Boring or What?
What follows is my recollection of a very full non hi tech school life and a little beyond where the real world became just a little more real! I could make quite a list of devices that were not generally available in those days but are absolutely essential to the current youngster. Number 1 on the list would be TV. I leave it to others to complete the list. You will require a largish piece of paper.
I have left out the effects a world war had on us kids. This is a subject for another mini history. Suffice to say here that for five war years and several beyond, nobody had many luxuries and some did not even survive. It was the norm for us, we had nothing to compare it with then.
In the 1930’s and 40’s and a little beyond we had to entertain ourselves. I seem to recall in my earlier childhood a moan such as “What can I do now Mum”, would result in a reply to the effect that I should sweep the yard, muck out the rabbits, feed the chickens, tidy my room, wash my hands, or even my neck, clean my shoes, fetch the bread, get the milk in, make my bed etc. It did not require a moan on my part to be issued with some of these tasks.
As a pre school lad my normal play domain was the back garden or that part of it that I was allowed to invade. Mainly limited to the path from the back door to the back gate where I would pedal my metal car from one end to the other, stopping to watch the hundreds of butterflies on the Ice plants or the fountain sprinkling in the pool. At the end of my journey I would stand up in my little vehicle, grab the sides and lift it round and pedal to the other end and do the same.
The only other toys I can remember were a much used Teddy bear know as Fred and a box of Nine pins complete with wooden balls. I was not allowed to play with the ‘pins indoors as the balls knocked the paint of the skirting board!
Another device, that I was never able to master, was a Diabalo. It was a wooden cotton reel shaped device that came with a piece of string tied between two canes. The idea, I was told, was to let the wooden thing run up and down the string. It is strange that no one was able to demonstrate this function! I preferred the Nine Pins!
The outside world consisted of daily trips to the Co-op in Market Street and Watford open air markets on a Friday. Once a week my mother would load me in the push chair and we would visit Nanny in Nascot Place. As a special treat we might do the journey to the Junction by 321 or 324 bus from Whippendell Road, I recall Peter the dog would occasionally escape and also catch a bus. He was sometimes at Nascot Place before we were!
A ride on my father’s crossbar to visit the allotment down by Scammell’s was a highlight. I had my own little patch to dig and sow seeds in; they never seemed to grow. I would climb on the fence and watch the trains run from Watford to Croxley Green.
Another treat was a pushchair ride down Wiggenhall Road to watch the big fish gliding under the old wooden bridge whilst families would splash about in hired row boats. A steep push up Tommy Deacons Hill and on to Watford Heath would let me, via the bridge parapet, see the steam express trains thundering along the track in a cloud of water as they picked up a refill from troughs below. If I close my eyes the noise, sight, smoke and smell still seem to be there.
We as a family would sometimes sit outside the bandstand in Cassiobury Park, dressed in our best, to listen to Watford Silver Prize Band on a Sunday evening. The whole town seemed to do the same and so did the Mosquitoes.
Other Sunday’s we would push my Grandmother’s bath chair from the bottom of Chester Road to Rickmansworth where Gran and I sat outside the pub, her with a stout and me with a ginger beer and a packet of crisps with a little blue paper twist of salt. I could generally cadge a lift part of the way home on the front of her basketwork chair.
In season we would visit the Bluebell woods at the bottom of the park and I recall that walking the length of Whippendell Road was just a bit beyond my ability so I often arrived home on my fathers shoulders. Blackberry’ing was another fun pastime, collecting loads in a basket with the aid of a walking stick and quite a few scratches.
Although fairly dim in my memory I recall being trundled down Whippendell Road with all our luggage in a trunk to pick up the charabanc at the Premier Bus Garage to go to the “sea side”. I was always; or so I was told later, dosed up with travel sickness medication in a spoonful of jam before we left home which is possibly why I can’t recall the actual journeys. Ryde on the Isle of White and Margate seem to stick in the recesses of my mind. I do remember sitting in the sand with my bucket and spade and being terrified of the guest house landlady.
The family wireless of the day was homemade and contained in a homemade lockable sideboard like piece of furniture. The controls and dials were somewhat complicated and my father would set the tuning dials and show my mother where to switch the set on and control the volume for me to listen to Children’s Hour.
Toy Town with Mr Grouser was a favourite programme and the presenters were Uncle Mac, (Derek Mc Cullock) and Aunti Vi (Violet Carson). The latter being more famous for her part in Coronation Street.
I also remember going with my Mum to get the wireless accumulators charged at a shop in Harwoods Road. They had a habit of running out in the middle of a particularly interesting bit of Toy Town!
