Category Archives: Play

trick or treating

As I navigate my seventh decade on this planet, I’ve reluctantly come to accept most things must change with Time. Generally speaking, that change is for the good: advances in medical science for example; touch-screen access to all the information in the world and of course you can now have pizza delivered to your front door.

There is one change however, I just cannot accept.

Halloween!

With due deference to our readers from USA, I’m not a fan of the Halloween we limeys seem to have adopted from your fair land.

“Trick or Treat?”

Is that it?

Oh no – I forgot the bit where you suddenly and most unexpectedly give my house the appearance of a runny omelette.

You see, this whole premise of ‘Trick or Treat’ is grossly misleading to an ageing traditionalist. I was first presented with this dilemma a few years back. I took a few moments to consider the options carefully and replied ‘Trick.’ I presumed the young whippersnapper before me, rather amateurishly dressed as Super Mario, would produce a magic wand, mumble some words of a memorised spell and produce a line of knotted handkerchiefs from sleeves of his red pullover.

Well – that was a lesson well learned, I can tell you!

The upshot is I now don’t entertain the wee scamps at all. Come the night itself, my house is enveloped in darkness from 6pm, and an intricate series of hidden trip wires and bear pits do the ‘trick.’

Of course, I’ve not always been a grumpy old git. As a nipper I looked forward to Halloween immensely.

The build-up began in earnest when the local village shops took stock of the traditional masks. This would be mid-October at earliest and not the week after Easter, by the way.

In the early to mid-Sixties, the masks I had, were made of cardboard imbued with the same dusty aroma as egg cartons. Traditionally, they depicted mildly spooky or mystical presences like the faces of ghosts or gypsy women, for example. Nothing sinister. But with an old bed sheet or grannie’s colourful woollen shawl draped over your shoulders, you really did feel you could walk through walls or cast a hex. Until you tried.

Another lesson well learned.

In the latter half of the decade, there was a move to plastic shell masks. By now, Superhero guises were all the rage. Batman was my favourite (still is) and I vividly remember not so much the smell of these guises, but the slightly rough texture to the matt blue colouring of the head and eye section.

(Oh – just me, then?)

The Halloween parties hosted by local Cub Scouts / Brownie packs were eagerly awaited. The normal routine of knot tying / dancing badge work was put aside. Instead, for Cubs at least, games such as ‘dookin’ for apples’ or ‘treacle bun eating’ offered different challenges. With sharp, metallic forks held in our mouths, we’d attempt to spear apples bobbing in a basin of water, before partially stripping off to take bites from a dangling bun covered in gooey, dripping treacle.

Hmmnn! Akela may have some explaining to do these days.

‘Guising’ on the evening of 31st October was the highlight. With friends, also in full disguise, we’d walk excitedly from house to house along the street. In one hand we’d swing a candle-wax-dripping, hand-carved turnip lantern (yes – turnip) and in the other, our mum’s shopping bag. We’d hope the latter would be filled with masses of delicious, treats by the evening’s end.

We had to be good, though. The neighbours were brutal judges, and kids would be rewarded in accordance with their standard of performance. Whether it be a poem, song, jokes or a magic trick, our ‘piece’ required days, possibly even weeks of fastidious rehearsal.

So here’s my message to kids today: if apples, monkey nuts, Parma Violets and assorted toffees are to bulge your trendy little tote bag (nobody would be seen dead, even at Halloween, with their mum’s shopping bag nowadays) then you must learn that THE TRICK IS IN TREATING your neighbours.

Not bloody terrorizing them.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

****

(What was your first, or favourite, Halloween outfit? Do you remember any of your guising ‘performances? Let us know in the Comments section below.)

making a hash of things.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2021

Silence.

Our parents would often demand it, but soon as they got it, they became suspicious. Worried, maybe.

And so it would be. I’d be playing quietly and thoughtfully in my bedroom on a wet and miserable day, and Mum would poke her around the door:

“You’re awful quiet,” she’d say, the distrust in her tone strikingly obvious even to a ten year old. “What are you doing?”

“Building a fort,” I’d reply in all innocence, draping a bedsheet over the two stools I’d earlier hauled up from the kitchen. Another blanket would be hanging over a couple of empty boxes, retrieved from the garage. “So’s I can repel the hordes of marauding raiders who are trying to steal my pots of gold.”

My vocabulary and imagination were infinitely better than my construction skills.

“That sounds like fun, dear.”

And it was.

For that’s how we rolled in the late Sixties and Seventies. It was the era of making our own fun.

It was the era for making everything.

From a very early age, my sister and I were encouraged by our parents to become involved with tending the garden.’ Modern day slavery,’ is how I think it’s now referred to.

We’d each be allocated a little plot to tend. We’d have to plant seeds, grow flowers and vegetables and learn the ethos and rewards of hard work.

I hated it! Rona’s plot always looked way tidier than mine. ‘Outside’ was for playing in, not working, was how I looked at it. I was rubbish.

Our garden wasn’t all that big, but my dad had it organised to maximise the space, and so we had a few rows of redcurrant bushes. These produced loads of fruit every year and of course my sister and I would be roped into the ‘harvest.’

