I was born the year the Queen came to the throne, 1953. My mum was 43 when I came into this world, she told me she had “wept buckets” into the Belfast sink when she found out she was pregnant with me. Not a great start. She went to see Dr Hernan to see if he could do anything about it but he was Catholic and sent her away. Thanks doc, I owe you one.
Like so many of us in the fifties, I was born at home. My aunty Mary helped deliver me, my older sister Sue was brought to see me at two thirty in the afternoon. Gazing sniffily at me in the blue Moses basket she said, “Nanny made me eat cabbage for my dinner,” before wandering downstairs again.
My grandfather on my dad`s side was called Edward. I never met him; he died some weeks before I was born. He was a greengrocer and ran a high class, double fronted green grocer shop on the Warwick Road in Acocks Green called E.Pitt and sons. My dad ran it when he came back from Cyprus after World War 2. One side of the shop sold fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, the other side sold corn seed, sacks of spuds and animal foods. It was great living in the huge flat above the shop. The Midland Bank was next door providing occasional excitement when people tried to break in and steal money. This happened twice in my childhood and I remember the police at night with dogs all over our back garden, shining torches at the terrified faces of the young, would be thieves, telling them to come down off the bank roof or they would send the dogs up.
In the flat`s kitchen we had an iron range. Mum would bathe me in the big old ceramic sink before bed. She still used to do the weekly wash with a dolly and put the clothes through the mangle outside. In winter the shirts would freeze like stills in a photograph, all along the washing line. My brother Martin used to like to try and mangle my fingers when I was a child. As I grew up mum had a helper, Nelly Stone who used to walk me to the infants school when I was four. I didn`t like the smell of her hands, I think it was probably carbolic soap, that florid pink stuff do you remember? Uncle Albert used to help out in the shop, he would gather me up in his arms and bear hug me after school and pretend to punch me, I guess he must have loved me.
I hardly saw my mother and father when I was little, mostly we were looked after by our Nan as mum and dad were busy in the shop all the time. In the early mornings dad would be off in his lorry at five thirty to the market in Birmingham for fresh vegetables. At the back of the shop were the stables where my grandfather kept his horses, he used to go to market in a cart. As kids we used the barn space upstairs as our own private roller skating rink. We had those silver adjustable skates you could buy from Woollies with the pretend red leather straps. We could lean through the upstairs stables windows and pluck pears from the trees that grew in the bank garden.
On Sunday evenings we were allowed to stay up late to watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium on the black and white TV. We used to go down the stairs from our sitting room into the shop and help ourselves to peanuts, all sorts of exotic fruit like bananas and lychees which most people hadn`t even heard of in those days. Dad would peel the lychees and pop them into our mouths telling us they were sheep`s eyeballs, we never believed him but would giggle a lot, every time. I also had a penchant for dog biscuits and munched my way through many a Bonio as a child. I still have great teeth and I`m nearly sixty. Sometimes dad would hang hare and pheasant up for sale at the front of the shop and he was bitten twice on the hand by banana spiders who had hitched a lift over here in the crates, all the way from Africa. My dad`s hand swelled up like a football.
At four in the afternoon schoolkids would pop their heads in through the shop door and shout out to mum and dad, “Got any spec`s mister?” and dad would toss them all a bruised apple or a tangerine.
Happy, happy days.