Monthly Archives: August 2009

Blog From Beyond The Grave

Hello! Pleased to meet you. You are looking well! Wombat’s Dad here! Now, since today is my 83rd birthday, my rather hirsute son is graciously allowing me some time to tell you a few things about my early life. Actually, I originally wrote most of this down shortly before I died in 2003, so that my grand-daughters (and perhaps even their children) would know what sort of life we led in the dim and distant past, and could compare it with their own. Now I’ve just tidied this collection of nostalgia up a little for this blog thingy (whatever THAT is when its at home) using a ghost writer. See what I did there? Little death joke to lighten the mood. OK, let’s get started –

Early days
My first memory is of sitting in my pram at Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester, looking at the lion. I was about three years old at this time, so that would be in 1929. Four years later I was a pupil at Netherfield Lane Primary School, and as usual on Mayday and Empire Day we were forced to pair off with a girl and dance round the maypole… Yuk! In those days the council workmen were more often than not repairing the roads with tar, and mothers used to send their children out to stand in the smoke and breathe the tar fumes, as it was believed that it would cure and prevent colds.
In the early Thirties, the milkman used to come round every day with a milk churn on a flat bed lorry. Mum used to ask usually for a gill (half a pint) of milk, which Mr. Milkman got out of the churn in a gill-dipper and poured into mum’s own jug. He had two sizes of dipper, half and one pint, so that he could supply any quantity of milk required. I also used to go to the Co-op at the end of the street for the weekly shop, and used to love watching the manager or his assistant making the pats of butter from the huge churn, which was kept behind the counter.
Another memory is of playing Street Hockey with a tennis ball and roller skates, wh
en I was about eleven. At this time there were water meadows about a mile from our home, with lots of holes scattered around between three and five yards wide. We used to go down there on our bikes and play at scrambling in and out of the holes. Some were steeper and trickier than others, and we had quite a few falls whilst trying to master them. In the winter, the pools used to spread wide, and in cold weather froze. The locals went skating on them, and there were a number of fatal accidents. I never did this, although with some of my friends I went down and made slides along the edges of the ponds.
On the way down to the meadows stood the mighty Parkgate Iron and Steel Works, where ingots of iron and steel were made. At the end of this process a large quantity of molten slag (waste products) was left. The molten metal was poured into moulds and the rest was poured into large tipping wagons and made into a small train. This was then driven up to the top of the slagheap and then tipped sideways, allowing the molten slag to pour down the sides of the tip – a spectacular sight for young lads!
Another of our favourite outings was to go to a place where two railway lines were very close together so that we were able to see all the trains on both lines. The idea was to record the numbers or names of the engines (even though anoraks had not yet been invented). Most kids loved to put a penny on the rail when a train was due, so that it would be flattened and enlarged when the train went over it. People weren’t aware of the dangers of doing this at all.
During the autumn when the nights were drawing in and the days were getting colder, we used to go up to the playing fields where there was a high brick wall. There was a ditch running alongside the wall with lots of clay in the bank. There were also numerous frogs and toads living there, as well as minnows, newts and tadpoles in the spring. We’d get a lump of wet clay from the bank and make it into a box shape without a lid, then fashion a hole in the front. When finished it looked rather like a hut without a roof. Getting another piece of clay we shaped this into a flat oblong which covered the box so that it was like a flat roof for the box. A small hole in the lid followed by a hollow cylinder of clay formed a chimney. We then took the box home and if mum was in a good mood she would let us put it in the oven and harden the clay as potters do today. Next morning when the clay was dry we went back to the fields and got some tinder wood (there was plenty about) and broke it into small pieces. This was put in the box with some dried grass and lit. The smoke came out if the chimney and when the fire inside got going, the box made a lovely hand warmer.

Knurr and Spell
Another game whi
ch has nowadays been virtually forgotten was ‘Peggy-top’. In the Barnsley area it was played in leagues by the miners, but they called it by its proper name, Knurr and Spell. It was a bit like golf really; the players had a striker (in the proper game this was a pick-axe handle) called a Knurr, and the Spell, which was a piece of wood with a wedge shape at each end and about three inches long. A lump of flat wood or stone was also carried, for the same reason as golfers use a tee. The spell would be placed either on hard ground, or on the base wood or stone, and hit with a sharp downward stroke on the wedge end with the knurr. The spell would fly up into the air, and the striker would try to hit it as it came down and knock it as far as he could. Players took turns in knocking their spell to the end of the field and back, the winner being the one with the smallest number of hits around the field.

