bigjohn

There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle.

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    I was born in 1939 BC. That's 'Before Computers'. Luckily I survived the following events in my life, such as World War II, The London Blitz, Rationing, and worst of all... Archbishop Temple's School.

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    During the mid 1950s I was enjoying Rock 'n' Roll and being a first generation teenager, when suddenly, just like Elvis, I found myself in uniform during 'The Cold War'...and then

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    During the 'Thatcher Years' I lost my hair and a lot of people lost a good deal more. My career fluctuated to say the least as I was demoted, promoted, fired and hired a number of times, but still I managed to stagger on into a welcome retirement and to celebrate 50 years of happy marriage.
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The perils of playtime.

Posted by Big John on March 26, 2007

Yes, it’s time once again for … ‘Swing the light and I’ll tell you a war story’ … Well sort of …

blitz-xx-3.gif

The above photograph shows me, but not the actual street where I lived, but it very well could be, for a similar view awaited anyone stepping out of our front door during the London ‘Blitz’, as the ten or so terraced houses on the opposite side of the road were destroyed by the Luftwaffe’s bombs. 

Of course I was very young at the time and have no memory of those events, but I do have very clear memories of the ‘bomb site’ that was created, as it became my favourite playground during the later war years and the early postwar period …

Although most of the houses were reduced to piles of rubble, one fire gutted house remained standing, although the roof and floorboards were missing. It was the scene of many adventures and not a few injuries as balancing along broken joists two floors up could easily lead to broken bones upon landing in the basement, and climbing a frayed rope up crumbling brickwork was a sure way to end up bleeding all over your mum’s freshly scrubbed doorstep as she surveyed the scruffy little wreck who stood before her needing a hug and some first aid.

Together with my young mates I made camps among the ruins, searched for ‘shrapnel’ and unexploded incendiary bombs (thank God we never found any). We did collect quite a lot of metal, but I expect that most of it was bits of old gas pipes and the expended machine gun bullets that we found were probably large rusty bent nails; although I do remember some older boys ‘firing’ live .303 rounds using a length of pipe and a hammer. There was quite a bit of  weaponery around at the time, and I know that it’s hard to believe, but just after of the war ended our little gang had a redundant ‘Bren’ light machine gun in it’s possession plus a number of less lethal items of military equipment.

Weapons of a more ancient kind, but no less dangerous, were favoured for our games of ‘Robin Hood’ or ‘cowboys and indians’ and bamboo arrows flew all over the ruins. The bamboo sticks were ‘borrowed’ from back yard vegetable patches and allotments, with the longer bean poles going to make quite powerful long bows. Luckily, as I recall, no one lost an eye, although I did get a thick ear from a ball bearing fired from a catapult (slingshot).

We built fires and sat amongst the debris eating slices of bread and ‘dripping’ held in our grubby little hands and I suspect that we swallowed almost as much dirt as we did fat. It was all washed down with swigs from a bottle of cold tea. If we were very lucky we might share a bottle of ‘Tizer’.

Due to rationing, sweets (candy) were a rare treat, but if you had a penny or two, ‘black market’ varieties were available from ‘Artful Dodger’ older kids. I dread to think what they contained. They mostly tasted of liqourice and mothballs and turned your tongue blue or green.

When I look back at those times I can’t help but think that I was probably in as much danger from playing with my friends as I was from Hitler’s ‘Doodlebug’ missiles which somtimes passed overhead.

All the kids in my street ‘played out’ almost from ‘dawn ’til dusk’, so it is hard to imagine what it must be like for some children today when I read that seven out of ten parents in this country would not let their offspring out of the house to play ‘unsupervised’, and that more than half of youngsters today have no knowledge of traditional playground games and have never ridden a bike.

I’ve heard today’s children described as the ‘cotton-wool generation’. I guess that cotton-wool …

…    must have been ‘on ration’ in my young days. 

11 Responses to “The perils of playtime.”

  1. Chris said

    By the sound of some of the things you used to get up to (ball bearing catapults, firing arrows etc) you’d probably get one of those ASBOs nowadays.

    Er…you haven’t still got that machine gun, have you?

  2. Betty said

    John, I’m always fascinated to read about your experiences during WWII.

  3. Oscarandre said

    I grew up on 40 acres of bush, John, and then that was surrounded by more bush. A typical war game meant that one team left to set up an ambush followed by the second team setting off to avoid the ambush an hour later. The whole day could pass without any sign of each other, so cunning were the ambushers and ambushees alike.

  4. Jackshian said

    Different time .. different country

    You were obviously one of those Brixton hooligans that I was warned to stay away from.

    That machine gun would come in pretty handy these days.

  5. Freda said

    The playing out was one of the features of my own London childhood; I always feel sad for today’s youngsters. But then there is the advent of nuisance teenagers hanging around and intimidating folk. As everyone says…..different times.

  6. Big John said

    Welcome Freda. You sure do live a long way from the streets where you spent your childhood.

  7. Teuchter said

    I grew up in semi-rural Aberdeenshire in the sixties – and playing-out was what we did too. The only exception to this was Sundays – when we had to play in the garden, quietly.
    We had the type of freedom that many of today’s children don’t have; out in the morning on our bikes, sandwiches and a drink in the saddle-bag, to roam wherever we wanted. Mum was happy as long as she knew roughly where we were, who we were with, and when we’d be back.
    Yes, we fell off our bikes and barked our shins. Yes, we occasionally came across strange people – or got ourselves lost. And, yes, we learnt from all the few negative experiences.

    Sorry if that comes over as being a tad Enid-Blyton – but I really did have a great childhood.

  8. Terri said

    I also love hearing your WWII stories, John. Although in the mid-50s in America, I didn’t encounter the items you did during play, we also played outside and had fun doing it! Today’s children are way too coddled and way too caught up with computers.
    And yes….while it’s great to go away, I’m ever so happy to be back home! And I’m slowly trying to catch up on blog entries I missed while in Paris. Best to you, John.

  9. frisby said

    It looks like your bum is on fire in that picture! ;)

  10. Hmmm... said

    Unfortunately, that photograph appears to be something of a fake: it has been altered to superimpose that image of the child from another picture … terribly sorry.

  11. Big John said

    Thank you for the comment ‘Hmmm’. Of course it’s a bloody fake. I faked it, as it says in the text …
    ‘The above photograph shows me, but not the actual street where I lived’.
    No need to be sorry. :-)

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