Goldfish in a Bag and the Old Farm

by | Dec 27, 2020 | Life | 0 comments

“Goldfish please sir.” He handed me a triangular shaped plastic bag.

I lived on a council estate in Fawdon with me Mam me Dad me two brothers and me Auntie Joan who came to live with us when me Nana died.

We had exchanged our house to be near Nana then she went and died. You could do that in those days, like swap houses. I used to think it was really strange like swapping one of your favourite Dinky toys. I imagined me Dad knocking on somebody’s door and saying, “Do you want to swap houses?” and them saying.

“Where do you live?”

“Oh such and such,” me Dad would say.

“Aye go on then,,” they would say.

Then you’d get the removal men and put your stuff in the strange wooden boxes with foil inside and tea leaves in the bottom. That would go to their house and they put their stuff in your house. Smple as.

Me Auntie Joan was one of nine which included me Mam. She was the only one that didn’t get married apparently she had lots wrong with her that we didn’t know about. Nobody talked about it (just like when Nana died and we weren’t  allowed to watch telly when there were coffins on).

It was funny because they said, when she was young, she was so poorly that the doctor said.

“Take all of her teeth out!” She was the youngest person I had ever seen with all false teeth. Apparently they did that in those days. When Nana died, the day after me birthday, Auntie Joan came to stay and me big brother John had to move out of his room and in with me and me little brother Tony.

John had the little bedroom in the house above the front door which was now occupied by Auntie Joan or AJ, to give her the nickname, with all the stuff she used to buy from C&A’s and British Home Stores, but never wore. She didn’t work, but she always got  a book with  tickets in every week which later turned into a brightly-coloured cheque, which she swapped for money at the Post Office. It was called a Giro.

Me parents were very poor so we didn’t have any treats. One day I sneaked into AJ’s bedroom when they had gone to town. I found a purse which was full of big blue five-pound notes. There must have been a hundred there man! So I peeled one off and put the elastic band back around. When I met up with me mates, as usual at the top of the green, I showed them the fiver, they couldn’t believe it. In fact Titch said he had never seen one before, just the green pound notes.!

We went to Newcastle and upstairs in the lift in Fenwick’s. The floor walker was a bastard and followed us around thinking we were going to nick stuff. Then I flashed me fiver and he was a different bloke! I bought two Action Men with three different outfits and a Subuteo goalkeeper even though I didn’t own a Subuteo set. We came home and played with the action man on the green and I give me friends each something.

Titch went home with the Subbuteo goalkeeper and Rise went home with a fully kitted out German Stormtrooper Action Man. The next day Mam called me in and said that Titch’s Mam said

“Where did you get that Subbuteo goalkeeper?” He’d split on me man! I had to tell Mam I took the fiver out of Auntie Joan’s purse. She wasn’t really cross, she looked more shocked. I didn’t understand at the time but I do now. Mam and Dad hardly ever hit us but Mam slapped our legs of couple of times. She always said afterwards, “If your dad hits you, you’ll know about it” and that was a big enough deterrent for us. 

I remember a day she got really angry was when a rag-and-bone man came into the street with his horse and cart. He used to give you balloons or, if you had a load of gear, a goldfish in a plastic bag.

One day I heard his familiar sound, (there were three different rag-and-bone men and they had different shouts, just like the gadgies who sold the ‘Chronicle in town), this one shouted “Yahoon”.  I knew he was the best one because he had the goldfish. I rushed around the house trying to find something and at the last minute, I went into Mam’s drawer and pulled out a red jumper that she never wore. I rushed outside and gave it to the Raggy. He seemed very pleased and he said “balloons or goldfish”.

Normally he just gave me balloons for some old socks or underpants that nobody would wear. I said .

“Goldfish please sir.” He handed me a triangular shaped plastic bag. In about four square inches of water, this a small creature with bulbous eyes and shiny golden scales swam in tiny circles. I was rumbled when I took it in the house.

I took a jar of jam out of the pantry, which was half empty, and scraped it all into the bin. I was washing the jar when me Mam came in and saw the plastic bag and the empty jar. Oh my God she was furious! I didn’t know what was worse a goldfish or scraping a half of jar of jam in the bin which would have lasted about a month, when thinly spread on toast.

