Street Life: The Old School Yard

Our school yards were far from being the playing fields of Eton, but they were the place we developed non-academic skills that have lasted a lifetime.

For instance, by manipulating an intricately folded piece of paper, and offering you a selection of options, I could tell your fortune. And although I learned the skill nearly 70 years ago, I can still make a Christmas cracker out of a hankie.

Up to age seven, we were ‘mixed infants’, and playtime activities tended to be choreographed by adults. Ring games like ‘farmer’s in his den’, ‘poor Mary sat a weeping’ and ‘in and out the woods and bluebells’ were the sort of gentle games they favoured. A good tug-of-war at the end of ‘London Bridge is falling down’ was the best you could hope for.

Left to our own devices, juniors often played games that were reserved especially for the school yard. Two I recall were ‘The big ship sails through the Alley, Alley O, and ‘the whip’.

The latter was sometimes banned because of its lethal consequences, the least of which was a bitten tongue or bloody nose. To play, a line of kids linked arms and the leader ran pell mell, twisting and turning. Praying to stay on their feet, the tail-end Charlies covered twice the distance of the front runners at warp speed, flailing about like rag dolls.

For girls, an activity lacking a chant was the equivalent of dancing without music. Clapping games like ‘my mother said, I never should, play with the gypsies in the wood’ and, ‘each peach, pear plum’ were popular.

At playtime, there would be several long ropes, each with girls either skipping or waiting their turn to skip, all chanting rhymes that seemed to have been universally known. One of these was ‘Nebuchadnezzar the king of the Jews, bought his wife a pair of shoes’, etc. The most popular had actions or cues for the next skipper to enter the rope. ‘I was in the kitchen, doing a bit of stitching, in came a bogey man and pushed – me – out’ (exit first skipper) is an example.

At playtime, you might see a girl standing with arms outstretched reserving a ‘two ball’ wall until friends arrived. The attractive looking sponge balls from the newsagents had a sloppy bounce compared to tennis or hollow rubber ones. But as long as they bounced, a good two baller could cope successfully with the most ill matched specimens.

According to which of the extensive repertoire of rhymes we chanted, actions included passing one of the balls around your back, under the knee, or tossing it up vertically while keeping the other in play.

Dipping was employed for deciding things like who would be ‘piggy in the middle’, or ‘first ends’ at skipping. Possibly the best known was ‘Dip, dip, dip, my blue ship’, but ‘eany, meany, miney, mo’ was also common.

With no school field, our games lessons took place in the yard. But unlike one school in Ancoats, ours was at least on ground level. George Leigh Street was one of several city centre schools to have a ‘sky’ playground on the roof.

In the juniors, games equipment seems to have consisted of little more than bean bags and wooden hoops. Some activities demanded jumping between hoops laid on the ground, but otherwise we used them for skipping races. Before the hula hoop craze came along, nobody had the imagination to twirl it around their middle.

We played netball, because the harder balls used in rounders were more likely to break a window or end up in the traffic on Kenyon Lane. Stripped down to blouse and navy knickers, the older girls first had to erect the portable netball posts. Teams were chosen, and different coloured woven bands distinguished one from another.

At my first school, the sexes were separated by a high wall which resulted in gender specific games. To judge by boys’ street games, that wall hid much rushing round the yard with outstretched arms being Spitfire pilots, or thigh slapping as cowboys, not to mention British Bulldog.

At nine, I moved to a ‘mixed’ school where ‘kiss chase’ was played. I modestly stayed loyal to games like skipping or two balls (for a while at least).

Meet the author: John Poulton

‘Head Hunted’ is John Poulton’s latest novel set in a fictional Lancashire school. September term starts with the head teacher suddenly deciding to retire. The search for a replacement takes place over the ensuing academic year but it’s not as straight forward as you might expect.

Internal candidates competing for the role each believe they are the perfect choice but who, if any, will win? If jousting was fashionable things might have been easier. The wide-ranging mix of personalities is just as you might find in any work situation but the ‘behind the scenes’ view of school life from the vantage point of the staff room is less familiar. The entertaining plot has a good pace with plenty of humour and the occasional shock.

Although the author has 30 years’ experience to draw from he is more than ‘a retired teacher’.

At the age of 16 John left school to become a telephone engineer. With access to cash he spent his late teens living life; going abroad and enjoying a thriving Manchester music scene. As a young adult he became an amateur actor, learned to play guitar, joined a band and volunteered as a youth leader.

“So what prompted the change of career?” I asked.

“The idea was put to me by a monk on a seaside coach trip to Bournemouth. It had never crossed my mind until I had a chat with him. He just suggested it and ‘the lights came on’. I knew I was going to go for it.”

So, in his early twenties, John returned to education. After studying A levels in the evenings, he gained entry to Southampton University and, with a degree in Theology, completed his training at Cambridge University. In 1988 he took a post teaching RE and theatre studies.

“What aspect of teaching did you enjoy the most?” I asked him.

