Tag Archives: Pontefract

Memories of a Kings School Kipper Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

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The Kings School, Pontefract – this blogger’s alma mater from 1972-78

For some reason, an inner voice is telling me it’s high time for a nostalgic trawl through some school memories. Mine take me back to the seventies, when I attended a school of mellow, weathered brick atop Mill Hill in Pontefract. For I was, in local parlance, a “Kings School Kipper” – and the teachers I met there were a mixed assortment of individuals, the like of which I suspect you do not encounter these days. It was in these years that my passion for Leeds United flowered and bloomed – sometimes I think it was my nascent love for football that saved me from despairing about the dusty and cheerless environment of a soon-to-be ex-grammar school. It was all boys, of course, no feminine distractions apart from some dragon-like dinner ladies with moustaches that outdid anything in the sixth form as well as most of the whiskery efforts among the hairier masters.

In order to protect the not-quite innocent, I’ll refer to the following erratic examples of the teacher’s art by their commonly-used nicknames. That should be enough for my contemporaries, those lucky enough to go through the KSP experience at around the same time. But, even without nicknames, many of the masters are recognisable by their individual quirks of personality. The teaching staff at Kings School were remote and forbidding figures for the most part, who used to prowl the corridors cloaked academically, like a horde of demented bats. They were as motley and weird a bunch as you’ll find outside the walls of Billy Bunter’s Greyfriars.

My own favourite remains the man with the unforgettable drawling delivery; a French master and perennial form teacher known to us all as “Jack”, because his surname rhymed with that of the bandleader Jack Parnell. Jack was notorious for a series of stock phrases delivered in a characteristic nasal drawl. We’d dread the sound of “Get a move on, get some work done!”, or the doom-laden “Right, lad; fifty lines.” Jack was fanatical about his Chess Club and also his support for the gruelling coast-to-coast Lyke Wake Walk. His finest hour, for me, came when he was delivering sentence on a classmate with the surname Grace. Jack’s nickname for him was “Amazin’”, and when Grace annoyed him this one time, Jack came out with “Right lad. Fifty times in French, backwards: it’s amazin’ what raisins can do”. As the youngsters are wont to say: how random is that?

There was another Jack too, a scary character in the maths department, whose party-trick was to make his voice grow deceptively gentle, lulling a drowsy class off to sleep. Then, when he could see heads nodding, he’d give the blackboard an almighty clout with a board ruler, making a sound they must have heard down at Carleton Secondary Boys’ School. The shock effect of this ensured our wakeful attention and our sadistic teacher was plainly delighted each time he thus traumatised us.

Among the many other odd characters on the staff, there was a music teacher commonly referred to as “Tramp”, for his lack of sartorial elegance; an English master known for some obscure reason as “Bungee” – and a fearsome character whom we dubbed “Chopper”, for the swinging axe-like nature of his disciplinary methods. When another, younger teacher of the same surname joined the staff, he was immediately christened “Chipper”, in a neat tribute to a couple of popular Raleigh bikes of the day. Another English master was a man of rotund aspect, who spoke with an accent straight out of Golders Green, and was also an enthusiastic spare-time football coach. One day, an inspired member of our form looked out of the window and saw “Fat Ron” wheezing up and down as he reffed a game on the pitch just in front of the main building. “Oh look, sir,” he piped up. “There’s a heavy dew on the grass”. It took a moment only to catch his double meaning, and then the lesson dissolved into fairly malicious but honestly not anti-Semitic laughter. As a memorable bon mot, this one passed straight into Kings School legend and was much admired for years afterwards. I remember it more fondly than perhaps I should, as it was “Fat Ron”, the interfering git, who later grassed me up for being an underage member of a local club where I’d often pleasantly wasted time drinking lager and playing snooker or pool.

