Two boys

Two boys stand out of my junior school photograph.

One was small, wiry and dry. He was learning to play the piano and lived in part of a large remote house on the outskirts where on balmier days we picked berries along a disused railway line. His mother was extremely fond of him and at a party it was not strange for us to see him arrive in startling checked shorts which she had made him wear. He was Paul Wolfendale.

The other’s name was Tony Parkinson. He had flair on a bicycle, spat and wore his shirts unbuttoned to the lower rib. We recognised he had a certain panache, though until the age of nine he troubled with his adenoids.

At first, like most of us, he belonged to Wolfie’s group. Then as the girls’ faction began to split because of new arrivals, so did the boys’. There was an influx of swear words, open shirts sprang up; Tony began to have a following of his own. Things came to a head when Tony was invited to Paul`s party as an acid test of his allegiance. Tony accepted on the Tuesday but on Thursday, reversed his decision. We were uneasy: the contest was on. We split into haphazard factions. Most of the girls sided with Paul and his group, for even if he himself did not charm us, among his friends he numbered the intelligentsia of our class, who were good-looking, could draw motor cars, did algebra before the rest of us and altogether had a certain mystique about them. Soon rivalry between Parkie’s gang and Wolfie’s became an accepted tradition, which few of us really understood but which all of us encouraged with careless remarks. Whilst Wolfie grew more remote and disdainful of the fickle crowd as his supremacy was whittled away, Parkie organised some action groups which I myself attended. We met in parks, scuffled with people from other schools and I livered away park railings. It was then that interest waned. Wolfie had taken the challenge lying down. The struggle was soon overshadowed by the Great Skittle Ball controversy. Two of the girls’ star players were dropped for insolence. Our sense of dignity approved apart from the fact that we were chosen as replacements, but the question streaked round the school – would we beat Moorside?

As interest in the conflict waned, so did Tony’s status. Then Paul took action. He declared an official war to be held at his house, with me as casualty officer. Gangs of boys rolled up on bikes; it was an all-male occasion. They whizzed down the Wolfendale`s long and winding drive and then shot along the canal bank. The heat hanging over the reeds was shattered by the clatter of mudguards. Woodie swerved off the banking and drove his wheel into the sucking mud. Prokker skidded and landed on his knee. It was hot and vicious; the bike spokes hummed over the rutted tow path.

We didn’t hear too much about it on Monday, though the air had cleared considerably. Paul died in a bike accident in Austria when he was sixteen, but I still see Tony driving a fruiterer’s van round Lancaster.