Mum’s told me lots of stories, over the last few years, about her childhood. It’s time to write some of them down. I write them just as they come, with no analysis or comment: apart from the note that I was going to split this long posting into two, but I think it’s better in one flow.
I think it might be an interesting sub-project to find out what play was like for various people of a generation or two older than me (as other collectors of stories have also done). It’ll be a curio.
Tell me about play in the black and white days!
Play in the black and white days was very unrestricted. We had the freedom to play out on the streets because there weren’t that many vehicles out on the road. We used to play Cowboys and Indians and make bows out of a piece of wood and string, wooden arrows. We used to play football in the street, tag, make fishing rods out of a piece of wood and bit of string and a safety pin, go down the canal, fishing; we used to play in bomb craters, jumping off into the crater. We used to go scrumping, climbing apple trees in people’s gardens.
When the ice used to freeze on the canal, the youngest person, i.e. me, was put on the ice to test it. I was about three years old. What else did we used to do? Races up and down the road. I played with white mice. I don’t ever remember playing indoors actually . . . I remember one Christmas I went hunting for my presents and it was a set of books and I got really upset by it. Ah! I remember playing hide and seek indoors and I rolled myself up in an eiderdown on my mum’s bed and my sister couldn’t find me. And, thinking about it, I think we had jigsaw puzzles.
We were always out in the streets. What did we do in the winter? We used to get smog. I used to go to school with a scarf over my mouth and nose and hold along the fences cos you couldn’t see very far in front of you. We weren’t allowed to play in the smog though; we had to go to school. Only allowed to go out in the smog if it was a school day, weren’t allowed to play out in it cos you couldn’t see anything. That was awful that was. Used to do a lot of handstands. Remember doing them at school. What’s that other game we used to play with the ball . . .? Two balls up the wall. Used to throw it and . . . oh, five stones. Played that. Five coloured stones, then throw them up, let them fall, then catch some on the back of your hand; then throw them up and catch them, then throw up one of what you’ve got in your hand, then pick up one on the floor and catch the other stone. Then the second round you’ve got to pick two up [demonstrates] . . . I haven’t done this for years. You’ve got to do this till you can pick them all up at once.
The other thing we used to do is play hopscotch and you know how to play hopscotch. Leapfrog, I used to be good at leapfrog. And we used to play leapfrog over each other and any, like . . . we didn’t have bollards back in them days, what did they call them . . .? We used to just leapfrog over it, or like a tree stump or whatever. Whatever was there. When I got a bit older I had a hoop and used to play . . . was it hoop-la you call it? When you have a hoop and you put it round your waist. Hula hoop, that’s the one. What else did we used to do?
Climbed a lot of trees; well I did anyway. Just climbing trees to see how far you could get up them. I usually used to get half way but it depends how big the tree was. You’ve got to remember that I was the only girl in my street. I was always amongst boys: one sister was away at boarding school and my other sister is seven years older than me. I was over my cousin’s a lot. Used to walk round the streets a lot over there.
Used to do running races round the block in my street. There wasn’t that many cars around. Hardly ever saw a car down the road. There were definitely no cars parked in the street. All the people who were rich enough to have a car, most of them had driveways.
We used to dare each other to knock the copper’s hat off! If you saw a copper walking down the road, one of us did it and the copper invariably gave you a ticking off – if you couldn’t run fast enough and he caught you. If the copper caught you doing anything you shouldn’t have, he marched you home and told your parents.
Didn’t have any rollerskates: they were around but I didn’t have any. They were funny, rollerskates, in the olden days. They had the wheels and a piece of leather coming up and you tied it. You had your shoes on and you put them into the skates. You imagine a skateboard and scale that down to the size of a foot with straps to hold it on.
We were dressed in white once, white socks, white dresses, me and my sister and we were playing in the coal bunker. Another time, my other sister wanted to go fishing and Mum said no: Eve wanted a fishing rod, she had the wood and string and needed a safety pin to catch the fish on so she knocked next door and said that Mum needed to borrow a safety pin and when my mum came out to call us in for tea we weren’t around so she asked the neighbour if she’d seen us and my mum put two and two together and caught us down the canal.
