A GOVAN CHILDHOOD – The 1930s
Domestic Chores – The Barber's Shop – The Lamp Lighter & Carbide – Street & back Court Games – Tig - Hide & Seek - Ball Stoting - Rounders – Football – Headers & Header football – Dodgieball – Leave-oh & Kick the Can – Marbles – Ropes – Girds & Cleeks – Whips & Peeries – Peever or Beds – Roller Skates – Bogies – Vanished & Mischievous Games – Dixon’s Blazes – Winter Weather & Smog
The back-courts of tenements which formed enclosed areas within a tenement block, like the two I was familiar with during this period in Howat Street in central Govan and Skipness Drive in Linthouse, were somewhat more sheltered than those in other incomplete blocks in the west between Drive Road and Burghead Drive. That shelter was limited to reducing the force of the wind, and as far as drying a washing was concerned a breeze will dry it quicker than no wind, so our situation was a mixed blessing. A good breeze was best, but on days of light winds which would be considered ideal for drying; there would be hardly a breath of air within the block. This photo isn't of the Skipness Drive block back courts but has a similar layout of buildings with the dividing railings only faintly seen. Recognisable by their flat roofs, the four air raid shelters here standing in the corners date it to WWII.
THE BARBER'S SHOP
An item in the home which could be used in a disciplinary role was Dad's razor strop, called, with deliberate menace, 'the strap'. His father William Rountree was a barber and before he died in 1926, for about twenty years he had a barber's shop at 56 Queen Street (latterly Neptune Street) Govan below. As the son of a barber my Dad used an open razor when shaving himself until he acquired his first electric shaver around 1950, although he continued to use the cut-throat occasionally. Safety razors were available and most men used one, but a very few preferred the open razor. The cut-throat user's tackle consisted of razor, strop, shaving brush and shaving soap (cream was in the future), a styptic pencil, a mug and a sheet of newspaper to wipe the razor clean on.
Shaving soap was round with flat and domed ends like an end section cut off a 3" x 1½" brush pole. It could be purchased wrapped as a refill to fit into the original hexagonal bakelite container. The container had a round screwed bottom end, with a recess on the bottom into which the flat end of the soap was pushed to be held there, and an all enclosing cap. To perform successfully the delicate job it was used for, a good open razor has to be made from the finest Sheffield or German Solingen steel and be precision ground to get the cutting edge exactly right. Although Dad had a grindstone for this I never saw him use it. In fact, because he seemed to lack the skill needed for some ordinary jobs like this and others which cropped up around the house, I would be surprised to know that he ever did use it. But his razor was carefully stroked on the strop each time before use. The original image is undated, and In trying to find out it's date it was enlarged and the titles of the films being shown in the Lyceum Cinema program seen in the window on the right. Then looking up programs advertised in the press at that time, it was found to be September 1924.
The strop was a length of eighth-of-an-inch thick leather about three inches wide by eighteen inches long, with a teardrop shaped soft leather covered plug-of-wood handle at one end. At the other end there was a hole with a metal eyelet by which it hung permanently from a cup-hook at the side edge of the kitchen sink worktop. Standing at the sink and holding the strop taut, he carefully flicked the razor back and forth along it, always with the cutting edge trailing. Then after soaking the shaving brush in the mug containing hot water, he would rub it on the soap. After putting a little soap directly on the sandpaper-like bristles on his chin he applied the brush and worked it all round up to his side-boards, rubbing it in vigorously for a minute to soften the growth and generate a good dense froth.
|Razor and case.|
Cutting the stubble caused the blade to collect a lot of lather with the first strokes, but strangely it was simply wiped off the blade on a piece of tissue or newspaper. Even in barbers' shops that was the practice. I used to wonder why they didn't just clean the blade under a running tap. It was so obviously quicker and simple, although it might have meant having to dry the blade between each stroke. But the cutting edge was so delicate that no matter how carefully it was wiped, even the wiping always took a little of the keenness from the edge. But that should also have applied to wiping it on paper. When queuing in the Linthouse barber's shop for a haircut, I used to watch fascinated as the service was performed. With the customer tilted back on the barber's adjustable chair and a towel tucked in round the neck like a bib to protect clothes, a square of newspaper, or in better-class establishments, tissue in a form somewhat different from that used today, the crisp rustling kind, resting on his shoulder convenient for wiping the blade on, the barber worked away with quick deft strokes.
Eventually the paper held patches of the now dense foam, darkly streaked with whorls of hair, which at home was disposed of in the fire, or by barbers into a bin. The occasional cut which drew blood was treated with the styptic pencil, a small white rod not unlike a thick sweetie cigarette, was a treatment used to staunch it which, like iodine, stung like a burn. It was required more often when using a cut-throat than with a safety razor. Iodine in a small six sided bottle of dark glass was always kept at home for dabbing on cuts or scratches with cotton wool. It nipped like fury and despite being assured that 'it was antiseptic' I hated it, but the sting faded quickly. Further fascination tinged with apprehension was induced by seeing the word POISON with a skull and cross-bones sign moulded on the bottle, which conjured up the thoughts `Was this really the stuff that murderers or suicides used?' Iodine in that form is no longer available because of the discovery, like Lysol and some other disinfectants, of their possible cancer causing properties.
The function of the leather strop on the blade was as a final polishing medium, to remove any microscopic nicks and rags left on the cutting edge by honing on the grindstone or by previous use or misuse. When I started shaving I used a safety razor; never having dared to try using an open razor I have no experience to quote from. As suggested before, an alternative function for the strop was that it could be used to frighten me into behaving when I needed it. But like the faint to non-existent memory of being punished with the carpet beater described elsewhere, there is no memory of actually being beaten with that strap.
My father said that as a youngster going into his teens, with his younger brothers following after him, they helped his dad in the shop working as 'soap boys'. He prepared customers by soaping their faces for his dad to perform what is after all a very delicate service. This seemed to have been the main function, or at least one of equal importance to the cutting of hair of barbers' shops at that time, which was borne out by the old sign outside still seen occasionally today, the rather dirty lateral curving red-and-white stick-of-rock-like barber's pole visible in the photo of the shop above. Red represented blood and white bandages, or so I was told.
Before the safety razor and subsequently the electric shaver became available, probably because of the expertise required with the preparation and use of the open razor, a surprisingly large proportion of men were dependent on the barber. Thank goodness for the present-day convenience of the electric shaver, as I do not fancy allowing a stranger near me with a cut-throat at the ready, even if it was someone who had shave me daily for years, because mental instability can surface without warning. The terrifying tale of Sweeny Todd the demon barber could be invoked here. For details of that story, look up an actor named Todd Slaughter on the internet!
In the late 1940s the Remington Company of America opened a factory in the new Spiersbridge Industrial Estate to make electric shavers, and an acquaintance who worked there offered to get one for me at a reduced price. I paid him something like £3, but in later years realised he probably stole it. When Dad saw it at first he was sceptical about its efficiency, but months later he tried it and was sufficiently impressed to buy one. For a few years he used it sparingly before gradually adopting it permanently, but many years elapsed before the safety razor was laid aside.
THE LAMPLIGHTER & CARBIDE
Side streets and closes in older districts were gas lit, and each lamp had to be lit at dusk and turned off at dawn, the work being done by men employed as 'lamplighters'. The Corporation Lighting Department lamplighters wore a green uniform with a peaked cap similar to transport workers, and they went round the streets carrying a lighting/extinguish pole and ladder. Side street lights on their low cast iron posts were about fifteen feet high, with a pair of decorative/functional horizontally opposed arms projecting out below the lantern aligned parallel to the street. They were supports for the lamplighter's ladder when he cleaned the glass and replaced faulty mantles. The lantern was a square-section metal box frame with glass sides, which flared up and outwards from a small base, over which there was a metal cap surmounted by an ornamental finial.
As there are a large number of old photographs in various collections in which street lamps can be seen, the above description is almost superfluous, but explaining how they operated may be of interest. Street lamplighters carried a long slim pole with the brass lighting unit fixed on an end. It had an arrangement for turning on and off the gas tap in the base of the lantern, a slim extension with a slot, and shielded naked flame to light the mantle. At the top of the hollow lamp post, in the base of the lantern the supply pipe emerged and was bent to shape, with the tap fitted inverted like the one on domestic mantlepiece gaslights described earlier. From there, as a small bore pipe it ran up in a corner of the lantern to near the top where it curved over in the usual swan's neck, on the end of which was the mantle. A hinged glass flap in the lantern base was opened with the tip of the pole, allowing the unit access for the gas to be turned on and off and the light applied to the mantle. This had to be done quickly before too much gas filled the lamp which always produced a slight explosive 'boof' as the gas that had gathered there ignited.
The lamplighters' work included keeping the street and close lantern glass clean and replacing mantles when required. He did this in the streets during the day by carrying around with him the ladder which rested on the cross-arms. Up to the 1930s, at strategic locations at street corners some lamps used to have the street name in white letters on a narrow blue strip at the top of the glass face. See the photo of King Street, Pollokshaws c1920 in page 25 of my book Bygone Pollokshaws, in which a lamp post lantern on the left with the Maida Street name can just be made out.
