Why I was in Jail at the age of sixteen
Unlike many of my other stories, this story is not based in S E Asia. Up until the age of sixteen, I had always resided in my home town of St Helens in Lancashire, Northwest England. This true short story is about this earlier period in my life and even in those days my life was far from normal.
Head in the clouds
When I was young I was fascinated with aircraft, if i saw a plane flying overhead especially if it was flying low, it would completely distract me from whatever else I was doing. I lived with my grandmother at the age of eight because her house was close to my school and I had developed Perthe's hip when I was younger and I was hospitalised for a couple of years, so now I had to walk with a caliper on one leg and a built-up shoe on the other so living with my grandmother I had less distance to walk to and from school each day. My grandmother took care of me very well and I think she really enjoyed my company because my grandfather, her husband, had passed away two years earlier. Being with my grandmother all of my spare time she knew me very well my likes, dislikes and virtually everything about me.
When she had a little money she liked to treat me and one weekend she said that she would like to take me for a day out to the seaside at Southport, I liked Southport I loved the beach and there was a large fairground there with lots of things for children to enjoy. So off we went to Southport that day and as soon as we got there I was playing on everything that interested me at the fair and my grandmother just let me do as I wanted. When I was bored with the fair I asked my grandmother if we could just go to the beach and dig up some cockles, so this we did. Whilst sitting on the beach a light aircraft flew over low and seemed to land just about a mile down the beach. This happened many times and I was just fascinated at being so close to an aircraft flying so low. My grandmother noticed this and she went to talk to a few people nearby, then she came back to me and said "Come with me and we shall go and see where the aeroplane is landing". We set off down the beach at a reasonable pace and eventually we came to an area that was cordoned off. This was the area where this aircraft was landing and taking off from. I just sat nearby mesmerised watching this aircraft it was taking people for joy rides up and down the beach front. I asked my grandmother if I could go for a ride in it so she spoke to a guy at a counter there then came back and told me that it was much too expensive I was upset a little, but I understood that as a pensioner she did not have a lot of money. So I just sat there watching this plane taking off and landing and just imagining how it would feel to be sitting in it. My grandmother left me to my daydreams and kept walking around talking with people she seemed to be enjoying herself, so I just kept myself focused on the plane, watching it flying down the beach then turning and heading back to earth (sand) again.
Up and away
Whilst I was happily just sitting and watching the antics of this aircraft suddenly, my grandmother came rushing back to me and said "Come on, your going!" I was a little upset because I was enjoying myself watching this plane, so I said to her "Where are we going?" and she replied by pointing to the sky and said "You are going up there I shall just wait for you here" then she grabbed my hand and led me to the plane. I couldn't believe it, this was what I wanted more than anything else but I was worried about her spending all of her money. So I thanked her but I said that she shouldn't spend all of her money on me, then she smiled and told me that she had negotiated a special discount for me and they had agreed because of my physical disability at that time, my grandmother was a great negotiator she could talk the hind leg off a donkey!
I smiled at the pilot as I was strapped in the passenger seat and he smiled back at me and he told me just to relax and enjoy myself, then the doors were closed the pilot opened the throttles and I was pushed back into my seat and the next minute I was looking at the sky and we were airborne. He flew me up and down the beach pointing out different landmarks but I was just fascinated by the feeling in my stomach and the aircraft itself and watching him fly it, to me this was just wonderful, then all too soon there was a jolt and we were on the ground again and I was disappointed that it was over so soon, but I thanked the pilot and still full of the joys of spring even with my disability, I opened the door jumped out, ran to my grandmother, hugged her tightly, kissed her and thanked her. I could not stop talking to her about the flight and the feeling of flying all of the way back home to St Helens. I really had the flying bug then, I had only one dream now and that was about flying, I made up my mind then that when I eventually left school I would join the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Reaching for the sky
The following year I was checked by the specialist at the local hospital and they pronounced me 100% cured of my Perthe's hip problem, so the caliper and built-up shoe were removed and for the first time in about three years I was walking on my own two legs again it felt very strange and wonderful at the same time, so I moved back into my parent's house again. Two years later I went to high school and still with aircraft in my mind, in my physics studies I opted for the physics of aeronautics as my chosen topic. At the age of thirteen I enrolled in the local Air Training Corps (ATC), this I attended two evenings per week and on Sunday afternoons. At the ATC I learned more about aircraft and theory of flight, we also were taught military discipline, weapons training and wore a similar uniform to the regular RAF. The ATC was basically a build-up to joining the regular RAF. I really enjoyed my time in the ATC and did quite well with them, once per month we would be taken for flights to a local gliding club and once a year we would attend "Summer camps" at different operational RAF bases where we would visit the squadrons and be shown around the aircraft, we would also be taken for flights in Chipmunk training aircraft, fire full bore weapons on the firing ranges and engage in some mock assault and defence training exercises. At the age of sixteen ATC cadets were allowed to apply for glider pilot training and spend one week at an RAF facility learning how to fly gliders, culminating in a solo flight after which you received your basic glider pilot's licence and ATC wings. Obviously, as soon as I reached the age of sixteen I applied for this, I was accepted and soon had my own "wings". The same year I volunteered to take part in the "Duke of Edinburgh's Award" scheme and I received the bronze award after meeting all of the criteria required by this. This actually became quite a big thing for me, because although the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards had been operating for many years I was the first person to successfully qualify in my home town of St Helens, so the local newspapers made a meal of it and my photo was in the paper, it also mentioned that I was an NCO in the local ATC squadron and my Commanding Officer was quite pleased with the good publicity for our squadron.
