Back In The Day: Part Two
Tony, Dave’s younger brother was there, along with Black Barry, Smithy’s younger brother Sid, Ginger Pete, the twins, AKA ‘The Cheeky Twats’, Two metre Pete, Turkey, Bandit, Stitch, Macca, and a bunch of others.
They were about to kick off a football match against the lads from one of the local Indian restaurants. This was a weekly occurrence. The pitch was massive and not marked out. The grass had been cut recently, the local council had kept on top of it for a change. We wandered around the pitch throwing cans and bottles, pieces of glass and picking up any solid dog poos we saw with a stick, which would usually result in someone being chased around the park. At each end were full size green metal goalposts with no net, which was a pain, as a brook ran through the length of the park and you’d be forever fishing the ball out of it. It was about fifteen aside and no referee.
The game kicked off and Turkey (so called because he walked and ran funny due to an operation on his legs) immediately made a beeline for the nearest opposing player and kicked him up in the air, disregarding the fact that the ball was nowhere near him. Now the thing about Turkey was he loved fishing and lived in his wellies, and his were steel toe capped and really hurt. As can be expected this wasn’t taken very well and three of the Indian lads surrounded him, shoving and arguing. Turkey started swinging punches, windmill style, scattering the three lads. My cousin Tony, Two Metre Pete, who was tall and thin, and myself jumped in hoping to calm the situation. We only inflamed it, and more lads joined in, resulting in a ten minute free for all. With bloody noses, split lips and eyes closing up from bruising, we eventually continued the game. Everyone was friends again. Well for now.
Smithy was a solid lad and had a hell of a kick on him. It was him who had the first attempt on goal. It was a rocket shot from way out, that left the goalkeeper no chance. Unfortunately for the lad in goal, the ball ricocheted off the upright of the goal posts and hit him square in the face. His nose crunched and splattered all over his face. The ball came off him and hit one of his team mates in the balls. He went down like he’d been shot and writhed around on the grass, whimpering and cursing. The sympathetic oohs and aahs from both sides quickly changed to laughter and pats on the back for Smithy. The goalie and defender had to sit out for a while so other team mates took up their positions. The goals started popping in at both ends and the tackles came in thick and fast. Now and again we’d have a few minutes breather while someone retrieved the ball from the brook, or someone had an asthma attack in which case they really needed it. The game went on like this for a couple of hours or so until just before someone called halftime. Bandit (named for his love of gambling machines as in one armed bandit) was a scrawny runt of a lad who also had the uncanny resemblance to Oliver Twist. Anyway he ran down the wing and slid in to make a tackle right through the biggest pile of dog poo ever. Lord knows how anyone had missed it when we scoured the pitch before kick-off. It covered the whole of his left leg and right up his back and over the top of his shoulder. The smell was unbelievable, so obviously he got dragged by his clean leg (acquiring some grass burns on the way) into the brook to get washed off. Again the group of us were highly entertained and someone always managed to come up with an appropriate song, seconds after an incident like this. On this occasion it was the song ‘I want to be like you’ from The Jungle Book film. The words were changed and poo was mentioned a lot and many variations were sung loudly and for quite some time after too.
In little groups we all drifted to Shaws, for drinks and mountains of tip tops. For those of you who don’t know what they are then I’ll tell you. These particular ones were about a foot long and an inch thick, made of ice and coming in a variety of flavours, much like a long ice lolly.
The game resumed after a twenty minute rest with as much, if not more enthusiasm as before. After another hour of grass burns, twisted ankles, fights, tears, and arguments someone declared the ending of the match by shouting, “the next goal is the winner.”
The Indian lads had possession of the ball and forced an all out attack to win the game and the bragging rights. They made the mistake of committing too many players up the field and when they lost the ball the inevitable happened. Out numbered now, Sid, Ginger Pete, the twins and I ran forward passing the ball round their players all too easily. We toyed with the goal keeper before I pretty much walked the ball over the line to win the match. The Indian lads turned on each other and we erupted in a sing song of “we are the champions.”
We all stretched out our weary legs on the grass under the blazing sun as the opposition drifted off, mostly because they all had to go to work waiting the tables at the Indian Restaurant.
Turkey decided he’d go and do a spot of fishing in the deeper part of the brook that we all knew as ‘the ratty’, due to the water rats, obviously. His idea of fishing sometimes led to him lying in the water and shoving his hands in holes in the embankment where the trout hid, trying to tickle them out. Many times we’d go round his house only to find him sat in the bath with a dozen different types of fish swimming around him. He stripped down to his underpants so as not to get his shorts wet and lay down in the deepest part. He shoved his hand in the first hole he could find. We all stood there in anticipation. He wriggled and shifted position and he grunted and groaned as he delved deeper into the hole.
People used to walk their dogs around the park, and hardly ever cleaned up after them. If you remember I mentioned earlier about chasing each other with dog logs on a stick. Some random man, who no one knew, was strolling along throwing a ball for his dog, which was off his lead. Just as he walked by Turkey let out a scream and leapt out of the brook and up the bank, his face contorted in agony. All eyes focused on his hand expecting to see some monster Pike (a fish with needle sharp teeth) there, but oh no, it was a huge brown rat. Its teeth firmly attached to his index finger and it wasn’t letting go. The man saw what was happening and came over and pinned Turkey’s hand to the floor with his foot. His raised the dog lead and thrashed at the rat three or four times. He only missed once but it was ok, Turkey’s hand stopped it doing any damage to the park’s grass. We were howling at the sight of this and he in pain from the rat and of that inflicted by the man. Turkey’s language turned the air blue. It wasn’t long before he decided to go and get it looked at and a tetanus shot. It did after all, look quite nasty.
