half of mild ale
I first met him when I was twelve; I used to deliver his morning newspaper. He was always shaved and smartly dressed no matter what time I rapped on his back door.
‘Ow do young un,’ he would grin, displaying his few remaining teeth, as I handed him an Express. ‘Any good news today?’ I always shrugged. My job was to deliver papers not read them.
When the summer holidays began, I stood in for the evening paper boy while he went to Rhyl with his parents and younger sister. It was during that week that I got to know Old Billy better. Everyone in the street had a comment about him.
‘He was in the War, got blown up.’
‘Prisoner of War, in Germany, he was.’
‘I heard he never left England.’
‘Don’t believe a word, he makes it all up.’
‘Supposed to be a chain maker, but he hardly ever goes to work.’
‘Never fell out with anybody as far as I know.’
Were just a selection of comments from the residents of Cokeland Place.
On the Saturday evening, after completing my round, Mary Anne, in the paper shop, asked me to drop off a Sports Argus to Billy as he’d not turned up to collect it.
‘P’raps he’s not very well,’ she said, ‘And it’s on your way home.’
Arriving at his back door, I found it open. Thinking he was in the closet behind the wash house, I stepped inside to place the paper on the sideboard.
“That’s good on yer, lad,’ came from Billy who was lying on the floor. He seemed to be wedged between his armchair and a cupboard in which he stored his groceries. ‘I’ve had a bit of a tumble an I can’t get up.’
‘I’ll go and fetch somebody,’ I said, and ran out, along the entry up to our house. When I returned with my father, we found Billy had passed out.
’Go to Miss Willets,’ Dad told me. ’She’s got a phone, ask her to ring for an ambulance.’
By the time the ambulance came, Billy had died. Sergeant Bills arrived and after they had carried the old man out, he found a box that must have been under Billy’s body. He opened the lid and showed us the contents. It was a funny-shaped cross with a lion and a crown on it, attached to a maroon ribbon.
‘I bet the King would have presented that, at Buckingham Palace,’ the Sergeant announced.
As we walked back to our house, I asked. ‘What’s valour mean, Dad?’