‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Trip to the Dentist in Leeds and Papua New Guinea. Not for the Squeamish! – Cup of Tea Tales
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Trip to the Dentist in Leeds and Papua New Guinea. Not for the Squeamish!
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Testing My Mother’s Resilience! The Scrapes and Near Scrapes from Playing in the Garden, Street and the Local Area of Gipton.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – My Grandmother’s House – Two-Up, Two-Down. Guzunders, Ranges, Coal Men, Cellars and Outside Privies! Seems so Old Fashioned Now.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’–Remember, Remember the 5th of November! Mischief Night and Bonfire Night in Leeds, 1950s-1960s.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – All the Fun of the Fair! Woodhouse Feast, Roundhay Park Fair and Other Childhood Delights.
My family moved from Lawrence Avenue to Gipton Wood Crescent when my brothers and I had reached an age where playing out was what you did. When not at school, you were expected to move out of the house and occupy yourselves in a number of ways. One, as I have spoken about in the past, was to visit my grandma in Chapel Allerton. Others were to play in the garden, the street or in our case, either what we called the Little Woods (Fairy Wood) or Gipton Wood itself, which we thought of as the Big Woods.
The Little Woods was an area between the houses that could be accessed through two narrow ginnels, (alleys). It had a few trees, a rough grass area and a mound that we thought of as a bomb site, with a crater in the middle. It had clearly been there a long time, as large trees had grown around and in it. Apparently the land was given to Leeds Council on the understanding it would remain a playground for children in the area. We could ride our bikes safely and there were tracks and jumps that criss-crossed the dip in the middle. It was great fun and I am sure the local parents appreciated it. We played soccer and cricket on a rough, bare patch that challenged the very best batsman to predict the bounce, but we didn’t care. In summer, the grass would grow tall, above waist height, and it was a perfect place to play hide and seek. We would crawl for hours through the grass, defying anyone to spot us, and we built dens. When we returned home at night, we realised how itchy we were from all the grass cuts, but it was nothing that a hot bath couldn’t fix. The Little Woods was an oasis of peace amongst the semi-detached suburbia that surrounded it. I can’t recall ever seeing adults or anyone taking dogs for a walk there. As a result, we didn’t have to worry about dog poo. In these times, taking a dog for a walk usually meant just opening the door and letting it out on its own. No one worried, and no one picked up after them!
As children, we could stay out as long as we wanted and only returned for meals or in the evening when it was time for bed. We weren’t unusual in this at the start of the 1960s and we enjoyed a freedom that children nowadays would envy. Looking back, there must have been dangers, but there wasn’t the publicity that we are constantly bombarded with. We even played in the Little Woods at night, and we took torches to play Wide Games with searchlights as we sneaked up to the base. Luckily, there weren’t dangerous creatures in Leeds and I am not sure I would want to play the same games here in Australia, where there is a plethora of things to sting or bite lurking in the undergrowth.
On more adventurous days, we would go to Gipton Wood. Now, for those who don’t know this part of Leeds, Gipton Wood is a sizeable woodland of oaks, sycamores, and beech trees. The mixed woodland is full of bluebells and when they are out, the ground is a lavender carpet that is quite breathtaking. The treetop canopy is very dense and parts of the woods are very dark and were not well frequented. As a child, I could play most of the day in the north eastern part and not see any other people all day. The wood was bequeathed to the City for recreational use and together with Gledhow Valley and Roundhay Park, forms a wonderful green corridor in this part of the city. There were two main pathways, and these ran from the houses where we lived, through to either Oakwood village, or cut down the hill to Roundhay Road near the Gipton pub. There was a set of steps that led down to the old tramlines. I vividly remember my older brother attempting to ride his bike down the steps. This went against all common sense and resulted in him going head over heels over the top of the handlebars. This was only one of several accidents he had as a child and it really is a miracle that he grew to adulthood. Another incident involved him cycling next to me down Gipton Wood Crescent, towards the woods. He was so engrossed in the conversation that he didn’t notice the lorry (truck) parked at the side of the road and, despite my warnings, he just rode straight into the back of it. Another good one happened one winter when the wood was thick in snow. We had been sledging down the steep slope in the wood. He was on the fame of a rocking donkey we had had since we were little and I was on the wooden sledge that dad had made. The metal frame was much faster than the sledge, which had wooden runners, and at six-thirty in the evening, everyone else had gone home. The temperature fell sharply and was well below freezing and the snow turned to ice. The run had a series of bumps and we had been having great fun. We decided on one more go before setting off home. Andrew shot down the slope, faster than ever, now that the snow was ice. He hit the first bump and the metal frame took off into the air. Andrew followed, and the two separated and both crashed back to earth. The red metal runners carried on at an even faster pace to stop in the long grass and shrubs before the wall and the drop to the road level. Andrew came to a landing, his head flicked back and struck the ice with a crack and he carried on sliding, arms and legs flailing. I was following on behind on the wooden sledge and I realised he was not ok. I stopped and ran over and helped him up. He was a bit groggy, so I got his sledge, picked up his hat that had come off and we headed home. It turned out that he made a full recovery, but we didn’t use the base of the donkey anymore.
