Memories of a Policeman's Son

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Battleships & Marbles

In 1963, some weeks before my tenth birthday, dad was moved to a police station in Mirfield. We lived for some months at No.10 Westway on London Park Estate while a new house was being built for us in nearby Towngate. My younger brother, Andy, and I made many new friends on the estate and we started attending Knowl Council school. The local boys, intrigued at having "cop kids" in their midst, made us welcome and taught us how to make throwing arrows and catapults, liquorice water from penny spanish sticks, some great new swear words and, most interestingly, how to erect a barricade to protect oneself from being hit by flying bricks. I swear it's true.

Those estate lads, led by a thirteen year old, hard-faced buggar nicknamed "Dagger", knew a thing or two about developing a hard streak.

One day it was my turn to get behind the barricade. Three or four boys, my brother included, positioned themselves about twenty feet away and began raining bricks and stones down on me. The noise of those house bricks crashing onto corrugated iron was deafening. The trick was to see how long you could stand it before giving in. The deafening barrage seemed to go on forever. As long as I kept my head down I knew I'd be alright. Then, piece by piece, little by little, the barricade began to slowly dismantle under the onslaught. It was time to surrender. "A'reet, a'reet!" I yelled. "That's enough. Ah'm cummen out!" The bricks and stones ceased. An eerie silence followed as my hearing slowly recovered. Gingerly, I popped my head up above the parapet of what was now left of the barricade. And then, WHACK! Oh, the pain in my head. I felt the blood trickling down over my eyes. Instinctively I covered up the wound with my hand and looked in pained astonishment to see Andy laughing with our mates having thrown, "just one last stone". A stone, incidentally, which had hit me just above the left eye.

In spite of the pain and the blood, no lasting damage had been done and we kept the incident to ourselves telling our mam that I'd simply hit my head whilst out playing. There were no tell-tale-tits in those days. I got my own back on him many years later.

Saturday morning at Westway was hair appointment time for mam. She'd head off to Ovenden's Salon on Old Bank Road leaving Andy and me at home to amuse ourselves or pester dad if he happened to be at home. In those days before Playstations and colour TV, there was always an abundance of adventurous and entertaining things for young boys to do.

One particular Saturday I recall we were at home alone. A heated argument broke out between us. At the time I had an Airfix model of the battleship HMS Warspite. It was bought for me as a birthday present a couple of years earlier by step-grandfather, Charles Mitchinson. I loved that model and it took pride of place on our window sill. I was transfixed when, during the course of our argument, over what I can not remember, Andy grabbed my beloved ship in both of his hands. I immediately sensed that he intended damaging it if I took so much as one step to retrieve it.

I was panic stricken! What do I do now? "Purrit dahn tha' bastard!" I yelled in desperation, my eyes filling with boyish tears. "No! Ah wont", he yelled back laughing.

One of Andy's favourite possessions at the time was his multi-coloured marbles which he kept in a large cloth bag. He had hundreds of them. He boasted constantly about his marbles and won many a game in the school playground. I quickly ran upstairs and frantically searched them out. There they were under his bed. Grabbing the precious bag I flew back downstairs to confront my brother who was, by now, standing outside in the back garden still menacingly holding my beloved ship.

The look on his face said it all. Who would crack first? There was no going back now! We faced each other like two wildwest gunmen. I think it was Andy who "drew" first by breaking off my ships mast. In retaliation, I pulled out a handful of his marbles and threw them far over a high hedge. He then snapped off a deck gun; I threw more marbles. He tore out the ship's funnel; I threw more marbles.

As the blow by blow count continued our voices became more hysterical with each vile continuation of our destructive acts. We both began to cry as well as curse wildly. but we couldn't stop!

Mrs Johnson, a pleasant but rough-around-the-edges woman in her thirties lived next door. She came out with her young daughters, Carol and Janet, to see what was going on. They just stood there in awe at the sight and sounds of two young scruffy-haired kids in short trousers and woolly pullovers destroying one another's proudest possessions.

Soon there were no marbles left. Neither was there an unbroken piece of my beloved HMS Warspite. I think we just stared at each other for what seemed like ages. Then I ran sobbing into the house and purposefully took a ten shilling note (50p) from a savings tin my mam kept in the kitchen. "Ah 'ate you!" I cried as I stormed out of the front door. "Ah'm off to me nana's".

And with that I ran to catch a bus to Dewsbury about three miles away. My intention was to board the long distance X97 bus service from Liverpool to Newcastle which I knew, from previous journeys, passed through Dewsbury, Leeds and Darlington. From Darlington I would catch the No.1 United Bus service to Bishop Auckland where my beloved Little Nana and grandad, Charles, lived.

Andy must have become concerned at some point. He ran to Ovenden's and broke the news to my mam who was sitting reading a magazine under the driers. I wasn't prepared for what happened next.

While I was waiting for the X97 mam arrived with Andy in tow. She had an angry look about her as she marched purposefully through the crowds to where I stood. A humdinger of a shouting match between the three of us rocked and shocked that little bus station in Dewsbury. I was blaming Andy; Andy was blaming me. Protestations were brought to an abrupt end when mam grabbed me by the arm, swung me around, and gave me a ruddy big slap across the backside. Oooh, that Longstaff temper had done the trick again.

Things settled down from that moment on and then she surprised us by taking us both to the cinema. I can still recall what was showing... Zulu.

Phil Graham