Tag Archives: childhood

Memories of a Hillhead infant⤴

from @ blethers



It was this picture that started it. I've been rummaging among my old teaching materials and came upon a small buff book, with cartridge-paper pages that are half blank, half ruled in light and heavier red. This pre-dates all the other stuff I found, as it comes from my childhood. From 1952, I would say, when I was in Infants 2 in Hillhead Primary School in Glasgow. A chance remark on the Facebook conversation that followed its publication there brought memories flooding back - far too many for that medium. And it struck me that this is social history as well as my history, and I find it fascinating. That's what brings me back to Blethers after so many months. I want to write it down before I forget, or before no-one who was there is around to remember with me.

Let's begin with Christine Findlay, pigtailed in Primary 2. By this time she will be almost 7, because her birthday is in September. This meant that she started school in January, already 5 years and 3 months old and able to read. She is no longer playing with Plasticene and lacing cards (the latter, for some reason, a great thrill; something never seen at home).
Presumably for reasons connected with accommodation - and perhaps staffing - her class was called 1e and the school day began at 1pm and ended at 4pm. She travelled by tram from her top-flat home in Hyndland along Great Western Road to the foot of Cecil Street, where she crossed the main road with the help of a traffic warden. (He was once knocked down while she waited beside the road - perhaps this story will reappear). The lunchtime journey cost a ha'penny - the "Ha'penny Special" for school children; the return a whole penny. A yellow ticket at lunchtime, a blue to go home. Six months later her class became 1a and attended school in the morning. I cannot recall - see: it's going already - if the beloved Miss Buchanan survived the transition to morning class or if it was then that Mrs Reilly appeared, a red-haired, vivacious woman confusingly addressed by older pupils as Miss Forrester.

It is her class that provides this book, and some of my clearest memories. I can actually remember writing some of the legends in it, drawing the pictures to go with the writing exercise. In the course of it, we moved on to joined-up writing, copperplate. But before I go there, a vivid, stressful moment...
We were writing the letter l, lower-case, on the same kind of ruled paper as is above. And I couldn't work out how long the letter l (lower case) should go on. How many lines? Two thick and two thin? It looked far too long and wavering. I was distraught. We were forbidden erasers. Even when I saw a friend - was she a friend? - doing what looked a more correct version, there was no way I could hide my shame. I was a fool, and I blushed. That perky child in the picture - wearing, I notice, the regulation school winter jersey with the collar (striped in school colours) through which one threaded the school tie under the gym-slip - was feeling anything but perky.

But I progressed. My writing became fairly spectacularly neat copperplate - an example occurring in the day we learned about Diogenes. There is a wonderful picture of someone else's vision of how he might live here, but this is what I drew.

On other days we drew such things as the Glasgow coat of arms (so hard, these fish!) and a cuckoo which still looks quite convincing. All with this amazing writing underneath. Of other learning I remember less; I was bored much of the time during reading lessons because I was already a fluent reader and became cross at people who read aloud each individual word. Clearly, I was not destined to be a patient person.

I think there were forty children in my class, boys and girls equally distributed. The "a" designation referred to our birth dates, and all of us had our birthdays between September and December. We were the oldest class in the year group, we had had two terms of education more than the rest of the year. We felt superior, and no doubt we acted that way. We had embarked on our Hillhead journey. And the next time it's raining and I have little more to do, I'll regale the waiting world with a few memories of the next stage of that journey ...

Of urban open spaces and a post-war childhood⤴

from @ blethers

I was reading the other day about a dispute over an area of land in the West of Glasgow which is currently used as a (relatively) wild place for children to play, for people to grow things, to be free, and which is threatened by proposed housing development. The writer went on to enlarge on the features that make it so important to retain its use for recreation, particularly the benefits to children's health and wellbeing of such unstructured play in a traffic-free area in a city.

