plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Archive for the ‘play in the black and white days’ Category

Stories of war and play and the innocence of us

A few years ago I found myself half-way up a mountain in the former East Germany, sat in a small open-walled cabin structure as the rain lashed down onto the trees and brutally deforested slopes around me. In that cabin were some other hikers and climbers, one of which was a man who — it transpired — grew up in the former East, in the pre-unified years. We exchanged about this much information, in English, but what I wanted to do, and didn’t do for some reason, was ask him more about his childhood and play experiences back then. Since then, every chance I can get to ask someone who I meet from other (and to me unusual) times and places about their play as a child, I do.

I recently met a woman who was a child in pre-World War II Germany in the 1930s, under the shadow of Hitler’s influence. I’ve had discussions with her a few times since our first meeting some twenty years ago, but this was the first time I’d had the inclination to ask her about what things were like back then for her. I didn’t have my dictaphone with me at the time, so what follows is a reported account of what she told me rather than actual word for word. A lot of the play memories I listened to were familiar (leading me to think on the universal aspect of play), but their unfamiliar context, for me at least, gave me a little further food for thought.

I was invited to take a look at a few photos from the 1930s, stored on computer, and the narration of each brought them to life. Stories are always appreciated, as told by the teller, but I found that the faces of children looking out at me from some 75 or 80 years or so ago added something different again. There’s something that we sometimes forget: these people who are maybe twice our own age were once half the height we are now and just forming their own ideas and feelings on the world.

On the screen I saw a black and white photo of a school classroom. The children were diligently sat at desks with slate boards in front of them. I’m guessing the photo dated back to about the mid or late 1930s. I was immediately struck by the telling of the tale that, every day in class, the children were required to salute. It was, of course, the Nazi salute. ‘We gave the salute; though we had no idea what we were really doing. We did as we were told.’ I was shown a picture of a young girl in uniform. I guessed it wasn’t a school uniform. These children looked no different to any other child I’ve seen, in essence. Why should they? My host was matter-of-fact in the narration of her story memories. It led me to draw my own conclusions.

She went on to speak with great fondness of the boys she always played with. Always the boys, she said; although ‘these two are now dead; these two are alive still.’ There was a photo of her, clear and seemingly happy, sat in the middle of the boys somewhen about maybe 1938 or 1940. I’m guessing here. She and the boys built houses, as she called them: they posed with wooden boxes spread around them. I thought of the pallet creations that the children I know of today build in the play-dedicated spaces of west London. Then, here they all were in the winter next to a massive snowman.

I was shown a series of family photos of the time and the stories to them, and later the stories unfolded without the need for photographic evidence. I imagined the scene as I was given snippets: I imagined the field landscapes I saw in the snow photos, and in them there were hunter’s dogs (I was told) — one big and one small, the latter for going down fox holes. The bigger dog was the one my host and her play friends would dress up in a hat and clothes and shoes. She would climb trees, as was once — I suspect — something almost universal. On her very first day at school, all that time ago, a clear story about rabbits emerged: a friend at school invited her home to see some rabbits, and so she agreed, and so her mother was angry at her.

There was a story embedded into the whole about kites. The children used to make these from two cross-members and a paper skin. They added tails and flew them in the maize fields. There was a certain happiness shining out at the telling of the part where the children would attach writing paper to the kites’ tails (‘We would write things on that paper: I like Gert, or something like this’). The kites would take the paper messages up and up and scatter them away.

It was during the war years, I was told, that this child was given her own family job: the family had to grow their own food and they needed someone to scare the sparrows away. Returning to the photos, I was shown a picture of a school line-up after the war. These were the nuns who presided over her school. This one, I was told, with a definite clarity, was the worst! There was, apparently, an Englishman who was sent to the school (here, this was him) who checked that ‘no bad ideas were taught to the children after everything.’ The matter-of-factness of the tone was an indicator of the years gone by.

We came back to that first photograph again: the one with the children and the saluting in the classroom. It took us a while to work out the English word for the slate boards. As we did I looked at the faces of those children, thinking about their innocence and what was expected of and imposed upon them. Now, as I write, I wonder how many are still alive, how many are well into their old age.

