Street Life: Rain, rain go away…

In the olden days there was imagination. ‘Creativity’ was yet to be invented (possibly by Blue Peter). Indoor play took place in living rooms, consequently adults preferred activities that kept us sitting quietly at the table.

Many people have fond memories of Meccano, but mine are of Bayko. The construction set was the brain child of Charles Plimpton, and took its name from Bakelite, an early form of plastic, patented by Dr. Baekeland in 1907. Due to manufacturing difficulties, shades of brown were all that could be achieved initially, but by the 1950s the colours of Bayko’s miniature architecture were as bright as could be wished for.Buildings were created by sliding the modular brick tiles, windows and doors between metal rods inserted into a base. The only down side was that our creations had to be dismantled when the table was needed for meals.

Austerity was gradually receding and games like draughts, bagatelle and blow football were appearing in the shops again, as was the most prized of all – a compendium of games. Those games required at least two players, so a solitary child complaining about being bored, might receive the suggestion ‘go and find that lovely scrapbook Auntie Doris gave you’. Dutifully cutting up old greetings cards or coloured pictures from magazines, we stuck them in with flour-and-water paste.

Wartime paper shortages had put an end to cigarette cards but, in the 50s, Brooke Bond satisfied our collecting fever with their colourful tea cards. My favourite set was ‘Birds of the British Isles’, the dilemma was how to display them? To stick the cards in ‘that lovely scrapbook’ meant losing the description on the reverse. The alternative was buying a postal order to send away for the official album. This was a significant purchase when ‘poundage’, equivalent to a week’s sweet money, was added to the cost of a postal order’s face value.

Felt tips were things of the future and drawing or even scrap paper was rarely available. To us, crayoning and painting was simply filling in the outlines of a colouring book. Our paints came in a flat tin box containing small blocks of solid colour with names such as Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna. Despite their exotic names the colours were disappointingly insipid, as were the chalks used on our slates and blackboards.

Possibly my most favourite presents ever were two McCall ‘Make It’ books. For many years I had to be content to simply read about the mysterious ingredients necessary for making a chemical garden. The stamp pads, glue, felt and glitter demanded for other McCall projects were less exotic, but they were still not common in our utilitarian world.Kids used to being feral soon tired of sedentary pastimes and brought scaled-down versions of outdoor games inside. In true wartime ‘make do and mend’ style we used our family’s laundry basket, a wooden crate with sturdy rope handles which normally lived under the kitchen table. On rainy days it could be transformed into a pirate ship or stagecoach under attack from ‘red Indians’, or anything else our imagination conjured up.

Two chairs and a blanket made a tent, and with milk and a few biscuits we were happy for a while. A table covered with the ubiquitous chenille cloth made a fine den. Sometimes adults forgot we were there and would discuss subjects not normally considered suitable for ‘little pigs with big ears’.

Every house had a button-box whose contents could be raided for games of shop and the like. We also used buttons to play a sort of tiddlywinks game. Each player chose a button to propel other, usually smaller, ones along the floor. The winner was the person whose buttons got to the edge of the carpet in the fewest number of ‘flips’.

Airfix kits were a popular pastime, but a cheaper way of making models was the cut-out books available in local newsagents. There was a whole range of these roughly A4-size publications containing brightly coloured things to make. They ranged from model vehicles to ‘dressing up’ dolls.Time and patience was required for the fiddly cutting out in those pre-sellotape days, when a slip of the scissors could spell disaster. The figures came printed on thin card and the paper outfits had small tabs which folded around the doll to keep them in place. My sister and I often combined forces to act out plays with our dolls as the characters.

Such ephemera ought to be long gone but my daughter, aged 47, is now the custodian of the family collection of cut-out dolls, complete with repairs done with 50’s sticking plaster or ancient sellotape.

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Street Life: Coming Out, Ready or Not

The built environment was a big factor in the games we played. For instance, ‘thunder and lightning’ or ‘knock and run’ was a torment particularly reserved for the residents of terraced houses – too much chance of getting spotted running away where there were gardens.

