AFTER he retired, my grandfather would often wait at the top of the street, opposite the shop, for my brother and me to emerge at the end of the school day and there was, most days, a thruppenny bit for each of us to spend. I would clutch the reassuring heaviness of the coin tightly in my hand as I ran across the road to the shop.
Flower’s sold most of the sweets that Terry Martin did, but sometimes they also carried toy tattoo patches that came in little cellophane envelopes. These were a favourite of mine. I remember choosing a skull and crossbones design one day, etched out in black and inky blue.
To get the tattoos to work you licked your forearm and applied the paper patch picture side down to the wet spit, pressing hard. For a good result, the trick was to leave the patch on your skin for as long as you could bear to wait. I peeled mine off as slowly and steadily as I could, to reveal the result, blurred around its edges like a bruise. It was fantastic.
As I was a little older by now and the map of my world was extending slowly at its margins, it was deemed okay for me to play unsupervised on the Crescent Street Riverstones after tea each day. The river wall that separated my grandfather’s garden from this new playground was five feet high and three feet wide, easy to climb, and its smooth flat top was broad enough to belt along at top speed from almost one end of the street to the other.
To drop down onto the other side of the wall, onto the Riverstones, was to leap through a doorway into another world, one which seemed reserved for us kids, as adults rarely ventured there.
Simply a gently sloping pebble-and-rock-strewn bank on the inside of a bend in the River Taff, the Riverstones were a side effect of the diverting of the course of the river by Victorian engineers when the pit was originally sunk. Shaped like a crescent moon it was pinched off at each end by high walls and tangles of Japanese knotweed, brambles and ‘policeman’s helmet’ plants with their exploding seed pods.