When I hear stories of play and childhood from decades gone by, I’m always fascinated because there are similarities to now, and because there are peculiarities particular to that time and space. When I see photographs from times gone by, with children engaged in just what they do staring or smiling out, I sometimes stop and stare in deeper still: all of us are children, somehow, in some realm of time and space. We’re all real still.
 
 

Play stories of the Twenties (Battersea, London)

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to have the opportunity to talk with Harry about what he remembers of being a child. Harry is 91. It’s not often that we get opportunities like this and I urge everyone to take these up when they arise.

This interview discussion (posted here with Harry’s permission) was originally intended to focus soley on play back in, what I term, the ‘black and white days’! However, for various reasons, which will hopefully become apparent, the final transcription is more of a wider view of life in the 1920s. I usually interview people for this series with just the opening question. In Harry’s case, it’s a fine line between asking leading questions and offering further prompts to jog the memory. I hope I’m just the right side of the line.

Harry is in his own home. For most of the discussion he’s sat in his armchair with one leg slung over its arm! Also present are his daughter and three nieces, all in their sixties and seventies themselves (who help out by asking Harry questions too, and who are shown below as ‘others’)

This is a fairly long interview and blog entry, but I post it in full (including exactly the way that words were said – offering insight in itself) because I hope and trust that those who stay the course will get something out of it, as I did.
 
Me: Harry, how did you play?

[Others]: What happened at Christmas?

Father Christmas came, so they tell me.

[Others]: What did he bring you?

That’s the question . . . you had your pillow case, hanging up. Din’t have . . . well you should put a sock up but we used be a bit greedy – put a sack up, might get a bit more. You had the orange, the apples, all the fruits, wassname, and sweets and tin a sharp toffees . . . oh, gawd blimey, oh Christ, you’re creating a whatname now for me . . .

[Others]: Come on, get your brain in gear!

That’s what I’m trying to do . . . [garbled laughing] . . . that far back . . .

[Others]: Didn’t you have little cars?

Little cars? No, what I think . . . what . . . [long pause] . . . I used to . . . kites, I used to go for kites, we used to fly kites a lot in them days. We all had different shapes and sizes . . . you know? And, um . . .

Me: So how old were you then?

Five. Four or five . . . cos I was really from Portsmouth. I was born in Portsmouth.

[Others]: There was something else you used to do. Mudlarking?

Oh, mudlarking. Yeh.

[Others]: Where they throw pennies off the ferries, wasn’t it? And you jump in the mud . . .

They used to throw pennies in. They used to jump in, down at the harbour [mumbled reminiscence that isn’t clear]. Portsmouth Harbour [long pause] Going back a few years now. Going back a few years. I’m afraid so, yeh. Yeh. Mmm. Mmm. I used to potter around with . . . with the . . . we always used to be car mad, we all had . . . even though we couldn’t drive, we still had cars round here and we used to potter around in, and repair, or make out we were repairing, you know? And time came when . . . er . . in the end I joined the . . . wassname . . . I joined the army, joined the Territorial Army. And that’s where I started getting about a bit. You know? Seeing things and doing things, you know? And in the end finished up abroad.

[Others]: So what did you used to do after school?

After school? [Mumbles] Oh, blimey. To be frank, I haven’t a . . .

[Others]: Not when you left school . . . at four o’clock.

At four o’clock? You stayed at Battersea Park, up in the park. On the swings. And, er, on the lake, on the boating lake. Well, you know, the general everyday things, nothing spectacular . . .

Me: Not looking for the spectacular . . . it’s all the normal play I’m looking at. All the things that you forget that you do. That’s the really important thing. It’s the little things that you do when you were a child.

[Others conversation about fishing].

No, din’t go fishing. Used to go to Battersea Park a lot . . . no, no, I can’t think of anything really, anything outstanding, you know . . .

[Others]: It’s nothing outstanding, just things that you’d do. Just how did you spend your time? Was there a gang of you, or just a couple? Cricket, did you . . .?