With the berries collected, mum would then boil them and add ‘stuff’ then pour the mix into what looked like an old sock hung from the washing pulley in the kitchen. The smell was so sickly sweet, I wanted to barf for days on end.  Gradually though, over the next day or so, the liquid would drip into a bowl, then scooped into jars onto which a handwritten sticker was adhered.

‘Redcurrent jelly’ it said – as if we needed reminding.

To get away from the smell, I’d try to spend as much time as possible in the living room. But that wasn’t easy either. I’d have to tip toe through acres of tracing paper spread over the floor. And listening to the television was well nigh impossible. The volume controls back then barely went to ‘five’ never mind ‘eleven’ and so offered no competition to the constant ‘takka takka takka’ of the Singer sewing machine as mum rattled out another bloody home-made trouser suit for wearing to the neighbour’s Pot Luck / fondue party that coming weekend.

Crimplene was the favoured material, I believe.

I think I’m right in saying that girls at my school were offered sewing, if not dress making as part of their Home Economics course. Us blokes weren’t given the option – just as at that time, girls were not thought to be interested in woodwork and metalwork.

My four year old cousin, Karen, certainly wasn’t interested in my woodwork, that’s for sure. I made her a boat, all lovingly painted and everything. It sank in her bath. Sank! It was made of balsa wood for goodness sake!

It takes a special type of cretin to make a balsa wood boat that sinks.

And metalwork! Whose whizz-bang idea was it to have several classes of fourteen year old boys make metal hammers to take home at the end of term? The playground crowds quickly scattered that afternoon, I can tell you.

My effort was dismal.  

“Thanks very much,” said my dad, in a voice just a little too condescending for my liking as I presented it to him. But that was okay. We both knew I was total pants at making things.

Having evidenced my cack-handed attempts at simply gluing together several pieces of labelled and numbered bits of plastic to form the shape of a Lancaster Bomber, his expectations were naturally low.

I know – how hard can it be to assemble an Airfix model? To be honest, while I enjoyed looking at those my dad made on my behalf, I had more fun from letting the glue harden on my fingers and then spend ages peeling it back off to examine my fingerprints.

Yup – THAT’S how much I enjoyed making things.

It came as no surprise then, that Santa never brought me a Meccano set. By the age of ten, it had become obvious spanners and me would never get along – no need for me to screw the nut.  

For a while, I did consider there was something wrong with me. Every other kid I knew was into making stuff. It was The Seventies – it’s what children did; it’s what they (I’d say ‘we’ but I’d be lying) were actively encouraged to do.

The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.

The top children’s television programmes told us (you) so. They even showed how make stuff.

I tried that once. A Christmas decoration it was. A decoration to hang over the Christmas table; made from coat-hangers; and candles. And you’d light the candles. It would be joyous.

“Hark!” The herald angels would sing.

“FIRE!” The herald angels actually screamed.

I know NOW I should have used fire-proof tinsel. I’m almost sixty-three. I’m not stupid. But then I was ten. And impatient. Ten year old boys cut corners. And anyway, how was I supposed to make a surprise for the family if I was to give the game away by asking my folks if they had / could get some fire retardant tinsel?

At least they still got a surprise of sorts.

Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves had a lot to answer for.

Other than pyrotechnic Christmas decorations, they encouraged us to make models with Lego; less structured and more wobbly ones with plasticine; scrap books; hammocks for dolls; cakes for birds; puppets from old socks; pencil cases from washing up liquid bottles and even cat beds from washing-up bowls.

I did try, truly I did. But I was hopeless. A lost cause. Never has anyone said to me,

“Wow! That’s awesome!” when I’ve showcased my handiwork.

Just the other day, I prepared a meal. I threw some leftover corned beef, potatoes and onions into a pan and fried them through. I didn’t think it was burnt as such, but my wife screwed up her face and stared at it rather disapprovingly.

Without even the merest hint of irony she looked up and said …. well, I think you probably know what she said!



**********

careful! you’ll have someone’s eye out with that!

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2021)

“MUM! I’M GOING OUT TO PLAY!”

“Hold on dear,” the call would come back down the stairs.

So you’d wait, sat on the bottom step, fretting your pals outside wouldn’t be so patient and have moved on before you got out.

You’re not going out like that, are you?” your mum would ask when she finally appeared. “It’s far too cold, and it might rain later. Go to your room and put on a sweater. You’ll catch your death ….”

You’d sigh. Resistance would be futile, and time was critical if you were to catch your friends. Humour her – it can be tied around your waist soon as you’re around the corner, or used as a goalpost when you play football later, as you inevitably will.

“And remember to be back before it gets dark. And don’t talk to any strangers.”

“Yes mum. No mum.”

“What are you playing today?”

“Cowboys and Indians.”

“That’s nice. Let’s hope the Indians win, then,” she’d say with a smile.

“Of course they will,” you’d reply with the knowing, evil smirk of a James Bond villain.

“Just be careful, though, you could have someone’s eye out with that,” she’d casually offer as you picked up the home-made bow and arrows from the porch floor.

