The Hillman Avenger Story

How do you define your first car?

The question can actually be read in many different ways.  Let me explain.

Take a look at the photograph below.  Here you will see a very young me sat in black and white next to my mother on our front door step.  In my hands you will see a small toy.  A fifties style car the make and model of which I cannot recall, nor determine from the picture.

Vince with Lilian on doorsetep
The earliest photograph of me holding a car so it must be mine

I don’t remember that car but by the look of my tight grip it looks very much like mine.  Is this my first car?

The first toy car that I definitely remember owning and which became my favourite one was a red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Corgi toy.  So was this my first car?

But toy cars don’t count as a first car, do they?  One needs to be able to get in and drive.  Well, I could do that in the go-kart that my brother and I were given.  I may only have been around four or five years old but it was me doing the driving, providing all the self-propelled forward motion, steering and braking.  In doing so I learnt width judgement, the consequences of speed, under and over steer and when ignoring all the above what happens when the corner is tighter than the grip.  So surely my first car.

Then motorised transport came into my life.  You can read about the origins of this journey in my Bikes section because like many others in those days I started on two wheels.  On the road since my sixteenth birthday on a borrowed moped, then at seventeen my own trail bike, followed by a small road bike then mid sized tourer.  You will also have noted that I finished this section of my life with a crash, a girlfriend, thoughts of future passengers and a story involving a bicycle and a Hillman Avenger.  My first actual car.  Or was it?

It was certainly not the first I drove as I had been driving for about three years by then.  I started as soon as I was legally allowed at seventeen.

The first I got behind the wheel of was a Vauxhall Viva.  Not the latest, rebadged 2016 Chevrolet Spark, but the much earlier HC version that Vauxhall produced during the 1970s.  It was red and new and light to drive through its enormous steering wheel.  I had already garnered a good sense of road craft from my year on mopeds and a trip or three on my Yamaha Trail bike.  And crucially I couldn’t fall off it.  Driving a car should have been so easy.

The trouble was that it was owned by a gross, un-sympathetic, interfering Driving Instructor and I couldn’t afford many or even regular lessons.

I hated every moment of the driving not because of the car but because of the instructor.  He would arrive late, squish down in the passenger seat with his plump thighs overhanging both sides of the wide seat usually with his used handkerchief dripping out of his side pocket hanging over the handbrake.

He would then fuss and panic about someone driving his car and constantly grab at the steering wheel and gearstick then pump his feet up and down on his new toy, his dual pedal set up.

I already knew how to meander through traffic from my year and some of biking, I was aware of my surroundings, familiar with junctions and traffic signs.  I just needed some practice at the bits of a car that were different such as clutch changing using my foot and steering with a big circular wheel.  But I was not free to plot my own course without unnecessary intervention, or pull to a gentle stop without my passenger stabbing the brakes.

I was just seventeen and didn’t have the life experiences or confidence to change instructors or the funds to do back to back lessons and as a result every two months it felt like another brand new start.  Just let go of the controls you gross, pig-headed bastard.

Overall I had just six lessons, one every two months or so during the year before I was advised by Mr. Slob to take my driving test and inevitably failed it.  I can’t remember exactly why but do recall it was only a couple of minor issues.  The main thing I needed was regular, unhindered practice.

I was also under pressure from work.  My job required me to visit various construction sites around the local counties and my white collar image was being smeared by the arrival in motorbike clothing and helmet.  Plus I was unable to transport the required oddments and official documents that my role dictated.  The boss wanted me driving and I had colleagues’ cars awaiting my piloting.

I finally got my chance when my mother persuaded my dad that I could be added onto her car’s insurance.  With the assistance of my older brother in the passenger seat and a couple of L plates I could get all the practice I needed.

It was a first generation white Triumph Herald 1200 with bright red seats and I took it out as often as money, my brother and time allowed.  I even took my friends, Jeff and Spike, in the back a couple of times.  Although regretted it when they gesticulated at a passing police car which got me a lecture about how I, as the driver, should be in control of my unruly passengers.

But it did the job, I got the regular practice needed and re-hired the Viva to pass my car driving test.

Not that I swapped my exciting twin wheeled vehicles for a car immediately.  Why should I?  I already had 120mph travel potential and a 0-60mph time of around three and a half seconds.  Cars were dull, slow things that in my budget were rusty and unreliable with excessive insurance premiums.  And besides that I had started driving anyway.  Virtually every day.  In nearly new cars, fuelled by a large on-site petrol tank.