Chipmunk training aircraft
One of the chosen few
Every year the ATC offers a special summer camp for outstanding cadets to visit an overseas operational RAF base and they ask each Squadron Commander to select one cadet to attend this overseas camp. Because of all the achievements that I had made that year my Commanding Officer selected me and so I was chosen as the sole cadet from our squadron to join with the other cadets nationwide that had been chosen to attend a summer camp at RAF Laarbruch in Germany. I had never been abroad before so I had to get a new passport issued and although the ATC took care of all travelling expences, meals and accommodation, I had to ask my parents for some spending money for this trip and my father pleased with my achievements gave me a lot more than what I thought, was sufficient funds to take with me.
So eventually the day came for me to go on this camp. I had a rail ticket for the journey from St Helens via Liverpool and on to London, where we would be met for onward transportation to Gatwick airport for the flight to Germany. Everything went fine and I was sitting down and strapping myself in on the passenger aircraft at London Gatwick. This was a first for me in many ways, I had never been abroad before and although I had flown many times with the ATC now, this was the first time that I had flown in a passenger aircraft. On arrival at the airport in Germany we were picked up by RAF transport and taken to our destination base at RAF Laarbruch.
We had a wonderful time during the next week, we did all the things that we would normally do at summer camp in the UK but we were also treated like tourists and driven to all of the sites of interest in Northern Germany and Holland, I had a really wonderful time.
On the return trip to UK we were flown to Gatwick airport and then we were picked up by RAF transport and taken to our relative train station. I was taken to Euston station in London and I boarded the train for Liverpool. It was quite late in the afternoon when I boarded the train but I didn't really think about the time, I was still reliving the last week in my head. The three hour trip from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street station seemed to pass quite quickly. On arrival at Lime Street I quickly disembarked, I walked down the platform and asked one of the ticket collectors where I could get the train to St Helens, he just looked at me smiled and said "The train to St Helens leaves from platform two, but the last train for today left twenty minutes ago". I had to think then what I was going to do, I had not even thought about missing the train. I knew that my father would come and collect me if I asked him to but there is no phone in his house, but usually in the evenings being the chairman of the local United Services Club he would probably be there and they do have a phone, so that decided I headed for the public phone boxes. I phoned the club and the telephone was answered by my uncle who was the bar manager at the club, I asked him for my father but he replied that although my father had been there earlier he had gone out with some friends now. I quickly explained my situation to him and he said that he would tell my father as soon as he returned and he just asked me to stay in Lime Street Station and my father would come for me as soon as he knew. On that note we ended the phone call, so then I just looked for a bench where I could sit down and wait.
I found a bench sat down and I just started smoking, although I was only sixteen I had already been smoking for three years and in Germany I spent some of the little money I had left buying some duty-free cigarettes to bring back with me, so I had plenty of smokes. There were quite a few strange looking people wandering around Lime Street at this time of night and one of these strange looking characters came over to me and asked me if I had a light for his cigarette so I took out my lighter and lit his cigarette, whilst he was lighting his cigarette he cupped my hand and held it, I thought this was very strange as there was no wind so the lighter would not go out, but I just ignored it. After he lit his cigarette he hung around and started asking me what I was doing there at this time of night and I remember I really gave a silly, naive reply looking back on it now, I said "I am just waiting to be picked up" meaning by my father. At this he smiled and said that he had a nice home in Liverpool and I was welcome to go and stay with him, I went on to explain that I was waiting for my father and he said that if my father didn't arrive then he would be pleased to take care of me. He wandered away then and sat on a bench on the other side of the concourse and continued to stare at me, now I started to think that this guy was very strange and I should keep away from him, I was really very naive then. It was now approaching 11pm and no sign of my father yet so I decided to phone the club again before they closed to check on the situation. I phoned the club and my uncle answered the phone again so I asked him what was happening, he replied saying that my father had still not returned, so he could not contact him and apologised, he went on to say that it would probably be better for me to find a hotel in Liverpool for the night, so I thanked him and bid him goodnight and put the phone down. Then I thought "what do I do now?" I didn't have enough money left for a hotel so I had to start thinking of alternatives, the strange guy approached again but now I just told him to go away and I turned round and left the station, the only idea that had come to me was to ask the local police if they had any ideas or knew of somewhere that I could stay cheaply.