Perhaps she wasn’t unduly worried because you’d be an ‘Indian’ for the day. Being targeted by a ‘Cowboy’s cap-loaded pistol was not going to cause her little darling any grief. Maybe the mothers of those designated ‘cowboys,’ would have been more concerned.

But I doubt it.

The bow and arrows would have been made, very possibly, with the help and advice of your dad. From experience, he’d have known where to find the best, the sturdiest and yet the most willowy kind of stick to use for the bow; he’d have known the most durable twine to use and how best to thread and knot it onto the carefully selected twig or branch; he’s have known the optimum length of garden cane to use as arrows; he’d have known how to notch one end of the cane, without accidentally splitting it full length, so that it could be nocked onto the bow, ready for loosing.

Boy, could those canes fly! Swift and true, they were capable of travelling quite some distance, and leaving a mark on any unwary ‘cowboy.’

In truth though, the bow and arrow just looked more likely to cause human harm than they generally did.

Catapults, however …

Contrary to the romantic notion of Oor Wullie knocking PC Murdoch’s hat off with a well-aimed stone then scampering away, these things were properly dangerous!

Looking back, I have no idea how these could be sold as ‘toys.’ But they were, and when the little newsagent type shop in our village took in a supply during the late Sixties, there was a race down the hill from the primary school at lunchtime to get hold of one. The dining hall was a lonely place that afternoon.

The fad didn’t last long though, as the ensuing battles and damage to property (accidental or otherwise) led to Headmaster Thomson banning them from school and Janitor ‘Janny’ Mckay confiscating any he could get hold of.

Of course, by reverting to your dad’s impeccable knowledge of trees and twigs, and raiding your mum’s sewing basket for a length of elastic, you could still make a pretty effective one at home.

I don’t recollect Valerie Singleton or John Noakes giving any advice on this subject, though.

It wasn’t just boys who risked life and limb in pursuit of entertainment. How many young girls skinned their knees and elbows after falling to the pavement, ankles entangled in linked elastic bands, having attempted to jump some impossible height while playing Chinese Ropes?

Neither was it just dads who encouraged dangerous play. Mothers were at it too. They’d dig out an old stocking and suggest their daughter place a tennis ball or the like in the closed end and tie the other around an ankle. They could then spend endless hours of fun rotating the ball like a helicopter blade and hopping / jumping over it.

Endless hours at A&E, more like. I can’t believe this was actually fashioned into a proper toy

I’d be really interested in the A&E stats for the late Sixties and Seventies, regards children being treated for ankle injuries. How many times did you fall off these?

They may only be a few inches in height, but if you weren’t so good coordinating lifting the string and your foot at the same time (more difficult than it sounds if I remember correctly) you’d happily settle for a twist rather than a break.

In fact, the cans were really just a training aid to wooden stilts. I had a pair made for me by my Grandfather. I eventually mastered them, but not after slipping and impaling my ribs on them several times.

And our parents allowed, nay, actively encouraged all this?

Cans had infinitely more dangerous uses, though. Especially those like Cremola Foam that had press-on lids. Our parents, in all fairness, may have been a bit suspicious and wary had we asked if there was any spare petrol, or more likely, paraffin, lying about the shed. So a little bit subterfuge was required if we fancied experimenting with our own firebomb.

It wasn’t exactly rocket science, though it may have ultimately given that impression – fill the can with paraffin; replace the tin lid; draw straws to see what muppet was going to place the tin in the bonfire; retreat and wait.

And run like Gump when you heard the sound of sirens.

I know – fire. It holds some weird, primitive fascination for blokes, I have no idea why. But just watch at the next barbeque you attend. It’s sad, really.

Cars and DIY command similar allure in the male psyche. (Well, I discount myself from that assertion – I’m not like other guys, as Michael Jackson said in the video for ‘Thriller.’)  

“Darling, don’t you think we should clear out the garage, so we can get the car in? That pram can go for a start – Junior’s eight years old now!”

“No, no no! We can’t get rid of the pram! He’ll need the wheels for his first bogey.”

“’He’ll need them? Or you? OK – but the stroller can go then.”

“Most definitely not – everyone knows that a class bogey has smaller wheels at the front than the back!”

“Yes, dear…..” Sigh!

Bogey racing. You were sat in a seat, less than a foot off the ground, and steered the wooden contraption with your feet in the front axle. Or maybe you tied a bit of plastic washing line to the axle instead and pulled on it for direction change.

You’d swear you were travelling at ‘a hundred miles an hour’ and your ‘brake’ was whatever immoveable object lay in your path.

And our parents encouraged this?!

I was never very good at stopping, hence my bogeys would always have a very short shelf life. It was the same with roller skates – several neighbours’ garden hedges had small, boy-sized holes in them!

The most fearsome toy though, has to be these.

What idiot thought it’d be a wizard idea to fit heavy springs to a base of metal and expect some daft kid who’d been reading too many Beano comics, strap their feet onto them, believing they could jump high enough to see over the wall and watch the football match for free?

Mine didn’t even have a wooden base as shown in the picture. The metal springs contacted directly onto the tarmac of the pavement.

