A bit about me part 3

In hospital we were allowed monthly visits however the distances involved and the fact my parents didn’t own a car meant that they were unable to visit me as often as they wished so I lost touch with all my school friends and even my brother and sister. I cannot be certain but I believe I had 3 visits in the 18 months I was in hospital. My parents borrowed a car from my grandfather to make the visits. I was so shy when I left hospital that it took me weeks before I would even speak to my sister.     

Another thing that happened when I came out of hospital was that I developed a phobia for thunderstorms. I can’t be sure whether I would have been affected as badly as I did if I hadn’t have gone into hospital. However at the first clap of thunder I would seek the perceived safety of the cupboard under the stairs and stay there until the storm had passed by. Whilst I don’t get in the cupboard under our stairs now I still get scared. Our cupboard is full anyway.      

I was lucky in that the parents of a boy in the next bed lived a lot closer to the hospital and also had a car. They almost ‘adopted’ me and on visits would bring me presents as well as those for their son. Those people helped me a lot during the long absences from my own parents and it’s an eternal shame to me that I cannot recall their names or that of their son. I would have liked to thank them.     

After 18 months I was well enough to return home and go back to school. I have my school report for the period ending December 1956, which states ‘John has settled down quite well considering his long absence’ so it looks like the month must have been around October or November.

On the first day I was back word was going around the school that John Reardon was back. At the time I didn’t understand what the fuss was about but I found out later that my best friend had stolen my girlfriend in my absence and the other children were expecting a fight. Of course girl friends at the age of 9 or 10 are perhaps not as important as ones you get in later years so my friendship didn’t really suffer.

A few years ago I made contact with my best friend having found him through Friends Reunited. His profile states he married his childhood sweetheart in 1966 however the name he gives for his wife was not that of my old girlfriend so I guess he moved onto someone else.     

Shortly after I returned to the school I encountered bullying. One day when school had finished. I came out of school to walk back to Elgar Avenue. There used to be a gate somewhere around Parry Drive or Henry Wood Close however having looked at Google maps it no longer appears to be there.

As I came out of the gate, 6-8 boys were waiting there, demanding that younger boys give them their pocket money. I said to them that they shouldn’t do this and immediately a couple of the bigger boys started hitting me. The others all chipped in and within a few minutes I was lying on the ground with a pile of boys on top of me. I managed to hit one or two of them before a mother came along and stopped the fight saving me from a bad beating. She reported the fight to one of the teachers who no doubt told the headmistress.

The boys never came near me again because I had stuck up to them however the bullying of younger children continued after a short break, once the teachers had stopped policing the gate. Bullying in schools has gone on for decades and I suppose will always carry on happening. I often read articles by School Psychologists and others who give themselves fanciful names claiming to be experts on the subject. The one thing they all seem to do is disagree on the cause of bullying. I do not proclaim to have the answer; all I feel is that bullies are usually cowards; you stick up to them and they move on.

The move to Alway introduced me for the first time to the gang culture that often exists between children living in different areas. The Alway boys often had fights with those living in the new Ringland Estate. Various weapons including air guns and bows and arrows were used however we never carried knives.      

There were lots of weapons around after the war most of which were brought back as souvenirs by returning soldiers. I had a Smith and Wesson revolver that my father had brought back. The revolver was just about unusable having bullet holes in the barrel and trigger mechanism. I sawed the barrel off at the place where the bullet had penetrated and used the gun when playing Cowboys and Indians with my friends many of which had similar weapons including Lugers and 303 rifles.

I even took the revolver to school one day when class friends didn’t believe that I had it. Eventually the revolver and other similar weapons my friends had were handed in to the police when they instigated an amnesty. It’s a bit frightening to think what we would have done if we had access to ammunition.

I can remember one fight when Ringland Estate was being built. The Ringland gang locked me in a wooden hut used by workmen to store fittings for the flats and houses. They hammered toilet chains across the windows and doors and then set fire to the hut. Luckily someone called the Emergency Services who put the fire out and rescued me. I received a clip around the ear from both a fireman and a policeman even though I was a mostly innocent victim.

