My brother was five years older than me and as a result from the time I was five years old he looked upon me as something of a burden.
Now that might sound a bit melodramatic but it’s not as if he had to raise me or anything although in truth I think he would have preferred that.
But unfortunately for Peter his burden took a very different form.
Ever since my fifth birthday he had to baby-sit me, whenever he went out to play he had to take me along, and he hated it, which he never let me forget.
It didn’t matter what plans he had, football, cricket, riding his bike or fishing, you name it I was there too.
In fact I can only remember one occasion when he was grateful for my company.
It was November 1966, I was 10 and Peter had just turned fifteen the week before.
We were living in North London, where my dad worked as a grounds man on Alexandra Park racecourse and we lived in a cottage on the grounds.
It was the day before bonfire night which when I was ten was a very exciting time.
I found everything about bonfire night exciting, the bonfire in the back garden with the guy on top, hot chocolate and marshmallows, but I especially enjoyed the fireworks, now they’re just bloody annoying, but then they were magic when I was a kid.
However we weren’t the wealthiest family and money for luxuries like fireworks was not easy to come by so we never knew if we were going to have a selection box or a small box of bangers and some sparklers.
So it wasn’t until the afternoon of the 5th of November that we heard the news.
Peter and I were upstairs and Mum and Dad were in the kitchen when dad called up.
“Boys? Come down here”
We knew what is was about so we didn’t need calling twice and we dropped what we were doing and ran full pelt down the stairs, Peter got there first as usual.
“Alright slow down” Dad said as we slid into the kitchen on the lino.
“Mums got something for you”
So we turned our full attension to Mum.
“Here you are boys”’she said handing a bank note to Peter “for fireworks”
“Wow Five pounds?” we said in unison
“Yes” she replied, “I did a lot of overtime last month”
“Thanks Mum” I said and hugged her, Peter took his eyes off the note momentarily and joined me.
Then we did the same to Dad.
“Don’t waste it all on fancy stuff, you’ve got enough there for a decent selection box and a few extras” he said and the realisation dawned on Peters face that he was allowed to get them himself.
In previous years we had gone to the shop and Dad had always bought them.
Even though back in those days kids could buy fireworks and most tobacconists would sell you fags or you could get them and beer from the offie, you didn’t need a note or anything.
We both ran out of the kitchen and started putting our shoes on.
“Where do you think your going” Mum said to me
“I’m going with Peter” I replied, “to get the fireworks”
“Oh no you’re not” she corrected me
“Hah” Peter said and smirked rather disgustingly
“But…” I began
“But nothing you still have chores left to do” she scolded
“But…” I began again
“You have toys all over the house that I told you to clear away this morning” she said
Peter was heading for the back door.
Dad handed him a letter and said
“Pop my coupon in the post on your way”
“Ok Dad” Peter said and smirked at me again
“If I pick them all up now can I go?” I begged
“Too late” Peter said and went out the door “Bye”
“If I pick them all up can I run and catch him up?” I asked
“No” Mum said sternly
I looked at my dad for support but he just inclined his head and gave me a knowing smile that said, “You should have done it when you were told to”
I went off sulkily and begrudgingly picked up every toy car, soldier and Lego brick
And then sat down watching the clock
After what seemed like an age I went to the kitchen to find mum, Dad had gone back to work by then.
“Why isn’t Peter back yet?” I asked her
She was stood at the sink and half turned to glance over her shoulder at the clock
“I don’t know” she replied unsurely then after a moment or two added
“Perhaps he had to go to more than one shop”
She accompanied this remark with a distinct nod as if to confirm what a sensible conclusion she had come to.
Half an hour later she was less convinced.
“Shall I go and look for him?” I suggest hopefully
“No” she said firmly “I don’t want to lose two sons in one afternoon thank you very much”
Then she began pacing the kitchen and muttering under her breath, she had just began her sixth length when I spotted him shuffling down the front path.
“Here he is,” I shouted
“Where?” Mum said and went to the window “thank God”
When he came through the door he looked very crestfallen.
“Where on earth have you been?” mum said sharply though clearly relieved
“I...” he began
“Let’s see the fireworks,” I asked
“I…” he began again
“Where are the fireworks?” Mum asked “Did someone steal them from you?”
“I didn’t get any” he replied softly
“Why not?” Mum demanded
“I,,, I” he stuttered
“Well?” mum reiterated
“I lost the money,” I said
“You did what?” she shouted “you stupid boy”
“I looked everywhere” he said “that’s why I’ve been so long”
“Do you know how hard I have to work to earn the money for luxuries like fireworks?”
“I’m sorry” he said and began crying “but I retraced my steps and I really have looked everywhere”
“Well that’s, that then” Mum yelled as she stomped off down the hall “and don’t think you’re getting any more”
“Did you post Dads letter?” I asked
“Yes” he sobbed
“Well at least you did that right,” Mum said
“Perhaps it’s in the letter box,” I suggested
“What is?” Mum asked
“The fiver” I explained “maybe you posted it with Dads coupon”
Peter looked thoughtful as mum came back into the kitchen
“See your brother has got more sense in his little finger than you’ve got in your whole body”
Peter stared at the floor as she ranted on, this was not the first time she had said that particular phrase but it still hurt.
“You need to get yourself up to the post box and wait there until its emptied and ask the postman to check through the letters”
Peter got up and walked towards the door.
“And take your brother with you” She said, “at least I know I can trust him”
“Can we still get fireworks?” I asked as I put my coat on
“Let’s find the money first” she snapped “and then we’ll see”
I had to run up the path to catch up with Peter but when I caught up to him he put his arm around my shoulder and said
“Well done kid,” he said
We spent the next hour sitting on the curb by the post box until the postman pulled up
He jumped out of his Comma van and when he saw us sitting there he laughed and said
“Ok what did you do?”
Peter stood up and explained what we thought he’d done and he laughed again
“You wouldn’t believe the things people post in here by accident” he said as he unlocked the door and began transferring letters from the box into his sack pausing only once to brandish our £5 note.
We thanked him profusely and went running off down the road and hoped above hope that Mum would still let us spend the hard earned £5 on fireworks.
She was much happier by the time we got home and gave us both a hug before saying
“Now the pair of you had better get to the shop before they close”
“Really?” Peter said
“Yes” Mum said and kissed his forehead
“Just don’t tell your father”