Crushing crisps and breaking pop bottles…

And so we lived a life of cosseted middle class surburban kids, who, purely by coincidence, had a best mate who’s parents owned a sweet shop, he would have been a best mate regardless of whether or not his parents owned a sweet shop honest, would have been our best mate, definitely, even if his mother hadn’t stuffed free sweets in our pockets every time we called in the shop to see if he was playing out, we called for him three or four times a day, because he was our best friend thats why, and nothing at all to do with the free sweets, nothing.

His dads shop also stocked Airfix models and Corgi cars and he got to know what the next big christmas toy was going to be by about, ooooh, September at least, and he’d ask our mothers if we wanted to pre-order the next big thing for christmas and our mothers would and when the next big thing for christmas came into stock then Mick (our best mate who’s parents coincidently owned a sweet shop) would tip us off and we’d sneak down in to the shop basement when his dad wasn’t looking and get the next big things for christmas out of their boxes and play with them – hundreds of kids in our district would wake on christmas morning and excitedly unwrap their next big thing christmas presents to find that someone else had already been in the box and had sometimes broken it.

If that was you, sorry.

Bonfire night was another wonderful time to know a kid who’s parents owned a sweet shop for in the months before bonfire night Mick’s dad would start stocking up on fireworks to sell to young kids – this was the 1960s and young kids could easily purchase high explosives for bonfire night as long as they promised they were 14 years old (yeah, right) and that they wouldn’t let them off before bonfire night (yeah, ri-iiight). The basement store room of the shop would be designated a firework sales room and small groups of kids would troop down the narrow and steep stairs to ogle at the huge range of high explosives under a glass case and then when they’d all gone home we would sneak down into the basement when Micks dad wasn’t looking and we’d fill our pockets.

With high explosives.

And then we’d set them off on the streets outside, and his dad never thought that they might be his fireworks.

Micks dad was ace, every Saturday night through the summer he loaded up ten or so of us kids into his huge Cortina Estate car and drove the 15 miles to Halifax where, at The Shay, we stood all night long getting covered in grit and shale at the Speedway – I never realised just how much I loved going to Halifax Speedway until just last month when on holiday in the North East, sitting watching a cricket match with Andy, when an old gadger, the sort of old gadger who you look at and think he looks like a bit of an escaped lunatic, he came up to me and asked where we were from and when I told him Leeds he started telling me all about when he used to go to the Halifax Speedway and I found that I knew all of the people he was talking about and I started talking just as enthusiastically about the Speedway as he was while Andy looked on and thought I’d lost my marbles and turned loony like the old gadger and when we’d exhausted our tales of daring do at the Speedway we just sat there and said, “Aye…..” just like that, just “Aye……” and then a long space, like two old gadgers.

But the funniest thing that ever happened in Micks dads sweet shop wasn’t at all funny to Micks dad, but we thought it was hilarious, every time it happened.

You see just down the road from the shop was the loony-bin, ok, so maybe as kids in the 1960s we weren’t too politically correct, and it wasn’t a real loony-bin, where lunatics were housed, but a council run home for people who were severely mentally handicapped, or at least severely mentally handicapped enough for their families not to want them anymore and send them away to “the Funny farm” to be locked up at night for their own good, and made to work on the actual farm, a pig farm, during the day.

And every Sunday the better of the severely mentally handicapped people would be let out of the gate with some pocket money and they’d head straight for the sweet shop, Micks dads sweet shop, and we’d sit behind the counter at 3pm every sunday and we’d wait for them to arrive.

They were old people these severely mentally handicapped people, from a generation when it was ok to just send your severely mentally handicapped kids to a council run home and then forget about them and leave them there for the rest of their lives, to work with pigs, and so every Sunday we’d have a procession of old people dressed in badly fitting charity clothes and with mental ages that hardly ever went beyond six years of age come into the sweet shop with maybe two shillings to spend, their wage for working 100 hours that week in the pig sty’s.

And it always happened, every Sunday.

One of them would pitch a fit, right there in the shop.

And while they fitted on the shop floor, limbs a-clenching and thrashing around and Micks dad rushed to the phone to ring for the nurses at The Funny Farm to come and collect them, Mick and I would stand behind the counter stifling our laughter and placing bets as to how many of the carefully arranged displays of crisps and pop and greetings cards this particular fitting pig-man would kick over, some of them almost wrecked the whole shop before the nurses arrived.

Ah happy days.

Cruel, true, but happy days, the days when kids could place bets on fitting people to see how many pop bottles they’d kick over and not feel as though they shouldn’t be.

Rotten bastards weren’t we ?

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