In the science department, we had a tall, thin physics master of amiable disposition who, although afflicted with a speech impediment, was often called upon to read the lesson in assembly. This seemed harsh enough, but the cruelty of us boys went a stage further; we called the poor bloke “Splut”, often to his face. Then there was another physics teacher, of Lancastrian origin, known as “Mad Brad”. He used to say to me, “Atkinson lad, this homework is di-A-bolical” (as it invariably was). His colleague in the chemistry lab, nicknamed Taff in tribute to his origins in the valleys, would doubtless have agreed – when he wasn’t lifting us by our sideburns, that is, to an anguished protest of “Sir, sir, sir, gerroff, it kills!” And don’t even get me started on the nasty little punishment habits of the games masters…

Given the suffering occasionally inflicted upon us by these out-dated brutes, it’s surprising how almost-fondly I now look back on my time as a Kipper. Distance lends enchantment, of course, to those dear old golden rule days – but my only truly positive memories are of the jam roly-poly in the dinner hall and playing football with a tennis ball on the basketball court. Most of us were Leeds fans, but there were a few renegade scummers and one lad who insisted on supporting Arsenal or Derby for no apparent reason. The teachers, meanwhile, were diverse in their football affiliations. One of the English masters was a Burnley fan who I remember engaged me in a serious discussion about the pros and cons of Ray Hankin – and there was a Coventry fan in the Sports department whose chief disciplinary trick was to hand out impositions of ten lines at a time – trouble was, the lines were about three pages long. I honestly can’t recall any Leeds-supporting teachers; perhaps life would have been more pleasant for some of us, if there had just been that little bit of common ground.

It strikes me that there must be readers of this blog out there who were Kings School Kippers, just as I was in the seventies. Please feel free to share your memories of the place and its barmy inhabitants – I’d be really interested to read the recollections of others who went through that particular institution and emerged more or less unscathed. Or just recount your own school memories – all contributions welcome subject to the usual moderation…

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Death of a Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Kenneth Atkinson 7.7.1927 - 27.2.2015 Taken on my parents' wedding  day

Kenneth Atkinson 7th July 1927 – 27th February 2015
Taken on my parents’ wedding day, 1959

My Dad died in the early hours of this morning. He’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for the very last part of his life, and there’s that inescapable feeling that this loss is just final confirmation of what has been a gradual departure over the last few years. It’s still a shock, though – and, blogs being blogs, this is where I have to say how I feel – and make my last farewell.

Dad was a ridiculously handsome man who failed utterly to pass those fortunate genes on to me, bequeathing instead a fanatical love for Leeds United Football Club. He was Mr. LUFC to me, John Charles’ greatest fan and a dedicated match-goer through the Don Revie glory years – when I was just a small child with no interest in the game. I wondered back then what all the fuss was about, to be honest – but when he finally relented and took me to my first ever match, that was it. I was hooked for life, and the many misfortunes of the Whites, together with their sadly few triumphs, have been mine too over the past forty years. Thanks, Dad. It was somewhat of a poisoned chalice you passed on to me, but I wouldn’t be without it.

Kenneth Atkinson was much, much more than just a football fan, of course. He was at various times a National Service soldier, a fine and well-loved teacher, a wonderful gardener, a DIY God, a Bing Crosby and Gracie Fields fan who was also much addicted to military and brass band music – and of course he was a son, a brother, a father and a grandfather. He was never happier than when he was in his garden or his garage, pottering about and making things beautiful. Those last three words would be a fine epitaph for anyone, I feel.

He was a Tory too, my Dad – but that wasn’t his fault. He’d caught it off his Ma and it came down a long line of impecunious smallholders, so I never held it against him. It gave us something else to argue about when the football was just too depressing for words. He liked to display the remnants of his language skills, as well, having won prizes for them in the early forties at the Kings School, Pontefract. I once went for a job at a frozen foods head office, and he left me a note, mixed French and Latin: “Courage, mon brave, à bas les peurs. Bonne chance. Per ardua ad Fish Fingers!” His was a unique and not completely accessible sense of humour. As he got older, he’d laugh helplessly at any jokes we told him – but in years gone by, only his own witticisms really tickled him. Then, when he’d said something he thought incredibly funny, he’d sit there, tears rolling down his cheeks, throbbing with silent, painful mirth until we were all in tucks just at the sight of him. It makes me smile now, just to think of it.

As Dad got older, the Alzheimer’s condition took an ever firmer grip on him. And yet, quite late in his life, he was active and nimble of mind. He loved to tell and write about his early memories of Pontefract, his home for all the 87 years of his life, and the place from which he set off on his travels to all four corners of the earth. I published on here a piece he wrote about his childhood in Old Church in Ponte, and this shows he had a tale or two to tell – and told them well. Really, the first thing that convinced me he was losing his grip on reality was an increasing sympathy for Man U and “Fergie”, as he referred to a man I can never bring myself to acknowledge. But that probably says more about my extreme prejudice than it does about my Dad’s state of mind.

