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(August 1944)

6. On to Manor Road and Bridle Lane
and Back to Home

by Chris Myers

6. On to Manor Road and Bridle Lane and Back to Home 

As you carry on along the road on our side, towards Manor Road, there are other families. Mr and Mrs Lyon at 105. They are very old. They must be at least 60. Mr Lyon has retired after working in a shop in one of the Birmingham arcades for years and he now has a market garden in his huge garden which stretches for probably 200 yards, right down to the hawthorn hedge.

I'll show this picture again because you can just see his land. (It was taken from a bedroom window of our house in 1936).

Mr. Lyon's garden stretches all the way down the left hand side of the field, right down to the far hedge. Right on the very left-hand edge of the picture you can see his hen-houses.  They are very rickety and get battered and half blown down if there's a strong wind. Beyond his land one or two private gardens are just as long (like Mr Richards's which is on the far right of this picture). I have never been in them and don't know what people do with all that space. You can't grow vegetables on all of it.  Unless you are like Mr Lyon.

Between Mr. Lyon and us is the garden at no. 103  I don't think anyone was living in the house then. Their garden is what ours must have been like until Dad got to work.

Mr Lyon supplies vegetables, eggs and probably chickens to people like Roses who are greengrocers in Kingstanding. I help him a lot. Taking out a water container which runs on wheels and topping up the drinking water for the chickens. Collecting eggs. Running errands. All sorts of things like that. I think I’m very helpful. At least he never tells me to buzz off, so I must be of some use. Either that or he is just a very kind old gentleman. I helped him load some of his vegetables one day, into big square empty baskets which had come from Roses. It was a horrid job because the baskets stank so much it made me feel sick. When I peered over the edge into one, I saw why. The last time they had been used it was to carry gutted rabbits. The weather was hot and the baskets hadn't been cleaned out very well.  Or probably not at all. Whenever we went into Roses after that, I looked at their nice fresh veg. in a different way.

All sorts of interesting things happen. I don’t really like the way he kills chickens or ducks. He uses a very old and rusty pen knife to chop off their heads. What was much more fun, and really interesting, was the day he caught a rat and promised me that we would drown it in the water carrier. I nagged him for hours until he got around to doing the deed. And I have to say that in the end I felt really sorry for the poor creature as it frantically swam around in its metal cage trying to find a way out before it finally gave up its efforts and was still. I think that probably, as you get older, you don’t like things like that quite as much as you do when you are six or seven.

I spend quite a lot of time with Mr and Mrs Lyon. Sometimes we even play cards in the evening. It’s ever so funny. If Mr Lyon trumps Mrs Lyon she shouts at him and calls him a miserable old bugger. Even Mum, who doesn't like bad language, has to laugh. Dad and Mum never say anything worse than damn and blast at home. We play these games by gaslight. Mr and Mrs Lyon don’t have electricity. The light in the living room comes from a fitting in the middle of the ceiling with something called a gas mantle which you have to light with a match. It glows white hot and lights up the whole room. And then, when you turn it off, it goes a loud "pop". I expect they use a lot of candles as well. And oil lamps when they go to bed. Because there’s no electricity they have a wireless set which runs on batteries. Two of them. One is a dry one like a huge version of the one you put in a torch. The other one is called an accumulator and every now and again Mr Lyon has to take it up the road to get it charged. You just have to have a wireless set as otherwise you have no idea what is happening in the war. And there's music and comedy programmes.  My favourite is Tommy Handley who is ever so funny.  His programme is called ITMA. That's short for "It's That Man Again".

I think that Mr and Mrs Lyon's house is the only one around here without electricity. Perhaps it was built a bit before the others. Out in the country I have been to other houses that use oil lamps and candles. Farmhouses and cottages and things. But not around here where most of the houses are fairly new and were built with electricity in them. I sometimes go to bed with a candle or a nightlight in a saucer even though we have electric light. I like a bit of light to go to sleep by. But I don't like the flickering too much and it used to frighten me when I was just a little boy.

