Thursday, November 08, 2007

Selling on the doorstep...


The early 1960's saw the Jerrychicken family living in Burley, a inner city area of Leeds that had developed from 100 years previous to house the working families of our city and in order to cram as many of them as possible into the area the city adopted the "back-to-back" house approach.

Until well into the 1930's, long after the civic design concept of hundreds of rows of terraced back-to-back houses had been outlawed by central government as being an unhealthy way to form communities, Leeds continued to build them having spotted a flaw in the legislation.

But the hundreds of teracced rows of houses which only had frontages and no rears (for the back of your house ajoined the back of the house in the terrace behind) formed small community capsules especially for kids who's whole world could be defined by which streets they felt safe to play on.

Beechwood Place was the extent of our world, a street only 30 or so yards long, cobbled and lined with terraced houses on one side and the blank ends of two rows of terrace houses on the other, which were perfect for playing cricket or football against provided that the residents were not in at the time for then you risked being shouted at to “play up your end”.

Ned and me, and the Germaines owned our 30 yards of cobbles and we hardly ever ventured further than the end of the street, and when we did it was by invitation from another kid who owned a neighbouring street, and thus the status quo of the whole Beechwoods area was maintained. Because our street was hardly ever used by traffic we held the local cricket matches there, a wicket chalked on a house side, and old bat with the rubber grip missing and a “corkie” ball that didn't have its leather case anymore but that would hurt like buggery every time a five year old hand or shin caught it.

Traffic was only rarely seen on the street but included the Corona pop man selling bottles of fizzy pop off the back of his wagon, the most glamorous of which was always American Cream Soda, a very sophisticated taste for a five year old, my grandma always had a bottle in her drinks cabinet for us when we visited.

In truth the Corona pop man didn't sell much of his bottled, strangely flavoured fizzy water and in truth you always hoped that your mum didn't buy any in view of your mates because as soon as he'd gone you'd find that your mates suddenly wanted to gather in your yard and start making choking noises in their throats, insinuating that they were suffering from severe dehydration which only a drink from a bottle of fizzy pop could cure.

Another regular down the street was the bin wagon, not some complicated hydraulic crusher affair like they have now but a truck with a metal arched covered back where shutters were rolled up and the rubbish from the steel dustbins tipped in, they were small trucks and I can't help but think that the binmen must have spent all day driving backwards and forwards to the tip to empty the truck, except for the fact that families simply didn't produce the same amount of waste that they do now, food was eaten mainly as fresh food so not many tin cans, and was sold with very little packaging, when did this stop happening ?

The binmen all wore leather sleeveless jerkins and looked like the rough tough blokes you'd expect them to be, all except one that is, for one of them had “waved” blond hair.

Its difficult to explain what a “wave” was in terms of hairstyles now, and some would argue that it was a natural phenominum, but not our dad, I clearly remember him telling me one day when I pointed out the binmans neatly coiffed wave, that he was “effeminate” and the way he spat the word out and then added that “it wasn't right for a bloke to do that to his hair” left me under no illusion that being effeminate was no good thing for a bloke, especially a binman.

I suppose it was my first introduction to homophobia, at the age of five I'd met a gay binman.

And yet while our dad scorned the gay binmans efforts to keep his hair looking nice, our dad did exactly the same thing in the bathroom every morning, as did all dads in the 1950's and 1960's – he plastered on the Brylcreem and slicked down his hair and the strangest thing is that our dad did all this with a pink comb which he kept permenantly in his back pocket. I bet the gay binman would have just died for a pink comb.

Corona pop man, the binmen, and the Ringtons Tea van were just about the only traffic to populate our street. Our mum always bought her tea from the Ringtons man, sometimes I think it was just because she couldn't say no when someone knocked on the door to sell her something, we even had the Ringtons tea caddy on the wall that the Ringtons man had flogged her, a conical smoked plastic container which dispensed one teaspoon of tea leaves when you pressed a button at the bottom – me and Ned got into a lot of trouble when we randomly pressed the tea caddy button to let the tea leaves fall all over the kitchen unit top, and when we'd tired of the tea caddy we could always go into the bathrooom and press our dads Brylcreem dispenser spout to squirt the white haircream all over the bathroom sink – that got us into trouble as well.

And there were plenty of other door to door salesmen to pester the housewives, the Bettaware man came around fairly frequently with a magical suitcase crammed full of useless crap, he'd start by raising his trilby and greeting our mum then before she could say “not today thank you” he'd have the suitcase open and would be demonstrating his latest object of desire, usually something in plastic that enabled you to fish things out of drains, or the ubiquitous oak leaf shaped plastic coaster. We'd stand behind our mum at the door peering around her skirt at the display of hundreds of crappy items in the Bettaware mans suitcase, wondering how he knew where every bit went, for the stuff wasn't just crammed in there, it was all displayed properly on several insert boards each in its own little space, held in place by elastic bands. She would always buy something just to get rid of him and we'd be sworn to secrecy not to tell our dad that she'd spent some of the housekeeping money on more Bettaware crap.

5 comments:

Grannymar said...

JC I love these trips down memory lane.

Gary said...

Thank you, its a great media for jotting down memories is the blog - I've started to compile the last two years worth of rubbish into pdf documents, not sure why, but there we are :)

Jeff said...

I too have been enjoying your stories as of late. It's a good thing you have this blog to get them out, otherwise I would be afraid your brain might explode.

Gary said...

The only slight snag to all of this is that I can't remember what the hell happened yesterday and I'm going to have to wait for twenty years to recall it !

I haev to write everything down now as soon as it happens - the brain hard drive might be getting close to full.

Anonymous said...

I could tell you a story about all of this... But! its far tooo long.:)