‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Playground Games at School in the 1960s. We Had Little, But We Were So Lucky! – Cup of Tea Tales
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Playground Games at School in the 1960s. We Had Little, But We Were So Lucky!
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- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Country Dancing, Nursery Rhymes, Singing Lessons, Assemblies. The Music of Childhood That Stays With Us Forever!
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Change! Some Things That Have Disappeared and Some that Have Come and Gone Since the 1950s.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Changing Face of Being A Yorkshire Man or Woman.
When I was young, we used to enjoy specific seasons where we would play games. Today children have access to so much materially, that unless parents and grandparents choose toys that enable them to be active creatively, then they will miss out on the imaginative play that we had.
I suppose, necessity was definitely the mother of invention. At Harehills County Primary, there was only a bare tarmac playground. There was no grass, equipment, nor apparatus to lead us to play. Large numbers of children were crowded onto the bare surface, and to make the situation worse, it sloped quite steeply. Knowing nothing better, the lack of space didn’t seem to be a problem, and we just got on with it. In the warmer months we played cricket with chalked wickets on the caretaker’s house or the back wall near the toilet blocks. The slope added to the local challenge and allowed us to face some quite fast bowling with a high bounce. Winter would see soccer as the chief boys’ sport, but the girls seemed to fill their time with a variety of games such as skipping, hopscotch, cat’s cradle, and handstands against the walls. The thought of skull fractures didn’t seem to worry anyone in the early 1960s. Today, health and safety would have put an end to it very smartly.
On frosty days, when there was snow that had melted and frozen, we made ice slides. This was magical and well worth getting to school early so that we could start polishing the ice by sliding on a set strip. With continual use by the first arrivers, we created high-speed slides that allowed trains of children to hurtle down the ice, wearing out the soles of our shoes. More than one slide would be created, but there was one spot that always produced the best strip and that was controlled by the older children. It only came to a stop when it hit the caretaker’s house wall and often ended in pile-ups. We would start these from the moment we arrived at school and if we were lucky, they would still be there at morning break time so that we could polish them even more and get a faster run. There was great excitement and squeals of joy, as coat flapping, scarf trailing, adventure seeking kids produced a constant stream of exhilaration. Occasionally someone would come a cropper, but that resulted in a pileup of bodies, and even greater pleasure, unless you were the one at the bottom.
Occasionally, adult concerns overcame the desire to let us let off steam, and led to boiler-room ashes being spread on the ice. This put a complete stop to our fun and prevented further use and accidents. The killjoys! I have a recollection of being able to slide from the top of the yard all the way down the yard, bypassing the edge of the caretaker’s house, and continuing on to the far wall near the ‘bogs’. The ecstasy of balancing, rugged up in scarf and hat, running pell-mell and then gliding, arms akimbo, has stayed with me all my life. I don’t know if it is still allowed in school, but it was such a wonderful experience. Here in Australia, it is an unknown joy, unless you live in the Snowy Mountains. Those boys and girls who could show their prowess had real kudos and the younger children would watch, idolise, and aim to achieve such greatness. Even some of the teachers seemed to watch on with admiration and occasionally the younger staff had a go. This raised their credibility in the eyes of the children. But we knew they were never as good as we were.
At high school, Roundhay School, the boys still would take any opportunity to make slides. The bottom playground would be striped with a variety of slides. The ice needed to have a decent thickness or eventually the friction of so many soles would wear it down to the tarmac. The most enterprising and challenging runs would start on the top playground, over the small flight of steps to continue on the lower yard. This meant that the slider had to pick up sufficient speed to jump off the end of the top run, clear the steps, and land on the bottom. This took talent and nerve, and there were one or two broken wrists. Such slides made walking down the steps impossible, and I saw more than one teacher slip. Such an incident meant the caretaker would come out with his cinders and put an end to our pleasure. Guess the old always want to spoil the fun of the young!
Sliding on the ice and general soccer and playing could destroy shoes in next to no time. My mother always bought me Tuff Shoes as they came with a six months no-quibble guarantee. Because of the way I played on the tarmac, they never lasted above five or six weeks and each time a hole appeared, we went back and got a new pair. This went on for several years before they decided they would only exchange them once. Holes in the soles meant soaking wet feet in winter, and resulted in the pipes in the classrooms being adorned with a smelly, steaming array of socks, gloves and scarves. We quickly learned the dangers of putting icy hands on the pipes as ‘chilblains’, agonizing stimulation of the nerves, would result. I never had good circulation and my brothers and I have hands that seize-up in cold weather.
One particular morning, the playground was covered in thick snow. This was fairly uncommon, but on this occasion we made snowmen and two forts, with ice walls. We used these as bases. Snow balls were created, and stored, and then all hell was let loose as volley after volley were lobbed from the opposing sides. No one was safe, and some snowballs turned to ice and they really hurt if they hit you in the face. The ice melted a bit with all the heavy foot traffic, but enough remained for us to continue at the break and was still there at lunch. Some unwary children were struck in the face and there were some bloody mouths and tears. The wise learned to keep an eye open in the back of the head. It was glorious!
