Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and Other Stories by Cliff Hill

Journey To The Centre of the Earth

by Cliff Hill
To bring together a band of men with the necessary skills and knowledge to undertake this dangerous adventure would not be easy.

The first thing to do would be to advertise the proposed expedition asking for volunteers and see what response I would receive. I would assume that only men of means would reply, as this expedition would quite obviously by its very nature, incur considerable expense. I would select from their replies a shortlist and arrange to interview them separately to find the very best men for the job at hand. The ones with the greatest knowledge of geology and palaeontology would be favoured as would someone with caving and potholing experience. We would need an expert in lighting equipment and a medical man in case of accidents.

A leader would have to be chosen and although I would put myself forward for this post, I would have to give way in the event of a vote being called for.
I would be best for the job of leader because it's my idea. That is to say, as I have lived in this area for all my long, interesting and eventful life(ten years actually),

I would be the best choice.  Definitely!   I have, over these long years, gained a great knowledge of the local flora and fauna. I have studied the district's bird life and have gained such skills as mountain climbing (mountain ash climbing actually), fishing (trout by hand) and I have brought the cows in and all sorts of things.  I must be best man for leader of the expedition.

 I will gather the experts together and see what can be decided. There will be many difficult decisions to be made, where to begin the journey, estimate its duration, decide on the most suitable toffees-err-foodstuffs and lighting for underground conditions. All this would have to be agreed upon and we would have to vote for me to be the leader.

"Lets go up the 'Little-Brook' tunnel" I said one day to a group of friends that I happened to be playing with; And we went!

We did do a little bit of planning. We would need lights at least, and the lights would have to be candles. No one had a torch and if we had one you couldn't buy batteries because of the war. Jam jars would be needed to put the candles in, so that they wouldn't blow out and string to make handles for the jam jars. "Oo's got some money then" said Peter, fumbling in his pocket. "I've got tuppence" I said and the others found odd pennies and haypnies after a bit of searching.

Peter and myself went off to buy five candles at the grocers shop which was next to Mr Bennett's ironmongers and cycle repair shop; these cost us four pence. They should have been thre'pence, three farthings because candles were three farthings each, but we didn't notice. The grocer didn't notice that while he was over charging us, George and Keith were over the back wall, pinching five jam jars which we would later bring back and get a ha'penny each deposit money for! As it turned out, two got broken so we only got three ha'pence back.  If I remember correctly we bought liquorice with this, the real stuff, hard and black with a minimal sugar content. We all spent most of the next day sitting on the toilet!

Roy in the meantime, was searching in the dustbin for string. He quite liked dustbins and later on we discovered that he had found a small paintbrush head with green paint on it that wasn't quite dry. His pocket didn't mind this, it was used to it. A broken spoon and a piece of green metal to add to the collection in his always bulging pockets.  He spent much of his toilet free time the next day, polishing the green metal until it shined like a new penny.  Later he swapped it for an apple core which he ate, pips and all.  Roy also found lots of string though it was all covered in grease. We soon got the grease off the string,  mostly onto our trousers except for Peter who had a handkerchief, the only one of us that did that day and it seemed to make him quite proud.  I bet he wasn't proud when his mother found it in the wash.

The string was cut up into two pieces each, a long one and a short one. The long piece wass laid out in a loop and the other piece tied tightly round the rim of the jam jar, trapping the ends of the loop against the glass.  The ends then tied to themselves made a handle. The next thing to do was to light the candle and drip hot wax into the jar, blow out the candle and stick it onto the hot melted wax. I provided the match to light the candles as I always had matches in my pocket; I would pinch a couple from the kitchen when my mother wasn't looking. I kept them for setting fire to gorse bushes and bracken or dead grass. I could get a fire going in any weather, rain , snow, frost, anything, but thats another story.

George in his haste forgot to blow his out and burned his hand. He was pleasantly surprised by the taste. "Hey my finger tastes like meat". We all burst out laughing at this and Keith said "Burn it again and give us a suck". "Mine does too" said Roy, who was sucking his grubby hands. We all had a lick at our fingers and sure enough, they did taste of cooked beef!  "I think its that grease" I said but couldn't think why.  Roy wanted to suck Peter's handkerchief but he wouldn't let him.