While the excitement of the rat attack was dying down, a group of older lads who we knew came across armed with milk bottles and red petrol can.
There was a brick shed where all the nets, cones, and other goals were kept for the Saturday and Sunday kids football teams. The older kids filled the bottles with the petrol from the can and stuffed old rags into them before setting them alight and launching them at the shed. Somehow Tony got involved filling them up and after tipping petrol on his tracksuit trousers, he ended up on fire. We all thought this hilarious. First he was racing up and down the brook trying to put out the flames and when that didn’t work he resorted to rolling around in it, which again didn’t do a lot, except further our amusement. Eventually the petrol burnt itself out and he came out of the water with his trousers in tatters and the hairs on his legs singed. Luckily for him he had escaped any serious burns.
The park was in a dip surrounded by houses so it wasn’t long before some concerned citizen called the police. The nearest road could be seen from the other side of the park which is where we all stood, watching the fire display that was now playing on the shed. The fuzz turned up and the older lads ran over people’s back fences and through their gardens to escape, leaving me and my younger mates to take the blame.
Three or four coppers gave us a lecture about the dangers of petrol and fire despite our protests that we were innocent. We decided a change of scenery was in need and after another massive roasting by the police it was agreed we’d all meet up at the smaller park with sandwiches and bottles of squash which we’d all get from home. From there we would go up to Bluebell Wood and generally mess about and see what we could get up to.
For whatever reason the quite large group who promised to meet up had dwindled to eight and one dog, my sister’s lurcher, Sam. Dave had talked his way back out again and Tony and I had managed to convince Cora to come out. She’d returned from the hospital with stitches and some severe bruising but she was her normal self despite this.
Smithy, his brother Sid, Ginger Pete, and Bandit were the others. We all had rucksacks filled with jam sandwiches and orange squash or water. Pretty much the staple diet of kids back then, along with beans on toast, chips and mojos. A couple of us were on bikes and the rest walked with Dave and Cora, whose bikes would be out of action until Dave could be bothered to fix them.
The two mile walk started out on the roads. The guys on bikes raced ahead and now and again came back to us, pulling wheelies and generally showing off. They dumped their wheels as we entered through the cornfield. We walked through more fields blooming with poppies and rapeseed. At one point three of the gang were going to turn back as the pollen was getting too much and was aggravating their hay fever.
We arrived at Bluebell Wood and found a small gap to walk through in the fence that surrounded it. The wire mesh fence was supposedly to keep the rabbits out, but the clever bunnies had just dug underneath and made their homes in there. We continued to a small clearing where we stopped for a little picnic. When all the sandwiches and crisps were eaten and all the juice was drunk it was agreed after much arguing about who was on who’s side. A unanimous vote meant that we would play a game of manhunt.
Manhunt is a game where you split into equal teams and it’s kind of like hide and seek, except you are allowed to move. There are many variations of this game and it depends on who you are with at the time to what version you played. The most popular of which amongst the boys was when you caught someone you would kick the living day lights out of them. In this game you just had to tag or catch the person and then they were out of the game and had to return to the clearing which was declared as base. The game ended when everyone had been caught or had made it back to base. The only other rule was you had to stay inside the boundary fence of the wood or you were deemed out of the game. The teams were me, Smithy, Sid and Cora against the others. We ran off and all went to different parts of the wood. We took it in turns being the hunters and the hunted and this went on for a few hours. In what was the final game of the day, my team for some reason went off in single file over the trunk of a fallen tree, of which we had all clambered over many times in the previous games. There was a weird humming sound followed by yelps and cries of pain. A swarm of bees had a nest in the tree trunk and we had disturbed them this time. They were not happy to say the least and showed it by stinging us all from head to toe. We ran back towards our base but the swarm wouldn’t leave us alone and promptly attacked the others who were heading in our direction to see what all the screams were for. We ran and ran until we left the woods and halfway across the corn field before the bees gave up the chase. There we were tears rolling down our faces. Each of us examining each other and attempting to pull the stingers out. I was covered in red dots and huge red patches which looked to be spreading. I looked at my friends and realised they had all succumbed to the same fate. There was one of us who had come off worse than all the others, which was the person who was the slowest of the group, Cora.
She had been stung multiple times all over her body. Her lips were swollen and her one eye was closed. She claimed to have been stung in the mouth and eyes but we later discovered her stings were external. Still they must have hurt like hell. I know I was in extreme pain and discomfort. Cora and I took the bikes and pedalled as fast as we could manage back to our own houses. Everyone did the same. I dropped Cora at her house and scampered to my Grandparents house before I got collared by my Aunt and Uncle.
My Nan found her tweezers and ordered me strip naked so she could check for stings and pull the barbs out.
My Granddad meanwhile had been out to the shed and brought in a few five gallon vats of malt vinegar that he used in pickling various vegetables. He filled the bath and ignoring my protests practically threw me in. The stings stung and the places I’d been stung started to sting. I wanted out after five minutes but there was no way my grandparents were letting me until I’d had a good soaking. Smithy turned up and was coaxed into getting in the bath of vinegar while I jumped in the shower to get rid of the smell.
We went downstairs after getting changed to be greeted by the sight and smell of egg and chips, after which Smithy left to go home.
I give it an hour before I went across the road to Dave’s. He’d arrived home and again received a rollicking and another beating but this time with a cane. I could hear Iron Maiden blasting from his bedroom window as he’d been sent to bed for the second time that day.