I’ve never been very good at goodbyes, but this one has been coming for a while. I’ll remember him for the things he loved – the football, the garden, his immaculate tool shed. And the people, too – his wife, my Mum, who he was crazy about for well over fifty years, his parents when they were around, we three lads, his brother and sisters, two of whom went before him, and of course his three grandchildren. I was always proud that his only grand-daughter – my daughter Kate – was born on his 66th birthday; surely the best present he ever got. I’ll leave the actual goodbye to a quote from her, earlier today:

When I think of being little, I always think of sitting with my Grandad in his beautiful garden. I can’t imagine my next birthday, because it’ll be the first in my life that isn’t his birthday too. I’ll miss his huge hands and I’ll miss his terrible French and I’ll miss his stories about teaching and travelling. Goodbye Grandad. I love you forever, and I hope you’re back in your garden now.

As someone who always raised his own flowers, I’m sure he’d not wish them now. But if anyone is moved to make a small donation to the Alzheimer’s Society, then that would be a blessing and very much appreciated.

RIP, Dad. I hope Leeds can do the decent thing and wallop Watford for you. Say hi to Don and Billy and Gary and John Charles for me, won’t you.

And last of all – à bientôt, Papa xx

Guest blogspot: Memories of Old Church in Pontefract 1929 – 39 by Ken Atkinson

The formative years of my early childhood were spent at No.39 Bondgate, Pontefract, which was one of a block of four small two-up, two-down houses situated immediately adjacent to the front entrance of Wilkinson’s Liquorice Works. Our house was about three steps up from the pavement and enjoyed the luxury of a narrow strip of garden, possibly three yards deep. However, we had quite a long back garden which extended up to a brick wall forming the boundary of the gardens belonging to the houses at the top of Bond Street. We children were allowed a free run of the back garden as Dad was never much of a gardener; consequently the word ‘garden’ was a rather optimistic name for our playground.

I have hardly any recollections of the first two years of my life when we lived in a tiny cottage situated on what was known as Little Hill, which is now a grassed area at the bottom of the Booths. My parents’ families lived a little further down the road near All Saints’, Mum’s house being at 95 North Baileygate, while Dad lived at 8 Fox Terrace, a row of terraced houses which stretched from North Baileygate up to the Grange Field.

Dad took us for a walk and we came home to find we had a sister!

I was almost two years old when we moved from the Little Hill to No.39 Bondgate and it was probably a day that Mum never forgot, as my sister decided to be born within hours of the family moving into our new home. My brother, who would be almost four and a half years at this time, remembers Dad taking us for a walk to Box Lane and coming back to No.39 to find we had a sister!

If it can be said that most people can remember things and events from around the age of two or three, then it would probably be around 1930 when we and our neighbours still had to use toilet facilities which were primitive monstrosities known as ‘middens’, situated at the top of our gardens. The least said about middens, the better; suffice to say that they enjoyed none of the benefits of modern plumbing. Fortunately for all of us, it must have been quite soon after our move to Bondgate that our landlord, in his generosity, decided to remove the appalling middens and provided, lower down the garden, a block of new flush toilets, which to us were sheer luxury even in the depths of a hard winter.

Life must have been very hard in the thirties for our parents, as Dad’s small wage as a coke ovens worker, had to go a long way. Nevertheless, somehow or other, Mum always made sure we were well-clothed and fed, as well as managing to keep the house looking clean and tidy. Of course, in those pre-war days, only a few houses were blessed with electricity, and most families in Bondgate relied on gas for lighting and coal for heating and cooking.

Mum and Dad paid for our gas by means of a penny slot meter, which meant you were tempting fate if you didn’t have a penny or two around the house. I remember very well that if the gaslight started flickering, the cry would go out, “Mum (or Dad), have you got a penny, t’gas is begging!” Bondgate itself had gas lamps and Mum had an uncle who worked at the gasworks, part of his job being to walk around Old Church every night, lighting lamps with a long pole, reversing the process at dawn.

