Friday evening after photography night-school two sixteen or seventeen year-olds sheepishly hover at one end of the long curved bar in the crammed smoke-ridden town centre pub. The Knowsley. They the only drinkers sufficiently duped by telly adverts to order the gassy Whitbread Gauntlet bitter. This end of the bar hosts the biege lever-operated cash register. The till rung every couple of minutes by the slim and vivacious young land-lady in chocolate-brown dress and heavy-framed glasses. Naively believing maybe their chat impresses her in some fashion. Reality, a maternal eye is being maintained. Along with some concern for her licence, though slight in these days of only scant policing of under-age consumption.
Crossing the lounge bar sparingly lit in amber hue, passing royal blue imitation velvet bench seating, the friends follow sounds of pop music up the red-carpeted stair-case. Upstairs a large dining room cleared to serve as ‘youth club’. A smattering of younger teenagers and a slender mini-skirted middle-aged woman, who cajoles them to dance. Shy protests brushed aside by the effervescent lady in strong Northern brogue instructing ‘arms out, move your hips like drying your back with a towel’ … that’s the Twist now!
Later seated in a downstairs room joined by other night-school students, two brothers. Inevitably talk of the yet mysterious realm of girls. Elder brother an ancient twenty year old, quizzed: Isn’t he too old to be having sex with a mutual friend a sixteen year old school-girl? Chuckled rejoinder, ‘well you know, old enough to bleed’. Stunning. While the two friends’ successes to date limited to soliciting ‘a christmas kiss’ from whoozy teens at a neighouring town’s Navada Dance Hall.
Near closing time a short, unsteady walk from the Knowsley to the hot potato man’s barrow strategically positioned across the street from the bus terminus. Thrupence each a thin, white paper bag of scalding quail egg-sized new potatoes. Tip the first in to a palm then juggle hand to hand. Bite gingerly teeth-only to puncture the skin, expose the radiating innards to chillingly frosty late evening air. Next the bared flesh is salted over generously with coarse crystals fingers pinched out from the bag’s corners. The tiny white bag a radiator for cupped hands near frozen by the wait for the number four bus outside the Art Cinema. Suddenly the ride home rumbles up heaving diesel fumes. A scramble for the top-deck to sit with friends. Each wounded potato erupts steam to coalesce with the crowd’s breath condensing heavily on the bus windows. Thankfully obscuring the decaying mill town in the drizzle outside.