I recently visited an excellent steam and vintage motor rally and the sight of a lovingly restored Ford V8 Pilot saloon suddenly stirred memories and brought it all back to me. Once again, in my minds eye, I was gazing up at the gleaming radiator grille of a similar model parked in our street’ when I was no more than three or four years old. In that same mental picture there, too, was the almost intoxicating warm smell of petrol and hot oil issuing from between the chrome bars (at such a young age ones sense of smell must be at its height, because such olfactory awareness definitely fades with the passing of the years).
Apart from a Standard and, I think, an old black Morris, the street was devoid of any other vehicles except bicycles, delivery carts and vans (whether horse-drawn or motor-powered) so was as safe a place as any for the neighbourhood children to play or perhaps practise their first few heart-stopping wobbles on mum’s or grandad’s old bike, the saddle towering high above them! The pavements of small diamond-pattern blue paving tiles were marked with hopscotch squares using either chalk or (far more likely) any piece of stone that would scrape a mark. To draw the circles for marbles (they were the cause of more fights than anything else!) we’d have to look for a smoother surface - either the school playground or any area of tarmac or concrete slabbing, more often than not around shop fronts. I wonder how many members, like me, can recall their favourite marbles in vivid detail. I recall particularly a little red and white one, which disappeared down a grid and a much larger brown and yellow one with a superb tortoiseshell effect , which I must have lost in some long forgotten street ‘tournament’. Nowadays they all seem to be of a boringly regular size and made from clear glass with bits of coloured plastic in the middle - not the same at all, or am I missing something?
‘Cricket stumps’ and ‘goalposts’ were chalked on back street walls, where we could bowl or kick to our heart’s content without fear of breaking windows. In such humble surroundings we were happy, safe and secure. When it rained the gutters at each side of the streets became miniature rivers where we could race lolly-stick boats before they reached the inevitable next grid and plunged to oblivion! An old pram (every family seemed to have one!), a plank, a few nails from the backyard shed, an orange box from the greengrocer’s and a length of rope were all the materials you needed for a box-cart - and many were the uses to which these masterpieces of imagination were put, from racing along the pavements to transporting pets and collecting items as diverse as jam jars.
With car upon car cluttering every inch of space, today’s children couldn’t imagine the sheer emptiness of such old-time streets, nor the complete freedom to ‘play out’ the neighbourhood youngsters once enjoyed - a freedom broken only by the occasional opening of a front door and shouts of “Come and get your tea”, “Five more minutes” or “It’s time for your bath”. The sense of family togetherness, which made those days such a delight compared with the restless mood of today’s car-mad age. We take the ability to jump into a car and go from one part of the country to the next in double-quick time, one hundred years ago any such outings (for those who could afford them) were major occasions, with hats for the ladies and new clothes for the children. We rarely see family groups as apparently happy and complete as this one these days - in too many cases we don’t even know our neighbours, let alone talk to them! How many of us in today’s often obnoxious world of ‘Me, me, me!’ are in danger of trading those humble, safe and empty streets for something much worse - empty lives?
Ed’s comment - Thank you to a member who wishes to remain anonymous for a most enjoyable article
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