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Maiden Over
A true story from A Rocket for the Lodgers

Having been clouted over the head with a rifle, I decided that my next warlike incarnation required a helmet. The Black Shield of Falworth, starring Tony Curtis, with his 1950s crew cut and Bronx accent, fired my imagination, and I decided to become a mounted medieval knight. I already had a charger. Like every other lad in Millgate, I owned a trolley, an engineless wooden go-kart with pram wheels from Joe Calderbank’s scrapyard. This contraption went like a rocket downhill.

Now for the helmet. Wigan Baths had a machine which dispensed a sickly, perfumed hair dressing called Brylcreem. This concoction arrived in cylindrical five-gallon tins which looked very similar to the medieval jousting helmets in the Curtis epic. A few minutes’ business with a hacksaw and a pair of tin snips and my helmet had an eye slit. It was summer, and my mother had placed an arrangement of brightly dyed dried tropical grasses in our fireplace. These provided the plume.


There were several shields in the Baths lumber room left over from the Coronation decorations of 1953. I chose a white one with the red cross of St George and added a rope hand-grip. A broom handle provided the lance.


I mounted my trusty steed, set my lance in rest, pushed off along the pavement down Millgate and veered right into College Avenue. Plume fluttering bravely in the breeze and gathering speed, I swept majestically around the wide curve into busy Library Street with its bus stands. Here disaster lurked. It was late afternoon, at the end of the working day. The New Springs bus was late, and its queue had straggled across the pavement right in my path.


‘Look out!’


‘No brakes!’


No evasive action was possible, and in any case, knights are expected to sweep young ladies off their feet and carry them away astride their destriers. This is exactly what I did, though this lady was not young, and neither her language nor her behaviour were exactly ladylike.


In those days elderly ladies still dressed like Old Mother Riley, in feathered bonnets and tailored two-piece suits with frilly blouses and lace jabots. It was a lady dressed like this, and carrying an ancient rolled umbrella, that I scooped aboard my charger in my frenzied passage through that rapidly scattering queue, displaying her pink bloomers to the fascinated multitude. Except for her outraged dignity, she was quite unhurt and extremely vocal. And calling down well-deserved maledictions upon my person and my knightly ancestry, she attacked my helmeted head with surprising vigour, and her rolled umbrella.

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