With our candle power lights not yet lit, we set off for the "Little Brook Tunnel" that was, and still is for that matter, about fifty yards from the village grocers on the A6 that the tunnel runs under. The stream begins high up the west side of the valley in the fields just above the "Rhododendron Wood"; it catches surface water running off the fields as it makes it's way through "The Gorsey" and "Bolton's Wood". It then goes below ground to run under the brick yard, the brick yard tip and as I mentioned, The main road.  It then runs under the railway and the canal and through, what were then the "Big House" grounds.

Over the wall and down the banking. With jam jars held high we slithered down to the stream and gathered round the entrance to the tunnel. A dark, forboding hole about four foot high and more or less the same width in the rough drystone wall that surrounded it. The water sliding out black as treacle to tumble over the stones of the streambed and become clear and sparkling in the sun light.

It was at this point, we realised that Peter, Keith and myself were wearing wellies. George had hobnailed boots on and Roy a pair of shoes. "I'm goin' in with me boots on" said George. Roy took his shoes off and tied the laces together and hung them round his neck, shoving his socks into his pockets.

The candles were lit and we looked at each other to see who would take the first step into the great unknown. Roy stepped out into the water. "Sod" he exclaimed "It's cold" and leapt onto the bank, his one candle power light swinging about on the end of it's string. He sat down and untied his shoes, took his socks out of his pocket and put them all back on again. The rest of us stood about grinning, pretending that each of us had been just about to go into the tunnel first, or at least second, after Roy- well with Roy. We had to wait for him of course, while he got his shoes and socks on. Roy stepped into the water and disappeared into the tunnel which was just high enough for him to stand upright; some of the taller expedition members would have to bend their their heads. Peter especially, as he was much taller than the rest of us. I supposed that it was because he was so tall and had long arms that he could throw a cricket ball right across the football field. Length-ways! He could throw a cricket ball further than anyone else in the school. - And so could Cyril!

The rest of us, not wanting to be thought of as hanging back, made for the tunnel entrance at the same time, splashing and pushing each other against the damp sides. We paddled along, our eyes quickly becoming used to the darkness, the lights just strong enough to show the way for three or four feet in front. The walls were made of stone with no mortar in the joints, which enabled the water to seep out of the surrounding ground and into the stream. "Bugger" we heard Keith exclaim from up in front, he had pushed past Roy and had walked into a jet of water which had poured into his ear and wet his neck and then trickled down inside his shirt collar. We all burst into loud laughter which was made louder by the confines of the black, shiny walls that had closed in around us. The laughter was without doubt a great tension reliever. Keith had used a word that none of us would normally dare to use and so, laughter was jusitfied, though not the forced nervous noise we were making.

But then we were at the very centre of the earth.....

"Watch out for that water" said Keith when we had returned to our senses, and the rest of us missed the thrill of cold water down our necks. "There's a light in front" Roy exclaimed, squelching along in his shoes, and sure enough a dim patch of light could just be made out up ahead. The misty tube of light reached down into the darkness, dust mites slowly spiralling to the rushing water that spat a multitude of cristal clear droplets, like chameleons tongues to pull the particles of dust and pollen into the blackness of the rattling stream. We walked into the spotlight and five of us huddled together to look up at the dry stone shaft which soared  above us. "U" shaped steel footholds zigzagging up to a tiny hole full of sky, far above. "It's the air shaft at the bottom of the tip" I said, and we all stood there for long minutes staring out from"The Centre of the Earth".

We pushed on for some time and came to the end of the "Little Brook", which we found came pouring out of two eighteen inch earthenware pipes. "Bet nobody's been here before" said George. "Nah", someone said in agreement and we all felt the satisfaction of having made it to this quite suddenly, wonderful place. Then as we returned to retrace our steps to the outside world, Peter saw it scratched on the wall. In the middle of a big stone 


We weren't the first to the Centre of the Earth after all. We knew then, what our fellow explorers had felt when they reached the Antarctic, all those years ago. We scratched our names on the second biggest stone with George's pen knife and made our way back to the tunnel mouth. We would go down stream now to the river.