It may have been the same man who did both jobs within a district, but the stair light man carried a shorter pole and narrow ladder on his lamp-maintenance visits. My recollection of him is hurrying along intent on the day-time cleaning tasks carrying his ladder with an arm through a rung and cleaning rags hanging out of his bulging jacket pockets. Close and stair lights were cubes with a low domed top, the sides of which were about 10 inches square. Mounted out of reach from ground level, they were fixed mainly at the outer angles of corners on walls on the ground floor of closes, to spread their meagre illumination as far as possible, and one on each main landing upstairs. They were lit and extinguished the same way as street lights.
Gas lights and kitchen stoves were subject to an irritating fault involving the air vent leading to the burners and mantles. Sometimes the wrong adjustment of the vent caused the flame to travel back along the pipe from the burner/mantle to the air vent itself, making the white flame of pure gas burn there with a muted roar. It was liable to occur if the vent had been opened too far when trying to obtain the hottest flame, or in the case of the stair lights it could be cause by a gust of wind blowing through the close. Street and ground floor lights were sometimes affected by this in windy weather, which left the light very dim and a reek and a sulphurous smell polluting close or kitchen.
The lamplighter's light was a naked flame inside the small brass cowl at right angles on the end of the pole (below). The flame was generated by a chemical reaction between calcium carbide and water which produced acetylene gas. The brass fitting had two compartments, one held the carbide and the other water. There was a hole between them with an aperture, the size of which was controlled by an adjustable pointed screw in the head of the pole to allow the correct amount of water to trickle slowly into the carbide, or turned off. The second screw regulated the gas flow, and what was produced was piped up to burn in the small cowl. Acquiring some carbide was a signal for a great deal of excitement among us street urchins, because it could be used to make loud bangs.
For this prank in addition to carbide an empty tin and a little moisture were needed. But it was only made possible because at the end of an evening shift some lamplighters would empty out the residue of carbide left in the container at the pavement edge by unscrewing the cap. Amounting usually to something like a teaspoonful, it may have been discarded because if left in the container perhaps it had a corrosive effect on the metal. Carbide in this form is a greyish powder that had been used in vehicle lights before battery-powered systems of lighting with bulbs were developed. When damp it cakes into lumps, and in lump form it was easiest to collect. When emptying the container all the lamplighter was supposed to do to disperse it and make it impossible to gather it up in a usable form, was to scatter it with a foot.
But some lamplighters, known as 'leeries' from the title of a Scottish poem 'Leerie the Lamp Lighter', who were still boys at heart, were aware of this, and deliberately made it possible for us to have our fun. Today carbide is probably treated as a dangerous chemical with a list of regulations governing its handling, and even at that time there probably were instructions issued to lamplighters about its use and disposal. Some disposed of it as described, and it was known for boys to surreptitiously follow a man on his rounds in the hope that they would spot him in the act of disposal, and be able to acquire the small amount needed.
The other main item required for this game was an empty tin with a lid of a particular design. Certain drinks such as cocoa, baking powder, Creamola Foam etc. were sold in tins of this type, with a tight-fitting round lid that pressed into the large recessed hole in an end. Other kinds with lids which fitted over the outside of the end were less safe for the job because they were liable to stick causing the tin itself to explode, but one of these could be pressed into use if none of the other kind could be found. Finding the right tin was usually a rather sordid tale of 'midgie raking', a practice made necessary when the first line of endeavour, going round our houses and asking our mothers if one of the required type was available. This ploy was usually unsuccessful because the mums in question knew perfectly well what it was wanted for, and being a forbidden game because of the risk of injury, the answer was invariably `NO - and don't let me catch you playing with that carbide, it's dangerous and if your dad hears about it you'll be for it!,' etc! We invariably had to fall back on the only other source, the middens.
This meant that the youngest or least fussy of our group was persuaded to go in and rake through the ashes, discarded rotting food and other unmentionables in the bins to find one. If our luck was in and a suitable tin turned up, the next comparatively minor difficulty was to find an implement to make a few small holes in the bottom of the tin. That accomplished, there was the problem of the availability or otherwise of matches, lack of which might scupper the game. However, they were in constant use in every house and a box was normally kept on the mantelshelf or at the side of the hob, so it was usually easy to acquire a few from the kitchen, sometimes having to use a chair to reach a high-up mantelshelf when parents backs were turned.
With those items gathered and the holes punched in the tin, some of the carbide was dropped into it. Then a little of the fourth and final and easiest to acquire element needed, moisture, was added. It was sometimes provided by the nearest puddle, group members spitting into the tin, or even by pissing in it, then the lid was quickly pressed tightly in place. At this stage the carbide could be heard fizzing away inside producing the gas. With the tin on its side, perhaps lying on the ground, but often held out at arms length by one who could be described as the bravest, never me I must to add, with face averted, eyes screwed up tight and a finger stuck in the ear nearest the bang. The moment we had all been waiting for with mounting excitement had arrived.
A match was carefully struck by another individual, and being too short for safety the flame was transferred to a piece of paper screwed up into a long taper, which was then held against the holes in the end of the can from which the gas was escaping. These preparations were made well out of sight of adults, who would have put a stop to it at once, usually in a corner of a back court or in the angle of washhouse and midden not overlooked by windows if possible. Such a location wasn't easy to find in the quadrangular tenement blocks, so it was sometimes done inside a midden. The resulting bang was surprisingly loud like a thunder-flash fireworks in fact, and unless the lid was directed against a wall it could be propelled for quite a distance. If there was sufficient carbide left for another `go', one of us had to climb over the railings across back courts to recover it, then we all ran off to another location.
This activity was infrequent, but how we escaped injury because of the careless way it was handled, and how, among the large crowd of youngsters which invariably gathered for the event, we avoided being hit by the flying lid and tin is a mystery. It never failed to cause windows to be thrown up and heads to pop out looking for the cause, and this usually meant that a different location had to be sought if a repeat performance was possible.
STREET AND BACK COURT GAMES
Of the many games we played in streets and back courts, virtually all are unknown to the children of today. With so many activities and entertainments provided now they don't need them. Strenuous games, like the half-dozen or so different ball games as well as tig, hide-and-seek, leave-oh, kick the can, cops and robbers, gird and cleek, whip and peerie, skates, bogies, stilts, skipping ropes and cowboys and Indians etc. were just a some of the many we indulged in. To-day's dominant game, football, was less popular than some of those mentioned. It was on about the same level as cricket among our group anyway, just one of many games played with a ball. Other marginally less strenuous games such as ball-stoting, peever beds, and skipping ropes, were played mainly by girls. During spells of good weather the streets were thronged with groups of children engaged in these activities.
Still other games, those involving singing or chanting a rhyme and moving in a circle with linked hands, like ring-a-ring-a-roses, were almost always played by girls. The words of one of them and dim memories conjure the scenes of half heard rhymes retained without really being fully conscious of or understanding them at the time, as chanted by a large group of girls in a nearby back court. `There's a big ship sailing through the Eely Ally O!' was one, and another, set out in full on page 26 in Maureen Sinclair's booklet `Murder, Murder Polis!', Glasgow Street Rhymes and Songs first published by The Ramsay Head Press in 1986, begins `Down in yonder meadow where the green grass grows, Where (a participants name) bleaches all her clothes' etc., with events invented and names inserted through the verses.
Other activities came and went in an irregular cycle which partly depended on the seasons, so that for a time bools (marbles) were dominant. Then it was whips and peeries or girds and cleeks, followed perhaps by roller skates, pedal cars, trikes (tricycles) and fairy cycles, the smallest two-wheeled bike. These latter cost more money than most people could afford so only a few children had one, and even then they were generally second hand well used hand-me-downs. Other crazes came and went never to be seen again. One of them was the hi-li, a thick plywood table-tennis type bat, with a small solid rubber ball fixed to the centre of a face by a length of thick elastic. Players hit the ball away for it to return. A lot of practice was needed to master it but some children became really skilful. After writing that last description my grandchildren appeared one day with a poor plastic imitation of my hi-Ii.
The two most popular games were tig and hide-and-seek. For tig, one of the usual counting out rhymes was used to determine who was first to be het. This individual then chased the others and tried to touch someone else. The first one caught then became the het person, who had to take up the challenge and chase the others and pass on the het stigma. At first stalemate was the norm when two persons (one and two) stood face-to-face alternately touching each other. This could spoil the game, so the individual who passed on the stigma was exempt from being re-made het.
It involved the participants lining up for the 'counting out' preliminary to select who was to be het, the first 'seeker'. It was done by an appointee who used one of the counting-out rhymes, many of which will be found in Maureen Sinclair book. Some of them I had never encountered before, while others had some variation of words and terms from what we used. Copies may be found in libraries or in the Glasgow Collection room at the Mitchell Library. Of all the rhymes remembered, 'Dic-dic-tation, Corporation, how many cars are in the station!' is the clearest. The appointee went along a line of participants touching each one in turn with a finger for each syllable. When he came to 'station' the boy indicated shouted a number between five and the number of participants, and the counter continued 'poking' along the line until that number was reached, and that boy was the first seeker or 'het' person.
