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My Beautiful Neighbourhood

by Phil Thornton 

Who lives in a house like this? In No 33, Poplar Close, the second end house in the terrace, it’s us, The Thorntons; that is me mam, me dad, our Claire, our Gaz, our Ste and me. I’m the eldest and neighbours they came and went in the 20 years I lived there, roughly from the age of 5 til I got married at 25. In an idea we’ve totally ripped off from the good folks at The Mudhutter, here just a few of them:


Next door. The House was new when we moved in and so were the neighbours. The house next to us, the end house that bordered on the field was home to some proper pricks.


The Fosters were there when we moved in. The dad smoked a pipe and kept himself to himself. He rarely spoke a word to anyone, especially his missus, but she made up for his taciturn nature. Mrs Foster was a little bundle of pent-up bitterness and hatred and, for whatever reason, she fuckin’ hated us. Now my ma is quite a placid woman, tries to see the best in people, even me dad, and that’s a Herculean task in itself, but Ma Foster tried her patience severely. They had two kids, a girl called Julie and a lad called Paul. Julie was the same age as our Claire, a year younger than me and Paul was our Gaz’s age, only a toddler when we moved in.  They lived next to us for a good five or six years and they had a nan, the mum’s mum, who used to provide me with the cards I collected from packets of tea; these had themes similar to those Wills’s cigarette cards popular in the 50s. My favourite was The Sea; Our Other World because Jacques Cousteau was all the rage back then. Anyway one day she passed a load of cards over the small wire fence to me outside our back door and, instead of thanking her for them I said, quietly under my breath, “Thanks you old cunt!”


I think I may have had a mild form of Tourettes as a kid because when something came into my head, I felt I had no other option than to say it. I don’t even know why I’d called her a cunt because she wasn’t a cunt, she was a nice old lady who knew I collected tea cards and had generously collected some on my behalf. I think she heard me. She looked shocked but didn’t say anything and walked into next door. Now, filled with inner guilt and fearing that she’d tell her daughter, Mrs Foster, the battleaxe, I decided to come clean and tell my ma what I’d said to her. I couldn’t actually say the word itself so I said, I’d called her a ‘Hunt’ but with a ‘K.’ I didn’t even know what a cunt was nor how to spell it. Of course she was shocked but Ma Foster never came round on the bounce so it was left at that. That and electro-convulsive shock therapy to cure me of my mental illness. Only joking. That came later.


Anyway, we grew up next to the Fosters and our Gaz and Paul were always scrapping. Paul was a bit of a mummy’s boy and our Gaz was a little bastard. That much was true. However, after yet another beating, Paul’s ma began yelling at my ma and physically grabbed her over the back-door fence. Dot snapped. She gave Little Mrs Foster one hell of a bitch slap and we all stood there; amazed, shocked and it must be said, rather proud of our 5 foot nothing old girl. Mrs Foster ran inside beckoning her docile husband to arms and screaming abuse in the garden. He came out, me dad came out, he went back inside and she probably never forgave him for his cowardice. Having said that I wouldn’t start on me dad now and he’s coming up to 70. Not long after they moved. We’d seen em off.  Good riddance.


Next came The Dobsons. The dad was a bit of an odd ball, looked and spoke like a working men’s club comic and kept pigeons, which pissed off me ma when she was trying to hang out her washing. The ma was kinda pretty in a ‘doesn’t put much effort in’ way. She had silver hair and liked doing those pin painting things that were popular in the 70s.  They had three kids, Phil, the eldest, who was 5 or so years older than me and who looked like an ape of some description. He hung around with the Maple Avenue gang who everyone was shit scared of because they were, to a man, psychotic. They were our main lads on the estate and when they followed local team, non-league Runcorn FC we tagged on behind them. Once they were all old enough to sup they became The Dev Lads, because they all drank in the Old Town ’s roughest alehouse, The Devonshire Arms.


One time they kicked off at an FA Cup game at local rivals, Northwich Vics and chased the Vics fans out of their own ground, then disappeared into town. Phil, however, had failed to follow them in time and was left on his own. A gang of Vics fans returned and I watched helpless as he got well and truly panelled by this mob, one of whom had the best wedge I’d seen outside of Liverpool.


Then there was Angela, who went to the Grammar School and was lumbered with walking to the bus-stop with yours truly after I’d passed the 11 plus. She was OK, very quiet and always looked like she needed a good kip. Then there was the youngest lad, Stuart who we imaginatively called Dobbo or, more usually, Fat Dobbo. Could that kid eat? When we had our annual bommy, all the mams brought along plates of butties, hot dogs, treacle toffee, baked spuds and all the usual bommy fare. Dobbo’s ma gave him a full plate of hotdogs to pass around and the greedy cunt ate the whole lot.


Worse, he was a snitch. We had regular battles with the other side of the Close’s gang – Nasher’s mob. The Nash’s were a very rough family from Widnes who had moved to our estate. They had three brothers who all had tenuous paternal links to eachother. Big Nasher was a good few years older than us and didn’t really bother with our silly territorial disputes, but Nasher himself was our age and something of a hard-knock. He had a little brother – Little Nasher – who we once caught after a local skirmish.


