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  • Writer's pictureKeith Dersley

The Wrong End of the Road

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

It was in the Fifth Form at Northgate that I really started going around with Rod Jackson, though we had been friends before. They talk about swagger, and Rod had his share. That was his personal style, and no one thought the worse of him for it. He didn’t live far away, just along Nacton Road. Like me, he was the son of a working class guy, but his dad had been a chauffeur and had a car.

When we were out one night along Landseer Road he asked a pensioner some question and when the old boy gave a garbled answer, Rod began to make fun of the way he talked. The old boy gallantly squared up and threatened to inform ‘PC Pilborough’, which seemed hilarious to Rod.

‘PC Pilborough, eh, Grandad? Why not Pat Garrett or Dixon of Dock Green? Ha ha ha!

Slightly more formidable was a group of lads who latched onto us shortly after. I knew them and they knew me but they didn’t know Rod. I was now a Northgate Grammar boy but, I hoped, still liked a bit, even if they thought it was possible I could have turned dodgy.

Kevin Sawyer had slicked-back hair and a fad for wearing motorcycle gauntlets with wrist pieces like leather funnels. He began to insinuate that he might just as well square up to this guy who didn’t really belong in the streets along the Reynolds Road end of things.

His mates chatted amongst themselves, weighing up the possibilities in a scientific way; naturally, anyone would want to find at how a Nacton Road youth stood up to such as Kevin.

Rod was of course perfectly ready to settle the point. He’d take on any of them. He pointed to Terry, a tough-looking guy, the biggest of the bunch. Terry wasn’t actually much of a fighter, but Rod wasn’t to know that. Terry handed his cigarette to one of the others and stood ready.

‘Yeah, I’ll take you on,’ said Rod. And I’ll follow up with you if you like,’ he added, indicating Phil Crawford.

Phil immediately shouted to the others, ‘Hold me back!’ as he started reaching out to Rod, whirling great haymaking punches into the murky air lit up by yellow streetlights.

Sawyer, taking his jacket off, waved Crawford away. The case seemed to him so interesting that he wouldn’t let anyone else have a share in demolishing the newcomer.

Rod took off his jacket and handed it to me. A chap I didn’t know, who was entrusted with Kevin’s jacket, showed me his fist.

One of the others piped up to Rod: ‘Watch it, boy, Kevin’s the hardest this end of Gainsborough.’

‘Dare say he is,’ laughed Rod. ‘But this end of Gainsborough never worried me much before.’

‘Pah! I’d like to see Paul Stopher get hold of you. I pity you then, boy!’ said someone.

Ha ha ha! Don’t make me tired! Paul Stopher? I’m not worried about that ginger-headed twerp.’

Kevin Sawyer immediately put his fists down and assured an air of philosophical detachment.

‘What’s that? You can fight Paul Stopher?’

‘Fight him? Yeah, any day of the week. And beat him too, and he knows it!’

Kevin took his jacket back and started putting it on, though a couple of the others argued that he ought to finish what he’d started.

‘Nah, if he can fight Paul, that’s enough for me. I’m finished. I wash me hands of him. Wash me hands.’

They disappeared, talking about feats achieved by Paul Stopher, who never gave a shit about anybody.

‘Is that the truth, about Stopher?’ I asked.

‘I’m not scared of him,’ said Rod. ‘We’ve never crossed swords, I admit, but …. Anyway, what does it matter?’ He tapped his jaw. ‘If you use this well enough you can get yourself out of scraps better than you can with the fisticuffs.’

Over the next night or two we never thought much about Paul Stopher or his fan club.

Which was nearly Rod’s downfall.

[to be continued next week.]


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