I worked in a small to mid sized building services company.  Our task was to design and build the intricate pipe work and associated plant that courses its way around commercial and industrial buildings and my role was to manage or assist in the supervision of these projects.  The company needed me to deliver tender offers, visit the sites for meetings and help with previously forgotten small deliveries.  And so leant me the company cars for this purpose.

I particularly took advantage of tearing around the place in John’s blue facelift model Vauxhall Chevette 1.3 L as he was generous enough to let me have the keys, thanks John.  Malcolm was less forthcoming with his near identical green model.  In fact I was more often offered the mid-size executive 1.6 Vauxhall Cavalier Mark 1 LS of Senior Engineer Jeffery.  And once had to deliver our MD Peter’s BMW 525 E12 post facelift model to Salisbury.  I saw 125mph on the speedo.  Err, it was just under the 130mph on the dial, officer.

However time was moving on, I had done all that I needed to at that moment on two wheels and as explained in my Honda CX500 article the market for potential new female friends would be increased exponentially by having my own four wheels so I advertised my bike for sale and included a thought that I would consider a swap for a car.

I had a reply.  Some chap had a car and wanted a bike.  We agreed that any difference in value would be included in cash and he duly arrived in his Hillman.  I can’t recall who got some dosh with their vehicle but he took away my shiny ‘as new apart from the frame reshaped’ bike and left me the keys to his slightly tatty Avenger.

Hillman Avenger front
My Hillman Avenger in all its glory when first purchased by me

I had received not only the keys but also the car.  A Hillman Avenger GLS with vinyl roof.  This pleased me immensely as for a start it exceeded the company cars I had use of in virtually every aspect.  It was a GLS model, not a mere L, or LS and as anyone around this time knew this was important.

It had four headlamps, velour seats, Rostyle wheels and it’s black vinyl roof.  Plus an enormous 1.6 engine as big as Jeff’s one.

It also had some extras not normally on these models.  A bit of surface rust and a distinct lean towards the front right hand side.  But let’s not forget, it was a GLS.

Driving the car felt good.  It’s soft, probably knackered, suspension wallowed it around to suit it’s big comfortable presence.  There was a dashboard full of dials and accomodation to easily fit five adults.  The multi headlamp set up lit up the darkest of night lanes and the powerful engine provided prompt passage to wherever you chose to travel.  Everything worked and I was a happy owner that summer.

I loved having the car and was the first of my gang to have one.  Yes, Spike had occasional use of a huge four wheel barge that had Vauxhall VX 4/90 written on the back.  It was an FD series and actually his Dad’s car.  All the others were still tootling around on just two wheels.  I became the go to guy for transporting numbers greater than two.

In fairness the others didn’t have cars because they were still at school, or sixth form college as they put it.  I was the only working one with a wage, although a fairly meagre one as I was doing an office based apprenticeship.  But at least I could run the thing.

Jeff, Vince, Theresa & Jackie
Jeff [the ‘student’, not the Senior Engineer version], Vince, Theresa and Jackie, pictured at another time completely.  The Pot Noodle is irrelevant to the story.  But in the interests of complete disclosure was a Chicken and Mushroom version

The most memorable of these journeys happened at the beginning of August that year.  My good mate Jeff had been dating Jackie for a few years by now and a suggestion was made that I could get together with Jackie’s friend Theresa.  A plan was hatched for us all to go to the British Biking Grand Prix together, ostensibly to help with the marshalling but mainly to snuggle up in handy pairs in a tiny overnight tent.

Jeff had just been signed up for his Polytechnic, err University, course and was already there sorting out his new accommodation so I was tasked with collecting the girls, passing by the big school to pick up Jeff and then for all four of us to travel towards Silverstone.

The problem was that it was fresher’s week so Jeff was therefore torn between his long planned trip to the races and getting in on the first social events with all his new poly buddies.  He felt he had no choice but to choose his new social contacts meaning I had to take a very tearful girlfriend and her sympathetic bestie onwards to the racing circuit where the only racing certainty was that the threesome in the tent would end up as a sad, sob fest.