Spring would arrive, eventually, and so did whip‘n’top season. For the uninitiated, a whip‘n’top comprised a wooden stick with a leather thong, the whip, and a wooden pinecone shaped grooved top with a metal point. You would wrap the thong around the top and then, holding the top loosely, tug the whip back. This sent the top spinning. The skill was to keep it spinning with repeated whips that made the top jump. It was a definite skill, and some children became masters. I was a player, but not a leader in this. Whip‘n’tops could only be bought during the season from the sweet shop that was across the zebra crossing opposite school. When the season was on, you had to get in early to buy one to avoid disappointment, as demand could become huge. I suppose scores of children whipping away at the tops was probably quite a sight.
There were also two other major seasons. In the Autumn we had Conkers! Conkers, the seeds of the Horse Chestnut tree, were beautiful, tactile nuts. Children went on expeditions to gather their stash for the season. Some had their old faithful trees that they returned to each year, whilst others sought pastures new for richer pickings. I would return to old sites, but early hunters could have decimated the crop and I would have to take a bike ride to discover new trees. When fully ripe, the nuts would fall from their green, mine-like spiky cases. If you were lucky, they would lie scattered beneath the large spreading trees, shiny, brown, like polished eggs of wood. However, such times were rare, as other children would have already gathered the booty. On these occasions, more drastic action was required and we would throw sticks up at the conkers still in the trees. When we were successful, they would cascade to the ground and we would dart in and gather them. We then would pry open the green spiky cases with the creamy white velvet soft inside and discover whether we had a ‘beauty’ or not. I experienced the same excitement and anticipation as a Japanese pearl diver would as they opened the oyster shell to see if a pearl was hidden inside. Often, my satchel would be full of the shiny harvest and it was a ride home of pride.
Conkers are a very English pastime. A hole would be bored through the conker and a shoelace threaded through, aglet first. One end was knotted, and you were ready. Two children would challenge each other to a duel to the death. One would suspend his or her conker and the other would position themselves to have a ‘shot’ at it. This meant winding the lace or string around your finger, holding the conker and flicking it at the other. If you hit, you had another go and this would continue until you missed. At this point, the opponent took their turn. The object was to knock your opponent’s conker off their string or break it in two. In reality, there was the same chance of winning, whether you held the conker or were being the hitter. Sometimes, bits would fly off, but as long as some remained on the shoelace, you were still in the game.
Now anyone who was a ‘conkerer’ would know that there were some quite legal ways to skew things in your favour. The obvious one was your choice of conker. Size may not matter in many things, but it did in the conker world. Mass meant longevity, and a well-proportioned conker could live to fight many battles before succumbing. Other sly tactics, whispered behind hands in the corner of the yard or classroom, involved soaking them in vinegar, drying them out or baking them. I have tried all the above and some that I am sworn to secrecy about, but I can’t say that any really make much of a difference. The games often resulted in bruised hands and knuckles and many accusations of cheating. In those days, you sorted out your own problems and teachers rarely intervened. I wish it had been so during my tenure as a headmaster, but alas, not to be!
The other major ‘season’ was marbles, and it was possible to have more than one marble season in some years. The marble craze helped supplement the local shops and for a time there was a great run on marbles. Winners from previous years would have tins full of marbles they had won off luckless children the previous years, whilst the novices sported small amounts of pristine marbles with crystal clear glass outers. During the season, groups of small children would huddle in their favourite spots in the yard. A hollow was chosen, and the object was to win the marbles by striking opponents’ marbles into the hollow. The rules were complex and there were a range of calls and tactics that I can no longer remember. To the winner the spoils, and you knew to avoid anyone with a large tin of marbles, as their skill was proven. Different sized and coloured marbles had different names and values, but these have slipped my mind over the years.
Minor games such as ‘Jacks’ were played at times, but again, I don’t have clear memories of the rules. What has come to me whilst I write this is something that nowadays would be outlawed, but was popular with the boys. There were two sorts of cards that we collected. Probably these were released in different years, but they were American Civil War cards and Mars Attacks cards. The American Civil War cards came with facsimile US dollars of the time. I believe there were Confederate and Union notes. They even got on the news, as some people thought they were authentic. The cards came with bubble gum and they were truly the most violent and gruesome things I have ever seen. Impaling and bayonetting was graphically shown in pictures and children would collect great packs of them and swap them. Parents didn’t seem concerned and at the time, cowboy films were all the rage and we always played cowboys and Indians and scalped any captives. Maybe the parents were right, as we didn’t grow up scalping and impaling anyone. The second set of cards showed the invasion of Earth by Martians and again the pictures were chilling with their ferocity and violence.
I guess that we have lost some things over the years, but we have gained some others, but I believe it was a wonderful time to be a child in the 1960s. We had freedoms that the modern child misses out on.