A story of an 11 yr old boy growing up in south east England in 1971, friendship and WWII
|See a Man About A Dog.
Phil Carlow reached across and unlatched the solid chest high wooden gate and shoved it away from him with his left hip. He walked into the pitched roofed, red brick porch and stood for a brief moment, gathering his breath, wearied by a hot Saturday morning spent digging trenches on a building site on the far side of town, followed by a five mile walk home. The porch housed an outside water closet, an open fronted bunker, containing two small piles of coke and coal and, closest to him, a brick shed cupboard. He placed one hand on the grey wooden door of the shed and, placing his right boot behind the heel of the left boot, pulled his left foot clear. He repeated the same task with the other boot, before picking up both boots and slapping them together twice, to remove the remaining clogged on mud that had been accumulated on the building site that morning. He dropped the boots down by the side of the back door, and walked into a bright sunlit kitchen.
Sun shone through a large multi paned window to Phil Carlow’s left, as he padded across the light green, marbled, linoleum covered floor and around a yellow topped, metal legged, kitchen table with four matching stools, standing in the middle of the room.
To his left a plate of minced beef, carrots and potatoes, warmed on a saucepan of gently simmering water, standing on an electric cooker ring. He walked into a hall, stopped by a coat nook, that also housed an under stair cupboard, and slipped his feet into a pair of brown slippers, before hanging a muddied, threadbare suit jacket along with a canvas shoulder bag, containing a red thermos flask, over the bottom banister newel. He stood at the foot of the staircase briefly, before climbing the stairs. He turned right at the top of the staircase, walked along a landing, past an airing cupboard on his left, before turning left into his bedroom.
The bedroom had a double bed standing against the far wall. To the bed’s right, a large metal framed, multi paned window, with side openings, looked out onto Laburnum Close below. To his right, a dresser with large mirror stood, empty except for a wooden hair brush and matching hand mirror that lay neatly on a crocheted white doily.
Phil Carlow walked towards a large mahogany tallboy standing against the left hand wall and pulled open one of the double doors. He stared down at a small dark haired boy dressed in a blue and white horizontally striped tee shirt, dark blue shorts and black slip-on plimsolls, laying in the bottom of the tallboy.
The boy, with his knees drawn up to his chest, had his wrists and ankles bound and a handkerchief, knotted at the back of his head, gagging his mouth. The man studied the boy momentarily, before reaching up to a shelf and removing a stick of Palmolive shaving soap, a wobbling brush and a Wilkinson’s safety razor. He returned his gaze briefly to the bound and gagged boy, before gently closing the door.
Phil Carlow, shaking his head, walked out of the bedroom, back along the landing, past the airing cupboard, and into a bathroom situated at the top of the stairs. Back in the bedroom, both tallboy doors swung open, and the small boy’s head appeared. He looked towards the closed bedroom door, the handkerchief gag now hanging around his neck, and shouted. ‘Help I’ve been kidnapped.’ He waited for a response. ‘I’ve been kidnapped!’ He repeated, this time louder.
Once he was certain that no reply was coming, he tumbled out of the tallboy onto bare wooden floorboards. He unwound the dressing gown cord that was wrapped around his wrists, unknotted the binding rope from his ankles, and pulled the handkerchief gag over his head before jumping up, stomping out of the bedroom, down the landing and stood outside the bathroom door. He briefly listened to the sound of water splashing and the clink of metal against porcelain, before shouting through the door indignantly at his dad.
‘That’s the second time this week I’ve been captured by Mexican bandits yer know. You wanna lock the doors at night’.
Met by silence, he walked through a door adjacent to the bathroom. On his left, a single bed stood. Roland, the middle one of three older brothers, lay upon it reading Photographic Monthly. Petey trudged into the room, gave his brother a perfunctory nod, and jumped onto the bottom bunk of double bunk beds, that stood at the opposite end and corner of the room. He reached forward to the end of the bed and grabbed a Whizzer and Chips comic. Soon boyish giggles were bubbling up from behind the comic as he read about the adventures of Sid’s Snake.
Half an hour later, Petey walked out of his bedroom and stood contemplating his next move. He opened the door to the airing cupboard that was located between his bedroom and his parents, and studied the sheets, blankets, towels and pillow cases stacked tidily on the three wooden slatted shelves. He reached up and pulled down a white cotton pillow case, placed it over his head, and ran back into his bedroom.
‘Ooh, ooh ooh, I’m a ghost come to haunt you.’ He said in a high falsetto voice.
He pulled of the pillowcase to see Roland, staring impassively back at him, through his thick dark framed glasses.
‘Did that scare the bejaysus out of youse?’ Petey asked hopefully, in a mock Irish accent.
Roland slowly shook his head, unimpressed by his little brothers haunting attempts, before returning to his magazine. Petey slunked out of the room, crestfallen, and returned the pillowcase to its shelf in the airing cupboard.
He looked at a door adjacent to his parents’ bedroom door and quietly crept towards it, placing his right ear against the door.