The ground floor at No.39 consisted of a stone-flagged living room, a kitchen at the back, and in-between was the staircase under which we kept the coal. The focal point of the living room was the Yorkshire range which shone with weekly applications of ‘blacklead’ and provided both heat from its coal fire and an oven, from which Mum provided mouth watering Yorkshire puddings, the equal of any in Old Church, not to mention her tasty stews and delicious rhubarb pies.

The only equipment in the kitchen was a sink with a cold tap and a ‘copper’ or ‘set-pot’ in the corner which provided hot water by means of a coal fire underneath. Bath-time at No.39 was a weekly ritual which entailed filling the copper to the brim and then ladling the hot water into a galvanised bath, probably one bath full for all of us!

We had two bedrooms and while the front bedroom was a reasonable size, the back one was very small, so much so that if you sat at the bottom of the bed, you would almost bump your head on the ceiling. The sash window looked out onto the back yard and it was quite easy, even for us children, to climb out of the window and drop down to the yard below.

Of course, in the thirties, there was no such thing as television so people relied upon the radio for entertainment (or wireless as it was called), or a wind-up gramophone, such as we had. It was an ancient HMV with an enormous horn, and being Dad’s pride and joy our early musical education consisted of a daily mixture of classical overtures, Gilbert and Sullivan and military marches.

In the hard times of the thirties, we young Old Churchers were taught to appreciate the value of money and always looked forward to each weekend when, if funds would allow, we each received our Saturday penny, which after due deliberation we would usually spend in Hudson’s shop which was just across the road from our house. You could buy all sorts of sweets or chocolate for a penny, but often as not we would splurge the whole penny on a lucky bag which would contain lots of different things – toys as well as sweets. We kids thought they were a bargain for a penny, and as well as enjoying the element of surprise in a lucky bag, you could often, if you were very careful, make the contents last right through until Monday or later.

It was occasionally possible to supplement our weekly penny by earning a copper through running errands for neighbours. The one that sticks in my mind was George, a giant of a man who lived on his own in the end house, next to Wilkinson’s. You hardly ever saw George without his cap on, which almost seemed to be a permanent extension of his head, and he had two facial characteristics which fascinated me.

One was the cigarette which was always attached to his bottom lip, apparently defying the force of gravity and never seeming to hinder the endless flow of George’s rhetoric which he would inflict upon anyone who had time to listen. The other was the dew-drop which usually dangled precariously from the end of his nose, probably a by-product of his large consumption of cigarettes and the dusty atmosphere of his kitchen, in which he plied his spare time trade as a cobbler. The interior of George’s kitchen seemed like an Aladdin’s cave to us kids, being a glorious hotch-potch of cooking utensils, cobbler’s tools and having a brick floor which was littered with fragments of leather and footwear, awaiting George’s attention. Quite often, much of the small floor space would be occupied by the somnolent form of George’s faithful companion, a large black Labrador whose own special smell mingled with those of cooking, leather and Woodbines. George never seemed to have time to buy his own cigarettes, so we were able to earn many an extra halfpenny or so by popping across to Hudson’s to keep George well supplied.

Spooky connotations of the ancient ruins of the Priory of St John.

There were plenty of places in Old Church where we children could play more or less safely. The Grange field, across from Box Lane with the adjoining Wash Beck provided endless scope for our games, though some of us were rather wary of playing there after dark because of the spooky connotations of the ancient ruins of the Priory of St. John. Another favourite place for us was the culvert which carried Wash Beck through the railway embankment, starting behind the Scout Hut and emerging just east of the railway bridge which spanned Knottingley Road. We gave this dank, dark and no doubt rat-infested tunnel the name of Big Ben and even though it was hard to see when we were halfway through, because of a bend in the middle, we would spend many happy hours paddling through its cool water during the seemingly endless hot summers of our childhood. We children were quite oblivious to the dangers of slippery stones and broken glass and it was therefore inevitable that one day I had to hop the 200 yards back to No.39 with blood streaming from a deep cut in my foot, from which I bear the scar to this day.

