Based on a true story of a boy’s coming
of age in London’s East End
Living in Two Worlds
Me best mate Dave lives four houses up on our side, and Danny Silver, who’s a bit of a wanker, lives opposite him. Everyone knows everyone’s business in our six block neighborhood. Dad says the war brought everyone together. Me self I think it’s the mums chin-wagging their gossip over a pot of tea after their old men go off to work.
At thirteen Dave is the oldest of me mates. Danny and Eddy are the same age as me, twelve. We’ve all lived on Albany Road since we were born. It’s a short street with terraced houses on both sides. Dad says they’re two hundred years old. They look the same as all the working class homes in the East End of London. They are narrow two story brick houses, with a bay window, a front door next to your neighbor’s door, and slate roofs. They have a black cast-iron coal stove in the living-room for cooking and heating. There’s no bathroom and no hot water. The toilet, or loo, faces out to the back yard, and is bloody freezing cold in winter. I don’t know why but the door has a big gap at the top and the bottom. I always sit on me hands to take a poop, and get out fast, with no thoughts of wanking.
Mum’s sister Aunt Jenny and her hubby George, who suffers with terrible gout, lives next door at number 34. Their kids, are me cousins. Paul is thirteen, who is a right prat, and his sister, gorgeous Patricia, is fifteen. Eddy’s family lives opposite. Something I still can’t figure is how Eddy can be their cousin, but they tell me he’s not my cousin.
Dave is the oldest in our little gang and we think he knows everything. He is tall with a long face and square chin, sort of like a movie star, but with a big nose. All us other boys on Albany Road have blue eyes. We think Dave is smarter because he has brown eyes – plus he tells us he’s smarter. He always says, “If I don’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.”
Danny’s dad is old and crotchety. His younger mum, who me dad calls a tart, shows lots of cleavage. She always stops, in full view of us boys, and lifts her skirt above her knees; looks back and straightens the line on her stocking. Friday and Saturday nights his crippled old man stands out front and yells up the street, “Piss off ya trollop” as she heads for the pub.
Danny’s a loner and a misfit. Even though we think him a bit of a wanker, all us boys feel sorry for him, so we let him tag along.
Due to the shortage of teachers after the Second World War, students are herded through school with little concern for education. Unbeknownst, to me, it is impossible to fail the Eleven Plus exam. Kids who spell their names correctly, know the date, and answer most of the questions go on to the better schools to prepare for university. The rest of us are sent to Markhouse Road Secondary Modern School, just a five minute walk from me house, and a meager four year preparation for the rest of me life. For some unknown reason, me attitude during me first year at this mediocre medieval school is that of an onlooker watching a mere rehearsal. During the first year’s final exam it hits me. Wills, you missed the main performance. Mother, I swear I’ll study hard next term.
Me and me mates think Cockney is real cool. So I live in two worlds. With my parents I speak proper English, and with me mates Cockney. Some people think, or as Cockneys say it ‘fink, the Cockney dialect is low class. For us, it’s a badge of honor to drop our H’s and “ ‘ope people fink we’re Cockney.”
We are also proud of our tough walk, not that I would let my mum see it; she calls it a cocky Cockney swagger. She say’s Cockneys are ruffians and low life who will never amount to anything. So as not to upset her, I keep me Cockney gear at me mate, Dave’s house. Wearing Cockney gear is like giving the finger to English class consciousness. On Fridays, as soon as school lets out, I rush home, kiss me mum, and tell her I am going to Dave’s “House” to study. In front of her, I always emphasize H words. But then discard all my H’s on the way up our street. Dave’s mom, who is a real Cockney, opens the front door. “ ’ello Alan, Dave’s in ‘is room waiting fa’ ya, listening to ‘is bloody awful music.” Her Cockney lilt is music to me ears. His dad calls from the living room,
” ‘ello Alan, you two lay-abouts going up ‘ igh Street to ogle birds (girls)?”
“More than likely Mr. Kent, bird watching is me and Dave’s favorite pastime.”
As I climb the stairs I think, Dave is lucky ‘aving young Cockney parents. Wills, I think, you was a mistake!
Me parents are older, and don’t have a clue about teenagers. I smile hearing Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock through the door. Bursting through the door, I kick off me leather school shoes, tear off me navy school blazer with the school crest on the pocket, and remove the noose they call the old school tie. With relief I kick off me gray short trousers, which label me a child. In me Cockney “gear,” blue twill work trousers and the black pullover, I feel older. Lying on his bed, already dressed the same, Dave watches me as I strut around him like a bantam cock.
“Ya such a wanker.” He says, as he jumps up, and opens the door. “Time to ‘ang out on street corners, and check out the birds.” He says, running down the stairs, and out the front door.