The one chosen by the count had to stand against a wall at what was known as 'the den', and hold up an arm in an upside down 'u' or 'v' and bury their face in it so that they could not see who went where to hide. A further count was performed aloud by this person to allow everyone time to find a place of concealment. Originally he had to count up to a hundred by fives - five, ten, fifteen, twenty, and so on so many times. This took too long so it was reduced to repeating the words 'five-ten-double-ten, five-ten-a-hundred', so many ten times. Then before moving he had to call out 'Here I come, ready or not, if you're spied it's not my fault', then he had to go round looking for the 'hiders'.
When he spotted some-one he had to dash back to the den and touch the wall there, shout the individual's name, add 'in den one-two-three', and the individual 'found' had to return and stand in the den.. The trick was for other players to watch the 'hettee' from their concealments until he was far enough away in his search, dash up ahead of him and touch the wall at the den, calling out 'in den free, one-two-three', and those 'trapped' ran off. For a time it was the last one found that had to take the next turn of being het. Then it was noticed that certain 'fly' individuals were never het because they showed themselves straight away to avoid the perceived stigma of being het. An alteration to the rules was attempted so that the person spotted first became het, but this spoiled the game altogether by making the turnover too quick, which made it less popular.
Another counting out rhyme was all the participants lining up with hands held as fists close out in front, while an appointee, using a clenched fist and starting at an end of the line. He went along striking once each fist of those of each participant in turn calling one potato two potato three potato four, five potato, six potato, seven potato more'. That last fist struck was withdrawn, and the count continued until the first person with both fists withdrawn stood aside while the count went continuously round the group until the last survivor was declared to be 'het'. Seventy five years after that time and wondering where the term het came from, the possible answer came to mind that it might have been corrupted from 'hot'.
Ball stoting (bouncing) was a skill that looked easy when played by individuals who were good at it, and although I tried often to improve my skill I found it too difficult. It needed a quick eye and good judgement with throwing that I just didn't possess. The game needed a tennis size ball, took different forms and could be played solo, with a partner, or by a group. Having acquired a suitable ball, the next requirement was a finding a section of wall with a flat surface at the front of a tenement without windows or at least well away from any. The simplest form of game was to stand at the pavement edge and throw the ball to bounce off the ground, hit the wall and return to the thrower, or hit the wall first then catch it on the return.
Some tenements in Linthouse had stonework with a horizontal angled ledge above waist height (4ft.) in their street frontage, a decorative feature that allowed us to play a local version of this game. The solo game in its simplest form was a matter of throwing the ball at the wall, aiming to hit the ledge, a strip about three inches wide which lay at an angle of 45 degrees. If the aim was good and the ball, pitched with the right amount of force landed square on the ledge, it would return in a high curve without a second bounce off the pavement for the thrower to catch.
This seemingly simple pastime sometimes became so absorbing, like today's computer games, that long periods would be spent in continuous pitching by individual boys and girls, in trying to achieve the greatest number of throws without the ball touching the ground. All this was done, needless to say, much to the annoyance of passers-by. Many years after initially noting this down, architect Chris Fletcher whose name appears with some of the sketches, also of Govan, reminded me that the name of that game was ledgie. A degree of frustration was added to it by some walls having an uneven surface of rough cut stone down from about four inches below the ledge. If the aim was exceptionally poor and the ball landed too low, it could cause it to shoot off away from the player who would have to run after it. If played near a house with tenants at home the constant muffled thud of the ball could be very annoying for them, but this was overcome by changing locations.
Another form of that game that didn't need a ledge was played mainly by girls, with the player(s) standing five or six feet from a flat stretch of wall. The aim was to bounce the ball in a sequence, first off the pavement in a throw angled towards the wall, to bounce off it and return to the thrower. The second throw and double-bounce off pavement-and-wall was made standing side on to the wall with the ball again stoting off the pavement under a leg held out. Third, repeat with the other leg, fourth, standing legs apart facing the wall the ball was thrown from behind to pass between them, then fifth, with the back to it. Sixth and seventh, rotate the body once one way and then the other. Finally, the sequence gone through again with throw, bend-down-and-touch-the-ground and catch, ending that sequence with a straight throw. Then it began again, and some girls could perform two or even three rotations of their body between the throw, double-bounce and catch. I vaguely remember seeing it played by two girls with one ball in close co-operation and sharing the sequences with amazing accuracy. An ability to throw accurately with the right amount of force and to catch well, was really the main requirements of these games.
While knowledge of the rules and conduct of baseball is minimal, our game of rounders seems to have been similar, though played with, for preference, a tennis ball and a tennis racquet. We played it in the street, much to the concern for their windows of those tenants whose houses overlooked the chosen pitch. Layout of the bases was similar to baseball, in the form of a diamond with the long axis along the centre of the street. A square sewer manhole (a `grater' in local parlance) was a perfect home base, while the halfway base was the next manhole. This provided a diamond shaped pitch, the distance between the 'dults' being ideal. The other two bases were marked mid-way on opposite pavement edges. The term `base' wasn't known to us, we called them 'dults' but where it came from isn't known.
Rounders was just one of many games for which two sides had to be chosen from among those wanting to take part using a counting-out rhyme. Once this was done a coin or, coins being scarce, more often some other flat object, even a piece of slate or a tin lid, would be tossed to decided which side went in to bat first. Then members of the winning side lined up on the pavement to take their turn, while those on the other side spread themselves out along the street to act as fielders. While hoping for a catch which knocked the player out, their main purpose was to retrieve the ball, and throw it back up the pitch to another member of the fielding side better placed for a hit on a runner caught between dults, and knock him out. When someone produced a genuine baseball ball we were full of enthusiasm about it until we came to handle it. When we felt how heavy and solid it was no-one fancied being hit with it, so it was never used. Of course the major difference between real baseball and our game of rounders was that in the former, the ball arriving at a base in front of a runner would knock him out, whereas in the latter, in addition a direct hit on a runner between dults had the same effect.
The strengths and weaknesses of each individual became known, so that participants in an obviously weak team would suffer from apathy and fail to try very hard, which could become a source of friction between them and the more determined players on the same side. Generally though, sides were evenly balanced and many good games resulted. While the police seldom harassed us, occasionally a resident would complain to them about a game they considered annoying or dangerous. Football and rounders played in streets and backcourts were two which came under that description. At rare intervals the 'polis', in the form of a single bobby, with his period high-peaked helmet and tunic of the time buttoned up to the neck, would walk or cycle into the street and everybody would take to their heels and disappear into the nearest closes, running through the backcourts and over the dyke without stopping until they were the next street. The only time I ever saw anyone being 'nabbed' was once during a season of bogie building. Bogies were a great occasional favourite with us and a description of this activity will be given presently.
One form of police presence everyone dreaded was the Black Maria, a period van of a type comparable in size to today's mini-buses, which are sometimes glimpsed in old British films and photographs of the time. The crime rate then was lower and it was seen only at rare intervals, and I would not be surprised to learn that the Govan Police Force had only that single vehicle. Its main feature was an ominous black forbidding appearance, windowless except for narrow darkened strips high up along the sides. During all of my childhood up to the time I left school, there is no memory, except on that one occasion when the group of bogie riders had their names taken, of witnessing any police activity other than a very occasional foot patrol passing by. It's quite likely that very few working class homes had a telephone that was when the 'bobby' turned up in our street.
Today, the police presence is almost constant except when you need one, with the patrol cars seen more often and foot patrols that are becoming rare. In the Linthouse of the thirties a policeman was seldom seen, and when any did appear it was nearly always a single individual, sometimes on a cycle. You really felt you were in the presence of someone in authority when he was around. The founder of the police force in the 19th century in Britain was MP Sir Robert Peel, and members of the force became known as Bobbies or Peelers after him.
Perhaps the true reason football seemed to be less popular with us was that a proper ball was seldom available, and when played with a tennis ball the game lacked something. Real footballs of the time were in two parts. There was a rubber inner called `a bladder', which probably came from a time when the bladder from a pig or sheep was used, and a leather outer, an arrangement similar to pre-radial rubber inner tube and outer motor tyres up to the mid to late 20th century. The 'bladder' inner was made up of elongated oval strips of rubber stuck together to form a fairly accurate round shape. Two drawbacks with them compared with the modern plastic ball was that even when new their ability to hold pressure was much less enduring and they were more easily punctured.
The arrangement to inflate the ball was a simple slim tough half-inch thick rubber tube about three inches long attached to the bladder, similar to those that were attached to car wheel's inner tubes of pre-tubeless tyres, but without the non-return valve. The outer was made from pieces of leather sometimes of oblong shape, in others they were hexagonal sections, stitched together in the form of panelling into which the bladder was forced through a narrow opening. Today's expensive plastic football has the panelling simulated by embossing, while cheaper balls usually have them simply printed on.