It had me thinking of my own childhood freedoms, also in the West End of Glasgow - freedoms positively enhanced by the relatively recent World War 2. I'm sure I've mentioned much of this before - the place where the land-mine demolished a bit of Polwarth Gardens' tenements, and the huge blocks of red sandstone that still littered the site sticks in my mind, although as a Novar Drive kid I didn't stray there often; we were very territorial in these days. My usual companions lived in the next close and we barely tolerated strangers ...

My usual playground was an open space in Novar Drive where the end of Lauderdale Gardens didn't reach as far as the Novar and was linked to it by a muddy track over empty, hilly ground. On the lower side, which has now been built on, there was a rubbish dump, an infill site, I suppose, where building debris (a result of bombing?) shared the space with more mundane litter like soot left by chimney sweeps (great face-paint) and at the top of which was the underground air-raid shelter in which we sometimes lit illicit fires. To the far side of the dump were two brick-built shelters with thick concrete roofs; we rarely went inside (too smelly) but played Kingball, precariously, on the roof of one.

When it snowed, I borrowed a sledge from a neighbour whose daughter was a good 6 years older than me - she would be at school and I'd be hurtling down the sloping field, often alone, for hours. I have a feeling that the winter I'm recalling was my first at school, when Hillhead Primary had an intake in January; some primary teacher must have doubled up and taken my class in the afternoon after her morning class had gone home. My mother, already having to attend to my 2 year old sister, would despair at converting my wet, grubby morning self into a schoolgirl in time for the 1pm start. (Crazy idea, now I think of it again.)

When the days grew longer,  we spent hours climbing the stunted hawthorn trees on the hillier side of this area; swinging from branches and making dens under - or on top - of them. And then there were the marathons, when we ran round and round a small path that cut through the long grass until we were gasping and scarlet in the face ... and the hiding places in the grass where we used sticks for rifles ... to say nothing of playing chase the arrows all over Hyndland, all the way to Clarence Drive ...

I was always grubby, always scratched, always exhausted by the time our parents summoned us all from the windows of our flats. When we left Hyndland for a "low door" in Broomhill I was devastated. At the age of 10, my life outwith school had been changed for ever. Shades of the prison house ...

I looked up my old haunts on Google Earth. They're barely recognisable, though "my" tenements haven't changed. This first picture is of the play area I've described in such tedious detail. The whole tenement block on the right is new - that's where the rubbish and the overground air raid shelters were. The trees are new - though clearly they've been growing for a while. The play-park just visible on the left is new, and I would have scorned it as tame and at the same time treacherous (I always got sick on swings).

 The second picture looks from the same place as the first, down Novar Drive. New tenements on the left - but you can make out where the old ones begin, with a lane in between which was always there. The top flat we lived in has the bay window just before that tall chimney head on the right of the road. It all looks very crowded, with the cars on either side. We played in the street and in our wilderness, and no-one worried. (Actually, children don't know the secret worries of the mother marooned with a baby in a top flat who suddenly can't see her firstborn and wonders where it might be ...).

What I'd actually like to know is how my own offspring would have fared in this environment, instead of the seaside town we brought them up in - and even how their children would cope with a top flat. What I do know for myself is that I couldn't return.

It was good, though, back then ...

Of urban open spaces and a post-war childhood⤴

from @ blethers

I was reading the other day about a dispute over an area of land in the West of Glasgow which is currently used as a (relatively) wild place for children to play, for people to grow things, to be free, and which is threatened by proposed housing development. The writer went on to enlarge on the features that make it so important to retain its use for recreation, particularly the benefits to children's health and wellbeing of such unstructured play in a traffic-free area in a city.

It had me thinking of my own childhood freedoms, also in the West End of Glasgow - freedoms positively enhanced by the relatively recent World War 2. I'm sure I've mentioned much of this before - the place where the land-mine demolished a bit of Polwarth Gardens' tenements, and the huge blocks of red sandstone that still littered the site sticks in my mind, although as a Novar Drive kid I didn't stray there often; we were very territorial in these days. My usual companions lived in the next close and we barely tolerated strangers ...