Another special place for us boys and our friends in Bondgate was Bubwith House Farm on Knottingley Road which was worked by branches of our family for many years. In the early thirties it was farmed by my great-grandparents, and my grandparents’ golden wedding invitation in 1948 shows that my grandfather lived and worked at Bubwith House at the time of his wedding in 1898. Although I don’t remember my great-grandfather, I have clear memories of my great-grandmother standing outside the front door of No.39, ladling out our milk from the two large churns which she had carried about half a mile from the farm. She was a marvellous old lady who held strong opinions on life in general and the bringing up of children in particular. I can see her now, delivering the daily milk along Bondgate, clad impeccably in a long dress, bonnet and black lace-up boots.

Bubwith House was a fascinating place for us to play and we spent many happy hours there, watching the daily routine of the farm and helping out with little jobs, such as feeding the ducks and hens and collecting the daily yield of eggs. One of our favourite places was the hay-loft where we used to swing around on convenient ropes, each of us claiming to be Tarzan of the Apes. Eventually we would emerge, hot, dusty and thoroughly exhausted and if we were lucky we would be invited into the cool stone-flagged kitchen where we might be given refreshing drinks of home-made lemonade, by the apple-cheeked lady I remember as Aunt Minnie.

On our way home from our visits to the farm we occasionally indulged in pastimes which held the double attraction of satisfying our hunger pangs and also being a little daring, not to mention illegal. We had the choice of two settings for these escapades; we could either go ‘scrumping’ into the orchard (which was situated between the railway and Depledge’s field) or we could raid the liquorice field on the other side of the road, next to Wilkinson’s. At that time, liquorice was quite widely grown in Pontefract, as this was the only area that had the necessary depth of soil needed to cultivate the liquorice plant, whose roots could reach a length of six or seven feet and needed the same number of years to mature. All this was of little consequence to us young villains as we crept into the field, pulled up a few young roots and stole away with our spoils. In those days, most of the local production of liquorice roots was absorbed by the handful of sweet factories which, next to the colliery, was one of the main industries in Pontefract. The long brown roots were processed into a black glutinous extract which was the basis for the manufacture of sweets such as the famous Pontefract Cakes. These sweets and other liquorice novelties were known to us as ‘spanish’, the possible derivation being the import of liquorice extract from Spain. All we had to do to make our stolen roots edible was to knock off most of the soil, clean off the rest with a little spit and then chew away happily at the delicious roots which you could make last for hours. The fresh liquorice had a totally different taste from the Spanish we bought from Hudson’s and of course it had the added attraction that it cost us nowt. You could buy the dried liquorice roots, cut up into small pieces, but it was rock hard and didn’t taste as nice as the fresh roots.

As we become older, we tend more than ever to rely upon our senses to revive evocative memories of our childhood and Old Church certainly gave us plenty of scope in that direction. No Old Churchers could ever forget the wonderful smell and unique taste of fish and chips, as sold by Gledhill’s shop at the corner of Mill Dam for well over half a century. You could buy ‘one of each’ then for 1½d; a penny for the fish and a ha’penny for the chips. It goes without saying that the only way to eat them was with your fingers straight from the newspaper with lashings of salt and vinegar, whilst walking slowly home. Somehow they never tasted quite so good when served on a plate with civilised knives and forks.

Our daily walk to school, initially to the tiny All Saints’ Infants and then up to Northgate Juniors, brought us into contact with many interesting sights and contrasting smells.

No-one who lived in Old Church during the first half of the twentieth century could ever forget the disgusting smell that emanated weekly from the CWS Fellmongering Dept. known locally as t’skinyard. It was situated, probably to the great annoyance of local churchgoers, just across from All Saints’ and it must have been a great relief to all residents of Old Church when it was demolished, probably in the sixties.

Another branch of CWS was in complete contrast to the notorious skinyard. On the other side of the road between Tanner’s Row and the school was the Co-op grocery shop, which I believe was managed in those days by Mr Walker, who provided the Old Churchers with a service which cannot be matched by today’s impersonal supermarkets. There was very little pre-packaging in the grocery trade then, and most things were supplied in the exact amount required by the customer, from sugar in neat blue bags, to butter and lard in greaseproof paper.

A mixed perfume of Mansion Polish and paraffin.