Spring-heeled Jackson? I don’t think so.

There was only ever going to be one outcome. However the spirit and determination of youth meant it was two boxes of Band Aid and a tube of Germoline before it dawned there was no point fighting the un-fightable.

None of the above struck me at the time as being dangerous or a hazard to health – well, maybe the firebomb. But then neither did my parents. Unless of course, the just didn’t actually care.

Yet, I’ll wager most, if not all, those activities are either barred or at best actively discouraged nowadays.

*****

 “MUM! I’M GOING ONLINE NOW!”

“That’s nice dear – what are you playing?

“Apocalypse of Hate.”

 “You know your dad has an old bow, arrows and catapult you can play with ….?”

*****

drama queen

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – May 2021)

Noel Coward’s advice to avoid putting your daughter on the stage should have rang alarm bells for me the summer I  left school in 1978. With Grade E  ‘A’ Levels in English and History, Mom was ecstatic that I had two paper certificates – heedless of the fact that they meant Jack.

Career’s Advice suggested I might try my hand in retail: “You could become a Buyer in Ladies’s Wear by the time you’re thirty-five.”

Thirty-five? I’d be an old woman by then!

Having trod the boards at school, I decided to give acting a serious whirl and enrolled at drama evening classes as I began the round of auditions to study drama full time. My teacher said I “should have been a blonde” because I was so “dizzy”. High praise indeed. 

With my new curly perm, a dash of Wild Musk and a lot of bravado, I headed for the ‘Big Smoke’ – London – where my eldest brother David met me at Euston Station and guided me across the city on the underground. I was scared to death!

I auditioned at all of London’s top drama schools as Blanche Dubois from Tennessee Williams’ play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’

Her character has a famous monologue, “He was a boy, just a boy. when I was a very young girl…” which I thought I had down pat. Despite an authentic Southern Belle accent, I had the distinction of being turned down by them all. Not before though, witnessing some spectacular feats of self-promotion from other hopefuls – including one guy who auditioned as Hamlet, wearing a gorilla suit. 

He got in.

I gave up in London.

As my dad once said to me, “Honey – I’m proud of you. If you’re going to fail – really fail!”

Closer to home, in March 1979, I received an invitation to audition at a drama school in the midlands. 

Living up to my ‘dizzy’ moniker, I turned up exactly one calendar month late for my audition and let myself into the office of a Miss Meade, who had been principal of the acting school in the year dot.

Her dark, cramped office in the basement was piled floor to ceiling with dusty old play scripts and seemingly hundreds of cats which peered down at me from a great height. Naturally Miss Meade was not expecting me.

I stared at old black and white photos of great Thespians which lined the high walls and suddenly felt very small – the bravado gone. Should I cough to announce I was here? Suddenly the door swung open and in bustled Miss Meade – an elderly lady with grey hair tied back in a bun, carrying a walking stick. We scared each other.

“ARGH!” 

“Good gracious Ducky! Who are you?” 

“I’m Andrea Scarboro. I’ve come to audition.” (I felt like saying, “I’m Dorothy Gale, from Kansas.”)

Miss Meade pored over her diary on her large, cluttered, desk with a lot of tutting.

“Well, well Ducky, wait here and I’ll see what I can do.” 

Miss Meade disappeared through a door, leaving me nervously stroking my Blanche Dubois. She finally reappeared with an elderly gentleman in an elegant, faded suit, marvelous set of whiskers and an old fashioned ear trumpet.

“This young lady has turned up for an AUDITION, one month LATE! Heh! Shall we SEE her?”

“WHAT? AUDITION? MOST IRREGULAR! I suppose so – why NOT?” shouted the bewhiskered gentleman. 

I was led into a small rehearsal room where a rostrum was hastily arranged in a far corner. Miss Meade pulled up two chairs, where she and the elderly gentleman sat side by side. She tapped her cane on the floor to command my attention.

“What are you going to perform for us Ducky?”

“Blanche Dubois…”

“Ahh, Tennessee Williams. Bold choice Ducky. When you’re ready…”

 I got through the piece as Miss Meade and the suited gentleman nodded and whispered to one another.

 “I’d like to look at your deportment, Ducky,” signalling to me to mount the rostrum with her cane. She gave me a book to balance on my head. 

(Not Andrea!)

“Walk around the stage, Ducky, let’s have a good look at you.” She nodded at the old gentleman, who clamped the trumpet tightly of his ear.

“Shall we see her WALK WITH A LIMP?” 

“A LIMP? Why NOT?” Miss Meade handed me her cane and told me to walk around the rostrum with it,.

“…as if you’ve broken your left leg Ducky.” 

I took the cane from her, trying to remember my left from my right. Propped up on the stick, I began to ‘limp’ around the stage. 

 “That’s it Ducky – clockwise.”Miss Meade and the old gentleman exchanged approving looks. 

Concentrating on limping on the correct foot, I failed to notice the edge of the rostrum and launched off the stage, landing spread-eagle on the floor at Miss Meade’s feet. Trying to maintain some semblance of dignity, I gathered myself up to my full height, dusted down my ruffled hem, picked up the cane and book  and hopped back up onto the little stage with the intention of ‘carrying on’. Instead, I got the giggles and turned to Miss Meade and the gentleman. 

