Marbles and Frogs

15 Jun

ALBERT had arranged to meet Walter down the back of Union Street, known locally as Widows Lane. Widows Lane, so called because of the number of widows who lived there. And if you were a not bereaved woman but single, you still met the criteria. The back of Widows Lane, known in the vernacular as Widders Lane, was closed off at one end by a high metal gate. A gate that screamed in protest when opened. It needed a tough person to push it. It was the nearest way into the street from the police station and usually gave Albert and Walter plenty of time to run for it should someone call the cops. Someone like old Widder King. Always out shouting the odds. Daft old cat. The other end of Widders Lane opened on to the back of Chapel Street. Chapel Street, as well as being long enough to accommodate three chapels, one of which had been converted into a fruit and vegetable warehouse, was on a hill. A steep hill, referred to as Co-op Hill, because of the jumble of Cooperative stores at the foot. Corp Hill, again in the vernacular was pronounced Corp ’ill, led up and out of town, to, well nowhere really. Just fields as far as the eye could see. The next village just a spot on the horizon and beyond that the Irish Sea. Albert and Walter were both as fit as Sid Haig’s whippets, unlike the local cops, so when chased, which they often were, they would run up the ‘ill rather than down.

Meeting for a punch-up was a habit Albert and Walter couldn’t get out of. Any minor remark from either of them to the other would spark off a punch-up. Albert, five foot eight, burly and challenging, and Walter a great lump, hard hitting and dangerous. Few would take him on. One of them was Albert. Albert was a bare knuckle fighter and when his braces were off, you’d better it. Albert could take a punch and stay upright whereas Walter, caught in the solar plexus, would hit the deck like a sack of spuds.

Albert didn’t win them all but won most. The kids loved these contests which took place with amazing regularity. They bet their marbles and frogs on the outcome. Albert was always the favourite.

The cry, ‘Fight, fight’ would echo around the amphitheatre that nestled the town and away to Widders Lane the little buggers would run, pockets jangling and croaking. Some kids, whose dads worked in the shipyard had steelies. Marbles of steel, rather than glass. They were worth more. One steelie was worth two frogs. Some kids considered it cheating.

Cheating or not, frogs were easier to find than steelies and so the gaming and trading went on. Fortunes won and lost in the blink of an eye. Future bookies in the making, future gamblers, chancers, some sloping off crestfallen, frog hunting.

Now, the contest.

Today there was a prize, bigger than the satisfaction of being the winner and chalking it up. Bigger than any title, any badge. Today, the prize was Annette. Annette had been the prettiest girl in school. All ringlets and ribbons. Prettiest girl in town even now, all grown up, pouty and backcombed. If she knew she was the trophy, she didn’t show it. Annette was the height of cool. Hot, hip and she knew it.

Lookouts in place, Albert and Walter squared up.

‘Seconds out!’

They circled each other strutting and checking that Annette was watching. Fists clenched and sparring, about to make contact. They threw a couple of blows each, neither of them hitting target, both afraid for their faces. It would be hard to grab the reward for victory for a celebratory snog, with blood and snot running out of your nose and your teeth in the gutter. And so the prancing went on. Dancing around each other, ducking and sidestepping, rising and falling. Someone had to make the first move, the crowd was growing restless. A restless crowd was likely to abandon the pitch. An abandoned pitch, empty, littered with small confused amphibians, lost and far from home. Then, a whistle. The gate groaned and silence fell. You could hear a pin drop, well almost. Then, the sound of clicking, clacking, clogs up the back street. No running. The pugilists knew better than to run this time. Rooted to the spot, riveted, arms bent and fists still clenched. Albert, his braces dangling, braced himself.

‘Albert!’ his mother screamed, ‘Get ‘ere now, before I thump yer round yer lug.’

Tail between his legs Albert followed his mother home.

Walter, ever his eye on the main chance, looked expectantly at Annette who linked her friend, walked off and glancing behind, shouted, ‘Arse hole!’

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