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Footsteps in the Cathedral

13 Feb

Quite a business this church thing. You can use your camera if you pay and if you don’t want to, you can buy postcards. You can donate to keep the roof on or buy a brick to fit in the wall to stop it falling down. Didn’t Jesus throw the money changers out of the temple?

I sat in a pew at the front, thought I would say a prayer but worried someone would approach me for a contribution. Instead of kneeling and putting my hands together, I decided to stay upright and close my eyes.

I slid down a bit, sinking into reverie and quietness. Quiet, that is, except for a chattering, chubby man in churchy glad rags who was slagging his wife off to his friend. A friend, not in churchy glads, maybe not a friend at all, maybe a visitor. Surprised that a man of the church would speak badly of his wife, I tuned in. He moved on from wife beating, figuratively speaking, to catching the arm of a passing, unsuspecting workman and asked him for the cones off the top of the Christmas tree when it was taken down at Epiphany. Give me a break.

Bored now, I switched off from chubby chatterer and slipped back into contemplation. Fixing my eyes on the ceiling I wondered whether my man, the one I came with, would stop for a gossip and wreck my character with a stranger or stop to collect pine cones. Or maybe would he make it down from the cathedral tower without incident. I don’t like heights.

I’m not religious, why did I want to say a prayer? I was christened like most babies in days long gone, went to Sunday school as a child and confirmed when I was thirteen. Is it a case of, ‘once a catholic, always a catholic’? Does it still count if you’re C of E? Probably. According to the Creed, which I had to learn, I promised to believe in the holy catholic church. That must be it.

Confirmation classes were on a Tuesday evening, so was the Rock and Roll Club in the Market Hall. I managed to fit them both in. Dad always collected me at nine o’clock. Dad was cool and embraced the music of the devil but he did blame me for killing the budgie by playing Rock around the Clock, full blast, on the Dansette.

Back to my prayer. Maybe if I prayed enough for something, it would happen. You hear of it don’t you? But, do you pray and wish or pray and hope. Do you need to pray at all or just sit in silence, think hard and wait? Wishing, hoping, thinking., praying, all the same thing? Not sure. What did I want to happen? It was like sitting in front of Google with hours to spare and not knowing what to search for.

Confused, I abandoned the whole idea and decided to just sit. The organist arrived for a practice. The music was lovely. Blocking out everything else, I wished Squirrel Nutkin to take his time.

Footsteps, click clack, click clack, coming up the aisle broke into my trance. Click clack, click clack. They stopped directly behind me. Well pass me or sit down, don’t hover. It was akin to being followed up a dark alley late at night waiting for someone to pounce, unable to act until they did.

A whisper, right into my ear. ‘Mary, Mary’. I could feel warm breath on my neck and a face close to mine. I turned, quickly. No one.

‘Mary, Mary.’

‘Mary, Mary’, Who the hell is Mary? Who the hell wants Mary? Who the hell thinks I am Mary?

‘Mary, Mary.’

I had to look again, this time, softly, softly. Still no monkey but I felt a smooth cheek leave mine, jerking back as I made to turn.

Suddenly there was no one around. I felt vulnerable and alone in this public place. Where was my pine stasher? The silence was heavy, the organist gone home, chattering man up and left. Just me, in the front pew, unknown just behind me.

‘Mary, Mary’, again. But this time, ‘Mary, the tower, come to the tower.’

‘Who are you? Where are you?’

‘I’m in the tower.’

How could that be, the voice was right in my ear?

‘I’m not Mary.’

‘Mary, you must come now.’

Why I got up and headed for the tower I don’t know. There was a charge of £3.50. £3.50 to pay and follow instructions from whom?

IMG_0075No one there to take my money, no guide. I felt my way in the gloom. The staircase was spiral and steep. Steep and slippery. The handrail, cold, damp and black. I felt the rust, rough and loose, as I gripped it. The flat of my other hand was against the slimy wall. The dripping water reverberated as it hit the bottom. The bottom of what? The echo was tinny and thin. This must be like clambering up the inside of a well. I wasn’t sure I had even started on the first step and was loathe to look down. All the time, ‘Mary, Mary.’

