We had a problem we hadn’t thought of. There were hundreds of boxes of popcorn and only four of us. Each box contained 48 packets. The boxes weren’t too heavy but they were big and awkward to carry.
“We’ll carry a box each.” Reggie decided.
We were dissapointed to leave a mountain of popcorn behind but we knew it was the right decision.
So we started our trek back to the estate, each carrying a large box of popcorn.
I had mine up on my right shoulder. This was fine for about twenty yards. Then I began to tire. So I changed to the left shoulder. Another twenty yards and I had to stop and swap again. I looked round. Reggie was a few feet behind me, but Dave and Trevor had stopped a long way back.
The system wasn’t working. Reggie shouted out.
“Leave one box. Take turns in carrying the other one.”
Reluctantly they agreed. Me and Reggie waited for them to catch up, remembering our promise. No one gets left behind.
We made it slowly through the boggy marshland and eventually came to a fence that bordered the child killer road. Reggie climbed over first. Dave got on my shoulders and Trevor lifted up the boxes one by one and passed them to Dave. He in turn pushed them over the fence to Reggie. Soon we were all standing on the other side with our three.
Dave asked a question. “If we’ve only got three boxes. How many packets do we get each?”
It was a fair question. Reggie just shrugged his shoulders, maths wasn’t his strong point. Dave and Trevor had no idea, they were both in class “R” which stood for Remedial. I had no idea what it meant but guessed it wasn’t a compliment. I knew my tables and began doing the sums. The easy bit was how many packets we had. Forty eight in each box meant four lots of twelve. Three boxes meant there were twelve lots of twelve. Twelve twelves is one hundred and forty four. After that I was a bit stumped. I guessed.
Everyone seemed pleased with the answer.
Crossing the child killer was dangerous enough, but crossing it whilst carrying a large box on your shoulder was going to be tricky. It was a dual carriageway and there was a small grass verge in the middle where we could get a short period of safety. Reggie went first. He ran as quick as he could with the box and made it to the middle. He waited for a few minutes then called me over. I did the same. I made it. Now it was the turn of Trevor and Dave. They’d decided to carry the box together. This meant that Dave would be running backwards and Trevor forwards.
It was carnage. Dave stumbled as he ran backwards and dropped the box. In panic he just turned and ran to us, Trevor left the box and did the same.
The box of popcorn was hit by a lorry at 50 mph. It looked like there was a snow storm in Dagenham…in September.
But there was no time to lose. We had to get on. Everyone had to be in for tea by 5pm at the latest.
We crossed the other side of the A13 with our two remaining boxes intact.
The bomb sites at Goresbrook were really nothing more than waste ground. But bomb sites sounded better. We each took turns in carrying the two boxes. We counted to 100 paces and then swapped. I swapped my box with Trevor and Reggie swapped with Dave.
The next part of the journey would be the most treacherous. The flats at Castle Green had their own gangs who wouldn’t take too kindly to us Barking boys going through their territory. But there was no way round it. We had to be brave.
We walked as quickly as we could and got past the flats. Now just a few narrow streets to navigate and we’d soon be back on the estate. But suddenly Reggie stopped in his tracks.
On the next street corner was a group of six boys. It was the Lodge Avenue Gang. We couldn’t run because we were carrying two large boxes of popcorn. We couldn’t go back because behind us was Castle Green and the child killer. We’d just have to tough it out.
“Keep close.” Reggie commanded.
As we approached, they began to spread out, standing three feet apart. They were bigger and older than us. All from big school. One of them stepped forward and stopped Reggie with his hand.
“What you got there?”
Their leader turned and looked at his boys. They all nodded. Respect.
“We’ll take a box and then you can get going.”
Reggie looked at us for approval. We had no choice. Dave put down his box. The Lodge Avenue Gang parted and we all walked through. It was a heavy price to pay but we’d come through it alive and with respect from the boys in Dagenham.
We got back to Dave’s dads shed at half past four. We were exhausted but euphoric at the same time. The Barking Boys had fulfilled their quest for the popcorn. We opened the box and took six packets each. We’d come back in a few days time for the rest. Reggie said it was best to let the heat to die down.
When I got in for tea Mum saw me before I had chance to hide the popcorn. She put her hands on her hips and gave me “that look”.
“Where’d you get that lot from?”
I had to think quick. No way could I tell her the truth about our raid and who was with me. I was no grass.
“Dave’s dad got it from work. We all got some.”
As quick as a left hook from Henry Cooper she swiped me across the back of the head.
“If I find out you’ve been near that A13 you’ll be for it. It’s a child killer that road is!”