The Highbury estate in the 50s - Part 10
|Author: Haley Storey||Published: 27th February 2017 10:59|
The ESTATE 'BOBBY'
Highbury Buildings, shown below, was a row of shops which topped the Highbury housing estate between Hawthorn Crescent (at the far end) and Chatsworth Avenue (at the near).
When our group ranged around the area during the late 1950s, the shop at the near end was 'NAPPERS', an ironmongers. Among other shops in the row was a wool shop, a sweet shop, a greengrocers and an Estate Agents (at the far end).
Next to the Estate Agents was the local 'Chippy', our usual target on an evening out. During the summer, we played cricket or football most evenings, but when the shorter days and darker nights came, our usual pastime was to meet around 7pm at the railway bridge across the creek and slowly wander the roads until we reached the chippy. There were nine regulars in our 'group', myself, Tony Nuttall, Terry Salmon, Dave Warrener, Keith Dyer, Roger Bricknell, Grahame Runtsen, Graham Thornton, and Richard Tovery, with some girls during the light summer evenings.
Remember the days of the 'bobby on the beat' when all areas had their local policeman. The first one we encountered was a nice guy and we got to know him quite well, and often ran into him during evenings out and about. If we were up at the 'chippy', he would go round the group and pinch a chip off all of us, and one night when I'd left my money at home, he popped into the place and got a three-penny bag, which we then shared - typical of him. But in early 1958 he moved on and a new one arrived, a rather portly figure, not untypical of the splendidly described policemen one found in the Enid Blyton books of that era. He was definitely NOT friendly either, calling us 'Ooligans' and 'noisy troublemakers' when, in reality, we were nothing of the kind - well, not until he arrived anyway. He definitely brought out the worst in us, and being in our early teens, there was an element of rebelliousness amongst us whenever we fell foul of him.
Two things we could do, however, was out-run and out-hide him, and one way of relieving the boredom when he chased us, particularly on foggy nights, was to split up into two groups so he'd never know which one to pursue. We'd nip in and out of alleyways or short-cuts, meet up again and swap group members, then split up once more so one or two faces that had been in front of him would suddenly appear from behind, and in a different group.
The result of all this was that he would get very red-faced, all out of breath, and terribly confused. When we'd had enough we would all scatter and then meet up again at the chippy where he would find us, all appearing innocent and with no proof of any misdeeds. 'I'll have you lot .... mark my words!' He was always saying, and we all found it hilarious, a great way to pass the evening.
One of the funniest incidents with our estate bobby involved Roger Bricknell's elder brother, David . He was a well known local character about three or four years older than me, and a very keen angler. David LOOKED the archetypical fisherman, one hardly ever saw him without a pair of Wellington boots, topped by woolly socks turned down around their rim, a heavyweight knitted polo-necked jumper (usually filthy), and a woolly hat to boot! We would often meet him on our travails around the estate.
On the southern flank of the Highbury Estate lay the Port Creek tidal waterway, which separated the island of Portsmouth from the mainland. Today, most of it is covered by the M27 motorway, but in the 1950s it was about 200 yards wide and when the tide was out, David could often be found digging out the muddy creek bed for use as bait, before taking it home to flush out the worms etc. and using the residual mud as garden compost. To achieve this, he would load the excavated mud into a large box he had attached to an old pram chassis which he then towed around behind his bike, if that's what you could call it.
The bike was amazing, being formed out of an old, bolt-repaired frame, with a fixed wheel drive, cow-horn handlebars, and with no brakes or working lights (he had a hand-lamp - but it didn't have a battery in it). He could often be seen riding by, with his pram in tow, hardly ever holding onto the handlebars, and when requiring to stop, David would use the 1960s equivalent of the modern jet plane 'reverse-thrust' system. His version of this novel form of braking was to disengage both feet from the pedals and slide them along the road surface until he came to a shuddering halt. Whereas both Highbury Grove and Hawthorn Crescent had been finished with tarmac and chippings upon upgrading, Chatsworth differed by being provided with a concrete segmented surface, presumably to carry the extra loadings of the local bus and shop service vehicles. This was always David's preferred 'bait-route' as it was not only a smoother surface for towing, but also for sliding his feet along when braking was required.