I kept going up, up, the voice urging me on. I knew I had to get to the top to turn around and to calm down, before beginning a descent. I stopped for deep breaths, in out, in out. They weren’t helping. I was fifty steps up. Yes, I count steps. How many to the top, one hundred, two hundred? I looked up, no sign of daylight yet. Dear god, please tell me the sun hasn’t gone in. One hundred and twelve; I could see sky. Dark sky, night sky, the moon high, nudging in and out through menacing clouds. I counted another twenty and hauled myself to the top, staggering onto the parapet. Unsure of where to put my feet, I shuffled back from the edge. Nothing to stop me throwing myself over, if I so desired. I didn’t. I stood back from the crumbling barricade. Soon my eyes adjusted and I had a chance to look around. No one there but me. My heart was beating rapidly now, pounding in my ears. I ached to get back to the protection of the front pew and my bloke. What the hell was I doing up here?

‘Mary, Mary.’

‘Sod off.’

I faced the nightmare of the decline and decided I would do it on my bottom. Slid down Croagh Patrick like that, years ago; wore the backside out of my trousers. Here I was in another holy place facing a similar challenge. I’d overcome the climb now the descent, which, as on the holy mountain, I feared more.

I sat, and dangled my legs and slithered onto the top step. One hundred and thirty one to go. My knuckles glowed in the half light, my heels slid, I released my grasp to save my arm from leaving its socket and I was off. I didn’t miss one. One hundred and thirty one bumps, lumps and bruises. The moss and ferns slid through my fingers as I put my hands out to keep my balance. I sped around, around, around, hoping I would hit the deck alive. I felt like Alice but not so pretty and how was I going to get back to the safety of the pew with a bare behind?

I stood up, amazed that I had no pain, no pain anywhere. I thought my husband was a pain in the neck when he decided we would go out for the day to yet another historic pile. He hadn’t reckoned with the charges of course.

Sensing that I still had a complete pair of pants and I was not covered with slime and mould, I staggered to my safe haven.

I sat and thought about saying a prayer but worried there may be a charge.

Just a minute.

Footsteps behind me, click, clack, click, clack. A voice, soft, masculine, familiar. ‘Mary. Ready? Let’s go and get a cup of tea somewhere.’

Oh Can You Wash Your Father’s Shirt?

10 Jun

Eventually he agreed to sell the bloody piano. I never wanted it from the day it arrived. Before that even. It was bequeathed to my husband by his grandmother because he was her first grandson. She said it was to be a secret. Perhaps she thought if the others knew, they would all want one. Grandma wanted him to have it, before her departure, so the secret would not leak out. My theory? She wanted rid of it.

Summoned one evening, grandma said she had something especially for him because of his unique place in her heart. At the time, we were desperately hard up and the bills were landing on the mat with amazing frequency. As soon as one cleared another arrived. And so, hopes rising, I hastened him off to grandma then sat and waited.

It seemed like hours before he returned, the bills fanned out on the kitchen table. He wasn’t smiling when he arrived back. I fancied he was disguising a big grin but I was wrong.

‘How much?’

Considering some old people value a pound much higher than we, I was prepared for it not being a fortune, I asked again. The electricity bill, maybe or the poll tax? The poll tax, now there lies a tale for another time.

‘How much?’

‘How much? Bugger all. She’s left me the bloody piano.’


granvilleAn old upright she bought at an auction years ago. Actually she bought two and gave one away. It was riddled with woodworm, totally out of tune, marked where hot cups had been placed on the lid and cost us a damn fortune to get it from her house to ours. By the time it had been treated for infestation, polished and retuned, it cost the best part of the aforesaid electricity bill, gas bill and water rates all thrown in.

With it came a piano stool. I use the term loosely. It was more like a few bits of hardboard, nailed to four roughly hewn legs with a lid on top. Grandma had covered it with some padding and material to match the curtains. She was clever that way. Needless to say it did not match our curtains.

Then, there we were, twenty years later and one hundred miles from our original home. The piano came, of course, another utility bill left for the red one to arrive.

Raymond, my husband, bought a Piano Tutor and attempted to learn. He supports self study based on the theory that if you can read you can learn.

