Teenage Years from the autobiography of Vince Poynter
I have already recalled the metamorphosis of my school years in my previous chapter, De-smarting [WordPress entry on 2 April 2018], but that experience pales into insignificance when you consider the bigger changes I choose to undergo in the next decade as I developed from being a teenager to becoming a man.
At sixteen or seventeen, or maybe twelve nowadays, you start to work out who you really are. Music choices, fashion sense and identity all need maturing and this occurs in conjunction with the friends you choose to associate with and the things you do with them.
As a teenager I grew up too late for the free love sixties but too early for the real freedom of the eighties. Too late to be a real boomer but really predating Generation X. A non notable epoch.
The End Of Education
I had finished with full time education by the time I was sixteen, despite the vast majority of my peers going onto further education. I had poor parents who did not trust their own children with fiscal responsibility in case they made independent spending decisions, i.e. I would have bought a bike if I had the cash. However relying on individually requested hand outs for anything I needed from those who could ill afford it always felt wrong. I couldn’t see myself carrying on as a charity case until the end of education in my mid twenties so decided it was time I sought independence.
The school’s employment department was particularly dire because it was not often used. The grammar school system was designed to line kids up to enter the sixth form, take a few ‘A’ levels and secure the finest university entrances. It appeared I wasn’t bound headlong to the major universities or even the minor ones, nor even any of the many polytechnics yet to be rounded up into university status. My alternative was to find actual paid work and as far as I recall there were only about a dozen laminated page dull job ideas in the designated section at school. None of which inspired any form of creativity.
But I needed a job. Starting out so early may cause you to think career rather than job but a managed working life stretching far into your future when you are sixteen is as likely to be considered as is the first option to pay into a pension that will probably never come. Spoiler: it does.
I considered what I actually enjoyed at school, understood because I was incorrectly told that biology was no basis for a career and had to look at my next most interesting option. Art was a lowly second choice but the only thing I could think of so set about finding a job based on drawing but it seemed with my particular skills the options were better for technical drawing rather than creative art.
There were many apprenticeships out there at the time and with my grammar school education I had a far better chance than average to get a place. The first attempt was with Condor Engineering. They were making their name in designing and constructing steel frames for buildings and were based in Winchester. This was about as far as I had ever travelled, save for holidays, so seemed exotic. The beautifully printed, glossy brochure offered on site facilities such as sports events and a canteen along with lots of pictures of boring straight line bright yellow steel frames. The only thing they didn’t offer was an interview. So I took the next option.
Pirelli Cables were in Southampton Docks and they offered an interview. I was just sixteen years old and lacked every form of social confidence. I even recall sat in the waiting room for a meet up and thinking the floor was set too high. In hindsight it was almost certainly that actually the chair legs were cut too short. I recall virtually nothing else, not even what the job was, except the stale, dank smell and no promise of sports events or canteens.
My second interview was with a much more local company. Situated barely a mile or two from where I lived was Johnson & Baxter (Southampton) Limited. This small to medium sized company of about twenty or so people was much less intimidating. I cannot recall how I knew about the job but found myself in front of the Managing Director, Peter Hannay, who saw something in me and offered a five year apprenticeship there and then. I would leave school and go straight to work. Year out travelling to discover myself? No chance, not even a day off. A Friday school finish with a start on Monday.
The job was actually the start to a career in an industry but one which I knew nothing about. I was attracted by the thought of working on my own drawing board. I just didn’t realise it would involve drawing toilets. The industry was construction, the speciality heating and ventilation services, the reality pipework and components. In those days a very male dominated industry where men ran projects which employed the services of other men doing hard but technical work in the filthiest environments that buildings would ever be in. I eventually grew to hate it and it didn’t take long to start on this journey.
I did enjoy the clean, office based part of my work. The small office of a handful of engineers and managers didn’t intimidate but did restrict the opportunities for progression – dead man promotion. But I did particularly like working and interacting with the women who served supportive but vital roles in administration. Plus I enjoyed the growing responsibility that was conferred upon me.
Music And Fashion
As I grew up my music choices developed. Growing up in the sixties I had a diet of fifties and sixties music and cared more for the late sixties ballads with sustained notes and understandable lyrics than overtly poppy noise or old fashioned fifties rock. When I had a chance to choose my own listening it was carried out on an old portable gramophone player playing ‘Top Of The Pops’ or ‘Hot Hits’ albums purchased by my family. In particular I recall a favourite was the 1974 hit ‘Billy Don’t Be a Hero’ by Paper Lace, or whoever did the cover version on the album. I recall playing it over and over trying to sketch out and learn the lyrics. I did similar things to many of the Abba songs that I enjoyed starting from their first UK single Waterloo following the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest win, although in my case from their 1975 Greatest Hits album.
