More Gripping Yarns from Bygone Years: Rafts, Canoes, Row Boats & Show Business!

Early Days in Jazz

It was in the late 1950s/early 1960s, that I first took an interest in Jazz. Well I would, wouldn’t I – it was the popular music of the era. I remember especially one late night party thrown by in one of the grand old Georgian Terrace house on Herne Bay sea front. Two jazz hits played over and over again that night still haunt me – Miles Davis’s “Lift To The Scaffold” and Lonnie Donegan’s “Seven Golden Daffodils”.

That too was the era of Acker’s “Stranger on the Shore” and Kenny’s “Midnight in Moscow” – bringing back memories of my very first girlfriend. A young Sammy Rimington did the East Kent Jazz Circuit back then. But stuck down in remote East Kent there was little opportunity to take in London haunts such as The 100 Club or Eel Pie Island.

Top Jazz Bands at The Kings Hall
In those days, before overseas holidays, Herne Bay was a popular resort and jazz bands played regularly in The Kings Hall on The Downs. The following quotes are taken from an enquiry I made on Facebook:

“I saw George Melly at the Kings Hall – Can’t remember when tho!” (T.W.)

“I remember Jonny Dankworth & Cleo Lane, George Melly, Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttelton, also Mick Mulligan who was with George Melly. They were good days, all at the Kings Hall.” (J.F.)

“Kenny Ball was at the Kings Hall in the early 60’s.” (C.A.L.)

“My husband remembers some bands were at the bandstand on the seafront” (I.G.)

The Kings Hall

The Kings Hall in bygone days

Frankie Vaughan

Frankie Vaughan

Frankie Vaughan starred at Herne Bay Bandstand on the seafront. We were all there, myself and my teenage chums, aged 14/15  – and my cousin Miriam along with the throng of Frankie’s fans.

Miriam was just 19 years old and a brunette bombshell. She worked as a window dresser at Ricemans in Herne Bay High Street. Frankie spotted her in the front row of the packed audience and amazingly invited her onto the stage to sing with him. But was it so amazing?

It’s well known that Frankie had an eye for beauty.

Soon he discovered that she really could sing –  in fact she had a stunning voice. It was thrilling, magical for myself and my chums. Days on the beach spent with Miriam were one thing, but to see her with Frankie’s arm around her in duet and almost wooing her! Well our shackles were raised with jealously and on my part, also pride and admiration! So went my early proxy “flirtation” with show business.

Warm, Balmy, Barmy Herne Bay Summers
But money was scarce so most of the time we had to find our own entertainment. Summers seemed better back then, although winters could be colder. Summer and Autumn days were spent on the beach and in the sea. Or climbing the cliffs and scaling ledges in The Glen in search of jackdaws’ nests – foolhardy pursuits! Winter days we went cross country hiking across snow laden terrains or sledging on the Herne Bay Downs.

Man overboard!

There were diving towers and rafts out to sea. One of our favourite pastimes was competing to see how many of us could crowd onto the rafts at once. I can’t recall what the record was.

Handcrafting a Canoe
Roger and I have been close friends since our schooldays in Herne Bay. We must have been around 14 years old when Roger decided he was going to build a canoe. But where would he find a suitable workshop? The answer, my father’s garage at our home in Burlington Drive, Beltinge, which housed not a car, but very old but magnificently sturdy woodwork bench. Plus a full array of my father’s carpentry tools.

Close enough to my Dad’s garage workshop!

With Dad’s permission, Roger set to with a will, at weekends and during the evenings after school. Following plans he had drawn up himself, the canoe began to take shape. A keel of sorts, the base for a framework of struts and curved timbers. The skeletal form gradually took shape with a few urgently needed adaptations to reinforce the structure sufficiently to take the pretty heavy, oiled (or was it greased?) and waterproofed canvas sheeting. More modifications were needed to stretch and fasten the canvas securely to the frame.

Finally Roger stood back and admired his masterpiece, convinced that is was seaworthy.

Only then did we confront a major dilemma! How to launch the canoe and break a bottle across it bow? Because Dad’s garage was close to the Beltinge clifftops 100 feet above sea level! Although this was before the cliffs were graded, sloping pathways between the ridges enabled us to manoeuvre the canoe via the loose clay screeds slowly but surely to the seashore. We mislaid the bottle so the launch went without too much ceremony, in more ways that one. The canoe listed in the sea and threatened to tip Roger overboard.

Not quite Roger!

Hauling the canoe up the 100 foot cliff escarpment and back to the garage was not easy! But with sweat and tears, fortunately without the blood, we managed it. And before long, the canoe was launched again. I can’t remember if it was a success!

There’s little to tell about the canoe after that. Somehow it ended up in the outside basement of Roger’s home. When once I thought to ask Roger about it his explanation was that it was far to heavy to “lug about”! I wish I had taken photos but we didn’t have iPhones back then! Anyway, it didn’t put to sea again, perhaps due to the frequent sightings of sharks off Herne Bay in a series of glorious, hot summers during those years.

More Erstwhile Adventures: Rowboats and Ships’ Elastic
I barely dare tell of more of our boating (mis)adventures in Herne Bay. But here goes anyway. There was the rowboat incident – or two rowboats. Several of us commandeered a friend’s rowboat and took to sea in pursuit of another rowboat. We scooped up jellyfish and hurled them at the two couples in the other boat. A dastardly trick I know and we almost paid for it because the other boat’s oarsman was a powerful chap and threatened to drown us all. He all but outpaced us and we escaped by the blade of an oar. Mind you, folks on the beach thought it great fun.

Innocence Betrayed
Another of our “misdemeanours” was to row out under cover of sea mists to yachts launched offshore to “borrow” quarter inch ships’ elastic for our home made catapults. Not good but I can promise we never uses our catapults in anger or irresponsibly. Just recently I featured my catapult and sheaf knives, still in my possession, in one of my paintings along with a poem to depict modern day perils.

The poem reads:

Innocence Betrayed
Bowie knife and blade,
Once tools of the trade
For youngsters bent on honing talents
Like whittling timber.
Just youthful pranks
With not a thought of malicious intent.
An innocence betrayed
In these dark days
Of indulgent excess
And intemperate rage,
By volatile youths, tempers ablaze,
Flaunting blades to slash and to maim.

I added: “These sheaf knives are mine. In my youth back in the 1950s, life was more relaxed and people were far more at ease with each other. As youngsters we were permitted to carry sheaf knives and used them in all innocence, perhaps to whittle away at wood. Then, come age 17 or 18 we’d lose interest in them. Not so today when, scarred by a society ill at ease with itself, malcontented youths carry knives if not with malicious intent then for self preservation.

Were all these totally innocent teenage adventures? Perhaps not entirely but I believe they bare no resemblance to so many teenage activities these days.

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

Earlier Gripping Yarns:

Tandems, Trailers, Scrumping and a Jazz Bonus!

Gripping Yarns When the Sea Froze Over!

Jazz&Jazz: More Gripping Yarns!

New to Jazz&Jazz: “Gripping Yarns”

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