Friday, 29 March 2013

Mrs Whillans' Bacon Butties

When I worked at Ellis Brigham's shop in Liverpool a frequent visitor would be Don Whillans who would call in for a brew when he was on his way somewhere- often the Isle of Man to watch the TT races. He would turn up on his Triumph motorbike dressed like a Rocker from the 50's with leather boots topped out with white woollen socks and a leather jacket.

 One sunny day Pancho Molyneux and I were working in the shop and had both the front doors wide open to allow us to better watch the mini skirted girls walk down Bold Street and of course get some fresh air; the sudden roar of a bikes' exhaust took us by surprise and disbelief when the bike turned in off the road and rode straight into the shop,!...'Ay up youth is tha kettle on.. am gasping fer a brew?'

Don casually stood the bike on its stand and left it in the middle of the shop floor as if this was the normal thing you did when you needed to park your bike. After Don had had his brew and a few tales were swopped, and once freshly tanked up he bade us a 'Tarahh then'. We might not meet up again for months.

After I moved to live in Llanberis in the late seventies we met up more regularly and one such time is engrained in the memory as a classic. By this time Don and Audrey had moved to live in Llanfairfechan on the coast and ran a B&B guest house...well Audrey did while Don did his thing.

I had been climbing with Dave McDonald another close friend of Dons and we would all meet for a pint or several in the Vaynol in Nant Peris. This particular day, Don came over in his VW Camper van; this was always a bad sign as it usually meant a session was on the cards. The van meant that Don could have a few pints and kip in the back and not have to risk driving home tanked up.

 The idea was, that Dave and I would go and do a few routes and then call in for a pint after.The first mistake was meeting in the pub where the usual ' well just a swift one before we go then' was heard. Don was holding court and the three of us soon became a crowd. Little Ronnie Dutton- who was even shorter than Don, and his long suffering wife- a certain Barry Kershaw... more of him later...Brian Jones from The Vags, several members of The Ceunant Club and a host of hangers on. I seem to recall that Barry was barred and Ronnie was passing pints to him through the window, Barry was often getting barred for some misdemeanour or other, usually involving some poor unsuspecting bugger who just happened to annoy him. Lots of people annoyed Barry.

 I remember one evening when a guy was elbowing himself in and trying to get served and was standing next to him,smoking.This was bad- Barry hated smoking with a vengeance- he turned to the guy and looking at his packet of fags on the bar asked if it was alright if he had one, the guy nodded,so Barry promptly ate the whole packet. Another evening there was an Alsatian hanging around the bar and was annoying Barry by snarling at him rather threateningly, now Barry was a big bloke but this took some doing, he picked the beast up by the snout, bit it on the nose, told it to fuck off and that was it; the dog never bothered him again.

By now,the swift one became several swift ones and Ronnie was splashing the cash. He had re roofed a house for someone and at the house there just happened to be a rather large boat on the drive, the owner of the house was away when the job was being done so Ronnie sold the boat to someone, and pocketed the cash, as you do. By this time we were well on the way to a major session, after about the sixth pint someone suggested that we should go climbing as it was such a nice sunny day. Now standing up was a problem let alone to try and drag your way up a route, but we all decided that we were fine.

Dave Mac and I had turned up in his Citroen 2cv and the gear was in the back. We thought bollocks to walking to the crag we'll drive up the Pass and walk up to the Wastad. We promptly dived into the car where Dave drove it straight into the wall opposite. We got out rolling about laughing, pulled the wing off the tyre and drove off rather erratically towards the pass. There were about six of us in the group that eventually made it this far. Don was voted the leader so off we set, up the scree to the base of the crag. Most of us were having trouble walking without falling over.

What happened next was rather alarming, we were at the bottom of the crag falling down and generally feeling pretty pissed all round when someone suggested we should do a route now that we had actually made it the base of the crag. Looking up made you a bit dizzy so we sort of started where we were, Don declined and settled down for a nap, so we geared up- well we put our rock boots on- and not much else.Someone suggested that Wrinkle was good value for a V. Diff and it might be a tad risky to try anything a bit harder. Now we had figured out that falling off a V. Diff soloing is not any different to falling off a HVS soloing  but this fact never got mentioned, so we duly set off.

There was a line of us trying our best not fall off on to each other and more urgently not to fall off and hit the deck. Now this classic three star route is not difficult technically but does have a nice steep little traverse on it to add a bit of spice, well I can tell you with six pints of Robinsons in you it’s a piece of piss!  We all somehow reached the top of the route without dying and set off for the base of the crag. Whillans was still there waiting for us but had his head on a rucksack and was fast asleep in the sunshine. We did Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who would get the honour of waking him.

After some sunbathing and a bit of sobering up we decided to head back to the pub, shockingly when we arrived back it was shut- unheard of when there was a session on and the chance of a lock in. Apparently Barry, who had remained, had got into a fight and the police had been called, so the pub had emptied pretty sharpish.

This was not unusual where Barry was concerned and had happened many times before. Once the police were called and he couldn’t be found anywhere, it transpired that he was about 40ft up the Ash tree that stood in the grounds, another time he was actually hiding under the patrol car. I remember Don telling me that he had visited Barry at his house where he wanted to show Don a motorbike that he was restoring,it transpired that the bike was a Norton Commando and it was on the first floor of his house, Don enquired as to how it got there,’ oh I carried it up youth’. If I remember rightly he lived in the Conwy valley somewhere and it would be not unusual for him to turn up for a session and walk home over the tops.

Don suggested to Dave Mac and I that we should head back to Penmaenmawr for a brew, despite having drunk lots of beer we duly arrived at the house to be greeted by Audrey who was busy in the kitchen, ‘ay up lass get a brew going and put some bacon on we’re famished'

At home Don was a different man, in the living room there was a huge tank full of tropical fish which were a joy to him, he was an accomplished scuba diver and had often dived in the Red Sea and had a great interest in the various species found there. A while later Audrey came in with three huge mugs of tea- I did notice that Dons' mug was bigger than ours- and a large plate full of bacon sandwiches.

We didn’t go to the pub that evening but stayed at Don’s and generally dossed about, eventually Ronnie turned up with a now sober Barry in tow, he had managed to avoid capture from the police by hiding amongst the grave stones in the church,we drank lots of tea and were fed plates of toast by Audrey who remained in the kitchen for most of the time.

In the sober light of the morning someone suggested that we should all go swimming This was at the time when the new A55 was being built so we had to leg it over the road works and the mainline rail track to reach the water. When we got there of course the water was about 2° and not one of the big brave boys were willing or able to get above their ankles. When we got back to the house Don said ‘ave been watching yer all through me bins, ya big nancies, get dry, let’s go fer a pint’

I would often call at the Whillans household if I was passing and had many a brew in the kitchen, often it would be just me and Audrey as Don would be away in some far corner of the globe.

It was a very sad day when I heard that Don had passed away and the magic lamp dimmed a little more on the crazy gang. At the funeral in Bangor there was hardy standing room outside the crem let alone inside.After the service Davey Mac and I quietly slipped away, we couldn’t face a pint without the little bugger getting his oar in, so we went for a bacon butty at a roadside vendor instead.... didn’t come close to Audreys though.

' And then the piano stool collapsed'...Photo:Adrian Bailey

Ken Latham:2013