A three inch long slit in the 'outer' with a line of holes along each side for lacing, allowed the deflated inner to be pushed inside. The difficult part now was to blow it up as hard as possible using a cycle pump for preference, failing that by mouth, which was the most common state of affairs with us, by the strongest boy, or preferably by an adult if one could be persuaded to oblige. However, asking an older boy or adult was something to be avoided if possible, because they invariably wanted to join in and usually finished up dominating the game. When the inner was blown up hard, the inflating tube was pinched hard and folded over and tied tightly with string. Then against the bulging pressure of the inner, the valve had to be forced inside the outer casing and underneath a protective tongue, tongue as in shoe, and the slit laced up while ensuring that no grit or anything likely to cause a puncture got inside.
Each stage of preparing a bladder for play was difficult. No matter how securely the tying up had been done, because of a natural loss of pressure the ball seldom remained playable for long so that the whole process had to be gone through at least twice during a game. It is recalled faintly that at official games a supply of freshly prepared balls had to be kept ready, and occasional changes made. The actual lacing of the ball could cause trouble, because a special large needle with a broad flat curved section near the blunt point with a slit through which the lacing was threaded, had to be used to make it possible to thread the lace through the holes against the pressure of the inner.
As can be imagined, in careless hands this operation could cause a puncture, and laces had to be kept short and tucked inside if possible so that no loose ends flapped about. Although it might appear possible to lace up before blowing up, it couldn't be done because with the lacing in place there was insufficient room to force the tube, inside. That description assumes a bladder-and-outer was available, but this was seldom the case with us, so when we did play football it was nearly always with an unsuitable small ball.
Wide ranging games like football, rounders, cricket, kick-the-can, leave-oh, and others, needed a proper pitch, and back courts were generally unsuitable because the dividing railings made them too cramped for anything except sedentary games. In addition they were overlooked by many windows which lay directly in the line of play, so these games were normally played in the street where, hopefully, any hard kicking, hitting, or throwing would be directed along the length. In street pitches, the goals were usually located in the width of a pavement between a lamp post and a building wall. The usually staggered lamp post goals were set diagonally on opposite pavements, so our games were played at an angle across the street.
A curious aspect of the football scene was that I don't remember any of my pals being enthusiastic supporters of a particular association football team, other than the odd usual tribal allegiances of Rangers and Celtic in which the actual football was of secondary importance. This seems to confirm what I have suggested elsewhere about a local apathy towards big-time clubs. There is, however, a memory of seeing one or two pals going off to special Cup Final games with their dads, carrying that fiendish period noise maker, a rickety. Here's another implement of former times worthy of description.
Made entirely of wood (below) and operated by hand by being swung round in a rotating motion, the rickety produced a most penetrating racket. It was a short stout round baton-like stick with a flag on one half, but the flag part was a heavy frame that was able to rotate round the stick. In the frame there were two lengths of tough springy wood secured with nails or screws at the outer end of the 'flag', with the other ends bearing hard on ratchets that were part of the handle. When the flag part was whirled quickly round the handle allowing the braced strip to flick off the teeth of a ratchet part of the handle, it gave off a continuous series of loud snaps a little like drawing a stick along railings but much louder.
About a year after we moved to the district, the Linthouse Maxwell Football Park in the centre section of Holmfauldhead Drive between Skipness Drive and St. Kenneth Drive was taken over for a Corporation housing development. In the early 1960s about half of these tenements built in the late 1930s were demolished during the clearance connected with the building of access roads for the Clyde Tunnel. The houses seen there today, including the row at the top west side of Kennedar Drive, are the only buildings left of that development.
HEADERS & HEADER-FOOTBALL
The ball games heedies and heedie-footer and closes were made for each other. In those days close entrances had no doors; the controlled entry system did not begin to appear in ordinary tenements until after the 1960s. The first few yards of the majority of tenement closes from the street entrance in the '30s were straight, high and narrow until the first house doors were encountered at the mid point near the foot of the stairs to the upper floors. Then there was a ninety degree turn left or right past the foot of the staircase and another one in the opposite direction past the second and third houses, from where it continued through to the rear. Other closes were straight through from front to rear of the building with the staircase lowest flight offset to one side in the middle. Most closes made the double right-angle turns at the point where the stairs began. This was the best kind to play in because on scoring an inward goal the stairs were a barrier that stopped the ball from running on into the back-court, avoiding the delay while it was recovered.
A youth in early teens stretching his arms wide could almost touch each wall with finger tips, so here was a ready made pitch for these popular games. The rules were that goals scored with a header counted, but in header-football a kick was allowed in certain circumstances. Conditions of play were agreed on before play started. Such as did heights (a high ball) count as a goal? How close could you be to your opponent's end when you hit the ball? If in heedie-footer you touched the ball during a save you weren't allowed a kick until the next 'safe' save.
Playing this or any other noisy game in a close (not your own if possible because of the greater risk of being reported to your parents), was always accompanied by apprehension, as grumpy tenants would soon be out to 'check' and chase you off. Ideally you hoped those tenants were out before starting, but even then people from upstairs would be liable to complain if the game was particularly noisy. Usually you took a chance and started quietly in the hope that no-one would notice for a while or that only the more tolerant tenants would, which allowed a longer spell of play. The best closes to play in were where the bedrooms of low down houses were next to the close, and hopefully, anyone at home would be in the kitchen far enough away so that any noise generated would not irritate them. Another not insignificant problem was that when the ball hit the upper white-washed section of wall or roof, dust and flakes were dislodged which made a mess. This further increased residents' resistance to ball games in their close.
It was simply a form of tig played in the street with a ball with one other difference. The tennis size ball was used by whoever was counted out to be 'het' to hit others, and anyone they managed to hit joined up in trying to do the same to the others, and the last one left un-hit was het for the next game. Another game, a variation of dodgie-ball, required a big expanse of blank wall up to the full height of the building. We were fortunate in having just such a section of wall in Skipness Drive at the corner of Clachan Drive that can still be seen today (2015). It was a peculiar result of the design of the building, which had at this point a broad chimney head (removed during redevelopment in the 1960s) built flush above the wall at roof level, giving it about eight feet of additional height above the three storeys. The layout of houses in the close nearest in Clachan Drive must have been such that all flues ran up inside the outer wall here. False windows had been built into the stonework to maintain the symmetry of the facade, which added interest to the game. I suspect it might have been an invention by children in the area because of the almost uniqueness of this wall feature as there is no recollection of seeing or hearing of a similar one anywhere else.
After a counting out session, the winner among those taking part selected the minimum level to which the ball had to be thrown. Usually it was to full three-storey height to allow sufficient reaction time, but sometimes, to generate greater tension, a lower height was chosen. This, however, tended to cause bunching, and throws to the wall at one-storey-up level meant that the concentrated rushing about of the tight-knit group resulted in accidents, and induced in us what is now recognised as neurosis of the `Get-oot-ma-road-you' type, while giving a violent push against someone you think is going to be in your way. This was likely to be answered by an aggressive retort of the `Who d'ye think yer shovin' variety, usually accompanied by an agitated glare. Then the dukes were up, dukes being fists, presumably after the Duke (Marquis?) of Queensberry. Anyway, the winner of the count had first throw and he pitched the ball against the wall to the level chosen, at the same time calling out the name of another player.
The named player had to be in a position to catch it before it touched the ground, and if they missed or dropped it, they then had to field the ball, chase the others and try to hit someone and knock them out. The excitement this generated could be quite effective, with the surge of the crowd of up to two dozen boys and girls as a throw was taken and a name shouted, and the collective subconscious question in every mind, `Should I run out of range now in case the boy named misses it - but what if he catches it then throws and calls my name? I might be too far away to catch it!'. It was the essence of the game for the thrower to call the name of the person he thought least likely to catch it.
It wasn't always possible to play unhindered because there were house windows nearby and tenants did complain, but they were usually unoccupied room windows and the game could usually go on without them noticing. The full height of a three-storey tenement over the roof ridge was just about the limit of our throwing ability, about 60 feet, and attempting to do this sometimes caused the ball to lodge in the roof guttering or behind the chimney head. When that happened it was truly lost - until a chimney sweep or slater went up on the roof to work. If a long time had elapsed since anyone had been up there a few balls might be lying, and he would throw them down. In those days balls weren't ten a penny, like they appear to be today. They were treasured because they cost money and money was scarce, so a roof visit by a workman and a brief rain of balls was treated like manna from heaven.
From what I've observed of the activities of the current generation of children, virtually none of the games we played are indulged in today. One of the many bat-and-ball games was called French cricket. The batsman's legs were the wickets and they were guarded by the bat, a mini cricket bat or a substitute. If the ball hit a leg or he played a catch, or if he moved his feet, he was out. What made it tricky was having to keep his feet firmly planted on the same spot, and be bowled from which ever angle the ball happened to lie in, so that if he missed a shot from the front the next ball came from behind. Today children outdoors tend to hang about aimlessly together utterly bored with no knowledge of the many enjoyable games we played.