Then the Morgans. At 107. Mr Morgan is a plumber. It's wonderful to watch him as he repairs a lead pipe with his blowtorch and to see how the metal melts and flows where he wants it to go, all silvery and shiny. Mr and Mrs Morgan have a son, Eric. Eric is 14 or 15. And he has an air rifle. Now, my own Dad spends half his life surrounded by all sorts of dangerous things like rifles, grenades, pistols and bombs. He is in the Home Guard. There are three rifles in the wardrobe and I know he has a revolver and ammunition in the drawer where he keeps his vests and starched collars. But he gets very worried when there’s a teenager living next-door-but-two who spends a lot of his time shooting off an air rifle in his back garden. Nothing has happened so far and so let’s hope it never will.

As we go further on up the road, the other families who are there I don’t know quite so well. The Allums, the Caultons and also the Markwicks. Mr Markwick is our local air raid warden. His job is to make sure we don’t have any lights showing. Once or twice he’s suddenly appeared out of the darkness in his uniform and tin hat with ARP painted on it and given my mother a gentle ticking off for having a torch which is too bright. He does it very nicely and she doesn’t get upset over it. I’m not sure whether she realises or not but I know exactly what she does to avoid this. She tears off a little piece of newspaper, probably about an inch round, unscrews the lens of her torch and sticks the paper on top of the bulb. This reduces the light a lot. Now, what I like to do, when she’s not looking, is to find the torch, unscrew the lens again and take the bit of paper out. Probably that’s when she gets caught by Mr Markwick. I don’t know whether she knows what's going on but she’s not said anything, at least not yet. I think it is rather a good joke. She might not, though.

As we get nearer to Manor Road there are more gaps between the houses. One's another cart track. There's a cottage on the right hand side of it, at right angles to the Chester Road. I think a family called Heaton live in it. And I think it's called Rose Cottage. Beyond those buildings, down the track, you get to a gate which opens up on to the Riding School Field again. (The main entrance is at the bottom of Manor Road).

Then a couple of older houses, a wide gap and finally the row of shops lying at a slight angle to the main road with an area of rough grass and a sandy surface in front of them where cars can park. There’s a butcher's there, a draper's called Terry although the lady who runs it is called Mrs Moore, Baileys which I think is a dairy where they sell milk and sweets and things, and one or two other shops. There's a lady called Joan who lives in an upstairs flat there who cuts my hair. That's if I can't get out of it. I HATE it.

The far side of Manor Road is a triangle of rough grass in front of the houses there which are set at an angle, like the shops. On this grass they built a huge black-painted tank. It’s a water tank for firefighting. A nasty ugly thing with mesh on the top to stop children like me falling in although it would be quite difficult to climb up high enough to get on top of it. It’s not had to be used yet. And possibly won’t be, now. We haven’t had an air raid for a long, long time.

We won’t walk any further along the road. That's for another day. Time to get back home, now.

As we turn, let’s just look out, over the crossroads, towards the far corner where Bridle Lane joins the main road. On that corner is Puddepha's. This is a little corner shop which sells tobacco and sweets and things. Here is Mr Puddepha who owns it. He's in the Home Guard with Dad. I visit his shop quite often. Sometimes by myself and I’m always told to be very, very careful as I cross the main road. I go there when Dad needs some more Navy Cut for his pipe or Mum has run out of her Players cigarettes. A granite floor and a high counter. Shelves beyond with big sweet jars and other stuff like that. And in front of them stands Mr Puddepha in his light brown coat who hands me the tobacco and takes the half-crown, or whatever it is.

On the other corner of Bridle Lane, nearer to us, there is a very tall, wide hedge which doesn’t look as if it gets cut very often. Behind it is a row of old cottages but you can hardly see them and I've never seen anyone who lives in them.

We haven't crossed over. We are now going back the way we have come. And looking over the road at that big, wild, privet hedge. As we walk back, there is an unbroken row of houses on the other side. One or two of them are identical to ours. I think they must have been built by the same builder. Mr. Brockington. And probably at the same time. In another of the houses there, Mr Horton lives. He has a grand-daughter who I think lives there as well. Her name is Evelyn. Evelyn Ball. She's a good friend of my sister. They probably went to school together. That's Sandwell School which I've mentioned before. The reason why I know Mr Horton is that he repairs our shoes for us. If you are a customer, you go down the side of his house and he has a little workshop there, with all his tools and a special thing called a last which he puts a shoe on to before he starts hammering away at it. And pieces of leather everywhere. When you go in the smell of leather hits you. It's nice. And it's different from the smell you get when you poke your nose into an American car. As I have told you before, that's the smell of speed. Not leather.

