The Old Bedford Van
Anyone remember these. You can get to see them on Heartbeat on ITV, for our international friends these vans were in those old dodgy English B movies usually as the police vans. They were around in the 1960’s. Percy had one. It was knackered. It had its engine sort of between and under the two front seats so it was mighty noisy, hot and smelly. The van was clapped out before Percy got it so you can imagine what it was like after a couple of years with the master. But it did take us around, well sometimes. In those days we all had wicker fishing baskets. They were huge; in fact the bigger you had one the more famous you thought you were. Also if you had one with fancy different woven wicker then you really had arrived. Our Percy had one but within a few months it was so messed up you would have never known of its pedigree. Anyhow us kids were sort of Percy’s boys and he was Fagin. We were apprentices in the match fish trade and so we had to do all the crappy work. We had to be around Percy’s by 6.am. All the bait had to be then leaned off and the casters prepared. The van loaded and cups of coffee made for all the old guys in Percy’s kitchen. The place would be filled with cigar smoke because at that time Percy and his brother George smoked the biggest cigars you had ever seen. Having done all the work us lads you might just get the chance of a lift to a match but often there would not be room in the van and you ended up down by the Gasworks with a free pint of maggots. Even if you did manage to get a lift you kind of had to lay on top of the baskets or squeeze in-between the bait, tackle and paint pots. In the front would be Percy, George and Lacy. Tony Offley would sit behind on one of the baskets and occasionally Tony Phillips, Brzosko, Pettit and I would be further back and would only be let out at the elder’s whim. The fashion of the day was quite interesting. You had to have carpet slippers (more later), white socks, wellies, a boiler suit and an Army issue parka with rabbit fur around the hood. The carpet slippers were a must. They had to be old purple or red and of candlewick-type material. They would be worn at the HQ for the match come winter or summer, rain or shine. The white socks were huge and your trousers had to be tucked in to them. Your trousers had to have paint on them, Percy and George were decorators but we ended up just like them because of the paint that would fly about in the pots in the van. I had not got any candlewick slippers so I once turned up in a pair of sky blue ones which had a protruding rubber effigy of Donald Duck on the toe tips. I thought I was dead trendy, I must add they were old ones because my Mum would never let me out with my latest Christmas present. The other thing was that I had on the inside of my wellies written a ‘L’ and an ‘R’. This was long before that comedian Jimmy Cricket did it so I can claim some fame. As a kid it took me ages to figure out why my dad did this and I would often go around with them on the wrong feet – bless. Just look at me now!! Still don’t know left or right!! Travelling in that old van was mighty dangerous, but we were young, you see we had no fear and so off we would go all cramped up in a vehicle, which should have been at a breakers yard. The thing would roar away as we trundled down Fenland Droves, the oily fumes filling the back of the van together with exhaust from the broken pipe coming up through the floorboards. I have often thought this was the reason for Pettit’s affliction but he claims it was the road accident he was in and the metal plate in his head!! Percy would hurl us around in the van. He would corner like a madman. The van did have brakes but no brakes shoes so we kind of braked and shot forward or nothing at all. I’m sure my back problems are a result of those perilous journeys. The Anderson brothers had a saying every time the van braked. It went “wow hold it” or “wowohohold it”. Us kids were impressionable and so “wow hold it” became a catchphrase and the whole van would chant it as we arrived at the match HQ. We kind of imagined we were settlers on the prairie, holding up our trusty carthorses. I’ve always wanted to ask about the true origin of the catchphrase but dare not ask Percy in case I can’t understand him. So “Wow hold it” is kind of used but no-one knows why. I can hear our man now “You don’t know the half of it sonny” “o.k. Percy” I’ll just tell the story. So one day I did manage to get a lift in the van to a match at Tempsford in Bedfordshire. This was to be the first time I would meet Ivan Marks and his likely lads at a greasy spoon café in St. Neots. I had to sit and watch all these guys scoff huge greasy breakfasts washed down with gigantic mugs of sweet tea. The reason I got to go to the match was because Lacy had driven with one of his mates. I had never been to such a large match 300 or so. I also had never before come across different accents except watching Coronation Street. Things like “Ow do me dook” and “owt doing Perrrcy”, I stood totally in bewilderment at the draw. Apparently there was a Junior Section in the match and I was representing Cambridge Pimpernels. We had two vehicles and we were all drawn miles apart. I was left by the side of the road as Percy and Lacy shot off in different directions. Time passed as I watched the match organiser pack up and the last car drew out of the lay-by. Was I ever going to get fishing then round the corner I heard that roaring sound and Percy drew up “whoa hold it” “get in” and we were off. “Its just over there your peg”. Percy was very generous; he gave me all the unwanted bait – 8 gallons of maggots in two biscuit tins. You need casters but the oldies had all of them. Just over there meant across two ploughed fields. But hey what’s that for a 12 year old. I got to my peg with 10 minutes to go. This river was not what I was use to, it seemed huge. I was totally out of my depth. It was wide, deep and carrying extra water. My 9 ft rod was no match. I plumbed up and never reached bottom. I had two bushes either side of my peg in a little bay and so I just placed my rod near the bank with the float close to the waters edge. I did catch 6 little Chublets for 8 oz. The bloke next door said I had done well. I trundled off back up the field and sat and waited and waited. It started to get dark and I just started to get worried when Lacy drew up. I don’t remember getting presented with the prize but I did win the Junior Section. The prize and I still have a few, was a superb display of floats on a display board. I was absolutely chuffed and just kept staring at them on the way home. We stopped off at the café in St. Neots as we saw Percy’s van. I followed Lacy in to the café “Now look here brother” Lacy said, this is a phase I was to get used to over the years “fancy leaving the poor lad without collecting the prize”. Ah well I thought, what a day, Percy gave me all those maggots and his brother took care of me. I was hooked (allegedly).