The first single I purchased with my own money was ‘Rocking All Over The World’ by Status Quo, released in 1977. This represented a development of my musical choices when soft rock started to dominate my choices, along with the double denim fashion and longer male hair styles prevalent at the time and this may have heavily influenced me for the next few years. I was becoming a sort of rocker. Not in the classic fifties sense, obsessed with music and the hatred of mods. The rock music I enjoyed was more subtle, more mainstream.
My favourite band during my late teenage years, proved by the amount of singles and album music I owned if nothing else, was Status Quo. Hardly heavy metal but heavier than the more easy listening, late sixties ballads I grew up with and also liked listening to. My enjoyment of newer music from the likes of Queen and Fleetwood Mac was yet to develop and eventually I choose to attend more Meat Loaf performances than the Quo. However it was always denim and leather than polyester, which matched my choice of travelling.
Something outside of work had become far more integral to me. My salvation did eventually come on two wheels.
Although my father steadfastly prevented my older brother, Mark, and I from having a bicycle on alleged grounds they were too dangerous he did not share the same thoughts about motorised transport, arguing that this kept up with fast moving traffic, ergo was more safe. He had grown up with full experience of bicycle ownership, graduated to clip on powered motors and then to small and medium sized motorbikes so had no fears of riding itself and loved bikes. He had only given up riding due to having a young family and needing better transport than his motorbike and sidecar.
He cited his concerns as the ever increasing amount of traffic in the seventies. However when my brother turned sixteen and went on to do his ‘A’ Levels at the same grammar school that I would follow him into he was allowed a moped. In fact Dad bought him one. A brand new ‘ped of his own choosing, with father’s input of course. He rode this to school each day and I was promised the same upon reaching sixteen myself.
I was always suspicious of my Dad’s motives for this radical sea change from no bicycle to allowing a moped. Mainly because this gave Dad an excuse to purchase two wheels himself. When he bought Mark a moped he bought a motorbike, albeit a small 125cc Honda.
A couple of years on and I had just started work, I was sixteen and offered the same choice as my brother. I could also have a brand new moped at sixteen or instead choose a second-hand motorcycle to a similar value at seventeen. By now Mark was eighteen and using his moped for nothing more than commuting to school, then college. He had no money as he was still in education not employment so hadn’t upgraded to a motorbike or car but did allow me to ride his vehicle, a kindness I shall remain eternally grateful for. I could use it when it was parked at home not doing anything else, such as transporting him to school or the very occasional social event. On most evenings or weekends it was available. This is why I opted to take the second hand motorbike option at seventeen, using Mark’s moped in the meantime.
I should have made a better choice. by taking Mark’s wheels this prevented him from joining in with my new found group of fellow young riders and the chance of further brotherly bonding. I also missed out on enjoying the delight of owning something so relatively expensive, so brand new and so exciting when I was so young. Plus, when I was seventeen and heading out to buy the motorbike with my father he still had the chance to heavily influence my ride when I could have probably afforded it myself having been working and so earning for the better part of a year.
His influence meant that I couldn’t choose a 250cc bike, the common starting point for seventeen year olds at the time. He suggested the power difference from the moped I had been riding for a year would be too much to handle so steered me toward a 175cc off road style trail bike. Then because it was 50cc larger than his he upgraded to a 250cc road bike himself. Then to continue a pattern that would develop, when I traded up a year later he strongly advised against a matching sized 250cc bike so suggested and influenced me to buy a 200cc commuter model, wholly unsuitable for a fashion conscious late teen. He was a competitive man, even against his children.
Notwithstanding my poor choices of bikes in time being a biker would become a deep seated passion to me. For years afterwards I owned a succession of two wheelers and even today, without current wheels, still consider a being a biker one of my basic life adjectives.
My group of friends shared similar transport to me, starting at 50cc mopeds, going through a few light motorbikes then onto big bore machines but when we drove cars this transient community started to fracture. Cars did eventually share their place with bikes for me because from relatively early beginnings I was actively encouraged to start using the company provided vehicles to do my job so got to drive a lot of fairly new machinery, even getting my own company car around the age of twenty one.