LEAVE-OH! AND KICK-THE-CAN
Leave-oh was like dodgie-ball played without a ball, with sides chosen by two leaders. All members of the 'het' side had to chase after and catch the others and put them in a den, a marked out section of pavement. The den needed to be watched carefully thereafter because any of the others still free would be hovering around watching for an opportunity to run through it shouting 'Leave-oh,' releasing any `prisoners' confined there.
Playing kick-the-can in Skipness Drive at the corner of Clachan Drive on a warm summer evening with a group of up to a dozen pals, is a powerful memory. This game was similar to hide-and-seek and 'leave-oh', but an empty tin was used as a primary control. Again, an area of pavement was designated as the den, and if chalk or pipe-clay was available it would be marked out, and a tin recovered from the nearest midden was placed at the outer edge next to the suiver. Suiver, the first syllable pronounced as in sigh, is the gutter. It's an old term always used by my father and other old people including me even today.
After the counting out the same system for hide-and-go-seek as we called it was used. The individual who was elected to be het had to cover his eyes and count up the same system as detailed above according to how many were taking part, to six hundred if there were six for example, while the rest rushed off to hide. Covering of eyes was taken very seriously indeed. With the simple hands over eyes method, it was considered too easy to cheat by squinting through fingers to watch where the others were heading, so the same method as in hide-and-seek was used. At the end of the count he then went off to find the others, and on spying someone he had to run back to the den and shout out the correct phrase incorporating the boy's name, at the same time banging the tin on the ground. Wording of the phrase was important in that if it was said incorrectly the boy named took no notice. It was '(boy's name) IN DEN ONE-TWO-THREE'. The person so named had to return to the den and sit on the pavement with his back against the wall hoping to be released.
The het boy continued to look for the others while watching out for someone sneaking out of a close or shadowing an approaching adult by walking close behind, in an effort to get near enough to do the release. When he thought it was safe to do so, if he was close enough and the het boy too far away to stop him, he ran forward and kicked the can hard. Those held in the den could then run off, and a fresh phase of the game began while the het boy recovered the can. The next one het was the last to be spied. But this system, as applied to all games, came to be looked on as flawed by the others as boys who thought they could beat the system were seen to be not really bothering to hide.
One peculiar and amusing feature of virtually all games was a method for calling a temporary halt to the action. If the robust competitive physical activity became too much for anyone or they held an important post in it, if for example they ran out of puff or if someone had been hurt, or for any other reason real or imagined, such as called on by a parent to 'go for a message', they held their clenched fists out with the thumbs up and shouted 'Ah'm keys'. Billy Connolly uses this phrase occasionally in his comedy routine, and I sometimes wonder how many know where it came from and what it really means, as he never bothers to explain. Observance of this depended somewhat on the amount of authority possessed by the caller. If it was a younger boy frequently no-one paid any heed and the game would roll on over him, but if it was an older boy, someone able to command attention, then everybody else was supposed to freeze until the emergency was over. It will be seen that it was open to abuses, which of course did happen.
Marbles, bools or jauries, different names for the same activity, were a favourite game. They are never seen today, and anyone born after 1960 would not know what they were used for. Any still around are regarded as useless curiosities by children today and they will surely disappear altogether. Here's a description of how they were used or as much as can be remembered, and of the three games we played with them in the late 1930s and early '40s.
Marbles were shaded glass balls roughly three-quarters of an inch in diameter, usually with coloured blotches or twists inside giving a pleasing effect, and bestowing on particularly attractive ones a reputation for being lucky when used as a 'plunker'. Ball bearings of similar size could also be used although they were frowned on because it was felt their weight gave them an unfair advantage. The best and most highly prized and rarest kind were white, made of a porcelain-like material with a surface finish similar to that on a pottery sink, with two thin twists of red on the surface running from pole to pole. They were known as 'Yankees' and were regarded as luckiest of all and if you had one it was always used it as a plunker.
The game was played by throwing, or plunking using the fingers - that word was also used by us to describe dodging school. Today the term is dogging. The first time I heard that modern term was when my sons were at school in the 1960s. Plunking was done with the fingers of a hand formed into a hook, and held down so that the first joints of the fingers beyond the knuckle rested on the ground. Then with the hand held vertical and a bool gripped in the curl of the index finger and thumb braced behind it, when the grip was released suddenly the thumb flicked it away. It would travel a distance and direction according to aim and the amount of pressure applied.
Another style of plunking was used by those regarded as having a certain skill. For shots needing more force and greater accuracy, it was done with the bool braced between the tips of first and second fingers and thumb, and hand with the back touching the ground. In trying to demonstrate these actions to my grandson over twenty years ago, it was impressed on me just how much skill it required. The ability I remembered just could not be recaptured, probably because of the passage of seventy odd years since it was last used, and no doubt a touch of arthritis had something to do with it also.
The marbles games were in three forms, ringie, moashie and the third, I think, was called rollie, the latter of which was played most often. It involved each participant rolling a bool down the camber from the middle of the street, the surface of which had the ideal smooth asphalt described elsewhere in these pages, to see which one stopped closest to the kerb. The owner then had first go, and the object was for each in turn to hit by plunking from the original resting place, starting with the nearest an agreed number of times, usually two or three hits, and if you succeeded you kept it. The best games were those with the largest number of players, but the rules of this particular scenario are now very hazy. Anyway, it involved the usual dilemma. Should you roll down in close proximity to the others and risk being behind in order of play, giving those with turns ahead of you easy shots, or farther away and winning the first shot that was made more difficult by distance?
Rules seemed to have been variable by agreement among players before beginning. If it was a free-for-all which allowed you to aim for the nearest bool, or were you confined to aiming for either the bool of the player in front of you or the one after, or varying the hits you had to make to claim a bool. If there were a large number of players you had to have your wits about you in keeping track of hits on the others and theirs on yours. If a needle match developed the number of hits might be reduced to one, causing a fast turnover of bools. But this was unusual as it was unpopular with the less skilled, who lost most. Those who were good at it quickly learned it was better to play a long game and win a few marbles than agitate for a short single hit game to win a few, which the losers very soon tired of and called `The gemme's a bogey', citing some imagined infringement of the rules to stop playing but really indicating they were fed up losing.
Moashie was played on a piece of bare ground by selecting a flat area of earth and digging a shallow hole a couple of inches across. Then, from a distance measured by three long juvenile paces, roughly ten feet, the bools were thrown individually one at a time towards the hole. The owner of the bool that landed closest to the hole, and the others in rotation, then tried to roll, by plunking, aiming to put the bool in the hole. At that point the resemblance to golf ceases. If you succeeded you were free to hit another bool by plunking from the hole-edge, and each one you hit you kept.
The final game, ringie, was different from the other two in that it didn't involve hitting your opponents' play-bools. Each player contributed a certain number of bools. These were placed by all the participants round the circumference of a shallow groove of a circle of variable diameter lightly scored in the earth or chalked on a hard level surface made big enough to hold all the bools well spaced out,. The object was to knock bools out of the ring. If six took part and they agreed that each should put in three bools, then at the start there would be eighteen on the ring, and if its diameter was between eight and ten inches, the spacing between them was such that it was just possible for a plunked bool to roll through the ring without hitting any.
When the circle was set up with the staked bools in position and after counting out for turns and marking the point from which to throw, each player tried with their initial throw to get as near the ring as possible. With the first throw you weren't allowed to knock any out the ring. If that happened, any displaced had to be put back in their original position and the offender's first throw retaken when his next turn came round. Then, in turn by plunking, you tried to knock as many as possible out the circle, which you kept. Various disagreements arose with the three games, the most common of which was called moodgying, meaning picking up your bool for a shot and attempting to play from a position nearer the target than the place where it had rested. Another was moving your hand forward when plunking, giving more momentum to your shot than you could otherwise put into it. In ringie if you were snookered from the ring you were allowed to move round in an arc for a clear shot, and yet another ploy here was fiddling the angle of arc to shorten the distance.
At this distance in time it is difficult to say whether or not I was good at bools, but I never had to buy any. By the time I reached school leaving age a fair collection had been gathered, most of which was given away to younger acquaintances.
Other skills, or lack of them, are easy to recall. I was useless at football and was among the last to be picked when sides were chosen, only just ahead of the smallest boys. The situation with other games was different, because I could achieve good long distance throws, in rounders for example though not with much accuracy. Occasionally there was the `honour' of a turn of picking a side.
The expression `The gemme's a bogey', usually followed by `The man's in the loabey' (lobby), the latter of no apparent relevance that I know of other than it rhymed, was occasionally heard echoing round the streets emanating from among groups of playing children. It was commonly used to indicate a temporary halt in a game. If, for example, one of the players was subjected to the ultimate indignity of being called up by their mother to go for a message, usually for bread or milk, for a meal or it was their bedtime, or someone was detected cheating during a game. In particular it was used during hiding games like hide-and-seek to alert those out of sight of what was happening, with loud calls of `The gemme's a bogey, the man's in the loabey' echoing along the street.