Spending money
When I was about eight or nine I remember that every Saturday I used to be given spending money every week… one old penny! Doesn’t sound a lot, but it was of course, worth much more then than it is now. I used to go down to the shop at the corner of Albert Road and Hollybush St. and spend it straight away. My most common buy was to spend halfpenny on five toffees, my favourite flavour being ‘creamy whirls’. Another of my favourites was a sherbet dip.

To Auntie Emma’s Sunday mornings
From being in my pram until I was about twelve, I used to go with my Dad to Aunt Emma’s house at Rawmarsh (the district was nicknamed Silver City because the houses were all occupied by miners). We kids were always given a tasty glass of elderberry wine and a thick piece of moist fruit cake. My Dad’s cousin was also a frequent visitor. He was a member of the Magic Circle and spent most of the time he was there entertaining all us kids with close-up magic.

Stocks Lane Blacksmith’s
When we went home from Rawmarsh, if the weather was fine and there was time to spare, we walked instead of
catching the bus. Our route took us up Stocks Lane and we were often lucky enough to see the blacksmith making the new horseshoes in the forge, hammering them noisily into the correct shape and size for the horse and then nailing them on. I used to love watching; it seemed so skilful.

Threshing Machine on the Island
When we lived on Hollybush Street, at the top of the road was a spare piece of rough ground surrounded by streets on each side, known as The Island. It was used as a playground by the local kids. Each September, however, the local farmer who owned the ground used to bring in threshing machines and all the associated paraphernalia, which was all driven by a Steam Traction Engine. The harvested corn, oats, etc were brought on horse-drawn wagons and loaded into the hoppers on the threshing machine. When the bales of straw were ejected out of the machine, men threw them onto a lorry to be driven away. Meanwhile, the ears of corn, oats and so on were sent into a hopper at the back of the machine where a man operated a tap to let the corn fill a sack. From there all the filled sacks went to the corn mill for grinding onto flour.

Back wall fair
At Hollybush Street there were three houses in our yard, and about three yards from the back doors was a brick wall about four feet high. When the fair came to the town, twice a year in the spring and autumn
, me and my pals used to jump over the wall when we got home from school and watch the operators putting the rides and stalls up. The fair arrived on Tuesday and ran Thursday to Saturday, then spend Sunday and Monday morning taking the rides down and travelling to the next venue. As soon as we could after school on the Monday following a fair, we went to the fairground and searched under where the various stalls had been. If we were lucky, we would find a number of coins that had been dropped by the people attending.

Day Trips
We used to go on day trips qui
te often, mainly to Cleethorpes, sometimes to Bridlington, or Mablethorpe and very rarely to the Lancashire resorts, Blackpool and Morecambe.
I remember a day trip to Cleethorpes, when we got up at the crack of dawn and walked down to the local station to catch the steam train for the four hour journey. After a glorious, exhausting day on the sands, and walking round the amusements and shops, we trudged back to the station to catch the train home only to find a terrific queue for the trains. In those days, lots of trains went to the coastal resorts from most of the towns and cities east of The Pennines. You can imagine all of these people turning up at the same time to catch their trains home. (You see, in those days there were very few buses, and private cars were as rare as hen’s teeth. Only the well-off posh people owned a car). There were so many people waiting for our train that extra trains had to be put on, and all trains were also given extra carriages. In spite of this, our train was still so crowded that we had to go in the guard’s van (like an ordinary wagon with a roof on and a seat for the guard) and all we kids were lifted on to the pile of mailbags and parcels. Adults stood in whatever space they could find. We were finally settled in the guard’s van by about six o’clock, and we didn’t get off until half past midnight. Exhausted, we had to walk home to bed and then get up early for school the next morning.
Another day trip that I remember was to Skegness when I was about eight or nine with Mum and Dad and my Uncle Norman and Auntie Hilda. There we are on the right. That innocent little lad on the left, clutching tightly to his spade, is me, then Dad (Wombat’s Grandad, of course), Mum and Norman. Look how well wrapped up we are. Although it was supposed to be summer, there was a howling gale and it was really cold. After about half an hour on the sands we packed that up and spent the rest of the day looking in the shops and riding in the fairground to pass the time till the train arrived to take us home.
One other day out that sticks in my mind was to Liverpool on the train. In those days, in the mid-Thirties, there was an elevated railway which ran the whole length of the docks. If you travelled the length of the line, which was about 10 miles long, you could see all the ships which were in dock – tramp steamers, ocean liners and all manner of vessel in between. After we had ridden on the railway, we went to the dockside and Dad persuaded a man to let us go on board a liner and marvel at it.