On starting at Victoria Infants School I recall I found another, somewhat more hostile world to contend with. It was fortunate that I lived on the same block as the school so was able to get to safety quite quickly before the big boys had a chance to do me too much mischief. The “big boys” were all of seven years old but all things are relative.
I soon found an area in the playground and group of peers I could survive in fairly safely whilst we waited for the next entry and our turn to terrorise them. We played all sorts of games that mostly involved racing around the playground with our jackets tied round our necks and our caps on backwards, yelling like mad and with our turned down wellies slapping on the tarmac.
The girls skipped, played Hopscotch and silly chanting games. They even played Cat’s Cradle. We generally thought that they were a waste of time!
It was around this time that I joined the Cubs. We met at the Congregational Church in Clarendon Road and for the next ten years or so I would attend at least once a week, progressing through the Scouts and becoming a Senior Scout before my National Service put an end to my association with scouting.
Many camps and exercises were attended and I recall one such held at the Bricket Wood headquarters of I believe the 1st South West Herts Troop. It involved a night exercise in surrounding pre M25 countryside, climbing trees and racing down an aerial runway with just a piece of wood to hang on to and no idea what was at the other end. A lot of mud, as it turned out!
We sat round a huge campfire and sang Ging gang goolie etc with large mugs of thick cocoa before retiring to damp sleeping bags in draughty tents for what was left of the night. I still have my woggle somewhere.
At age seven I moved to the Junior school. Here I was impressed by the choir and the more orderly mayhem. A group of boys would soon gather around a pair of lads with murder in their hearts and hands full of each other and shout FIGHT! FIGHT! at the top of their voices, ah la Harry Hill. The teachers would take their time before breaking through the ring and holding the combatants apart with whatever body parts presented themselves. Hair and ears were a favourite.
Saturday morning pictures were a must. Some went to the Odeon; our choice was the Gaumont. We saw Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and the Lone Ranger and Tonto with a cartoon thrown in. We also had Tommy Dando playing the mighty Wurlitzer organ as it rose up from the stage. Following “the bouncing ball” for the words we sang our heads off. The ticket was Six pence I seem to recall. On a good week we would pay nine pence and go up in the gallery. We had a bigger choice of targets for our missiles from there! Booking on line was not an option!
My days outside school were taken up with roaming Cassiobury Park and Whippendell Woods or climbing over stacks of timber in the local wood yard or perhaps playing hide and seek with the Superintendent in the cemetery.
There were several street games that became important in my young life but none that included monetary expenditure to any great extent as we did not have any to spend!
The first and most important was Marbles. Usually played in the gutter you were required to flick with your thumb your glass champion to hit your opponent’s marble. If successful you won his and sent your marble up and away to give him a go. Several natural hazards were accepted such as street drains, the very occasional car or van and detritus various, (many tradesmen had horses in those days).
The first hazard was also convertible to the Pot of Gold if you could be present when the council lorry with the large sucking elephant’s trunk came to clear the drains. A large ladle on a long handle was used to get rid of the silt and goodness knows what else from the bottom of the hole. In the rather obnoxious gunge that was recovered gleamed marbles like diamonds in a rock fall. A few shakes in your woollen marble sock and a ride in your handkerchief pocket was all that was required to make you King of the Marbles. We did not seem to die in droves of something awful contracted from the fact that we spent ages in the gutters and did not wash our hands too often.
In those days most dads smoked and all us kids collected the cards that came in the packets. They were issued in a series of 50 and covered many subjects such as warships, airplanes, famous Cricketers and Footballers, Regiments and flags, and cissy ones like flowers and birds.
Now-a-days a complete set is worth quite a lot but although we boasted of having this or that set, their main use was in “Playing cigarette cards”. A card was stood up against the wall and your opponent would hold his card flat between first and second fingers and flick it at the target card. If he knocked it over, the cards on the floor were his; if he failed it was your turn. Sometimes you could lose, or win, a complete collection in a few minutes.
There were seasonal crazes. Some like Conkers and Wild Parsley blow pipes with Laurel Berry ammunition were determined by mother nature, others for no reason at all. Dabbers, or five stones was one such. All that was required was five round stones the size of large cherry and a fast eye and hand. All sorts of tricks like “four stones non disturby” and “five stones up and down” were perfected. The game usually took place on the kerb, of course!
