Dad had a great eye for composition. If I was lining up this photo in the digital age, I'd probably click off a dozen shots and pick the best of the bunch, but he got it in one, in spite of its slightly wonky perspective. There I am (wearing my favourite jacket once again) leaning very mischievously in towards my pal, who appears to approve of whatever innocent skulduggery I have in mind. In the background, two more anonymous kids, very possibly up to a similar amount of no good. We're all sitting in the local park, where I spent a huge amount of my time as a kid, with friends or with my folks - and there's a decent amount of photographic evidence in the family archives to prove it.
I'd disappear from the house with Mum's '...be home in time for tea...' invariably ringing in my ears, walk down the road knocking for one or two chums along the way ('...hello Mrs Smith, can Billy play out?...') before stopping off at Cissy Green's shop for a bag of sweets. I dread to think how or from where she got her stock, but it would always be thrown haphazardly around the shop floor in open cardboard boxes, I don't remember any shelving. This was long before the era of 'best before' or 'use by' dates - crisps from Cissy Green's would frequently be rubbery, sweets teeth-shatteringly rock hard and biscuits would often have an unpleasantly musty, crumbliness about them. Everything was cheap though, cheaper than the many other corner shops in the area, so it was a regular haunt for me, my pals and our meagre resources. Cissy was a formidable lady who'd sit in the corner on a wooden chair, wrapped in a grubby pinny with a cigarette permanently hanging from her lips. A substantial mountain range of ash grew from the floor at her slippered feet and a fug of smoke billowed around her hairnet. There was no counter and there was certainly no customer service at Cissy Green's. I'd rummage around for a while, hold a bag of sweets or crisps up and she'd shout out the price, '...a penny ha'penny love...' Then I'd warily edge over to her to pay. She'd snatch the coins from my hand and drop them straight into her pocket - there was no till in the shop either.
It was a short walk down the narrow alley that ran alongside Cissy Green's, to the park entrance. With no watch, no sense of time and no hurry, I'd be out for hours, eventually returning home with a bloody knee, a ripped shirt, or minus a lost football. Those were different times. After Cissy Green's closed down in the mid-1960s, her shop stood empty for a couple of years before being demolished. The narrow alley became a fully fledged road, connecting the street where I lived to another beyond and the once quiet cul-de-sac now leads to a busy industrial estate.