The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 17, Part 10, Edgbaston, late March 1962: “Meeting the ‘Aston Quartet'” [section 2 of 2]

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[Note: The featured photograph is of the side of the ABC Edgbaston from whence the Bluebottle Boys and the Aston Quartet emerge. The photograph below is of Bristol Road, about as close to a main thoroughfare as there is in Edgbaston. Aston, a tough neighbourhood in north Birmingham, is best known today for being home turf for Ozzy Osborne and the rest of the original members of Black Sabbath. Ladywood, despite its charming name and its proximity to Edgbaston, was, at the time, one of the worst slums in Birmingham.]

The other kid was no more than 14, looked like a younger brother of the rocker Johnny Kidd, had a greasy, loosely piled Cliff Richard coif I’d have died for at the time and was the only one in a leather jacket, albeit an old, faded, torn, battered one.

By his steady, sure demeanor and the way the others regarded him, he was plainly the leader. His name was Don Cutler.

After a while, he tired of Rufus’ diatribe, and slugged him in the solar plexus – hard. Doof doubled over, abruptly ending his tirade. Don gave Rufus the Goofus a final blow – hard enough to knock the wind out of him and send him to his knees – then ordered Wack to release Quasimodo and let Tiny collect his fearless leader. Our would-be tormentors staggered off in one direction, as the seven of us walked off in another.

We made introductions all around; it turned out Mick had heard me taunting Doof. He’d assumed, by my clothes and accent, that I was from Wolverhampton, where he’d a few cousins, and he saw me – and Stan and Ian, by extension – as three kindred souls being attacked by a pair of bullying preppie toffs. I said Stan’s and my Brum/Wolverhampton accents were real (the truth, more or less), picked up from a former classmate.

For a second-and-a-half I considered leaving it at that, letting him go on thinking we were all Aston kids, too; it would avoid the awkward moment that was otherwise certainly about to follow.

But as the second-and-a-half passed, I realized I had to tell the whole truth, that honesty had to be the best, the only, policy here. I’d like to say that this was because I was too upstanding to do anything else, but the truth was I was well aware, even then, of how much work goes into being an effective liar, having to keep straight what you’ve said to everyone, and when. You’ve got to have explanations at the ready in case two people to whom you’ve said different things happen to exchange information – too much effort for too little return, when all’s said and done.

Besides, in time, they’d want to know where we lived, and the game would be up. So, I got the worst over with, disclosing that we went to the same school as Doof and Tiny.

“Slumming?” Mick replied, an edge in his voice as he indicated our thrift shop clothes.

“Just more comfortable,” I said, keeping it vague.

“We get enough of uniforms during the week,” Ian added, clarifying the truth a bit. “Who wants to wear them on weekends, too?”

Changing the subject, I added that Stan and I shared the two halves of a semi-detached (still quite spacious compared to places where they lived, but at least not palatial, as I suspected they presently thought we did). We prayed all the while they wouldn’t ask about Ian’s house – thankfully, they didn’t. It turned out they were from greater Ladywood, not Aston (though I’d continue to call them “The Aston Quartet” in the privacy of my own mind).

All of but Dexter lived in back-to-backs on blocks potentially being considered for proposed slum clearance. Both of Ladywood’s main cinemas had closed a year or so ago; they now made comparatively minimal rounds among the ABC Edgbaston, ABC Bristol Road and the Odeon.

I was glad it was Mum and Dad’s two-year-old Anglia waiting for us this time, almost wishing it had been the Minx. At least it wasn’t the Tippins’ Bentley and its driver. I made introductions as we arrived, explaining how “The Quartet” saved our hides during the latest assault by Tiny and Doof.

Mick and Don recognized Dad and Mum – once again, due to their work placing people in dry digs during the waterlogged winter of 1960-61.

Mum apologized for not having enough room in the car to take the four of them home, too, but they said they were going over to the reservoir for a while, and wouldn’t be going home directly in any event. She did invite them all to come over to our place the following Saturday, which they happily accepted, noting that it would be the first time in over a year that they’d attend a Minors Club meeting in the same place twice in a row. With that, we bid them adieu for the week.

Ian’s driver was waiting when we arrived at our house, and he and Stan piled in and took off, leaving Dad, Mum and me to make the journey to Solihull and to Grammer.


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