Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My Life: Puddles, Hudgies and Frogs

I grew up in Maryhill, living there for about 13 years up till 1968. Glasgow was coming out of it's "No Mean City" era and while we still lived in what would be called a tenement block, it was far from being a slum. The photo here is of Queen's Cross at the junction of Maryhill and Garscube Roads. Looking down the road, we lived in the first street on the left.

Life as an under ten was pretty idyllic as I'd no worries or cares as long as I was warm, fed and clothed. All we had to concern ourselves about was school and playing. We mostly played as a group of friends in and around the local tenement blocks. There were a few playgrounds with roundabouts and swings, etc. but they were a bit of a walk away so going there was a special occasion and we usually had to make up our own entertainment...

War Games

All we needed was a ball for a kick around on the street or round the back and if we felt like being organised it was war games in the form of two teams pretending to be anything from cowboys and indians to WWII soldiers and usually involved popping up every now and then, making "ack-ack-ack" machine gun noises and then diving back down out of sight again.

Stankie

One street game we played was "stankie" with marbles or, if you were one of the lucky ones, with steelies, which were basically steel ball bearings. Play consisted of rolling your bools up the stank covers in the pavement, which were always at a slight angle, and trying to get them to stop in the little holes while your opponent tried to use his to knock yours out. You could either play for fun or keepsies depending on how many marbles you had and how confident you were.

There was an engineering works a few streets away and it was always good for a rummage around outside looking for steelies that had been dropped or discarded. Needless to say that marbles were a common drain on everyone's pocket money.

Puddles

If it rained, then there'd be puddles and, once the deluge stopped, a rush to get the wellies on and get out for a splash around. Puddles are great things for a small boy - you could float bits of wood in them and pretend they were boats or you could even use toy boats if you had them. I remember my mum buying me a nice blue boat after being brave and not crying while getting one of the standard "jags" (innoculations) kids had to get back then, but back to the puddles!

Obviously, splashing was mandatory as was bombing any pretend boats but god help you if you got covered in the muddy water or worse, wading in too deep and filling your wellies with it. The street gutters were also good for racing old ice-lolly sticks down when the rainwater was flowing but you had to catch them before they disappeared down the drain.

Running Around Madly

These games were the traditional fall back for something to do round the backs. You'd probably know it as Tag but we called it Tig, same thing though with all it's variations. Basically if you were "het", then you got to chase the others around until you touched one and then they were "het" and so on until everyone fell about exhausted.

Hide and Seek required a bit more cunning and, if you were "it", the ability to count as fast as possible, which always got everyone tongue-tied. Of course if the really cunning ones managed to hide themselves well enough, everyone gave up searching for them and went off on another tack.

The new urban sport of Free-running was being practised by almost every kid in Glasgow when I was a boy. We'd be running, jumping, climbing and dreeping over walls, wash-houses, middens, etc. in a kind of "follow-my-leader" chain to see who could get over the trickiest bits.

Saturday Matinees

The Blythswood CinemaAlmost every Saturday morning we went to one of the local cinemas, either the Blytheswood or Seamore in Maryhill Road, to see the latest children's movie. It was usually a comedy or a cartoon, which passed the morning, and if you'd been lucky enough to collect a few empty lemonade bottles during the week, then that paid for the ticket. Of course if you didn't have enough for a ticket or were just feeling adventurous, then it was common practise to wait outside at the side door until some helpful friend nipped down and opened it once the lights had gone down and you could sneak in. Unless the manager caught you coming in, he didn't really stand a chance of trying to catch a group of small boys running wildly around in a cinema full of noisy kids in the dark and once you'd found a seat, you were pretty safe.

The Blythswood was a pretty plain looking place but I remember the Seamore as having a big illuminated windmill, or more likely a lighthouse, above the doors but it closed in 1963 and got burned down about five years after that.

Dinkys, Corgis and Matchboxes

I'd play with them for hours on end if I was stuck in on a rainy day or for a wee while before bedtime. What are they? Why die cast model cars, buses, lorries and tractors, etc. I wish I'd kept them now as they're worth a lot off money these days. Just do a search on the net for them and you'll see just how much they can go for and to think we used to actually touch them and play with them like they were of little value. Of course we always chucked the boxes away and the lot were kept willy-nilly in an old shoe box (I can just hear the serious collectors shuddering with horror).

Better off kids (or their dads) had train sets of the Triang/Hornby variety or slot car racing games like Scalectrix but we made do with our little metal cars.

