By modern day standards my mother was a terrible mother! But this was the 1950’s and things were different then – from my point of view she was a wonderful mother. At seven years old, I was allowed out from sunrise to sunset. We would roam in the fields and scrubland around our street without a care in the world. We had no gadgets or communicators, just our imaginations and a sense of adventure. I am talking about the time when the TV wasn’t on all day and night, most houses still didn’t have them, and daytime broadcasting was still years in the future. We had no watches, but we were able to tell the time quite easily; when you were hungry it was dinner time. When you were tired it was time for tea. When your parents were fed up with you asking stupid questions, then it was time for bed.
Our house was a semi-detached in a nice area. On the other side of the road was a terrace whose back gardens overlooked an unused area that we named “The sand pit”, because if you dug into the ground there was sand. Upon reflection, I now understand that this was an abandoned sand quarry. We kept a part of it clear of grass so we could play with the sand. There was an unfenced railway line running at the back of this area, where we could play with the real trains – don’t ask – but it involved putting a half penny on the rail to turn it into a penny.
Over the railway was another field, the rec – short for the recreation ground – which was flat enough to play football on. Three-a-side, jumpers for goal posts and first to 50 goals won. Our football “pitch” was kept fairly grass free by constant use but on the rest of the field the grass grew till it was waist high (to our waists anyway). Then, in early summer, the council cut the grass and we could pile it up to make dens and forts from it.
To the East of the rec there were fields and hedges where you could find song birds’ nests, ’til one year the council arrived and started to build the biggest council housing estate in Wales.
To the north of the rec was “The Jungle” – this was an abandoned sewage filtration area. It had sloping concrete sides, maybe 1.5 meters high, great for playing the wall of death on; you ran as fast as you could and tried to stay up on the steepest part of the slope. On one side, were the remains of some bricked in tanks which still held water. This was a brilliant area to find newts and frogs and, in the Spring, was a never ending supply of tadpoles. The middle of this area had become totally overgrown with shrubs and small trees Alder, Hawthorn, Brambles and Rowan (hence the name). Next to the jungle was the river, at this time it was an open sewer. Up stream was a tanning works which flushed all of its waste products into the stream. Where the river ran under a bridge which carried the railway line there was a concrete and stone sewer outlet which discharged into the river and near the tanning works was a public toilet, where you could look down the urinal pipe directly in to the river. In the summer it stank. This was part of our playground because, even though there was a footbridge over the river, there was also a large (sewage) pipe crossing, which was much more fun to run across.
The other side of the river was a small corporation, landfill, rubbish dump which we called “the tip”.
This area produced many wonders. One day, there were thousands of glass photographic negative plates which we could hold up to the light and see the pictures. It is hard to realise that, in the ’50’s, we were as close to the invention of mass photography as we were to digital pictures in the cloud.
Another day, some huge tree trunks were dumped and we found some bats hiding underneath the bark, they clung to our woolly jumpers for the rest of the morning. We did put them back before heading home. But I suspect they did not survive. Next day they were gone.
At the end of our road was an opening onto an area we called “the Bank,” it sloped down to the river, where it went under the railway line. Between the bottom of the bank and the river was Happy Valley where we had “Macky’s” scrap yard, another wonderland to play in. One day, there was an old furniture removal wagon in there, which we found was wonderful to climb on. Up onto the bonnet, then over the windscreen and up onto the roof, where we played for a while. Unfortunately the roof sloped downwards so to get down we had to lie down aim carefully for the bonnet and trust to God, let go, slide and hopefully not fall off completely.
To the right was a path into the “sandpit”. To our left was a track which led down the bank to the start of Rivulet Road which, in turn, led to the leather works. On the corner of Rivulet Road was the centre of our world: the sweet shop.
Saturday Morning was pocket money day, I got sixpence. Black Jacks and Fruit Salad were a farthing each. Then there were the huge jars of boiled sweets that were tuppence for two ounces. You could spend hours with your noses pressed to the glass window making your choice between sherbet lemons, wine gums, midget gems or pineapple drops – and don’t forget the gobstoppers. A lucky-bag could hold collecting/swapping cards, liquorice rolls, sweet cigarettes, bubble gum. You never knew what you would get. Some of the bubble gum wrappers had transfers, which you could rub onto the skin on the back of your hand – who needed tattoos! In primary school I might not have been brilliant at maths but I could certainly work out how to get the best value for my sixpenny bit.
Clothing in the ’50s for the well-dressed nine year old was fairly simple: boys wore short trousers held up with braces or an elasticated, horizontally striped, belt fastened with the infamous snake buckle. A shirt would be covered with a jumper, in summer this would be a no sleeved version. (If this sounds a bit like Just William it would be because we were all little outlaws at heart). The girls tended to wear dresses and cardigans. For school you could add a blazer, a striped tie and a cap.
Our short trousers had one major defect: the pockets. This was where we put everything of value to a small boy, from multi coloured snails shells, lucky stones, conkers, to our pocket knife. Invariably, they wore out well before the rest of the garment so you started losing your prized possessions. Mothers were adept at running repairs. Though you had to make sure the new pocket was not longer than your shorts. It was not uncommon to see one of your friends with his pockets hanging out of the bottom of his trousers.
Moving into long trousers was a rite of passage that you would go through some time near the start of secondary school. My mother thought the start of the second year (year 8) was appropriate.
Oh and Jeans were something that Teddy Boys wore.
The next instalment of Roger’s nostalgia trip will be up on the blog next Tuesday!