I got my own back on the leader of the Ringland gang a couple of weeks later. A group of us from Alway came across him on his own waiting for someone on Ringland Circle near where the Church was. I’m ashamed to admit that at least 4 of us laid into him until he started crying. We then ran away; back up Dents Hill to the relative safety of where we lived.      

The next day his father, who was known as a bit of a hard man himself, came round our estate with his son looking for the 4 little thugs who had beaten his son up. Luckily he never found us, and our fights with the Ringland gang became less frequent.

Another time I was playing Cowboys and Indians with my friends and one of them shot an arrow at me. It hit me just above my left eye and stuck in the flabby bit of flesh around your eyebrows. Blood spurted out and my friend’s mother fainted when she saw me thinking the arrow had hit me in the eye. As I pulled the arrow out the blood stopped and I started laughing at a washing line that I noticed in the garden of the next house. Their neighbour had a large family of 9 or 10 children and they had hung all the washing neatly by size order. Looking back I suppose I was extremely lucky not to lose an eye however the sight of that washing line stopped me crying.

At some stage I received an air pistol for either a birthday or Christmas present. Most of my friends either had air pistols or air rifles that they often used in our games not realising the damage they could cause. I found out what they can do when playing in the wood on the left side of Dents Hill. By the way I am sure we used to call it Dents Hill wood; however it appears to be called Ladyhill Wood these days.

I was searching for my friends with my loaded pistol in my hands when I heard a rustling in a bush. I turned and fired the pistol and to my utter horror hit and killed a bird that had just flown out of a nest. It was the first and only time I have ever killed another living being; at least something bigger than insects. I didn’t mean to kill the bird and it made me think of the harm that weapons even air pistols could inflict.

We also played games such as ‘knock-knock ginger’ where we would knock on someone’s front door and then run away before the door was opened. I am not sure whether those who had their doors knocked thought it was a game as many would chase after us and if they caught us we would receive a clip around the ear. As we got older we used to play a variation on this game but instead of knocking the door we would throw ‘bangers’ at the door or window hoping they would explode at the exact time they would hit.

Most of the time they would go out when thrown but occasionally they would explode with a big bang that echoed in those houses that had open porches on their front doors. One time a ‘banger’ thrown by a friend did hit a window, which spectacularly shattered. It must have frightened the poor people in the house; it certainly frightened us as we ran for our lives fearing we would get caught. We or at least I never did this again.     

We would use fireworks for a couple of months before bonfire night and sometimes we would put fireworks, mainly bangers, under tin cans and then light them to see how far the can would shoot into the air. I stopped doing this when my cousin received severe burns to his hand. He had placed a Roman candle under a can and it didn’t appear to go off. When he lifted the can off he grabbed hold of the firework and it went off. The sudden rush of oxygen must have reignited the touch paper.

He then spent quite a few hours in the emergency department of the Royal Gwent hospital. Though it seemed severe and was very painful he was left with only mild scar tissue. A couple of weeks after he was burnt he was back playing with fireworks.

The actual Bonfire night, which back then was always on the 5th November regardless of which day of the week was another time we would all really enjoy. There was no or minimum concern about health and safety and some of the things we got up to would definitely be banned today. Whilst we did have large communal bonfires adults rarely controlled them. Children would collect old furniture and even chop down trees to build bonfires on local fields. This would be done over a period of many weeks so the bonfire would be huge by the time the 5th of November came. We would get hold of petrol and throw it over the wood on the night so it would easily burn when lit. We had no safety ropes around the bonfire so many of us suffered minor burns or our hair was singed.

In the weeks leading up to bonfire night we would make ‘guys’ out of straw and old clothes put them in old prams and wait outside bus stops asking people to spare ‘a penny for the guy’. One year we couldn’t be bothered to make a guy so my brother dressed up and put a mask on. As he was quite small he easily managed to fit into the pram. I think we got quite a bit of money over those weeks. I also received a few compliments for my guy being very realistic; I am sure some of the people realised it was a small child.

One particular bonfire night a couple of girls’ grabbed hold of my arms and a third girl tried to pull my trousers down. I struggled and kicked out at the third girl hitting her in her breasts knocking her down and severely winding her. I didn’t mean to do it and should you be reading this then I am extremely sorry.

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