Oh, well, well, them games . . . football and anything you like and that sort of thing . . . in Battersea Park, swings there and . . . and . . . oh, gawd . . .

Me: What year is this roughly . . . ? What year were you born?

In the war?

[Others]: No, what year were you born?

Year I was born? 1920. [Goes on to tell the exact date].

Me: So these memories of Battersea Park, they’re in the Twenties, yeh?

Yeh, but I lived in Portsmouth for a long while.

Me: When did you move away from Portsmouth?

Erm, I think we were . . . I came up to London, when [pause, goes through a couple of addresses, longer pause]. No, I can’t say . . .

Me: Roughly how old were you when you moved to London?

When I came from Portsmouth . . . came up to London [pause] . . . five. Four, five.

Me: 1925?

Yeh. About five. I went to . . . that’s right . . . left school at fourteen.

Me: So, did you have cars? That’s such a naïve question here, but I know nothing about the Twenties. Did you have cars then?

Twenties? [long pause] It’s funny . . . it’s nothing there that’s . . . that stays with me.

Me: Whereabouts did you play? Was it in a street, or in a field, or . . .?

No, Battersea Park. It was . . .

Me: Down the river? Battersea’s not far from the river is it?

Oh, on the . . . well, the Thames. Yeh, edge of the . . . side of the Thames, Battersea Bridge, Battersea Bridge Road.

Me: Did you ever play on the bridge? Or, in boats on the river or anything like that?

Oh, no, no, no, no. No.

Me: I’m just guessing now!

Don’t forget there wasn’t cars, or . . .

Me: That’s what I mean.

[Others]: He was a goody-goody!

No, I weren’t a goody-goody. I was blooming . . . pulled up several times.

[Others]: Well, what did you do to get pulled up?

A?

[Others]: What did you do?

Well that’s a secret for me [smiles].

[Others]: There was women in that Battersea Park, weren’t there?

Oh, no. Wasn’t anything to do with them! I din’t get sent down or anything like, just got a severe reprimand. You know?

Me: Now it’s getting juicy! What did you do? I need to know.

We used to do crazy bloody things . . .

Me: Did you used to do what she [pointing at Harry’s niece] used to do and run down knock the copper’s hat off?

[Others]: Didn’t you do anything like that? Knock the copper’s hat off?

Oh, no, no.

[Others]: You were a goody-goody.

No, no. Well, din’t have coppers in them days. They were very few and far between. Not like they are now. I use to see if I could remember . . . coming out of school to see me across the road . . .

[Others]: Lollipop man, they are now.

Well, lollipop man they are now, but they used to be the old copper in them days . . . but no, copper-wise, very few. Unless something happened, and then they seemed to come from somewhere. You know? [Long pause]

[Others]: Did you have a bike when you were little?

Bike? Yeh. Oh, yeh. Three-wheeler for starters, then the . . . two-wheeler, then the bigger one, then the motorbike, then the car . . .  then I drove the Guinness lorry, didn’t I? For forty years, forty-odd years, Guinness tanker. Where is she? There’s a model of her somewhere. Where the bloody hell is she? On the shelf, yeh . . .

[Goes on to tell a long account of work life on the Guinness tanker . . .]

Only had one serious accident . . . nobody was hurt. I just turned the tank over . . .

[Others]: Oh, well that’s all?! Just turned it over!

Well, we went down the ditch actually, and it just toppled over . . . got out alright . . . and the beer, no beer in it . . .

Me: No beer was harmed!

Din’t take a lot to pull it out . . . to be frank . . . even in the army it was, er, everyday sort of thing, you know, nothing spectacular . . .

Me: It’s just the everyday stuff in your childhood that I’m interested in.

Well, child, as I say, child . . .

[Others]: Did you have a special time when you had to be home by when you were a child?

I think my dad . . . cos he was a bit of a strict one, Dad . . . yeh . . . I think we were . . . we did have a wassname, but I can’t give you a clue as to . . . he was a bit of a strict one, you know, with the strap and all that. He got his belt . . .