Our weekend duties were also squarely curtailed.  Without Jeff we could hardly form a reliable marshalling team for a major Grands Prix event so we were asked to ‘assist around the pits area’.  A euphemism for don’t get in anyone’s way.  We didn’t have much to do and sat around watching things happen.  At one point I had popped to the loo and Barry Sheene was told off by the girls for ‘sitting in Vince’s seat’.  In the Yamaha pit area.

But I should be reporting on the car.  Well it was near perfect.  Plenty big enough for three adults and all the camping equipment that we could muster and very comfortable on the long trip.  The only issue being the windcreen wipers that decided to stop working just as the rain started to.  Oh, and the fact that Jackie threw open the passenger door too hard when the car was parked facing downhill resulting in a slightly bent front door where it met the hinge and a bit of a gap where it now couldn’t meet the back door.  A judicious slam and a bit of securing rope and it closed providing access wasn’t needed any more on that side of the car.

It wasn’t quite the end of the car.  That would happen later that year as autumn, winter and my circumstances started to take it’s toll.  The ownership coincided with a dramatic time of my life.  I decided I had made an error in joining a company in the construction industry.  I wasn’t planning to stay beyond my apprenticeship so immediately junked the job.  It was the week before news headlines reported the first time unemployment had reached the milestone of one million.  I was out of work, likely to be staying that way, poor and had only just left home to stay in a shared house with some of my old school buddies.

The car was parked, unused, at my parents house and when the tax ran out I popped it up on the front lawn.  Not as dramatic as it might seem at first because the lawn had become a regular spot for many of my brother’s many broken down vehicles.

However, my car wasn’t welcomed.  Possibly in fairness because I wasn’t living there any more.  I was asked to move it.

As usual it fired up first time but then immediatly became sick and started to wet itself all over the floor.  That day I learnt three important things.  Firstly why antifreeze is a critical component in a coolant system.  Secondly that you cannot trust a previous owner to know about the first thing.  And thirdly that if you are oblivious to points one and two the ordinarily very durable metal crankcase can be split in two.

I had no funds to repair the car and had to come up with a solution.  And it looked like I found one in my new friend Stuart.  He offered to take the car off my hands and give me a bicycle.  This pleased me because I had never had a bike, could actually afford to run one and there was more talk of a cash value to make up the difference.  And I desperately needed cash at that point in my life on the simple grounds that I had precisely none of it.

Sadly the deal didn’t go down too well.  Newly discovered ex-friend Stuart arranged to take the car promptly then procrastinated about the bike.  It appeared he didn’t have one to give me, or didn’t want to part with any he did have and spoke about building one for me.  I had previously envisaged a shiny brand new racing bike but was now looking down the barrel of a rusty frame fished from a canal, bent spokes and a soggy seat.  The bike, when it was finally delivered wasn’t that much better.  It was a recycled frame with a lovely hand crafted paint job with a unique paint run effect.  None of the components were of any quality or purchased recently from a store.  And when the cash differential was raised Stuart disappeared and so became someone I never saw again.  Shame really, he seemed like quite a nice guy.

So, in summary I had started with a fairly new motorcycle and ended up with a crappy bicycle.  But in between loads of fond memories of my first car.  Because that was what it was.

And that’s how it should be because, as anyone knows, the first car is the cheapest.  Queue the song Rod.

Author: Vince Poynter

The header photograph shows the author sat on the bonnet of his Hillman Avenger 1.6 GLS, taken by a family member in 1981
The first photograph shows the author aged around three to four sat with his mother, Lilian on their doorstep and must be dated around 1964/5.  The next image shows the front view of the Hillman Avenger, also from 1981.  The final photograph shows the author and his friends Jeff, Theresa and Jackie, also from 1981 but a bit later
This article first appeared on the vinceunlimited web site on 20 September 2019 and can be found at vinceunlimited.co.uk/cars.htm or if you are on a mobile device and want a more suitable reading experience on vinceunlimited.co.uk/carsm.htm

Letting The Genealogy Out Of The Bottle

The Family History from the autobiography of Vince Poynter

Genealogy is a growing pastime and I am a mere amateur at it.  I have only managed to trace my paternal family back for four generations and that data came from one family Bible source.  The trail leads to a couple who were probably born around the early 1800s, a mere 200 or so years ago, still some way off William the Conqueror.  Mind you, I have no grand illusions and probably trace back to a mere woodsman rather than a King or even Courtier.

