When I was a kid having a treat was stuff of Sunday afternoons. Sardines on toast & an extra parcel of sea coal on the fire. – you think I’m joking.

All sat in one small room, no TV, huddled round the grate, faces glowing, backs freezing, or so it seemed.

We used to collect the sea coal off the beach, long black glistening ribbons laid on the sand. Washed up, formed in ripples and solid waves as the tide retreated. Some times it was thick, inches deep, other times just a deceptive thin wisp, colouring the sand ebony, like veneer, not thick enough to scrape up.

We used to stuff it in to hessian sacks & wheel it home, hanging off the cross bar of your bike, chain grating full of sand, like some shrouded dead thing. A solid fat carboniferous slug. Feet numb, wellies full of water. I found a whale on the beach once, and a ship, a proper big tanker, laid on its side. I don’t think the tanker was actually lost, people knew where it was. A Copper told me to bugger off. But that’s all a different story.

It was always bloody freezing. I suppose the heavier seas, which eroded the marine coal seams, generally occurred in the winter months. We didn’t care it was free coal. We were always on the beach, whatever the weather.

Some times there would be heaps, mounds, of sprats, washed up knee deep. Stone dead. The gulls didn’t touch them, neither did we. Broken lobster pots, bits of crab and starfish. Loads of starfish – don’t touch they sting. Sardines out of a tin.

If we were lucky, ice cream ! We bought that off Chris Rea’s dad. He had a van – Rea’s Ices. David Coverdale was a local lad too.

Now when kids want a treat it’s £ 20 for Wagamama’s , money for the Flicks and a lift home. And not just on a Sunday.

We had next to nothing but it didn’t matter because there was no expectation in those days. You missed nothing because you’d never had it.

We DID have Rag & Bone men though. Real life Steptoes. Rickety old cart pulled by some knackered horse, loaded down with junk. They used to do their street rounds, shouting something unintelligible that sounded like “Rag bone”. Often with a filthy kid in tow. God knows what they did with all that garbage and bones. Nobody had a fridge to keep bones in. Why would you want bones ? Maybe they didn’t. We followed until we got bored. Nobody threw anything away in those days.

Anything could be fixed, repaired, serviced, mended. That was Leo Fender’s ethos. Repair & replace, don’t renew the whole. You could do it yourself or check it in to the factory for an overhaul in the good old US of A. Like we knew about THAT !

I don’t think we ever saw a Gibson or a Fender. In those days it was all copies. Copies of things we didn’t know and had never seen, other than maybe a glimpse of Marc Bolan playing a Les Paul on TOTP. Watched through my mates front room window, face pressed to the glass, Mam going barmy – “I’ve told you, come away from there… anyway your tea’s ready”

We never had a telly. Not for any moral reason, it was just a money thing. No one had colour. Fender started all those guitar colours in the 60’s because of colour TV, so the story goes.

Les Paul – now that was just a wierd name for a guitar. We never knew that story. Some one was actually called Les Paul……. really ???

So we had these copies – Antoria, Columbus, Kay – the Woolie’s version not the USA stuff. They were crap, dreadful. No wonder it was SO hard to play anything. Bought second hand for maybe £ 45. That was a fortune then. Generous birthday contribution, two years of paper round money.

Terrible action, so high you could swing off it, never in tune. No electronic tuners then, just a tuning fork – which we never had. Strings that lasted a life time and were a tetanus risk. Kids with lock-jaw.

I can’t remember what they sounded like, often we didn’t know. It took forever to buy a guitar, never mind a bloody amp !

No tutors, no books, maybe some hand-me-down pages learning “Red River Valley” , “Clementine” or other dirge. We didn’t have Blues then, we just lived a modern day version without knowing.

We should have all been virtuosos by the age of 15 with experience like that.

Progress – now we have Squier guitars and many other makes, affordable, all effortlessly playable. Tuners, Garageband, Apps, tuning apps, chord apps, practice amps, Youtube, a billion on-line free lessons. Set up for the price of a night out.

Leo & Les would be most pleased. This is progress, some things do get better.

I still like sardines on toast and think central heating’s amazing. MERRY CHRISTMAS