In 1964 we moved to a new suburb right on the very edge of the city, walk to the end of our newly concreted street and you were in farmers fields – probably explains why our dog ran away so often.
Our dad spent and borrowed every last penny that he had to buy a small two bedroom bungalow in a street of small two bedroom bungalows, wide street, grass verges, pleasant front gardens, big picture windows in the front of the bungalows, in fact it was the huge picture window that attracted my parents to the bungalow, it was the whole street-facing wall of glass that did it.
£2400 he paid for it, and no, I haven’t missed any numbers off that price, two thousand four hundred pounds was all he could save, borrow or steal, to emphasise the point the bungalow that he really wanted to buy was three streets away but it cost £2500 and he couldn’t afford that one.
Within two days of moving in we noticed that we had a strange neighbour, Mr Hall over the road.
We didn’t know it at the time but Mr Hall over the road was a retired civil servant, early retirement due to ill health, early retirement due to a nervous breakdown, all those pencils to sharpen and all that, took its toll on Mr Hall over the road it did, he lived out the rest of his life in a state of constant confusion, Ned and me, we just called him mad.
Mr Hall over the road had a fascination with our bungalow and I’m not surprised to be honest for his bungalow over the road was of pretty boring decor, brown paint on the walls, old wartime furniture, brown curtains, remember these bungalows had one whole street-facing wall dedicated to glass, we could see right in our neighbours bungalows, and they could see right in ours too.
So our mum set about making sure that our bungalow was worth looking into, a gold draylon settee we had, with lace throws over the back so your dads brylcream didn’t spoil the draylon, we had a teak effect TV set and she stood a Siamese cat lamp on top of it, right in the window it was, her pride and joy that Siamese cat lamp was, I was with our dad when he bartered in an auction for it at the back of Leeds market, eighteen shillings he paid for it knocked down from five quid, I was ever so proud of our dad that day.
We had a cocktail cabinet at the back of the room, facing the wall of glass so that everyone outside could see that we had a cocktail cabinet, “Oooh look,” the women out on the street would coo to each other, “she’s got a cocktail cabinet, look” and she had a glass fronted china cabinet also in view of the wall of glass, “Oooh look”, they’d exclaim from outside, “a glass fronted china cabinet too”.
All of this was topped off with a nice pair of fibreglass curtains of a floral woodland design, not sure that they were actual fibreglass but they had the consistency of thin fibreglass, some man-made fibre that probably never really took off except in home fires where they probably took off like a bucket of paraffin. Most of the women in the street of glass walled bungalows covered up their street-facing wall of glass with thick brown net curtains, cursing the day when their husband bought this glass fronted modern temple to the art of the glass maker, but our mother wanted the world to look into her domain for she was proud of her gold dralon settee, cocktail cabinet and Siamese cat with a light bulb stuck on top of its head.
Which was good for Mr Hall over the road for all that Mr Hall over the road wanted to do all day long was to stand at his wall of glass and stare over the road into our domain, probably admiring our fibreglass woodland themed curtains or similar.
When after two days our dad noticed Mr Hall over the road stood at his window staring directly over the road into ours he put down his newspaper and stared right back at him, for five or more minutes.
“The nosy buggers staring straight back at me” he finally declared, and stood up from his chair and walked to our window to stand there in a passable imitation of Mr Hall over the road, hands thrust into trouser pockets, leaning forward slightly, staring straight over the road, straight back at Mr Hall over the road.
Of course only one of these two men wasn’t mad and it was our dad and so after another five minutes of staring competition he got slightly uncomfortable at the whole affair and so with a wave of his hand in a dismissive gesture he shouted for Mr Hall over the road to “bugger off you nosy bugger” and returned to his seat.
Mr Hall over the road simply waved back, but not in a dismissive gesture, more of a “Hello”.
And he stood there and stared for the rest of the afternoon, Ned and I got quite adept at waving at Mr Hall over the road and shouting “bugger off” at frequent intervals to the great amusement of our dad and mortal embarrassment of our mother, “Frank, tell them not to use language like that” she’d say, hand held over mouth in mock horror at the thought of her two small boys treating the new neighbours with such disdain, but our dad did nothing, in fact he laughed a little bit every time.