In this blog I reflect on my childhood growing up in a suburb not far from London.
The boundaries of my world as a child radiated out from our house. It was a semi-detached on a busy road with a front garden and drive and a back garden with a small vegetable patch, a shed, a lawn and paved area. On the paved area were the coal and coke bunkers, coal for the fire and coke for the boiler. I hated the job of going out in winter with the coal scuttle to shovel the coal for the fire. Apart from the hall and kitchen, there were two rooms downstairs, a room ‘for best’ at the front that we only went into at Christmas, and a back room where we ate, sat in front of the fire, and watched TV. Upstairs there were two main bedrooms, a box room and bathroom. I shared a room with my brother until I was 8.
Across the road from our house was the ‘rec’ or recreation ground – I didn’t know 'rec' was short for 'recreation' until now and in my mind I always thought of it as the ‘wreck’. Here there were expanses of green fields and swings for kids to play on. I remember how excited we were when they installed swing boats; I loved them and spent many hours swinging with my friends. They were great because you faced each other and could therefore swing and talk. Most of my play took place ‘over the rec’, and in summer I would go there after tea and could stay out as long as I came home ‘when the street lights come on’. We also played games in the street, especially in winter so we could get indoors quickly if it rained or snowed, we played marbles, conkers, hop scotch and skipping games. We therefore created a sort of country in the town.
We used to go to the ‘rec’ to play rounders and tennis and other ball games. When it stayed light until late on summer evenings my parents would join us with tennis rackets and balls and we would compete to see how high we could make the balls go – I was useless at all ball games and felt very inferior. In contrast, my mother loved ball games and also played badminton once a week. Also at the top of our road, quite a steep walk, was the Uxbridge Road, across this main road was the tennis courts and in the summer holidays, once I went to secondary school, I would go there with my friends and attempt to play tennis, but I was always pretty rubbish with a bat and ball. On a Sunday in summer my dad took us swimming sometimes, but my mum would never swim, she said she was ‘too fat’ to be seen in a swimsuit. She sat by the pool guarding the picnic, which was inevitably elaborate and better than anyone else’s - providing lovely food was my Mum's speciality.
We also played games in the back garden, the fifties were a time of crazies – I remember having to have a hula-hoop and a yo-yo. Skipping was also popular and my mum was really good at this. We also spent hours practising ‘hand stands’ in the garden and bouncing balls, having competitions to see who could bounce the longest. I remember my brother falling and breaking his arm in one of the garden competitions.
My father worked six days a week so Sunday was the ‘family day’ and we would motor into the country and go for walks. I loved it in the winter. My mother would make a flask of homemade soup or we would take a primus stove and heat up baked beans and huddle round the stove and eat soup and beans with crusty bread with thick butter. At home in the winter we played cards and board games on Sunday evening, although my dad would never join in – he hated these games so mum, me and my brother would play. I remember being really annoyed that we could never play games in pairs because dad wouldn’t join in. The games included Monopoly and Cluedo, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders.
As I got older my boundaries extended and I would go off with my friends on our bikes. In Uxbridge – top of the road and then a 20 minute bus ride – there was an open-air swimming pool and I swear we spent almost the entire summer holidays at this pool. I don’t remember having any access to an indoor pool. From the age of 11-12, I would cycle to the pool, we had a cycle path on the main road, and join my friends – my memory is of long, hot, sunny days. We also went swimming at Ruislip (quite a way away), where there was a Lido to swim in during the summer, although my mother didn’t like me to swim there, ‘you might catch polio’. This was a concern as my dad hadn’t let any of us have vaccinations – he thought we might be brain-damaged, so I suppose we were more at risk.
Most of our leisure as children was sorted out between us, adults had very little input. Even going to the cinema didn’t involve adults. Our local cinema was about 3 miles walk or two bus rides away. Saturday morning pictures and the cinema in general were really important. Children’s films were a big pull and considered a treat, especially if we were allowed to have a 6p bag of chips to have on the way home. One of THE highlights of my childhood was being taken to London by my grandfather to see the ‘7 Wonders of the World’ at the first widescreen cinema. It also had surround sound which actually scared me at first. My parents did take us to the cinema as well to see ‘Carry On’ films – we all loved them. One of the biggest disappointments of my childhood was being in hospital when Carry on Constable came out and I didn’t get to see it.
Looking back, I spent very little leisure time with my parents, Dad did a lot with my brother, but not much with me, although one thing I do remember was my father made a model radio-controlled boat and we used to take it to the local pond and sail it. I have since learnt that there were over 1 million self-assembled boats being sailed on ponds in the 1950s in Britain, so as a family we were probably quite typical in our leisure activities with mum, dad and children engaging in very different pastimes, it was only on Sunday would we do something together as a family on the after lunch drive to the country.