As you get closer back to no. 101, where we live on this side, and you keep looking over the road, you see the houses where I know more of the people. Mr and Mrs Grey. Then Mr and Mrs Price at no. 150, another old couple with a married daughter who lives up the road just by the water tank I was talking about. I think Mr Price is probably Welsh. Very occasionally he uses our telephone. He speaks very precisely. ("Hello, this is PRICE here" he says, loudly and clearly, to introduce himself. There's no doubt as to who he is). He's a nice old gentleman.

I ought to say here that most of our neighbours don't have telephones. I'm not sure who does. Mum has an arrangement with our neighbour, Mrs Bacon - whom she calls Dot - who lives in the other half of our semi. Sometimes there is a call for Mrs Bacon, perhaps from one of her sisters. Mum picks up the phone and says "Hello...oh, right ho...I'll get her". Then she walks out of the hall into the lounge and picks up a clothes brush which lives on top of the piano. She then uses the hard, wooden back of that to make four or five really hard raps on the wall behind. Then looks out of the front window and, lo and behold, after a few seconds, hurrying through a gap in the hedge comes Dot who is let in through the front door and then left in private to conduct her family business. This arrangement works regularly and well. Mum is kind and patient. The only time when she does get a bit fed up, sometimes, is when Aunty Helen phones to speak to her sister. Aunty Helen is a tiny bit posh. She wears pearls and things. She doesn't mean to, I'm sure, but she sometimes makes Mum feel a bit like a maidservant, being instructed to summon her mistress to the telephone. But nobody has fallen out with anyone yet. Mum is quite patient. Even with me.

But back to the other side of the road.

On the grass verge outside Mr and Mrs Price's house is a post, not very tall, and on top of it is a board, about 18 inches square and facing upwards, at a bit of an angle so that the rain can run off it easily. It's painted a funny greeny-grey colour. I keep an eye on it. It's been there for as long as I can remember. Dad told me that if it changes colour, that means the Germans are attacking us with gas. I don't know what colour it changes to and I hope I shall recognise it when it does. But people don't seem to worry too much about all that now. I think they've decided that it's probably not going to happen. You sometimes see the same sort of paint on the top of pillar boxes.

Then the Milnes at 148, right opposite our house. Three children - Jennifer of about my age, Ian and little Keith. The Georges, another plumber like Mr Morgan. Next, Mrs Woodward, a smart and elegant lady whose husband is away in the Royal Navy and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him. And then the Brains who have two teenage boys who my father thinks are a bit mad and so I think the same. Naturally. I’m not sure but I think that Mr Brain owns the Avion Cinema in Aldridge where we go very regularly on our bikes to see all sorts of films. Some of them I like and some of them frighten me.

Talking of going to the pictures reminds me of what Mum very often says to me when we have been sitting there for a long time. We have seen the second half of the main film, then a short interval, then the adverts, then the newsreel, then the B-film. And finally the beginning of the main film. After about half an hour of that, that's when she leans across to me and whispers:

"I think this is where we came in, dear".

And up we get and off we go. (I hate that, really. I want to see a story all the way through. Not see the end first and then afterwards find out what had happened before).

And so, now we've come back at our destination and as we look across at these houses, on the other side of the road and at the very top of the hill, where the Brains live, I can say to you:

"I think this is where we came in".

Thank you for walking with me up the Chester Road, from the Park entrance all the way up the hill to where we live. And a bit beyond and back again. We'll open the front gate at the end of our drive and walk through it and up to the house where we'll let ourselves in. Perhaps Mum will make us a nice cup of tea when she's got her breath back. There might even be a biscuit. Just the one.

We need a cuppa, don't we, after all that walking and all that talking.


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