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‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’ John’s voice echoed around the bomb crater. The signs at the side of this recent evidence of Adolf’s intention to flatten the city were ignored by both adult and child. The ‘Danger Keep Out’ sign put there by the local Air Raid Warden was, as it was wooden and would have made a very nice fire, lucky to remain.
The package John hurled from the craters edge sailed, almost majestically, towards the two feet of water laying in the bottom of the excavation. The cloth covering on the package worked loose and acted like a parachute slowing down its descent until, with the lightest of plops, it hit the waters surface. Concentric circles ran from the package to the surrounding discarded rubbish of dozens of local homes. John recognised the remnants of a pram toppled in by his pal ‘Donut’ Donnas or ‘Jimmy as he was known to his parents.
‘What yer doin?’
Peter, John’s brother, joined him at the edge of the hole and looked down into the water.
‘What did yu chuck in?’
John pointed at the scrap of flowery material floating on the waters oily surface.
‘It was dad’s bottle’
Peter looked at John with horror. ‘He’ll belt yu for sure nickin’ ‘is booze’
It was well known in the street that John’s dad liked his drink and that often led to arguments and punches being thrown at whoever was within range, John and Peter’s mum being the main recipient, followed closely by the two brothers.
John ignored his younger brother and pointed to the pram sticking up out of the water.
Peter grinned and rubbed his knees as the memory flooded back of flying down the street in the pram being propelled by big Donut Donnas and flanked by William ‘Fatty’ Bunter.
John had only just come out to play when he saw the trio, Donut, Fatty and his brother Peter belting along the pavement. Peter was riding inside the pram.
‘What yu got then’? Peter yelled to no one in particular.
‘What’s it look like Nosey’ Donut screeched.
Because John and Peter had had the misfortune to be born into the family of Jack and Alice Parker.
John joined the running duo. ‘Where’d yu get it?’
‘We found it outside Cloutys’ Donut was grinning but struggling to breath. ‘It were just sitting there.’
Clouty’, so called because whenever the four lads hung about outside his second hand shop he would come out and shout ’If you little beggars don’t clear off I’ll give you a clout round the ear’.
Peter, riding inside the pram, was beginning to lose the bravado that he’d felt when volunteering to be the first to risk life and limb. Proud rider that he was, he was beginning to whimper, suggesting in a loud voice that he was happy to give up his place to another brave soul. Peter’s knuckles had turned white where he clutched the pram sides.
‘Come on Nosey gis a push then’ Fatty was rapidly running out of steam and lagging behind. John, by now running alongside, applied his weight to the side of the pram which turned out to be the wrong thing to do. The push had the effect of unbalancing the prams forward motion so that it skittered to the pavements edge where it toppled majestically over onto the cobbles spilling the, by now screaming, Peter and rolling him onto his knees.
Fatty, who had been pushing the handle, but had fallen a pace or two behind due to the speed reached, now caught up, and ran into the handle, which struck him squarely in the midriff and lifted him clean over the prams hood and onto the recumbent and sobbing form of Peter.
Both Nosey and Donut added to the cacophony of noise by screaming with laughter, at the pile of body parts trying to disengage themselves.
The pram, one wheel severely buckled, lay on its side. The handle, which had taken the full force of Fatty flying over it, was twisted.
The heap of arms and legs on the cobbles finally sorted themselves into two separate moaning heaps.
‘Yer gret fat lump’ gasped Peter, ‘Yu could have killed me’
Fatty, not quite sure whether to laugh or cry said, ’It’s me might have been kilt if I addn’t landed on yo’.
Donut and Nosey cracked again into laughter.
‘Now you lot what do you think you’re doing wi that pram?
Mrs Jones from the corner house had come out to stand on her doorstep. ‘I saw you teararseing along like mad things’
The boys as one, aches and pains forgotten, fled the scene leaving their vehicle of choice where it lay.
Rounding Nairn’s the grocers corner, out of sight of the grinning Mrs Jones, the group stopped and fell about laughing. Peter sat on the kerbs edge and began to pick at the bloody scab from a previous escapade, now loosened, by the latest coming together with the cobbled street.