My blond hair and fair skin would suggest Germanic or Northern European roots and my accent places me square in Hampshire.

However, I never personally knew anyone that I could call great or great-great in the grandparent sense so my particular family story starts with my grandparents.

A photograph of the author's paternal grand-parents, stood, dressed formally for a wedding in matching light grey outfits
It’s all their fault. My paternal grand-parents. Blame them, not me. Planning Ye Olde Oak Ham sandwiches, no doubt

One of my fondest memories of being young is the visits to my paternal grandparents.  They lived in Bassett, a posh part of the city and it is surprising the positive effects of fitted carpet and Ye Olde Oak Ham could provide.

I recall sitting in the bay window with my brother Mark for hours on end watching the traffic ebb and flow at the junction.  It was my first taste of being a petrol head and I could name every car that passed by.  Eric, Fred, Davina, etc.  No, not like that!

This vehicular voyeurism was interrupted by the call of afternoon tea on proper china, followed by the card game whereupon the adults had to contrive to stop me winning all the cash.  As a kid I was unaware of all this blatant cheating against me but I still came away with pocketfuls of old pennies.  Financially it was the luckiest period of my life – the Pools and then Lottery never repeated this good fortune.

Grandma and Granddad were excellent in their roles.  I only knew the very nicest side of these wonderful people.  To me and my siblings they were warm, generous and funny.  We only visited once a month and at Christmases so they, like us, were on their best behaviour.

Granddad started his working life at fourteen as a cycling telegraph boy and worked hard to forge a career in the Post Office, making Manager before his retirement.  His work was not interrupted for the various wars that his generation seemed to have at frequent intervals due to being in a reserved occupation although he once recounted a journey during a blitz where the bombs obliterated each building he had just vacated.

Another war-time story saw him shoved headlong into a bunker by an enormous clump of earth that had just been liberated by a local bomb.  The earthy clump had landed square in his back.  What a sod.  The earth, not Granddad.

Grandma, to my knowledge, never worked.  She must have done something for the war effort but its significance never warranted a mention that I recall.  She did produce my Dad though so that counts and she had a smile to melt chocolate.

My father also worked in the Post Office although it had become BT, via British Telecom, by the time he retired.

His early years were disrupted by National Service where he trained, then tutored at Catterick Camp in Yorkshire.

He also changed his career collar from blue to white and retired with a reasonable pension and a lot more time for his beloved bowls.

BPhotograph of the autho's parents, sat at a meal table, father with a camera, mother with a glass of wine
It all started with a whistle. The wolf is the one on the left. My parents

Dad hooked up with my mother in the mid-fifties.  Apparently the grinning, wolf-whistling cyclist swayed her and they married shortly afterwards, bearing three children, including my older brother, the aforementioned Mark, and younger sister Dawn.  It must have been a successful whistle as they still remain together, ready soon to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary.

Mum also worked, although sometimes part-time whilst we were all young.  A series of shop, waitress and petrol attendant roles in the early years then mostly administrative roles for the NHS.  But unlike today’s parents, she was always home before her children.  Which from my side of the fence was a bad thing – no after school parties.

My mother’s father died relatively young.  A disease causing an imminent blindness gave thoughts to being unable to support his large family and in the late thirties that was unacceptable.  He elected to take a cowardly way out in the confines of his gas oven and left my maternal grandmother alone to bring up several children.  She was a hard working woman who later married the man I knew as Granddad.  A giant of a man with huge weather-hardened hands and a booming voice.

They were the chalk to my paternal grandparent’s cheese.  Hardship was a memorable feature of their lives but I’m convinced that things wouldn’t have been so bad had ‘Nanny’ not spent so much on trinkets and cigarettes.

Their home, for a large part, was a centrally located flat in a major town.  Nowadays someone would rip out the guts, call it Manhattan Loft living and charge a fortune.  In those days it was a cold, concrete, council owned property with nasty metal railings following the urine-aroma’d stairs.  I still find it hard to reconcile the modern trend of apartment living without invoking those earlier memories.

Although splendidly rich in aunts and uncles on both sides, with all their attendant siblings I called cousins, the extended family were not overly close.