We came out of the tunnel, blinking at the brightness of the day, and sat on the bank excitedly talking about our adventure.  George and Roy emptied out their footware and squeezed out their socks and the rest of us lay about in the warm sun.
"Was it Jim or Jack  Riddick ?" Roy asked, batting a tree with his wet socks in a hopeless effort to dry them out.  "How do I know" said Peter after a short pause, it was years ago, Nineteen, Thirty Nine and it's Nineteen Forty Seven now.  "That's nine years since" said Roy after a moment's thought. "No it's not", Keith said immediately, it's eight years since.

Keith was good at reckoning up.. His sister worked at the Co-op, in the accounts department and she helped him with his homework.  I went with him to the Co-op sometimes to cash in the divvy-sheets and his sister would reckon them up.  I would stand and watch in disbelief at the speed at which she was able to do it.

The divvy-sheet looked something like this:
The figures of course are in pounds, shillings and pence.  The amounts would be quite small compared to today's because the average weekly wage was a lot less.  This doesn't mean we were a lot poorer (although we probably were), but when you consider that my parents had a small detatched bungalow built in 1936 for about £365 and my dad's weekly wage was around £7.00, you can see that things were quite different.

Keith's sister could add this column quicker that you could read it!
The total amount spent is eleven pounds, ten shillings and sixpence halfpenny.  The halfpenny would be pronounced "haypny".
In today's money, that would be eleven pounds, fifty two and a half, so for a month's supplies I have overspent by quite a lot! The divvy-sheet was just a long piece of thick paper, about ten inches long and perhaps two inches wide. When you bought something from the Co-op you were given a two inch slip of gummed paper to stick on your sheet; it had the amount you had spent on it.  The slips were torn off a big perforated sheet and each one had a number printed on it.

George and Roy had now got their footware back on, although Roy had given up trying to get his wet socks on and had stuck them in his pocket.  We all got up and walked down by the little stream, through the copse of ash trees, swinging our jam jars by their strings. About a hundred yards on, we came to the beginning of the next part of our journey, this was the tunnel under the railway.  This tunnel is quite different from the one under the road, It was built like all the railway property, to last forever.  The stones are all cut and dressed; "pitched" is the correct term I believe.  The perfectly built tunnel drove dead straight at a shallow angle, to disappear into the blackness and the stream slid more easily along it. The only thing about it that was not so good for explorers, was that it was a bit narrow. We had to go in single file; there would be no pushing past each other.

We relit our candles, with the exception of Keith, who had been so busy telling us what a great mathematician he was, he had forgotten to blow his out. His candle was more than half burnt and with a long way to go he was going to be in trouble.
We set off once more into the unknown, crouched single file, into the gloom. It was much easier going with no stones to trip over and quite soon Peter called from up at the front that he could see daylight. We all stumbled up against Peter as he came to a halt at the end of the stone tube. I could just make out the opening ahead, the sunshine reflecting off the water at the end of the tunnel. The problem was, that the slight fall of the stream was enough to cause the water to dig out the streambed as it left the stone tube, so that the depth was three times what it had been anywhere else. "I can't get any further" shouted Peter, "It's too deep". "Course you can" said George, who was behind me and couldn't possibly have seen how deep it was. "Go on" said Roy from behind him and pushed George forward, onto the rest of us, so that we all stumbled forward onto each other, like a row of falling dominoes, which resulted in Peter plumbing the depths.  The depth turned out to be just knee high, which would have been allright, except that his wellingtons didn't come up to his knees!  He disappeared out into the sunlight and could be heard threatening to bash somebody for pushing. We all got our feet wet getting out, much to the pleasure of Roy and George; we were all in the same boat now.
We all repeated the shoe, boot and wellie emptying, that some of us were getting experts at, sat on the dock covered bank of the"Little Brook". The docks were of the three foot when fully grown variety; They were excellent cover for playing hide and seek.