“Well, that’s torn it! Now, where was I?” 

I resumed my limp around the rostrum, on the wrong foot now, but with head held high and book perfectly balanced. (“If you’re going to fail, really fail.”).  Miss Meade leaned towards the bewhiskered elderly gent and shouted: 

“I like the SPIRIT of the GEL – shall we TAKE her?” 

“Take WHAT?” shouted the old chap, leaning into his ear trumpet.

“Take the GEL!” Miss Meade banged her cane emphatically on the floor.

 “Do you KNOW – I think we SHALL!” shouted the bewhiskered one, allowing himself a wry smile. 

I bowed, jumped off the little platform and shook their hands.  Miss Meade offered  me a place at her drama school to commence the following September. How thrilling! 

However, a place at drama school didn’t cut any ice as far as the  Education Authority was concerned; I would have to audition for a grant and they only gave two discretionary grants per year. Over the next three years I auditioned for a little grey man in a grey suit in a stuffy office; we were almost on first name terms. Each year I pulled out my Blanche De Bois and the following conversation ensued

“Thank you Miss Scarboro; an interesting interpretation but you don’t have Maths ‘O’ Level, do you? So you can never teach drama, can you?” 

“Oh I’m never going to teach; I’m going to act, so it doesn’t matter, does it?” 

“Well, I’m afraid that you can’t have a grant because you live at home, so you won’t need any living expenses.”

You get the gist. 

After this third rejection, my mother  – now divorced from my dad – took matters into her own hands and arranged an extraordinary meeting with the man in the grey suit, accompanying me to his office.

Andrea and her mother, 1979.

In a scene reminiscent of ‘Gone With The Wind’ – when Scarlett visits Rhett in jail all dressed up in Miss Ellen’s green velvet drapes, to try and wheedle three hundred dollars out of him to pay the taxes on Tara – Mother looked stunning in a large brimmed, black straw hat with black lace veil, long black gloves and  black dress. She leaned seductively across the large desk between her and the little grey man; picking at the fingertips of her gloves with head bowed as she simpered in her languid Southern drawl: 

“Oh kind Sir, have pity! I am but a poor divorcée;” (fluttering her eyelashes with the back of her hand across her furrowed brow.) “I cannot support my daughter, livin’ on my own as I do. I beg you to give her this chayance – she is so talented.”

The man in the suit remained unmoved, so with huge regret I had to give up my place at the drama school. 

Undeterred, I whipped out Blanche Dubois for a final time – along with my two ‘A’ Level Certificates – when I auditioned at Polytechnic; where I was taught the following invaluable life lesson:

“Men lead from the crotch, women lead from the tits.” (Remember, this was the sexist 1970s)

I also managed to get a full grant and gained a BA Honours Degree in Performing Arts.

Mom purred, “You see honey? There’s more than one way to skin a cat!”

Andrea & fellow student Elle, on stage at Polytechnic.

(Copyright: Andrea Burn May 1st 2021)

let the children play

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –April 2021)

Look at you, sitting there staring down at your crotch, pawing and fiddling about. It’s disgusting ! You should be outside getting some fresh air. You can’t use the lockdown excuse for ever. How many games of Candy Crush have you played anyway ?

How did we amuse ourselves back in the 60s and 70s ? We played games.

On that hallowed patch of blaes, Primary 7 boys utilised the full pitch and goalposts with a regulation rubber football. Primaries 6 and 5s played either side, piled up jumpers and schoolbags marking the goal line, kicking a deflated bladder. Primaries 4 and 3 played across field with anything from a tennis ball to a smooth stone. In this mixed melee of minions every boy was focused on their own particular game.

Meanwhile the girls did girlie stuff on the playground.

Truth be told, what the girls played at was far more complicated than any boy could ever comprehend. The mathematical complexity of peevers (or hopscotch) or the secret knowledge of rhyme when skipping.

 “A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,

To see what he could see, see, see

But all that he could see, see, see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.”

These sacred songs must be handed down in ancient rituals by wizened old maidens of knowledge from secret covens far from the meddling of mere men.

Very occasionally boys would be allowed to enter the world of swirling jute and caw the rope – that is hold the end of the skipping rope. A great responsibility only given to a few –  and a fixed point on a solid structure. Tie it tae a waw an it’s jist yin ye need tae caw the rope. Many a skipper has been garroted ankle high as a sensitive wee lad has abandoned the game full flight by the taunt of “Ya big Jessie” from fellow male classmates. Gender fluidity wasn’t even a fizzy drink back in the 60s and 70s.

Then there were Chinese ropes. I’m sure throughout the ages of the many dynasties of the Chinese Empire through to the formation of the People’s Republic, progress wasn’t reliant on interlocking rubber bands. Anyway, another hopelessly complex game purely a spectator sport for the young hormonal boy as skirts were shortened and eventually tucked into knickers as the elastic rope heightened.

