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Open Features: The Best Laid Plans . . .

John Brian Leaver tells a deliciously disturbing tale of boyhood enterprise.

Something had to give. The unremitting stagnation that pervaded our working class neighbourhood with the irony of little work during the 1930's Depression seemed to carry through into 1940 before the factories and mills geared up to meet the new threat to our supposed well-being from the Third Reich.

To me the only apparent changes after the declaration of war, apart from the black-out, was the official rationing of food, fuel and clothing, which seemed fairly academic to us local lads if our mothers' purse was still as smooth as a barber's strop by Monday.

Solutions must be found.

If we were to beat the Boche it was decided our youthful energies should be pressed into more enterprising and responsible roles rather than squandering them on making war with a neighbouring gang, building tree-houses, burning down their tree houses, damming up our local brook so we could swim, and catching small catfish called Whisker Jacks which were reasonably palatable after a baking in clay.

Our inner cabal, average age nine, noted that due to clothes rationing there seemed to be a shortage of ladies fur mitts, a fashionhable accessory, and now a must with winter coming on. After considering this deficiency, Barney, our esteemed self-elected leader, deduced that with a little skill we could fill this need. His plan had great potential in that the raw material for the mitts would be free, ensuring a profit margin.

There appeared to be a large surplus of cats in the near and further neighbourhood. These could provide an abundance of material. There was a need for a cull. Black cats would be the preferred targets. However this was revised when soot-blown ginger toms were found to be in the ascendancy. Barney suggested that in the present circumstances the ladies would not mind a change of colour for their mitts. This was agreed.

Barney, being the eldest, biggest and grammar school worthy, was good at sums and knew big words like onomatopoeia. He volunteered his mother's wash-house as a corral cum slaughterhouse. This was ideal, being at the bottom of a long garden, a distance away from the house. It contained the necessary equipment for the manufacture of fur mitts: a deep sink with a large brass tap, along with a dolly tub, washboard, mangle and boiler.

Barney said templates would be cut, whatever they were, and a bodkin and twine would be "lifted'' from the church scout hut. Profits from the venture would be shared equally.

I had only one reservation. Would the finished product smell of carbolic or cat?

The snaring was going apace. The wash-house window had to be blanked off because the small faces pressing up against the glass were unsettling. The question of who would wield the lump hammer became more pressing. Our restless cache had multiplied into a kaleidoscope of colour, though there was still a paucity of black.

Barney insisted that black or no black the deed had to be done soon. Washday was looming and notices were beginning to appear in the corner shop window appealing for sightings of Tibby. This was no time for squeamishness. It would be just like skinning a coney.

Barney's mother decided a day sooner than usual to strip a couple of beds, intent on taking advantage of a brief spell of fine weather. This had not been allowed for in our meticulous planning.

Sarah humped her large basket down the path, opened the door of the wash-house, then was skedaddled by a stampede of moggies bent on freedom.

For some time after that errands to the corner shop meant facing the displeasure of Tibby-friendly women.

That was more than enough punishment for me.


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