He whispered. ‘Patsy.’ and listened for a response. He repeated the call, this time slightly louder. ‘Patsy’.
Confident that the room was empty, he gently pushed the door ajar. The small box bedroom of his fourteen year old sister was in darkness, the curtains drawn, as normal. He edged in, flicked the light switch, and quietly closed the door, before surveying the room.
A single bed, tidily made with a white teddy bear propped up against the pillow, stood to his left, in the corner of the room. A small, pine, three drawer dressing table, with various items of cosmetics, shampoos, brushes and combs arranged tidily on it ,stood below a single window, with a selection of shoes, boots and plimsolls arranged neatly on the floor, next to the dressing table.
Petey moved to his right and pulled open a large built-in paneled cupboard door. Clothes hung neatly on coat hangers from a metal rail. Below, stacked in an orderly manner, were board games, puzzles, annuals, and a pile of Bunty comics. On top of the comics, stood a multi coloured gonk. Petey picked up the gonk and placed it under his arm, before picking up a Bunty comic from the top of the pile. He rifled through it, until he found ‘The Adventures of the Four Mary’s’, and began to read.
Engrossed with the adventures of the four girls and their lives at Public School, he suddenly jumped, as he heard a door being opened and closed below. His heart quickened, as he stepped to the door, flicked the light off, and listened for footsteps on the stairs.
Once he was confident no one was climbing the staircase, his heartbeat slowed, he turned the light back on and finished reading.
He replaced the comic, and closed the cupboard door. Petey moved to the middle of the room and stood below the room light. He reached into his shorts pocket and pulled out the rope the bandits had used to bind his ankles, and threw it over a fringed, orange, rectangular lampshade. Specks of dust danced in the light, as the lampshade gently swung, sending shadows dancing around the small room. Tying a slip knot, he pulled it tight, and tied the free end around the neck of the gonk. He left the goggle-eyed gonk to swing free, before turning the light off, and softly leaving the room. He looked over the banister guard rail, down into the stairwell, before hurrying back to his bedroom and resuming his comic reading activities on the bunk bed.
Later that afternoon, Petey walked into the kitchen to find his dad sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of tea and his mother standing by the sink, looking through the window onto a back garden that contained a shed, a small vegetable patch, a pear and an apple tree. The majority of the garden was taken up by a worn and ragged lawn that covered the front half of the garden, closest to the house, and all of the right hand side, up to a rear mesh fence, that ran along the back. Separating the garden from a neighbouring garden, that ran at right angles away to the left.
Petey clambered up onto a free stool at the table, to his father’s right, and studied the table for anything to eat. All he saw was a half filled salt cellar, a bowl of sugar, a bottle of brown sauce and a bottle of ketchup.
‘Daisy, would there be another cup in the pot, by any chance.’ Phil Carlow asked in his southern Irish brogue. A brogue that was easily understood by family and friends but to strangers and visitors it was virtually impenetrable. Daisy Carlow turned and reached across to take the empty cup, as Petey was plunging a finger into the sugar bowl.
‘Hey.’ Both parents cried in unison.
‘Don’t do that yer dirty little bugger.’ Admonished Daisy Carlow, as Phil Carlow looked on disapprovingly.
Petey looked at each of his parents while licking his finger. ‘What?’ He asked innocently.
‘Tsst’ Was Phil Carlow’s reply, as he shook his head.
Petey watched his mum, a small, slim framed, dark haired woman in her early fifties. The possibilities of any weight gain easily negated by the strains of giving birth to seven children and bringing up six, while spending early mornings, cleaning doctors and dentists surgeries, and the homes of the wealthy.
Petey switched his gaze to his father, as Phil Carlow took the newly filled cup from his wife. He was a powerful, thickset man, six foot in height and three years older than his wife, with sandy, thinning, swept back hair and a face burnished brown by the sun and the wind, after years spent labouring on the building sites of the South East. Petey studied the small round indentation in the centre of his dad’s forehead. The result of being hit by a pebble fired from a catapult, when Phil Carlow was the age that Petey was now.
‘Yer know dad, if that pebble had killed you I wouldn’t be ‘ere now.’
Phil Carlow looked at his youngest child before replying. ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways my son…. Very mysterious ways.’
Petey, with elbows on table and his chin resting on his hands, replied. ‘Wotcha mean, zig zag, like?’
Phil Carlow looked down at his son. ‘Yes that’s right, that’s exactly what I mean, Peter.’ He replied pithily.
Petey smiled, a shy cheeky smirk, knowing his dad was telling him to put the clever clogs attitude back in the box for today.
The back door opened and Patsy walked in. She greeted her parents, before looking at Petey ‘Maggot.’
Petey screwed his face up and stuck out his tongue. Patsy, slightly shorter than her father, with a similar build, but dark haired like her mother, ignored her brother’s response and walked into the hall and up the stairs.
