Boys Club

About the time that I started Art School I was old enough to also join Chandlers Ford Boys Club. The Boys Club was in an old Game Keepers Lodge in Park Road. The five rooms and a hall more or less took up the whole site with just enough spare room for a cycle shed and a caravan where the leader lived. There had been a club for boys on the site from before which closed down for the duration of war with most of it used as a emergency bedding store, part was also used once a week by the scouts.

Rod was a keen Scout and I did attend one meeting with Rod, on that occasion the Scouts were practicing ‘running messages at night’ whereby the Scouts were distributed around the village, the first Scout was given a verbal message which he had to covey to the next Scout, who was probably half a mile away and he in turn would do the same thing until the final Scout returned to the club and quoted the massage he had got, The message repeated and passing through about ten messengers didn’t always come back as it started, sometimes being almost entirely different. As I was not a Scout and also to young to be one, I was not allowed to take part and spent most of the evening hanging about doing nothing with just Mr. Dedman the Scout Leader as company. I never got round to joining the Scouts.

After the War, Rod with one or two of his mates was determined to get a Boys Club going again and after a great deal of effort, succeeded, and a quite successful club was established. They managed to get a number of prominent local business men to form a management committee. I think the boys first approached Tom Parker who had been football manager of Arsenal, Norwich and Southampton and had also been England’s Football Captain and Right Back and I assume that he approached the others that were to form the committee which included another well known professional footballer, Mr. Wheatly the villages most prominent builder, A. Bertram Fox, the Son of Fox & Son, Estate Agents, Mr. Todd, managing director of Target Morgan & Coles, a large importer of timber in Southampton and a Bank Manager whose name escapes me.

When I joined the Club there was two full sized Billiard/snooker tables taking up all the hall which ran the full width of the plot, I can’t remember who the club leader was at that time but it was not long after I joined that a new leader, who was employed by the Union Castle Shipping Company which was the main shipping line to South Africa and to which Tom Parker was a boss. The new leader became known as ‘Skip’ Ryan, a tall, very thin guy, pointed features and black wavy hair. Skip lived on his own in a not very big caravan which had been placed to one side at the front of the club He had a very different idea of what a boy’s club should be, from the one he took over. Up to the time of the leadership change, the club had merely provided activities such as darts, billiards, table tennis and had a successful football team of which [of course] Rod had been the captain.

The first thing that Ryan did was to get rid of the billiard tables from the hall to give the club a multi purpose room to great deal of moaning. The club was then affiliated to the ‘National Association of Boy’s Clubs’ whose aims were much wider than just sport and games and encouraged the arts and crafts, music, acting and so on. Although there was a lot of criticism from the boys at the loss of the tables with some leaving, the benefits from their loss soon became apparent, with a wide range of activities, which would otherwise be impossible. I was elected on to the clubs boys committee soon after Skip became leader where, I suppose, being an Art Student I would encourage some the boys in that direction. The new approach started to change the type of boy that now joined the club, losing, disappointingly in some ways, the very boys that it should have helped because the aim was to encourage this more yobbish element but who would never accept doing anything other than to play billiards and mucking about.

Skip aims of broadening the activities and we quickly starting to do new things, a choir was formed as was acting, debating, quizzing, coach outings to places of interest visits Wookey Hole in Cheddar Gorge and to London to ‘The Festival of Britain’ for example. It was on our trip to ‘the Festival’ that I discovered how broad my mates Hampshire accent was. We were in the London Underground where I had become separated from my club mates who, like me, were stood in the aisle between the seats, they were chattering and laughing a little loudly when I noticed that the other passengers were sniggering at them, at first I did not see why but quickly became apparent that it was at their accent, which I was much broader that I expected, Londoners at that time thought that anyone from the country was by nature a thick farm hand, at the same time I realised that my own accent was some what modified by being in daily contact with the middle class accent at art school but the boys really did sound broad and I doubt that the Londoners understood a single word that they said.

The modification of my accent probably helped me to integrate with my fellow students but tended to have the opposite effect on my close mates and I found that combined with the fact that I was still at school, whereas they were all working, that I no longer quite fitted into their world, equally I didn’t quite fit at Art School either, partly because of an age gap but mainly because in so many ways, I didn’t, but being a ‘bit of a loner’ anyway it did not affect me unduly, besides which my mates were earning money and I was not and I couldn’t afford to go out with them anyway.