There was another factor in the gradual transition from two wheels to four, the passengers we took along. Girls on our pillion seats were replaced by young women in our front seats. Teenage romances replaced by young lovers. Close male friendships usurped by heterosexual coupling heading toward life-long paired partnerships. This also influenced our choice of accommodation.
At sixteen I had joined a company and started a formal five year office apprenticeship. After a year I was commuting to work on my ‘new’ second hand trail bike and was busy managing contracts and visiting construction sites in company cars. Each Monday I would have to attend a technical collage to learn more about the technicalities of my industry and carry out interim homework to suit. Weekends and evenings were spent riding out with my mates and attempting to pick up girls. I had more spending money than my peers, who were still at ‘school’ attempting to get to university, although I never enjoyed their long summer breaks.
This pattern would continue into the next years, soon with me on a 200cc Honda then a 500cc mid sized bike because 750cc was clearly too big in Dad’s opinion, particularly as he had only just taken charge of a 360cc Honda and only wanted to upgrade to a 650cc Suzuki.
Biking holidays were a respite from the monotony of work. I had no real savings because although my pay increased at each birthday and on each anniversary of my joining the company it was still feeble and upgrading my bike each year took a third of my money, another third went towards fuel and entertainment with another going towards rent to my parents.
Some of the entertainment was clearly the further pursuit of females, which sounds a great deal more predatory than the reality. My girlfriends were usually friends of my sister or of other male friends. The few parties and discos attended amassed very little increase in my social circle. I needed to seek more independence.
I was now around nineteen and had served the first half of my apprenticeship. I was still living at the family home with my family, sharing a bedroom with Mark, just out of college and starting work but making no apparent effort to vacate our space. I had three years work experience, an impressive large motorbike and a younger sister whom I had exhausted all her friends romantically if not physically. I also had a new serious girlfriend, Karen, with whom I had developed a more adult relationship and someone I was spending a great deal more time with including late night stays.
The situation sometimes became tense. Three adult males under one roof didn’t help. Arguments sometimes ensued and it was becoming time for us to not always accept the strict control that fathers tend to operate. In fact one day I was accused of causing late night disturbances when returning from my common soirées. My motorcycle boots clumping upstairs at three in the morning were the catalyst of blame and my father challenged me on this. He cited that it was his house and I was showing no respect, the discussion flared and he raised his hand to me.
Up until now I have not spoken of his anger as it wasn’t particularly relevant nor of any real importance to my upbringing. Yes, he sometimes had a temper. After all he was trying to raise a family, maintain a relationship with my mother and keeping us safe. Occasional outbursts were observed, mainly over money with mum but he was hardly ever physically violent. A couple of slaps were felt by us kids, much like many children of that period suffered. But no punches, kicks or beatings. More threat than thumps. A lot of noisy outbursts but nothing more, partly because the noise and threat worked. His physical superiority over his children saw to that. But now I was as big as him and possibly as strong. His fist threatened down on me and I choose to raise mine to match.
It was clear to us both that this was an impasse. Something had to give. Within a few days I had moved out. Into a shared house that a few of my peers had rented. I had independence at last. I had metamorphosed once again.
Author: Vince Poynter
From My Poynter View, from the Autobiography section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk web site dated 10 Apr 2020
The first image is of the first office desk I sat at within Johnson & Baxter (Southampton) Ltd. The image is a screenshot from a video filmed by the author around 1979
The second image is a passport photo of me taken by around 1978
The third image is of me about to set off on a holiday, possibly to the Isle of Wight, atop my Honda CB200 ‘commuter’ bike, taken by a family member around 1980
The fourth image shows me with my red Honda CX500 accompanied by my friend Dave ‘Spike’ Reeves on his yellow Honda CB360, which he purchased off my Dad. We are set to leave a French campsite, flanked by a couple of the guys we met there, taken by another newfound friend around summer 1981
The final image shows me and my girlfriend Karen Smith astride my CX500 taken by one of her family members outside her parents home in the New Forest, also taken around summer 1981
Top Of The Pops were a popular series of long play records produced by Pickwick Records on their Hallmark label from the late sixties to mid eighties which used session musicians and uncredited singers who reproduced popular hits intending to replicate the original sounds as accurately as possible
Hot Hits were similar to Top Of The Pops albums also using session musicians and uncredited singers produced under the mfp [Music for Pleasure] label, issued in the early seventies. My recollection is that the Hot Hits albums were more competitively priced than the similar Top Of The Pops albums, though not as respected. Except by me
You can read more about my biking and associated life experiences by checking out the stories I have written about them within the Bikes section of my web site at vinceunlimited.co.uk