Thirty seconds later an angry scream came from above. Petey slid of the stool, looked at his dad, smiled, and said. ‘Bumpity bump,’ before hurrying, watched by both parents, out of the back door and into the garden, to the sound of his sister clumping down the stairs two at a time. A shabby wooden shed was located along the left perimeter fence of the oblong garden. Petey ran around the back of the shed and slid down between the shed and wooden six foot high paneled fence put up by their neighbours, the Matravers, in a forlorn hope of preventing Petey from punting balls into their garden and knocking the heads of their flowers. He listened to the sound of his sister as she stomped out into the garden.
‘This is it now. Your time has come maggot.’ She warned ominously.
Patsy walked around the back of the shed and peered down the side at her brother. She tried to squeeze in to gain access to her prey, but the space was too tight, as well as it being dirty and cobwebby. Petey looked at his sister, a look of triumph on his face. Patsy disappeared and then reappeared at the opposite end. By this time Petey had scooted, giggling, down the far end. Patsy again disappeared and Petey scooted back to the middle. He heard the sounds of the shed door opening, and his sister stamping around inside, muttering inaudible threats. He stared towards the front end to see his sister appear with a wooden rake handle. She pushed it in, and started to poke and hit Petey with it.
‘Ow, that hurts.’ He complained. ‘Mum!’ he screeched.
‘She’s not gonna help you, maggot’. Stated Patsy
He moved to the far end, out of the rake handles range. Again his sister disappeared from view, so he scooted to the front and, after a pause, took a breath, and escaped from the narrow gap.
He ran into the porch, where a scream for parental assistance was ignored, so he unlatched the gate and ran through. He slammed the gate shut, just as his sister entered the porch, and ran onto the concrete hard standing. His sister, still brandishing the wooden rake handle, unlatched the gate, and walked through, victorious in the knowledge that her prey would soon be within her grasp and punishment could be administered. She stepped out onto the hard standing, brandishing the rake handle like a martial arts expert, spinning it double handed and swinging it through the air with a swoosh.
The council estate on which they lived was open planned and laid to grass except for the concrete paths that lead to the front doors of the houses, and the recently laid hard standings. Petey considered his options. The road they lived in, Laburnum Close, was in theory, a dead end, because although it was dissected by Cyprus Road, it continued on the other side where ‘The Bungalows’ were situated, a group of thirty five bungalows set aside for pensioners, built around a green. In one of these bungalows his Auntie Eva lived. Petey weighed up the possibilities of outrunning his sister, and reaching the safety of his Aunt’s bungalow. Patsy circled her little brother.
His sister caught him within ten yards and wrestled him to the ground. She pinned him down, her knees pressing down into Petey’s back, as she pushed his face into the turf; she slapped him around the head. He squealed like a baby rabbit being murdered by a fox. She then proceeded to throttle him, before she recommenced the slapping.
‘Stay.’ Slap. ‘Out.’ Slap. ‘Of.’ Slap. ‘My.’ Slap. ‘Bedroom.’
‘Alright, alright.’ Petey wailed.
Patsy looked up to see Mrs. Jacobs, Mrs. Bullen and Mrs. Franklin, looking on disapprovingly from across the road, as they watched the small for his age, polite, shy boy, receive a vicious beating from his much bigger and older sister. Patsy released her grip and stood up. As she walked away Petey sat up.
‘Hey sis, can I read your Bunty comics’. He looked across to the watching matronly group, all with tightly permed hair, aprons, wrinkled stockings and all three wearing slippers, and added. ‘Please.’
Patsy stopped in her tracks and turned. She picked up the discarded rake handle and took a step towards her brother before stopping. She looked across to the elderly audience, pointed the rake handle at Petey, made a silent threat with it, and then turned and strode back towards the house.
‘Bumpity bump.’ Petey taunted.
Patsy stopped and turned. ‘You can’t ‘elp yerself, can you?’
This time she decided to ignore the onlookers, and marched back towards her brother, swinging the rake handle in wide swishing arcs, stopping only when Petey lifted his hands up in a placatory gesture.
‘Sorry, sorry sis, just a joke, just a joke. He pleaded.
‘You’ve been warned maggot.’ Patsy poked him with the handle of the rake, before walking back into the house.
Petey clambered to his feet, muttered under his breath ‘bumpity bump’, gave the ladies a shy smile, and then began to brush the grass and dirt from his clothes and body. From behind him he heard his name being called. He looked over his left shoulder to see Andrew, Andy, Greenie and Spook crossing the road from The Bungalows.
‘We’re going over the woods, you coming.’ Andy asked.
‘Yep.’ Petey replied, as he continued to brush himself free of grass and soil.
He joined the group, as they walked off to the right, along Cypress Road, towards Cedar Way.
‘Your sister’s really hard Petey.’ Andrew said.
‘Yeh, I know.’ He agreed.
‘Huh, I could beat her up.’ Greenie grunted.
The other boys laughed sarcastically.
‘You couldn’t beat my sister up, Greenie. And she’s only five.’ Spook mocked.
All the boys laughed, except Greenie.