The word applied to the activity known as skipping ropes played mainly by girls, was uncompetitive and took a number of different forms. One, called wee ropes, was played with a short length of rope just long enough for one child to play solo by holding an end in each hand and flicking the loop over their head, which gave the freedom to run about while skipping over it. when bought, the rope ends had wooden lollipop type handles. It could also be done stationery by two 'ca'ing' (turning) it over while a third performed the jumps. Amazing skill and dexterity could be acquired in skipping so that it was entertaining to watch, making it look easy and beguiling the novice to join in hoping to show off. After attempting it once or twice and making a fool of myself, I gave up and had to be content to watch as others, usually girls, displayed their skill. Probably because of this, few of the names of the various ropes games register in my recollection.
Most girls and some boys could work the ropes with skilful timing, whipping up such a speed of rotation that two and even three `turns' of the rope might be made during each on-the-spot hop. A single player could alternate by crossing arms during skipping if done with the rope turned at a suitably slow speed, and if it was of the correct weight, supple and kink resistant. Also, as it whirled round, another person could, by a well timed approach, join in and jump close up in unison with the first skipper. If they were an exceptional team a third could also take part by joining in with one in front and the other behind the rope operator. These antics depended on the length of the rope.
The best ropes game, big ropes, was the one in which a number of participants, limited only by the ability of the ca'ers' to 'manage' a long rope, took part using an old discarded clothes line. Life expired clothes rope or pulley rope was the easiest to acquire, but best of all was window cord with its slightly heavier, oily texture when new giving it just the right weight, but only if a piece of sufficient length could be acquired. At its height the ropes 'season' saw teams strung along the street, with players in each team forming a crocodile which moved in a figure of eight of members awaiting their turn to join in with a timed lunge into the turning rope. The long rope was turned in majestic slow motion, while each player in turn hovered beside an 'ender' (one of the pair ca'ing), and swayed backwards and forwards in synchronisation as the rope passed by their nose. Then, at a critical moment, he or she darted in within the arc and began the timed jumps while hopping their way along to the other end. Nearing the end they swooped out and passed round the back of the `ender' there and joined the queue of individuals ready to begin the next sequence. Anyone fouling the rope that broke the rhythm took a turn as an ender.
Another form of the game was `wavy', but recollection differed between contemporaries of how it operated. One school maintains that the rope was simply waved with a gentle rhythm from side to side within 180º of arc rather than ca'ed in full circular hoops, while jumping took place in the same way as above. The writer recalls seeing a game start like this then, when a certain stage was reached, the speed of the wave was increased until the rope went over the top and continued as full speeding-up turns. This may have been the game accompanied by the rhyme which began - salt, pepper, vinegar, mustard etc. The other school say the waves were made by relatively quick flicks of the rope held on the road surface, snakelike by the enders, producing unsynchronised oscillations which run towards each other, causing real complications for jumpers.
GIRDS AND CLEEKS
This was one of a few non-competitive pastimes. A gird was a circle of steel wire of a gauge heavy enough to maintain its shape without distorting while in use, of various sizes from one-and-a-half to three feet in diameter. It was propelled along the street by a cleek made of the same metal. The cleek was a rod more than a foot long with a loop at one end to give a firm grip, and was usually shaped into a hook at the other, which was angled and formed to be held over the gird in the 4 o'clock position to push it along. Another form of cleek had a second, closed loop instead of a hook and was attached loosely, but permanently, to the gird.
Girds were common but I never had one, nor can I remember any member of our group having one, which might account for a personal feeling of indifference towards them. Much practice was required for proper control, so as to get the most enjoyment from running round the streets and making it go where wanted. There were opportunities to try it, but because of difficulties encountered, failing to understand that it needed plenty of practice to master it, operating a gird was regarded as a boring pastime.
WHIPS AND PEERIES
Whips and peeries required only a minimum of skill and were cheap to buy, so virtually every juvenile had one. A peerie was on average a three inches long by two to two-and-a-half inches in diameter bullet shaped wooden turning, one end of which was flat and smooth and the other had a rounded taper which ended in a dome headed nail driven in at the point. In shape it was something like a short fat bullet or a light artillery shell. The full diameter was maintained for half the length before the taper began, and in the area of the side near the flat end, along with other turned indentations, a wide shallow groove was formed under the edge for the cord of the whip to be wound in.
The whip was a length of cane usually with two feet of string tied on at the tip. The object was to start the peerie spinning, either by a flick of the fingers, which wasn't as easy for young fingers to accomplish as might be imagined, or by winding the string a few times round in the groove. Holding the peerie upright in a loose grip within fingers and thumb, and one finger over the centre of the flat end, with the point on the ground, if the whip was pulled away quickly the turning motion imparted by the unwinding string set it spinning. It could then be kept in motion by lashing it with the whip, while taking care not to spoil the spin by hitting it accidentally with the cane instead of the cord.
Individuals who were deft could keep the peerie going almost on the same spot, while others tended to drive it away in the direction of whipping. Still others, who thought that force was what was needed, would lash away at it until the cord was unable to unwind quickly enough. If that happened the peerie could become a dangerous missile. Peerie spinning was made more interesting by making marks on the flat top in different coloured chalks, and varying this with radial lines produced a kaleidoscope of colours that changed as you watched, and as the speed of rotation was altered with the whip.
PEEVER, OR BEDS
Peever and beds are two names for games in which an inch thick circular piece of marble, the peever, was used. It was between 3" and 4" in diameter, and had smooth faces and a rough edge. Beds were drawn on smooth road or pavement surfaces in chalked designs between ten and fifteen feet in length, two of which are recalled and will be described here. One was in the form of a large panel resembling a guitar in outline, beginning with a narrow three numbered steps ladder, at the foot of which was a semi-circular box in which the player stood at the beginning of each sequence of the game. At the head of the ladder there were two large boxes side by side, compartments numbered 4 and 5. Next, 6 was a central single box beyond which was another double box, 7 and 8. The final box, 9, was a large full width semi-circle, and the whole bed was ten to fifteen feet in length by about five in width at the double boxes. It will be understood that these dimensions are average, as sizes depended on juvenile inclination and artistry, and size variations were many within the basic outline.
Although I had a peever and played with it with pals as described below, the game was mostly indulged in by girls. After selecting a level piece of road or pavement and drawing out the bed, taking turns and playing individually, the first move from the ladder starting box was to slide the peever along the surface into box 1, where it had to land within the box. If in this or any subsequent cast it landed outside the box aimed at or on a line, it was a case of begin again at 1. With it successfully lodged there the player, always missing the box in which the peever lay and avoiding treading on a line, hopped on one leg into boxes 2 and 3, landed astride with left foot in 4 and right in 5, hopped to 6 then both together again in 7 and 8 and on into 9, the starting box for the return stage. On the way back the player stooped, still on the one leg, picked up the peever, then continued on to the foot of the ladder. The next cast was to box 2 and so on, the sliding throws becoming progressively more difficult as distance increased. On successfully completing the course on reaching 9, the direction was reversed with the throws commencing at 8 in descending order, so that the hardest part was the long final throws into the smaller ladder boxes.
The best surface to play on was again the smooth asphalt of the road on which away from any camber peevers glided smooth and straight. Pavements were also used but with their usually rougher surface, unless they were of the slate slab flagstone type, peever games were less successful. Unevenness of the concrete sometimes caused the peever, slid with the force needed to reach a distant box, to turn over on its edge and roll away out of the bed altogether. The most common type of peever was of marble, but a flat shoe, furniture, or linoleum polish tin filled with earth to give it weight was an acceptable alternative, because it cost nothing other than the effort to search the middens if there wasn't one available at home. However, there has been talk of granite peevers used in the past, but I never saw any other than those of marble or filled tins used in our district.
People today might wonder where such an exotic material as marble came from. One theory is that in the course of renovating grocery and provision shops and cafes, the opportunity was taken to replace marble slab counters which had become stained, scratched and chipped with use with new ones. Being of the correct thickness, I suspect these discarded slabs were the main source of our marble peevers. The cast offs could be picked up by dealers and passed on to someone who could 'knap' them into the round shape.
The other peever game is less clearly recalled, but details were supplied by an enthusiastic former beds player, and fellow (lady) member of the Govan Reminiscence Group, who in the 1990s demonstrated it to children at Scotland Street School Museum. This beds game was laid out in the form of a broad ladder with each section divided into three straight ahead compartments, or three roughly equal spaces. Both top and bottom of the bed had semi-circles, one of which was the starting box, no. 1. Numbers 2, and 3 and 4 were the central compartments of the ladder. Numbers 5, 6 and 7 were boxes down one wing descending, and 8, 9 and 10 ascended the opposite wing, with 11 being the half circle mid-point-of-the-game just beyond.
Operation of the peever differed here in that it was propelled hopping on one foot by the outer edge of the shoe of the foot being hopped on. On reaching 11 the process was reversed. The term 'beds' may derive from the fact that in drawing them out, as well as the ends and edges of the last mentioned 'bed', were usually rendered with curved lines which conveyed the impression of quilting. Even less clearly remembered are yet another form of beds, what were called 'ba' beds', in which players hopped in turn round the course while stoting a tennis type ball. In a later age the word 'stoting' was corrupted to 'stoatter' meaning a nice looking girl.