“The interaction with people and the ‘penny drop’ moments of wonder when a kid ‘got it’. I’m naturally gregarious and extraverted (a show off) and being in front of people plays to my strengths. I like to communicate.”

Over the years, John has become an accomplished classical guitarist, singer/songwriter, qualified hypnotherapist and travelled extensively. Inspired by a trip to Africa, he became chair and trustee for the Rwanda Group Trust charity.

He currently spends time helping to care for his elderly father, cycling and walking, while music, theatre, travel and writing remain his life-long hobbies; the latter being expertly combined on his own travel blog website – ‘Should I Go 2’. 

He has also written three other books:

  • Missing the Bus – a memoir of his early life
  • The Luck of the Crane – a novel set against the backdrop of the Rwandan Genocide
  • Atheists for JesusJesus for Atheists – a short theological textbook setting out known historical facts about Jesus

“Do you have a favourite?” I asked.

“I like each of them for different reasons. ‘Missing the Bus’ was for my mum, so it’s special.

I’m proud of ‘The Luck of the Crane’ because I feel passionate about Rwanda and what its people went through.

I’ve always wanted to explain the points that are presented in ‘Jesus for Atheists’. Again, I’m passionate about that and it’s closely linked to my teaching vocation. It’s a discussion I’ve had so many times and just thought I’d write it down.

My favourite book is ‘Head Hunted’ right now, though. I suppose I’m looking back with rose coloured spectacles, but we had such a laugh, both in class and in the staffroom. I’m celebrating those memories.

I always wanted to write a humorous book and ‘Head Hunted’ gave me that opportunity.”

‘Head Hunted’ is self-published and available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.

If you’re planning a holiday and need ideas, John’s travel blog ‘www.shouldigo2.com’ is definitely worth a look. Just click the image below.

Lakeside Community at the Café, Boggart Hole Clough

Here we are in January. It’s been a very trying year; many have faced huge difficulties and have struggled as we all faced an uncertain situation together.

One year ago, as the newly formed Lakeside Community Interest Group, we were devastated when our plans for a gardening club, reading circle, Easter egg hunt, lakeside lap challenge and a super VE Day party had to be put on hold for the foreseeable.So, we gave our heads a wobble, looked at what we could do and here’s what we managed to achieve:

We received funding from WeLoveMcr to tackle period poverty within the M9 area, dropping bags at doorsteps, care homes, schools, doctor’s surgeries and nursing homes. We also gave out hand cream, lip balms and hand sanitiser.We were given 100 Easter Eggs from Mantra Learning and Sheridan Lifts, which we distributed to households in M9. Plus arts and craft packs to keep the children occupied during the long months while the schools were shut. As well as bird boxes, bug jars, fairy doors and nature hunt sheets.

When the national lockdown ended we received funding from the Eric Hobin Fund, Northwards Housing. We used this to fund binoculars and bird books to encourage people to come out of the house and admire the natural beauty we have on our doorstep.

White Moss Youth Club gave us over 100 pedometers that we have been giving to people so they can monitor their steps while keeping active.

Working with MCC Parks Team we got involved with the Big Boggart Clean Up. Over 50 people joined in on the litter pick, making the park even more beautiful. We followed it with a cake sale for Macmillan raising £436.

As the weather got colder we created winter packs to give out from Lakeside Café; many of the items were given to us by @HealthyMcr.Over 20 shoeboxes were dropped off in Sharston for the Manchester Shoebox Appeal in November. A box was taken to the Lalley Centre for their reverse advent calendar campaign.

Winning Hearts and Minds have gave us 20 Christmas gift bags to distribute which accompanied the 100 boxes of mince pies supplied by Iceland. White Moss Youth Club enjoyed some at their luncheon club.

Partnering with Manchester Libraries we passed on 20 Winter Library Activity Packs, crammed with essential info and activities.In December we ran an amazing Christmas Raffle. The brilliant prizes included hampers from North Manchester Fitness, Winning Hearts and Minds and a fishing membership from King William IV Anglers.

None of this would have been possible without the support, help and generosity of the local community. We’ve been overwhelmed with the positive feedback and beautiful compliments received this year.

In no particular order our huge thanks go to: North Manchester Fitness, White Moss Youth Club, Walk2Run, MCC Parks Team, We Love Mcr Charity, Eric Hobin Fund, Northwards Housing, MCC Neighbourhood Investment Fund, HealthyMcr, Winning Hearts and Minds, King William IV Angling Society, Sheridan Lifts, Mantra Learning, Iceland, Manchester Libraries. Thank you all so much from the Team at Lakeside Café. We raise you a glass to say goodbye to 2020 and look forward to a fabulous 2021.

Keep up-to-date with opening times and events at the Lakeside Café on their Facebook page, just click here. And for Lakeside CIC click here.

Boggart Hole Clough is a large park with gardens, lakes and woodland walks situated on Charlestown Road, Blackley, Manchester. There’s a visitor carpark to the right of the main entrance.

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