Talkin' to Noah

A story of The Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield (Circa 1952)

 

This cinema played a huge part in my early life, and I would like to share a few mixed memories with you.


I first came to this cinema riding on my dad’s shoulders and wearing his trilby hat.
We came here twice a week, if the programme changed, walking up from Mount Pleasant Rd., sometimes calling at the Sarsaparilla shop on the way back. We’d wait outside in the queue under the cinema’s glass canopy and when it was cold I’d stand on the tops of my dad’s shoes and he’d wrap his raincoat around me.


I remember coming here around 1958, with just my mother. My father was in the Royal Hospital on West St. covered in pipes and wires and an oxygen mask, recovering from the first of his heart attacks. He’d asked me to take her to see The Student Prince to give her a break, and given me money from the top of the table beside his hospital bed.


I have rarely spent a more joyless two hours, seeing nothing of what was on screen, both of us staring at the two-tone, institutional green hospital walls in our minds.


I made up for it in my teens when myself and three friends infested this cinema several times a week on the prowl for girls. I even remember where I was sitting when I had one of my first sexual experiences. I won’t go into detail, but I have warm memories of the isolated anonymity of the womb-like darkness, where all things were possible, both on and off screen, unless Big Frank the manager spotted you.


And I recall one evening in particular;


We were sat behind four girls (as usual). They got up, went to the toilet and came back, having sprayed their hair with fresh lacquer (made from alcohol and shellac in those days, do you remember it ladies? You had to wait for it to dry?) and done whatever it is that girls did in there. They sat down again just as one of my friends coincidently leaned forward to light a cigarette. There was a huge purple flash... a strong smell of singed hair... and then the screaming began...


For such a big man, Frank was very quick on his feet…


But this is a memory from a gentler time....

 

Talkin' to Noah

 

Tryin' hard not to open me Butterkist,
I peeked out through t' slit of me dad's poachers pocket,

and listened.......

“ Evenin’ Charlie."
“ Aye, Ted."
“ Rain again. "
“ Aye. "
“ An' all last week."
“ Aye. "
“ And t' next, I suppose."
 
From under the coat my dad’s voice rumbled
like thunder in his stomach
it were like listening to God..... talking to Noah.

 

Charlie’d touch the brim of his green felt hat.
Flick the gold bits on his shoulders.
Stand up on t' step like t' soldiers on Poppy Day
putting flowers out for t'pigeons in Barkers Pool.

 

Then he'd look at me mam's legs.
He were on'y short.
So were me mam
But she wore these tall heels
that did funny things to her legs
 
It made Charlie smile
every time he looked at ‘em
 
“ Good picture, Charlie? " me dad says
“ Never see 'em all 't way through, Ted"
“ Never? "
“ Aye...never.  On'y t'middle bits."

 

“ What if tha not workin' Charlie?"
“ Does tha go to work on thi day off,  Ted? "

 

I couldn't reckon that.
If I were big enough to go to work
I'd want to be there all t’ time
And me Butterkist were stuck together.
So I bashed it on me dad's knee

 

“ Good.... crowd. " he said,
Charlie smiled.
“ Aye!..... But thi wain't all gerr in."
 
He walked up and down t'edge of t'queue.
Tapping ankles with his foot.
Trimmin' us away from t’cause'y edge.
Then came back.

 

I were hiding.
Me dad knew t' Commissionaire.
I didn’t know how to handle that.

 

We moved forward, and
I could 'ear him counting
under 'is breath.
Then 'is arm 'd swing down
 
An' suddenly everybody's sayin'
“ Hey! I wor wi 'er!"
“ Aye..he's wi me."
“ I'm not goin' in wi'out 'er."

 

An' he'd part 'em like Moses at the red sea.
An' carry on countin'

 

Then  he'd let 'em go.
Chunterin' an' shufflin'.
Not darin' to look back.
An' he'd be countin'
An' me stood on t' tops
of me dad's best shoes
Tryin' to save some Butterkist
For inside.

 

An' 'is arm 'd swing down again.
Behind us.
An' he'd wink at me
Because me dad knew t' Commissionaire
 
An' me mam 'ad nice legs.

 

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