Charles Street was in the poor area of town. However, that did not prevent the householders from having pride about where they lived. Most of the gardens were well laid out and tidy. The men who lived here were those who laboured with their bodies not with their minds. The garden was a restful place, a place of freshness and light away from the stale gloom of the factories. It was also the ideal avenue for social contact, discussion and conversation, common subjects, safe subjects like the garden, weather, sport. Personal feelings were hemmed in, no venturing into anything emotional other than perhaps a shared word of condolence for the bereavement or poor luck of third party.
The street bustled with childhood, laughing, crying, shoving, racing, bloodied noses and knees. A safety net as adults quietly oversaw, protecting their own and others. The gentle intrusion, to caution any child was accepted to reinforce the unwritten laws of fairness and honesty upheld by most.
Cars were at a minimum and drivers were courteous to those in the street. Bert the milkman and his horse were always surrounded at holiday times by children bearing gifts of old bread. The best milkman ever. The best milkman with a weakness for the beer, lifted for being drunk in charge of a milk float. He was a likeable devil, loved by all, saved from sacking by his popularity. The dairy provided him with Job the horse and a cart to enable them to keep him on. The rumour was the manager had joked that the horse’s name reflected what they continually needed to have with Bert, but it was lost on him.
Sometimes on sunny evenings, dads would bring out a couple of galvanised dustbins that became wickets. We’d play evens against odds, house numbers. Nan Bartram would appear, a girth that allowed her to accommodate three or four pairs of young arms at once. Keen to sample the goodies stored in the pockets at the front of her floral tabard. The children attended to she’d rest against the Wright’s wall and with a nub of a chubby red marking pencil, old man Bartram was a carpenter, and some random shaped piece of cardboard would proceed to keep the score. I remember once it was a bit of a cornflake box.
Us, often gasping, panting children keen to impress with our skilful throwing and catching, speeding down the street after the elusive rubber ball. The glance to our own for that essential wink, nod or smile of approval and encouragement at our performance. That silent action that shouted inside you. You’re loved! There was a prize, the victors were bought drinks by the losers, but all partook. The Four Bells outdoor would have an unexpected flurry of trade. Bumper jugs of mild and bitter for the adults and dandelion and burdock for the children.
I remember people shouting, adults and children, genuine joyful goodnights as we disappeared from the arena that was our street into our own worlds. Snuggling down in bed the light still defeating the curtains, feeling it was good to be a child in the world. Now I wonder was it really like that?
Don Russell 09/01/18