‘Not the piano my dear’ I told him as he approached the keyboard, fingers outstretched as if he was about to type an angry dispatch to the local paper. He challenged the piano to obey but it beat him. The lid down, it became the biggest, most cumbersome, telephone table in the area.

We decided to move again and I decided, brave move on my part, that this time the piano was not moving with us. Grandma had passed on, or over, as she preferred to say, and wouldn’t know.

With a heavy heart, Raymond put it on Ebay. Some naive young woman bought it. Five pounds fifty pence and the stool thrown in for free. In all fairness the stool was full of old sheet music which the innocent young thing may have suspected was worth something and sold on making herself a fortune. Ho hum.

Once it left the house Raymond felt bad, felt as though he had dishonoured grandma’s gift. I said nothing, thought a lot.

‘She used to play to us on Sundays, after church.’ He wailed. ‘That’s why I know all those uplifting hymns.’

Uplifting wasn’t how I would describe them. Rock of Ages, The Old Rugged Cross, Abide with me. Uplifting?

‘She would knock them out and we would all sing.’

Again I said nothing but thought a lot. I thought about the family. Grandma, in her Sunday frock, and hand knitted cardi, she was clever like that, on the piano. Grandad small build and very bossy. He was a mason, so it was, therefore, his right. Their daughter, my mother in law, an ex QA and my father in law, ex sergeant, Royal Engineers. I imagined them both standing to attention. Then of course there would be Raymond, sticky up ginger hair and pebble glasses and his younger brother Cyril, chubby and out of control. How did they keep him still? Grandad probably uttered an incantation that rendered Cyril insensible for a couple of hours? That or the threat of the strap. The notion of the tableau made me smile. Well laugh, actually. Well actually laugh a lot. Shhhh.

Anyway, the piano went, went away, went far, far away. I was so excited about how I would use the space. The parlour was now big enough for a party. Should I throw one to celebrate? Better not. The cats were already confused. The grandchildren disappointed, the husband in despair. Was I the only one jubilant, triumphant even?

It took a couple of days for us to all settle down and get back to normal. The cats stopped pacing around and found new hiding places for their forage. I can’t begin to list what they had left underneath the monster that had been masquerading as a musical instrument. The grandchildren decided that screaming the place down was a reasonable substitute for, ‘I can wash a sailor’s shirt.’ And Raymond’s mood lifted somewhat after a couple of pints and the heavy word.

Would there will be a price to pay for my heartlessness?

Saturday arrived as usual and passed without event. That is until the early hours of Sunday morning. At three o’clock, on the button, a piano thumped out, ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away.’ I poked Raymond in the ribs. He opened his eyes, said something in a foreign language and turned over. It was for me to investigate then. Slippers, dressing gown and a pick axe handle was all I needed to fight off a melodic intruder. I tiptoed down the stairs. Light was teeming under the parlour door. When I reached it I heard singing. Singing, robust and loud, ‘Oh dearly, dearly, has he loved and we must love him too’ I pushed the door, it was black and silent behind it. I closed it, ‘And trust in his redeeming blood’, opened, blackness, silence, closed, ‘And try his works to do’.

Every Sunday is the same. No longer with the pick axe handle but, compelled and without fear, I just steal down the stairs, lean against the parlour door and in vigorous voice, join in. Making my way through Hymns, Ancient and Modern It is Be thou my vision, O Lord of my Heart this week.

Raymond? He hears nothing.


That was Then

13 Feb

‘Big fight! Big fight!’

Freda took her fluffy red dressing gown from behind the bathroom door, thought it was time she bought a new one. Stiffly, she pulled it on and slid her feet into the fluffy red slippers she had bought to match.

‘Big fight! Big fight!’ The cry swam around her head; it wouldn’t go away.

She took the stairs down, one step at a time, and very, very slowly; her mind was racing backwards at a much faster pace. By the time she had reached the bend around which she required both hands to manoeuvre, she was back to 1957 and The Medda.

‘Big fight! Barney and Ubbold!’ The kids were running in all directions away from the market cross. Running home for windjammers and wellies, then out again and down to the Railway Meadow. Down to The Medda was just that. Dalton, the town in the dale where everywhere was down, except your house and then it was up! Anyway, wherever you lived, The Medda was down.

