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Leeds To Marlon Brando
by Nigel Hutchinson

The house stood half way down the terraced street, although the slope of the street was more obvious when you walked up from the bottom to either the front of the house, or the back. Both cobbled streets followed the same angle, so whether you walked out of the front or back door the choice was the same, walk up the slope to the street that cut across the top, or down towards the one with its row of shops and wide pavement.

Here were the red telephone box, the post box and dogs killing time in front of the butcher’s, purveyors of offal and cheap cuts; the newsagent’s, the electrical repair shop, the baker of indifferent bread and passable mince pies, the ever steamy Chinese take-away and chip shop.

Just around the corner, the cinema, its outside decorated with terracotta tiles, tiles covered in twisting flowers and foliage in bas relief, a theme continued inside behind the mahogany doors. Deep red-brown doors with gleaming, lovingly polished brass handles, hand plates and kick plates at the bottom to protect the door from the kicks and scuffs of boots polished thin and, latterly, stilettos. The tiles inside glazed with a kind of acid green, paler where the glaze had bled away from the edges, covering the walls of the cramped foyer, broken only by the ticket office window, a small vertical opening of thick glass with a brass frame and a small cluster of penny-sized circles at mouth height to speak through. The counter in front of it worn into a shallow dip from the decades of coins, the change offered, that had been scooped across it. The carpet in front of the window more shabby than the rest, a deep crimson once thick carpet ornamented with expressive swirls in deep blue and green, an echo of Imperial adventures in India and the Far East. An anteroom like the entrance to a palace or one of the grand houses out in Roundhay built by men who had made their fortunes in wool, transplanted here amongst the terraced streets that sat in gridiron ranks around it.

Home to its loyal clientele who filed here on most nights, though mainly on Fridays and Saturdays, all dressed up for a night out, to sit in the dark in your best, perhaps hoping to hold hands and maybe more.

Inside the small, dark wedge shaped auditorium, the dusty smell of ancient moquette seats, glimpses of dimly lit plaster reliefs on walls and ceilings and faded velvet curtains. Through the ever upwards curling smoke, the darting light of the usherette’s torch and later the intimate and inviting glow above the tray of ice cream and orange drinks as she walked down the aisle at the interval, to stand in front of the screen as dust danced in the beam of the projector.

A brief pause between the newsreels, trailers and advertisements and the main feature, the thing we had come to see; always a world away from here, not a world of sooty, dispiriting greyness, but of the elegently held cigarettes that filled the pauses in French films, or the decisive cigarettes that men threw into gutters in American movies when they were ready for action, always knowing exactly the right thing to do, or the cheroots that clung to Clint Eastwood’s lips no matter what, coolness that took our breath away, made us aware of the clay that clung to our feet; if only, if only - we coulda been contenders, coulda been somebody, our lips curled like Marlon Brando’s.