It was the only time she whacked me on the the side of the head and me ears rang like Santa’s sleigh at Christmas!

Eventually, when I could speak, I told her about the jumper and she ran outside chasing the rag-and-bone man waving my poor goldfish in front of her. She got her jumper back and that goldfish had the ride of its life!


I remember the day Titch had his accident. We never got grounded, we were just sent out to play and told not to come back until it was dark. One of our favourite places was the old farm which was actually a big old house. It was empty and stood in in large grounds with a wall on three sides and fence on the other.

The fence had a small hole just big enough to squeeze four young boys through one at a time. It was like being in another world, the trees were not like those that were dotted round our  estate on the outskirts of the city. They had bright coloured leaves and and their bark was a different texture. There were lots of rhododendrons which had amazing flowers in the summer and leaves that were big and shiny.

We never went into the house because the caretaker who lived in the loodge at the gate was evil. If he caught you he’d give you a good cuffing around the ear.

Anyway, this day we broke into the house through the wooden board over the back door panel. Squeezing through, we walked into a time capsule. The place was just like that Upstairs Downstairs program on the telly with bells hanging at the wall with numbers on them.  All of the walls were wood panels and the floors were the same as the floor in our school hall. We had a great time playing hide and seek and Japs and English, Titch was always a Jap because he was small and they were always small on the telly or in the cinema on a Saturday morning.

They always used to hide in the trees and shoot the English  when they weren’t looking. I thought that wasn’t a fair way to have a war. During our game, Titch went into one of the bedrooms upstairs. I followed him not far behind, lifting my rifle and had him in in my sights. I was just about to pull the trigger when he disappeared in a crash of wooden floor boards and plaster dust,

As I lowered my imaginary gun, I looked down and saw a hole in the floor where Titch had been standing. I walked over to the hole and saw me friend  lying on the wooden floor below. The main thing that struck me was at his leg was pointing at a strange angle. I shouted to others and we ran downstairs. He was lying screaming. The three of us stood around Titch debating what to do. The screams were getting louder and that leg didn’t look like it was actually joined to his body.

My biggest worry was the caretaker if he came we would be in deep trouble. In the end, we decided to pick him up. His brother Steven put his hand over his mouth to stop the screaming and he bit his finger.

He dropped his brother and his screams doubled, we had to get out of there! Eventually we managed to squeeze him through hole in the door but it was weird trying to put that leg through that was flopping around. I got the job of carrying that end of him and I’ll never forget the feeling.

We managed to get him through the hole in the fence and across the verge onto the side of the fairly busy road., beside the Mormon Church. We decided to lie him in the middle of the road and flag down the next car that passed.

A few minutes later, one came around the corner the driver stopped. We explained to him that the car in front had run my friend over as he was crossing the road but just drove off. The guy got out the car and tutted.

“What an absolute disgrace,” he said, “I’ll go and phone for an ambulance.”

He got back in his car and drove off. He must have phoned because ten minutes later, the ambulance came around the corner. A couple of days later, we visited him in the General Hospital and took him waste chocolate me Mam used to get from Rowntree’s factory,.

You didn’t know what was inside until you bit into it. If you were lucky it was Turkish Delight, if you were unlucky it was Coffee Cream and spat it out onto your hand.

Tich said that the police came to interview him about the Hit and Run, he said he couldn’t remember anything.

Then the cop says

“How come you’re covered in plaster dust?” Titch said he just shrugged his shoulders and and the copper stared at him suspiciously. He was in plaster for six weeks and we all got to sign it’s it and draw pictures of rude parts on it. Steven drew a lady’s part, which we had to take his word for, as none of us had seen one. Titch’s mum went crazy when she saw it. I suppose she would know! I loved those days when you’re out in the morning and didn’t come back until dark. We didn’t have computer games and our telly was a little black and white one which sometimes went all fuzzy. We ate turnips from the field and apples from Mr Cooper’s tree, but I never ate turnip on my dinner and me Mam couldn’t afford to buy apples so I suppose that was a good thing.


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