Down, down, down they ran hoping it hadn’t started before they got there. The steep, slippery, pavements glistened in late afternoon sun but the kids paid no regard. The air was cool; they didn’t notice. Loads of kids, ducking and diving their way to The Medda.

Barney. His hair was sandy and crinkly and resisted the huge amounts of Brylcreem he plastered on it to make it smooth. His eyes, turquoise, could twinkle but then could not, depending on his mood when they changed from brilliant to dark. Today they were dark. And there he stood, on The Medda, awaiting his challenger. Awaiting someone bold enough to think they could take him on and get away with it.

He was the youngest boy in a family of girls and twin to Stella. His father died when he was five. The kids brought themselves up, dragged up, some would say, their mother working where and when she could. Barney had very little schooling. Never went, said they couldn’t make him and boasted that he had never read a book in his life. But he learned, very early, how to fight. Learned to wrestle, learned to bare knuckle box. He earned himself a reputation.

Barney didn’t bother much with women which was why it was strange that he should be on The Medda awaiting an opponent who had offended the woman he loved.

He loved Freda; she lived in a village above and beyond the dale. He had never looked at anyone else. Freda, tall, and slim, with dark hair and flashing eyes. She reminded Barney of a flamenco dancer. Her full lips were painted red, her dark hair, caught up with a slide, cascaded over her white shoulders. They met on Fridays and went to the Rock ‘n’ Roll club in the Market Hall. Barney and Freda were good together on the dance floor. Barney was magic but Freda was terrific; all the boys wanted her to jibe with them; Barney had to just sit back and watch.

Albert Hubbold, known to all as Ubbold, was a great lump of a lad, an apprentice blacksmith. He looked and smelt sweaty. Ubbold was tall and fat but could dance his socks off and got in the queue for Freda every week. She couldn’t stand his closeness but could not refuse him. She would shut her eyes and let the music take her, politely thanking him when it stopped. One night he did not let her go, she felt the stickiness of his clammy hand around her wrist and although she tugged, he would not let go. The struggle brought Barney to his feet. Ubbold threatened to plant him.

‘Yer big, but not big enough.’ Barney responded; they arranged to meet on The Medda the next evening. Word got out and by the late afternoon the town was alive.

Bare knuckles had never let Barney down but Ubbold was massive and tough.

The crowd was growing, kids joined by youths, boys and girls, jostling for a good view.

‘Ubbold’ll flatten Barney’

‘Barney’ll kill Ubbold.’

‘Where is Ubbold anyway?’

Suddenly it all went quiet. The gate to The Medda swung open, all heads turned towards it. Ubbold. Barney braced himself.

It was at that point, Freda fell in love with Barney. Ubbold had lost.

Freda had been thinking about the big fight since she climbed out of bed.

‘How long ago it was, and yet like yesterday.’ She remembered. Freda was on the last few steps now, almost down.

‘Those were the days when Barney treated me like a goddess, worshipped me, fought Ubbold for me, would’ve fought anyone for me.’ She was muttering now. Freda was always muttering, couldn’t stop; she spent a lot of time muttering. Barney very rarely spoke.

‘Can’t be doing wi’ gossip. Can’t tell yer what’s in the paper, yer can read it yerself when I’ve finished.’ And if he wasn’t reading the bloody paper, which was all creased up and in a muddle when he’d finished with it, he was watching the bloody telly.

If they crossed words, Barney would never say sorry. Not like Freda would. ‘Sorry’ she’d say, ‘Sorry Barney.’ The nearest he got was when, after a row and after more than a few drinks, he sang Neil Sedaka’s, ‘Oh Carol’ to her, substituting Carol for Freda. It was a fond memory and one she conjured up occasionally.

Freda never doubted that, in a way, his own way, Barney loved her, but he never told her. Never said much at all. She often felt lonely and lonelier now she couldn’t get around. ‘Aged frailty’, they said, ‘Comes to us all.’

‘Well.’ she was muttering again, ‘Age and frailty came to Barney, years ago.’ She wasn’t being sympathetic.

By now Freda was on the bottom step, she took it gingerly. Barney was already up and dressed.

‘You’re about in good time.’ She said. ‘Never heard you get up. See you’ve got the paper, anything in it? Not got the kettle on? I’ll do it; nice cup of tea to get us started, yes?’

