On the banks of the Tyne; in the town where I was born, a buzzer sounds. It’s calling the shipyard workers back to work. And I’m standing in the middle of a back-lane; the type that runs behind most houses in this town. And I’m yards away from my folks yard; an empty space, containing a coal-house and an outside lav.
It’s summer. Boys like me are dressed in short trousers, tee shirts and sandshoes; girls wear floral frocks and sandals. I’m alone, maybe I’m getting ready to join a game, or someone is about to pass a ball to me – I really can’t remember. From pre-school to puberty, children in this place play outside. Adults may watch from windows, but mostly they are invisible.
I see two girls playing pat-a-cake; reciting a rhyme I’ve long unremembered. And other kids are running; dipping below the washing that hangs from wall to wall.
I’m six years old and in this magical playground; where rubbish bins stand, and drains are frequently fished for pennies. Where walls are stained black with soot; and children imagine everything for themselves.
There’s a radio playing close-by, but I can only hear the shipyard buzzer. It seems to go on and on. To childish ears it sounds malevolent, like something you’d hear in Doctor Who. Yet I know the sound is not for us. It’s for the workers who come home dirty and laden with tools. It tells them when to go to work and when to have dinner. It tells them when their day has ended. And when the product of their work is done; it sounds on launch day. Did I know this at six, I really can’t remember.
But I do recall a summers day when I was a boy. It’s a colour memory. The scene is a minute after the one I’ve just described. I can hear the sound of children’s voices, and the metallic clang of a bin lid being bashed. The two girls playing pat-a-cake have moved on to a chalk bay down the road. One watches, while the other skips through its irregular squares. The radio is playing a song I don’t remember, and then it ends. And I hear Ringo’s mournful voice intoning: in the town where I was born.