Detour to jail
I eventually found a police station not very far away from Lime Street, I walked in and approached the reception desk and duty officer, when he asked me what the problem was I explained my situation and I asked him if he had any suggestions. He thought about this and he asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, I nodded, so he went off to make me a cup. When he returned with my tea he asked me if I was very particular about where I stayed for the night, I replied that with my present circumstances anywhere cheap would do, thinking that he was worried if somewhere he suggested was a little dirty and I may not like it, how wrong I was! He just replied by saying that everything was okay then, he had found somewhere for me to stay so I should just take my time with my tea and he will take me there later. I asked him if I could smoke here and he replied by just lifting up his own cigarette and smiling, so I just relaxed drinking my tea and smoking for the next hour. I indicated to the officer when I had finished my tea and he said "okay then let's go" I picked up my bag put it on my shoulder and I headed for the door but just as I reached it he said "Not that way, follow me" so I turned around and followed him down the corridor, he then led down some stairs and I thought "this must be some back exit to the street" downstairs we went along another corridor, then through a door and passed many cells, when he reached the last one he said "This is your room sir!" and laughed, now I understood completely, he had given me a cell for the night which was fine with me, it didn't cost me anything and it had a bed, so I smiled back at him and said "this will do nicely" I put my bag on the floor put a blanket on the mattress on the sleeping board which was my bed and as he closed the barred door he said, "Don't worry! Yours isn't locked" then he said good night to me and left. I had to smile to myself, I had never even been in a police station before and most certainly I had never been in a cell, I then looked along the double row of cells and they all seemed to be full and everyone was asleep, well it was 2am now why not! So I just settled down on my bed puffed up the pillow and I fell asleep quite quickly.
The final meal
The next morning I awoke at about 8am, sat up and as usual for me the first thing I did was light a cigarette. The guy in the cell opposite to me said to me "What are you in here for?" So I just truthfully replied "Just for a rest" at which he just smiled, he must have thought that I was joking, he then said to me "I was as drunk as a skunk last night, I don't remember much of anything", I just smiled at him then I opened my bag pulled out my washing bag and dug out my toothbrush and toothpaste. There was a small sink in the cell with water but no plug, so I just brushed my teeth, swilled my face, towelled off, packed my bag, opened the door, which surprised the guy in the opposite cell and started to go down the corridor, just then an officer appeared at the opposite end and said very officiously "Where do you think that you are going?", so I just meekly replied "I am going home" to which he replied "Oh no you're not!" and I thought "What now, are they going to keep me in here?" he saw my confusion which was obviously his intention, then he showed me what he was carrying, he had a plate with food on it and he said "You are not going anywhere without some breakfast inside you" and then laughed. So I returned to my cell, sat down on the bed and he put my breakfast on my lap and left. The breakfast was a full English breakfast of bacon, sausage, egg, beans and tomatoes, complete with fried bread, so I just got stuck in, I was ravenously hungry having had nothing to eat the night before. The officer returned about two minutes later with a fresh mug of tea for which I was thankful, so I thanked him, he smiled and left again.
Farewell to the law
When I had finished my breakfast and tea, I rinsed the plate, cutlery and mug in the sink, grabbed my bag and took everything with me. The guy in the opposite cell was still giving me a strange look and I got the same look from every cell that I passed on the way out. When I reached the reception desk I asked the officer where I could drop off the dishes and he just took them from me and said that he would take care of it. I then sat down and chatted with them for a while, I told them about Germany and everything that I had done in the last week and we just got along very well. I thanked them profusely before I left for their hospitality and just as I was about to leave I said to them "I shall definitely recommend this hotel to my friends" they all laughed, wished me farewell and I left for the train station. It was certainly an experience, but a very good one for me and it just showed me how human and kind the British police force are.
When I eventually got home that day, everyone asked me about what had happened to me the night before but I just nonchalently replied that I spent a night in a cheap hotel in Liverpool. I never told anyone about this story even to this day, I just kept it in my memory, now it is a very pleasant and distant memory for me but an experience that I shall never forget.
So that is the story of why I was in Jail at the age of sixteen.
Now legless in Thailand!
John McMiken (Ian Reed)
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