Mentioned previously, most side streets in districts with older tenements were laid with asphalt. There was an occasion when members of a road repair squad were relaying a patch in Skipness Drive at the corner of Holmfauldhead Drive. I happened to be one of a small group of boys watching with interest, as the new surface was being spread on an area that had been dug up. Three or four of us were sitting in a row on the pavement edge, studying the operation with unusually quiet fascination as the steaming hot new tar-like material was spread out and levelled. The work completed, the two men involved sat down beside us and lit their pipes for a smoke before packing up, when one of our group said `Whitdye ca' tha' stuff, mister?'
Probably as a reward for not being the usual annoying street urchins who would be liable to shout insults or interfere with the work or equipment, or generally get in the way, one of them, the older of the two who is remembered clearly because he had an `interesting' face, turned and looked at us. He studied the row of young faces for a moment, then decided that we deserved a sensible answer rather than be told to `adjective off!' as we half expected. He said, pointing first at the repair and then at the original material with his pipe stem, `This is mastic, and that's asphalt powder' - then raising his voice `an' ah hope yeas'll remember tha'!' One more example of how a brief but for me interesting event of seemingly no importance from so long ago again remains clear.
The smooth street surface being ideal for it, roller skating was just another of the irregular rotation of play activities we indulged in. Today's roads have a surface designed for the rubber tyred wheel, slightly pitted to help tyre treads get the best grip possible during wet weather. Present day plastic skate wheels appear to have a greater rolling resistance to that surface, which seems to render the sport less enjoyable. Roller skating is much less popular with today's children than it used to be. But if there was a convenient, suitable and safe surface to skate on, like the one described, without having to travel away to some distant place to get access to a rink and metal ball-bearing skates, it would be more indulged in. It is difficult for children with skates today to use them on any road. None are traffic free, and road and pavement surfaces are barely smooth enough for walking on because of the many poorly rendered repairs to them over the years.
Roller skating on today's streets is a sport in which the fuller potential we attained is no longer possible. There are one or two examples of streets with asphalt surfaces still to be seen today. Until recently there was a section of Elder Street, a derelict stretch of which was near a then recent housing development in Langlands Road. The surface of areas constructed for skateboarding in recent years would be ideal for the skating we enjoyed, but skateboarding has replaced it.
Initially, after being accepted into the Skipness Drive group of urchins, the next time skates were in season I found I was the only one among my age group without them, so I pestered my parents about getting pair. Skates then were the clamp-on-to-shoes type held on with straps, and what I hear with memory's ear is Mum saying to Dad: `He's askin' fur skates noo - can we afford them?' Soon after this, on a day of excited anticipation on my part, it would have been a Saturday afternoon because he worked in the morning, not as overtime but part of his normal working week, Dad took me `up the town' to buy them. It might have been September 1937 and they would have been a seventh birthday present.
At that time certain Woolworth Stores advertised and sold everything at two prices, 3d and 6d, and we went to the Union Street store seen below. However, these prices might have been for items at particular counters. Clearly recalled is the black (or navy blue?) coloured store frontage, with gold coloured half-round moulded lettering portraying the company name at that time with the two prices. What puzzles me now is that my skates were bought there, and cost about 2/6 (two shillings and six pence - equivalent to 12'/2p. That figure represented a fair portion of Dad's weekly wage, and the equivalent today would be close to £40. But these skates turned out to be the Rolls Royces of the skating scene.
To me at first they were just ordinary skates, but when my friends saw them their eyes popped. The more knowledgeable of them said with awe, 'ball-bearing skates', and examined them with envy. To allow adjustment to fit the length of different size shoes, each skate was in two parts, the adjustment of which was possible by slackening off a nut and bolt, and both axle mountings had a solid rubber pad in it which made them very comfortable use. This meant that I could steer by leaning to one side or the other. Whether that purchase was by accident or design will never be known, but they really were the best in the street. One skate survived a severe deliberate mutilation in being used to make a bogie. The last time they were seen was in the 1950s in our next house at Pollok, in a then recently unearthed box of long discarded playthings due to be thrown out, when I may have been in my twenties. I distinctly remember feeling a pang of regret at their going and was convinced they were still usable.
Back in Skipness Drive in 1937, some of the other boys were using skates of the cheaper kind that looked as if they had been handed down by more than one previous user. In one case the wheels treads were worn down so that the owner was running laboriously on the webs. Today's skating styles are different from what they were in the past, because our skates didn't have that important addition of modern plastic ones, the angled buffer under the front. Our technique in propelling ourselves was by leaning forward slightly, and angling each foot out alternately left and right in a pushing motion. The front buffer does away with this by allowing acceleration to be achieved with straight pushes.
Because they were so easy to use, the skates gave me a false sense of my own competence. One day, a year or so later, after using them a lot and feeling confident that the skill had been mastered, Mum and I were watching a boy speeding along in a very competent and smooth-flowing way. She said to me in a slightly querulous tone: `Why can't you 'go' your skates as good as that?' To say I was speechless is an understatement. I looked at her and wondered if I had heard correctly and said `Surely I'm as good as that, if not better!' She soon brought me down to earth with the truth, describing my actions as being far too jerky (stumpy, I think, was the term used) and uncoordinated. This completely deflated me and all I could think of in reply was: `Well, I can 'go' as fast as he can', which was probably true, but it only helped mollify me a little.
On warm summer days it was a joyful recreation to indulge in, to be able to drift along effortlessly with a group of pals, encountering only occasional traffic. From early on days of sunshine in high summer, with the sun's rays reflected from windows mornings and evenings making fragmented splashes of golden colour on the shaded side of the street, into late evenings of school holidays. Then it was up the stairs to get washed and go to bed dog-tired, with a cup of milk and a slice of buttered plain bread and jam for supper and a comic to read, to be so tired that after a brief read I fell asleep.
Children living in tenement areas sometimes became hungry when out playing. To save them from having to climb the stairs they would call up to their 'maw' for a piece, which my Mother duly spread if she was in the mood and not strained by pressure of housework. She then put it in a paper bag and threw it down into the back court. Sometimes I was fortunate to benefit from this service although once or twice, when thrown from three storeys up, the `poke' was unable to withstand the landing and burst open.
Bogies were of two types. The one most often constructed was from a piece of wood roughly 4' x 6" x 1" (122cms x 15mm x 2.5mm), a pair of axles with wheels from a discarded pram, and a wooden box. Of these components the wheels were the most difficult item to find, and on the rare occasion when they did turn up the locality was scoured for the other parts. A primitive bogie could be made using simply the plank to which the axles were attached, but they were regarded as `poor boys' bogies'. The addition of a wooden box of the right dimensions for a seat (as in the drawing below left) raised it into the affluent class. Anyone lucky enough to find a pair of discarded axles with wheels, usually from a redundant pram chassis recovered from a midden, they were popular with their pals.
An axle was fixed securely to one end of the plank which became the rear, with nails begged or `borrowed' along with a hammer from someone's house. The difficult part now was securing the other axle at the front in such a way that it was able to steer. The box with one end removed was nailed bottom down on the plank near the back end, with the open end facing the front. The ideal distance to aim for between the two axles was if you could sit inside the box, with your feet comfortably resting on both ends of the front axle close to the wheels. Holding on to a loop of rope fixed to the axle ends and, there being no convenient gradients in the district, with someone pushing it was possible to steer with both foot pressure and pulling on the rope.
A small ledge was usually left behind the box at the back of the plank just sufficiently deep to allow a pusher to stand on it in a crouch so that, braced with hands on the rider's shoulders, he could indulge in an intermittent 'hurl'. During a bogie making season there was such a run on them that suitable boxes might be impossible to find. Late starters in the scramble to build one had to settle for the primitive version and sit uncomfortably on the bare plank.
Because of constant daily use and rough treatment our bogies rarely lasted for long. But sometimes it happened that a few were in existence at the same time among different groups, and this would produce a rare sight, a sort of local Derby. It wasn't really a competitive event but it had its exciting moments. As each cart with crew of steerer and pusher, the latter would be the most physically able of their respective group who was prepared to co-operate, went careering along the streets producing the fun the spectators were expecting - crashes and spills.
For the other type of bogie a roller skate could be used if no axles with wheels were available, but skate-bogies were uncommon, usually because in the course of fitting, the skate was knocked about and liable to be left unusable for normal skating. If the bolt locking the two halves of a skate together was removed, each half could be used in place of a pair of axles by nailing them rigidly in place at the front and back of the plank (above right). Once I saw instead of a single skate, a pair was used as one full skate at each end, but this was judged to be unsuccessful because the bogie did not steer well. Bogies made with a single split skate were easiest to manoeuvre, which was done by banking, leaning over in the direction of turn desired. Also, cheaper rigid skates were less steerable than those like mine with the rubber suspension.
