It was about this time of the year that I decided to join the Merchant Navy. Sid Webb agreed with me that life at sea would be better than life in the back streets of an industrial town on the edge of England's "Black Country."
All we had to do was travel to Liverpool, find a dock with a freighter alongside, offer our services to the captain and we would be on our way to distant horizons.
We were 12 years old, an age when dreams do not include problems. Summer holidays were coming to an end, the prison of the classroom loomed and parental discipline, which had been relaxed in what had once seemed endless summer, would soon be rigidly re-installed. Hands would be scrubbed every morning, fingernails scraped, ears reamed and necks unreasonably washed.
We planned for our hike from the Midlands, first north to Manchester then on to Liverpool. The distance was unknown and irrelevant and we had no maps to discourage us. We did have money - maybe the equivalent of 50 cents each. A whole dollar between us. In 1935, two 12-year-olds believed they could circle the globe on such a fortune.
Our first expenditure was a loaf of bread from Barnett's "baker and confectioner" where daughter Marjorie, a classmate of rare beauty, served us with the imperiousness 12-yearold girls reserve for scruffy-looking boys. Then we jogged up the street to Worthingtons' Grocery for our second purchase - a hunk of cheese to go with the crusty fresh-baked bread - we agreed that when we came back from our first voyage Barnett's Bakery would be re-visited and beautiful Marjorie surely impressed.
With the bread and cheese in an old backpack, we crossed Abbey Green and walked up Midland Road to "the Canal" - a place on our parental ban list lest a) we fall in the canal and drown or b) are kidnapped by a "tow path" family living on the horsedrawn barges. We needed the canal tow path because we had heard adults say it connected somewhere with the Manchester Canal, which connected somewhere else with Liverpool harbour.
Our first goal was much closer - a road bridge across the canal that would lead us to the Red Gate pub, at which we could buy a bottle of Tizer, a softdrink nectar-of-the-gods favourite for teenagers and those aspiring to reach that exalted age group. I knew the Red Gate and Tizer well from Sunday pony and trap trips with my grandfather, Jimmy Startin. I got to mind the pony and trap while grandfather had a pint - or two - inside.
It was an important landmark. It marked the northern boundary of my childhood known world. Other than on annual choirboy day trips to a seaside resort, I had never been beyond Red Gate. Sid Webb had never even been that far.
We lunched on bread and cheese and Tizer. And the first seeds of doubt began to erode our oncesupreme confidence. The tow path behind us now had a well known and friendly look. The unknown tow path ahead had a mysterious, threatening look. From Midland Road to Red Gate we had travelled a familiar trail. From Red Gate on, we were no longer sure about the road ahead - or ourselves.
But ahead we eventually sallied. Not talking as much. Each thinking his own thoughts - which we discovered later were identical. Gone from our homes since early morning and with evening meal time approaching, we knew our mothers would be standing on front doorsteps wondering where we were. And we wondered why our plans hadn't included where we might sleep while on the road.
It was about seven in the evening when we decided to light a fire and try for a toasted cheese supper. In August dry, the twigs blazed merrily. So did a small adjoining bush with explosive flare.
It was a signal to which most 12-year-old boys instinctively respond: at the first sign of trouble, head for home and mother. We did just that. Back along the tow path, running like the wind until we reached our starting point. We went our separate ways without so much as a "goodnight." We both knew trouble awaited. Love and punishment welcomed me home. Sid got the same. A big hug and large smack.
We had a great tale to tell when we got back to school. Our modest hike became a trek through hostile wilderness, our bread and cheese was survivor food, the small and quickly burned-out bush a conflagration. And we always left out the bit about the scared race home through summer evening shadows that loomed darker than they really were.
As shadows always do.
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