It began in childhood. The first time was to do with a small cardboard box. I'm not sure exactly what year that was, but it was Christmas. I'd guess it was around 1962, so quite a long time ago.
Aunt Doris - or 'Doll' as mum and dad would call her - I remember not understanding why they'd call her a doll, she didn't look anything like the dolls the girls along our street would play with. Anyway, Aunt 'Doll' was staying with us that Christmas after uncle Tom had chucked her out over something to do with their milkman who had since scarpered back up to somewhere in Scotland. I remember my Uncle Tom. He was a big strong man who worked in London's East India Docks along the Thames. Aunt Doll was alright I suppose though she'd always be staying with one of the aunts or uncles over something or other, and never seemed to be happy when I'd see her, always crying and saying she was never going to drink a single drop of the stuff again. And she'd always include that word 'single' when saying it. Anyway I suppose that Christmas just happened to be our turn to 'put up with the old bag for a few days' as my dad would call it. I do remember my mum had been particularly annoyed about it and when dad had warned she was going to be spending a few days with us. Mum had then said to him "Oh no, not at Christmas of all times". But it was our turn and that was that.
I have a brother. He's a couple of years older than me. Aunt Doll wrapped up a Christmas present for each of us and put them under the tree in our living room. My parcel was bigger than the one for my brother. "Don't you two go opening these before Christmas morning or there'll be trouble from me" warned aunt Doll.
"They won't" dad assured her. Our dad would sometimes give us a look. Hard to describe it really. He gave us 'THAT' look so that we'd know he meant it.
Why did my aunt get the idea in her head that I'd be interested in a book of poems? Cockney kids don't read soppy poems! She'd bought my brother a nice toy car - a Dinky car. I preferred Corgis but did have a few Dinky cars mixed in with my collection. I think my brother later swapped it with a boy at school for some shin pads. When I opened the parcel and saw what it contained - a book of bloomin' poems - I tried to hide my disappointment but I know mum noticed how I was less than happy about it.
"Say thank you to Aunty Doris" she warned.
"Thanks Aunty Doris" I complied to the order from mum.
Then my brother opened his present. A toy Dinky car.
"Wow! Thanks Aunty Doris" he said pretending to be overjoyed to have received such a thing. He didn't even play with toy cars for crying out loud! My brother's always been better at hiding his true feelings compared to me.
I just went into one. "Why don't you just piss off back to Uncle Tom you smelly old bag and take this soppy book of poems with yer".
I knew I was in for a walloping as soon as I'd said it but the words just came out. I threw the book at her. After dad 'helped me up to my bedroom' with a few wallops on my right thigh to help me on the way I could hear raised voices coming from downstairs in our living room. I couldn't really make out all of what was being said, and my brother had been sent up to join me not long after it had started. He did tell me later that he'd been told to join me upstairs just after Aunt Doris had made remarks about the way our dad was bringing his children up, but that's all I know.
I remember Aunt Doris slamming our front door shut when she left, then it being opened again by dad who called out to her something like "And don't come back". They were great our mum and dad. Not long after she'd gone mum called up "It's alright, you can come down now. She's gone. Come down here and enjoy the rest of our Christmas." So we did.
Oh, the cardboard box. Yes, well what happened was that I retrieved the box my brother's Dinky toy car had come in from our rubbish bin a few days later. Children have good imaginations. I'd then include the box when playing with my other toy cars, imagining the picture on the outside of the box to be the actual toy car.
I was no different to the other kids around our way. We'd be getting up to mischief along our street when sometimes we'd hear the screech of a car's brakes followed by the sound of metal striking metal. We'd all rush along to where the sound had come from to 'take a butchers' hoping to see lots of blood and carnage. Children can be rather bloodthirsty. Most times though we'd arrive at the crash scene to hear some kid already there on his bike turn to us to say something like,
"Nah, wasting your time with this one - nobody hurt", and then we'd hang around for a few minutes just to make sure before going back to playing Knock Down Ginger. That game was fun. The real adrenaline rush wouldn't come until knocking on someone's door for a second or even third time. Most people would just shout out to us to 'go and knock on someone elses door'. Occasionally we would. The best one's for getting a few bob out of to stop us banging on their doors were the old people, but even at our young age we knew they couldn't really afford it so would only play Knock Down Ginger on their doors when they'd been particularly grumpy to us recently. But we didn't do it for the money - just for the fun. (To be continued...)