[Others]: Was you ever late?

Oh, yeh. Two times. Oh, yeh, yeh. Yeh. But I was Mum’s favourite though. Mum used to take me up and I was alright. Yeh . . . yeh. But overall, I think going back over me life, I’ve got nothing to complain about . . . we’ve had our bits and pieces like everybody does in life, but they’ve just gone out the way, and I’m quite happy with what I’ve had. I’m happy . . . more than, more than happy. Yeh. Yeh. [Pause].

Me: What sort of things did you play with?

Play with?

[Others]: Yeh. What sort of toys, or . . .?

Well, as I say, kite in the early days. Was a kite. And . . . dunno. To play with?

Me: Did you play with things that you found? Or things that were bought for you? Things that were made for you? Things that you made yourself?

Grand-dad used to make us scooters. With the ball bearings. Ball bearings, they was ball bearings. What they used. Car blocks, that connected the two together . . . and, as I say, tricycles . . . the three-wheeler . . . box at the back, that’s right . . . must confess, haven’t got nothing really exciting to . . .

[Others recount some of their own play stories to jog the memory]

. . . playing Cowboys and Indians . . .   Oh, yeh.

Me: Back in the Nineteen-Twenties, linking to what you said about your father, what was, generally, the adults’ attitudes towards the children?

Very strict. Well, my dad was.

Me: What about all the other adults that you knew of? Were they all strict as well?

Mum . . . you ever got any trouble with Dad . . . smoothed it over.

Me: What about neighbours? Did neighbours look after you, or did they not care . . . ? What were their feelings towards you?

Er . . . [long pause] . . . I think in them days, that was family life, you know? . . . if you’d done . . . if the father thought you done something that he thought was . . . warranted a smack, you got it. But it was, as I say, then you always had Mum behind there, ready to smooth it all over. Then more and likely Dad would take you out and buy you something, a toy. He used to smooth that over and say, come on, take you down, and we used to go and buy . . . go in the shops and buy something for you.

Me: What sort of things did he buy? What sort of toys did he buy you?

Little cars. Little clockwork ones.

[Others recount some more of their own play stories]

[Others]: Knock down Ginger? Weren’t you naughty like I was . . .? You were a goody-goody!

No, I had a particular thing to do. Nothing like that. You know. Some of the things I did do, if I got caught I would have got sent down, I’ll tell you that much.

[Others]: That’s what we want to know! We want to know the stuff you did . . .

Oh, no, no . . . no. I’ve never spoke . . . talked about . . . no. That’s past memories. That’s . . . all that talking about it, it’s brought it back. You know . . . it’s gone, long while ago . . .

Me: That’s what happens when I talk with people about their childhoods: these things come back again.

But now, put it in its right perspective, it’s a bit of a problem now. You know. [Long pause].

Me: I need another question from someone.

[Others]: Did you have blonde hair?

Yeh, I was blonde, yeh. Fair, fair. Wasn’t called blonde.

[Others]: Funny how, when you see photos of children of that era, they’re all blonde with curly locks. And little smocks, and knickerbockers!

That’s right, yeh . . . oh, blimey . . . [laughs] . . . I was going to . . . drag me photos out and show you!

[Discussion on photos]

[Harry gets up to look for photos. Interview break.]
 
 
No. Nothing up there . . . might be under the drawers up there, laying loose . . .

[Further discussions on photos, and Harry promises to get more stories to his daughter when he’s had time to think on it all]

I got to be frank, but I’m losing it. You know. I sit here and . . . mind going round in a twirl.

Me: How do I say this? You’re more than twice the age of me and still with it!!

[Discussion on Harry trying to remember where he used to live in Portsmouth]

Now you brought it up, the wassname, it’s . . . I shall be up . . . it’ll be tormenting me now . . . I shall be . . . quietly be sitting in there, I shall go through all my papers and try and find . . . go back a bit, you know? See how far I can go back.

[Others]: If you find anything, write it down.

Yeh, I will do. Yeh.