Tig (your het) and all it’s variants was a popular playtime pursuit. There was the brutish British Bulldogs or when the girls joined in it morphed into catch & kiss or kissy chasey. Then there were those parties where the guys put their car keys in a fruit bowl and……………. wait a minute. I seemed to have fast forwarded a few decades. Forget that last bit !

Indoor versions and the mainstay for kid’s parties were Blind Man’s Bluff or What’s The Time Mr Wolf ? (Marco Polo as it is known in the US I believe.)

A more sedate activity were marbles and jacks. I don’t think I ever got beyond a foursie (What! You don’t remember ? Google it). For the child with the sadistic bent there were conkers. Clackers for the masochists. What could be more fun than the deafening rat-a-tat echoing around the school corridor before the blood curdling scream, as knuckles and wrists were shattered by wayward spiraling hard acrylic balls on string ?

For the more creative among us there were cat’s cradle and the origami fortune teller (several steps up from the humble paper plane). A combination of numbers and colours that could make you the Uri Geller of your time (although a bit of spoon bending would really seal the deal).

The world of the 60s and 79s seemed to have a rubber fetish. Superballs were small hard rubberised balls with an incredible bounce. Similar but more solid than those used in squash (which only over 40s men in tight shorts played). Many a time I would throw the projectile into the school shed only for it to ricochet off various surfaces before returning at twice the speed, smashing me in the face. And I thought clackers were fun !

If you wanted to lose all dignity you could get yourself a space hopper. The sort of fad that had your attention for all of about 3 minutes. The best thing was to leave them around for adults to surreptitiously jump on and end up either flat on their backs, legs akimbo, or sliding down the wall face first. You think they would have learnt with pogo sticks.

Not all play was confined to the playground. There was always the street. Next door Frankie had a cool looking bike with cow horn handlebars and a long banana seat. He could do all sorts of tricks on it, bouncing and balancing on either front or back wheel. I had the family heirloom that moved forward in one direction. An ex Royal Mail 3 speed beast of a contraption dating back to the early 50s. If Frankie had a mustang, mine was a cart horse. Barely able to start on level ground it slowly built up speed over a long weekend. Give me a slight decline and I swear there was a sonic boom. I lost several fillings from the G-force alone. Braking wasn’t an option so I usually ended up miles from home pushing the monster up hill.

There were also attempts at assembling bogeys and go karts but these were lucky to survive more than an afternoon’s test drive.

A Winter flurry brought out the old trusty sled (another family heirloom) which travelled a few feet before sinking into the snow with only a couple of embarrassing rusty skid marks to show for it. Frankie’s aluminium framed sleigh swooshed by. My brother came up with the idea of using a discarded plastic toilet seat which glided over the ice at warp speed before splitting in two and up ending big bro in a ditch.

“But someone could have been seriously hurt !”

That’s it. Game’s a bogie. Back to the safety of the sofa and an afternoon of Freecell on the mobile (with only 2 cushions for protection though !)

wild wild west(erton)

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – April 2021)

Growing up in Scotland’s first ‘garden village,’ sounds absolutely idyllic. And I have to say, I have no complaints – I loved it. But things are not always as they seem.

So, with apologies to my English teacher for starting the previous two sentences with conjunctions, and with tongue firmly in cheek, what follows are some of my personal recollections of that time.

I should though, perhaps insert the caveat that the supposed parallel lines of my memory and imagination do sometimes tend to merge like the proton beams from multiple Particle Throwers in Ghostbusters. The not-quite-so- catastrophic results can very easily be rectified in the Comments section below.

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I’ll spare you the full history lesson, but Westerton is a district of Bearsden, which is itself a suburb set to the north of Glasgow, Scotland. The village holds the distinction of being the first ‘garden village’ in Scotland.

By the time my family moved into the area, the ‘village’ had expanded in the forty-seven years since formation in 1913, but the core area remains relatively unchanged in the sixty years hence.

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DEEPDENE ROAD:

The number of similarly aged kids living and playing on Deepdene Road and the surrounding streets was quite remarkable.

In those days, you see, it didn’t really matter if you were boy or girl; if you were five years old or eleven. Everyone played together. And even if natural ‘geographical’ splits occurred along each third of the street, there would still be groups of at least fifteen tearing about like noisy, hyperactive rejects from Fagin’s gang.

Street football, with lampposts for street-wide goalposts; kick the can; hide and seek; endless wars between perceived good and bad adversaries. I guess the noise level must have upset certain neighbours; I know the old ‘ball in garden’ most certainly did.

Mr Allan, an old Captain Mainwaring type and also a Bank Manager, was one such. He terrified us, and would often confiscate the ball should it end up in his flower bed. He’d give us pelters if he caught us sneaking in to retrieve it without permission.

I remember vividly, then, one Sunday morning when an attempt on my ‘keepie uppie’ record hit the buffers and the ball was launched a la Peter Kay (“ …’ave iiit!”) over his hedge.
It ended up within reach of his front door. I could easily have picked it up and legged it, but rang the bell. It was a good few minutes before Mr Allan appeared – in his dressing gown. His face was puce with rage. Seems not many kids practice their footie skills at seven a.m. on a Sunday!

