Blog time again and not the happiest one I’ll ever write (which may seem strange after my last entry), but it’s something that’s been on my mind lately for what will become obvious reasons.
The place where I grew up was pretty much a cul-de-sac but with common access to the adjoining road. Our road was really bumpy and full of potholes and, because it was a private road the local council refused to pay for it to be tarmacced; it has got the better of a few car suspensions in it’s time. At the bottom of the road there was what we called the ’roundabout’. This was just basically a circular area with houses splayed out around it’s circumference. Within the circle were the parked cars of the owners of the houses, not to mention the kids of these families that would use it as their very own sports arena; cricket, football, tennis, netball and probably others I can’t recall were played there (much to the car owners dismay!). All the kids and their families had their own unique characters. Some came and went but the character that stood tallest and strongest and has seen us all come and go is the huge Horse Chestnut (Conker) tree whose mighty base spanned the border between the roundabout and the rest of the road. Although there are other trees in the gardens of the houses close by, this Conker tree was by far the biggest and most imposing of what was left from when the whole area was an orchard. I remember we had two apple trees in our garden with a pear tree next door (best pears I’ve ever tasted – yes, and whisper this, I did sneak over occasionally).
As I’ve said, this Conker tree has overlooked many things, from divorces, births, fights to loves, deaths and childhoods. One childhood it overlooked was that of one John Copple. I don’t know a great deal about John. I remember only scatty details some of which are probably wrong. I do remember him living in our road with his aunty, just two doors away. I don’t know what circumstances brought him there but I don’t think they were the happiest of reasons for John. I remember John being a punk in the late 70’s when The Sex Pistols and The Damned took off. The image I have of him is with his blue/black mohair jumper and leather jacket, black canvas pants and black boots. His hair was always short as I remember and he always seemed larger than life to me, he being 3/4 years older than me. 3/4 years when you’re a kid seems quite an age gap. John had a real cheeky smile (I think he had a dimple in his chin) and I liked him very much. I didn’t see much of him again after he left our road, maybe in the mid-eighties?
So, it was with much sadness that I heard last year that he had been murdered in his flat above a pub in Birkenhead. I couldn’t believe it. I knew very little at the time about what had happened as very little information was available. I got the impression he was beaten to death. His body wasn’t found for another week. I went to his funeral and I have to say I thought it was one of the best I’d been to. I don’t think John considered himself a Christian and this was reflected in the service. It was a very personal thing and more, I presumed, tailored to what John was about instead of the usual flat, dusty services that happen everyday.
This week I read in the local paper that the trial of his murderer had been concluded and his prison term was life. The paper also gave more details of his murder which, to say the least were very disturbing. It upset me to read it. The murderer, apparently, was one of John’s ‘friends’. They got into an argument whereupon John was repeatedly kicked and stamped upon. Both of John’s lungs had collapsed, 17 ribs were fractured, not to mention throat and abdominal injuries and a brain haemorrhage. The guy turned out his pockets and used his credit card to get £50. Unbelievable. As I said, it was another week before John was discovered. How lonely that sounds. He was 40, divorced and left behind two children. I can’t imagine how terrible his family must feel.
John would always say hello if ever I bumped into him. I remember seeing him in Birkenhead about a month before he died. He was on the other side of the road. I saw him and was thinking of shouting over and saying hello when he bumped into someone I presume was a friend of his. I didn’t want to disturb him so I walked on, oblivious to the fact that that was the last time I would ever see him. In hindsight, I wish I’d said hello.
Below is a picture of John (I went through some old slides of my dad’s this week and found it) at a place called the White Sands in Dunbar in Scotland. My mum and dad would go there on holiday every year and, although I was too young to remember, we took him up with us one year. This is when that picture is from. It must be the early seventies.
How could one ever foresee such an appalling, violent and lonely end for a little kid playing happily in the sand? I hope that Conker tree foresees a better future for the rest of us. God bless yer, John.