The Skin Shop

The story which is semi autobiographical tells the story of Ralph Mason Growing up in Collingwood Terrace in North Shields in 1948. it is a story of Hardship, poverty, love, and friendship just after the Second World War. Some names have been changed and I have used some poetic licence to bring the story to back to life as some of the places talked about in this story are no longer with us. "The Skin Shop is one boys journey into manhood. i

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Tony Santos was the first to show up at the Mason house then Bobby Willis, Manny Nicholson, Tucker Young, Johnny and Robert Legg who lived upstairs. Their mother was good friends with the Mason’s. John put on his jacket and called on Ralph.

“Coming Kid give me a minute I’ve got to change into my old toggs.’

Ralph went into the bedroom and took off his better clothes then put on a tee shirt his old brown and grey tank top and his shorts that were way too big for him. They had been Johns but now he was wearing them and the snake belt hardly kept them up. He threw on his plimsolls and then came out into the passage. “I’m ready he declared.”

The girls stopped the game as soon as they saw the boys walking down toward China town. That’s what it was known as. John and Ralph had their torches, a box of matches and a dry newspaper to make a camp fire with that they had acquired from the scullery of the house. They walked along until they came to the old building which had been boarded up but someone had forced a window at the back and they could all gain access from there. John was the first to climb inside and he looked about in case there were any tramps knocking about. There no signs of anyone around so John shouted to his brother to tell the rest that it was safe to enter.

Everyone scrambled inside the boys helping the smaller girls.

Okay let’s get a fire started. Not too big or the fire brigade will come down here to put it out.

Gathering bits of dry timber John and Ralph used the boy scouting skills to get a small fire going using the old Victorian fireplace with a grate. Ralph brought his fathers little hatchet that he used for chopping wood and he began to break some of the larger pieces of timber into small pieces. After twenty minutes of chopping there was enough wood to keep a fire burning until it was time to go.

They sat around on the floor of the building. Looking at what was left of the house John could tell that it had been once owned by someone rich. The walls had terracotta coloured paintwork with gold painted borders what still remained of the ceiling had plaster cupids in the corners and decorative plastered rose fittings. There were two gas lamps on the wall the glass shades were missing now as the house was just a shell now. John told the others that the house had been damaged during a bombing raid by the Germans during the Second World War. Their plan was to destroy shipping and the repair yards along the Tyne but because of poor visibility they missed the targets and jettisoned bombs randomly in the hope they would hit a legitimate target.

That was how the pop factory went up killing 107 people. Whole families died on that night.

“My dad is in the fire brigade John said Allie Walker. As she relayed what her father had told her mother. it wasn’t meant for her ears she said but I opened my bedroom door a crack I was only nine years old at the time said Alice.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing as children as young as five and men and women’s bodied were brought out. My father said the blast blew off all of their clothes. Some lay naked with staring eyes whilst others were burnt beyond recognition. They were identified from the rings on their fingers or from the remains of their clothing.

“It must have been horrible to be burnt alive.

 A lot of them died as a result of the acid vats exploding above them and a lot of the survivors were trapped for several hours before being rescued only to discover that they had lost their father, their mother and sisters and brothers. Many young boys and girls went to foster homes and were eventually adopted.’

 

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