Let me introduce my mate Daz, founder member of The Cow’s Gate Gang. When we were 12 he was stocky and snub-nosed with a blonde curly fleece on his bonce. He thrived on speed and perseverance and lived on Vimto and Wagon Wheels during the day and fish and chips at night. He gloated in victory and shrugged defeat off carelessly. He could afford to couldn’t he ? His dad ran the village chip shop and drove a brand new N-reg Austin Allegro, all brown like Daz’s flared nylon trousers which he said he got from Carnaby Street but what really came out of his mum’s Gratton catalogue. My old lady said Daz’s mum got ten per cent off, she was an agent, which is how Daz got the Space Hopper for his birthday while I got the blue anorak to go with my white roll-neck with the stripe down the side and an inside pocket hardly big enough for a pair of Klackers.
We were in the first year at Secondary Modern. Both of us failed the 11 plus. I didn’t even know what it was. At first I thought it was a medicated shampoo like my dad used, Vosene or Loxene it was, had a green medical on the glass bottle. Or was it those pills Mum sucked in the mornings to get her vacuuming off to a good start, Pro-plus. So we did this quiz thing for the future in class 9 and next thing we knew we were at Swattenden with hards in crombies and Arsenal scarves tucked in their belts, playing football with a tennis ball. And there’s me and Daz still whistling Nights in White Satin and thinking our hipster belts were brill.
Well, Daz was tougher than me and had this ability to raise your spirits : « Nah, » he’d say, « dont worry abard it ». He was rough but never cruel, always put his fish back alive and never threw stones at cats, only lumps of dirt. He had a moggy of his own see, a ginger podge called Curley Wurly because it chased its tail
Daz lived four doors up from me down Barratt’s Road, a hundred orange brick council houses built just after the war. There were twenty boys our age to choose gangs and teams from and we pooled our Wembley Winners and Action Men to get the game running, otherwise we’d drift in a cloud of boredom where the only thing that happened was the council came and painted the front doors green or blue every five years or the Lyons Maid van came jangling its tune : I Love to go A-Wandering and Kojak the driver gave us the broken bits of Zooms out the bottom of his freezer.
There were plenty of us down Barratt’s Road. Enough squirts to shoot with spud guns and loads of sisters to bomb with their own Play-doh who thought they were Emma Peel. We’d meet up the The Cow’s Gate where allegiances shifted like the wind, but somehow me and Daz stayed loyal. He played centre half to my inside left. Billy Bremner to my Eddie Gray… We knew our village backwards too, but me and Daz had this ritual we’d carry out when our mums and dads had gone off to get more Green Shield Stamps. We showed each other over our houses, number 43 and number 51.
From one room to another, every drawer and cupboardful, every box on the wardrobe, every bit and bob in the jars and envelopes. Daz showed me his family secrets like every time was an Egyptian tomb. They were the first down our road to have a colour telly, a massive great clod-hopper taking up a whole corner by the fish tank. Daz’d turn it on and we’d look at the test card, all those coloured squares. They had Rediffusion too, and of course, one day we found the envelope in the milk book drawer. The telly was rented. They had a stereo too and they kept their records in plastic bags, each one put away in the sideboard. They used to play the theme tune to Van de Valk and Daz’s mum still listened to The Partridge Family.
The centre piece was his old man’s chair, a bright orange swiveller on a chrome pedestal, bucket shaped, solid polysterene with a nylon stretch cover. We’d play tail end Charlie in a Lancaster, spinning with our Lewis guns at German Fokkers, or Thunderbird 5 tracking Concorde sunk to the sea bed till Daz said it was time to go look in the bathroom at the smokers toothpower and eye-baths. His sister worked for Colgate Palmolive and there were stacks of free toothpaste she brought home in her Christmas bonus. His mum’s girdles were in the airing cupboard, her false nails in a plastic box in the medicine cabinet. The gruesome stuff was on the window sill, a row of white polystyrene heads with brown wigs. We’d run screaming down the stairs at this, a game we called Ena Sharples’s boudoir.
Well, things were about to change. A new kid from Hastings was moving into no 17. I’ll tell you what happened next time.