The terrace gable end was also a favoured spot to accommodate a couple of girls playing ‘two balls’ side by side. But the constant thump, thump of the balls was guaranteed to fetch out a large woman, typically wearing a wrap-around overall, who would bellow ‘go and play in your own street’.In the summer these same gable ends had cricket stumps chalked or painted on them. But when too many strikes from a ‘corkie’ thudded against the brickwork, the street cricketers received the same admonition from the flowery pinny brigade.

The council houses where I lived were built around two grassed areas we called ‘greens’. The road bisected them and on our side the green had a fine gravel path, ideal for bikes and scooters. The smooth surface around the other green was perfect for whip and top, and might account for why its popularity lasted so long with us.

Boys used ‘the greens’ for football and ‘split the kipper’, a game that was played with a penknife or other sharp blade.Flagged pavements were good for hopscotch and skipping where our preference was for a rope long enough to accommodate half a dozen girls.

Some of the rhymes we chanted were a little out dated but stayed popular because their actions called for timing and agility. One such was ‘I’m an ATS girl dressed in green’. As far as I know, The ATS wore khaki but it didn’t bother us when we were touching the ground, turning around and doing ‘the kicks and splits’ which the rhyme dictated. Other rhymes featured film stars such as Betty Grable and Charlie Chaplin who were old hat by the 1950s.Our junior schools were single sex, so I suppose that was the reason girls and boys rarely played together. Marbles, or ‘alleys’ as we knew them, was a ‘mixed’ game, and we sometimes joined forces for chasing games such as ralivo, kick can or hide and seek. Firmly defined boundary restrictions were imposed to make sure the games didn’t go on indefinitely.Readers of The Perishers cartoon strip might recognise another mostly male activity which involved a vehicle the Daily Mirror called a carte. Variously called soapboxes or trolleys, in Manchester the homemade contraptions were known as bogies or guiders. These gravity racers required a sturdy wooden soap or apple box, old pram wheels or sometimes roller skates. The frame had a rope fixed to the ends of a steerable bar at the front.

Our fairly quiet street sloped down towards Church Lane which was a main road. Consequently Honister Road was adopted as an ad hoc race track where the idea was to perform a sharp right turn at the bottom. But only the most sophisticated vehicles had a brake. So to prevent the basic model guider from shooting out into the main road, a driver had to rely on a boot sole scuffed along the pavement.I don’t recall any fatalities, but I expect some poor car drivers lost years off their lives when a guider, travelling at high speed, shot across their bows after failing to make the turn.

Boys and girls both created dens. Ours were for playing ‘house’ or ‘shop’ while the sole purpose of a boy’s den seemed to be a secluded place where they could build a fire.

‘Den’ was also the word for the base in a game of hide and seek or similar. We called out ‘bounce’ or ‘kickstone 1 2 3’, to signal getting back without capture. I can’t recall the Moston word chasers used when someone’s hiding place was spotted, but according to my mother it was ‘whip’ in Collyhurst. In a chasing game, a halt for a loose shoelace or ‘stitch’ was achieved with a cry of ‘ballies’ while holding up both thumbs.Playing shop

When we moved to New Moston, our playground was the middle of three interlinked ‘frying pan’ cul-de-sacs. The narrowness of the roads and the almost complete absence of traffic lent itself to ‘Grandmother’s footsteps’, ‘What time is it Mr. Wolf?’ and ‘Farmer, farmer may I cross your golden river?’ – games not usually played in Moston’s streets.

There were also seasonal factors to some of our games. Conkers or sticky bud (burdock) fights were autumnal, and snowballing and sliding obviously required a good freeze. On dark winter nights we raided the wood stocks other kids had assiduously ‘logged’ for their own bonfire. But natural seasons aside, how did we know when to make the change from skipping to hopscotch? If there was some mysterious formula, I was never in on the secret.