THE PYLON:

Where there is now a small power substation, there once stood a pylon. A pylon for climbing and an area of grass large enough and far enough away from any windows to play football and cricket / rounders.

What else could a kid of the Sixties want?

Probably not a bit of a kicking from the advance party of a gang from another neighbourhood! But that’s what happened when three unknown lads approached the ten year old me, and asked what football team I supported.

Remember, this is late Sixties, West of Scotland. To reply either ‘Rangers’ or ‘Celtic’ would offer best odds of 50:50 chance of upsetting the inquisitor. So, thinking on my feet, the streetwise, wee, ten year old me looks one of the lads straight in the eye and says, “Dunfermline Athletic.”

Next thing, I’m lying on the grass nursing a few rapidly appearing bumps and bruises, and watching these ne’er-do-wells laughing and run off with my football. “Raith Rovers fans in Westerton? Who’d have thought,” I pondered, before busting into tears.

THE BLOCK:

One side of Deepdene Road formed a continuous pavement that ran best part of four hundred metres (four, forty yards in those days) around onto Monreith Avenue and to Wheatfield, then back to Deepdene. This was our racetrack: be it on home-made bogies; running in our gym shoes; on space-hoppers or even just hopping – we’d organise races around it.

Without the benefit of smart watches, stop watches, or indeed, watches, the recorded times relied heavily on the veracity and concentration of the designated timekeeper. World records were set and repeatedly broken throughout the course of an afternoon. Disputed results often resulted in black eyes and tears … but everyone reconvened the following day, ready to take on some other challenge – like who could climb to the greatest height on the pylon.

JAMIESON’S:

This was the small grocery store closest to our house. There was a newsagent / sweet shop next door.
“You got money for Jaimie’s?” would be the common question to and from school, in the hope your pal would either lend you some or at least buy you a gobstopper.

I’d have been about Primary Four, I think, when it converted to a self-service convenience store. All of a sudden, ‘dogging’ lunch became the in-thing. Beef olives with turnip and potatoes from the school canteen didn’t seem quite so appealing when chocolate bars, chewing gum and Lucky Bags could be had for the same price at Jaimie’s.

Same price? Word soon came back from the older kids that these goodies could all be had AND you certainly didn’t need to spend all your lunch money.  These new self-service stores were like manna from heaven. Kids of all ages now discovered just how light their fingers could actually be. They would later find just how red and sore they could be when Headmaster Mr Thompson found out what they’d been up to.

THE VILLAGE:

The village centre was the community hub: there were three shops as I recall. A Co-op to which we’d be sent to for ‘the messages’ by our Mums; the butcher shop, and I think, a sort of haberdashery shop.


These are now long gone, as is the old Library / Village Hall which sat beside them. It was here that as a young, impressionable Cub Scout, that I witnessed the older Boy Scouts have a real set-to, clubbing each other with the long wooden staves they carried.

“It’s character building. It’ll make a man of you,” was the level of concern expressed by my ex-Boy Scout father when I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to join when old enough.

The original Primary School was also on that site.

An abiding memory of my first day at school is a sort of plasticine mixed with wood varnish smell … and Blair McKellar and Wallace Drummond knocking seven bells out of each other at the back of class.

Funny the things you remember, eh?

THE PLAYING FIELD and THE DUMP:

These were the two areas of grass to which crowds of kids would gravitate whenever the West of Scotland climate was in good humour. Aspiring, and crap, football players would mix with those who preferred to chase after their ‘Getaway Discs,’ (frisbees.) Older boys and girls would gather in groups to smoke a fly fag, and talk about the latest entry into the music charts and the upcoming youth club disco.

Then the shout would go up – “The P.G.B. are coming!”

No need for mobile phones in  those days – if one of the neighbouring area gangs like Peel Glen Boys, Scurvy or The Fleet were on the march, word spread pretty fast indeed.

There would be that moment when if it wasn’t always so wet in Glasgow, tumbleweed would have rolled over the field; a heavy silence would descend and a church bell would ring out doleful single chimes.

It was like the black clad gunslinger had “come for ma boy.”

Kids would scarper; the field would empty; the silence would be broken by the sound of doors slamming shut. There would be a stillness.

But something else was happening. At the other end of the field a group of older lads would peel away from their retreating friends and congregate in formation.

Yes! It was the Defenders of Westerton. Our very own Justice League. It was The Wessy Rats!

The astute reader will perhaps by now have noticed a bit of a theme running through this piece. It really wasn’t too bad at all. It was certainly no Crenshaw or Compton, L.A. Whether it were individuals squaring off or gangs passing through rival territory, most of what went on was posturing.

Me? I wasn’t too sure. I decided that cowardice was the better part of valour and joined my local athletics club.

If I was to be chibbed by the P.G.B., they would have to catch me first.

Hi-yo Silver! Away!

try a little kandersteg

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – March 2021)

Kandersteg is located along the valley of the River Kander, west of the Jungfrau massif, 65 km from the city of Berne, Switzerland. It is noted for its spectacular mountain scenery and sylvan alpine landscapes. In 1922 Walther von Bonstetten, Chief Scout of Switzerland, discovered an abandoned chalet originally built for the workers on the Lotschberg tunnel in 1908. He proposed the creation of the Kandersteg International Scout Centre to Robert Baden-Powell, for which he received a very fetching ‘Chalet Finding’ embroidered patch which he could sew onto his khaki shirt.