On Tanner’s Row itself, behind the pub at the bottom of the Booths, was a blacksmith’s which I think occupied the site of the original tannery. This was a fascinating place for us to dawdle and watch horse-shoeing and other aspects of the blacksmith’s trade as we made our way home from school. Depending upon whether or not we had any coppers to spare, our journeys home could often be further interrupted by visits to the sweet shops, either the one opposite the Hope and Anchor pub, or Woodward’s at the bottom of Box Lane. Near the bottom of the Booths and adjoining Pease’s shop was Garlick’s general hardware store, within whose cool interior you could buy anything from a dolly blue to a galvanised bath, and which gave out a mixed perfume of Mansion Polish and paraffin. At the bottom of Beech Hill, facing Mill Dam, was Hemmant’s grocery shop, from which came the same sort of smells as those issued from the Co-op just round the corner.

A short way down Mill Dam from Gledhill’s was the factory of Hey Brothers whose main products before the war were various pickles and a good selection of mineral waters. After the war the firm expanded rapidly to become one of the largest suppliers of mineral waters, beers, wines and spirits in the country. The factories of Hey Brothers and Wilkinson’s provided, between them, one of the main sources of employment for the young ladies of Old Church, the choice being either a ‘caker’ at Wilkinson’s or a ‘pickler’ at Hey Brothers.

Certain events of the thirties in Old Church remain more firmly fixed in the memory than others. No-one who lived in Bondgate at that time could ever forget the amazing floods around 1932 when a very heavy thunderstorm transformed Southgate, Bondgate and Knottingley Road into a raging torrent. We were very fortunate at No.39 being a few steps up from the main road, but no doubt the houses opposite, in Amer Place and Bar House Terrace would have had severe problems, as would the little wooden fish and chip shop which occupied a site near the present petrol station.

In the summer of 1939, after years on the waiting list, Mum and Dad were informed that we had finally been allocated a house in Willow Park so our ten years in Old Church began to draw to a close. We ‘flitted’ from our little two-up, two-down in the last week of August, a few days before our country declared war upon Nazi Germany on the first Sunday in September. I remember all of us huddled round our wireless at 11am that morning, listening to Neville Chamberlain reading the declaration of war which was also a tacit admission that his ‘peace mission’ to meet Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938 had been an abject failure. Chamberlain was replaced as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill after the disaster of Dunkirk, and died, within the year, a broken man.

To us children the war ahead seemed an exciting prospect, although most people seemed to think that it would be ‘all over by Christmas’, with our country victorious over the hated Nazis. Little did we know that it would be six long years before the bells of peace rang out and the impact of a hard war, combined with our move to Willow Park ensured that for our family and many others, life would never be quite the same again.

Even after a lapse of some 74 years, I only have to think back to our childhood at 39, Bondgate, and I am transported to our small front room, listening to ‘In Town Tonight’ which might have been interrupted by the strident clamour of a hand-bell outside, preceding the cry of “Any hot peas?” a favourite Saturday night treat.

On Sunday mornings we were often entertained by the Salvation Army, inviting us to “save our souls”, probably being followed by the bells of All Saints’, calling the faithful of Old Church to prayer.

When I dwell upon these and many other memories, I see again the places where we children played, breathe in the smells of Old Church (good or bad), and taste the juicy sweetness of our scrumped liquorice root, and the years roll back as if it were only yesterday.

Happy days! Childhood days!

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Ken Atkinson

Ken Atkinson was born in Pontefract in 1927, and has lived there all his life. His career encompassed several distinct phases; Bank teller, National Serviceman (Served in the Middle-East, Palestine, Suez etc), Teacher and – labour of love, this – gardener in the exquisite back garden at No.49.

Ken met Lesley, my mother, in the fifties and they were immediately happy together and deeply in love. Then they got married, and have fought like cat and dog for the 54 years since (only kidding!)

Lesley and Ken had a family of three boys, getting it right first time but still adding two spares, and they have also added various cats over the years.

Dad is the man I blame for infecting me with my love of Leeds United, but he was also a dab hand at wine-making, milk jelly, chocolate-covered coconut (better than a Bounty Bar), DIY including bespoke teenage bedroom furniture, Christmas trifles and many other such indispensable talents, so the balance is to his credit. Just.

I would like to thank my Dad for his contribution to my humble blog, and also take this opportunity to apologise most sincerely for that time I got home pissed and was sick down the wall below my bedroom window.

Sorry, Dad.