about a dozen times, usually just a couple of pounds for a fifth dividend, once just over two pounds for a first dividend in a week when there were lots of draws, and one week the massive sum of seventy five pounds. Why did I stop? In part, it was because the experience gradually changed, but the main reason was the National Lottery. 

The weekly trip to buy a Postal Order was superseded by cheques. The weekly entry was overtaken by a ‘standing-forecast’, covering twenty weeks at a time. Rather than trying to forecast actual results, you gambled on a fixed selection of the sequence numbers by which matches were listed. Originally the Pools companies had successfully avoided gambling legislation by claiming they ran competitions of skill rather than chance. You were not a gambler but an “investor”. You were paid dividends, not winnings. There was no skill involved in simply picking sets of numbers. The process became more and more detached from the football on which it was based; the names of the teams ceased to appear on the coupons. It all became simpler and simpler. Reduced emphasis on permutations and ‘Lit-plans’, removed even the mathematical interest. I stopped bothering to check whether I had won each week and waited for the Pools company to tell me. Basically, it just wasn’t fun any more. But still I fought on in the sad belief that one day they would attempt to persuade me to allow some synthetically cheerful celebrity to present me with a large cheque at a posh London hotel.  

One day, in 2008, Littlewoods Pools telephoned me out of the blue. Perhaps you can guess the anticipation that went through my mind, just for the briefest of moments. Sadly, they had phoned only to suggest I start paying my stake by direct debit, removing the trouble of posting in the entries at all, despite being now required only twice a year. That prompted me to re-examine the whole process. It was surprising to find the regular jackpots were no longer in the hundreds of thousands, and you would actually be lucky to win the price of a new car. Big wins were now rare. I had not noticed that after the National Lottery started in 1994, the number of Pools players had dropped from over ten million per week, to around seven hundred and fifty thousand, with a consequent fall in the prize monies. 

The Pools then took another hit from the growth in online gambling, where you could bet not only on the outcome of a football match, but the final score, the half-time score, the first player to score, which team would be next to score, and so on, with odds changing in real-time as the match progressed. How much more fun is that? 

Please don’t get me wrong, it would be very nice to win the price of a new car, if you offered to buy me one I would graciously accept, but that is not why I entered the football pools for all those years. I was in to win a life-changing sum of money. After half a lifetime, I deserted the football pools for good, and increased my lottery entry from once to twice per week. More recently, when money-grasping Camelot, the National Lottery operator, put the entry stake up to two pounds, like hundreds of thousands of others, I cut back to just once a week. I wonder how my old pools standing-forecast numbers are doing.

There was just one other thing I didn’t realise. The box for no publicity didn't just apply to the pools coupon. Its jurisdiction extended to the rest of my life as well. 

POSTSCRIPT

In April, 2018, I was contacted by one of Jim Anderson’s relatives to say he had recently died, and that this blog now seems to be the only mention of his pools win anywhere on the internet. After the win Jim ran his own haulage business and had a nice house, a large whisky collection and a pool table in the garage.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Airfix Modelling

An Essential Piece of Kit in a Model Boyhood

January 1, 1965.  Friday. Made F4 UID Corsair from Airfix, and also a station booking hall.
January 2, 1965. Saturday. Made Airfix station platform.

Airfix Sunderland III Flying Boat

Most of us remember Airfix, the make-it-yourself model aeroplane kits. There were also ships, vehicles and even, it seems from my diary, railway buildings. The Airfix company flew off the ground, so to speak, in 1955, in a World War Two Supermarine Spitfire. It sold well and became the first of an enormous product range. For a couple of decades, Airfix was a very profitable business. Its faithfully reproduced, 1/72 scale models, came as injection-moulded plastic ‘trees’ of parts that slid and rattled enticingly inside their sturdy cardboard boxes. You broke off the parts one by one and glued them together with clear, stringy, cellulose adhesive, which the instructions called ‘cement’. You squeezed it out of a metal tube, releasing an exhilarating chemical vapour. 

Some parts, such as wings and the fuselage, were fairly large. Others, like the engines, fuel tanks and ailerons (to be an Airfix modeller you really had to get to grips with aero-terminology), were smaller, but still easy to handle. The tiniest parts, such as the pilot’s joystick, the propeller shaft and the machine gun barrels, which in the finished model were all supposed to move forwards, backwards, up, down and round in a realistic manner, usually ended up glued firmly to your fingers in a horrid sticky mess. You knew you were going to be spending the next couple of hours peeling rubbery ‘cement’ from your fingertips, nails, nose, hair, ears and any other exposed and unexposed bits of the body it had managed to stick to. 

You could always spot inexperienced Airfix modellers by what appeared to be globs of mucous matted into the sleeves of their jumpers. The best way to glue very small parts was to apply minute amounts of ‘cement’ with a pin or matchstick, but you needed to have progressed beyond the novice stage to know that.

Kits were graded according to difficulty, but that was not as helpful as it seemed. The easiest kits, with the largest parts, were also the smallest models. What boy, no matter how young and inexperienced, would truly want to build the smallest and easiest models, when the largest and most difficult had the most impressive pictures on their boxes?

For me, the ultimate was the Short Sunderland III Coastal Command’s Fighting Flying Boat, which came in a massive box with an all-action painting of four powerful engines, roaring away on a high-mounted aerofoil above a magnificent white hull, banking to the right on the lid. Once I had one, my younger brother had to have one too. It took my Dad ages to make it for him, about three months of sticky fingered Sunday afternoons, and the ruined sleeves of several jumpers.