‘This wus gerrin better, nah look arrit’
‘Yur just a clumsy beggar’, this from Donut who was now busy climbing the lamppost. ‘It were your fault yu fell off the wall last week’.
‘Ar! but only cause yo pushed him’ interjected John.
‘Ewus just frit so I helped im down’ Donut looked down from his perch on the cross bars of the lamppost.
Fatty was leaning against the wall near one of the boxes of apples on display outside Nairns shop.
The three at ground level looked up at the voice of Donut now disengaging himself from the top of the lamppost.
‘Grab some apples then Fatty’
Fatty ever eager to respond to his masters voice leant over the box.
Nairny, his grocers eye ever watchful when this bunch of lads was around, came out of the shop at a run armed with a cricket bat.
Mr Robert Nairn, Bob to his friends but ‘Nairny’ to this bunch of scallywags, was 63, built like a drainpipe and full of running.
‘I’ll give you grab some apples yu little buggers’
Fatty removed himself from the wall and in spite of his bulk, raced away from the swishing bat.
Nosey and Donut, now at ground level, were on their feet and quickly put distance between themselves and the avenging bat of the greengrocer.
Peter, still sat on the pavement nursing his injuries, was oh so slow. He put his hands to the pavement to lift himself up and in doing so put his backside in exactly the right position to receive the swinging bat. The thwack and the howl were almost simultaneous and filled the whole of the street.
Marcus Wright was just leaving his house for the barbers and saw the altercation and grinned from ear to ear, he had often been on the receiving end of these four reprobates japes. Shouting through his letter box. Knocking on his door and running away.
Nairny, by now satisfied at the punishment meted out, roared after the boys, ‘If yu come back round ere I’ll have yer guts fur garters.
Peter, now rubbing his backside and clutching his knee limped towards Fatty, Nosey and Donut. The three were curled up with laughter.
‘Yer look like the hunchback of Notre Dame’. Nosey said, he’d just been to see the film at the Saturday rush.
Peter picked up the idea in spite of his tingling backside and scabby knee. ‘The Bells, the bells’ he intoned screwing his face up in a fair imitation of Charles Laughton’s portrayal of the hunchback.
The boys walked down Norton Street and away from Nairny’s shop.
At the ginnel between Norton and Connaught Streets they stopped, looked at each other, grinned and then raced up the narrow gap between the houses hitting and kicking the walls either side and screaming at the top of their voices.
Violet Drinkwater had just returned to her house, which was on one side of the ginnel, from her shopping trip with her meagre items when she heard the noise as it first started up. She knew exactly what was happening it being a regular occurrence.
Violet, a widow of the Great War, ‘the war to end all wars’ as it was known, had cost her, her husband. Percy Drinkwater was shot and killed on the very last day when the truce was supposed to have been called. Percy had stood up to celebrate the peace and was promptly shot by a sniper whose commanding officer had failed to inform the man that the war was over.
Violet had never married again and consequently was childless and, looking and listening to the reprobates on the streets around her, she was glad. Violet opened the front door of her house as the screaming and shouting grew louder. She positioned herself at the side of the ginnel out of sight of the four lads who by now were screaming with laughter as they neared the exit and onto Connaught Street.
Donut the first to burst out of the entrance received a clout to the side of his head as he left the ginnel. Peter following closely, saw the blow and ducked to miss the swishing hand as he shot into the street. Nosey caught one hand and Fatty, coming up in the rear, got a right and a left slap which echoed off the houses.
Violet gave voice ‘I’m gonna tell your mams’. She went into her house muttering under her breath ‘Little buggers’.
Donut stopped and looked at the others, ‘I’m gunna get the pram and get rid of the evidence’ he said. The others looked him with horror and the prospect of being home for tea, for all three, became a priority.
Peter and his brother looked at each other and almost simultaneously said: ‘Our mam will have us tea ready’
Donut glared at the pair and in his most disdainful voice said to Fatty ‘Yu come wi me Fatty.’ Never one to go against Donut, Fatty groaned out a painful, ‘OK.’
Peter and his brother Nosey slipped away down the street and legged it for home and whatever tea was laid on.
And so it was that the pram had ended up in the crater.
John and Peter, their remembrances over, set off for home.