My Art School

by Max Barrett

Earliest memories are of the harbour, beaches, woods, fishermen from Belgium and Brittany. The harbour was the best place. It was the main source of my earning a few bob. When the tide was out, the “luggy” provided cockles, lugworms and “spidge”. The cockles were for our Welsh visitors, who, when they had a few pints were very generous.

The lugworms fetched a fair price from the fishermen who frequented the two pier heads. The “spidge” (non-ferrous metals) fetched the best price of all. This was to be gleaned from the “luggy” where they unloade d the barges that brought the scrap from the Warspite that was being broken up near the Mount. I used to collect brass and copper nuts and bolts, load them on my buggy, and sell them to one of the scrap dealers. There used to be dozens of dealers about in those days with names like “Fagin”, “Snowy” and “Smuts”, they were great characters. I think if they`d had some education they would have been top businessmen. But perhaps then they would have lost their joy of life. Most of their “deals” were done in the pubs. They always smelled of beer and “roll-up” baccy, and mostly wore oil stained doubled breasted blue serge suits. If you had a deal with them, they always showed you their wad of dirty ten bob and pound notes. Great characters, with plenty of time “Marco” took a load of iron to the Albert pier scrap yard. He had a pony and cart. When he tried to back the chart so that he could turn, the whole “shebang” fell into the harbour. Luckily there was only three feet of water in at the time, and Marco was pissed up had to go into the harbour and lead the pony up the slip. Fagin reckoned the pony was so hungry that he saw a loaf of bread in the water and dived in after it.

It was Fagin who got me the pram wheels for my buggy. We had a deal. I made my buggy myself, it was my most prized possession. I had to use a red hot poker to make the hole in the front as I had no drill. Fagin said this was better as the heat hardened the wood. I could now haul things instead of carrying them on my back.

The coal boats unloaded coal into big lorries at the inner harbour. If you tried to pick up the spilled coal from the docks, the dockers would give you a “wiz” and send you off with a sore ear.

There was a sharp corner near the harbour and the road cambered the wrong way. When the overloaded lorries edged their way around the corner, sometimes some coal would spill onto the road, there would be a big scramble of women and kids to pick it up. It used to take a long time to fill my buggy. So I went around the corner out of sight. The lorries would come groaning up the incline slower than walking pace. It was here I would dart forward, throw a house brick under the back wheel. The lorry would lurch and I`d have enough coal to fill my buggy in no time.

I also loved to go to Newlyn fish market when the trawlers were landing. The smells and bustle were heaven to me. There were big double doors, where pony and carts and lorries loaded. Inside the market, men gutted, iced and boxed all manner and colours of ugly and beautiful fish. The floor was covered with slime, water and fish, so that a boy could run and slide for ten feet or more, being careful not to get in the way, as the giant workmen were quick to belt you one.

On one memorable occasion, I went into the marked and saw this huge Skate amongst the fish waiting to be gutted. I had my fishing line with me with a conger hook. I unobtrusively slipped my hook into the monster and casually skated out through the double doors. Once outside I Hauled in the line and ran like hell with half the fish dragging on the road behind me. I could hear the men laughing as I went.

I didn`t look on it as stealing. It came to me as naturally as it did to the gulls. I think in those days people only took what they needed, be it fish, a few broccoli or rabbits.