Me: What is your earliest memory, without looking at your papers? What’s the furthest back you think?

My life?

Me: The youngest that you remember.

Well, er, down in Portsmouth, as you . . . then we moved up to London cos Dad got a job up there. He came out of the army from the First World War then. He come up and started working for, as I say, on steam wagons. You remember the . . . you remember them?

[All laugh]

Me: Yeh!!

The Sentinels. There was the Trojans, the Trojans with the chimney up the front . . . and we met with the driver and the fire-man, and as a youngster I used to go on the coal rocks. I used to sit on the coal, and . . . and we used to go steaming [?] . . . taking with Dad round the brewery, around the pubs, if you like, in them days . . . dropping off the hog’s heads and things like that.

Me: That’s how you got into driving the trucks then?

Yeh.

[Others]: Do you know what, that’s something else you did when you were young . . .

What’s that?

[Others] Going on the back of, sitting on the coal box . . .

Yeh. Yeh.

Me: How old were you there? Five, six seven?

Oh. Dear. [Pause]. Yeh . . . in them days, well about five, six, I suppose. Course, they din’t do long distance journeys then. It was only more local work, but it was still . . . it was the transport of them days. The steam wagon. Plus the pony and trap, and the horse and cart, and things like that. And the odd . . . small lorry that started to come in, but that’s the, er . . .

[Others]: There wasn’t any really cars on the street, was there?

Yeh. But then, as I say, steam wagons went out and more modern transport came in . . .

[Discussion on working for Guinness]

Me: So, when you were out on the coal . . . because there were no cars on the streets, were there children playing in the streets as well?

Yeh. Oh, yeh. Oh, yeh.

Me: Was there a lot of horse dung on the streets?

Played cricket. I mean even, wassname, used to play out on the street . . . and used to . . . you know. At Battersea, where we lived, there was a cul-de-sac, which was a, you know, dead end, sort of thing and, er . . .

[Harry goes off on a short tangent about people who lived there]

[Others]: But talking about horse dung, did you used to collect the horse dung . . .?

Oh, and flog it. Yeh.

Me: You used to collect it and make money out of horse dung?

Yeh. Yeh. Used to put it round the roses. It was smelly but . . . it paid.

Me: How much did you get for that then?

Only about thruppence. Three pee. Normally in them days, pennies and tuppences and you were well off. You had a couple of coppers in your pocket.

Me: How much . . . you got a bag for thruppence, or did you have to like, really . . .?

No, you might make . . . you might make, erm, a tanner [two and a half new pence]. You were a millionaire then, you were.

Me: So you used to collect the dung off the streets, stick it in a bag, go off and sell it to the gardeners?

Yeh. Used to, er . . . yeh. Well, we made a few coppers, you know? And, in them days, I mean, compared with now, if you made a sixpence in a day, you were a millionaire.

Me: What was the weekly wage?

If I remember . . . about four pound a week.

Me: So, if four pound a week is, like, average wage . . .

[Others]:No, that’s what his [Harry’s father’s] wage was.

Me: Well, yeh, I’m just trying to get an equivalent of . . . if you make . . . thruppence on a bag of horse dung, the equivalent to what that is to the weekly wage. How many pence in an old pound?

Pence? Pennies? Two hundred and forty pence.

Me: Two hundred and forty pence in an old pound, four pounds a week. That’s nine hundred and sixty pence, and you made thruppence on a bag of dung. That’s quite good pay actually when you think about it . . .

I mean, you were millionaires in them . . . when you got that amount of money . . . way back in them, I mean, compared with living . . . looking around now, I mean the houses were . . . how can I say? Just buildings, with four windows in, and a front door. And that was your house. Full stop. No gardens . . . lavvy, yeh [outside toilet] . . . when you went out to toilet, you took your candle and your stick, go out there in the dark. And the potty. Three of you using the potty at night, you can imagine in the morning . . . especially if someone missed their mark! They used to say to you, ‘Who done that?’; ‘I don’t know’; ‘Well, one of you done it’. You know . . .? ‘He did, he did.’