My usual playground was an open space in Novar Drive where the end of Lauderdale Gardens didn't reach as far as the Novar and was linked to it by a muddy track over empty, hilly ground. On the lower side, which has now been built on, there was a rubbish dump, an infill site, I suppose, where building debris (a result of bombing?) shared the space with more mundane litter like soot left by chimney sweeps (great face-paint) and at the top of which was the underground air-raid shelter in which we sometimes lit illicit fires. To the far side of the dump were two brick-built shelters with thick concrete roofs; we rarely went inside (too smelly) but played Kingball, precariously, on the roof of one.

When it snowed, I borrowed a sledge from a neighbour whose daughter was a good 6 years older than me - she would be at school and I'd be hurtling down the sloping field, often alone, for hours. I have a feeling that the winter I'm recalling was my first at school, when Hillhead Primary had an intake in January; some primary teacher must have doubled up and taken my class in the afternoon after her morning class had gone home. My mother, already having to attend to my 2 year old sister, would despair at converting my wet, grubby morning self into a schoolgirl in time for the 1pm start. (Crazy idea, now I think of it again.)

When the days grew longer,  we spent hours climbing the stunted hawthorn trees on the hillier side of this area; swinging from branches and making dens under - or on top - of them. And then there were the marathons, when we ran round and round a small path that cut through the long grass until we were gasping and scarlet in the face ... and the hiding places in the grass where we used sticks for rifles ... to say nothing of playing chase the arrows all over Hyndland, all the way to Clarence Drive ...

I was always grubby, always scratched, always exhausted by the time our parents summoned us all from the windows of our flats. When we left Hyndland for a "low door" in Broomhill I was devastated. At the age of 10, my life outwith school had been changed for ever. Shades of the prison house ...

I looked up my old haunts on Google Earth. They're barely recognisable, though "my" tenements haven't changed. This first picture is of the play area I've described in such tedious detail. The whole tenement block on the right is new - that's where the rubbish and the overground air raid shelters were. The trees are new - though clearly they've been growing for a while. The play-park just visible on the left is new, and I would have scorned it as tame and at the same time treacherous (I always got sick on swings).

 The second picture looks from the same place as the first, down Novar Drive. New tenements on the left - but you can make out where the old ones begin, with a lane in between which was always there. The top flat we lived in has the bay window just before that tall chimney head on the right of the road. It all looks very crowded, with the cars on either side. We played in the street and in our wilderness, and no-one worried. (Actually, children don't know the secret worries of the mother marooned with a baby in a top flat who suddenly can't see her firstborn and wonders where it might be ...).

What I'd actually like to know is how my own offspring would have fared in this environment, instead of the seaside town we brought them up in - and even how their children would cope with a top flat. What I do know for myself is that I couldn't return.

It was good, though, back then ...

Of urban open spaces and a post-war childhood⤴

from @ blethers

I was reading the other day about a dispute over an area of land in the West of Glasgow which is currently used as a (relatively) wild place for children to play, for people to grow things, to be free, and which is threatened by proposed housing development. The writer went on to enlarge on the features that make it so important to retain its use for recreation, particularly the benefits to children's health and wellbeing of such unstructured play in a traffic-free area in a city.

It had me thinking of my own childhood freedoms, also in the West End of Glasgow - freedoms positively enhanced by the relatively recent World War 2. I'm sure I've mentioned much of this before - the place where the land-mine demolished a bit of Polwarth Gardens' tenements, and the huge blocks of red sandstone that still littered the site sticks in my mind, although as a Novar Drive kid I didn't stray there often; we were very territorial in these days. My usual companions lived in the next close and we barely tolerated strangers ...

My usual playground was an open space in Novar Drive where the end of Lauderdale Gardens didn't reach as far as the Novar and was linked to it by a muddy track over empty, hilly ground. On the lower side, which has now been built on, there was a rubbish dump, an infill site, I suppose, where building debris (a result of bombing?) shared the space with more mundane litter like soot left by chimney sweeps (great face-paint) and at the top of which was the underground air-raid shelter in which we sometimes lit illicit fires. To the far side of the dump were two brick-built shelters with thick concrete roofs; we rarely went inside (too smelly) but played Kingball, precariously, on the roof of one.

