I was born in Norbreck, Blackpool at no. 17 Delphene Avenue and spent the first 4 years of my life there. As far as I recall, it was a fairly short road of 1930s semi-detached houses and a Working Men’s Club at one end. Actually it could have been a Crown Green Bowling Club; it doesn’t really matter which, but I do remember going into the bar there once with my brother at the request of a neighbour to fetch her husband, and the dark, warm, cosy atmosphere, thick with tobacco smoke and beer fumes was to my young mind both intoxicating and welcoming. It’s probably no surprise that I was always attracted to pubs when I was older, but that’s something to write about another time.
Delphene Avenue always seemed such a safe environment. Just as well; at that stage in my life it was about the only environment I had. Too young to go to school with my older brothers, I stayed at home with my Mum and joined in with the tea and gossip when “Auntie” Renee popped in from across the road. Renee would wander in without knocking, calling out in her sing song voice “It’s only me from over the sea”, and while she and my Mum talked about heaven knows what, I would play around their ankles with my Dinky cars, pausing occasionally to sip my milky tea (two sugars) and eat one of the two biscuits I invariably had on the go. My Mum always had to give me first one biscuit followed by one ”for my ‘nother hand” as I used to call it.
I can’t remember any other children my age living in Delphene Avenue, but as it never occurred to me I might be missing out, I was happy enough. All of that changed one day when some people up the road had visitors over from Manchester. Among their number was a big girl, bigger than me anyway, maybe four or five years old compared to my youthful three. What her real name was I never found out, but to the day I die she will always be known to me as ‘Stripy’ on account of her knickers, which were white with red and blue stripes. I dare say she flashed them at me and presumably at my Mum as well, for it was Mum who gave her the name. I was three years old, and such wit would remain beyond my reach for some time to come.
It was agreed by those charged with our wellbeing that Stripy and I should play together. Or at least nobody considered that it might be unwise. I can’t really blame my Mum or allege any kind of negligence against her, but frankly I was sent out to play with a thieving, bullying, stripy-knickered-bitch-from-hell. It started off well enough. She appreciated my not inconsiderable ability to crash my tricycle into lamp posts, but more than that it was the tricycle itself which she admired. It was one of those designed for little chubby-kneed chaps like me who wanted something flash but practical for their first set of wheels. It was bright red with the pedals on the front wheel, a hard seat and minimal suspension.
Eager to “play nicely” as I had been instructed, I naturally let Stripy have a go on my tricycle. I couldn’t help but admire the panache with which she zoomed up and down the pavement, cornering expertly and avoiding lamp posts. She was indeed a most proficient tricyclist, but my admiration turned to concern and then to deep anxiety as she eventually continued up the pavement and into the house where she was staying.
I ran home for advice on how to proceed. My Mum, reasoning that Stripy was probably having dinner, sent me along to seize the trike by stealth. I crept up the driveway where it was parked. I had one hand on the handlebar when Stripy spotted me through a window, pointed a menacing finger and cried out “I’ve got my eye on you!” I turned tail and fled.
Back home my Mum was completely unconcerned. Left to deal with it myself, I gathered up an armful of less valuable toys and took them back to the house where Stripy was still eating. As she again watched me through the window, I placed the toys on the ground next to the tricycle and began gingerly to wheel it away. She looked at me, and I looked at her. She nodded her acceptance of the ransom of dinky cars and teddies. At the bottom of the drive I mounted my trusty steed and pedalled furiously to the safety of no 17.
Once more my Mum again showed no interest in my plight. I am not sure whether I actually told her how I had got my wheels back, but she should have known, surely? However, despite often claiming to be a mind reader, it turns out she wasn’t. I had hoped she would march round there and get back the ransom I had paid, but she didn’t. No doubt I was too full of shame for giving in so easily to explain the situation properly to her.
I never saw those toys again, but their loss was nothing compared to the feeling that I’d been the victim of a dark malevolent force. Still, I had at least recovered my pride and joy. I dragged it up to the safety of my bedroom, and it stayed there until the tricycle terrorist’s parents took her home again. The kids of Manchester would have to find their own way of dealing with her.