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The Smell of Tar

She would go out of her way to breathe over a tar boiler whenever the men were mending the road!

It was baking-hot and my mum had let us put the peg rug out on the flags to sit on.

Everyone was out, sitting on chairs brought from indoors or just sitting on the step. The Robins’ kids had made a tent from a clothes-horse with grey army blankets draped over it (this was 1945). Ian Robins was sitting cross-legged in front of the tent opening with a hen feather tied to his head with a piece of string and bossing Jimmy Smith who was trying to bend a stick from the railway banking to make a bow.

Janet and Mary (my sisters) and some other big girls from the next street were playing “All in together girls – very fine weather girls” with one end of Mrs Handley’s clothesline tied to a drainpipe. Betty Davies was turning the rope over and the girls were jumping in when it was their birthday “When it’s your birthday please jump in” I would have liked to jump in when it was November but you feel daft if you play skipping with girls so then you have to mess about and spoil it and they tell over you, so I didn’t bother.

The tar between the cobbles was melting in the hot sun and you could pinch it out, stretch it like toffee and roll it into black sausages between your palms but you could feel the inside hardness of it coming back when it cooled in your hand.

I made a black marble that was nearly round but it had creases and fingerprints on it. Mrs Machin (the posh one) asked if she could sniff at the tar as she loved the smell. She took my marble, and sniffed at it, holding it carefully between her finger and thumb and her eyes went silly-dreamy to show the other neighbours how she loved the smell. Then she told them how she always had loved it and how it was good for all sorts like croup and bronchitis and how she would go out of her way to breathe over a tar boiler whenever the men were mending the road.

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