A couple of times a year we would visit or be visited by my mother’s closest sister and her pack and at Christmases we did the rounds but the fact that the families roots’ stretched all across the town and my family are inherently localised meant that we never really grew up together.  For the large part family only meant the five of us in the old house at the end of ‘The Close’.

Although the three-bedroom house I called home was not my first residence [see the chapter entitled Oniscus Asellus to read about the first] it lasted long enough to remain a fixture in my thoughts where I guess it shall remain forever.  It was a semi-detached sixties built house with cold walls and horrid metal framed windows that would freeze inside on most winter’s mornings.  Central heating in the sixties and seventies was restricted, by law I believe, to my Grandparent’s house.

All we had was electric storage heaters.  Apparently, these enormous tin blocks were full of house bricks that were roasted at night when the electric bills were low and emitted their heat the next day.  Or rather the next morning.  To be precise for about six or seven minutes in some ghastly hour long before I got up.  I lived in that house during the long, hot, drought infested summer of ’76 but can still only really recall the cold.

The author sits on a bench with brother Mark to his right and his sister Dawn on his right.  The clothing is very seventies, with all wearing bell bottomed, flared trousers.  The author sits awkwardly with crossed legs and his hands clasped around his knees, rather camply
Benchmark children. Mark, Vince and Dawn. I blame the parents

I shared a bedroom with Mark, who was, and still is obviously, older than me by two years.  We shared that room for the best part of twenty years and always got on well.  Our murmuring together late into each night was not appreciated by the rest of the house and when Dad hadn’t quite got fed up with the nattering our younger sister, Dawn, in her separate bedroom would squinny until he shouted.  Girls eh.

In fairness it was always harsher for Dawn because, due to her gender, she slept alone.  The late night boys conversation was probably a sad reminder of her loneliness at night.  Not that she had a right to complain.  I spent more daytimes playing with her than Mark.  She was two years younger than me so being the middle kid I had a choice of playmates.  I would often be torn between playing toy cars with Mark or teddy bears with Dawn.  In that respect being the middle child was an advantage.  Other things weren’t quite as useful.

Because I had an older brother I often had to make do with cast offs.  Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a regular thing but enough to irritate.  Dawn, being a girl, had none of my cast offs so at times it seemed I was the only one with used items.  It may explain why I always prefer new now, from goods to houses.

Talking of new, in my family sense, the newest additions are my nephews and niece.  Mark married Alison and together they had two boys, Simon then Alex.  The niece part is Jenny, daughter of Dawn and her husband Andy.

I, myself, chose not to have children.  A choice made far easier by the concurrence of my wife, Lynda.  So the family Bible won’t be getting filled up with my descendants and in theory when I properly research the genealogy it will at least have a conclusion.

Just like this chapter.

Author: Vince Poynter

From My Poynter View, from the Autobiography section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 3 Apr 2018 but first published in the website in Jul 2005
The first image shows the author’s grandparents, William and Rose Poynter, taken on the Isle Of Wight around 1965
The central image is of the author’s parents, John and Lilian Poynter, enjoying a meal at The Vine Inn, Cadnam in May 2009
The final image shows the author with his older brother, Mark and younger sister, Dawn, sat on a bench on the Isle Of Wight around late 1976 and was picked to amuse you. So feel free to snigger
All images were originally added in Version 3.00 around Mar 2010

De-smarting

The School Years from the autobiography of Vince Poynter

Image of Vince Poynter stood, wearing a small hat and large red nose, holding a gonk, with Lilian Poynter sat in the background
Clearly a genius, with his mother in the background

It is one of the most dramatic times of our lives.

In barely over a decade you start school, graduate to two completely different ones, learn about money, relationships, fighting and sex, get progressively smarter, meet hundreds of other people, decide on what floats your boat and suffer the indignation of a growing army of zits on your body.  And everyone tells you it’s the best time of your life.

I’d disagree but suggest that childhood might be the busiest.

You may have no money worries, because you haven’t got any, nor any concerns over time, because you haven’t any idea that it might stop one day.  And no clue what to do about anything.

But there is one overriding factor about childhood that dominates the time – children.

Unless you chose a career path that involves them such as a teacher or Scout Leader [those poor fools] you will never again associate yourself with so many of the little blighters.  Because by and large they are the most evil, deceitful, mean, bullying individuals you are ever likely to meet.