Me: Those are the sort of things I need to know about the Nineteen-Twenties, because that’s just, like, completely out of my sphere of understanding. I was born in the late Sixties, I know nothing about forty years before that.

Well, to be honest, it’s only very vague things that I can remember. Actually, it’s a time that I want to forget really because living was . . . it was existing really . . . weren’t living . . . I mean, Dad was working all hours for a poxy wage . . . I used to, er, I think we just, er . . . Sunday was the dinner day. We knew we was going to get a good dinner. Sunday. The rest of the week you just took a chance with what you come up with, you know? But Mum and Dad used to get their . . . make sure you had a good roast dinner . . . on Sunday . . . with pudding. Bit of rice pudding . . . milk pudding, rice was a favourite . . . if you had a rice pudding, you had a gay day [?]. Mum used to do a rice pudding. What was that you used to put in them . . .? Cinnamon. Nutmeg, weren’t it? Yeh. Nutmeg on it. Put nutmeg on it. Flavour it. Really lovely, yeh.

[Long discussion by others on various childhood drinks and feelings associated with these]

Me: I have another Nineteen-Twenties question, if you can remember this: school. Did you go to school? I don’t know.

Oh, I went to school alright, yeh.

Me: What was school like? Was it a good experience, bad experience . . .?

I was alright at school . . .

Me: What were the teachers like? Were the teachers strict or were they not, or good or bad or what?

Well, as far as I recall, I used to like school.

Me: What did you like about it?

Well, I think . . . when I was meeting the other boys and girls, of my age group. You know. But, as regards learning, no I don’t think I . . . well, I remember I used to get good reports . . .

[Others discuss their own school reports, and holidays]

We used to get the summer, used to get six, ten . . . no, about now [the same as now] . . .

[Others]: You never had these half terms . . .

Oh, no, no. Nothing like that. No.

[Others discuss the seasons, and playing with snow in the street]

Well, as I say, no traffic in them days, was there?

[Others discuss their own play stories, and Harry listens on . . .]
 
 
When it’s time to go, Harry stands and shakes my hand. It’s a warm handshake and I read a lot into it.
 
 

Play stories of the late Fifties/Sixties (East Stour, north Dorset)

Continuing my occasional series, under the heading of ‘Play in the black and white days’, I asked Victoria to tell me some play stories of her childhood in a village in north Dorset. These stories I receive are reproduced here pretty much how they come (I just do my copy-editing bit). In this way, it’s always interesting to see how one play story snippet leads on to another and where the telling leads the teller. These are Victoria’s stories:

Victoria: 
My earliest memories of playing are digging in the garden, probably from about the age of three: not only digging in the garden, but digging holes under the garden fence and passing things through to the boy next door, who I spent much of my growing up years with and we are still in touch.

I learnt to ride a bike around the age of four: my aunt had been an army wife and they had lived in Germany where my cousins – all boys and slightly older than me – had been bought a two-wheeled bike with wide white tyres. I remember it well. We had a slope in our back garden and I used to sit on the bike and lift my legs up and free wheel down the garden, and long before I learnt the art of steering I collided with the line post, the blackcurrant bushes, and anything else that got in my way: I can remember the grazes and bruises but was not one for giving up. I was an outdoor child and, if not outdoors playing, was a bit of a bookworm.

My mum bought endless elastic so that we could indulge in the craze of French skipping, which was great fun: we had skipping ropes and hula hoops. I had home-made stilts, which I spent hours on: always having been on the short side, I liked being that little bit taller and seemed very able at walking on them for long periods of time. My next step up from them was a pogo stick, which was most probably my favourite pastime. I would bounce away endlessly, clocking up hundreds without a break and driving everyone insane, but I loved it.

Damning streams, building camps, lying on your back in the middle of a field and cloud watching were all great fun, along with picking primroses for one of the elderly ladies in the village. A good game was standing either side of a trough and seeing if – by throwing large stones in – you could splash your friends on the other side. Climbing trees and playing football with the boys: there were more boys than girls in the village.

