I was delighted to see my old friend Eric last weekend. Eric and I grew up on the same street in Upton – where my parents still live. But we had not seen each other for more than 40 years. Whereas he went to Liverpool University to study law and still lives in Wirral, I moved away in the early 70s. Seeing an advert for his law firm caused me to track him down on the internet.
Eric was a key figure when I was growing up
His family lived directly opposite us, at number 51. He and his best friend Jeremy, both two years older than me, were kind enough to include me in their activities – although I am sure they would have had more fun on their own. I am grateful for it; spending time with older boys was an important part of my education, as well as serving as protection from potential bullies. I looked up to Eric and believed everything he said. He was the leader of the group of children who played in our street; and there was a field at the bottom of his garden (before they built the M53) where we’d run around and play games, such as rounders. There were Steve McBride (a hooligan), the two Ellis girls, the twin Williams sisters, and one or two boys whose names I’ve forgotten but whom Eric remembers.
When I was 11, I passed the entrance exam for Birkenhead School. I had mixed feelings, because just one other boy at my primary school passed. Eric said he’d sat it, two years earlier, but failed to get in. One of the lads in the street said, “Do you mean he’s cleverer than you?” – an incredulous look on his face. The mature 13-year-old Eric carefully replied, “Well, cleverer than I was at his age, anyway”. At least that is how I remember it. I smiled, relieved at not having to say anything.
Eric is now 66, and working as a criminal lawyer
We agreed to meet at the Shrewsbury Arms in Oxton, and I recognised him straightaway. He is a few inches shorter than me, but in my mind’s eye he is taller because of our age difference. After passing his law degree Eric spent a year in London at law school. We talked about how in the old days you could always find somewhere to live in London – even if it was a dump – which was just about affordable. “I lived in a grotty shared house in Romula Road, Tulse Hill,” he said. “I know it well,” I replied, “because I live less than a mile away. It would cost you a million quid to buy that house now”.
It was good to hear that his mother was alive. I remember her with affection. She was one of several ladies in our street who worked part time at Cadbury’s chocolate factory in Moreton (now, of course, shut down). There were always a big bag of misshapen caramels in the kitchen; I never saw one that was its intended shape. Presumably they were sold off to employees for a few pence.
I have strong memories of those years. We made Airfix and Frog models and collected Corgi and Dinky cars. We used to “fly” our model Focke-Wulfs and Hurricanes and Flying Fortresses across the road from one back garden to another and have dogfights.
On rainy days, we made our model ships and planes and carefully painted them. War games were played out in the woods, between little boys rather than adults staring at screens. Wrestling was a popular sport on TV at that time, so there was quite a lot of wrestling too. I was too small to be able to beat Eric or Jerry, but we had tag teams to make it fairer.
Not an idyllic childhood, just normal
One of my Corgi cars was an Aston Martin. In the film of Goldfinger, which came out in 1964, Bond (Sean Connery) was given a highly-adapted DB5 by Q to drive. I said to Eric that we should write to Corgi and ask them to bring out a model of Bond’s car. Eric set about the drawings, which were ambitious and impractical, showing how all Q’s on-board weapons would work. Brimming with the confidence of youth (I was only 10! I), I sent off a letter to the Corgi Club and got a nice reply, praising the drawings, but also pointing out that their models were fixed for quite a while to come.
But just a few months later Corgi issued their James Bond Aston Martin! I felt that our idea had been stolen, but now I realise that they must have been planning it for ages. The reality was a bit simpler than our idea: just the retractable machine guns, rear windscreen bulletproof shield and ejector seat (complete with baddie victim).
It was hugely successful, and I bought one.
Corgi sold nearly four million!
What was very annoying was that Corgi had painted it gold, whereas in the film it was silver grey. So I resprayed mine, reasonably successfully.