16/09/2021

All-weather sports and escapism

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All-weather sports

If it was too wet to play on the bomb-site, our first family home in Ludlow Road had the ultimate facility – an internal alleyway between us and our neighbours. It was perfect, an all-weather location for football or cricket, balls rebounding off the side walls adding unpredictability and interest. It acted as a great echo-chamber too. As you got taller you could climb it with your feet pressed on one wall and shoulders on the other, in my case stopping well short of any spider webs. Endless fun, though probably not for Mrs Bray who lived next door.

‘All-weather’ alley

We also had a shed for bigger groups. I encountered the board game Monopoly from somewhere and became so besotted with it that I made my own set, including hand-written property, Chance and Community Chest cards. We would sit in the shed on rainy days and played it for hours. Seeing my enthusiasm, my parents bought me a ‘proper’ set for Christmas or a birthday, but it never commanded the same level of interest that my scruffy home-made set had engendered.

Down that alleyway was a coal bunker. A coalman would routinely arrive with a horse and cart, hoisting hundredweight bags of coal onto a leather patch across his shoulders and march them through the alleyway to the coal bunker. There were squabbles in the road between those cultivating roses who collected the droppings his horse left behind.

Coal deliveries

A popular early family tale was one of a number of famous Mum-isms when a man turned up in a long white coat. My mum, despite his appearance, thought she heard him say ‘Coop Fuel Service’ and offhandedly told him to shove it in the bunker. The man looked perplexed and repeated ‘Coop Funeral Service’. We lived at number 14 and, unbeknown to Mum, someone had died at number 4. The guy was delivering an occupied coffin back to that house for the wake. My Mum always pronounced it as fruneral, so no wonder she didn’t recognise it when it was said properly.

On another occasion she assumed a caller was a meter reader and marched him through to the bottom of the stairs where the meter was located, ignoring what he was saying. He was a new young insurance agent who had probably been fed stories of housewives’ propensity for sexual encounters with their smartly dressed agents. When she wondered why he was taking so long she found him sat at the bottom of the stairs looking confused; she was lucky he had not stripped off and gone upstairs.

Escapism

Our local cinema, the ABC Cabot, was across two busy main roads but offered us a window on the outside world and into alternate universes.

ABC badge for
Saturday morning club

The ABC Minors Club presented a morning of entertainment for a small entry fee; my memory is sixpence (2.5p) or it may have been threepence. The programme was in two parts, first a whole series of cartoons and then one or two short films – regular doses of the Range Rider, William Tell, Flash Gordon, and comedy too Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello, The Three Stooges, perhaps even the Marx Brothers.

Audience participation,
trying to get yo-yos to work

However, in between these segments there was a pause while the curtains were drawn across the screen and some guy in a suit would come out to present the latest fad. The earliest I can recall was the yoyo. He would bring onto the stage several children who could make the plastic macaroon sing and dance, by performing the ‘sleeper’ or ‘walking the dog’. We would save up to buy one but all ours would do was come to a limp halt at the bottom of its string, and then routinely it would take five minutes to untangle it.

Hula-hoop demonstration

There was much more success with the second plastic fad the hula hoop. At least with this I managed to keep it turning for a count of one thousand – once. The technique is not like riding a bike because as an adult during a hula hoop revival I found five spins was my peak.

One morning returning from the ABC club, I ran across a fairly major road and was hit by a small motorcycle, It didn’t do much damage theankfully, but did leave a very clear imprint of its braking tyre up my leg. I didn’t rush to wash off this ‘war-wound’ that impressed my friends.

ASIDE: From this era I still remember my mum’s Co-op divvy number – 103143 and my dad’s Fireman number – 357. Later still I was quickly able to recall my NI number for all my part-time jobs – so how come passwords prove such a challenge today?

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