As a family we played Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and, as we got older, Monopoly, as well as card games such as Snap and Patience. I loved Spirograph and one of my all time favourite Christmas presents was a chemistry set. We did things like paint old tiles and decorate jars and pots with shells and pebbles.

I guess when I started comprehensive school I became interested in music, and we had our first reel-to-reel tape recorder, which my sister and I had between us for Christmas: we spent hours recording records and making up dance routines.

Then, to a degree, school took over. I used to ride my bike quite a bit and swim almost every day.

[A short while later . . .]

I forgot hopscotch: we spent hours drawing the boxes and playing the game. Great fun.
 
 

Play stories of the late Forties/Fifties (Chiswick, west London)

I asked Jenny and Rosie about their play ‘back in the black and white days’. Jenny and Rosie are sisters. I hope I managed to get it all down, as it came, and accurately: when they talk, they talk quickly, sometimes one at a time, sometimes one after another, sometimes it all flows together! There are no paragraph breaks in this posting because that’s just the way all the words came.

Jenny and Rosie:
We played in the rubble at the back of the house. In the bombed area. On the bomb site where there was a crater. We used to have . . . underneath the pavement we made a camp, where the bomb had hit the ground. On the site there was a hole under the pavement and that was our play. And I used to play round the back and we used to have these play houses and we had stones and that’s where we made the kitchen and we had the rubble. And that was our house. I remember that. We had – we didn’t have toys. We had a doll for Christmas. We didn’t have toys. For Christmas we had an apple, orange, a nut in an old sock. And we used to hang the sock on the bed post cos we had bed posts in those days. Four in a bed. We used to play out front. Hopscotch. Two balls. Dabs stones – they were squared stones, and you played by catching them. We had an old wheel with no tyre on it and a stick and we used to whack it along the road. Oh, and a barrow. An old barrow: a go-kart but it wasn’t called a go-kart. Tin Can Tommy – we called it [another game]. Knocking the doors and running away. My sister and me we used to play out in the gardens. ‘Keep the sunny side up’ [song] and we did all the actions [demonstrates]. Bit of fishing with a bit of old rope. Didn’t have no toys. Run-out. We used to play hide and seek. Kiss chase. We used to do acrobats. Handstands up and down the wall. Acrobats, we used to put our hands up the wall. We used to play rounders in the garden with an old bat and ball. Scooters. I got a bike. I went on the stage and my mum pushed me on the stage, I was about four, and Bruce Forsyth was on the stage and there was a big box and a bow on it, and like little Miss Muffet, and cos I was on the stage I got the scooter and that was at Chiswick Empire. And we used to go to Chiswick Empire di’nt we, Rose? We went to Saturday morning pictures at Brentford and I was 5 or 6 and we used to go. It was sixpence. Saturday matinee and all the kids used to do cowboys at the pictures. Shirley Temple. Used to walk home, get a bag of chips if we was lucky. What else did we do? Gunsbury [Gunnersbury] Park, go to the promenade, Chiswick promenade. We used to spend the whole day down there, my mum used to make a picnic, all of us, two picnics and a sandbox and a swimming pool. We used to do a dance. We used to go to Chiswick House grounds and had picnics over there, played ball. Oh yeh, carry on, I used to go swimming down Brentford pool, swimming, jumping, pushing off, throwing things in the pool, getting dry then going in again. What else did we do? We di’nt have bikes or anything cos I used to go round our friends’ and I used to get on hers. I had a bike and it got nicked and I only had it a day. We di’nt have any toys, games; we used to make our own games. Had a compendium of games. Snakes and ladders, bingo, remember playing bingo, lotto, housey housey. We used to listen to the TV on a Sunday night. Listen to it . . . no, on the radio. Wireless back then. We used to listen to ‘Journey into Space’ . . . Doc, Mitch and Lemmy. I thought it was Lemmy, could have been Lenny. Might have been a Sunday. We used to go to Sunday school on a Sunday up the Junction Road. I liked that. We used to go down St Nicholas Church on a Sunday morning, all of us, come out of there, go down the river; went in a boat with [brother] Alfie and the boat had a hole in the middle and Alfie pushed us out and we was