Some more from my long gestating autobiography


Please don’t be offended. These stories come from a less enlightened time. And a time when people weren’t as touchy.

My brother had a mate, Laurence, whose father ran one of the innumerable small shops. Laurence’s dad had a spectacular goitre that I now suspect was a sign of an overactive thyroid. His neck was so deformed he couldn’t see straight ahead without bending at the waist. He lived in a land of permanent ceilings, or his bedhead I suppose.

I had a mate whose grandfather had pretty severe rickets, with severe bowing of both legs. He was born when the link between lack of sunshine and low levels of vitamin D wasn’t recognised, the cotton and woollen mills belched smoke 24 hours a day, and he paid the price. Nice enough bloke, mind you.

There were lots of men around missing limbs, not too surprising given two world wars in 40 odd years. For a good time we used to have a one-legged window cleaner. You don’t see many of those about these days, do you?

I’ve mentioned the mildly eccentric Miss Pestell, spinster of the parish. Much given to wearing a beret and a belted Macintosh in all weathers, riding a sit-up-and-beg Rudge bicycle in traditional green with gold painted signwriting, with a huge wicker basket on the front. She had spectacle lenses like the bottom of Coke bottles too, which fascinated me as a socially maladroit youngster. In all the time I knew her she never spoke or smiled. She certainly didn’t smile the day she managed to burn down her back shed with her beloved bike in it.

There were a couple of people who in those non-PC would be referred to as ‘not all there.’ By odd coincidence both were called Eddie.

One was Foreign Coin Eddie. Like Miss Pestell he was a fan of the beret and raincoat look. Unlike Miss Pestell (as far as I’m aware, since I never had the chance to grill her on these matters) he was obsessed with foreign coins. First thing he’d ask anybody, and I do mean anybody, in the street was, ‘Do you have any foreign coins?’ These were quite rare, because people didn’t travel as much then as we do now, so unless you had a serviceman fobbing off a shopkeeper with the odd dinar, or a sailor passing off kroner in a dockside gin joint, we didn’t get many in circulation. Maybe that’s why he was attracted to them.

The other Eddie was some relative of a family friend, Uncle George. Back then all adults were uncles or aunts; we never just called them by their first names. To this day I feel mildly uneasy calling somebody older than myself by their first name.

Uncle George was giving Eddie a shave one morning, and Eddie kept saying, ‘It feels funny, George.’ George was under some time pressure, because getting Eddie in a suitable state to go out was not a quick task (Eddie also suffered from cerebral palsy), so George was a bit tetchy and in no uncertain terms told Eddie to keep quiet. Then he realised he’d forgotten to take the cover off the shaving heads on the razor…