When making a skate-bogie, the box with both ends retained was mounted standing on an end at the front with the open top facing the rear. A suitable strip of wood nailed across the top to project a few inches on either side acted as rigid handlebars. That was my home made scooter, for that really was what it was. It was the only bogie I ever made, and immediately the superior quality of my skates was confirmed when it was found to be able without mechanical steering to do a U turn within the width of the street. The box was important too, and when a bogie making season started there was a run on the shops for those of the most suitable size. As mentioned above, if you were late in looking for one you ended up looking silly with a big one, like an orange box, or a small one over which the rider had to bend down in a crouch.
On one phase of this bogie building part of the random play activity cycle, and it happened during the time I built one, the activity was cut short by the arrival of the policeman mentioned previously. It was during the school holidays, and the streets were becoming rather crowded with them racing up and down, creating a hazard even with what little normal traffic there was, and with more under construction it could only get worse. When the bobby arrived, coming round the corner from Clachan Drive into Skipness Drive, he stopped the first bogie rider and produced his notebook. That was the signal for all other bogies and riders to disappear up the closes. So ended my only venture into bogie making, and although it had been slightly knocked out of shape, the skate was recovered and put back into service for its original purpose.
VANISHED AND MISCHEVIOUS GAMES
One street game never encountered since this period was called `French and English', a name which seems now to date it from the wars with France in the early 1800s. It was a sort of semi-violent game in which two teams set themselves up on opposite pavements. At a signal, the two sides rushed across the street towards each other with folded arms outstretched, to meet in the centre of the road in what was really a pushing match. The object was for one team to shove all members of the opposition back on to their own pavement, and the semi-violent label was apt because it could become quite boisterous.
Another game was statues, the participants in which stood in a line as one of their number, beginning at one end, gripped each individual in turn by the hand and pulled him or her firmly behind and out of sight of the puller. Each one pulled moved on for a few steps and then froze in a position they considered striking or funny, but they had to hold their position while the puller was looking. If he detected someone moving that person was 'out', and the winner was the one with the best or most amusing pose and/or who remained frozen longest.
Home made wooden stilts were common, as was a version for younger children using a pair of tin cans. Two holes were punched at opposite sides in one end, and a length of string was put through the holes and knotted. The length of the loop was such that a child, standing on a pair of cans and holding on tightly to the loops, could clump about on the shoe extensions.
One of the least energetic activities was Actors and Actresses. We sat in a group in the seclusion of a back court and took turns in suggesting a set of initials of our chosen film star for the others to guess their full names. WB was Wallace Beery, JC - no - not THAT one but James Cagney, or PO for Pat O'Brien, etc. MM was of course Mickey Mouse. Games like this needing no props were legion. A primitive musical instrument could be made using a comb and a piece of tissue paper. But it has to be the old style crinkly stuff that rustled when crumpled which is seldom encountered today, not the modern soft toilet roll, kitchen towel and paper hankie variety. With a strip of this tissue folded over the comb, if the comb is held gently to the almost closed lips and hummed through, it produces a pleasing fuzzy sound not greatly dissimilar to a Jews (or 'Jaws') harp.
Scotch Horses were indulged in when we paired off with someone who was a match in size and physical ability, to stand side by side and facing the same direction the pairs crossed arms behind. Linked together with left hand holding left and right holding right, we galloped off around the street or school playground, perfectly happy with our lot until boredom set in. On one occasion a pair discovered that while still holding hands, if each simultaneously performed an about-face away from each other in opposite directions of course they could change sides.
A different kind of entertainment was encountered once or twice between autumn and spring in the nearby church hall. The Band Of Hope was a weekly gathering organised by some churches to try to take local urchins off the streets during evenings and keep them out of trouble, by providing entertainment which included religious messages. One or two of our group whose parents were that way inclined attended regularly, while others were interested but were to reluctant to go. Another boy and I who were of the same religious persuasion and were well aware of the implications of differences of faith, kept our distance. However, one warm evening our group happened to be playing near the door of the adjacent church hall when the entertainment was in full swing, and as the door lay ajar we were attracted to the sounds of music, singing and movement.
Gathering round the entrance we gradually worked our way in, and found ourselves given a paper bag with a bun and a biscuit and, without quite realising how, seated on a stage just inside the door. When the singing ended a slide show by what was then known as a magic lantern began in the crowded hall with the screen almost over our heads, the content of which was the usual biblical story. The novelty of the situation and the unusual projector medium held my attention. A few of our group were members of the Boys Brigade, locally the 119 and 121 companies and competition between different churches was intense.
Some mischievous games were designed to annoy tenants, always other people's neighbours unless you were dim, the simplest form of which was knocking on doors and running away. A variation was to tie adjacent door handles together then knock both doors and make a bolt for it, was also indulged in. Fortunately we avoided real trouble because we seldom had access to anything other than easily broken thin string. One trick could cause a householder a lot of annoyance, for which it was difficult for a new resident to find the cause, was called clockwork. It needed a long length of the thinnest string or cotton, a button or a small screw or washer, and a piece of sticky paper or insulating tape. It was only possible to practise this at dusk at low down houses with windows facing into the unlit back court with the curtains closed or the blind pulled down. But one stair up windows weren't immune to adventurous youngsters brave enough to climb up a drain pipe.
The button or washer was tied on about six inches from the end of the thread. The tape holding the thread end was then stealthily applied to the glass of a window pane high up in the frame. Leaving plenty of slack, the other end lengthened with string was then carried to a place of concealment, ideally lying flat on top of a dyke. After taking in the slack, by pulling on the thread it was possible to make the button tap the glass gently, this usually made the householder appear at the window. But it was a ploy for which the evening gloom of the backcourt was needed and the distance between the window and the hiding place was short enough.
When things settled down you began tapping once more, and when the man or woman came out into the backcourt to investigate, the string and tape were pulled off the window and gathered in. By now they began to suspect that they were victims of the annoying clockwork game they would have been well warned about by the other older ground level householders. This was a once only thing for any house, and when you were preparing for it you had to hope the occupants hadn't experienced it before at the hands of other practitioners. If they were agile and youthful they might be ready to dash out to chase and catch the perpetrators by following up the disappearing string.
All these activities were enjoyed to the full by the children of the time, in particular the ones involving strenuous activity that most of the young ones of today seem to be missing out on. Will this be reflected in their physical condition as they grow older?
During the seasons of dark evenings before cold weather set in, in the course of our games we would sometimes pause to look with wonder at a bright glow in the sky which suddenly became visible to the east. We knew its cause from hearing adults referring to it as Dixon's Blazes. The reddish glow was of course only seen after dark, and then only if other conditions were present. It was best seen if there was a low overcast of cloud with the atmosphere otherwise clear, and the phenomenon lasted only for a short time. I was intensely interested in it, and asked various people what could produce such a glow bright enough to light up the sky.
Grandad Chambers, that source of so much other knowledge he was keen to share, said it was caused by Dixon's steel works at Polmadie but was unable to elaborate further. Later reading of industrial history it was learned that Dixon's Iron Works was a long established plant which produced pig iron until the early 1950s. It closed down then, and the site today is Dixon's Blazes Industrial Estate off Crown Street. The light we were seeing occurred when the lids were removed from the reduction vats for the molten metal to be poured into receptacles to be taken to the moulds. In later years people who lived close to the plant said the fiery glow was accompanied by thick clouds of smoke, causing it to resemble what they imagined a small-scale volcanic eruption would look like without the noise.
WINTER WEATHER & SMOG
Domestic fires were the major producers of those elements that caused smog, but calm weather conditions were necessary to allow it to form. Smogs occurred when the temperature was low with a high degree of humidity in the atmosphere, and homes and industry were stoking up their fires and furnaces to produce the maximum heat. With no wind mist would form and condensation of droplets being helped by soot and dirt particles suspended in the air. At first the street-lights took on a baleful halo, and if conditions continued to worsened they could become totally obscured. Without a wind to disperse it, the smoke slowly gathered around the places where it was produced. It became gradually denser until it was a thick choking greenish-yellow pall, and at its worst it was possible to stand under a street light and look up and see only a faint glow in the murk. Sometimes it developed into what was called a pea-souper that caused an increase in the number of deaths, mainly of older people with chest ailments. Because of a chest condition this kind of weather always gave me a hard time.
The last time we experienced fog like this in which visibility was reduced to a few feet was during the 1960s, but that is because there is only a fraction of the dirt put into the atmosphere now than in the past. Back then, if calm conditions persisted for longer than a day the effect was cumulative, so that by the third day, to draw a breath in the open air was like drawing in a lungful of soot. During a bad spell of smog it would be quite noticeable in the home and in shops, and in cinemas because of the greater vista, when at its worst the screen could become almost invisible from the seats at the back. It could be described as like looking through a veil, or a scene in a movie or video made in soft focus. There was an occasion in the 1950s when the calm condition persisted for almost a week, and during this time in the Glasgow area about two thousand people with serious chest conditions died. Some countries in the far-east that have acquired our industry have now got the pollution.