It was the same every day.

‘What’ll you have for your breakfast? Porridge? Toast? I’ve got bacon and egg if you fancy?’

Barney didn’t even look up, not even a glance to acknowledge she had spoken. He just sat there, his hands crossed over the paper, still unfolded on his knee. Freda thought she had better shut up otherwise he’ll be telling her.

‘Shut up woman.’ he’ll say, ‘Stop going on.’

It wasn’t like that in the old days. Barney never got fed up of her nattering, welcomed it, saw it as part of her charm. Freda was a splendid companion. When they were in company he would watch her in amazement. Marvel at her ability to chat to anyone, entertain, make small talk. Attractive, amusing, admired and his. He adored her, but that was then.

‘Familiarity,’ her mother would say, ‘breeds contempt.’

Is that what he felt for her, contempt? In amongst his own way of loving her, did he also feel contempt? Is it possible to feel those two emotions at the same time? Freda would never know because she would never ask him.

‘Stew for dinner, with dumplings? I’ll put caraway seeds in them, alright?’

She knew he liked stew with caraway dumplings but she always consulted him, always gave him the chance to change his mind. It was only right. He would sometimes respond by saying,

‘Whatever yer think, Freda, I’ll leave it all to yer.’

Today, nothing. No response, no reaction, nothing; Barney just sat there, hands still crossed over his unfolded newspaper, staring at the floor.

Freda sighed and thought she’d leave her cuppa until she was dressed. She sighed again, ‘Another long day ahead.’ She started back up the stairs at the same snail’s pace she took, coming down. At the bend, she stopped to catch her breath. She heard Barney’s chair scrape as he pushed it back on the tiled floor. He walked to the door, there was some coming and going and conversation in hushed voices. Barney went out and the door slammed shut behind him.

Freda was intrigued and made a supreme effort to haul herself up to the landing, and peer out of the window. She hid behind the curtains; he mustn’t see her nosing.

Barney got into a large black car, it looked like a hearse. Freda was surprised.

‘He never said a word about a funeral’

It moved slowly away from the front door, a wicker coffin in the back. Freda thought she would like a wicker coffin and had often said so. It was wreathed with pink tulips and blue iris, her favourite flowers, intertwined with red roses. The card read, from Barney, with love.

One of the Old School

14 Nov

By the time she had reached the top of the drive, it was dusk. Myra managed to pick out the word ‘girls’, carved into the sandstone arch above the entrance to her old school. She hauled herself up the steps and through the archway just as the sun disappeared. Where did Ruth go? Myra called her from the top step.

‘Ruth, Ruth’. Her own voice came back to her, Ruth’s did not.

The years slid away, it was like yesterday she took the steps two at a time. Only ever made register by the skin of her teeth.

The old cloakroom, still here? It was old, forty years ago, old and cold.

‘Ruth, Ruth’, again

Her shoes click clacked across the tiles as she ventured further in.


The whiff of girly body odour and smelly knickers turned her nose up. She tripped over a mud caked plimsoll. Where was Ruth? Myra thought she heard something.

‘Ruth is that you?’

A gabardine mac fell from a peg onto the floor.


And again the only voice, reverberating around the damp, peeling walls, was her own.

A tap gushed into one of the washbasins, then another and another and them all.

‘Ruth, you’re not bloody funny, turn the frigging lights on.’

Myra couldn’t remember where the switch was, couldn’t remember if the switches were accessible to the kids. She began to feel her way around the sticky walls, stumbling over the hockey sticks and netballs beneath her feet, kicking them out of her way in desperation to find the way out – the way she came in for God’s sake.

Her breathing became short and fast. Shorter and faster still when the nattering and chuckling began.

Myra was panicking now. The throbbing in her ears almost blotting out the clamour which was reaching a crescendo. Then suddenly the doorway. She fell through it, into the lobby. Then silence. No Ruth.

Crawling a few yards on her hands and knees, she reached the quadrangle before attempting to stand. There was a rail, she heaved herself up.

The Quad, a large lawn, was overlooked by a rather grand house where the caretaker lived with his wife and son Lucien. Lucien would stand at the landing window with his willy hanging out. This performance was attributed to being named Lucien.

