The older I get the more I think about the past, especially my childhood. I think of all the people I met, who for varying reasons, left their mark on me during those early years. I’d like to share just a few.
The grumpy old man three houses down from my grandmother. He kept all the footballs we accidentally kicked into his garden. Every time one went in, he’d say, “It’s mine now.” Must have been dozens of footballs locked away in his shed, and we couldn’t sneak in and take them back. He had a nasty German Shepherd dog that patrolled the area day and night!
The family doctor. Sitting in his old worn leather chair, wearing a flat cap (which he never took off) and happily puffing his pipe. Passive smoking wasn’t a thing back then, not even in a doctor’s surgery! He thought an aspirin and a lie down for an hour was the cure for everything.
The ice cream van man who came around every weekend. That distinctive music playing from the van. We could hear it getting closer and closer. Soon be our street. Lucky kids would rush into their houses and appear a moment later with money to buy one. The rest of us would carry on playing as if we didn’t want one. Very occasionally, the ice cream man would offer some of us a free vanilla cone. He knew the kids who couldn’t afford one.
My first form maths teacher and his huge sore-looking red nose. He’d stop regularly during class to take a sip of something out of an old flask he kept in his desk drawer. (That explained the huge sore-looking red nose!) He would offer us an extra point in the maths test if we went to the fish and chip shop for him at lunch time. I went often, but still failed every test!
My old rugby coach. A towering man with a bald head and an enormous stomach. He had a different word tattooed on the knuckles of his hands. He did them himself and the words were MUM and DAD. (These tattoos were common in those days.) He’d make us run laps and do press-ups if we played or trained badly. An old army sergeant, his method was to separate the weak from the strong. We were ten years old!
Then there was “Happy Mike”. He was a homeless person who lived by a little river that flowed through the local park. He dressed in an old parka coat and Dr Marten boots with no laces. His home was a sleeping bag inside a ripped tent. He kept his belongings in an old supermarket trolley. He was fiercely protective of his tent, and his trolley. Everyone knew him and everyone liked him. He was an institution in the village. The police never asked him to move on. He wouldn’t take money, but the occasional newspaper or bar of chocolate was gratefully received. He was called Happy Mike because of his demeanour. Always cheerful, always smiling, everything he said was positive. Complain to him about the rain and he’d say, “The sun will come out later, you’ll see.” He’d offer friendly advice if asked, and he never complained about his situation. “Plenty worse off than me,” he’d say.
When I was older and he was VERY old, my curiosity made me ask him why he had chosen to live most of his life in a relatively poor area. After all, there were plenty of nice parks in nicer areas. He told me it was because poor people treated him nicer than people with money. “Don’t need money to have class.” He certainly didn’t.
All the best Happy Mike. You’ll be remembered.