Hopton Court, Greenheys, 1973
It was like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle in slow motion, one block on top of the other. First there were the big holes dug deep into the ground, big enough to bury a boat in. Then there were the big planks of iron stuck into those holes, a hundred feet high. James kept his distance just in case he accidentally touched them and knocked them over. He had his excuses ready just in case.
'I was at Everton's all day playing Ludo, honest.'
The next week the big iron planks had been partially covered by big flat thin walls of plaster with square holes in it, for the windows or something. James would have stayed longer, only H. R. Puf-n-stuff was on the telly in five minutes.
James didn't go for a while after that. After Mum and Aunt Vernice fell out they changed church. It was okay at the new church even though they didn't read stories from the Bible or play the tambourine. And after a while they stopped going to that one too. And that would have been the end of it when Carl entered the class in a brand new duffle coat. 'Guess what, we've got a new house, and we didn't have to move to no Ashton-under-Lyne neither.'
No one would have believed it only he invited James round to see for himself.
James almost fell over when he saw Carl's sister using a posh glass to drink water from the tap. It was exactly like the ones Mum kept in the china cabinet for special occasions like Christmas or a visitor from the West Indies. And there they were, Carl, his sister and James on the balcony of their new apartment overlooking a park with swings and roundabouts and a launderette for mothers to do their washing. It was Carl's sister that called it an apartment. 'Like in America,' she said, whilst sticking out her little finger on the hand she held the glass with.
'It's great, isn't it,' said Carl. And James had to agree, even though it didn't have a tree.
They were so high up that everything below looked like toys, Chad Valley toys in the posh department store at Piccadilly. Chad Valley and Raleigh. Those words were magic to James. Magic in his dreams until now. The Chad Valley toys of buildings, houses, streets with lamp-posts, garages and car parks, where you could push your Dinky toy car up along the rank of three floors stopping off for two-pennies-worth of petrol. Once a year, Christmas shopping in Piccadilly. They couldn't afford anything in the posh department store, but it cost nothing to look, and dream. And now Carl was living in one, here, right here in Moss Side, and when James got home he would tell his mum and dad to come and have a look even though it didn't have its own tree. There were still dreams of Raleigh bikes with a hundred gears and seats as sharp as razors. But there was lots of time for that one to come true. Besides, he was only nine.
'You can see for miles around and at night all the streets and houses light up like the London Palladium,' said Carl.
'That's nice!' James replied, even though it was him that had told Carl about the London Palladium Show in the first place.
A lift that went up when you pressed a button, a bathroom and toilet with no brown stains and taps that had hot water already, furniture so new the settee was covered in plastic. And as for the kitchen, James couldn't believe anything could be so clean and sparkly white. You had to wear goggles just to turn the tap. There was also hot air from the grilles in the walls.
'Just switch this switch and the heat comes on.' And it did too, like a hot breath on a cold day. 'No need for coal fires or anything. Bet your new house in Ashton don't have one.'
James wasn't about to bet anything. Betting was bad, Dad said. Dad said betting was so bad, you could lose all your money or even the shirt off your back. And James wasn't about to lose his brand new bri-nylon white shirt to no one, especially Carl.
Carl was really enjoying himself now. There was no way James could match that, even with caterpillars in the tree. But that didn't matter, because there was something else which was even more magnificent than anything he'd seen so far. Much better than the lift, the thin walls so you could hear everything the neighbours said, even better than the little people waiting for the toy buses. James had heard about them but had never seen one before. No one he knew had seen one, not even Mr Boyle. But there before his very eyes, like a shrine in a temple, was a colour television showing Bugs Bunny cartoons. James wanted to fall to his knees in prayer, only he didn't want to muck up the shag-pile carpet. James's only concern now was to get Carl to invite him for dinner sometime, on a Sunday afternoon when H. R. Puf-n-stuff was on. He would even let Carl come top in spelling.
(Forever and ever amen, pages 144 to 147)