The next tunnel was easy, its the one that goes under the canal and its about eight feet high at the middle af the arch and maybe twelve feet wide. For a tiny stream this seems a bit of overkill until it's explained.

The tunnel was built to carry the Peak Forest Canel over the "Old Road" that would have been the only route down to the river bridge at that time. Station Road ould not be built until the railway came through sixty years later. The tunnel was built big enough to take a horse and cart. Old Road as it is today is quite wide and it comes to a somewhat abrupt end where the railway cuts it off.  It would have continued down and forded the "Little Brook", then joined what is now Station Road just above the lane which goes to the industrial estate that used to be the CPA(Calico Printers Association) works.

When we were half dry and Peter had cursed us all in turn, but given up, not knowing who to blame, we set off on the next part of our adventure. Under the canal and then under the low hole in the wall which took us into "The Big House" grounds. The "Big House" was the biggest in the village hence its name. It was owned by the CPA and was in a state of disrepair, even then (some years later it was demolished to make way for new houses). Two old ladies occupied it at that time;  the Misses Bellamy. They were well known as being eccentrics. I remember going with another friend ,John and asking if we could pick the apples and pears for them, from the orchard (we were very thoughtful children) which we did, filling our stomachs and pockets at the same time. When we had finished, we were paid with one very old caramel each, which caused us to almost burst, trying so desperately not to laugh, but not making a very good job of it. We wern't very good at stifling laughter, but
then we were kids, and kids get away with that sort of thing. When we had gained some sort of control, assisted by the stomach ache, which was now getting quite painful, Miss Bellamy quite suddenly, and with a look of horror on her face, began to peer down at the drive, which was covered with sticks as you might expect as it was lined with trees on both sides. "It's the smugglers. The smugglesrs of the top line. Look at the secret sign they have left for the others". The secret sign consisted of two crossed twigs! This was more than we could stand. If the laughter didn't come out, then the apples definitely would. We ran off down the drive, almost being sick with apples, the laughter, the stomach ache and the incredulity of it all.

The stream runs through the "Big House" grounds in a walled gully about four feet wide, much better for pushing past one another. The gully gets deeper and deeper, until it's walls are about five feet high, and at this point, the strream is tunnelled in. With candles lit, we bravely go on our way, stumbling over the stony streambed in the dim light of our now dirty, and therefore dimmer, jam jar lights. "Light ahead" calls experienced explorer George, quite nonchalantly.  We come out of the dark tunnel and stretch up to look out over the small field in front of Lodge Farm. The stream bed is just as deep, but there is no roof on it, it's just a gully again.

John Robinson was standing there looking straight at us. After long seconds of eye to eye contact with each of us, John's booming voice strikes the fear of God into us, from our stuck up hair to our wet feet. "Get out of there. Where the devil do you lot think you're goin?"  We stand there, turned to stone, and time stops. Eye to eye with this giant, made gianter by the fact that he is four or five feet higher than we are. "Run for it", I shout ,and we all make a mad dash for the tunnel entrance,five yards down stream, arriving there all at the same time. Keith's jam jar smashes on the side of the tunnel and Roy decides to try swimming in the nine inch deep brook, breaking his jam jar as he does so. We rush on for what seems ages and come out of the tunnel a few yards from the rushing water of the River Goyt -

Journey's End.

Taking part in the expedition to the Centre of the Earth were Roy Coverly, Peter Jennison, George King, Keith Hall and the expedition leader (although no one noticed), myself Cliff Hill.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Christmas 1944 (Flying Through The Air)

 “I’m the pilot not you. You were the pilot last time you are the rear gunner”
“No I’m not I’m the bomb aimer an, I’m sittin’ on that branch cos that’s were ‘e sits” –No ‘e doesn’t. He sits near the pilot because he has to tell ‘im when to drop the bombs”
‘F’ for Freddie slowly fills up with the crew on this cold Saturday afternoon before Christmas and the lads (all experienced fliers) ready themselves for a special mission over enemy territory.
When it’s full, that is, when there is a pilot, a tail gunner, a bomb aimer, and another gunner.( The navigator is usually left out because there was a big argument once and someone fell off his branch.----That is, he bailed out over enemy territory.----Well actually he was pushed. So nobody wants to be the navigator any more.) When it’s full the others will have to be happy with a place in one of the aircraft further back in the formation.

