Living so close to our school had a couple of advantages: I could go home for my lunch and in the evenings Tommy and l would squeeze through the railings and have a kick about in the playground. One evening we climbed onto the toilet roof to look for balls. I was busy trying to dislodge a tennis ball from the gutter when I heard loud knocking coming from the main building, I glanced over and saw the stern face of our headmistress, Mrs Bowcook at the window, she was waving and pointing angrily; I darted to the far end of the roof and dropped down into the alleyway. As we say in Manchester ‘I was in the shit’, big-time. Tommy hadn’t been seen so he was in the clear. As it was a Friday, I had 48 hours to worry about my punishment. I hoped and I prayed that maybe, just maybe, she’d forget about the incident by Monday morning.
After a weekend of fear and dread I went into school. I can vividly remember standing at the back of the school assembly, sweating like a blind lesbian in a fishmongers.
Mrs Bowcook rambled on and on … eons passed; eventually she dismissed us. I was sure that the old bag had forgotten. I felt like punching the air, but I didn’t, obviously I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. The following morning, just before dismissing us, she uttered the words that chilled me to the bone “can Christopher W please stay behind at the end of assembly.” As all the other kids filed out, I stood, rooted to the spot, trembling, with my head down. When all the pupils had departed she confronted me about my roof climbing skills; she told me not to lie, as she knew it was me who was on the bog’s roof. Bang to rights, I had to take my punishment. She sat down on a small bench and beckoned me over, she then bent me over her knee and gave me a damn good spanking. I had on short pants on and the rough material of skirt rubbed on thighs, which gave me nice tingling sensations in my balls. After she’d finished I was sent to class; I remember thinking that getting a spanking wasn’t so bad. I know I was only a young boy but this was probably my first sexual experience.
The Whit Walks were something that every sensible Catholic child dreaded. Each year we had to parade around the town in our ‘Sunday best’ which was shorts, white shirt and tie; to say I hated this nonsense would be an understatement. One year on the day of walks, I woke up early and met up with Barry Langford; he was going to show me where there was a fab new rope swing in Broadhurst Park. The walks did not start until 1pm, so I had plenty of time. The swing was an absolute belter. In fact it was too good because I lost all track of time. When we got back to Kartus fields we met up with some of the lads, who took great pleasure in telling me that it was now 2pm and that I’d missed the walks. I was in deep, deep trouble. To miss this annual event was a big no-no and I knew I was in for a good beating when I returned home.
I was starving; I’d missed breakfast and all I had eaten that day was a packet of crisps. I found what I thought was a burnt baked spud in the dying embers of a fire, but it turned out to be charcoal. There was only one thing for it: I would have to go home and face the music. Barry, Cronny and Keith Pritchard walked me to my door to try and explain that it was not my fault that I’d missed the walks. The door flew open and dad yanked me inside, then he told my friends to “f**k off home”. After a brief slanging match with them he then slammed the door shut and turned his attention to me.
I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he set about me, giving me an absolute pummeling: punching and kicking me along the hallway while shouting obscenities at me. My dad was no church goer nor was he bothered about me missing the walks, it was my mum who was the religious one in the family; she would have been going ape-shit when I’d not turned up. Dad had probably been out looking for me and missed some precious boozing time. My father’s temper was very scary and he was quick to lose it, which made him quite volatile, although these ‘good hidings’ never deterred me from me being a naughty boy. A few weeks later, I was brought home by the police; our gang had got caught knocking down the cemetery walls and another vicious beating ensued. Same thing happened when I was grassed up by my sister for ‘sticking the Vs up’ at old man Carter. I came to the conclusion that sometimes in life, you just have to take a beating and deal with it.
We moved house to Tyndall Avenue. Our new home was situated between the Ben Brierley and Boggart Hole Clough, the posh part of Moston (don’t laugh even Moston has nice parts). This move also coincided with me proceeding to junior school. Tommy and I were now in different classes and with me moving out of the neighbourhood, we were no longer as close as we once were and I’d made a new best friend, John ‘Chaddy’ Chadwick. Chad was reckless and did stuff without thinking about the consequences, which instantly appealed to my rebellious nature. We were seated next to each other on the first of day of school and have been friends ever since. Chad was fair haired, gap toothed and had rosy red cheeks. He’d a crazy way with words, he used to call me ‘water dolly’; I’d no idea what a water dolly was and I’m pretty sure neither did he.
Henry street, a small, dead-end street, which had football goal-post painted on the brick wall at the end of it (imagine a shabby Coronation Street) was situated just off Kenyon lane and was sandwiched between Lily Lane School and a concrete factory, which was known by us as ‘the works’. Chad lived in a two-up-two down terraced house, which was in a state of disrepair; it had big holes in the walls in a wallpaper-less living room. The sofa was full of cig burns from his parent’s Embassy No1s. Chad’s bedroom, which he shared with two younger brothers was a real mess: clothes all over the place and all the bare walls had silly drawings etched upon them. The house had no bathroom or indoor toilet, which meant they had use a tin bath, and they had a pot under the bed if they needed to take a leak in the night. Chad told me that if he needed to do a number 2 when it was dark, he’d have to set alight a rolled up newspaper, then dash to the outdoor shit-house and do the business, rapid, before it went out. Bad shit man. I used to love going around to his house; it was total anarchy, they never locked the front door, so his friends, his brother’s friends were always in and out. Chad’s gaff backed on to a row of mostly empty houses, some boarded up and some not, on Kenyon Lane. These buildings became our playground: we’d kick in the back doors and explore them, make dens and play hide and seek.