Holidays
In addition to the day trips we often went for a week at a time before the war to my Aunt Lily’s boarding house at Cleethorpes. For the first part of the war I spent quite a lot of the school holidays there. There was a roller skating rink where I went often. I made quite a few friends there and remember that they ALWAYS played “Blaze Away” when the skating started. I suppose that being a march it encouraged everyone to get skating quickly.
Another time I went to Uncle Horace’s for a couple of days during one holiday. His son was my cousin George and about the same age as me. They lived in a small village called Yarborough which was just outside Grimsby. Uncle Horace was a coal merchant, and one day he took us into Grimsby to the railway to fetch a lorry load of coal for selling around the village (there was no gas in the village at that time and most heating was by coal). On the return journey we had to sit on a tarpaulin on top of the coal, with a couple of sacks of potatoes for company. However, we had also bought in Grimsby a couple of spud guns, and had a glorious time perching on the coal firing potato bullets at passers by. It didn’t do much for the state of the potatoes, I have to say.

Naughty
Just before the war I had an old ‘sit-up and beg’ bike which was in need of an overhaul. I was riding one day down Barbers Avenue on the way home from my friend’s house. I was also showing off by riding with hands off the handlebars. As I was passing the cricket ground the local policeman (who was
not in uniform) stepped out and signalled me to stop! As I said before, the bike needed attention and the brakes didn’t work properly so I had to use my feet to help me stop. The bobby gave me a telling off and told me to get the bike fixed before I rode it again. He also told my Dad what he had done so that was another telling off and a week’s grounding.

Swimming Baths
On most Saturday mornings my friends and me would get up early and go to
Rawmarsh Swimming Baths. We tried to get there at about opening time, half past seven, and race to be the first to get changed and be the first in the water. We swam all morning, usually staying till noon, and then made our way home. On the way back we ate our Dripping (beef fat) sandwiches – this was our breakfast which we had saved till then. This did not, however, stop us tucking in to a big dinner when we got home.

Toilets
During my schooldays, we
had an old-fashioned outside toilet which was across the back yard. There was no heating except perhaps for a smoky oil lamp in frosty weather. It was rough when you had to go to the toilet and it was raining, or even snowing hard and freezing cold. In those times not many people used (or could afford to use) toilet paper. We used to cut the daily newspaper into small six-inch squares, poke a hole in one corner, and hang them up behind the door on a piece of string. It was a bit rough and scratchy, but it did the trick.

Buses in winter
I went to Mexborough Secondary School, having passed the exams that were then necessary to go to there. It was about six miles from home, so I had to catch the bus every day. Incidentally the buses were known as ‘Tracklesses’ because although they were driven by electricity from overhead wires, they were, unlike their precursor trams, without tracks and ran on rubber tyres, just as cars and lorries do. Whenever we had a substantial snowfall in winter, all pupils who had to go to school by bus looked forward eagerly to a few days off. You see, no one used road salt then, only ashes or grit, and the traffic packed the snow down hard. If this froze then the roads became so slippery that the buses were withdrawn until the roads improved. If it thawed on the other hand, the roads developed potholes in the packed snow, which also caused the buses, if still running, to be cancelled because of the danger of breaking the suspension on the potholes.
Great! No school!
On rare occasions when the buses were able to get through we used to have snowball fights while waiting for the school to open. One day we were having a good game throwing snowballs when I aimed wonky and knocked the hat off a Science Master as he came through the school gates. My punishment was six strokes of the cane on the bottom.

