A memoir written as a collection of short stories that link together to tell the story of a boy called 'Lad' growing up in the 1950's/60's
Born into a typical working class family that already had two girls, one two years older than him and the other one year older., growing up with a cruel father who whenever he lost his temper called him 'Brainless Bugger'
Being brought up with two girls must have left its mark on him, for it seems to me at the time that he was always the one to get picked on whenever anything bad happened.
His dad had a piece of pit belting, not a belt to hold up his trousers, a piece of conveyor belt about two inches wide and two feet long that he used to smack their backsides with, well his at least. I mean, I never recall his sisters being smacked and anyway he was always told that in his family ‘Males do not hit females' So his sister’s probably ended up with slapped legs and he was the one who got the belt on his backside and when his dad said "I'll leather thy arse till tha can't sit darn for a week" he meant it. The poor lad couldn't sit down for a fortnight never mind a week.
I first met the Lad when his family moved into the house next door and I found him leaning up against the wall in their backyard crying, wearing a Davy Crocket hat complete with a Beaver tail at the back and two glass beads sewn onto the front for eyes, he had a pop gun slung over his shoulder on makeshift sling, the pop gun fired a cork that used to be attached to the gun by a piece of string so you didn’t lose it or injure anyone when it was fired, but the cork and string were long gone.
“Hey up Lad, What’s wrong, what you crying for?” I asked, climbing onto the top of the wall that divided our backyards.
“Waiting for my dad” he replied, trying to hide his face.
At that moment his father came into the yard, grabbed the Lad by the arm and dragged him into the house.
I stayed sat on the wall listening to the sound of the Lad screaming and the sound of something heavy slapping, like a loud clapping sound, I knew the Lad was taking a beating.
A short while later the door opened, the Lad ran out straight down the yard and out through the gate at the end across the fields towards the colliery that lay behind the row of houses where we lived.
“Hold on” I shouted, jumping down from the wall and running after him. But he didn’t stop. When I finally caught up with him he was sat on the railway tracks that run passed the colliery, sitting next to him on the cold hard steel of the rail, I asked.
“What’s up Lad?”
“Nothing I’ve just had my arse leathered again” he replied.
“Again, what do you mean again, happens a lot does it, what did you do wrong?” I asked.
“Aye more often than not, but never mind, I don’t care” he replied, shrugging his shoulders.
“Does it hurt?” I asked, seeing he was uncomfortable. I suppose sitting on the cold rail helped calm the stinging.
“What do you think?” he asked, moving along the rail, probably to find a cooler spot to sit on.
“What did your dad hit you for?” I asked.
“Not eating my dinner” he replied.
“What? He hit you for not eating your dinner” I asked surprised.
“Yes, not eating my dinner, I didn’t like it and refused to eat it, he told me that the starving children in Africa would be glad of a good dinner like that so I told him to send it to the starving children then and he knocked me from the table” he replied.
“Oh right, so he knocked you from the table for back chatting him then not because you didn’t eat it” I said, yet to learn just how cruel his father could be with him.
“No it was definitely for not eating it, he does it all the time” he said adamantly.
“What was it anyway?” I asked, more out of curiosity than anything else.
“Meat and Potato pie, with lumps of fat in it, my mother knows I hate fat, it makes me vomit” he replied.
“Yuck! I don’t think I would eat it either, never mind your mother will have thrown it away by now” I said.
“Huh! That’s what you think, I will get it warmed up every day at every mealtime for a week until I eat it and get a leathering every time I don’t” he replied.
“Does your dad always do that if you don’t eat your dinner?” I asked, but he didn’t answer.
It was clear he didn’t want to talk anymore so we sat in silence, until the silence was broken by the sound of an approaching train.
“Hey up Lad, move yourself there’s a train coming.” I said standing up and moving away from the tracks.
“Aye, sod it” he replied, looking in the direction of the approaching train, making no attempt to move out of the way.
The train got closer, I leaped forward grabbed the Lad by the arm and pulled him off the tracks a split second before the train thundered over the spot where the Lad had been sitting, with the whistle screaming and the driver hanging out of his cab waving his fist in the air and shouting something that was drowned out by the sound of the whistle.
“You brainless bugger” I shouted at him.
“Don’t call me a brainless bugger” he shouted angrily, pushing me backwards.
“Alright calm down, I didn’t mean anything wrong but you could have been killed.” I replied.
“Shut up you big Jessie, did you think I wasn’t going to move” he shouted back at me over the noise of the coal trucks still rumbling by us.
“You cut it very fine” I replied.
“Haven’t you ever played ‘Chicken’ before, I do it all the time, its fun” he said, laughing at me.
“You barmy bugger” I said, joining in with his laughter but expecting him to take offence at the word barmy, but he didn’t which had me wondering why ‘Brainless Bugger’ and not ‘Barmy Bugger’.
Once again we sat in silence, until we were disturbed by the sound of another train approaching.
“Have you got a penny?” he asked.
“Haven’t you got any money?” I asked.
“No, not on me” he replied, pulling his pockets inside out to prove it.
“Can’t you go back home and get some?” I asked.
“No way, I daren’t go home just yet” he replied.
“Why?” I asked.
“The door will be locked and I won’t be able to get in, if I go in and out too many times in the day I get into trouble and I’ve already had my arse tanned once today and don’t fancy another” he replied.
“Get into trouble just for going home, that’s strange” I said.
“My dad calls it ‘Door Trapping’, anyway have you got a penny or what?” he asked.
“Here” I replied, fumbling in my trouser pocket to find one and handing it to him.
“What do you want it for?” I asked, thinking maybe he was feeling hungry and wanted to go to the shops and buy a sweet or something to make up for the dinner he hadn’t had.
“Here, watch this” he said, as the train approached us from the opposite direction.
“Don’t go playing ‘Chicken’ again, it’s the express, you’ll get pulled under the wheels by the suction if you get too close” I shouted, trying to grab his jacket and pull him away but he pulled away from me and strolled up to the tracks flicking the penny up in the air and catching it.
“Heads or Tails?” he asked, turning slightly to look back at me.
“Eh! What? Heads” I replied not understanding what he was doing.
“Tails you lose” he shouted, and then at the last minute he dashed forward, placed my penny on the rail and jumped back out of the way, the express thundered by flattening my penny to the tracks.
It hadn’t been a game of Win or Lose, if I had picked the correct result I still wouldn’t have got my penny back, he was actually asking which way up I wanted it placing on the track, not that in made any difference the outcome was still the same, a flat penny that was now worthless.
“Look at that” he shouted with glee after the train had passed, retrieving the penny which was now three times its original size and tossing it in my direction.
“Ouch! That’s bloody hot” I shouted, dropping it to the ground.
“Got you” he laughed.
“That burnt” I complained.
“It was supposed to” he replied, running off, with me chasing him and threatening him with what I would do if and when I caught him, which wasn’t true, eventually we both fell to the ground laughing.
“Hey up, there’s another train coming, give me another penny” he said.
“No chance I’ve only got a Tanner (sixpence) left and you’re not destroying that” I replied.
He would have stayed there flattening pennies all day, if I could have afforded it.
“Come on then, let’s go to the shops and you can buy me something” he said.