You could literally spend weeks making Airfix aeroplanes, and that was only the first stage. Next came painting. The paints were in tiny containers. One brand was Humbrol, a Hull company that had originally made paint for bicycles. Their paint came in delightful tiny tinlets, with little metal lids you prised off with a coin, just like real full-sized paint tins. Airfix’s own brand was in little glass bottles, like nail varnish bottles with a brush fixed to the underside of the screw top. I liked gold and silver best. They looked dense and sparkly against the glass of their bottles, and glittered as they flowed from the point of your brush. 

Sadly, there was not much call for gold and silver. The largest aircraft surfaces, such as the wings and fuselage, tended to be green or blue. I found it impossible to apply the colour evenly over these large areas. I was so disappointed when, after painting a Dornier Do217E, one of the first models I made, a splendid World War Two German bomber with realistic rotating gun turrets and elevating barrels, it dried as patchily green as a forest canopy from the air. 

My disappointment was replaced by disbelief when my mother, with real enthusiasm, exclaimed, “Oh Tasker, it looks just like a real one!” Whether it really looked like a real one in camouflage, or whether she was just trying to cheer me up, I still do not know. 

You then had to apply the ‘decals’. You and I would call them ‘transfers’, but the instructions always called them ‘decals’. Looking this up now, I find it is short for decalcomania, derived from the French ‘decalquer’, a ceramic decorative craze from the 1870s, but let us stay with ‘transfers’. They came on a card from which, when moistened, you could slide the transfers on to the model. 

You positioned the German crosses, the RAF ‘roundels’ (red, white and blue rings to you and me) and other markings, exactly as they would be on the original, a finishing touch that made for a highly realistic model, although not realistic enough for some. Perfectionists took things a stage further using a repertoire of illusions, such as filing the bottoms of the wheels flat to give the impression of bulging pneumatic tyres.

There was just one overriding, inescapable problem with Airfix models. They did not actually fly. They were not that kind of model. You could only pretend to fly them. Holding them in your outstretched hand you could, climb, dive, yaw, pitch, roll, bank and loop around the living room, making terrifying explosive sounds and screaming engine noises as you machine-gunned the family cat. Mind you, Sooty the cat had his own ideas about that and was pretty adept at leaping acrobatically up from the floor and smashing the model out of your hand with his teeth and claws, gouging out a couple of strips of flesh in the process. What would Churchill have given for air defences like that in the war? German bombers ferociously snatched out of the air and disembowelled by batteries of enormous furry felines. The Battle of Britain would never have happened, and Churchill’s ‘never in the field of human conflict’ speech would have had to be completely different.

Alternatively, you could admire your models standing on the bookcase in your bedroom, until they got squashed beyond recognition by a busy mother with a pile of sheets and blankets. Or, you could hang them from the ceiling with invisible threads of black cotton, except that the Short Sunderland III Flying Boat was so heavy it would have necessitated a length of steel cable, a Bob the Builder safety helmet, and a rolled steel joist up in the roof. You could end up with a couple of dozen models suspended in perpetual dogfights all around your bedroom, until one day, when light had rotted the cotton, and you had imperceptibly grown a few more tenths of an inch taller, you inadvertently nudged one with your head, sending it crashing to the floor in a plume of accumulated dust that hung thick in the air like smoke, as you accidentally tripped on your model and trod it into the carpet.

To be truthful, there was not a great deal you could do with the finished models. The interest was in the making of them. It taught you patience and perseverance, and gave you confidence in the use of terms like fuselage, ailerons and landing gear, admirable qualities and skills even today. 

It seems hardly anyone makes Airfix models these days. The activity fell into decline from the late ‘70s and the company went bankrupt. Ownership of the rights went through several financial crises and takeovers, with at one point Airfix being owned by Humbrol, the paint company. You can still buy the kits, but at prices that in 1965 would probably just about have bought you the real thing. Those who do still make them are as likely to be adults as children. A fifteen-year-old boy who made model aeroplanes today would need to keep pretty quiet about it to avoid being beaten up at school. 

Maybe the increase in the cost of plastics contributed to the decline, or maybe it was more down to social change and the emergence of computer games. One thing that did not occur to many of us in 1965 was that for some fifteen-year old-boys, breathing cellulose vapour would become an entire pastime in itself, rather than just a small part of the pleasure of model making.

I remember the American Corsair fighter mentioned in the diary as the last model I made. The first had been a Fairey Swordfish, an early World War Two torpedo biplane with fiddly wing struts. But other parts of my diary show that by fifteen my interests were poised to move on, from making models at home to more outgoing things in the real world, although I know now I still had some way to go.

[Originally published as ‘An Essential Piece of Kit in a Model Boyhood’ by Tasker Dunham in Down Your Way: Yorkshire’s Nostalgic Magazine, Issue 145, January 2010, pages 46-48. ISSN 1365  8506. Country Publications Ltd., Skipton, North Yorkshire.]

Monday, 11 August 2014

Hello

This is a personal memoir about growing up in Yorkshire in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and later. It is not always memoir, nor always about Yorkshire, but much of it is. You might recognise locations but I have changed the names and details of individuals in order to protect identities.

When you start blogging you can feel sure you are going to be the next Ian Jack or Alan Bennett, but soon realise you are not. That being said, I like to think I’ve learned something through the years and posts since starting out., and have definitely gained greater respect for the professionals who do this kind of thing so well.

Last revised April 2022.