A Load of Old Balls…

With weekends and end-of-term school holidays came the opportunity to earn hard cash.

The village was full of keenly competitive kids all looking for money making ideas.  The easiest and most reliable method was to trawl the length of the village, knocking on doors to inquire as to whether people had any empty pop bottles?  Taking empty pop bottles to the shop could make you ten pence a go!  And sometimes folk wanted someone to run to the shops for them – although this rarely bore fruit, except from very close neighbours who could trust that you wouldn’t just disappear with their money…

It wouldn’t take long to exhaust the stock of empties or to run out of doors to knock on, however, one or two of us had alternative options for making a few bob.

There lived an elderly gentleman, long gone now, in our row who had a son that just happened to enjoy his golf.  Mr. ‘M’ wasn’t really the type that would tolerate children – whenever we saw him out and about, he never really smiled or passed the time of day.  Chubby, with a big lumpy nose, lily-white hair and stumpy bowed legs you could drive a bus through, he’d plod back and forth to the shops as part of his no doubt to-the-minute daily routine.  One morning, he made the effort to approach me and my friends, who were busy pulling a few old golf balls to bits.  A small pen-knife or a reasonably sharp piece of broken glass were enough to begin peeling away the hard top layer of the ball.  Inside were layer upon layer of elastic.  Inside that, a small, tough rubber bladder which just happened to contain and very chalky-white type of paint.  This was the stuff we were after!  Handy for painting things, generally making a mess, or for squirting at friends having made a neat little hole in the bladder…  Old Grumpy had spied our ball-peeling efforts and was curious enough to suggest that we could help him.

Naturally cautious to his approach, we stood our ground, and whilst thinking old Grumpy was about to tell us off for something – probably for flinging paint around at one another – he surprised us with a very interesting proposition…  We struck a deal with Grumpy to supply him with a certain number of golf balls for a healthy sum of money in return.  Five golf balls for a return of fifty pence (for those of you who know me, you now know the significance of my “fifty pence”).  Now that was some deal!  And we knew just where to go to stock up.

At the top of the Wheat Fields where I lived was a golf course.  Eighteen holes and the paragon of tranquility.  I could often be found wandering and playing around the clumps of woodland that were dotted here and there over the whole course.  There were also the odd small plantation of coniferous trees, and I’d climb anything and everything.  I loved birds too and dreamed of spotting a Goldcrest one day – despite the fact that I hadn’t a clue about their distribution and how common they might or might not be here in the North East, I was still convinced that one day I’d see one.  Never did…

Okay, so the mission to stock up on golf balls was in full flow.  Now far be it for anyone to lay hidden in the clumps of rough that bordered finely mowed fairways and putting greens, wait for the soft thud of ball on grass, see that the golfer was far enough away, then dash, pinch the ball and run for your life!  Of course not – well I didn’t anyway.  Besides, the easiest way to find the balls was to just wander around the rough areas and splodge through some of the burns that lay on the periphery of the course.  There were hundreds of balls lost over the years and with patience and a keen eye, they could be found in plenty.  In addition to the main course, there was a practice driving range which was just one huge long rectangular field, with suitable rough around the edges – and another burn on one side.  There were always plenty aspiring golfers driving off balls the length of the range, and at their feet, a nation of balls lying around, waiting to be popped on a tee and struck (hopefully lost).  Most of the time, the golfers didn’t really mind us hanging around if a fair distance was kept between us and their concentration…  A few times I would butter-up a golfer with offers of returning balls from the distance they’d be struck back to the launch point – this in itself could net you the odd few pence.  As long as you were careful, there wasn’t really much chance of being struck – not that you keep a flying golf ball in sight once it had left the ground – sometimes the sky might be overcast and you’d lose the ball against the cloud.  Still, by watching the swing, you could generally tell if you were tucked into the sidings enough to avoid a bump on the head.

After spending hour upon hour on the golf course, sometimes being chased off, sometimes not seeing a soul for (what seemed) miles, I’d trundle back to Old Grumpy with my carrier bag bulging with golf balls – almost snapping the handles with the weight!  Carrier bags were stronger back in the seventies, don’t you think?  No, I’m not seriously considering that fact!  Anyway, the novelty after a time for some of my friends had worn off very quickly but I carried on and became Old Grumpy’s only supplier of the finest, soiled but usable golf balls.  He would open his back door to me, and, after a time with a smile and a few kind and funny words for a little boy, he’d count the balls and pay the agreed reward without hesitation.  Excitement wasn’t the word and one of the first things on my must-have-wish-list was a Six Million Dollar Man action figure! One of the many treats I was able to buy – who needed a paper round? Pah!   Steve Austin had a little hole in the back of his head that you could look through – his bionic eye.  As with many action figure toys that I was fond of, I won’t ever be able to recall what became of them – either arms and legs came off, they were thrown out, or I’d buried them?  I write with a wry smile that somewhere in the field around where I lived as a child, there are a nation of plastic action figures, comfortable in their last resting place!  Or maybe they were ploughed up?  I dunno…  Something else that I bought with my riches, was a pack of electric guitar strings – my eldest brother promised to teach me to play, provided I bought the strings; that’s a different story…

Old Grumpy, so sweet I’d love nothing more than to share his name with you, however, discretion forbids me, disappeared a good while after – I’m assuming into sheltered  accommodation or perhaps a care home?  But when I think back and enjoy reminiscing, I can run through our little entrepreneureal relationship with happy memories and the satisfaction of having being able to befriend, to the outside, an old misery guts, though to me, a pleasure.

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About Robert

A forty-something Celestial Travel Agent. Walked many paths; some good, lots bad. Meandering through the past, plodding in the present, crawling toward the future.
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