You could still see patches of Lone Ranger wallpaper in Jimmy’s bedroom but most of it was hidden by newspaper and magazine cuttings and posters. Prominent, above his bed-head, was a garishly coloured poster of Queen’s Park Rangers. On the back of his door, a dartboard hung from a clothes’ hook. Pinned to it was a pock-marked newspaper photograph of Crystal Palace, Rangers’ League Division Three rivals, with the words, ‘THE ENEMY’ scrawled at the bottom. Beneath the dartboard, a match ticket from the previous year, dated Monday 3rd September 1962, had been sellotaped to the door. The score-line, 4-1, was neatly printed in the top left-hand corner, followed by a row of exclamation marks. Finally, stuck to the bottom panel, was an advert, ripped from a programme, for ‘St Crispin ‘Wings’ Football Boots’ (‘Make a Flying Start with the ever-popular….’). They were Continental style, black and white with moulded studs. ‘Only 26’11 (Sizes 2-5) or 32’11 (Sizes 6-11).’ Only! I stroked the picture, consumed with envy.
I was still playing football in the hob-nailed variety, boots which were all toe-cap and home to mile long laces and ferocious, screw-in studs: the kind of boots which demanded whale-bone shin-pads to complete the pre-War effect. My dad’s were similar, only bigger with higher ankle guards. He dubbinged both pairs on a Saturday afternoon in preparation for our Sunday morning kick-about on the local playing fields. We had a leather ball which was so porous that it soon doubled in weight whenever it came within sniffing distance of even the finest sprinkling of early morning dew. In the end, it was like trying to kick a bag of wet sand. Side-footing was an option, if your medial ligaments were up to it. Mostly, however, we spent our time in refining the art of nog-ending. That is, just as long as the ball didn’t wobble on its pronounced lace when you were about to make contact. I still have a scar above my eyebrow from the time when a shot on an open goal was suddenly transformed into a poorly executed overhead kick. Determined to keep my head over the ball which was bouncing towards me, all I can remember is hearing a soggy thud before a sledge-hammer slammed into my forehead. Prostrate on the ground, I came round to the dying sounds of my dad’s laughter. He was still wiping away the tears when he ran over to pick me up.
I wondered whether Jimmy Armfield, the England captain, owned a pair of St Crispin ‘Wings”’Football Boots. Jimmy Greaves probably owned a whole suitcase full of them. I bet it was like wearing a pair of comfortable slippers….
Apart from the footballing memorabilia, Jimmy had also adorned his bedroom with tributes to his favourite pop artists. On one wall, a magazine poster of ‘Eddie Cochran’ was surrounded by glossy, black and white, promotional postcards of ‘The Shadows’, ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’, ‘Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas’, ‘Del Shannon’, ‘Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders’, ‘Floyd Cramer’ and ‘Jimmy Kidd and the Pirates’. On the inside of the wardrobe door, a poster of ‘Elvis Presley’ was flanked by postcards of ‘Helen Shapiro’ and ‘Petula Clark’.
Although it was poky and the paint was peeling from the metal window frames, there was a bright blue carpet on the floor which transformed the room into a cocoon of comfort and calm. In the corner, a small, box record player was balanced precariously upon a rickety dining room chair. The only other furniture consisted of a petite bedside cabinet and a set of drawers topped with a collection of beer mats, a flaking miniature Eiffel Tower and a Mackeson’s ash tray. I was already rooting through the second underwear drawer when Janice, my sister, charged into the bedroom.
‘What yer doing? That’s private. I’m gonna tell mum.’
‘No, don’t. Look what I’ve found.’
I handed over the brass knuckle-duster.
‘It’s for beating people up. You grip it like this.’
‘Did yer find anything else?’
The flick-knife had a mother-of-pearl handle. It was resting on my outstretched palm.
‘Don’t touch it. It’s dangerous. Let me show yer.’
I gripped the knife and pressed down on the thumb lever. The blade swung out, making my sister squeal as she stumbled backwards. I could see that she was fascinated.
‘Let me have a go.’
‘No, yer might cut yerself.’
‘I’ll tell mum.’
I pushed the blade back in and handed it over.
‘O.K., here, but be careful.’
Holding the knife as far away from her body as possible, my sister closed her eyes and pressed down on the lever. As the blade sprang out, the knife leapt from her hand and clattered against the wardrobe door. She was jumping excitedly on the spot, miming a drum roll with her clenched fists and giggling.
‘Let me do it again.’
‘No, we’ve got to put it back now. It’s time for bed.’
I buried it once more under the mound of balled-up socks where I had found it. I decided against showing my sister the photograph of a naked Marilyn Monroe which I had also discovered in the second drawer. That was men’s business. It was the kind of thing you got a swift glimpse of whenever Ken Frost opened up one of the mirrored cabinets in his barber’s shop. I would wait to have another peek when she wasn’t there.
Half an hour later, I was trying to get myself comfortable on the antiquated camp bed which my auntie had borrowed from next door. Light flooded through the thin, cotton curtains and, in the distance, the roar of the traffic on the A40 was continuous. I could tell my sister was still awake. Her bed was creaking in time to her impatient sighs.
‘Keith. You awake?’
‘You know that knife?’
‘Yeah, what about it?’
‘Has Jimmy killed anybody with it?’
‘What if he has?’
‘He just keeps it for protection.’
‘Are yer sure?’
‘’Course I am… Now try and get some sleep.’
I could hear the clatter of heels on the pavement outside. A woman laughed and then a car door slammed. The engine choked into life and sped away in a series of throaty gear changes.
‘Keith, tell me a story.’
‘Do I have to?’
‘Oh… all right, then.’
It was the same at home. My sister was two years younger than me and a reluctant sleeper. It was virtually the same story each time. It had become a ritual.
‘One day, Chris, Lydia, Keith and Janice decided to have a picnic at Badgers’ Bend. They had to go deep into the wood to get there. Some people said that the wood was haunted and that…..’
Invariably there would be the discovery of a cache of money, the sound of robbers coming back to collect their loot, the escape into the trees, the capture of Chris and the rescue by the police. It was the poor man’s version of the Famous Five or the Secret Seven. Even so, I managed to scare myself each time, as well as my sister, before the boys in blue turned up to make the countryside safe once more for all of the honest, law-abiding folk of Dingly Dell or Honeycomb Green or Little Hopwood. Best of all, the story always ended with an almighty feast, which featured mountains of cakes and sweets, before the final presentation of certificates from a pipe smoking police inspector.
After that first night, the week passed quickly. A trip into London to see the trooping of the colour was sandwiched by visits to my Auntie Barbara and Uncle Maurice who lived in a maisonette in Greenford where they kept a goldfinch in a cage. The only time Jimmy came anywhere near me was when he ruffled my hair one evening in the hallway as he dashed past me on his way to the front door. In his absence, we had to make do with his bedroom. We spent all of our spare time there.
I began to use his brylcreme and found one of his combs to create a quiff. Each night I went to sleep wearing one of his bootlace ties. My sister converted his sock drawer into a bed for her dolls. When he hung about on the playing field with his biker friends, we spied on him from the bedroom window. The Friday morning was the last time we saw him. He was spending the weekend in Brighton. When we played our games that night in the bedroom, we discovered the flick-knife and knuckle-duster had vanished.
To be continued.