My dad had a big wooden handled penknife that he kept hidden on the top of the kitchen cupboard. I had my own penknife and gave my dad’s to Dobbo before we went to fight the Nashers. After catching Little Nasher, we held the knives to his throat in the manner of plazzy 70s bootboys and threatened to stab him and cut him up, which of course we had no intention of doing. Unfortunately Big Nasher had been alerted to his sibling’s plight and legged us back to our end, on his own. That’s how hard we were. He seemed to target me (as usual) and legged me right into our garden, where I thought he’d stop but the fucker ran right into our house and grabbed me. Me aul fellar was asleep in the front room and came rushing out to see what all the commotion was about. Big Nasher explained that I’d held a knife to his brother’s throat and, caught red-handed with my penknife, I had to own up.


That was bad enough, a hiding was now a certainty, what made it worse was that as Big Nasher, satisfied that my dad’s wrath would avenge his anger, began walking down our path, Dobbo, fearing that he’d be next, shouted to my dad that I’d leant him a pen-knife too but that he hadn’t used it and passed it over the fence to me dad. He wasn’t happy.


He wasn’t happy that I had a knife, he wasn’t happy that I’d took it out to fight, he wasn’t happy that I’d held it to some little lad’s neck, he wasn’t happy that I’d discovered where HIS knife was (although why he had it in the first place was something of a mystery) had taken that out too and supplied it to Fat Dobbo, he wasn’t happy that some youth had invaded our house on the bounce and he wasn’t happy that his slumber had been disturbed. Needless to say, I got the Mother Of All Good Hidings (until I was caught shoplifting but that’s another story). I never forgave Fat Dobbo.


After the Dobbo’s left we got an old lady and her daughter, The Faulkners. Old Mrs Faulkner looked as if she read palms on Rhyl front and had un-naturally glossy black hair for a lady of her age. Her daughter, or was it her grand-daughter, we were never sure, was pretty but a bit slow-witted. She always looked as if she was inwardly counting up to ten.  She was a few years older than me and never spoke to me once in all the time she was there. They also had a maniac son, who didn’t live with them but always came round on the bounce. He was probably in his late 20s or early 30s at the time and all we knew of him was that he’d stabbed someone in a pub fight and was regarded as an idiot of the highest order but a dangerous idiot.


He’d changed his name by deed poll to something vaguely exotic sounding like Paul Valerio and he thought he was the hardest man in the universe, even though he was about five foot two, had a bad receding hair-line and dressed like the lead singer of Mud, wacky shades and all. One Christmas Day he came to visit his old mum and ended up smashing up the front room before lashing a brick through the window on his way out. As I said, nice lad. They didn’t stay long, a few years at most and Paul, always an attention seeking prick, once stopped all the traffic on the Runcorn bridge as he sat in his car, doused in petrol, threatening to set himself alight. Of course he never went through with it but it made the front cover of the Weekly News. He was part of history.


Next door, the other side, I can only remember a family who’s mum died very young of cancer and they moved away. Ironically it was the local funeral director and his missus who moved in after her. They were quite bohemian for our estate, or indeed our town. They had a fisherman’s net attached to their wall for some reason and their names were Greta and Melvin. Melvin Rigby was heir to the Rigby’s Undertaking fortune and Greta also worked for the family firm. They soon moved on to a nicer area and then divorced, Greta setting herself up as a rival funeral director. There’s always money in death. Lots of it and no love is lost when it comes to corpses. The only time I went inside their house, the time I noticed the net on the wall, was to collect me ma. Me and our Claire had been watching that 70s dramatisation of Frankenstein starring David McCallum and, at the part where the hand begins crawling along the floor, I shit myself and went round for me ma, who was next door dropping embalming fluid with the spooks. I was 17 at the time. No, I wasn’t.


A few others.  The Greenwoods. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and they were quite posh. The ma was very small and the dad was a bit dapper, probably gay. He used to burst our ball every time it went over the wall into his poxy little garden and we hated him. They had a daughter who was a real red haired beauty and, as they lived directly opposite us, across the square of garages behind the back garden, I used to spy on her as she mooched about her bedroom. Once me and me dad were sat in the front room on Sunday morning, probably shelling shrimps and I remember seeing her head come up in the window as she did some kind of exercise. She was about 15 or 16 at the time and what’s more she was topless. This attracted my dad’s attention too and we both pretended not to notice her as her tits came in and out of our eyeline. This episode kept me in wanks for about 5 years.


Next to the Greenwoods were the Jones’s. Kev Jones was our Gaz’s age and he had very blond hair but looked kind of weird. He had a very big head with a large, pronounced forehead. He reminded of the time that TweetiePie drank some kind of Jeckyl and Hyde potion and transformed into a giant Frankenstein style monster canary and chased Sylvester around a warehouse. That cartoon gave me nightmares for ages. I was 24 at the time. That’s a fib. Next to the Jones’s were another family of Jones’s who were no relation. Billy Jones, the dad was a local builder and employed every vagabond and ne’erdowell on the estate. They’d gather outside his garage every morning on their way to cowboy jobs across the town. Our Claire moved into his house after she got married and, master builder that he was, he’d papered over one of the doors that lead into the front room from the hall. That’s how good a builder he was. He was a scouser and an old school petty crook; he had lots of patter and he wore white slip ons and a big gold chain around his freckly neck.


His wife, Kath was small and gregarious and together they had five lads, who were all little twats. Billy also had two kids to a previous marriage; Billy Junior and Christine. Christine was a stunner, the same age as me but she was going out with fellars when she was but a child. Billy Junior or Little Billy was a chip off the old block. He once robbed our milkman and we all had to leg it from him. He was also once on Blind Date and won the girl’s hand but was exposed in national press as a peeping tom who’d set up a secret camera and filmed him and this girl having Blind Date type sex together.     


Next time – The Rowes, The Fishers, The Lewis’s and The McDonalds.   





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