The pleasure derived from Conkers was not limited to the damage you could cause to your opponents Conker or knuckles. Hours spent throwing large sticks up into the trees in the park, sometimes bringing down a rain of shiny fruits in their prickly cases was great fun, and just a little dangerous! With access to a drill not very likely we had to resort to a meat skewer for making the string holes. This was even more dangerous! We had no plasters; only a sterile (not) handkerchief to staunch the blood.
The Sweet Chestnut trees down by the canal received the same seasonal battering.
Catapults would appear periodically and they would be confiscated. Terrible tales of lost eyes were whispered. We never saw any real evidence.
It was around this time that personal transport became popular. There were a few bikes but a lot of carts. These were mainly constructed from deconstructed prams, a plank for the chassis with a wooden box for the passenger or goods. Another plank was fixed with one bolt, screw or nail across the front of the chassis to support the front wheels and provide the steering via a loop of string.
In addition to races, that invariably ended with a crash or roll, we used them to collect jam jars and newspapers and beer bottles from houses. These were sold to the local jam factory and The West Herts Post and Benskins for re-use and recycling. The remuneration was very small indeed but I recall someone saying “it kept us off the streets”.
Another form of transport was roller skates. I don’t know where they came from but several were shared between us boys. They were not very popular, being banned from the playground; something to do with dangerous I recall. They were even more unpopular with parents as the key operated clamp at the front would pull off not only the shoe sole but separate the upper from the lower. The skates being in short supply we would usually only wear one. It was useful if you were left footed then two of you could scoot noisily around the local streets. This pastime was possibly the largest single reason for a broken arm or a severely grazed chin covered in Gentian Violet. The result of a shoe sole “blow out” at speed was usually not a pretty sight!
Most of the other games involved a bigger ball. Be it cricket or football the ball would be the same. A very worn, no fluff, tennis ball. With a wicket chalked on a brick pier and all sorts of improvised bats we would terrorise the neighbours and their windows for hours on end. The same missile could be hit with considerable power by a foot with the aim of scoring in a chalked goal or under the RSJ of the playground shelter.
No limit was put on these fun efforts in the playground, not even on the icy playground wide slides that were cultivated following a bit of snow or a heavy frost, despite the occasional broken leg and a cast worn with pride.
Moving to the senior school at age eleven opened up a whole new range of “things to do”. Many of us got up at six am to do a paper round before breakfast and school. Some also had an evening and Saturday job. Mine involved making up grocery orders in a cardboard box and delivering them by ‘bike around the area. This gave me my Cinema money; every Saturday evening, swimming pool entrance; every weekday evening after work and Comics purchases. Dandy and Beano were my favourites.
A few more coppers were earned by helping the milkman. On the earlier occasions the job entailed helping to push the very heavy three wheeled cart with a large churn standing in it. Inside the churn hung a long handled I pint ladle which was used to measure milk into a jug with a cloth cover kept in place by beads round its edge that the lady of the house would bring out for us to fill. There were other ladles for half a pints and I believe a quart.
Later the milkman went hi tech and drove a horse and cart with the milk in bottles with a waxed cardboard top. These did not require us to knock, except on pay day. The tops were used by young mothers to form woollen bobbles for babies’ hats and things.
Other job opportunities were on the greengrocers’ cart; where like with the milk delivery I had to prevent the horse from decimating the privet hedges and clear up the droppings. These were not a problem as certain ladies would appear with their own buckets to empty my collection. It was for the roses you know!
We learned some quite interesting things at the senior school, between trooping off to the school underground shelters several time a day to avoid getting bombed. With two jobs to carry it was nice to have a sit down in the cool and damp for half an hour. Refreshing even.
A eureka moment came about when we witnessed the girls playing netball in the playground next to ours. It coincided with the thought that they may not be such a waste of time after all! What other better use of our time was there? It relegated marbles to well down the table!
The Cinema favourites also took a change to a more adult selection. Gone were Flash Gordon and Tonto and welcome to Jane Russell and Doris Day. I recall the massive posters outside were much more suggestive than the actual film, but who were we to judge?
One of the benefits of before and after school jobs was the cash to get a bike. We travelled all over the country on these sometimes completely un-roadworthy vehicles. A favourite all day Sunday trip was down the bypass to Denham, left through Uxbridge and into London at Marble Arch. A slog up to Edgware and a steep climb out of Stanmore. Then the joy of miles of “downhill” through Bushey and with a brief strain up the Watford High Street we arrived home with saddle soreness and a great feeling of achievement. A good wash and change and I was on my way to Bushey Baptist Church for the evening service, via bus this time!
The Young Peoples Fellowship was another of the weekly Wednesday trips back up to Bushey. All sorts of recreational activities took place both inside the Baptist church hall and out, the latter possibly best left un-described!
