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Feather's Miscellany: Jack Pedwar’s Misdemeanours

…“What you do,” they said, “is simple. You ask old Evason for the toffees on the top shelf; then when he’s busy with his back turned up there, grab a handful of jelly babies from the box on the counter and shove ‘em in your pocket..” It seemed so easy and they shared with Jack the loot of their own pilfering, just to show how easy it was…

John Waddington-Feather tells of a lad who landed in trouble, acknowledged his guilty and received a smile he would never forget.

Jack Pedwar grew up in wartime Britain. He started Westwood Council School as a five year-old in 1938 and spent the next six years there learning the three Rs and much else. It was a very good school, built as a Board School in the 1870s and “Westwood Board School” was still carved in large stone letters across its frontage. It became a Council School in the 1930s when education expanded in Keighworth.

A mixed bunch of youngsters went there: from Garlic lane, from the slummy fringes of Bradford Road, which ran not far from the school and from Vicar Street, behind the school. Jack Pedwar was raised in one of posher houses in the terrace at the bottom of Garlic Lane. Built around 1910, this terrace was originally called “Grange View”, because you could see Kildwick Grange across farmland some miles down the valley. However, its view was soon blocked when first a scrap-iron yard, then an enamelling plant, followed by a garage and a woollen mill were all built on the land opposite, and “Grange View” became simply part of the new Keighworth conurbation at the bottom of Garlic Lane.

Jack’s house was just across from the rugby and cricket fields which had been carved from farmland. It was all farmland beyond the sports fields right up to the moors which overlooked the town. That fact that Jack’s home lay on the fringes of the town, and that all the houses in the terrace had front bay windows, put them a cut above the terraces round about. The residents of the old “Grange View” also had flush toilets in the loos in the backyards, and finally they had bathrooms which consolidated their status. Adjoining terraces had only metal baths, hung outside in the yard till they were needed every Friday.

So, when Jack was born it still retained some of its old standing and considered itself socially above Vicar Street, where the families were regarded as ‘rough’, mainly the families of mill-workers and labourers; whereas those living in the old ‘Grange View’ were in general office-workers, shopkeepers – even the odd teacher.

At primary school, Jack Pedwar knocked about with the Vicar Street lot till he won his scholarship to the Grammar School. Rightly or wrongly, eleven was the parting of the ways for school-children then. The more academic won places at Keighworth’s Grammar Schools and went on to university or college; but the majority left after taking their School Certificates at sixteen and took up office jobs. A few went into the family business as the brighter siblings. The less bright were sent to boarding schools. But though he went to a new school at eleven, Jack remained in contact with many of his primary school friends, playing rugby and cricket with them later for the town’s teams.

However, being in with the ‘rough’ lot at Westwood Council School, he inevitably got into trouble. There was that occasion at the end of the war when sweets were still on ration, when he was instructed by his pals at school how to help himself to free sweets from old Evason who ran the sweet and newspaper shop at the end of Vicar Street.

“What you do,” they said, “is simple. You ask old Evason for the toffees on the top shelf; then when he’s busy with his back turned up there, grab a handful of jelly babies from the box on the counter and shove ‘em in your pocket..” It seemed so easy and they shared with Jack the loot of their own pilfering, just to show how easy it was.

Now Jack may have been a rogue by nature, but he had a conscience. After all, he’d been a member of Trinity Church choir for five years and went to Sunday School regularly. He wrestled with his conscience, but, alas, the rogue in him won.

He planned his ‘raid’ one Saturday morning when the shop was empty and entered with his sweet coupons. “Now, what can I do for you, young man?” asked Mr Evason genially, smiling at Jack over the counter. For a moment Jack hesitated but looking up at the top shelf, he said, “I’d like some of those toffees up there, please.”

Old Evason took his little ladder and began climbing slowly up it to bring down the toffee bottle. No sooner was his back turned than Jack reached out and grabbed a handful of jelly babies, but even as his hand hovered over the open box, he felt a tap on his shoulder and swung round. To his horror there stood Sergeant Nutton, the cop who lived in the next street. Jack opened his hand at once and let the sweets trickle back into the box. The shop-keeper had seen nothing and weighed out Jack’s toffees before clipping out his sweet coupons at the other end of the counter.

“Wait outside!” said the sergeant softly, then ordered his packet of fags.

Once outside, Sgt Nutton said severely, “Go on thieving like that and you’ll end up in prison, my lad.”

Ashen-faced, Jack stammered: “I’m sorry. I really am. It was the first time an’ I won’t do it again. It was the lads at school who put me up to it.”

“Oh! Then I’ll have to have a word with your teacher,” said the copper, “but right now I want a word with your dad.”

No criminal ever walked to the gibbet with as heavy a heart as Jack walked back home that day alongside the policeman. Neither spoke and Jack felt miserable. It didn’t help that passers-by stared hard at him as they wished the sergeant good-morning. Worse was to come.

When they reached home, Sergeant Nutton handed Jack over to his dad and made Jack tell him what he’d done. Then he wished Ira Pedwar good-day and left him to deal with Jack. Jack never stole sweets again!

