Memories of days long ago

by Bernard Taylor

I must admit to quite liking the whole winter season, from the early nippy days of autumn, through the depth of mid-winter and on to the arrival of spring. Winter is a time for roaring fires, drawn curtains and cosy snugness. What to some people are grim, miserable days and nights are somehow comforting to me. I love to wrap up warm and venture out into the teeth of a biting wind with a hint of snow in it, safe in the knowledge that there is always a hot drink and warm house waiting for me. It's far easier to warm yourself up in winter than it is to cool down in the midst of a hot, sticky summer, but enough of why I like winter.

What about my memories? Having been born some fifty-odd years ago, I feel that I am old enough to be allowed a nostalgic wallow in my past. From my vantage point, perched on the edge of middle age, I can look back over a sufficient number of years to be able to recall a vastly different lifestyle to that we know today. Home at that time was with mum and dad in a comfortable flat in Abbey Road, Bearwood. Warley Woods, as I remember it, was covered in snow for many weeks and the thrill of sledging from the top at a fast rate of knots was quite exhilarating. Nowadays, the youngsters consider it a real treat to have the hills covered in snow for maybe a few days.

So what were my winters like? What can I remember? What did I do? I want to start with my early school days, which were spent at Abbey Road Infants and Juniors. Winters there were very cold. You see, even up to the time we left to go to senior school, boys were required to wear short trousers all year round. Fine in summer, but more than a little draughty in winter. My most vivid memory is of sore, red and chapped legs, which were constantly buffeted by the wind and lashed by the rain. It was also a time of soggy shoes especially on those days when there had been snow. Fresh snow was OK but what we most enjoyed was when it turned to slush and we could splash our way to school happily, soaking shoes, socks, feet and legs. And on those icy, snowy days do you remember how by the time you arrived at school; somebody had already flattened the snow into a glass-smooth skid patch? And didn't it always seem to be ten or twelve feet long, a distance made easy by so many other children but never you? You're not alone. I was the kid who could never manage the full length and stumbled to an ungainly halt after a couple of feet.

After school it was back home in the gathering gloom for tea and television. And what television! Let me reminisce about television back then. First of all it was in black and white, colour television being some way in the future. You could choose between BBC1 and BBC1. It was not until later, when the man from Edwards in Abbey Road called with a little box, which he fitted on top of the television, that the alternative channel ITV could be viewed. This being a long time before BBC2, Channel 4, Channel 5, Satellite, Cable and remote controls. In those days the most exercise some people got was getting out of a chair and walking to the TV set to switch it off or change channel.

But in spite of sounding like something from the history books let me tell you that one of the programmes I used to watch, as a child was Watch with Mother. Monday was Picture Book, stories and pictures with presenter Julie Driscoll. Tuesday was Andy Pandy, a puppet in striped dungarees and a frilly bonnet. He lived in a large wicker basket with his friends Teddy and Looby Loo, a rag doll. Wednesday was the delightfully eloquent; Flowerpot Men, Bill and Ben were their names. They lived, as you would expect in flowerpots at the bottom of the garden and in between the pots was their very good friend “Weeeed!” With such wonderful vocabulary as “flobadobalob” and “floptop” how on earth did we ever pass our English examinations at school? Thursday, Rag, Tag and Bobtail, which was followed on Friday by “The Woodentops”, a normal family that lived on a farm with Spotty the dog.

Later delights to enthral a young boy were Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and many others that have recently been repeated on TV. Further programmes to be found on the box around that time were Dixon of Dock Green, with PC George Dixon always greeting us with “Evenin’ All”; Maigret, Emergency Ward 10, Z Cars, Candid Camera and possibly the first serial sort of present day soap, “The Groves”.

The real treat for the weekend was Sunday Night At The London Palladium, whose compere was Tommy Trinder, then later came “Alright my Love”– Bruce Forsyth and many others. A variety show, which had everything including audience participation with “Beat the Clock”. We were treated to the early quiz shows such as What’s my Line?” with panellists Barbara Kelly, Gilbert Harding, David Nixon and of course, Lady Isabelle Barnett. Double Your Money and Take Your Pick with the contents of Box 13 were two others. Finally, of course, how could we forget the delights of “Crackerjack!” with those cabbages, Sooty, Pinky and Perky, Muffin the Mule, Billy Bunter and many more.

