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DERBY DAY LEFTOVERS
by Rick Haynes
I will never forget those wonderful fifties summers; the endless hours of daylight, the wall to wall sunshine, time spent with your mates; it was brilliant, because all I wanted to do was play outside in our terraced street. Television? I had never heard of one, let alone seen one, and if one had magically arrived, I doubt that it would have changed my life very much. Nah! I loved playing too much; football in the winter, cricket in the summer, and rounders at any time. Whoever came out with the ball had first pick.
Of course I forget the wet and the wind, and the fact that the number 95, one of London Transport’s finest red machines terminated at the end of our road in Tooting Broadway south west London. It was a pain in the arse to keep moving our goal posts out of the road. And all the mums got really angry when the council regularly decided to tarmac and gravel it. Our shoes would be covered in tar, our clothes too, and woe betides if you fell over; I still have the scars.
But on one day in June every year, life changed for us kids, for about an hour or two anyway. The races came to Epsom, and the crowds would flock to see the big one - The Epsom Derby. To us, the race meant nothing at all, but our street joined onto the main road; the road that took huge volumes of traffic back to London after the races had finished. Due to the sheer numbers, the lights changed to red more frequently than usual. And that made the buses, the open topped coaches and the charabancs stop ... right at the end of our road.
And as soon as they did, my mates and I would swarm around them like an army of ants.
Shouting loudly, our cries would echo along the main road.
“Chuck out your mouldies!”
“Chuck out your mouldies!”
And those that had won on the gee-gees would shower the road with pennies; sometimes with silver sixpenny bits. I quickly learnt the lesson; only approach those with a big smile. It didn’t always work and I did miss the odd miserable sod turning into a Good Samaritan. But it was learn fast or suffer the consequences, as over the years I learnt to ignore those with a full glass of beer in their hand. Stinking of stale ale dropped from the top deck of an open topped bus wasn’t a pleasant experience, and it would only mean a gentle clip around the ear when I got home.
Being quick and agile, I never made less than a shilling; usually I got closer to two bob. That was two months pocket money. I loved Derby Day.
But as the years passed the number of buses began to fade like the setting sun. And as I was off to grammar school in September, big boys didn’t stand on corners shouting, “Chuck out your mouldies!”
Still, I had one more Derby Day evening ahead and I was going to make the most of it. Being older, wiser, and one of the biggest kids also played a part in my decision.
As usual the pavements were full of kids and some parents. There were more cars than before, many more than the coaches. The world was changing but I was too young to realise. Pickings were few, but an open topped bus stopped in exactly the right place and the scene changed in an instant. They were singing and dancing on the top deck; having a good old cockney knees-up.
“Knees up Mother Brown. Knees up Mother Brown. Under the table you must go ...”
The song went on and on. It echoed off the walls and pavements; you would have heard the noise in the next borough. And as if that wasn’t enough some of the punters left the bus and started dancing on the pavement. In those days Cockneys didn’t need any excuse for a party and this was rapidly turning into a big one. Alas those grumpy bastards in the cars and buses behind refused to join in. With the queue quickly growing, the bus driver reluctantly ordered them all back on board. Our joy quickly turned into disappointment as none of the happy-mob remembered to throw us some coins. I ran after the bus, banging on the side, yelling for all I was worth. Eventually some pennies did arrive but my mates and I had strayed along the pavement into the territory of the boys from the next street. Plenty of coins but too many kids meant many disappointed faces. I trudged back to our own pitch and wearily shouted, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
I thought about calling it a day when a number of black cars appeared. Clearly full of toffs, I didn’t need to see their money, I could smell it. I usually avoided their cars, mainly to escape the verbal abuse should I dare to wander too close. But as it had been a quiet evening I cautiously approached the first car. He threw me a disdainful look as well as a long arm out of the window, so no change there then. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that my mum had arrived. Dinner was ready then, so after yelling for the last time I turned away disappointed, only to see my mum pointing. I looked over my shoulder to see a face, and a head of grey, leaning out of the front window of a large car. One hand stroked his whiskers and his eyes twinkled with mischief. He went to speak but it was his petite wife who had called me from the back seat. She beckoned me forward, her smile as beautiful as a film star.
The lady whispered in the man’s ear. “My wife said that I should give you this, young fellow.” His voice sounded deep like the ocean, and as rumbly as a huge teddy bear.
His large hands could have held anything but as I neared he waved a ten bob note at me. I stood speechless, yet desperately wanting to say something.
Eventually the words came from my tight lips.
“Thank you, thank you very much.”
My discomfort was broken by the soft words of his lady.
“Do you know why I asked George to give you ten shillings?”
I shook my head.
“It’s because you said, ‘Chuck out your mouldies … please.’
I thanked them again but couldn’t move. It seemed unreal, dreamlike even, as if this note would disappear like a magicians trick. I had never been given so much money.
His voice boomed out. “Now be off with you young fellow, your mother is waiting.”
As I walked towards my mum, I could see her waving. The toff and his lady waved just as vigorously. I naturally joined in, continuing to wave as their car disappeared into the heavy traffic.
“I am so proud of you son.”
The lessons that my working class parents had instilled in me had been recognised and rewarded. I would never question their principles again, for did not my mum always say.
“Good manners cost nothing.”