The classrooms built around the other three sides, were still standing.

Myra moved on sensing her way around. She wished she could see properly. What with the fading day and her failing eyesight, she was struggling. Ahh, room fifteen. Was there a light? Hypnotised, she made her way towards it. Squinting through the door, she could just make out all the desks, crouched, one behind the other in four rows. It was in room fifteen that her cousin Raymond stood up and threw something at her whilst yelling,

‘Shut yer gob!’

Raymond earned himself a hundred lines for that. He hadn’t seen Totty Lawson, so called because he had a wooden leg, behind him. Totty, outraged, bellowed,

‘Manners Maketh Man, on my desk, tomorrow morning at nine!’ She smiled at the memory.

The glow which attracted Myra to the room, moved around. Up and down the aisles, in and out between desks. Up and down, in and out, around and around it went. Myra’s nose was pressed on the glass, staring, eyes like saucers. The glow, brighter now, was gravitating towards her. She went to run away. Run? Rather, move as swiftly as her hip would allow. Too late. The door to room fifteen scraped opened and then a voice, that voice, that calm, yet demeaning voice. Hushed, but not gentle. That voice which always and even now scared the hell out of her.

‘Come in Myra, you look worried.’

Worried? She thought she would faint. Wished she would. Myra didn’t faint, just stood there her mouth a gaping hole.

The glow fizzled out and instead, and with attitude, stood Zombie Banks, headmaster.

‘Come in Myra’ and again, ‘You look worried.’

Myra walked towards him, in a trance. But then that was always how she walked towards him, unless riveted to the floor, too terrified to move. He was a fearsome sight, as his name implied. Zombie held the door for her.

‘Sit down and take out your books.’

Still in a trance she walked to her usual desk and sat down. They were all there. Sandra in her red spotty dress, Julia in blue, Fred and Johnnie Lamb. No Ruth. All facing the front, books open at Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. Zombie’s favourite. Oh my god, he’s bound to ask me to recite something, he always picks on me.

By the shores of Gitche Gumme,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

Myra found herself thinking in the present tense, wasn’t this the past? Terrified, she scanned her memory. Desperate for another verse.

Till she bore a son in sorrow,
Bore a son of love and sorrow,
Thus was born my Hiawatha

No, there was no more. It was a mile long anyway, nobody could remember it all.

Zombie turned away to write on the board. From the back, his tall frame, black gown hanging in folds, reminded Myra of a gigantic cockroach. Suddenly he turned and pointed at her his eyes ablaze.

‘Pythagoras’ theorem, word perfect, stand!’

Shaking she began, ‘In every right angled triangle’

‘Wrong, sit down. Anyone?’

Nobody moved. He began to tell a tale of when he was in the Army. He was a Warrant Officer. He had thousands of men under his command and had to train them all to be loyal, brave soldiers capable of blasting Jerry to smithereens. To hear him talk, he had won the war single handed. ‘Pity there wasn’t more men like me’ he boasted. There wasn’t a kid in the class who would argue with him.

The bell went, Myra giddy with relief headed for the door. Zombie did not call after her. Nor did her friends. But then they wouldn’t, she remembered. They were all dead, long dead.

She escaped the quad as fast as her wobbly legs allowed; her heart beating ten to the dozen, her face red and smeared with tears. Down the steps and halfway down the drive, she stopped. Hot on her heels was Ruth. Ruth with the knees, her with the hip. ‘Christ!’

Ruth and Myra, in unison, ‘Where the hell have you been?’

‘You won’t believe it.’ Myra told Ruth,’ ‘Where were you?’

‘In room fifteen with that mad bastard, Zombie.’

They limped down to the gate, holding on to each other, neither daring to look behind.

Out in the street they scanned the faces of passers by looking for other friends, long gone. But no, all appeared normal.

‘Is The Black Bull open?’

Later after a couple of gins, they calmed down and discussed their simultaneous experience, hardly believing it had taken place. Indeed wondering if it had.

‘Learn anything new?’ they asked each other.

‘Only that if you jump in a river in full combat kit, you’ll break your neck if you don’t unfasten the sodding strap that holds your steel helmet on!’

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!’