The highlight of the week for a young schoolboy, then as now, was the weekend. Two days away from school to do as you please. I didn't have the dubious delights of computer games and the like to enjoy, and had to make do with sturdy solid toys and cars manufactured by such fine companies as Meccano, Dinky, Corgi and Triang. Trains by Hornby and later car racing with Scalextric

In my childhood you actually played with toys on the floor, creating your own games and private world, we didn't have to plug things into the television set or make sure Father Christmas included the batteries at Christmas. No battles created by computer programmers; no we had a wooden fort and metal toy soldiers. One of the delights was when the heads were broken off. A used matchstalk was placed in the hollow metal body and then the head was replaced. The battles and conclusions were all created by the mind and not by graphics. How many of us lads kept those cardboard boxes from our Corgis or Dinkys. I recall a dealer saying to me, not too many years ago now, “Oh! If you had kept the box to that red Post Office Van I would have given you £200.”

We also had the delights of comics such as Beano, Dandy, Eagle and Roy of the Rovers. Saturday afternoons were all about sport. When I was quite young it was sport on the television and as I grew older it was sport in the flesh. The Hawthorns was the place for me, going with Dad to watch the Baggies. Many wonderful memories of matches and the players but my favourite has to be The King – Jeff Astle.

Grandstand was what we tended to watch and I can still picture the opening titles with the old fashioned camera and four small shots of different sports. David Coleman probably had a large hand in the presentation of the programme or the commentary on the events, proving once again how little some things change. There would be horse racing, motorbike scrambling, hill climbs and rugby league amongst a whole host of sports. To a young boy, the sounds associated with rugby league were exotic; something, which I realised in later years, was not the case. The pronunciation of the great Eddie "Up and Under" Waring gave a poetic ring to such ordinary places as Warrington, Widnes and Hunslet. The pictures were black and white, which caused endless confusion on those dark, rainy afternoons when all the players were covered in mud. The uniform greyness of pitch, teams and crowd made recognition and distinction difficult.

Another lingering memory will always be the snooker extravaganza “Pot Black”. The programme featured the top sixteen players with televised matches over a thirteen-week period. On one occasion the commentator, the “whispering Ted Lowe” proclaimed “Alex Higgins would pot the red into the middle pocket, followed by a pink into the top pocket”. What a wonderful commentary considering most of us were watching on a black and white screen. Pot Black was recorded at BBC Pebblemill. The recordings sessions lasted three days and usually took place after Christmas. Tickets were free of charge but you were always told not to tell your friends the results. Especially if you had seen the semi-final or final, which wasn’t screened until May.

At that time the radio was a very popular form of entertainment. Sunday I would listen to “Two Way Family Favourites”; “Jimmy Clitheroe”; “Round the Horne” and, of course, “The Goons”. Listening to music has always given me a lot of pleasure, I can remember having my first Dansette record player for my birthday.

The purchase of my first records to go with it, “Does your Chewing Gum Lose it’s flavour?” by Lonnie Donegan;” That’ll be the Day” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets and “Singing the Blues” by Guy Mitchell, all on 78rpm and I do believe they cost between 6/3d and 6/11d. Later in the swinging 60s singles stacked up seven or eight high on the turntable. Cilla Black, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Tremeloes and The Kinks being some of the people I would listen to. I have always had a passion for Tamla Motown with the Four Tops, Temptations and my all time favourite Diana Ross.

I can also remember, in fact I think it is still in the loft, my first tape-recorder. I think it was a Phillips, reel to reel. The microphone that I would stand as near to the loudspeaker as I could get, in order to record the “Top Twenty” on a Sunday afternoon. Mum and Dad would try not to make a sound if they came into the room, as that mike would pick up every sound.

So, that's it. There is undoubtedly much more I could recall if only my memory wasn't starting to fade. These are my memories and they are personal, happy and probably unremarkable, though hopefully some of you will understand and share them. They are my memories of a time long gone and of a lifestyle much changed by the passing of the years.

To youngsters of today it is a very visual world, a world of automation and technology. Senses, which to us were important, are no longer relevant to a changing society. The home was important, simple pleasures were treasured and we found endless hours of pleasure in a skipping rope, a football up the park or a jigsaw. No doubt our children will say the same when they are our age, I am sure our parents did.

© QLHS - Bernard Taylor

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