Do times change? Do people change?

I ask these questions and I'll tell you of an experience that'll give you a chance to judge the issue for yourself.

When I was 10 years old I used to hang around with Johnny Carter.

We were both full of 'devilment' and mischief, nothing bad but let's just say, we never missed a trick.

Johnny was an only child and very spoilt. Every morning he'd arrive at school with at least a half-crown in his pocket.

His uncle Tom gave him money as well as his parents.

To me he was rich and I suppose that's the main reason why I hung about with him. I was usually skint whilst Johnny was always loaded and fat especially around the face. His nickname was Chubby.

One day at lunch-time we went into Harley's shop. It was a haven of all things sugary and sweet, a dentist's nightmare!

What a selection there was. Packets of aniseed ball, clove rock, humbugs, bonbons, mint imperials, liquorice pipes, penny dainties, chocolate logs, whoppers, fizz, blackjacks, brandy-balls, toffee bars, nougat bars, wine gums and midget gems lay before us.

“Much have ye!” asked Johnny.

“Tuppence,” I said.

“Well, I'm not getting you nothing the day!”

The worm has turned, I thought, but I had my pride. “See if I care!” I said, angrily, “Chubby!”

That got to him, me calling him by his nickname. His face went red. He bought a quarter of brandy-balls and smiled as he got stuck into the bag. He popped two in his mouth at once and cracked and crunched them with his teeth.

“Yes! Can I help you!” asked the old woman behind the counter.

“2d worth the aniseed balls, please,” I replied.

She turned around and went up the short steps to the shelves and lifted down a glass jar.

I noticed through the side of my eye that Johnny was leaving. As he passed by he pushed into me.

“Mind out – watch where you're going,” I shouted.

“Now, now, child. There's no call to get angry,” said the woman. “That'll be tuppence!”

I put my hand into my blazer pocket to get the money.

The pocket was crammed full of stuff. I began emptying it unto the counter. In all I removed two bars of chocolate, a packet of chewing gum and a packet of fruit gums. The woman was shocked. I just stood there saying nothing.

“Thief! Thief! You young Scallywag you!” she shouted.

Her brother came running from the rear of the shop. He caught hold of me roughly and would not listen to my explanation.

He took me up to the school almost dragging me part of the way there. I got six of the best with a cane in the headmaster's study.

He droned on and on about the reputation of the school and about keeping his promise to the shopkeepers about pilfering.

He would not listen to my pleas of innocence.

A note was sent home to my parents. They kept me in the house for a month, no football, no pictures, nothing.

Carter admitted to me later that he had 'done it' just to get back at me for calling him Chubby.

I was branded a thief and it took quite some time to live the incident down.

I didn't speak to Johnny for the rest of that year. When we left primary school we went to different secondary schools

We met again when we were in our late twenties.

With the arrival of a large engineering company to our town we both secured employment there. I was a storekeeper and he was a tool maker. This meant we had to communicate on a daily basis and eventually we did become less hostile towards each other but we never became close.

Johnny was married with two children, Frank aged nine and Jean, aged six. I had one boy, James, aged nine.

Both Frank and James went to the same school, St Brendan's. They were friendly, best mates in fact.

One Monday afternoon I was called to the school by the principal, a Mr Doherty.

The secretary, a cheeky cropped hair girl who wore jeans, a frilly blouse, high heels and too much make-up, ushered me into his office.

“Have a seat, Mr Anderson,” said Mr Doherty. He stressed the 'Mr'. “I've sent for your son. It'll not be long now! We'll sort this out.”

“What's this all about!” I demanded to know.

The headmaster said nothing. He pretended to study a report on his desk. I knew it must be serious. When James arrived and saw me he started to cry. “It wasn't my fault,” he sobbed. “I never did it, Daddy! Honest!”

“Did what, son?” I asked.

“He stole packets of sweets from the supermarket nearby,” said the headmaster.

“Did you, son?”

“No! I... I didn't. Ask Frank Carter!”

“What's he got to do with this?” I asked.

“I called him 'fatty'!”

“The boy's lying, obviously. I...” interrupted the headmaster.

I ignored him. I couldn't believe what was happening, history repeating itself, I thought.

Handing James a hanky I hugged him. I grabbed his hand and took him to the supermarket, intending to get to the bottom of things, to get the facts.

Mason's was a large place which sold a variety of goods, almost anything you would need. It was handy for the children too with its large collection of sweets.

The assistants were unhelpful, downright rude in fact. They just informed me that James had been caught with sweets in his pocket which he hadn't paid for.

They told me the assistant manager would be back shortly. I decided to wait.

People began staring at me and my son and I was becoming embarrassed.

To avoid their gaze I stared up at the ceiling. It was then that I noticed them – the cameras. I had prayed hard and my prayers were answered.

It was all there on tape. Frank Carter slapping James on the back whilst slipping stolen goods into his pockets.

The assistant manager, who had been in charge at the time, was apologetic.

I refused to accept his grovelling and informed him that I was considering taking legal action.

He squirmed, even trying to bribe me by offering to let James take his pick of the sweets in the shop! I left before doing something I might regret.

Returning to the school I tore a strip off the headmaster and extracted a promise from him that he would apologise to James in front of his classmates.

I then returned to work intent on getting my revenge on Johnny Carter, on humiliating him!

Boy was I going to give him what for! But it was not to be.

“Carter's been arrested,” the foreman informed me when I asked where he was.

“What for?” I asked.

“For stealing,” he said. “He's been nabbed for stealing!”


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