Who could resist the thrill of a Beetle Drive, or even Country Dancing. Swing your partner, Dozzy do.
Another bike trip around 1945/6 was to the newly opened Heathrow Airport. Back to Uxbridge again and across country to the Great West Road. The airport had very few facilities in those days, just white marques and wooden duck boards with a rope on steel posts to keep the spectators off the runway. Although it was soon to become the busiest airport in the world we had quite a long wait to see some of the big; for in those days anyway, intercontinental propeller driven aircraft.
These were great days and the sun nearly always shone. If it rained we simply unrolled our ex army groundsheets carried strapped to the back of our saddles and pushed on, although a bit slower than before.
With our rods strapped to the crossbar we would travel all over to go fishing. A tin full of Gentles, (maggots) and a pack of jam sandwiches and a bottle of diluted squash and we were in heaven. There was a lot more places to fish in those days and they were mainly free. If you did not make a mess or damage fences nobody seemed to mind a pair of boys spending all day long dangling their lines in a river whilst being eaten alive by all sorts of insects. There were generally a lot more bites on the bank than in the water.
One of the fads during this period was making Crystal sets. These devices consisted of wire coils wound on Vim tins, an air spaced Capacitor, size .005 microfarad seems to stick in my mind, and a crystal and cats whisker. Add a pair of earphones, risk life and limb to erect an aerial and find a water pipe for an earth and you were in business. I would lie in bed with my head under the clothes until late listening to the Home Service of the BBC.
Downstairs we now had a wireless with a polished Mahogany case and much easier tuning but it not always tuned to the station I wanted. When my father was at home a change was generally non-negotiable. The option of Radio Luxemburg were soon to be followed by Radio Caroline and other off-shore pirate radio stations. These were not seen as a suitable use for a Mahogany radio with magic eye tuning!
We went to the County school camp in the wilds of Cuffley and visited several large manufacturers with a view to interesting us eventually in working for a living. It is sad to say that most of these companies have long since disappeared.
The camp was notable for the inter school rivalry. How we all survived I’m not sure, but I can guarantee it was not a cake walk. The Cocoa was poison!
Another little pastime was fossil hunting. Turned loose in a chalk pit in the Chilterns we found objects that had not been disturbed for millions of years. We also managed to give ourselves an almost all over coating of lime wash.
The school allotment was another of our time users. This time it was mud we were covered in.
Football at Vicarage Road was a must. Every Saturday, first team or reserves, we were there. “Up you Blues” was the early cry and we knew every players name and where he came from.
It was 1947 when I left school and was found a job that paid well but was so boring and undemanding that despite my parents claims that I had “a safe job” I left after only four months but not before I was taken on as an apprentice electrician with a local firm.
Where I had nothing to do all day before, I now did not have enough day to do it in. After working from eight to six all week and Saturday morning overtime I was soon at night school for three evenings a week and swimming was a luxury. The weekdays were hard work but interesting and the weekend a luxury after working on the Saturday morning and were spent on the bike; I had a better one now, going fishing or watching football.
With the exception of National Service in the RAF, which at times I have to admit was a waste of time and the four months of my first job, I can honestly say I have never been bored. I don’t see how I would have had time to spend hours on a computer playing games, or on the mobile phone or awaiting a call, phone in hand, Tweeting or Texting or Face booking, X Boxing or Wii-ing. Maybe I have missed a lot of interesting things to do but I suppose if you never had them, then miss is not the word.
As mentioned previously I have purposely left out the time spent contending with the terrors and privations of a world war as the current younger generation have not; very fortunately, been subjected to any really stringent restrictions and threats to their young lives, although I believe they may argue this point.
I realise quite a lot of youngsters are not in employment at the moment. This was not really an option in my younger days. With money to be paid towards your keep at home and no one to bail you out then you really worked hard to get a job and earn a wage, no matter how menial the task to be performed. To say you were over qualified for some jobs would not have been an option and probably be a downright lie to boot.
Further full time Education was only an option for very few of us and the term “Gap Year” was yet to be invented. The world did not owe us a living but it was our Oyster.
So here’s to an interesting and non boring life. We are only given the one and the provider does not do exchanges, or let you reboot and start again!
That’s it! What can I do now?
Written and researched by Alan Orchard.
Tuesday, 07 August 2012.
These are my interpretations of the events as I see them and I am not the spokesman for the KRA or anyone else. Please do not publish this effort in part or as a whole without permission.
All correspondence should be sent via the “Contact Us” form.