(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – February 2021)
“Is Danny coming out to play?”
“No son, he’s having his tea. Maybe in half an hour after he’s done his homework.”
“Is Andy coming out to play?”
“No son, he’s having his tea. Maybe in half an hour when he’s tidied his room.”
(This was the ‘posh’ house on the street.)
“Is Douglas coming out to play?”
“No dear, not tonight. He’s revising for his part in the school’s presentation of the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex.”
(Sheesh! That’s the perks of private education for you. Douglas is only ten, for goodness sake. Same as me … and I couldn’t even get the part of a semi intelligent bloke with a tea towel on his head, in my school’s nativity play.)
And so it would be, having been told the early evening summer air would be good for me, I’d be kicked out the house by my parents. Their parting shot would be a stern reminder that if I didn’t come in before dark, there would be no Man from U.N.C.L.E. bubblegum cards next time ‘the icey’ tinkled his chimes in our street.
Changed days, eh?
So for the next thirty minutes or so, I’d have to entertain myself. Maybe I’d be a spy like my hero, Illya Kuryakin and have to remain unsighted until my contacts (pals) emerged from meal time; perhaps I’d be The Lone Ranger, giving it ‘Hi-yo Silver! Away!” as I ran around the garden. Or possibly, I’d be Tonto, if for no other reason than I liked his pinto horse, Scout, better than I did Silver.
“Get-um up, Scout.”
Changed days, eh?
More often than not, though, I’d practice, practice, practice kicking a football with my weaker, left foot. This was my Grandfather’s advice – advice that was not appreciated by my folks as I battered the ball off the side of the house. Our neighbour, Mr Thompson, the pin-stripe suited station master, who looked the spit of his twinned namesakes in Hergés Adventures of Tin Tin, was none too happy either. He’d vociferously complain of the echo that rang through the narrow gap between our homes as I finely honed the skills required of a future international player. Hey – I was only ten years old, cut me some slack. How could I have known there was more chance of me sticking a feather in my headband and becoming a spy, than playing football for a career?
(Looking back, perhaps setting my standards by two ‘number twos’ or assistants showed an unhelpful lack of ambition in my quest for the top. Who knows?)
Eventually, though, Danny, Andy plus Moira, Elaine and several others would drift out into the street and for a couple of hours, till the sun went down, we’d amuse ourselves with games of Kick the Can, dodge ball and kerbie.
During the school holidays or at weekends, we’d organise races around the block – our own wee mini Olympics. And of course during Wimbledon fortnight we’d be out on the street with our racquets from Woolies, imitating the skills of Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Ann Jones or Virginia Wade
I still find it both amazing and amusing just how seriously we disputed fictional line calls when there were no lines, let alone a net, far less Hawkeye.
But it was all so innocent then.
Changed days, eh?
I’m sure it wasn’t the case that our parents didn’t care what we got up to. More, it was they’d grown up during the war years when the prospect of a Doodlebug bomb landing on their head was of infinitely more concern than their kids playing unsupervised in a suburban street some twenty three years later.
If only they’d known!
How ‘play time’ may have been so different had my Mum answered the door to be told:
“I’m so sorry Mrs Jackson, but your son Colin has impaled himself on a pitch-fork when he fell off the rope swing in the barn at the local farm.”
“I’m so sorry Mrs Jackson, but your son Colin is stuck up the pylon twenty feet above the barbed wire ring, and we’re just awaiting the Fire Brigade.”
“I’m so sorry Mrs Jackson, but your son Colin is in the infirmary, having been kicked in the chest by a horse he was apparently trying to ride bareback. He managed to mouth the word ‘Scout’ before he passed out.
Which leads very neatly into the turn of the decade.
What a difference a couple of years make – now in the early Seventies, my pals and I were big boys and girls. Mature twelve year olds, heading to secondary school come the summer. No more Hide and Seek or tig, for us. No, no, no.
Now, we ‘hung out.’ Our leisure time was formalised in the shape of Youth Clubs, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts. I wasn’t really involved with the Youth Club scene much, and I wasn’t allowed to join the Girl Guides, so that left the Scouts.’