Outside of school, and church, our whole world revolves around the High Street. There are hundreds of stores, on both sides, all the way up the mile-and-a-half-long street. On market days the road is closed to traffic and becomes cram-packed with stands, known as bargain stalls. These are loaded with everything from clothes to china, to gold fish and cute puppy dogs. Push carts known as barrows are laden with fruit, flowers, or cockles, mussels, and fish. The barrow boys or costermongers, as some people call them, are all real Cockneys, and we hang on their every word. For us boys, the walk up and down High Street is sheer heaven, or as we say ‘eaven. We find it almost impossible to pass a store window without stopping to comb our hair in the reflection. We always stop at Lou Rose, the one tailor shop that has a pair of America blue jeans in their window. Dave says, “they’ll never ever sell ‘um ‘cos they cost more than a bleeding suit. These ‘ere jeans came all the way from America. They’re the same as them worn by movie stars, the likes of James Dean, and rock and roll groups. You’ve all seen the pictures on me bedroom wall.” Every Friday all four of us made a bee line for Lou Rose, just to look at the jeans in envy.
A few months ago we all followed Dave up High Street to Joe’s half price stall, where he shows us blue work trousers, which when he rolled up the bottoms looked like jeans. “Now, as we’re all mates.” Dave said, “I need ya to cough up ya money so I can get the first pair. Then every week each of ya can filch money from ya mum’s handbag and by months end all you wankers will ‘ave Cockney gear.” We all empty our pockets into Dave’s hands, and he buys the blue work trousers. Then he disappears into the public toilet, which we call the bog, and comes out wearing them with a tight black wool pullover. “So what do ya ‘fink, gang?”
“Dave, where did ya get the new black wooly.” I ask.
“Sort of slipped into the bag with the jeans didn’t it? When I pointed out the bird with the big tits across High Street, Joe turned around to look.”
“Dave, you’re our ‘ero, a true wanker.” Danny says.
By months end we all had our Cockney outfits. For me the wooly itches like crazy. “Don’t be a bloody sissy!” Dave says, “It’s “in”, and remember, we’re tough Cockneys.”
In actuality, our town is a good sixty minute bus ride to Cheapside, and the famous Bow Church, where to be a real Cockney you have to be born within the sound of its bells.
Me mum enrolls me at Smiths Dance Academy to learn to ballroom dance. Me partner is a very tall, older woman of about thirty, who has rotten teeth and bad breath. I get the basic step but have trouble with the turns, so she lifts me up at every corner and puts me down, and we dance on. I live in fear that me mates will find out I am taking ballroom dancing lessons.
Dave tells us that Rock and Roll will change the world, and us 50’s kids will do things our parents’ generation never even thought of doing.
“Can you picture,” he asks “ ya dad sticking ‘is tongue half way down ya mum’s throat, or shagging ‘er down an ally?”
The thought makes me sick. I think, I know me mum would never let me dad do that.
Dave teaches us boys how to comb our hair in the latest styles with Brylcream hair grease. He has sideburns, and combs his jet-black hair into a DA, (ducks ass) with a “Tony Curtis” rolling over to touch the center of his forehead. Dave is “real cool.”
Dave is the only boy in his second year class who wears long trousers. This was prompted by a note sent home to his mother from the girls’ gym teacher, Miss Babcock. It informed Mrs. Kent that Dave’s manhood had outgrown the length of his short trousers, and that it was causing a major distraction to the girls in her gym class.
Miss Babcock is a beautiful young woman in her mid-twenties who always wears shorts. All us boys gave her ten on a ten-scale. Eddy is crazy for her, and gave her a twenty. Eddy and Danny are like chalk and cheese. Eddy’s dad, who was a officer in the army, marches him to the barbershop for a short-back-and-sides every couple of weeks. He has almost white blonde hair, what there is of it, and there is never a hair out of place. He has to call his dad sir, and we are sure he would be court marshaled if he ever answered him back. Eddy has three brothers and two sisters, all much older than him. Even though he sits at the back of the class with me and Danny, we ain’t real close mates. His dad won’t let him out to play much, and he’s always doing chores or reading. I’m still confused, me cousin Paul says Eddy ain’t me cousin, but he’s Paul’s cousin? It must be true as Eddy never tells me no personal stuff, like cousins do.
Today our science master was taken ill, so Miss Babcock comes into our class and says she’s our substitute teacher. Fortunately, this voluptuous gym teacher knows nothing about science, and agrees to read us a story. Me, Eddy, and Danny, are sitting in the back of the room and are going nuts over her short shorts, and bulging white cotton shirt. Frantically I wave me hand in the air, ” ‘cuse me, Miss. Me and me mates can’t ‘ear ya from way back ‘ere. Can we come up front and sit on the floor?”
She agrees and we position ourselves in front of her with our eyes bulging. The direct view up the leg of her shorts, into the dark unknown, more than compensates for her poor reading abilities. At the bell, we rush to find Dave and tell him what we had seen… or, should I say what we hope he’ll believe we’ve seen. In actuality, by squinting hard I almost saw her underwear. Well, at least I thought I almost did. The memory of Miss Babcock is great every day for three or four wanks!
End of Chapter 2
By Alan Wills
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