The Gingerbread Kid.

Beyond the bond of my family unit lay families that didn’t have a full set of family characters. The Clark family at number 70 had been my first experience of a fatherless family, not that it appeared to affect them in any way, kids are much more adaptable than adults give them credit for.

When I was 11 I met lots of new friends thanks to going to the big school. One of these was Alan Miles. Alan lived on one of the many roads that spurred off Ivyhouse Road. He was a few years older than me; he stood out from the masses, mainly because of his dress sense. He wore clothes like those of his pop idols, the likes of Human League, Soft Cell and Duran Duran. He introduced me to records and music, not that it had any real effect on me at the time but his record player and massive old style speakers were like stepping in to another world.

He’d listen to the songs, sing a bit and shake his hair out, he had a wedge style cut, his hair was dead straight, jet black and perfect for the new hair style that the kids were adopting after seeing in on Top of the Pops every Thursday evening. My hair was brown, wavy if it was allowed to grow if I missed one of my every three weeks appointments with Lionel’s blunt shears.

I was always more interested the album covers; he had loads of records, albums and singles. The singles sleeves were often dull, cheap and ripped within a few weeks, album covers were like books, glossy to touch, quality cardboard and bursting with art and information, they were better than a book because no books had ever engaged my imagination like those covers created to keep your vinyl pristine.

Alan only had a dad, his mum had passed away when he was in junior school, and his dad worked for Cable and Wireless down at the Chequers and was never home. Alan could even cook bacon under the grill, something I’d only ever see a woman do. His house lacked that female touch; the decor had stood still since his mum had died, his dad full time being the bread winner. Their kitchen was small like ours; they had a gas cooker where we had an electric one. Their kitchen table looked like something from the tip, the chairs tired, the covers split and the once yellow foam peeking out from within.

Alan’s dad belonged to an association for single parents, they were a small group, mostly widows or widowers, they’d arrange trips in the summer to Clacton, Southend and go strawberry picking, something I still associate with special memories now.

How I wished I was an orphan, I wanted to be a Gingerbread kid. This was no disrespect to my parents at all, a classic case of wanting something you can’t have.

I did go on a few trips on the Gingerbread bus; it was an old white Transit, like the type 70s bank robbers would have used. It had sliding doors, and a bench seat up front. The rear had been modified to take some seats, nobody had seat belts, them were the days.

The van was slow, no more than a dozen people crammed inside all craning our necks to look forward through the dirty windscreen. Us kids in the back quickly getting bored of the adults talk and their smoke that always drifted our way.

After a few trips I realised I didn’t actually want to an orphan after all, unfortunately Alan had no such luxury of choice. He was a cool kid at school but a loner, his dress sense was the one thing that made him stand out. He remained a friend right up until my daughter was born and my life went in another direction. He was my first mate to get a motorbike; finally his black leather jacket had real purpose. He always had knackered bikes, but kept them running, his dad’s toolbox wasn’t well equipped but Alan could fix anything, he showed me how to change bits and fault find electrics.

We’d often go out two up on his 125cc bike. Bikes had always been a part of my childhood but I now wanted one more than ever.

Alan remained in his family home in Shortcrofts Road for a few decades, then one day I randomly knocked there to find he’d moved on, no forward address. I almost wanted to go inside his old house and check if the kitchen was as I remembered it?

Instead I turned and walked down his path one last time, past where his motorbikes once sat, the grass that never got cut was now a driveway and another part of my past was lost.

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