I always enjoyed sport at Harehills. I think it was mainly on a Wednesday afternoon, but I could be wrong. Maybe that was just when I was in Mr. Kelly’s Yr. 4A class. Anyway, as the school was devoid of any green space to play we would be greeted during lunch time by the arrival of, I think, two double decker buses to ferry a host of excited and noisy children to the Soldiers’ Field sports ground. The journey wasn’t more that about ten minutes at most.
As I was thinking about this, the other night, I pictured the ride and what we passed on the way. Just on the City side of the school was the family doctor’s, Drs. Black, Freeman, Novis and at least one other. I could be wrong with some of the names, but Dr. Black was a definite. My mother thought the young doctor was lovely and so he became our whenever possible. It was strange, but many years later, when she had retired, she would babysit for him, but the children then were teenagers and really didn’t require care. Dr. Black also makes an appearance as the doctor in Wickergate, my first novel.
As the bus left the school there was a zebra crossing and directly on the other side of the road was a sweet shop/tobacconist. This was the source of a range of lollies that will form another blog and the source of whip ‘n’ tops, yoyos, skipping ropes and marbles. On the school side, I remember an old fashioned clothing shop. It ran a little way along the side road and sold Clarks Shoes and Ladybird children’s clothes. I can’t remember the name and someone may help out. Next to this was the Conservative Club, which I can’t believe could still be there and above it was Olga Shear’s Ballroom. I only went once for dancing lessons when I was about eleven. It seemed very old fashioned and frightening and I never returned after that first go. Probably saved a lot of toes from being trodden on. I do remember a large net suspended over the dance floor that was full of balloons. I supposed they released them towards the end of an evening, but I never experienced that. Further along on the other side there was an antique/junk shop and it was there that my first and only violin was purchased. I believe there was an electrical shop and, back towards school, a gent’s barbers shop.
There originally were three cinemas in Harehills. The Clock Cinema was the biggest and the newest and the building still remains, but there was one in the centre of Harehills, I think where the supermarket was built, called The Harehills and one on the school side, but nearer to the city, called The Gaiety Kinema, but that closed in 1958. It was replaced with a modern, large pub that developed a bad reputation and was later closed down.
On the junction with Harehills Road, there were shops I remembered well as they were a source of pleasure. One I believe was called Flew’s and sold sports gear, and couple of shops up was Varley’s the toy shop and I bought Airfix Kits there. Across from these was a Pet Shop and I always loved looking in the window at the animals and next to that was a café that my mum would occasionally take me and my two brothers to and when I was a teenager I occasionally went there.
The bus ride took us past the roundabout that had Easterley Road running off up the hill, but we carried straight on and passed the Astoria Ballroom, then Turnways Garage and next to it the Olympia Works. Originally this was an aircraft factory and the Soldiers Field was a landing strip, although when I was a boy it was no longer a factory, but the buildings housed several small workshops and businesses. I do know that behind it up the hill, hidden in the woods,were aircraft shelters and I did explore these as a child. I am sure they are filled in now for safety. The works are now the TESCO building and there is a blue plaque there.
On our short journey we passed Gipton Woods on the right and the tram lines ran all along the route, before their removal in the mid 1950s. We passed through Oakwood and turned up by the Oakwood Clock. The road ran next to it then and then up to the Soldiers Fields where they stopped and we poured out. Here we played soccer, cricket and I think we did athletics, but I can’t remember much about it. I do remember one or two cricket matches with other schools, but I don’t think we did a great deal of sport with other schools.
Soccer, hordes of us chasing a ball around. The balls were heavy leather and when wet weighed a ton. Woe betide anyone who was unlucky either by design or error, to head a wet ball. If the skull wasn’t fractured severe concussion was the likely outcome. Soccer boots, for those fortunate to have them, were heavy, solid leather affairs, with leather studs nailed into the sole. The toe cap was a large rounded end, that really allowed little or no control as to the destination of the ball. If you enjoyed running and playing it was great, but for those less inclined to sport it must have been agony, standing, freezing in the cold. This, added to the embarrassment of being the last to be chosen for a team, led to some children being emotionally scarred for life. The ultimate insult was when the last player was rejected by both teams. In this case the child would be sent to be the goal keeper and if a goal was scored he was chastised by all his side, even when there was nothing he could have done to prevent it.
When the games session had finished, we all piled back onto the buses and headed back to school, all with differing versions of whether it had been an enjoyable experience or not.
Probably more memorable were the swimming lessons. I seem to think we went to Meanwood Road Baths and we would change in cubicles at the side of the pool. The air had the strong smell of chlorine and I don’t think that the water was ever warm. Shivering, we were encouraged to climb in. I was amazed at those with the courage to jump in, apart from the horror of being splashed with the icy water. I was never confident in water and even now, with my own swimming pool, it never seems warm enough to get in it. For those of us terrified, letting go of the side was a monumental achievement. Using a kick board the next challenge was to take one foot off the floor and finally achieving the ultimate, both feet off the bottom. In the shallow end us non-swimmers would labour on happy in our own zone, whilst the fish of this world would perform miracles in the deep end and we could only look on with longing and envy. Eventually most managed to take the first stroke and then they were off. The next challenge was a length.
After we finished we changed quickly. We were cold, but we knew what treats were on offer. Salted crackers could be purchased as could hot Bovril. Both were essential after suffering the cold and the high dose of chlorine. Occasionally trunks or underwear would be left in a cubicle and when displayed by a teacher no one would willingly own up to having lost a pair. The shame would outweigh discomfort. The girls would wrap towels around their wet hair expertly, whilst boys learnt the skill to flick a wet towel at any bare skin. I remember eyes stinging from the chlorine and sometimes a verruca check of our feet before we were allowed into the water and on the side.
And now the Facts of Life. One morning in Mr. Kelly’s class Neil, I won’t say his surname, came in excited. He told a group of us how babies were produced and there was considerable squirming as he told us. I was incredulous and full of disbelief. He was either making it up or mistaken. The word went around the class and I led the side disclaiming what he said. Babies were made by kissing, I proclaimed. Probably as it seemed the more likely, safe and acceptable theory we had a vote and I was successful in winning the day. My debating skills were victorious, but it proved the first of many occasions where I didn’t know what I was talking about. What also should have warned me was that I had been to more than one birthday party, where at a lull in proceedings the game of Postman’s Knock was suggested and the chosen one would leave the room. Numbers were issued to the other gender present and when this was done, the one out side returned. This person said a number and the owner of the number left the room to kiss the other who had chosen them. No one had ever fallen pregnant from playing the game as far as I was concerned.
Such innocent happy times.