It begins to snow and there is some discussion as to whether it is possible to fly in snow. “You can’t see the other Lancasters so you might crash into them, so you can’t” says the pilot. “You can. I can see ‘em from ‘ere” shouts the rear gunner from his precarious perch well out on a branch which puts him nearer to the following tree than anyone else. “ The pilots got snow on ‘is glasses” ---Somebody starts to laugh, and with this shift in spirit it is decided that we should take off.

Engine noises are made by all, and the brakes released, we speed down the runway until everyone is getting fed up with growling and then just when the crew are about to start complaining the pilot calls—‘Take off effected’.
He had remembered ‘Takeoff effected’ and he smiled to himself.

 Twelve thousand feet now, a good height, the navigator had ‘bailed- out’ at six feet- er- thousand feet, ‘On an earlier opp’. The maximum height on this ‘opp’ was Fifteen thousand feet.
 We watch in silence for a while as the white thumb nail clouds we are flying through sail easily down onto the runway that is so rapidly disappearing, as we gain height. Tufts of grass and small shrubs become snow magnates and melt into the runaway earth and all becomes white.
  Scarves are tightened and collars pulled up, peaks on leather helmets pulled down, and as we fly the snow flakes increase to maximum size—‘August Mushroom’--- late afternoon ones.
The biggest one I ever found weighed a quarter of a pound.

Strangely the pilot’s glasses no longer collect snow, and the two gunners no longer shoot at the following Lancaster.

Quite suddenly and as from a distant place the bomb aimer calls –‘Bombs Away’.

The crew cheer, and the whole aircraft shakes de-snowing it’s self as we turn for home. And as we watch the august mushrooms become sparkling frosted flowers as they reflect the dim yellow light of a paraffin lamp that spills out from behind the half closed shutter of the railway signal box near by. Tiny spots of light shine out and are gone to appear again near-by and lower down. We watch in the special silence that comes with snow.

“Number one engine broke” calls the ‘other’ gunner (as if trying to bring us back to earth)  “Broke?” “What do you mean ‘Broke?’ you can’t say ‘Broke’ it’s daft” says the pilot whose glasses are now covered again. “Number two engine dead” shouts the rear gunner to prove the point, and at the same time almost, the bomb aimer shouts the demise of number three engine.
“You can’t have three engines broke at once” the pilot shouts forgetting himself. “You can fly about with one engine for hours” some  one covered in snow calls from somewhere aft. “My auntie makes them at Woodford and she says you can” Nobody seemed to want to argue the point so the pilots landed their Lancaster  Bombers safely in the snow and the crews tramped off arguing amongst themselves.
When I get home my Dad is there in his RAF uniform. Home on leave for a week.

Cliff Hill. 

Childhood Memories 

by Cliff Hill

Soon every child and woman too
Join in the work that’s there to do
The Nineteen Forties job at hand
That goes on over this our land
The men and women still at home
Take on the work of those who roam

Across the world.

The work to do, forever mounting
Like some steep foreboding mountain
Grows and grows with each day passing
Job on job continue massing
Women making Planes for skies
Still supplying cakes and pies
Children when their school day ends
Go out collecting with their friends
Bringing in old books and jars
The only light shines down from stars

That shine across the world

The old men thought too old for work
Make every effort not to shirk
Keeping gardens green and growing
Peas and beans and root crops sowing
All with one mind to carry on
Until this job is well and done

The people of this sceptere'd Isle
Came through the Forties with a smile
So should you ever need to know
How to parry any blow
The only rule will be the same
Think not of winning –Play the game