It was way too sunny to spend the day cooped up in a classroom. Having been raised on comics in which characters often hopped the wag to go on fishing trips or similar adventures, I got my mark on the register and then sneaked off. I took the road that led down by the river, where smoking, exploring and mischief making were on the timetable. I was alone with a long day ahead of me, but I was happy. I decided to walk to the town of Bedlington, some three miles away on the other side of the river. Here I would go unrecognised by the locals; an important factor, as a previous truancy trip had come unstuck when I was spotted in my home town by a friend of my mother’s, and she didn’t hesitate to snitch.
I made my way along the riverside walk and through the maintenance tunnels of the huge iron railway bridge that spans the river Blyth by the Bank Top pub. After much trudging, I arrived in Bedlington town centre, where I soon became bored. I was also hungry because I had spent my dinner money on cigarettes. I passed the time looking in shops and basically wandering around until it was almost time to set off on the return journey.
I decided to have one last cigarette before heading home, and I went into the local Presto supermarket, where I sat down on a long row of seating that stood against a wall facing the checkouts. It may seem odd today, but smoking in a supermarket was acceptable back then.
I was about half way through my smoke when I got the feeling that someone was watching me. I scanned the checkouts and was horrified to see my mother in a queue, giving me the mother of all glares. I told myself to stay calm and resist the urge to run from the store, but I needed to think fast. At that time my mother had a wool shop and she took a half-day on Wednesdays. Clearly she had decided to pop over to Bedlington to do some shopping on her afternoon off.
Although I was wearing a pretty conspicuous white jumper under my school blazer, I determined to issue a flat denial when I got home to face the inevitable angry grilling. My first objective, though, was to get out of the store. I waited a few seconds and then rose and walked casually towards the exit. Once outside, I ran like the clappers down the main street towards the woods.
My task was to get back to school to retrieve my bag and then get home before my mother. To accomplish this, I would have to run all the way through the woods. I trotted along, stopping frequently to get my breath back, and by the time I climbed the hill by the hairpin bend, I was in a state of near collapse. Although I was making decent time, it was touch and go whether I’d win the race. Then I had an idea.
A friend of mine lived nearby, and he owned one of the most awful bikes ever produced. It was a Raleigh Chopper Sprint – that being a chopper with racing handlebars. My friend had just got in from school and he loaned me his bike for the retrieval of my bag. I tore down to the school and got my haversack from the deserted cloakroom. I reckoned that I should be able to get home just about on time – but fate had other plans for me.
On my way down the drive towards the school gates, the strap of my bag slipped off my shoulder and the haversack, weighty with books, smashed into my front wheel, causing me to lose control of the bike. I hit the tarmac quite heavily, grazing a knee and splitting my head. I was somewhat dazed but a passing prefect helped me to my feet and took me to the MI Room inside the school (MI standing for Medical Inspection, I believe). A female teacher patched me up and then the deputy headmaster, no less, took me home in his car. My mother answered the door, and the deputy head explained that I’d had a bit of an accident at school while riding on another pupil’s bike. Although I was in pain, I allowed myself a smile at this iron-clad alibi that had fallen from the sky into my lap.
Recuperating on the settee with orange squash and Hula-Hoops, I was subject to intense scrutiny from my mother, whose look seemed to be saying, ‘I know that was you at the supermarket’, but I played the wounded soldier admirably and I got away with it.
I did ‘fess up’ many years later, and I got a clip round the earhole for my efforts.