going to go to the island – and all of a sudden the water had just piled up in the middle in the boat and the mud, and I had this little white dress, white plimsolls and both of us was caked in mud. Used to go down Gunsbury Park and I went down the hill on scooters and went smack into a tree. I used to go out on me skates as well. My mum never liked em but we used to go on em. I used to go up the Rec. Ice skating, I went ice skating. Once. I never went again cos I crashed and banged me ‘ead. That put me off. Used to go up the Rec with me friend. Used to play out there at me friends’. I can’t remember much more but that’s a lot, in’it? But you think what the kids of today do. I never ever remember my mum taking us to school. I moved to Brentford at five  . . . we used to go scrumping, apples, in orchards. Scrumping, yeh. Scrumping, um, there must be a lot more really. There’s a lot more, it’s just putting your finger on it. We didn’t do dancing cos we was poor. We used to play horses round the back and gallop round the garden. Oh, Mum’s granddad had a shop at Shepherd’s Bush and he gave her all these antique plates, and we were there smashing them down in the back garden. I remember at Chiswick, smashing things. That really is a good way of getting all your frustrations out: stick it in the garden and get it all out. Alfie used to play with knives. He had all model aeroplanes, he had model soldiers. Roger [brother] had a bike and used to ride it. Cards. We used to save the – used to get cards out of packets of tea, saved them up, used to swap the cards, I used to do that and then what you used to do is throw them up against the wall and if the card landed on that card you took it. Dad made a rollerpenny . . . was it a rollerpenny? Shove-ha’penny. Tricia [sister] and me used to play out and made a stage. There’s some other things, I can’t think. That’s it for me, I can’t think . . . Hop-picking down in Kent. Blackberry picking. I went hop-picking down in Kent. I used to swim for the Borough. No, you talked for the Borough! I was a good swimmer. When I was very young and I couldn’t really swim, the teacher asked who would swim for the gala and I put my hand up and I could only do a width. I loved swimming, I was a good swimmer. Yeh. Down Brentford baths. I still remember that lady . . . I don’t know any more. Jacks, we used to play jacks with the balls . . . I tell you what else I used to do, don’t know if it was play but we used to wait outside the laundry for the coaches and they used to throw the money out and sometimes it could have been sixpence and it was a lot of money in those days, they used to throw it all out the windows. I used to do gardening outside my mum’s house in Whitestile Road with an old fork and a spoon. I used to play with a little blonde girl, and I used to play with her and she had all her dolls out. Over one of the gardens, up near the park, there was a bleeding bulldog, cos I used to climb and I dropped myself down and there was this bleeding bulldog and this bloke come out and he says, ‘I think you’re in the wrong house’. We used to play out on the road. Literally, always out on the road . . . we used to make bows and arrows and we was bloody good at it. Conkers. Conkers, climbing trees and getting conkers . . . and then we used to get an old bit of rope and swing over the canals. Oh, kids now don’t get that. I feel sorry for the kids now. Cos they’re sitting there with these bloody little things [consoles] or they’re looking at that [TV] . . . they should get to explore. They don’t know, do they? We used to have paper aeroplanes. Table tennis indoors. Used to have a piano in the parlour in Chiswick. Dad used to have all his friends round on a Saturday night but us kids used to get shoved off to bed with a lemonade. You know, when you say about you used to have a poor upbringing but when you look at this . . . we used to go to Cornwall. Dad used to hire a car and we used to go all over the place . . . all you needed was company from other kids . . . Cornwall, climb the cliffs . . . in those days it wasn’t built up and we used to walk across the fields . . . and cows on the road and it was like something out of a book years ago but that was your holiday – it was lovely. Bloke used to stand out with lovely soft two loaves of bread . . . Oh, if that weren’t black and white . . .!!!
 
 

Play stories of the late Forties/early Fifties (Perivale, west London)

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.

Me:
Tell me about play in the black and white days!

Mum:
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 . . .
 
 

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