Hudgies

A hudgie was the art of jumping onto the back of passing carts, lorries, trucks or vans for a short ride along the street. Obviously no one ever attempted it if the vehicle was moving fast and the best candidate was usually a coal lorry as it made frequent stops along the street to sell sacks of coal or briquettes. We'd get chased by the driver if he saw us but was part of the fun of the game.

There was no green-cross code when I was a boy and growing up playing in the streets was a good way to learn to be traffic-wise as you always had to keep an eye out for anything coming. We also soon learned to be adept at crossing the roads among moving traffic and the thought of dashing across the busy Maryhill Road never phased us at all. There was a Zebra Crossing, with its trademark yellow Belisha Beacons, just up the road a bit but that'd have been too easy.

Adventures

Adventure is in a boy's soul and we were boys. Three of us, aged about five or six, caused an uproar by wandering off after school to see Santa's house, which I suspect now was probably a park-keeper's cottage in either Ruchill or Kelvingrove Park. Needless to say we got in terrible trouble when we strolled in later that afternoon, blissfully unaware that quite a lot of people were out there looking for us.

Other standard adventures were trekking off to one of the local public parks for the day. we had a choice of Ruchill, which was closest, Kelvingrove and Dawsholm Parks or the Botanic Gardens. Ruchill Park was fairly ordinary but had a good wide hill for sledging in the winter, My uncle Hugh, an engineer, made me a sledge one year and, being solidly made, I think it's still kicking around in the family somewhere, having been passed on by me a long time ago. The park also had an excellent little conical hill with a flagpole on top from where you could get a great view over the city. That hill was apparently artificial, having been constructed from the rubble of a demolished hospital and was nicknamed Ben Whitton after the Parks Superintendant of the time.

Kelvingrove Park is a vast place, straddling both sides of the river Kelvin and stretching from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum practically all the way to Charing Cross. Dawsholm Park is also quite large but further north and we used to venture up there to feed the grey squirrels that were always keen to eat peanuts right out of our hands.

Botanic Gardens Station, Photo by Duncan Cumming, some rights reserved.When we were a bit older we found the tunnel entrance to the unused railway station in the Botanic Gardens. It required a walk of faith, feeling our way along the pitch black tunnel, until there was a break above that let in some light. Then it was on again for a bit in the dark until we got to the station platforms themselves, which were open to the sky above but access from the street was blocked off. What did we go through all that for? Why frogs of course! The wee blighters bred in the puddles and water filled holes in the trackbed and if it was the right time of year, then you could be sure we'd catch a few.

Photo of Botanic Gardens Station by Duncan Cumming, some rights reserved.

Seasonal Fun

Guisin' was the art of dressing up at Halloween and going round the neighbourhood in groups of two or three chapping on doors. We'd sometimes have a hollowed out turnip lantern and I was almost always dressed as a pirate with eye-patch, cape and sword and one of my mum's scarfs tied jauntily around my head. If the inhabitants were welcoming, you'd recite a wee poem or sing a song and get rewarded with a selection of fruit, nuts or sweets or sometimes even a few pennies. If you were really lucky, you'd be invited in to dook for apples, which involved perching on a chair with a fork in your mouth above a basin of floating apples and if you could drop the fork into an apple, it was yours. You might even get the chance to try to eat a scone covered in treacle hanging on a piece of string. A far cry from the Americanized "Trick or Treat" nonsense we have to endure these days.

Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night) was a major event in the calendar. Fuel for the bonfire had to be gathered from near and far in preparation for the big night and it had to be guarded too. Almost every tenement block had its own bonfire and it was quite common for your stockpile to be raided by nearby gangs. Not that we'd ever have done that ourselves (sound of low whistling can be heard here). Our wood was usually stored in one of the old wash-houses in the Doncaster Street back and consisted of everything flammable we could get hold of - old doors, furniture, pallets, settees and chairs, the more the merrier. Mum would usually buy me a box of fireworks to set off myself - things like bangers, jumping jacks, Catherine wheels, rockets and maybe even a Roman Candle or two. The bigger your bonfire, the more people would come and let off their fireworks too. Too big though and the Fire Brigade might just turn up as well and put a real dampener on things.

Next time, I'll deal with school and my education, such as it was...

2 comments:

duncan` said...

From the sounds of it, you must have got into the Botanics station from the entrance that is at Kelvinbridge, where there used to be a station. That entrance is now securely shut, and these days most folks seem to get in through the entrance that is up at Kirklees in the Botanic Gardens themselves

Allan Ogg said...

Nope, it wasn't from Kelvinbridge, although we did get all the way through to that once.
It was more than likely Kirklees. Remember, we were pretty small and the distance may have seemed longer at the time.