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Friday, 10 August 2007

Green Teeth

My first bike was grey and heavy and looked like a recycled tank. My parents tested it and were reassured by its strength and solidity. The ground shook when my dad picked it up and let it fall gently to the floor. He tried it again - just to make sure and a passing lorry jumped. The two of them nodded. Michael would be safe, safer than any vehicle he’d probably crash into.

Tony was luckier; younger brothers are. When nothing bad happened to me, he was allowed to buy a light and sexy bike in glossy red metallic paint. But the deal remained the same. We had to save half the cost and our parents would match it with the other half.

It took me just under a year and two paper rounds. I loved delivering papers. The round bound you, but the mind roamed where it wanted to. Sometimes still, I wonder what fantasies lurk in a postman’s head - probably darker, more erotic than any a twelve year old boy would have had in 1959.

Usually I was an Indian, chewing pemmican as I trudged across the endless plain. In lieu of dried buffalo meat, I’d have a store of dried orange peel gathering dust in the pocket of a blue gabardine raincoat. Sometimes - as a true forager - I would sample privet leaves. They had a mean, bitter taste and would stain your teeth green. Not a garden was safe from me. My favourite was nasturtium leaves. They had a dark and peppery taste, and didn’t stain your teeth. On a Sunday I would treat myself to an Uncle Joe’s mint-ball. Sometimes two.

Delivering the papers took me longer than most people because when not whistling or chewing privet leaves I’d be reading what I should have been delivering; occasionally exercising censor-ship. I was a narrow bigoted little boy, a good Catholic, possessed of the truth. There was a journal called ‘The Free Thinker’ - atheist and libertarian - I regularly crumpled up before pushing it through the letter-box. The man was patient, but eventually complained.

Mrs Robertson ran the shop. She had a waxen face and her fingers were yellow. She’d clutch the sweets as though reluctant to let them go. At the far end of Warbreck Moor was another Newsagent - Claytons. Along one wall was a small private lending library. The books smelled musty, the shelves were dark and narrow. The other walls were lined with tall glass jars filled with sweets, but it was something else they sold that drew us like wasps to a beer glass. Broken crisps. They were the brushings from the Crisp Factory (Smiths) half a mile up the road, but we didn’t know that. They were served in small conical paper bags - a penny a bag - and they looked good enough. Grease with a crunch.

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