Wartime memories
Just before the Second World
War started I was at my Auntie Lily’s boarding house in Cleethorpes. About thirty minutes after war had been declared the sirens sounded and everyone expected the bombs to start falling, but nothing happened except that shortly afterwards two RAF fighters flew past, probably from Driffield airfield which was only a few miles away. No doubt the air spotters were being extra careful, it being the first day of the war, and no one was sure what to expect. In the early years of the second world war, most Saturday mornings about half past eleven I used to go to the shops in Parkgate to buy the family Saturday lunch (which we in Yorkshire called dinner). The shop was called Schonhuts, and though they had lived in Parkgate and Rotherham for decades, since before the First World War, they still had a lot of trouble from nutters breaking their windows because of their German name. I used to take a basin with me to Schonhuts and buy half a pound of Roast Pork for our Saturday dinner. It was still warm and had lots of gravy in it and on the way home the aroma was so tantalising that I used to pinch a small piece of crackling (unknown to my Dad, or it would have meant a smack).

In 1942, aged 16, I left home to join the Royal Air Force. I’ll tell you a bit about that tomorrow, if Wombat will allow his dead Dad one more …

… Blog From Beyond The Grave.

Stop walking on Grandad

When I cark it, then assuming that I haven’t succumbed so suddenly to Death (and it’d better be Neil Gaiman’s Death, or heads will roll) that my famous last words are “Oh, dropped me pastie”, I hope to get at least a short time to reminisce. At that light-headed, fun-packed time, you will ask me about the most laughter-filled days of my life, and I’ll tell you all about the day we scattered Dad’s ashes on Bleasdale Moor.
Dad died on 25th March 2003. Now before you sigh and stop reading, be aware that this isn’t a blog about how much he is missed (which is a gazillion times more than you think), or indeed about his funeral (moving and emotional, thank you), but rather about the fun we had disposing of his earthly remains.
Me and Our Julia took Our Mam to pick up what turned out to be a plasticky pot, deep red, vaguely urn-shaped, if you can imagine such a thing. We collected my daughters Cat and Ellie, and Julia’s son Danny. Being teenagers, what’s the first thing they do? Oh yes – off with the lid and have a good look:

“He looks like cat litter”
“Yeah, after the cat’s been”

Dad’s favourite place was up on windy, purple Bleasdale Moor, where (I’m told) he used to take groups of old ladies for picnics. It was a charity thing, not a pervy thing, you understand. The party drove up there, singing his favourite songs – a rousing rendition of “Wonderful wonderful Copenhagen” stands out. Over the ditch and up the heathery hill we went (This is on foot now – we’d de-carred), picking our way round and over a remarkable amount of sheep shit. We settled on a random place surrounded by tough grass and that heather, from which was a magnificent view across the valley. We each said a few words – “He was always laughing”, “Such a great dancer”, “Bye Grandad” and opened the plastic urn to the winds.
When you read about this happening in books, its always moving and beautiful. What never happens is that a gust of wind suddenly swirls in the opposite direction and surprises the mourners with a shower of Grandad.
After a few obvious cries of “Look out” or “Whoops”, one of us (possibly even me) began to sing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” to which we all joined in, Giggle Factor 10. Finally, we got it together enough to scatter Dad, although by now he’d been on a diet. It was the nearest we’d got to a solemn moment all day, although Cat broke that by walking just where we’d been tipping.

“Cat! Stop walking on Grandad!”
“You’ve got Grandad all over your shoes now! Get a stick and scrape him off!”

We put down a beautifully shaped stone to mark the spot, and have put down others over the years. From time to time we’ve added other things, such as flowers or ribbons, but the sheep and the wind soon put paid to those things.
The prompt for this blog was that we visited Dad’s Cairn, as we call it, again just the other day. The photo here on the left is me in my moth-eaten old favourite coat plonking another stone and a transitory feather down for Dad. He would have adored the fun we had that day in 2003. I love him and miss him every hour. But the real point of this is – when I DO cark it, kids – if you’re reading this – have a bloody good laugh at my expense.

Another fine Ness

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That was our Feline Expert, Buffy, communicating with you via the medium of sitting on the laptop and shuffling about. And now, on with the wittering.