Another misdemeanour of Jack was the day he kicked in the lavatory pan. His mother worked in the mill just across from their house and Jack had to pop in there each day when he came back from school. If his mother had had a hard day at work Jack had to prepare her meal when she came home from work.

On this occasion he was hoping to get her permission to play football with his pals on the rugby field below their house. But his mother said no. He had to prepare her meal because she was tired. Jack was peeved. He dearly wanted to play with his pals and stormed angrily out of the mill.

Like all the youngsters down the lane, he wore clogs; well shod clogs with wooden soles and metal toe-caps and irons. Useful weapons at school when involved in a clog-fight. These were not vindictive affairs carried out in hot blood, but carefully staged fights. The opponents shoved thick magazines down their stockings as shin-pads, then squared up to each other like little fighting-cocks, hands behind their backs to see who could kick his opponent off his feet first or made him surrender when he’d had enough. Jack Pedwar was pretty nimble with his clogs at school and could deliver a hefty kick.

Anyhow, after his mother told him to get her meal ready, he called in at the loo in their back-yard. He was still fuming and lashed out in anger at the pedestal with his clogs. All hell was let loose.

The pan shattered with an enormous crash, just as if a bomb had dropped. Indeed, the neighbours thought exactly that and poured into the street in their curlers and pinafores to see what had happened. When Jack opened the lavatory door, shame-faced and shocked and peeped out, there they all were, crowding round the gate clucking and clacking.

“What’s happened?” asked Mrs Brown, from across the street.

“In a very small voice Jack answered, “I…I just sat on the lav an’ it broke. Come an’ look.” And look they all did before moving off shaking their heads clucking and clacking all the more.

It took Ira Pedwar the best part of an hour to get the truth from his son, but get it he did. His parents were so relieved he hadn’t been injured Jack escaped with no more than a telling off and an early bed. But ever after he was very wary how he used his clogs - and how he sat on the loo.

Another notable piece of delinquency from Jack Pedwar’s boyhood was when he snow-balled the statue of the Virgin Mary which stood on the wall of the Roman Catholic Church in Keighworth. St Anne’s Church lay across the road from a cinema which Jack and his friends from Vicar Street attended each Saturday morning.

Many of those friends were Catholics and attended the school at St Anne’s, but they played out with Jack after school in Albert Park and were in the same sports teams as him in the town as they grew up. Like Jack, they were also choristers at church; outwardly young cherubs in cassocks and surplices; inwardly little demons dressed as choir-boys.

After a fall of snow one winter’s morning, when they were leaving the cinema and passing St Anne’s Church, Terry O’Loughlin said: “I bet you can’t hit that statue on the church wall.” He pointed to Mary looking demurely down at them.

Being a mere Protestant, Jack had no idea who the statue was. He took up Terry’s challenge and lobbed a snowball at the statue catching Mary square on the nose.

“I bet you can’t do it again,” said Terry, then quietly disappeared sniggering along with all the other Catholics.

Jack obliged and lobbed another snowball at Mary. That did it. A nun suddenly appeared red-faced and raging inside her wimple. “Just what do you think you’re up to, boy?” she yelled, rushing towards him. His pals had gone and Jack was left to bear alone the full wrath of Sister Monica, a teacher at St Anne’s School.

Jack turned and fled. No use. The young nun lifted up her black skirts and raced after him never once leaving off till they reached Jack’s home down Garlic Lane. Jack rushed inside and slammed the door, but Sister Monica hammered on it till Jack’s dad appeared, astonished to see the nun on his doorstep.

“There’s a boy in there who’s desecrated our church!” she said.

“Desecrated?” answered Ira completely nonplussed.

“For sure, desecrated! He’s been throwing snowballs at the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the church wall,” said the nun angrily.

Ira could see he wasn’t going to get rid of her easily and with her thick Irish brogue she was attracting the attention of passers-by and embarrassing him. He shouted for Jack who duly appeared hanging his head, “That’s him! I want him punished,” said Sister Monica. “I want him thrashed!”

Ira tried to appease the nun, saying he’d make sure his son was punished. He slipped her a quid for the poor-box at church, then quietly but firmly he wished her good-day. When she’d gone he lectured Jack, explaining who the statue was and how the Catholics had a different attitudes from Protestants, especially in the matter of miracles, saints and Mary.

“We see Mary as Christ’s mother, a mother like any other mother; special, but nevertheless a very human mother. They regard her as the Mother of God, so there’s no telling what might happen if they’re right and you don’t respect their beliefs, Jack.”

His dad’s lecture sank in and the next Sunday at Trinity Church during the General Confession, Jack silently told God what he’d done and asked His forgiveness; and he was mightily relieved when the vicar pronounced the Absolution.

His pals didn’t go unpunished for Sister Monica had watched them put Jack up to snow-balling the Virgin Mary. They had to face her wrath the next week at school and they weren’t just lectured like Jack Pedwar. Sister Monica added Christian muscularity to her words.

The following Saturday as Jack passed the statue on his way home from the cinema, he paused before Mary and under his breath said contritely: “I’m sorry, Mary.” Then something happened which made him look again at Mary. Though he never mentioned it to anyone else, he remembered it to his dying day: Mary winked back at him and smiled.

John Waddington-Feather ©

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