This system was very amusing, except to our local bobby who often tried to stop him in order to carry out an inspection of this piece of machinery, but never managed to, as David, on seeing him, would swerve out of his way at the last minute and accelerate off, usually with a few choice, but unrepeatable, words at the unfortunate policeman as he rode away.
The local bobby was always demanding to know from us who he was, and where he lived, but we always avoided saying anything, telling him we had no idea, which was a load of rubbish - and he knew it! One evening in late March of 1959, we were on our way up Chatsworth Avenue toward the local 'chippy' when, on the approaches to the local 'Co-op' we were, as usual, stopped by our somewhat overweight nemesis and promptly assailed by him as to our 'noisy ooliganism'. True to form, and right in the middle of our dressing-down by the local bobby, who should come around the corner at the Co-op but David himself, complete with bait-box full of excavated 'creek-mud'.
On spotting him the policeman stepped into the road, held his arm fully aloft and cried 'Oi .... YOU ..... STOP' - a very unwise demand in hindsight as, with a parked car on one half of the road, and his portly figure blocking the other, there was not much room left for our intrepid cyclist to get by. Both feet came off the pedals and 'braking' commenced. As he skidded towards a halt, it was obvious, even to our bobby that he wasn't going to stop in time, so the tubby man moved (the quickest we'd ever seen) to one side. It was sufficient for David + bike to swerve and squeeze through, but not quite enough to allow the bouncing pram chassis and box to safely follow. As David carried out his avoiding manoeuvre, this less-than-dextrous trailer hit the kerb and tipped over - depositing its entire load of mud over the boots and ankles of the unlucky bobby.
'Bl...y Hell' He yelled 'Y.y.you OOLIGAN you - look at my boots!'
We couldn't ... they weren't on display, having disappeared in this pile of wet, slopping, worm infested mud. We all nearly died with laughter, I'd never seen anything so funny in my life, an event made even more humorous when an indignant David Bricknell came back and said 'THAT'S my best bait mate, its taken me an hour to dig that lot!'
The scarlet-faced policeman just looked at him and then his bike 'Where's yer LIGHTS!' He demanded, an amazing statement bearing in mind what had just happened.
'They've just gone out' Came the instant reply - we were in fits by now.
'What you got .... bl...y CANDLE POWER' Demanded the bobby.
'It's not lighting up time yet anyway' Observed David 'There's no street lights on !'
He was right, and the local bobby knew it, his frustration growing by the minute. 'Well I'm booking you anyway for obstructing the highway!' He continued getting out his notebook
'I WASN'T obstructing the bloomin' highway ..... YOU WERE !' Responded an indignant David 'You were standing right in the middle of it.' The policeman ignored his remark, flipping open a page of his book. 'What's yer name?'
'STAN' Lied David 'Stan Matthews' The obvious connotation with the footballer completely escaped the irate constable.
The hapless officer scribbled this unlikely name into his book 'And where do you live?'
'Hawthorn Crescent' Came the response.
'WOT .... in ALL the 'ouses' Uttered the now red-faced bobby. 'Which one?'
'603' Came the instant reply. Another amusing statement as there WASN'T a 603 Hawthorn Crescent, the road simply not being long enough to encompass that many pre-fabs. Had it been, the location he'd given would put his property somewhere in the middle of the creek!
This fact also completely escaped the policeman, who continued to write prodigiously in his notebook, David ignored the events going on around him and set about re-righting his pram chassis and attendant box, which, having disgorged its contents into the road, was now virtually empty.
'What about all this mud then?' The bobby demanded 'You can't leave it here you know!'
'YOU collect it' Came the brusque reply as David re mounted his machine 'You'll need it as evidence'
'You'll be hearing from me' Said the Policeman 'I'll be SEEING you!'
'Not if I see you first' Called out David, cycling off.
It was one of the funniest evenings we'd ever had.
DAVID JOYCE 2017