Imagine a day full of drizzle. Sodden, grey, steely, and lots of other colourless adjectives also might describe the sky that glowered above as Ma Wombat and her trusty henchman (me) climbed into the Meriva and headed West.
Aha!” I hear you thinking (for I am a psychic henchman), “I’ll bet that on a miserable day like that, they weren’t thinking of visiting a botanical garden!” But you would lose that bet, chummy, for that’s exactly where we were headed – Ness Botanical Gardens in Cheshire, in point of fact. You owe me five pounds.
The Mighty Lord Of The M56 was smiling on us this day, for the motorway was uncluttered, and as we passed the strange alien constructs near Frodsham, a smiley-face of a sun coloured the whole world, and in particular, the sky. A lovely blue, it became. The sky, I mean, not the sun.
We were early enough at the gardens to choose where we parked (“Beneath a tree, beneath a tree! Keep the car cool!”), and were cheered up even as we entered by the presence of a Lambanana.

You can’t make it out from the photo, but this particular lambanana had been planted inside with small climbers and trailing plants. I imagine quite soon that he will develop a greenish coat. If you’ve not come across lambananas before, Wiki will tell you a little bit about the lovely things if you click here -> Lambananas are groovy.

Ness Botanical Gardens are particularly beautiful, and full of well-cared for gorgeous plants, like this lacecap hydrangea –The gardens are laid out on the side of a hill facing the Dee Estuary, which means that quite often as we strolled around, we would wander past a trickling waterfall or a flight of old worn steps, and happen on a stunning vista like this one.One of my favourite things about the place are the hidden little treasures, which we might easily have missed had we stuck to the main pathways. But we are nosy creatures, attracted by the hidden, and curious about what might lie behind each bend or bush or wall. And so we discovered this little chap – can you guess what it is?Yes, it’s a lambananasaurus, nestling amongst a stand of prehistoric-looking shrubs and plants with massive leaves. He was gazing out across a pond spread with mature water-lilies and bullrushes, towards what will be an impressive water-tumble. Once they get it built.
A short way on, Mary found this lovely little stone bridge – yes, that’s water beneath her, though covered with plants and teeming with tiny silver fish.
By the bridge was a small hut, roofed with grasses, and providing by now welcome shade from the heat of the sun. We were alone in this quarter of the gardens, and we relaxed here for ten minutes, listening to the silence punctuated only by the wind and the birdsong, and the occasional small plop from the pool.Moving on, we discovered many cool things. This, for example, is black grass! Did you hear me? BLACK GRASS! BLACK!
Oh. and some pretty little daisy things behind.
And the sun shining through this Acer made such a gorgeous colour, I could scarce tear my eyes away. The photograph does it little justice; I wish I’d had the video camera with me to capture the movement and the breeze and the birds twirpling all around. Neither camera, however, could capture the extremely pleasing scents wafting all around. Here’s another scene that pleased me.The white things, whose name I have completely forgotten, reminded me of a school of dolphins leaping out of the ocean, and here they are backed by the deepest of dark red leaves on that tree there. There, look. Look where I’m pointing. It should be clear by now that I love dark plants, and here’s some more deep-red foliage, this time contrasted by some japanese trees with ghostly white bark.The bottom-most area of the gardens is given over to wildflowers – cornflower, poppy, and here a teasel spies on Mary as she investigates a carpet of white Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as Mother Die, because if you brought it into the house, according to tradition, your mother would die. Not sure what was supposed to happen if she was already dead and you brought some in. Zombie Mum perhaps. Queen Anne’s Lace is also called Wild Carrot. The flower is also used in ancient rituals and spells to increase potency and sexual desire in men. Wonder if it works for wombats?For more on this brilliant plant, including some groovy recipes, CLICK HERE.

Does anybody else think this tree looks like a squid-monster about to attack? No? Just me then…
By now a bag of nerves after our lucky escape from the squid-monster, we adjourned for lunch in the restaurant. Decent prices, tasty food, and look at Mary’s ham sandwich! Look at the ham in that! I mean – bloody nora!Sadly, she would not allow me to photograph her amusing attempts to eat the thing. Me pasty was excellent, thanks for asking. What next – oh yes, the obligatory photograph of the sun shining through pampas grass –Oh, and this tree was fascinating!It is a type of Acer, and had bark like paper curling away from the trunk. It is called, with a distinct lack of imagination, a Paper Bark Acer. This next photo of a twisty cactus deserves an amusing caption, I’m sure, but you can probably come up with a better one than I ever could. So lets just admire it for a second, shall we?I’ve included this next shot of thistles because they reminded me of Jay and his Scottish roots, although I could have just included it because they are beautiful plants.We were about ready to go home by now, but still kept discovering new hidden delights, like this willow tunnel which is devouring the love of my life.And finally, just to show how crap I am at photography, I took twelve shots of a bee on a gorgeous red flower on the way out of the gardens. This, sadly, was the best of the lot.
So guys – Ness Botanical Gardens – its brilliant, and really worth a day out. There’s a website which you can see if you click the name in the previous sentence, but its not wildly impressive.

