Great Days on the Levels


As a broth of a boy aged 17 and doing an engineering apprenticeship in the Sheffield steel works I was the envy of several of my mates. It wasn’t the fact that I had to attend night school 3 nights per week and college one day a week. It was the fact that I was the proud owner of a 600cc Panther motor bike with a Watsonian double adult side car. My wages then were the princely sum of £2. 4 shilling per week with take home pay of £1.17 shillings. That in new money is around £1.75 per week. My wage packet had to go home unopened and given to my mother who would then keep £1 and give me 17 shillings back.

By various means I had managed to save the £8. 10 shillings to buy the bike and it was a beast. Single cylinder sloper with enough compression to send a rocket into space. No self starts then, just kick your guts out until it fired up. One one occassion I got it wrong and the kick starter hit my foot chucking me over the handle bars and breaking my right ankle. Happy days eh!

During the summer myself plus my two best mates headed off on the bike. We also had three sets of fishing tackle plus a tent and all that goes with it. Dave being the smallest sat in the sidecar and most of the gear was rammed in around him. The rods were roped down between the bike and the side car.

We either headed off to Littleport in the Isle of Ely or to a camp site just outside Langport in Somerset. It was a good drive and by the time we had pitched our tent and managed to get our old fashioned Primus stove to light up we were all that knackered we got out the sleeping bags and dossed down on the tents ground sheet.

The following morning we headed off to fish the river Parrot  which flows through Langport. The sky was blue and the sun was already very warm.

Armed with a gallon of bronze maggots ‘borrowed’ from my dads tackle shop we set about the fabled double figure bream that inhabited the river there.

By 12pm we were all biteless except for one small roach I had fluked from just over the lillies.

Then. Enter, stage right small man walking dog. ‘Caught any fish,’ he asked. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘You won’t do either,’ he replied. ‘Why,’ I asked. ‘Oh they net this bit to feed to seals at the zoo,’ he replied.

In those days anything was feasable and I was prepared to take him at his word. The sun was now blistering hot and the gear was loaded back on to the trusty Panther.

I had noticed on the rise up to the campsite, a small hostelry complete with thatched roof and a few tables in the garden. The bike automatically veared into the small gravel area in front of the pub.  We trudged, suffering from a serious dose of dehydration, up the stony path and entered what looked like a private parlour. There was a tiny counter without beer pumps and alongside it stood a little grey haired old lady.

‘What do you sell,’ I asked. ‘Well….there is soider and then there is perry and beer,’ she replied in a broad zumerzet accent.

Three thirsty lads who were also apprentice Sheffield beer drinkers decided on three pints of proper ale. The old girl promptly grabbed a large jug and disappeared through a hole in the floor. A minute or so later she appeared again, grabbed three pots from the counter and poured our three pints.

The first mouthfull came as a bit of a shock. This stuff tasted like something I had never insulted my mouth with before. There was a grey scum on the top. It had the odour of stale pig swill and the taste was even worse. Being big brave lads we all managed to down the evil brew.

‘A pint of cider each please.’ we said. Back down the hole she went and returned with the brimming jug. This stuff was truly something else. It resembled something that used to get squirted into the pot we had under our beds. It was cloudy as hell but also had lumps floating in it. The smell from it resembled some stuff you would chuck on to a bag of chips.

Braver still, we all downed the lot. We decided to go for broke and asked about this ‘perry’ stuff. ‘Well…’s just loik soider but brewed from pears,’ she said. ‘Better try three of them then,’ I replied dejectedly.

Again she went down the hole in the floor, then reappeared with the dreaded jug. The stuff was duly poured and set before us. It was reasonably clear and as I moved the glass I noticed it kind of stuck to the sides of the pot just a tadge.

The inital taste. If you had ever wondered what the drink of the gods was like, this had to be the answer. It was without gas, sweet as your mothers kiss and slid down as though infused with a shot of the finest lubricant.

Within minutes the perry appeared to evaporate in the glass and two more were called for. There was not another soul in the place other than the three of us and the old lady who was getting plenty of exercise up and down the steps to the cellar.

I can’t really remember if it was her or us that decided four pints was enough. As we left the premises the 20 yard treck down the path to the bike loomed before us. The small wooden gate at the end of it was more difficult to open than any fort portcullis.

‘I think I will sit in the sun for a bit,’ I said and promptly fell asleep on the grassy bank.

It was around 7pm when I was awakened by a man asking me if I could move my bike so he could park his van. The lads were still comatose, Piggy curled up under the sidecar wheel.

Gathering ourselves we very slowly made our way back to the tent, then crashed out until the following morning, waking up with heads like buckets.

Later that day we moved to another stretch of the Parrot and bagged up. We also had great days on the Huntsbill, Brew and the then, relatively unknown Dunwear ponds.

I hear you ask, ‘Did we ever drink Gods brew again.’ Oh yes but in much smaller quantities.







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