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Street Life: Sugar and Spice (and all things nice)

If 1963 was Philip Larkin’s ‘annus mirabilis’, we baby boomers had ours in 1953. On the 5th of February that year, along with butter and sugar, sweets came off ration. Suddenly all that governed our purchases was how much we had to spend.

Although it wasn’t the closest to home, the sweet shop of choice was known to us kids as ‘the old man’s’. As I went to school with his daughter, he must have been considerably younger than I now am.The shop’s attraction was that while the front window displayed packets of dried peas, Kingpin flour and custard powder, the side window was a child’s box of delights. Standing outside discussing what we should choose was almost as enjoyable as the sweets themselves.

Glass jars of 6d a quarter items such as sherbet lemons, pear drops or cinder toffee were ranged along the back. These sweets were not individually wrapped as they are today; on the rare occasion we laid out 3d for 2 ounces, they were weighed out into a triangular poke bag. A few minutes in a warm pocket soon bonded the sweets into a solid mass which stuck to the paper more effectively than any glue.

Immediately In front of the jars were display cartons of the more expensive toffee bars and packet sweets such as spangles and fruit gums that mostly cost 3d. In my humble opinion, the banana split Palm toffee was well worth the investment.

The very front of the window had the cheap and cheerful stuff like ‘all day sucker’ lollies, arrow bars or 4 for a penny fruit salads, mojos and blackjacks.Photo compliments of Brian Winstanley

I seem to recall tuppence (less than 1p) being regarded as the amount grown ups were likely to part with on an ad hoc basis. The most popular tuppence worth was Kali and Spanish. I searched for Kali on the internet and was surprised to find it still available under that name. Kali is tart lemon crystals not at all like sherbet or the insipid rainbow crystals also available at 6d a quarter.

For tuppence you got a poke bag containing an ounce of Kali and a halfpenny Spanish to dip in. The Spanish was hard with a bitter taste and should not be confused with the soft sweet liquorice whirls, pipes and shoelaces sometimes also known by the same name.

The Kali/Spanish combination was one of the finest taste sensations ever. By the time the Kali was finished, there was usually about 2 inches or so of Spanish left. Without the Kali, the taste was too strong for me and I generously donated what remained to my granddad who loved it.

Another treat was penny ice lollies. They were made in flat aluminium moulds and came from a freezer whose large cabinet belied the smallness of its interior. Our favourite flavour was Vimto, but there were a minority of kids who favoured milk lollies.

And then there was ice cream. In the early years of Victoria’s reign, Manchester began to attract Italians who were skilled workers in stone or glass. Musicians and peddlers followed and swelled their numbers so much that part of Ancoats was known as ‘Little Italy’.Photo of J Burgon’s horse drawn ice cream cart (with the kind permission of Mr Ray Boggiano)

Fortunately for us, some Italians turned their hand to the manufacture of ice cream. Originally it was dispensed in licking glasses which gave it the nickname ‘hokey pokey’. The derivation was hocus pokus because the thick glass magically magnified the small amount of ice cream it contained. This unhygienic method of service was replaced by the variously shaped and uniquely textured biscuits known as wafers.

The family preference was for twists, but sometimes my granddad would ask me to bring him what he called ‘a shutter’ (an ice cream wafer to the rest of the world).

There were no electronic chimes for us. It was a brass hand bell that summoned us to Bertaloni’s cart that was pulled by a beautiful white horse (similar to that pictured). The driver was known to everyone as Tony – which might have owed more to our stereotyping of Italian names than his birth certificate.

Another of my all time favourites was a scoop of Tony’s ice cream collected in a bowl taken for the purpose. Back home I dropped it into a glass of Limeade. This was a double treat as fizzy drinks were a rare luxury in our house.

I wonder if you can still buy that hard Spanish at the chemist’s, because the thought of that on-line Kali is making my mouth water.