Thursday, 14 December 2017

St James Churchyard



It was around about this time I learnt my first harsh lesson in life. I learnt that nothing good lasts for ever. It was a warm April afternoon, and Mum, Mary, the pushchair and I headed down to St James Churchyard. This is now the site of the Primark store, but was then a triangular, concrete surfaced park. There was a weighbridge, a few scattered benches and, it seemed, something like a million pigeons. I would wander amongst the birds like a young St Francis of Assisi, scattering stale bread crumbs for them. They were very tame, and it gave me a great sense of power.

 
 On this particular day I had run out of bread crumbs and turned to Mum for reinforcements. To my shock, she was talking to a stranger. He was a tall, thin man, with very white teeth. Apart from a white collarless shirt, he was dressed entirely in brown. Shiny brown shoes, three piece  suit, and a trilby hat, which was perched at a jaunty angle on the back of his head. A mop of thick, black curly hair was protruding from the front. He was reaching forward to light a cigarette for my mother. It was the first time I had ever seen her smoke. His hand was cupped across the cigarette protecting the flame of his lighter from the breeze. His long fingers were touching her cheek. I sensed trouble, I didn't like this stranger, and I have always trusted my instincts.
They sat smoking and talking for some time. There was a lot of laughter and Mum was giggling like a young girl. I had never heard her laugh like that before. Then, Mr 'Brown' was on his way. He waved and said "Goodbye Michael." as he left, heading along the Horsefair towards Milk Street. I ignored him and didn't reply.
"His name is Tom." explained my mother when I questioned her. "He just wanted a chat."