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The Games We Played

by George Venters

New Lane was a place where children felt safe and at ease. I can’t remember any fights among us - though I seem to recall that the twins down the Lane - Archie and William - did wrestle around with each other though I never saw them do so. Although you played most often with children of your own age or in your own stair, games and activities spread over all age groups. Inclusion and sharing was the norm. There were times somebody would be excluded for failure to keep to the unwritten rules of sharing or taking their turn in order but they were brief and infrequent.

Older children would let youngsters tag along even when they were doing things that might be dangerous or illicit.  Health and safety took second place to fun and adventure for we were free to roam wherever we wished and the places we chose to play in were often hazardous.  So were some of the games.  Playing “follow the leader” behind the bigger boys meant that you were climbing rone pipes, leaping over gaps between jetty and ladders, scaling roofs, walking along high dividing walls liberally crusted with broken glass embedded in mortar - between back greens.

Our days were spent in play as soon as we were old enough to go outside on our own. The age that happened would vary according to the protectiveness of the mother and whether older children were around and willing to look after the younger ones. We had the advantage of a wee park just next-door and a lane that was a cul-de-sac with no motor traffic up the top where we lived. This meant there was local space that the mothers could easily keep an eye on and the numbers of adults looking out for us ensured we were generally kept safe as toddlers. Nevertheless there could be problems.

Once Ma felt uneasy and she couldn’t see brother Brian who had been playing with his pal Pongo (George Finlay).  She went down the Lane and over the reclaimed land to the foreshore and got to Brian and Pongo just as they were setting out to sail in a fishbox. Her timely arrival prevented a tragedy. The fishbox would have been buoyant enough to take them out of their depth before the sea seeping through the gaps between planks would have filled it with water and it would have sunk under them.

The foot of the Lane was well suited for rumbustious games like ‘Hoppy Diggy”, “Collie Buckie” fights and “Cuddy Gie Wey” (which the boys mainly preferred) and the less physically boisterous ones like “Baby Steps and Giant Steps”, “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” and “Statues” which were liked more by the girls.  However both sexes played most of the games especially the hiding games like “Leevoy”, “Kick the Can” and “Hingo (hide and go) Seek” and the different kinds of tig.  We could have chains of children, holding hands, stretching half way across the width of the Free Fishermen’s (the “Fishie”) Park, playing “chainie” the tig I liked best.

These kinds of games are passed down over the generations in working communities throughout the world and we delighted in them as I hope bairns always will. But we also invented games of our own and also imitated real life, as we saw it, in our play. Of course the pictures, comics and the war gave is new characters to be and scenarios to act out. We could be Cowboys and Indians or Japs and Commandos or Highlanders and Redcoats. However we also played at houses and shops with the girls and made gang huts. When the council dug up the Anderson shelter at the top of the Fishie Park they left uneven ground and we covered one deep hole with wood from fishboxes, then linoleum then divots so we could have a concealed gang hut. Rain turning divots to mud and soaking down the sides meant it didn’t last long but it was sufficient of an achievements for us as to be indelible — thus far -from both Brian’s and my memory.

Our daytime games were played mainly in and around the schools. Bools (marbles), peeries and peevers are the main ones I remember for the boys as well as swapping and dropping cigarette cards.

There were seasonal games and seasons for games.

In the winter when the cold or snow came, we were either making slides of ice on the pavements or sledging down the brae of the Fishie Park on whatever was available. Some lucky lads had proper sledges that flew down the slope and could career out of the park if you were not careful - or were gallus and wanted to break records and were prepared to chance it. There wasn’t heavy traffic on the road and as your speed fell when you reached level ground, you could control the sledge fairly easily.  There were only two or three of these fancy sledges but usually the owners would give you a shot.  However most of us had to make do with household shovels - your bum in the pan of the shovel and a leg on either side of the handle, which you gripped firmly with both hands -— or you made your own sledge.  Shovels worked if you were wee but you could not control them like sledges and you would birl round or drift off at a tangent as you bumped down the slope. The best fun was to use a ladder where the big lads would sit at the front and everybody piled on behind.  You fairly shot down the Park.  Of course the numbers on the ladder meant it was doomed to coup before you got half way down but you went at a fair lick and it was riotous when you all tipped over in a heap.  So much for health and safety but I can’t remember any body getting badly hurt even when sledges went over you and sometimes they did if you weren’t paying attention or collided when racing downhill.

I can remember making my first sledge when I was nine or so.  There was always wood available from fish boxes and you could salvage the nails and even the metal strapping that they use to reinforce the boxes to nail to the bottom of the side members of your sled as durable runners.  But the commonest lubricant for the runners was candle grease even though it did not last long and had to keep being renewed.

The winter nights meant you could go on expeditions as commandos or gangsters or whatever appealed at the time.  The boundary our expeditions tended to lie within was the Whale Brae to the west, and Hawthornvale and the railway line to the east and south.  We’d be jinking in and out of stairs as maybe a commando patrol or whatever and I remember one of the lads in Annfield had a bona fide army surplus torch - khaki with the beam hooded and projected at right angles to the shaft of the torch.  Naturally he had a leading role but we all got our turn of this exotic torch.

Some of our play imitated real life.  The roles we played were gender specific reflecting what we saw.  We would play shops (much as I remember my Da said he did) and would set out wee “rooms” with lines of bricks and stones and have a wee counter.  We’d wrap up heaps of different coloured “champ”.  Champ was ground down sandstone of different colours and the paler champ could pass for sugar. Our wrapping paper was docken leaves and docken seed was used as tea. The boys would make the champ and be the customers and the girls would run the shop.

Sometimes, the girls would bring other bairns into their homes to play “houses” when mothers were working for they would have charge of the houses when their mothers were out.  Girls had more domestic responsibilities than boys and so could tidy up after whatever shenanigans went on so the parents rarely knew what we got up to - and just as well.  Why girls played houses seems strange given the amount of real domestic labour most of them undertook as children. (Tessa, the girl in the house directly above us, was routinely preparing the evening meal for the family by the age of eight and that was after tidying up the house). I suppose it was the appeal of being in charge and having the authority of a grown-up.

Boys were never worked as hard. Our main chores were to go the messages and look after our brothers and sisters.  It’s funny how play made work seem fun when your pals had you doing things yet when you ma asked you to do something similar it was seen as a chore.