With A Little Help From My Friends

I have touched on youth club stuff in past blogs including some of our trips to Belgium but I haven’t done it nearly enough justice yet. I was involved in Cuffley Youth Club from 1987 until I moved to Norfolk in 2005. It was an incredibly turbulent time for me that saw reaching the depths of my drinking and then my recovery. In 2001 I lost my mentor and friend Richard; the person who got me involved in the first place and without whom the club would have stayed mothballed. Thus it was a massively important period of my life. Today I want to take a look at some more aspects of my time at the youth club – happy and sad. It’s all a bit random.

We did many things to try and a) Raise Funds, and b) Make more use of the facilities. Some were more successful than others. My own personal failure was promoting a band there. It came about after Richard acquired a jukebox. I donated a load of my old and duplicate singles to fill it. That was interesting in itself as I had to drill out the centres so they would fit a jukebox spindle. My holes were off-centre in several causing a weird and annoying ‘wow’ when they played. Anyway, it quickly became clear that our young people had a taste for sixties music and as I was at the time in contact with a band called the Wheels (A reformed genuine sixties band from Northern Ireland), I thought it would be a good idea to get them to play at the club.  When I suggested it to our members they agreed. Well, that was all OK until they learnt that they would have to buy tickets. On the night I had two paying customers (Friends of mine, nothing to do with the youth club). Losses were increased by me drowning my sorrows in Vodka at the bar I had put myself in charge of. The band didn’t mind, they got paid, and my two paying customers had a whale of a time.

Open Arms

It lost the club a couple of hundred pounds but Richard didn’t criticise me. Mind you, he couldn’t really. He had his own financial disaster too! It happened in the late eighties. I walked into the office one day and Richard announced that we were having a Wild West Day. Somehow or other he had discovered this re-enactment group that could be hired to come and put on demonstration gunfights, lassoing etc etc. It sounded OK and we went ahead. Well, it turned out it was an organisational nightmare. Lots of people and horses to handle; bureaucracy and red tape to untangle (They had firearms, that though they fired blanks still needed police clearance). And then, it must have clashed with something else in the area plus the weather was shite. The turnout was low and we lost a small fortune.

The fun though started in the evening. We were letting the group stay in the centre as part of the deal and after the show finished they began their party. It was all rebel flags and songs and lots of white lightning. For the uninitiated, white lightning is what they call their home-distilled poteen made from potatoes or something. Whatever it was it was lethal. I should know, I had enough of it and it damn near killed me. That group pretty much took over our centre that night and whilst Richard was having kittens, I rather enjoyed myself. I recall the evening ended with a flag raising ceremony performed against a soundtrack of Mickey Newbury’s American Trilogy (or it might have been Elvis’ version who knows). I was a very drunk Rebel for one night only. How we got the centre clear for Aerobics the next morning I’ll never know.

Ah yes, Michelle’s Sunday morning aerobics class. What fun that caused. The problem is the hall was split into many separate rooms and they were often booked out to different groups but people sometimes expected to have the whole centre to themselves. Michelle was often perturbed to find a group of Toc H volunteers in sleeping bags all around her as she set up her steps. And we were bastards too. We’d wait for all these get fit fanatics to start their warm up and then we would start frying bacon for sandwiches in the kitchen and ensuring it wafted throughout the building.

Now I said this was random, so let’s go off somewhere, and not Belgium this time. My records tell me it was April 1996 but I could have worked this out anyway as THE record of the week was Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. The destination was Little Canada near Ryde on the Isle of Wight. An activity camp (masquerading as a Prisoner of War camp) where we landed with a minibus load of young people.

New Youth Club 1

It was to be a week – well 5 days anyway – of archery, raft building, and general outdoorsery. The reason I compare it to a POW camp is that our accommodation was in wooden dorms around the campsite and, at meal time, the rules said that we were to assemble neatly outside our cabins and wait for a member of staff (Appropriately garbed in company t-shirt and the correct colours) to collect us and march us up to the canteen in an orderly file. Now if you don’t know Richard Gentle you might be saying, so what? If you do know Richard then you can imagine how this petty officialdom went down. At mealtimes, CYC assembled outside our cabin and then ambled, sauntered, and generally mooched our way to the canteen and despite the protests of mini-dictators in company t-shirts and the correct colours, we went and got our food and sat down and ate it. No-one died, no-one went hungry and anarchy did not subsume Little Canada.  Aside from that we had a great week.

But life at a community, a family, like the youth club cannot be all sunshine and rainbows. We had upsets and issues in spades but mostly they were minor dramas. One however was not at all minor.

In January 1991 Natalie, a beautiful and much loved 15 year old member of our club, was killed in a terrible car crash. I won’t dig up the exact circumstances again but I want to try and explain the impact it had on the whole club. Of course Nat’s family and friends were devastated but the grief flooded the whole centre. Even those who barely knew her were dragged down into a dark, dark place. Richard and his co-workers – including me a little bit – did what we could but it was a difficult, difficult time. Then someone, maybe Richard, I just don’t remember, suggested we plant a tree in her memory. It went in just by the side of the building and it seemed to make such a difference. I know I spent many times round there chatting to Natalie and I didn’t know her all that well. I don’t know if it’s still there. I choose to think it is!

Well I can’t leave my random memories of the youth club on such a sad note so I’m just going to finish with a few happy thoughts. To the once young people of CYC who are now perhaps mums and dads and generally grown up, who remembers the opening of the skateboard park; Nipper and Sarah our first cleaners; getting shouted at for climbing on the centre roof; the day we had a funfair in the car park; carnivals; sponsored walks; sixties nights; holidays in the UK and in Belgium; the pantos and shows; Teresa and her dogs (our second cleaner); fashion shows; Fiona in the office; Richard driving round the manor; Richard and his favoured expressions; Richard when he did an impersonation of…..um, I’m stopping now before I get into trouble.

New Youth Club 2

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