Alright, I might be being a bit harsh and by now all those little urchins have now probably grown up to be nice, rounded adults.  Rounded in more senses than one.

Children will constantly taunt, wind up and bully each other until someone bigger says stop.  And as a very young person I was in the thick of it.

My schooldays are not full of happy memories and although I [used to] fully list myself in friendsreunited [a now defunct, previously popular, Social Media gathering spot], complete with picture and 1600-word narrative, as that is the social thing to do, plus I felt I had a good story to tell, I have no real wish to meet up with most of the old characters again.

My first school, Shirley Warren Infants, has now been demolished.

In fact I own one of the apartments [read flats] there and rent it out.  It is now a lovely little oasis in the grime of the surrounding area and handy for the hospital and my letting aspirations.

It used to be a single story building filled with screaming youngsters.  I recall the basic layout but not much of the detail.  I cannot really remember the classrooms or any of the teachers even though I spent five years there.

I do actually recall one of my first days there and the pairing that kids do during the first break so we all ended up with a best mate.  I chose a similar looking friend to me called Kevin but he was soon shipped off to a strange remote location that he referred to as ‘Lester’.  Near to the moon I gathered at the time.  I had lost my first best friend. All the others had already paired up and I never again had such a [male] relationship.

Other memories from the Infants school include the attention I sometimes got from the ‘older’ girls.  I remember being cuddled a lot – it was a blond hair thing.  And I recall once pretending to be dead so I could peek up the skirt of a teacher.  I couldn’t get away with that now.

Other than that my only memories were the walks to school with my mum and strangely the bike shed.  No, let me re-phrase that, before everyone jumps to the conclusion that the pre-schooling preamble was in the company of a mother and some sort of strolling bike shed.  I recall walking to school with my mum and I recall the bike shed, which I duly tested the back of with a couple of volunteers.  The shed, not my mum.  Oh, sort it out yourselves!

The little Infants school was not too far away from the main school which brought together the Junior and Senior elements.  I duly graduated to the Junior side, the details of which are much clearer to me.  I could probably accurately trace the whole school layout with its several classroom, play areas, tin huts, assembly hall and car park.

School photograph of Dawn and Vince Poynter
Sister Dawn [no, not a nun] and Vince in School posed photograph

I returned to the site a few years ago and was saddened by its demise.

The boys playground had obviously not been used much and weeds had ripped through the surface of the tarmac.  In the early seventies they wouldn’t have stood a chance from the incessant pounding of football feet every couple of hours.

The football games were quite fun with teams of about 50-a-side fighting over whatever ball someone could smuggle into school.  It was never a proper leather ball, in fact often just a tennis variety but the game was always fought with passion.

I even recall days where a stone was used as no one had a ball. Of course, by the end of the playtime session I had ‘introduced’ several other stones to add to the pace, and cut shins.

Formal games held on the green near Lordshill were never such fun.  Although I often found plenty of space away from the massing defenders I would rarely be passed the ball as my team-mates would hardly involve the chap that was last to be picked for the team.  I was so distrusted in sport that if there was an uneven number they would argue about who would have to suffer the indignation of an extra player!

Can’t think why I bothered to do all their homework for them now.

I used to have to do the homework for several other boys.  I was gifted academically, which set me apart from the other kids.  Couple this to a timid personality [at the time] and I’d be bullied into assisting the lazy slobs.

I recall having to ‘grade’ the homework so that these unintelligent pond mammals would seem to have done the work themselves.

However, one thing I could never comprehend was how a teacher could think that some toad getting 35% when he normally got 15% was so good, when next to the toad was a smart little chap with [yawn, another] 95% score.  Even more surprising was later in the playground the idiots boasting of how well they did.

In my opinion teachers do not like clever children.  Perhaps they don’t like the competition, or losing their superiority.

Gifted though I was I had yet to understand the complexities of personality and was constantly derided for something I thought was good.  I would sit at the front of the class showing great keenness in their efforts but couldn’t understand why the teachers would be annoyed by me volunteering to answer any question they posed.  I’d be dismissed with comments like “Can anyone but Vincent answer this question?”

Another example was a lesson we had whereby the teacher would try to raise awareness about understanding with a word association game.  The teacher would say a word and ask the pupil to say whatever word came into their mind.  For example, the teacher might say ‘tree’ and expect the child to say ‘forest’.

