When I was around six or seven years old, we moved from Cwrt Y Clafdy over to Southall Avenue, right at the bottom as far as you could go, our little back garden backed onto waste ground at the edge of the council estate, with the M4 motorway very close by. It was at the bottom of two hills, the actual estate starts at the top of a hill and works its way down to where we lived or vice versa and to the right is Pen Yr Alley Avenue which was a main road which travels along the left hand side of Skewen Park and joins Burrows Road at the Bottom.
We used to drive my Mother crazy on the Estate hill, we had action men tanks, green plastic lumps with wheels on and we would carry them up to the top of the hill and sit on them as they zoomed back down, it’s a wonder we weren’t killed, the lot of us.
At the side of our house was a grass lane, well it wasn’t really a lane it was a stretch of ground at the back of the last houses in the estate at the bottom and run along in between us and the ‘People With Money’ who owned their own houses on the other side of the big trees.
They didn’t live like us, their gardens were big and long and full of vegetables and apple trees, garden sheds and green houses, we used to climb through and scrump the apples whenever we got a chance but I remember other boys coming down the hill at night to rob the washing off the clothes lines in the summer. There were a lot of poor people there and the estate was always noisy, especially when my Dad was out of jail and would turn up drunk outside and we’d watch from the bedroom windows as he fought with the police out on the grass. I remember there was a boy in my school class who lived up the top of the hill, the police where always going up there and him and his brother were always hungry and dirty, no father and the mother was an alcoholic slapper always leaving the kids at home alone while she was out on the lash. We had a minutes silence for them two boys one day in school assembly, they burnt to death in a house fire along with their baby brother or sister? which they were looking after, apparently the fire broke out in the kitchen where the boy my age was trying to rustle up some food, they jailed the mother for neglect and we never saw her again.
This grass lane that wasn’t really a lane, joined the bottom of Pen Yr Alley Avenue at the corner where it met Burrows Road, on that corner was The Clinic were all of us went for our injections as kids and opposite from it across Burrows Road was Butts the shop, which was our only shop for quite a walk. It was one of those small general stores which had most things in it, they even had a cigarette machine outside (You don’t see those these days) just like the chocolate machines they used to have on train stations (You also don’t see those these days either, such a shame)
I remember my Dad and his mate Chick broke into it one night with a crowbar and were giving packets of fags away for free to the single mothers in the estate on the provision that everyone kept an eye out for his kids. They also did a phone box and they gave all the kids 5 pence’s, I was so proud, my Dad was like Robin Hood or something, I had two pockets full of change and I told them that I was going to save mine for something special and Chick said “Don’t be so daft boy, today’s special, spend it, enjoy yourself, you only live once and it’s a short ‘un at that!”
The next day, I awoke determined to do something grand myself, so we went to the bus stop on our side of that corner where I had seen a van pull up each week and throw a bundle of newspapers on the ground ready for the paperboys to get, sometimes that bundle would sit there for half hour or more.
We had it away in seconds, it was heavy and we were only small but we managed to get it into the grass lane that isn’t really a lane and then amongst the tall trees, I cut the plastic straps holding it together with my little penknife my Dad had got me and we divided the newspapers up.
It was fun, it was the summer and people had their doors open and those who didn’t, well we stuffed them through their letterboxes, I was sure that everyone would be happy with us giving away free papers and I actually felt like we were doing a proper public service, right up to when the police turned up.
The owner of the newspapers was with them and he was quite upset, the police made us show them every house that we had unlawfully delivered to and knock the doors and retrieve them, fine…whatever, ‘I am above you, I am Robin Hood’s son’
The only one I felt bad about was the old guy at No. 48 because I had actually delivered his newspaper to him, I know this because it said ’48 South Ave’ in the top right hand corner in blue biro, I tried to explain this but no one was taking a blind bit of notice.
It was around this time that a middle aged woman moved it, a few houses away from us right up against the grass lane that isn’t really a lane that things really started to get truly weird, everyone said that she was nuts and was known for being a bit aggressive.
She was a big woman about 6ft tall and built like a brick shithouse, shoulders like a rugby player, and she would hang out of her kitchen window and shout to anyone going by if they would get her something’s from Butts the shop while they were going.
We did it once for her, some milk if I remember correctly? but my mother told us not to do it again, that we should shout back that we were off to the park instead, so we did.
It wasn’t long before she asked the wrong people and they never returned with her shopping or the money, this made her mad and you could hear her screaming to herself inside her flat, if she was nuts before well now she was a bit bitter also.
Soon it happened to her again and she became more and more paranoid, I used to think to myself ‘you stupid woman why don’t you walk to the shop yourself and buy your things, it’s only over there?’ but I was a child and didn’t have a clue about mental health, obviously.
There was this little woman who used to walk by every day, small like around 4ft something, she was the mother of one of the boys my age in the street and she would always stop and take the woman’s money and little shopping list and get them for her. Until one day she returned with a loaf of bread and the woman’s change and was asked to wait outside the window for a minute whilst she took the bread inside. We were all playing around, ‘joking fighting’ on the grass close by and saw it when her big strong arms came shooting back out of the window and grabbed the little woman by the throat and started throttling her whilst screaming “I’ve counted every slice, you sneak-thief, it’s one short, give me my slice back you robbing cow or I’ll kill you!”
After a few seconds the little woman broke free and scrambled away and someone phoned the police, everybody in the street was out when it happened, even the men and women from the top of the hill came down to have a nose with their flagons of cider.
It was the first time I had witnessed ‘The Men In White Coats’ in action, the police pulled up with an ambulance behind them and they went and dragged her out, none of them said anything as they pulled her sideways up the path to the vehicles.
I thought it was awful, she was screaming blue murder, crying, threatening, swearing, spitting and actually frothing at the mouth like a stray dog, as they pulled her, struggling to get into the ambulance, her apron ripped open and one of her tits popped out and everyone cheered and laughed.
I remember those aprons well, nylon things with stripes and two pockets in the front (my Mother was always telling us to go and look in the pockets of hers for change and they were always stuffed full of bog-roll and crap like that), all the women wore them and Scholl sandals with the wooden bottoms, which hurt when you got a beating off them, I remember the bloody things bouncing off my head on a few occasions…but they were like magic for as soon as you turned thirteen they stopped hurting, amazing!)
As they swung her up and in through the doors all these coppers flew out of her apron pockets and jangled upon the tarmac pavement like little church bells and wind chimes, dozens of them, 2 pence’s, 1 pence’s and the old ½ pence’s (which you don’t see anymore) and all the parents in all directions said almost instantly and in harmony “Go!” and all us kids ran and scrambled on our hands and knees to pick them up as they drove the mad women off to wherever the hell it is that they take mad women off to.