Saturday nights would be ‘sleep over’ night and my jaw would ache from laughter; lying in the dark, top and tail in his single bed, listening to his crazy stories. Then on Sunday afternoon, while his mum was at bingo and his dad was in the pub, he would help himself to his dad’s 2ps and 1ps which were kept in a glass jar that was hidden in the kitchen cupboard. He’d send me to Kiddies Korner or Barrets and I’d buy Crunchie Puffs, Spangles or Curly Wurlies and we’d wash it all down with Tizer. When his friends, Peter Dursy and Paul Tracy came round, they would enquire about how he could afford such goodies, he would tell them that he got the money from a magic sandpit on the Diggy (a big playing field, located next to the Works). They would both then scarper off quick to seek their fortune, much to our amusement. Suckers.
I soon became good friends with the raiders of the magic sandpits. Pete was in the same year as me at Dunnies. He had brown hair and slight dark complexion, like he had a good suntan. Pete had a reputation as a decent scraper and at times he could be a bit moody; you had to be careful what you said to him as he could be a wee bit volatile. One time we were ‘toy fighting’ in an old house and for some mad reason I decided to make it real by smacking him square on the chin. I sent him flying onto a soiled mattress in the corner. Pete got up, dusted himself down, and then proceeded to beat the crap out of me. I never made that mistake again. Most times though, he was a laid back guy who was great fun to be around; the great thing about Pete was that although he was a tough nut, he would never throw his weight around or try to bully anyone. Pete lived on Lily Lane opposite the school and sometimes after class I’d go round to his house and play on his swing in his back garden. He liked to philosophize and educate: we’d just been to Kiddies Korner; I purchased a can of Top Deck shandy and he’d bought a bottle of Kia-ora orange juice. On the way round to Chad’s house he explained to me, how he’d got the best deal: “Kris, you’ve paid double the price for your drink, this has a better flavor and when it’s finished I can smash the empty bottle”. He then gulped down the rest of drink and launched it against the Works wall, enjoying the sight of the glass smashing into smithereens. I have to admit that he’s logic seemed sound to me. As for Paul, he was a year older than the rest of us; he had black hair, square jaw and a ski-slope nose. Before I really got to know him, he was someone who I was wary of being around; he was very unpredictable. At times he could be a bully and was constantly belittling Chad and I; he’d accuse me of me of being posh because I lived in a nice semi on Tyndall Avenue. I supposed compared to the poverty that he was living in; he did have a have a point. Paul’s nickname was ‘Dick’, coined by Chaddy, after the American detective Dick Tracy. Paul lived at the bottom of Chad’s street with 3 younger brothers: Mark, James and Michael. Being the eldest boy in the family was probably the reason why he was always trying to prove himself to be top dog.
Dicks’ parents, Kitty and Shamus, were Irish Immigrants and the first time I went in his house and they engaged me conversation, it had me completely baffled. I could not understand a word they were saying, so thick was their Irish accent. Dick was constantly being brutally disciplined by his father, but it never stopped him from stepping out of line. His dad was a T.V repair man, who wore a white overall all the time; we all thought that he reminded us of the tall guy from ‘Take Hart’, who use to paint white lines everywhere.
One evening myself, Chad, Pete and Dick were walking along Kenyon Lane. Dick as usual was being his annoying self, doing sly kicks from behind. I’d had enough of his silly shenanigans and I lost my temper, I lunged at him, grabbing him by the shoulders and kneeing him in the bollocks. I darted off through the open gates of the Works. He caught me and pinned me over a long stack of bricks. He then picked up a large brick and was about to bring it down on to my head. Luckily for me, Pete had caught up with the action, and talked my furious friend out of giving me brain damage for life or even killing me. Of course Pete never lets me forget the day he saved my life. Pete was the only person that Dick didn’t mess around with. Who was hardest? Well they never did have a fight, but they came close that night. Dick had a change of name, thanks to Pat Dunlevey, who was toughest kid in Moston. We were hanging about outside Barrett’s sweet shop, when Pat shouted across the road “Hey Dick, Diddler, Dodder or whatever your name is, I want a word with you.” Dick did not know what he’d done wrong to upset the big man, nor was he going to hang around to find out, so he made like Jessie Owens and darted off. Chaddy and I thought it was a hilarious and immediately started calling him Doddler. It was not until a few years later that Doddler was changed to Doggler by Denis Healy.
Chaddy and I would fight like cat and dog, just like I used to do with Tommy; the only difference now was that I’d actually win some of my battles, with my gap toothed friend. One such occasion sticks in my memory. Pete, Chad and I were playing footy on the tennis courts next to the Diggy. We started fighting for a reason that escapes me now. After wrestling around on the floor for short while, I get the better of him by sitting on top of him, with my knees on his arms. I had the opportunity to smash his gap even wider, but instead I give him the chance to admit defeat; he was having none it and refused to make the peace. The stalemate continued for about an hour. Darkness descended on us. His Mum had come out looking for him. As she approached, I let him go; he then grabbed me by my hair and started booting me in my face. Pete broke the fight up, and then his Mum forced him to make friends with me. We then went to his house and had some tea and toast.Best friends again.
And the last but not least of my childhood chums was Kev Duff. Kev was one of the good guys; laid back with an even temperament, quiet and unassuming, tall for his age and a bit on the podgy side. He lived on Winnie Street, a few doors down from Kiddies Korner and like the Tracey brothers he was of Irish descent with two or three older brothers and sisters, and a younger brother Brendan.