Alan Rampling worked for Preston Council’s parks department for more than 50 years and has written a book about his experiences tending the city’s public spaces and the characters he met along the way. Here he describes his early days with the town hall’s green fingered team.
Leaving Fishwick County Secondary school in 1963, even without any qualifications, it was relatively easy to find a job so I decided to apply to Preston Corporation Parks Department.
I knew they had a vacancy within its greenhouse section having got the nod from my Uncle Jack who was a parks employee at that time, he looked after the bowling greens on Hartington Road.
Taken on by Mr Cross, the parks deputy director, I was given a six month trial with a review to follow.
Based at the end of West Cliff behind Preston Cricket Club, I soon fell into working life at £3.18.6d a week.
A 3.5d bus journey took me to the Parish Church bus stop, then a 20-minute walk through town to the park.
I was the brunt of many tricks played on me by the lads from long stands to mopping the four miles of park paths with a mop and bucket in preparation for the weekend.
People would pass me thinking I was stupid, I probably was.
Slowly gaining respect and more sense, I was taught by some of the old boys the basics of horticulture as well as attending the Harris College - now UCLan - and further education at Hutton Agricultural College.
I gained quite a collection of qualifications and was able to put my own slant on floral decorations and growing plants.
One of the first was a decoration at Ribchester at a Rolls Royce and Bentley show.
Not allowed in the cab of the wagon, that was for driver and the foreman only, I sat on the tailboard, (no health and safety then).
Messing about on the back with Bill, another lad, we fell off and the wagon continued into the distance. Harold, the driver, discovering we were missing retraced his tracks and picked us up in Ribchester town centre.
All we got was a good telling off for not clinging on and for messing about.
On a regular basis we would decorate Preston Public Hall, municipal buildings, churches, schools and even Billy Smart circus when it came to town.
The payment for that was a huge heap of animal manure apparently a ‘private’ arrangement between Billy Smart and my boss. He grew some lovely spuds with it.
The first time I went out with the foreman solo to do a job was to decorate the Odeon Cinema in Preston to advertise a new film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
All he needed me for was to wheel in 20 barrows of sand into the foyer to make a mini desert.
He came along and struck a palm tree in the middle, it looked pathetic.
My 18th birthday was a baptism of fire as the lads took me out for a pint to celebrate. A visit to the Black Cat Club, in Butler Street, after college at tea-time saw us organise a birthday do that same night.
I had already bought some new clothes from Sid’s outfitters, on Friargate, he always had a sale on. He had a ‘sale’ sign in his window for about 10 years.
It all started with a pint in the Spread Eagle, in Lune Street, the landlord and his wife had an unforgettable name, Bob and Poppy Smallbone.
We were going to visit 10 pubs, I only remember four, as things went a bit out of focus then.
On to the Corporation Arms, on Wharf Street, then the Duke of York, in Friagate, followed by a race up to The Knowsley, on Lancaster Road, next was the Jazz bar, apparently, but I don’t remember that.
By then I was bit wobbly as we made our way to the Garden restaurant, in Fishergate, for curried cat and rice, passing the Beachcomber, a hang out mainly for students at the corner of Glovers Court.
Another race back to town to the Castle Vernon bowling alley.
I just sat swaying around before being smuggled into the Turret lounge above the bowling alley. The beer in there was called King Pin, it tasted horrible.
I am sure it was recycled from the squelchy carpet underfoot that oozed around your feet it was so saturated.
That same night it was raided by the police for overcrowding, apparently it was only licensed for 300 people but had a membership of 3,000. That night 500 people were in.
All then became blank before a near death experience the morning after.
The following night three of us went to the Plough pub, on Blackpool Road, to see one of my mate’s friend in a group called the Drovers.
A bus back to town for more of the wet stuff and finishing off at the Kismet restaurant, in Pole Street.
By now I was feeling a bit unwell having over-indulged so decided, seeing I was broke as well, to walk home to Ashton.
Never again. but I did, silly boy.
I was trying to get myself a girlfriend and not having much success, was getting desperate, anybody would have done - blue eyed, green eyed, cross eyed, I just wanted a lady friend but somehow always failed.
Then I hit the jackpot, a girl from college, a lovely girl, I fell in love with her, we married on July 25, 1970, had TWO children and spent 42 blissful years together before she passed away.
Taking everything into account I’ve had a really good life so far and continued to work clocking up 52 years with the council.
A few ups and downs of course, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
By the way, I never did receive that initial review after my first six months, so I presume I was accepted.
* A Nipper’s Tale is published by Melrose Books priced £7.99.