As ever, I had to wait until near the end to have my say, despite my arm thrust up in the air so hard it had grown two inches longer than the other had.  Having waited [im]patiently for the other automatons to attempt to formulate a word it was finally my go.

“Alright, your turn Vincent, your word is rabbit.” Instantly I replied, “Rabbit”.

The teacher was aghast.  Perhaps I had misunderstood?  Was the blond boy human after all?

She re-explained the rules, then repeated “Rabbit.” And “Rabbit” was what she got in return.  She enquired why I had just repeated her.  I explained that “When you said rabbit the first thing to come into my mind was rabbit, the word you had just said.  What you meant to say was ‘What is the second word that springs to mind?’  In which case I would have replied carrot, or even warren.”

Smart-arses are never appreciated.

I couldn’t loose my skills so I had to start hiding them and did this in my next school.  Smart eh?  I graduated from Shirley Warren Juniors to the finest school in the vicinity.

King Edward VI Grammar School was my saviour from the certain ‘ducking’ I was promised on the first day of Senior School at Shirley Warren.

I comfortably passed the entrance examination and started life as a ‘Spud’ along with a hundred other smart-arses.

School Photo of Vince Poynter at King Edward VI
A Spud.  One of dozens of smart arses

One of my first actions was to stand up to the first bully.  It worked and I was no longer the weakest link, but I was also determined not to be the brightest as well.  I drifted toward the back of the class in lessons.  Until my eyesight weakened and I found myself drifting back to the front again.

I recall a lot about the characters there, and even a few teachers but cannot recall any good yarns.  There wasn’t many things funny about the school or having to travel half-way round the county to see your friends when I wasn’t allowed a bike and certainly nothing funny about not having any girls at the all-boys school.

I can’t even amuse you with stories about public school initiations because it didn’t happen.

In fact the only story worthy of mention is the skiing trip to the French Alps, where I got badly sunburnt.  Under the chin of all places, because snow reflects.  As a result I missed half the holiday but I was determined not to let that stop me attending the black run on the last day but was too inexperienced to handle the highest ice slope at the top.

So my friend and I [apologies for not recalling who] jumped off the ski lift one hundred metres from the top.  Into six foot of powdered snow.  It took us three hours to traverse the twenty metres back to the run.

King Edward VI supplied me with enough education to pass nine ‘O’-levels, my only failure being French.  I would have had half a dozen more had I stayed with the Warren as they didn’t restrict entries to ten, or more likely I would have been stabbed as did happen to someone during the time.

I didn’t have enough money for the independence I was seeking as a young man and my fantasies of becoming a Veterinarian were being dismissed from every angle.  My parents were concerned that failed Vets have nowhere to go and the school looked at my failed mock exams.

In fairness I had cruised all the way through King Edwards using minimum effort in an attempt not to look clever but knuckled down in the last month to pass the main exams.  This must really grate if you are the sort that tries hard to achieve your results.  Sorry, can’t help it.

As I had no need for Oxford or Cambridge University the school was disinterested.  I left the school under a cloud.  Only at a Grammar school could nine ‘O’-levels be seen as a cloud and they refused to acknowledge my status as an ‘Old Edwardian’.  That is, until they wanted some cash when they went private of course.

I left the year they brought in girls.  Just my luck.

But I had finally achieved my metamorphosis.  No longer a smart kid.

I left school, grew my hair and left behind the side parting.  I opted for a trendy centre parting style that nowadays they would call a mullet.  In fact they still do!

And to top it all the spots started getting worse.

I had become a teenager.

Author: Vince Poynter

From My Poynter View, from the Autobiography section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 31 Mar 2018 but first published in the website in Jul 2005
The first image shows the author being silly at a Christmas visit to relatives, around December 1966.  The author’s mother sits in the background
The second image is a formal photograph of the author with his sister Dawn, taken by Shirley Warren Junior School around 1970
The final image is a formal photograph of the author, taken by King Edward VI Grammar School around 1975
All images added in 2018

Oniscus Asellus

The Baby Years from the draft autobiography of Vince Poynter

Black and white photograph of Mark stood next to Vince Poynter in a pram
Mark thinking: Now what do I do with this funny shaped thing

When I first envisaged writing my autobiography I imagined enjoying recounting all the strange and amusing things that have happened to me during my life so far.  However, moments in this chapter happened before my brain had actually developed.

