“Mum there’s a bloke outside rolling about on the floor I think he’s drunk”
“It’s that bloody pub again three fights this week, Bill call the police.
“We’re off to the rent office tomorrow. I want a transfer. We are off up Swarcliffe near our Pam,” said Mum
She hated it here I knew she did. I suppose only now about to enter my teens did I begin to realise how much.
Her large brood of brothers and sisters were always striving to better themselves. Each trying to be better than the rest. Business people, successful people. Where was my mother? Stuck in a council house she didn’t want to be in. Given to her by a council that had bulldozed her business into the ground. Her chance to make a good life, gone.
I heard it all, I always had just the three of us in a small house. My parents were open with me. I don’t know if that’s specific to being an only child but we seemed to have talked about most things as I had grown up. What they didn’t tell me I heard when voices were raised. Noise travels a long way in a small house.
First pick of a new council house and a thousand pounds compo for the chippy. It had seemed liked a good offer but the money was gone in no time on fancy curtains and furniture. Dad was happy, back doing carpentry instead of selling fish and chips.
I was trying to like it. The central heating, a bath and indoor toilet were good. My small smart bedroom with bright orange curtains, homemade desk, record player and bed was my space, not a room above a foul-smelling fish and chip shop. A new colour TV from Mr Compton’s shop was one of the first things we got in the new house. Bought not rented, everything seemed to be rented or on HP. Mum tried to make this little house her palace but I knew even at that age how unhappy she was.
It was the kids around us that I didn’t like. Mum said they’d come from Quarry Hill. She made it sound like they were a different sort of kid to the rest of us. I don’t know where they came from or who they were. None of the kids from our old street seemed to be anywhere nearby. All that those round here wanted to do was hurt people or kill things. I was I think beginning to take a side in the battle of where we should live.
How could moving from one side of the railway track to the other. From an old house to a new one. From a house with a landlord to one owned by the council be so different. I wasn’t sure but it was.
By now Mum was heading out of the door to see what was happening and Dad was getting ready to phone the police again.
The man was laying half on the path, half on the garden. It was just a small plot in front of the door. Not a proper garden, my Dad was trying to grow vegetables on it. He said he was going to build a fence as people kept walking across it and having fights on it. This was where the last fight had ended up just two nights before.
The bloke seemed old, a lot older than my Dad. Quite thin with grey hair, bald at the front. I’d never seen anyone this drunk before. Laid on his side, wriggling about, mumbling and spitting. It was exciting when stuff happened. So long as you weren’t out on your own when it was happening. By now a small crowd had gathered standing on the path and my Dad’s veg patch.
“He’s not drunk, he’s having a fit, Bill call an ambulance,” said my Mum.
“You need to put him on his side missus,” shouted one of a group of three drinkers outside my mum’s least favourite pub. They must have heard the commotion and come out into the cold afternoon air. One of those miserable grey November days, it had stopped raining but everything was wet.
Mum said nothing just gave the drinker one of her looks. I’d heard the stories growing up. Had even been taught how to strap an ankle or wrist. Learnt about the tibia and fibula being the longest and strongest bones in the body. Here she was though in the street actually caring for someone. I was a bit surprised. She said she had been a nurse but selling Fish and Chips was all I had ever seen her do until six months ago.
“Ambulance is coming missus,” shouted the helpful bloke outside the pub.
Very soon the old chap in the brown suit and brown shoes had been taken to hospital. Sunday afternoon returned to normal. The drinkers drinking and we three went back to our new telly and Sunday lunch.
“I was asking the neighbour’s about the bloke from the other day Bill, he lives at the other side of the square. He hasn’t been here long but is having a terrible time with the kids,” said Mum.
“Don’t get involved Liz its nothing to do with us, all we’ve had is trouble since we moved here. We don’t need any more,” said my Dad.
“I’ll be back soon I’m just going to see if he’s alright.
With that she was gone. An hour later Mum came back upset or angry or maybe both, I couldn’t always tell.
“His house is filthy Bill, filthy. I don’t think he’s eaten since he came out of hospital. I’m bringing him over for tea.”
Once again she was gone. Returning five minutes later.
“This is Don. Sit down luv I’ll put the kettle on,” and that seemed to be that.
Don still had his brown suit and brown shoes on. He always had his brown suit and shoes on. It turned out they were all he had.
He didn’t say much that first night as the four of us sat in the front room. The only room our trestle paste table would fit. It was covered in one of my mum’s finest table cloths taken from the sideboard she’d bought with the compo. He ate well, I believed her when she said he hadn’t eaten for days.
The next week was a busy one for Mum cleaning Don’s flat, visiting the rent office to complain about how he was living and our position on the transfer list.
It turned out Don never said much at all. Overnight he seemed to become a regular visitor to our house. He never really spoke much to me or maybe I was never there being a maunjy troublesome teenager. When I was there we all ate together and everyone sat and watched TV. The way of things in 1972 at least in our house.
At 9.00pm he seemed to know it was time to go. He would leave to return to his little flat above the noisy passageway. My Dad would take him back sometimes if the gang of kids were hanging around. I think they both told him not to chase after them but he didn’t seem to listen.
I only discovered the whole story about Don when I was much older. He had suffered with epileptic fits since early childhood. He had a sister who had not seen for forty years and for most of his adult life had been in an institution in Manchester. I don’t think my Dad was convinced he was telling the truth and I could never understand how you could get locked up for so long for simply being ill. My mum though was convinced he was telling the truth and wouldn’t let it rest.
It led to friction in our house. Two camps again. This time I found it harder to choose a side. The conversation was usually quite simple, along these lines.
“He’s nothing to do with us.”
“He is, he was ill outside our house, he’s had a terrible time. Social services and the council are useless”
He seemed like a sad man. Quiet, grateful for the food and company. I never knew what to say to him but most nights he just sat and watched TV with us.
He had to go though, I suppose Dad was right. He was nothing to do with us. Yet he couldn’t live in that horrible flat on his own. The kids were so mean to him. According to my mum he was just not capable of looking after himself. According to my Dad she had to stop inviting him round and giving him his clothes to wear.
After two years in our street Don moved again, I never saw him after that. He went to some kind of sheltered housing place that social services had sorted out for him on the other side of Leeds. I guess he had my Mum to thank and Dad for going along with her. He got the transfer, we didn’t. Just the three of us again.