I remember we had a dog called Judy and we were down the canal and she ended up in it. And there was a flasher, actually, down the canal! He was on the other side. It sounds like it’s come from a film but he had a long coat on and he flashed himself but I don’t think me and my sisters told me mum: we just laughed at him. But I can’t ever remember my mum ever telling me ‘don’t talk to strangers’. I remember going round in the baker’s van, sitting in front of him and he used to steer. Mum knew him cos Dad was the foreman baker, so obviously they knew him. Can you imagine that happening these days though?
Got a dent in me leg from a seesaw. I was at one end pushing it up and down and my sister was at the other end and she let it go down and I got a dent in me leg. Never went to hospital. Got a dent in me leg from a seesaw. I got a cricket ball in me eye. Went to watch cricket on a Sunday afternoon. There was a family next to me and I was watching the baby crawling and, as I watched the baby, I looked up and saw the ball coming towards me. And the batsman that did it said to me, ‘Where d’you live? I’ll take you home.’ And I got in his car and he drove me home. And then he drove me and Mum to the hospital.
Didn’t have a favourite play. Just did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. No adults were around in the play. Well I say no, there might have been adults around just talking at the gate but then they went in. Boy across the road had a treehouse, we used to play in that. He used to have a beat up old car at the bottom of his garden as well. God knows what we used to do in there, but we used to play in it.
When we used to play out in the street, and the ball used to go in a certain woman’s garden, nobody used to go and get it cos we all used to say it was a witch that lived there. So we devised a way of getting it, in the end. Her house was on the corner. If the ball went in her back garden we used to creep up to the front door, tie a bit of string to the knocker, while the bravest person went round the back (we did it in turns – ‘I was braver last time, I’m not doing it again, it’s someone else’s turn’). I used to get a really, really long piece of string, [laughs] and we were all shit-scared of this woman [starts crying with laughter] . . . so we pulled the string and while the knocker was knocking the one who had to go round the back went round the back, got the ball, and had to get it before the witch got back in again. That’s why we used to have a long bit of string: she used to come out and rant and rave. She was probably a nice old girl really. I can see that bloody house now, on the corner! That was funny, that was.
Did I tell you about the time my sister taught me how to swim at the coast and she couldn’t swim herself? Don’t know what coastline we were on. Well, we were at the seaside with my mum, and my sister said, ‘I’ll teach you how to swim’, so we went in the water and she put her arms out and she said to me, ‘Right, stick your legs out and move your arms,’ and she was lowering me and catching me and when we were back with my mum I said, ‘Eve’s been teaching me how to swim,’ and Mum said, ‘How can she teach you to swim when she can’t swim herself?’ My sister thought it was funny and I didn’t. My mum wasn’t impressed. Think that’s why I don’t like the water.
I used to play in the cornfields when I went down to Clacton to see my cousin. Used to pick all the corn. We weren’t that daft to get caught. Where were we . . .? Can’t remember, was it Clacton, we used to have a big tree with a rope hanging on it over a pond? Many’s the time I used to fall in it. Suppose that could have been dangerous play. Weren’t very deep pond. We used to go in my uncle’s sidecar on his motorbike; it was brown, it was horrible; that’s not play, is it, really?
[Sudden explosion of laughter] I can remember down Clacton, there was me and my sister and three or four cousins, we were in this big bed and there must have been five or six of us in this big double bed and we used to have farting competitions. Couldn’t have been very old: me, Eve, Janice, and I think two of my cousins were boys, don’t know now. Don’t know. I think I’m all thinked out now! [Long pause]
Tell you what, when we were kids summers seemed much longer than what they do now. And Easter’s always used to be sunny and warm. Always. Ah, that’s what we used to do: we used to go to the funfair as well. Mind you, I was a bit older by then. Probably about 14 by then; me and my cousin, Dawn, used to go up there. Shouldn’t have thought we were much younger than that, don’t think my mum would have let us . . . I don’t know – I used to walk to Wembley on my own. I used to travel around a lot on my own, unrestricted. And I tell you what, back to the funfair, they were a lot more dangerous than they are today. The old rollercoaster was a wooden thing and it was a boneshaker, rattler. I’m just letting thoughts pop into my mind . . .
[Half an hour later, and out of the blue . . .]
Strangely enough, I never had illnesses as a child. The only illnesses I had were scarlet fever and German measles. I don’t know if it was because it was healthy to play like we did. I think today’s kids are too sterile myself . . .