There was a time, a time of childhood innocence, a time when we had just come up in the world, when my father had finally saved up the £250 deposit he needed to purchase the bungalow in this here suburb in which I still live and the Leeds & Holbeck Building Society had deemed to loan him the remaining £2150 to buy the bungalow, a sum of money which some people would carry around in their back pockets these days but which in 1964 seemed like all the money in the world.
We moved to this here suburb on the verge of countryside, indeed walk to the end of the street and turn right and there was the “countryside” in all its glory and the worlds biggest adventure playground for us kids, we moved here in November of 1964, a night of thick fog when driving up to the top of the highest hill in Leeds to reach the new bungalow proved to be almost impossible and our dad was about to turn the car around to try again on the ‘morrow when suddenly we came upon a bus that was going in the same direction and so we followed its tail lights, stopping at every stop and waiting for it to set off again for fear that if we overtook it we’d lose the road and be driving across fields in no time at all.
The bus guided us over the top of the hill and hence onto the very last and the very newest street in Leeds, why the concrete on the road surface was barely set properly as we drove ever so slowly up the street, our mother shining a torch out of the car window and peering through the pea-souper to try and read the house numbers until we found “our” bungalow, the one in which I would be raised for the rest of my childhood and teenage years, the bungalow with the whole of the front wall being glass, a daring design for a daring age, for this was the 1960s and glass fronted houses were going to be the next big thing until my mother held her head in her hands and berated my father for not thinking this through properly for where on earth was she ever going to but enough curtain material to hide our modesty ?
We had a new school to attend of course, me and our Ned and within a few days new friends who lived just up the road in a bigger house than ours and it was around this time that I slowly came to realise that even the exorbitant sum of £2400 didn’t buy you much of a status in this here new suburb for what £2400 of the Leeds & Holbeck Building Society had bought us in this here new suburb was one of the smallest properties in this new suburb and it suddenly seemed like everyone at our new school lived in a bigger, better house than us, why most of the kids had their own bedrooms, one each, instead of having to share with their brother like I did.
In fact me and our Ned had to share everything, oh of course our mother would buy us separate stuff but once it came out of the packaging or once our separate clothing went in the wash for the first time it breached the unwritten rule that it was “shared stuff” now, being less than two years between us and of roughly the same size as kids I never owned so much as a pair of underpants of my own until I left home at 19 years of age, and then I had to go out and buy a whole new set of underpants for myself as he claimed that all the ones in the bungalow had been his all along.
We shared our toys too, indeed because his birthday was (and still is) one month before mine I used to make him ask for all the stuff that I wanted, then I’d get to play with his presents for a month before declaring them rubbish and choosing my own birthday presents in September, and the tradition continues to this day for we have shared the same birthday card for years now, I hand it to him in August every year with the same £10 note inside and then he gives it back to me in September and I put it in the wardrobe for another year.
The Ackroyds were two brothers of the same age as Ned and I who lived up the road in the bigger house, their jeans didn’t have holes in the knees like ours did, their garden was much bigger than ours and they had a bedroom each but more exciting than that they told us that they built igloos on the grass verge in front of their big house every winter, for every winter in this suburb high on the hill above the city they had snow when the rest of the city didn’t, enough snow indeed to build igloos with.
And of course we didn’t believe them until a few weeks after we had moved in and indeed it did snow and it continued to snow until The Ackroyds declared one day that there was now enough snow to build an igloo on the grass verge in front of their big house, and so I went around to help them one night after school.
It has to be said here that both of the Ackroyd brothers were slightly mad, if you wanted to dare anyone to do anything stupid then you’d dare one of the Ackroyd brothers to do it, it was Stuart Acjroyd the eldest who would break his collar bone every week during our school summer holidays by falling out of the tree that we’d just dared him to climb even though it was patently obvious that such a tree would never bear a boys weight like that, and it was either of the Ackroyd brothers who regularly came home soaked to the skin after falling into various ponds or streams as a result of dares or their continuous belief that they could build a dam across any flowing water course – they couldn’t, but they could definitely fall into any flowing water course and usually did.
And so in the dark on the grass verge outside their house we rolled a huge ball of snow and with the aid of shovels and wheelbarrows made the mound bigger and bigger until all of the gardens in the neighbourhood had no snow on their front lawns but we had a huge mountain of the stuff on the Ackroyds grass verge. Then the slightly mad Ackroyd brothers declared that we now had to hollow out the inside of the mountain to complete our igloo, and then they would sleep in it that night, outside on the street, in their igloo, they were after all, slightly mad.
I stood and watched for half an hour as each of the slightly mad Ackroyd brothers crawled on their backs into a small doorway that they’d carved out of the mountain of snow and with a small coal shovel chipped away at the inside of the huge pile until eventually one of them declared that they thought we were nearly done and that it was so warm and cosy inside the igloo that it would surely be a good place to use as their bedroom that night – I had my doubts as you couldn’t lay inside it without your legs sticking through the door and the whole thing looked a tad chilled to me, anyway it was time for me to go home now.
Just as I was making my excuses to leave the Ackroyd brother who was laying on his back inside the igloo called for the shovel to be passed through to him again as he was of a mind to break through one of the walls and make a window, what with it being so incredibly warm and cosy inside the igloo he thought it would need some ventilation through the night so as not to be so stifling, and I had not gone two steps home before a noise that sounded remarkably like a hollow “whump”” came from the vicinity of our newly constructed eskimo dwelling and the mountain of snow that had been several feet high suddenly shrunk to half of its original size, thus burying one of the slightly mad Ackroyd brothers inside, his kicking legs still sticking out of what had been the door testimony to the fact that he was now buried under half a ton of snow – and probably suffocating too.
This was my signal to leg it home while the other slightly mad Ackroyd brother ran inside the house to fetch his dad who, not for the first time in his life as a dad to two slightly mad brothers, had to save the life of at least one of them, life was never dull hanging out with the Ackroyd brothers and a trip to A&E was almost always on the agenda whenever one of them uttered the phrase “Hey, I’ve got a great idea…”