The Gipton Wood is really in three sections. There was the flat north-eastern section, the sloping central area that fell down to Roundhay Road and the very steep small valley at the southern boundary, that had a small stream drain from a spring. Each section offered different adventures to us when we played. In winter, the central slope provided a sledge run when there was snow, good hide and seek areas, but was crossed by a pathway and had a single electric light in a lantern. It always reminded me of the one in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. At night, it was the only source of light in the wood and it cast a cone of brightness amongst the pitch black of the woods. This caused me some scary moments as a teenager, when I would walk home through the deserted wood late at night. I was never sure if it was my mood or the mood of the woods, but sometimes I walked through and had no concerns about safety, whereas at other times it was very scary and I would often end up running to get out. You would imagine that the pool of light would help, but actually it made it worse. When you entered the illuminated patch, everything outside was black. Anyone could be standing there watching you, and you would have no idea. As a result, I avoided the proper path and cut a direct shortcut. I guess it was all in my mind, as I never had any incidents. I made the journey so often that I knew where to lift my feet as roots crossed the pathway, ready to trip the unwary.
I had a lot of fun in the quieter, more deserted north-eastern section. I have only recently learnt that this section holds the remains of a Bronze Age camp. The shallow trenches that provided good hiding spots for hide and seek were part of the ancient earthworks. We regularly climbed the trees. Branches were easy to reach and evenly spaced and allowed us to climb to the very top and look across the green canopy at the roofs of the houses. There were some very large, very old houses that bordered the wood, behind the high stone walls. Great fun and I don’t remember ever falling.
We didn’t like things to be tame and even more fun than the climbing were crossbows. In the days I was at Harehills C.P. you could buy a dark green metal crossbow that fired wooden arrows with rubber suckers on the end. There was a thick black rubber band strung across the arms of the bow and this had to be pulled back looped over a holder that was released when the trigger was pulled. The bows could fire the arrows thirty to forty feet with quite a speed and accuracy. We had good fun firing at each other and targets until we had a better idea. We decided we wanted the real thing and so we tried firing darts from our dartboard, the sharp metal points variety. The largish darts fitted snugly into the groove where the arrow, or bolt, should go and when we shot the first one, it was amazing. It flew straight, fast, and far and stuck into a tree, like in Robin Hood or William Tell. This was magic! Instead of playing, we now had the real thing. The only drawback, apart from the potential of killing someone, or putting out an eye, was that darts were so easy to lose in the undergrowth. We had such a great time and somehow we lived past childhood. The sound of the birds and squirrels in the wood is wonderful, and it is so easy to forget that you are in the middle of the city. Even the traffic noise is distant!
My father cleared the front and side of the house, in Gipton Wood Crescent, of trees so that he could have a drive built. He did the groundwork and the drive was then tarmacked. This provided new possibilities for young boys. We had been given roller skates, the kind that were extendable with straps to fit over your shoes. These were ok, but they had four wheels that would stick on a loose stone and send you head over heels. We decided on a better use for them and that was placing a hard-backed book on top of one, sitting on it and shooting down our driveway onto the road. It was good fun and we could get up quite a pace. There were some drawbacks: removing the skin off your knuckles as you held on to the book, removing the skin off your leg if you fell off sideways and potentially being run over at the end of your ride. None of these seemed to deter us and, in fact, spurred my older brother and me to take it to the next level. I suppose we were partially inventing the skateboard and were just childhood pioneers, I guess. To do better meant travelling further afield to a much steeper hill. There was one just on the corner of Upland Crescent and Gipton Wood Avenue. The road suddenly fell steeply to the crossroads with Upland Grove. The run would have been about fifty to sixty feet before you hit the crossroads, and of course, my older brother was the first to give it a go. He set off, gained rapid pace, zigzagged and fell off sideways about halfway down the run. He was unhurt and encouraged me to set off. I gave it a more tentative go and used my shoes as brakes to maintain a more modest speed. I think that by the end of the morning we had just about mastered getting a good run down the hill in one go. Luckily for us, there were few cars in our days, so the number of near misses at the crossroad was less than you would expect, but we took it in turns to be the lookout and to give the all clear. Mum would have had a fit if she had known. One thing was the danger we were in and the second was that we were wearing out the soles of our shoes at a rapid pace.
My brother Andrew was always the most accident-prone when we were children. I think I took over from him, as I got older, as some of my ‘near death experiences’ will support. School holidays seemed to last forever, and we had many adventures and even allowed my younger brother to join in as he got older.