So this first part, intriguingly entitled Oniscus Asellus, can only be a mish-mash of anecdote and fiction.

At least history has allowed me to set the scene. It was cold.

Allegedly, I was born around the witching hour on a Monday morning at the end of October 1961.  I can’t verify this as I wasn’t wearing a watch at the time and my eyes were full of afterbirth so I couldn’t read the bedroom clock.

For those that care about these things that makes my star-sign Scorpio and my birthstone Topaz, a rather mucky orange hue.  The Chinese would say I was born in the year of the skunk, or something like that and certain religious sects would swear I used to be a toad.  I’ve checked between my toes and I don’t think they could be accurately described as webbed.  I was certainly born Animalia, Chordata, Mamalia, Primates, Haplorhini, Simiiformes, Hominidae, Homo sapiens.  Not newt.

The unreasonable o’clock in the morning home delivery meant that Mum could have a bit of a rest afterwards but I do not expect Dad had much rest himself.  I had to be educated to ‘A’ level standard by breakfast after all.  Just kidding.  I doubt that it would have been even to ‘O’ level standard.  Come to think of it I doubt it was to ‘O’ level standard when I passed my ‘O’ levels.  But I might just be getting slightly ahead of myself here.

The location was in the South of England in a little known hamlet called Southampton, county of Hampshire within the United Kingdom, Europe, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Galaxy.  Although you could leave out the last parts of that locale if you are terra-bound.

Southampton is a city with a long history and a struggling Premiership team, although when the town was first formed the sport was probably hog-back riding.  Now it boasts a fine heritage of glistening shopping centres and poorly used docks.  It rose to it’s prominence by virtue of having two tides, a phenomenon caused by the adjacent Isle-of-Wight apparently, although I’ve never seen the island shifting about myself.

Southampton in the early sixties wasn’t like the romanticised view of London during the period.  For a start I wasn’t born in Carnaby Street.  It was a modest lane in the Maybush area.  Hardly the best start in life.

A modern estate agent may try to describe the building as a retro-style apartment block featuring balconies with views across the city. In truth it was and is a pretty grim ground floor flat featuring a tiny balcony with a view across the street.

Yes, a balcony on the ground floor with a drop all of three inches!  But it’s still standing now and someone out there in the world of non-virtual actual reality may well be in that room today.

My parents were working class when the word was literal.  My father had followed his own into the Post Office and I’m not talking about collecting a few stamps.

Grandad had started his career as a Post-boy at fourteen delivering telegrams by his company vehicle – the pushbike.  My laziness at genealogy prevents me telling you what his father did although there was some sort of dock’s policeman in the family once.

My father joined the Post Office and was a Telecommunications Engineer.  My mother, at the time, was flat on her back.  She was far too busy, along with most of the other good women of Britain re-stocking the nation after the war years had depleted the number.

I was the second born, having been beaten to the post by my older brother, Mark.  He was two years old at the time giving him a head-start I shall never regain.

Until my sister was born, I would be the cute baby of the family.  The blond hair helped, along with the dumbfounded expression shared with so many other babies.  And owls.

Black and white photograph of Vince Poynter in a pram chewing on a strap
Lovely chewy strap but not my favourite, apparently

Many people claim to recall things from their childhood.  Not me. I can hardly remember anything from before puberty and am, quite frankly, a bit hazy about things further back than last Wednesday.

However, a story has been told so many times that I now feel I remember it clearly.  Nothing exciting or comparable to what was going on at the time such as the commencement of space travel and the onward trips to the moon or Twiggy or the first skirts named after a car.

Personally, I was discovered, I am reliably informed, chewing on a woodlouse.

If it happened today my mum would be in front of social services before you could even say “Can I have ketchup with that Oniscus asellus please?”

So that’s it.  An entire childhood beginning summarised in a debatable woodlouse scoffing anecdote.

I guess if you want to know more you’ll have to ask my parents to write their stories.

For me I’m moving on to the next stage of my saga but you will have to wait until I write it.  Ho hum.

Author: Vince Poynter
From the autobiography section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 29 Jan 2018
First Published: Version 1.03 in Feb 2005 and reproduced here with minor editing
The images all taken by the author’s family