In the sixties and seventies, I remember some of the more unusual residents in our road. When I say unusual, they were considered by others to be different and carried some form of stigma. I cannot deny that through my inexperienced young eyes they seemed plain weird. They even had nicknames. Thinking back, some of them had serious mental issues. But stigma was stigma. Stigma is a cruel beast which punishes those who are already at a disadvantage.
Even today stigma still spreads it poison to those willing to mock those who refuse to recognise the terrible spectre of mental and physical illness. When I think back to the persistent trouble makers I shared a class with at school, I often wonder how many had some form of Asperger’s, autism or ADHD. Even today, these complex life affecting conditions can draw cynical condemnation as an excuse for being naughty or lazy.
Across the road lived Norman Jones. Norman was elderly, well spoken and articulate. He lived alone in a squalid little house in need of major repairs. It was hidden behind an monstrous hedge left to grow wild and high. In all weathers he would don a threadbare overcoat and trilby and trek through the streets of Wallasey.
His grey stooped figure and shuffling gait were a familiar sight. Occasionally he would call on our neighbours to request the use of a tin-opener. He had a dog. Rex was fiercely loyal. He was a stray puppy and had already gained legendary status with the children of the street. But as soon as Norman had offered him the kindness of his own home he became a one-man dog. I was glad. The two deserved each other. They became inseparable.
Some of the children and teenagers around were not kind to Norman. Norman was volatile. “What about the busses?” they would shout. Norman would flip into a torrent of hapless abuse. For me as a child and teenager, any notion of amusement soon turned into sympathy for this poor man. It was cruel. He was old enough to have fought in the second world war. War messes up heads.
In 1975 someone bought his house. I assumed he’d paid little or no rent for it. It was completely renovated. Yet still Norman remained; even when the new owners moved in. It was a kind if temporary gesture.
Then one day Norman disappeared. I didn’t see him leave. I don’t know the details but the road seemed emptier for it. I wonder what happened to Rex?
On the corner of one of the groves, in one of the bigger houses in the road were the vampires. Well that’s what my father called them. The house had once been adorned in a deep olive green paint. By the time we had moved into the road it was an excuse of dried caked flaking crumbs of colour. The windows were darkened by the incessant build up of urban grime.
Our road was in a smokeless zone where domestic fires burnt coke. But these stains preceded that. The vampires only ever appeared after dark. I have no idea who did the shopping. The woman, Mrs Jones (no relation to Norman) was as broad as she was high. There was a husband and another relation.
We called the third person Tommy Molineux. Every evening he would troop off to one of the local pubs and proceed to cast a shadow of doom and gloom over any aspect of brightness or optimism. But it was his solo parade home which caught the road’s attention.
Tommy turned into a clown. He would direct traffic, act out silent monologues or just adopt a silly walk. If there were any road works around, he would pick up one of the flickering night lights and stand cruciform in the middle of the road. As a child, it made us laugh. I’m sure he was playing to the audience. Maybe it was his release valve from a life of utter depression.
I’m sure Mrs Jones was deeply depressed too. Too embarrassed to face the world in her current enormous unkempt state, she had gradually isolated herself from any social interaction. She had withered into her own personal world of desperate loneliness. They disappeared too.
The house was refurbished and a very polite, smiling Afro Caribbean man moved in. I was less sympathetic to the Jones family. She would come out and scowl at any children who dared make a noise resembling joy or happiness. But again, there were deep mental issues within that household.
Down towards Brighton Street was another house encased in a vast hedge. It was occupied by two brothers. Charles was an outgoing social type of man. He had many friends. He was a primary teacher of the old school. The desks were in rows and he would take his place at the head of the classroom and spout forth his wisdom and knowledge. His brother Ted on the other hand had serious issues. He attended the Adult Training Centre by Moreton Cross. That meant our paths would often cross. He had a tendency to stare. I started saying hello to him. We had occasional brief conversations; nothing deep, just day to day stuff. I think he was lonely. But having a problem with communication was never going to help him in that respect.
After I left school I saw progressively less of him. The hedge grew ever higher. The last time I saw his brother was in Lingham Lane school in September 1989. I had a two week placement there before my PGCE course. Charles was his usual ebullient self; I felt uneasy about asking after his brother Ted. I wish I had now.
The road also had its fair share of quirky characters. Next door but one was “The Nurse.” She was the end of a terrace and raged against anyone bouncing a ball against her wall. She was one of those diminutive determined Irish ladies. She was probably an excellent nurse. There would be honest to goodness no nonsense care. I’d never heard of a shillelagh until she brandished at us one Friday evening. She looked serious and threatening.
Some years later she befriended my two brothers and I. We used to play with her nephews (could have been grandchildren) in the park. But in 1974, she had a turn for the worse. I don’t know why but she became agitated and persistent. She would knock at our door and never go away. One night the fire brigade were called to extinguish a minor fire in her house. The next day an ambulance came and we didn’t see her for months.
When she returned she never spoke to us again. The poor woman looked sad and broken. I hoped some good neighbours had given her the time of day to chat or share a pot of tea. I don’t know if that ever happened. Sometime in the eighties, she disappeared and the house was renovated and put up for sale.
At the top of the road was Mrs James. Her house was painted brown inside and out. She was a true character. Again she was one of those people who had a problem with playful children. Yet she was always willing to chat. My mother had found out that she possessed a heavy duty drain plunger. Our’s was blocked. My dad in his wisdom sent me down to collect it.
As she handed it over, Mrs James embarked on a raucous public espousal of the benefits of Izal Medicated Toilet Paper. No detail was spared. And by the time she’d finished I suspect all the other residents of her cul-de-sac knew of our drain problem.
Finally there were two brothers round the corner. The liked a drink. I can’t remember their names but I would often see them around town staggering about. There had been a few charges of drunken disorderly. But the best incident made the local newspaper. The headline was a masterpiece of local reportage:
“Man leapt at PC.” These are part of my recollections of Kenilworth Road. Dad still lives there.
Thank-you for reading.