Yesterday, summer decided to visit West Cumbria for a few hours. It was the type of day, 30 odd years ago, where my mother wouldn’t have had a clue where I was. I would have vacated the house as soon as the first friend came a-calling and I would have been AWOL, without sustenance, until the street lights came on. I’m sure this was more indicative of the Eighties than child neglect!
Days like these proposed different adventures. The types of adventures my kids have missed out on due to these new and unwelcome times. Here are my favourite five.
1. Building a den. The Crest Crew (I’ve just made that up. We were far from gangland material) lived near a wood so the obsession for one week would be to build a camp. Unless my memory fails me, I don’t recall spending time in the den. For a start, there were no carpet and comfortable chairs. I was evidently high maintenance from a young age (as you’ll gather from my post on camping) It seemed the learning objective of the activity was to build a den and then guard it. Invariably, the next day, it would have been trashed and in the days before CSI and DNA tracing, the extension activity was to find the culprits. It was a case of always blaming the younger male sibling (we were a gaggle of girls; we were learning early to blame men for everything) of one of our crew, even if he had a cast iron alibi. Day three would involve a furtive operation to destroy his camp in retaliation. This was usually easy as his sister would have insider knowledge, the same sister who had conventiently forgotten that he could not possibly have decimated our camp the day before because he’d been staying at their grandma’s. Day four would see the forging of an unstable alliance, where we would promise to cease hostilities and even help each other rebuild our ruined wrecks. Day five involved a waning of interest or perhaps a brief onset of rain, and as our camp proved not to be watertight, it was abandoned for some other neighbourhood crew to enjoy/trash/ridicule.
2. Bikes. No helmets. No road sense. No destination. Possible a cycling proficiency badge earned by successfully signalling to turn right into the quietest cul de sac where my school was located. We would just mount our Raleigh horses and set off to wherever our whims took us. Unchartered roads on the estate above ours, feeling like outlaws for invading enemy territory. Once we tried to reenact Grease on bikes. Our two wheeled vehicles were adorned with homemade Pink Ladies stickers and we aimed to dress entirely in black. A lack of boys to be the T-Birds (or any boys willing to engage in such a stupid activity) proved to be problematic. Therefore we ended up cycling round, belting out Summer Lovin’ and probably annoying everyone within hearing distance. However, we didn’t feel we needed to go anywhere. My son uses his bike more practically than I ever did; go to his friend’s house, cycle to the beach, pop to his grandma’s. We could while away the hours on the roads to nowhere.
3. Marbles on drains. I honestly thought this was a standard childhood pastime in the Eighties. I might even have conceded that it was a Cumbrian thing. But my husband looks at me like I have a third head (never worked at Sellafield before you ask) when I talk about this game and he only grew up six miles away. All you needed was a drain cover and a bag of marbles. Hours were spent trying to nudge your marble into the opposite hole before your opponent, thus winning their marble. If you were feeling brave, you would risk your bullseye or a silver one, whose name escapes me. Just like in curling, the playing surface had to be swept beforehand to ensure fair competition. I loved this, but had obviously already lost my marbles just by playing it, as far as my better half is concerned.
4. French skipping. Nothing French about it and no skipping involved. Required equipment was a piece of elastic tied at one end. Two people would stand with the elastic around their ankles. I imagine if it was played now, the breathing statues would be glued to their phones, instead of checking what was going on in the middle. The ‘skipper’ then had to perform a set of 20 actions involving the elastic. Who dreamt these up, I don’t know. How we came to learn them, I don’t know. What were they, I don’t know. I can only recall they became progressively harder and, if you failed, you were out, took your turn in the elastic and had to start again from one. It was ingenious; cheap to play and easy to set up. Would have been better if we’d learnt a splattering of French mais tant pis!
5. Rounders. Another cheap classic. Locate four gate posts roughly in a square, hunt out a bat and ball and divide yourselves into equal teams. Easy rules – whack the ball as hard as you could and leg it round the human posts, being careful of kerbs and cars. Invariably, as we played on our road, the ball would end up in a garden and play would be stopped. Plaguing the neighbours with our politeness, we would knock on their doors, asking if we could get our ball. We had walked past the ball to get to the door. We could reach the ball by merely bending over their garden wall. We could have just left them in peace. But manners mattered and I would love to have counted how long we actually played and how long we spent pestering the homeowners.
And those are some of the ways I spent my summer. Oh, Kerbsy, which I tried to teach to my own ungrateful offspring. “We’re trying to hit a kerb? With a football?! And if we do, we have to stand in the middle of the road for the chance to get an extra point? In the middle of the road?!”
Yes, because I can’t let you roam round like I did. You can’t walk ten minutes across the field to build a den because the landowner might chase you. You can’t sit outside playing marbles on the drain because the lady whose house you are in front of might chase you. You can’t go round on your bikes singing ‘Grease Lightning’ because other kids might chase you! So basically, I have to put up with you! God, I miss the Eighties! Oh, making perfume out of petals…..