And so it was that the 24th Glasgow (Bearsden) Scout Group, ‘Stag’ patrol, in the summer of 1972, found itself  hurtling through the north western corner of Europe by train.

In the Scouts, Patrols were made up of 6 or more ‘men’ led by a Patrol Leader, ably assisted by a Seconder (my role) and a descending rank of lesser beings with the minion at the bottom. The minion had an important role in the rankings. He was the one at the door (or flap) of the tent that kept the draught out and you could wipe your boots on. He was the one you used to test the depth of river crossings. He was the one whose legs we pushed through the small sliding aperture at the top of the train carriage window (purely OH & S research you understand) remembering to pull him back just in time when approaching the numerous tunnels en route. No minions were maimed or injured on this trip but a few became pretty legless later on !

Each patrol was named after a wild animal or bird of prey because……………..I’m not really sure why. The Primrose patrol or the Mighty Scots Pine Patrol isn’t – well – butch enough !

The Stags, along with the Panthers, Eagles, Ratty, Mole and Mr. Toad, Eeyore and Pooh, were all designated a compartment each and the sleeping arrangements were thus. Leader and Seconder across the seats, the next 2 in the hammock-like luggage racks and the minions on top of the rucksacks on the floor. Surprisingly comfortable.

After a day or two we found ourselves in the gobsmackingly beautiful valley of the Bernese Alps. It was like something off a fancy biscuit tin but not shortbread. And there were Girl Scouts in the chalet ! GIRL SCOUTS ! That just did not exist in Scotland in the 70s. Girls had their own paramilitary groups, the Guides and the Brownshirts – or am I getting a bit confused. There certainly wasn’t any dib dob dabbling down Dalriada way !

I shared woggles with a lovely blond Dutch girl who called me ‘gek’ which apparently means crazy. I have never had any trouble with people from the Netherlands since. I just point a spiraling finger to the side of my head and say ‘gek’ and they give me a wide bearth !

Most days were spent hiking the surrounds with Sleck our Scout Master who looked like he’d just come straight from the Boer War. If it was any hotter I’m sure he would have brought his pith helmet.

We would trudge slowly behind him like a slow motion video of Madness only leaning forward. One step beyond it certainly wasn’t but the views when you reached your final destination were indescribeable. One morning it was announced that we were going up a young maiden which got a lot of horny teenagers over excited until we realised it meant ascending the Jungfrau.

Let me introduce our glorious leader of the staggering Stags. Paul (or Piggy) was a year older and about 6 inches shorter than me. He was kind of street wise in a Bearsden sort of way (more boulevard or avenue wise I suppose). He had this incredible sense of timing – in a bad way.

The train had numerous stops, some as long as 20 to 30 mins. Time to pick up a snack or a fizzy drink but Paul would stroll into the station cafe and order a coffee, then amble over to the juke box and select a few tunes (The Doors if available). He would sit down just as the train whistle blew and then would have to retreat leaving a confused waiter with coffee in hand to the diminishing sound of  ‘Riders On The Storm’.

At one station there was an arty-farty craft shop that sold delicate glassware. Paul selected quite a few fragile pieces to take back to his mum when ‘toot toot’, this train’s a-leaving. Realising a brisk walk wasn’t going to cut it, Paul broke into a jog then a run to the increasing sound of tinkling coming from his backpack. Nothing left but shrapnel.

He was able to somehow get 6 under 15s copious amounts of beer at one establishment, so much so that this little seconder lost more than that. I’ve no recollection how we got back to the chalet that night or apparently decorating the dormitory with pre used pilsner. Needless to say Sleck was not impressed. His idea of a reckless night out was a couple of Kumbayas around the campfire and a hot cocoa.

Paul was stripped of his command promoting me to head stagmeister. The trip back home was a bit muted. Call it mountain air, hangover or the uneasy feeling of recent events.

I caught up with Paul on social media late 2009 and we chatted about that summer.

He thanked me for my “reluctance to join in with the ‘give Paul a kicking’ brigade” I’m glad I never excepted my fetching ‘Backstabbing Bastard’ embroidered patch. Where would I put it ? My sleeve’s full !

Finish your coffee and listen to your selection Paul, this one’s for you mate.

Paul M. 16th October 1957 – 20th April 2016

changed days, eh?

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – February 2021)

Knock Knock!

“Is Danny coming out to play?”
“No son, he’s having his tea. Maybe in half an hour after he’s done his homework.”

Knock Knock!

“Is Andy coming out to play?”

“No son, he’s having his tea. Maybe in half an hour when he’s tidied his room.”

Ding Dong!
(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.”

Or:
“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.”

Or:
“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:

Knock Knock!

Rattle the letterbox and / or kick the door.

Run away.

Ring! Bang! Scoosh! we called it – we would do the ‘posh’ houses, too.

And that was it, the circle was complete.

Changed days indeed.