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The world was our playground in those far-off days.

Ah, what a sparkle in her eyes, what a spring in her step as she hops happily from shop to shop in quest of clothes for the kids.

After all, school starts - no she doesn't say it, she yells it - school starts next week.

Yes, at last those flamin' holidays are over and after the longest six weeks of their lives a million mothers are free - free, I tell you.

Especially the mum I met at the start of it all. There she was, three kids under 10 in tow, taking 'em across to the castle for a basinful of our local culture. Gotta keep them occupied, she said.

"Dowanna go to the castle," whined Kid Number One. "It's boring." Kids Two and Three nodded. Yeah, boring.

She heaved a deep and soulful sigh and gazed gloomily at me as we waited for the lights to change. "Yes, they're bored already. An' there's another six weeks to go."

This was the first day of their summer holidays and they were what? They were bored? Wow, I said to myself, move over Victor, I don't beleeeeve it. How could any sprog on the eve of six sublime, school-free weeks be bored, a word that should be blanked from everyone's childhood? But these children weren't the exception. I realised this when a magazine offered parents "stress-free ways" to keep the offspring entertained during the holidays.

We entertained ourselves. I hardly ever saw my parents and neither did my mates once school was out and Ole Ma Murphy a mere memory.

It was out straight after breakfast, back in time for bed with maybe a hit-and-run meal break in between. Ah, what a life we led.

So I turned to these three in "Ah, Jim lad" mode and they stood bug-eyed as I cast my spell.

We wandered, Robin Hood and Red Indian, through Leckwith Woods. We tied ropes to branches and turned into Tarzans and for six sun-scorched weeks (no, it never rained) we built dens on derelict land and we defied death on the planks of the Timber Float - bobbing beneath those planks, so local legend said, the bodies of boys who hadn't made it.

We turned the Taff into the Mississippi and ourselves into Tom Sawyers, riding a rickety raft beneath the Penarth Road Bridge, and we flopped into the city's best swimming pool, the old Glamorganshire Canal, the sand on the dredgers offering a beach as balmy as Bali.

We went roller-skating on roads so smooth they shimmered in the sun, Grangetown's Pendyris Street the setting for monumental hockey tournaments played with purloined walking sticks, a father's fury to come.

All this while waiting for the lights to change - wonderful what a daydream can do. So we scrumped apples and pears in Llandough where we once trawled the famous Blue Pond looking for the fabulous king newt that ruled there, rumoured to be the size of a saltwater crocodile though no-one ever saw it, let alone caught it.

I took them through the intricacies of Kick-the-Tin and Releaster and the small boys' battlefield that was Bomberino, the greatest street game of all, known as "Strong 'Orses" because that's what you yelled when ... well, to find out send for instructions to me, c/o Echo.

We chalked stumps on an end-of-terrace wall and played to Grangetown's Test match rules - over the garden wall, six and out, and I initiated them into the mysteries of marbles with special reference to blood alleys and bolbers.

We made ourselves a bogie - two planks, a soap box and wonky pram wheels - engine power provided by Kid Number Three, pushing One and Two with the stick from his mother's sweeping brush, promised his turn later, discovering too late that a brother's promise was like a politician's.

All this with the light still on red. Doctor Who couldn't have done a better job of condensing time. But those three small boys were still bored. It was my own childhood flickering as we waited for the green man to perform.

And then I realised it was time to take off my sepia-coloured specs.

How could those three lads recreate my green years? Wander the woods? They'd get done for trespass while their mother grew frantic with thoughts of today's bogeyman, the ever-present paedophile lurking behind every tree. Scrump even the most maggoty windfall, done for theft. Paddle a raft on the Taff and the health 'n' safety zealots would have 'em winched up by helicopter before they started sinking, mother banged up for neglect.

And how could they play street games when those streets are traffic-choked? No skating, no cricket, cars stop play. So as they crossed to the castle I thought, no wonder they're bored. They were born too late, born in a different world.


* These were the days before the 'health and safety police' made it impossible for children to have fun, and before traffic-packed streets became too dangerous for holiday games
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 31, 2011
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