My first impression though was not very positive. Well, it was, I suppose, in the sense that I was positive I didn’t want to join. Returning home from Cubs one evening, I passed the Village Hall where the Scouts would meet. I could see from some distance away that they were playing some boisterous game involving big sticks. Staves. With the colours of each individual patrol painted at one end.
As I got closer to the action, I could see this was not in fact a game of any sorts. It was a full on street gang, amateur ninja style battle. They were actually knocking seven bells out of each other.
This was the organisation my Dad was encouraging me to join? ‘Character building,’ was the expression used by him and my Grandad, both former Scouts in their time. This was quite obviously code for the words, ‘this is gonna hurt. Probably lots.’
I should say at this point that I did join. And I loved my time in the Boy Scouts. But I should also add that my Troop was not the archetypal vision old Baden-Powell had when he founded the organisation.
Throughout my years of involvement, I would go on camps or attend meetings with Troops from other areas of Glasgow. When it came to likes of football or running or being stuck up trees, our lot were stars. Knots? Building stuff? Giving First Aid? You have to be joking!
To this day I can barely tie my own laces, and my thoughts on compass reading can be found here.
Within a year I had morphed from a Cub, helping old ladies across the road during Bob a Job week, to an axe throwing, knife wielding, spear-whittling mentalist.
Changed days, eh?
The games we’d play at Scouts were most definitely of the coded ‘character building’ type. British Bulldogs was like an extreme version of that played in the Primary School playground – some of the older lads were real brutes, and there were no allowances made for age or size.
Another involved splitting the Troop into two teams – so about fifteen on each side, who would gather at opposite ends of the old village hall. Prior to doing so, everyone had to remove their gym shoes / prehistoric, heavy duty basic first wave ‘trainers’ and pile them in the centre. On the whistle, each team had to run to the pile, gather a stock of odour laced ‘ammo’ and retreat back behind their line before launching the shoes as hard as possible at the opposition.
Boy, did those old trainers leave a mark!
This game was eventually banned after some smart-ass decided the best means of attack was to throw a guttie at the fluorescent light tube and bring it down upon the enemy.
George Cheyne was right in his article about the Scouts having first choice of psychos.
We’d also play ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ where two lines of Scouts would face each other, cross arms and link with the lads opposite, forming a net like lattice of limbs onto which some poor sap would have to run towards and dive headfirst onto. The idea was to crawl along to the other end without the rest of the Troop managing to throw you off.
What could possibly go wrong? Us smaller lads used to catch some serious air, I can tell you. But it was ok, because generally speaking, one of the Leaders managed to catch you.
This ethos of ‘character building’ that our parents yearned for us developed a darker side, however. A daring and devilish (ok – cocky) attitude surfaced within us. One that especially manifested itself in the darkness that would swaddle us and protect us at the end of our weekly Scout meetings in the early months of autumn. Apple season.
Some call it scrumping, some say stealing. We in West of Scotland call in knocking. Apple knocking. Simply put, it’s taking apples off other people’s trees without their permission. Ok, ‘stealing’ it is, then. Even though I didn’t like the fruit, I would still lend a hand on our covert missions – until one night we were chased by an irate owner. As I legged it, I failed to notice the wire clothes line stretched across his lawn. The others had and were taking a longer but ultimately safer route back into the darkness.
Gnnnmmpphh! I ran full pelt into the metal line which for some reason was rather low – my mouth level to be exact. My head jolted back as my feet were lifted from the ground and I landed flat on my back like Apollo Strudel, the unheard of, entirely fictional, crap WWF wrestler.
I did manage to pick myself up and make my escape, but the hard bit was explaining to my parents the next morning why my mouth had big red, Joker-like welts on either side.
The other game we’d regularly play on our way home from Scouts would go like this:
Rattle the letterbox and / or kick the door.
Ring! Bang! Scoosh! we called it – we would do the ‘posh’ houses, too.
And that was it, the circle was complete.
Changed days indeed.