Normal Service has been resumed

In the long tradition of English football, the first day of a pristine new season, as yet unwrapped, was sunny and warm. The stroll down to Gigg Lane was a jolly one in the company of brightly-attired, shiny happy people who were sure that this year, their team had a very good chance of not losing too many games. Such are the limited ambitions in the fourth tier of footy in this green and pleasant land.
The news was that Bury would be sporting new strip this season to mark the remarkable fact that they have been around for the last 125 years – “The Wilderness Years” as we supporters refer to them. The new shirts are “retro-look”, we are told, and turn out to be a mind-melting combination of brown (or “chocolate”, according to the programme) and blue (or “sky”). In the League Table, as yet untroubled by positive integers, every team could lay claim to be top. Plus, there are those exciting new players to look forward to, with unfamiliar and exotic names like Lowe, Carlton and Worrell.
Bury had missed out on promotion last year by a bumsqueak, and were therefore expected by the “experts” to be one of the fancied teams this time around. I wasn’t so sure, because after fifty years of supporting teams who stand in the kitchen at the English football party, I have come to understand the truth of the mantra “Its A Funny Old Game“. In footy, what you expect will rarely happen, which of course is why we watch.
In spite of this, my mate Martin and me were hopeful of a less-than-disastrous season as we took our seats. Just look at the thrilling glow of pre-season optimism in our innocent faces:After the players had come out, and we’d all gone “Oooh!” or “Yech!” at the new shirts, we all stood about and applauded like crazy for a minute. This was, of course, in remembrance of the newly-dead ex-England manager and footy hero, Sir Bobby Robson. Pleasingly, the tribute was immaculately observed, and rounded off by both sets of supporters singing in unison “Oh Bobby Bobby! Bobby Bobby Bobby Ro-obson”. I was impressed by the mental agility of a couple of thousand people managing spontaneously to spread a two-syllable word over three notes.
And the game was underway! Bury were on top in the opening minutes, inspired by my favourite Efe Sodje:I like Efe because he is uncompromising (opposing fans definition: “dirty”), hard (“dirty”) and wears a cool bandana (“dirty nancyboy”). After seven minutes, new boy Lowe curls a beautiful shot into the far corner of the net at the Manchester Road end – “GOAL” we all yelled. Perhaps this season WOULD be one to remember after all. Then, we slowly all noticed that the linesman had flagged for offside, so we did the footy equivalent of an embarrassed cough, and swore at the obviously biassed official. The game continued. Here’s a shot of the action, with Efe on the left looking loike he’s about to go poo-poo, and the empty family stand (unused on police orders because the ‘M’ in ‘Family’ had fallen off the night before, leaving it prophetically pronouncing “Faily Stand”)It was all downhill after that. Bury played like me and Martin would, and were taken apart by Bournemouth who won the game 3-0, scoring some excellent goals. The optimism was shattered, and we left feeling the months of struggle ahead weighing on us like a big albatrossy thing. The two octogenarian ladies who sit behind us had two comments – “Why did I buy a Season Ticket? Not only is this bloody rubbish, I might be dead by Christmas at my age”, and the more accurate “Its them bloody shirts, you can’t see ’em aginst t’bloody crowd in them shit-coloured tops”. The afternoon was rescued a little when I heard that my other loves, Rotherham, had won with a goal in the final minute from ageing hero Paul Warne. I finally have to accept that I’m never going to score a cup final winner for my team, given that a player twenty years my junior is described as “ageing”. Ah well, the optimism may be diminished, but I’ll still be there on rain-soaked Tuesday nights in freezing December to watch The Shakers lose at home to some no-hopers from Down South, cos that’s what its all about – and hey, they might win!
And finally, I thought you might enjoy a photo of Ben having a read of the match programme when I got home. Ben’s favourite player is Steve Dawson.

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