The day I started Catering College, the bus ran over a dog. It should have told me something. There’d been many false starts in my choice of career. Hartley’s jam factory exuded its daily lure of hot strawberries. Further down the road was the Crisp factory, and once, the only career lesson we ever had, the class was taken to Bootle Gasworks. I still remember the thick gooey brightly coloured paint on metal handrails, the clang of feet on metal steps, and the smell of dust and gas. And yet, I knew what I wanted to do.
I wanted to go to sea, like my dad. I wanted to spend long hours on the deck at night staring at sea and sky, and descend into the boiler room when it got too cold and drink very hot chocolate. I had it all worked out.
Only my Dad was adamant. If I went to sea, I had to have a trade. He must have looked at me and wept - this fresh-faced shortsighted boy - must have thought of crews he had sailed with over the years, time lost in the South China seas, the kind of life I’d have to expect.
I spent a week or two convinced I’d be a radio officer, until Morse code eventually wore me down; and then it came: the answer, combining my two great obsessions, a life at sea, and food.
I’d be a ship’s cook.
Hence my presence on a bus that ran down a dog.
Mabel Fletcher Technical College taught hairdressers and cooks, and gradually it dawned on me I had made a mistake, only it was now too late. My blue checked trousers had been bought, along with two white tunics and a tall chef’s hat, which, however long or hard you starched it, always flopped down.
A lot of my memories of Mabel Fletcher are lost in a blur of kitchen knives and steam, but I remember this. Mr Radcliffe, a liberal studies tutor with black glasses and a blue striped shirt pestered me every day for a month. I had something he wanted. A Bob Dylan ticket, no, more than that, The Bob Dylan ticket. It was the year Dylan went electric and he was playing in Manchester. And I had a ticket. He pursued me for weeks, Radcliffe not Bob. Kept raising his price, until eventually, dear readers I… succumbed and he had his way with me for a £10 note. I’d sold a piece of history for a £10 note and have regretted it ever since.
Not to worry though. I acquired another piece of history in Mabel Fletcher, and many years later sold it for £2000.