Picture in half-light, a child is pushed through the narrow opening of a tiny ground-floor toilet window – he unbolts the back door for the burglar, his father, who then sidles through the house looking for cash and saleable goods. The pair gained notoriety on South Manchester council estates, I recall my mum telling me of their exploits.
Over a decade later I was back in Manchester enjoying the social whirl, most often in and around The Red Lion pub in Withington. It was here that I became friends with Danny. As we became more familiar, we would chat about our lives as youngsters in the locality, Danny’s experiences turned out to be much more interesting than my own. Danny had been the little boy being fed through several unlocked pivoting toilet windows.
Danny would proudly describe his adventures as apprentice tea leaf. On more than one occasion he had been spotted and chased by the police, he described shinning up a drainpipe and crossing rooftops to elude pursuit. He was eventually collared and sent down, spending six months in Borstal. Here he prioritised defending his honour, working out in the gym and was proud to have been “Cock of the school”. He enhanced his naturally well-muscled physique and was suited to physical pursuits both metaphorical and literal.
Despite having this unfortunate start in life Danny gradually became closer to keeping to the straight and narrow. He was a good natured well-intentioned man but there were one or two setbacks on the road. He had a strong sense of justice which could lead to unfortunate interactions. For example, at another pub in Withington, when an over-zealous landlord demanded his glass there was a minor dispute which escalated into a major skirmish thanks to the intervention of several upstanding chaps keen to add their contribution by wielding chairs, young Danny was charged with assault though I was a witness to his relative innocence.
Happily there were good times to be had in later years. One good time involved Danny and his dad experimenting with LSD together. The downside was that Boots The Chemist on Market St wasn’t the best place for alcohol and drug-induced levity. Our two heroes, completely ‘out to lunch’, attracted the attention of security staff who called the police. When Danny was released from the police-station you could see the clear imprint of boot-soles on his back.
On this occasion Danny opted for a Jury trial at Manchester Crown Court. His mother went to back him up. It seems strange a person being on trial,cross examined in a dock, a limbo zone between pure innocence and the possibility of being found guilty, then coming out into the sunshine in the city centre for a 90 minute lunch break in a pub of your own choosing. On a bad day you could even find yourself alongside the prosecution witnesses! Danny’s mum unfortunately was ejected from the afternoon court session, suffering from stress-induced drinking.
We were ripe for romance in long hot summer of1975, Danny was courting lovely Christine. He still recounts the events of one day in particular when they decided to go boating in Platt Fields Park. This was the good old days when the boating lake was blessed with a fleet of elegant post-Victorian rowing boats and several racy skiffs for sporty types. Most of these craft would make their leisurely way in a clockwise direction around the central wooded island, clockwise looking from above.
In the heat of the day the two mile walk from the Red lion would be grueling, a bike trip was called for. Christine, being well organised, had a neat little bike of her own and Danny borrowed his mum’s shopper, she wasn’t there to ask but he was confident of returning before she came home.
I now know that Platt Fields covers an area of ninety acres, I guess the perimeter measures approximately a mile. The park is approximately rectangular in shape and has at least four entrances to facilitate access from all directions. Joining these entrances there is a network of meandering pathways and roadways passing through wooded areas, tennis courts etc. It is here that Danny and Christine arrived to join the queue for a boat, they lifted their bikes around the end of the security railings to leave them within the embarkation enclosure, a relatively safe place. A lock might have been used but the bikes weren’t high risk items, especially Danny’s mum’s shopper which had been round the block a few times.
I hope we have all experienced the pleasure of boating on a pond. Earthbound concerns are left behind, trivial cares recede with the gentle clunk of the oars, the closeness of the water, a passing dragon fly, a glimpse of the life of the leisured classes. Danny had drifted into his idyll with Christine, coasting close to the central island when he glanced towards the railings where their bikes should have been, they were nowhere to be seen. If Christine’s bike was stolen it would be a pain, losing his mum’s bike had the makings of a calamity.
Awoken from his blissful state, Danny put on speed, straight to the quayside and leaping off the boat to think of what to do next. There are views from the lakeside extending for hundreds of yards, Danny peered hoping to get a sight of the bikes, could it be children or jokers having a laugh? No, those bikes had been stolen and were gone. What to do? Danny took a chance and raced towards one of the gates at top speed, this was a considerable distance, when he got to the gate he was getting desperate and he was breathless, what to do now? Should he give up? These bikes could be anywhere, maybe run around the park towards another gate, should he go clockwise or anticlockwise? He started to run, but with diminished enthusiasm as the odds mounted against success. On the brink of giving up Danny turned the corner from Wilmslow Rd onto Platt Lane, in the distance he saw two bikes being ridden, they looked familiar and they were heading in his direction…… He jogged along the pavement towards them, as he approached he could see the faces of two lads, they were completely oblivious to him and they were in an amused frame of mind, no doubt enjoying the cool breeze on their faces.
I’m not one to delight in retribution and physical violence, though this would be a likely consequence if the aggrieved party was not sympathetic to the ways of the scallywag. While exercising sympathy and self control Danny describes graphically how he managed to dislodge both riders at the same time. He left them in no doubt that stealing these two bikes hadn’t been a good idea.
Mum’s shopper was returned without fuss and Danny had yet another story to tell, though not to his mother.
Note: All events actually happened in the life of my pal. I changed his name to save embarrassment. Danny is now himself an upstanding mature citizen.