When it snowed, I borrowed a sledge from a neighbour whose daughter was a good 6 years older than me - she would be at school and I'd be hurtling down the sloping field, often alone, for hours. I have a feeling that the winter I'm recalling was my first at school, when Hillhead Primary had an intake in January; some primary teacher must have doubled up and taken my class in the afternoon after her morning class had gone home. My mother, already having to attend to my 2 year old sister, would despair at converting my wet, grubby morning self into a schoolgirl in time for the 1pm start. (Crazy idea, now I think of it again.)

When the days grew longer,  we spent hours climbing the stunted hawthorn trees on the hillier side of this area; swinging from branches and making dens under - or on top - of them. And then there were the marathons, when we ran round and round a small path that cut through the long grass until we were gasping and scarlet in the face ... and the hiding places in the grass where we used sticks for rifles ... to say nothing of playing chase the arrows all over Hyndland, all the way to Clarence Drive ...

I was always grubby, always scratched, always exhausted by the time our parents summoned us all from the windows of our flats. When we left Hyndland for a "low door" in Broomhill I was devastated. At the age of 10, my life outwith school had been changed for ever. Shades of the prison house ...

I looked up my old haunts on Google Earth. They're barely recognisable, though "my" tenements haven't changed. This first picture is of the play area I've described in such tedious detail. The whole tenement block on the right is new - that's where the rubbish and the overground air raid shelters were. The trees are new - though clearly they've been growing for a while. The play-park just visible on the left is new, and I would have scorned it as tame and at the same time treacherous (I always got sick on swings).

 The second picture looks from the same place as the first, down Novar Drive. New tenements on the left - but you can make out where the old ones begin, with a lane in between which was always there. The top flat we lived in has the bay window just before that tall chimney head on the right of the road. It all looks very crowded, with the cars on either side. We played in the street and in our wilderness, and no-one worried. (Actually, children don't know the secret worries of the mother marooned with a baby in a top flat who suddenly can't see her firstborn and wonders where it might be ...).

What I'd actually like to know is how my own offspring would have fared in this environment, instead of the seaside town we brought them up in - and even how their children would cope with a top flat. What I do know for myself is that I couldn't return.

It was good, though, back then ...

The men in the radio⤴

from @ blethers

We were listening to music on the radio the other night - hardly surprising; we do this every night in life - and for some reason discovered, Mr B and I, that we had both as children pictured tiny musicians inside the radio every time an orchestral concert came on. In these days, of course, there was considerably less music to listen to; the Third Programme didn't come on until after 6pm (heralded, I recall, by the wonderful theme used by Britten in his Young Person's Guide) and I went to bed shortly after (we're talking the 1950s here). Later, thanks to the acquisition of a more modern radio, I discovered Radio Luxembourg and pop music, though that was only audible after dark. (Don't ask me why; I suspect it may have something to do with Physics.) In the light evenings, you could barely hear Elvis through the static. The nostalgia trip was completed with the joy of finding a photo of the radio we had in the kitchen - can you not just see the tiny musicians, in their evening tails, ranged behind the golden cloth front?

We both hated, I discovered, the singing on "Listen with Mother" - on at 1.45 every weekday. I can still hear the voice of Daphne Oxenford in my mind's ear. The man who did the duets with Eileen Brown  ("Hob shoe hob ..." - aargh) was known as Uncle George. How sinister. You can see we had a fascinating ramble into our childhoods, separated by the width of the country but strangely similar in some ways.

Another moment of nostalgia, absolutely nothing to do with the above, came with the remembering of how I came to know what someone with a broken collar-bone might look. (If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you'll know why I was speculating). There was this book, you see, a "Teach Yourself" book, on home nursing or some such terrifying area of self-improvement. It was blue, but apart from that looked like the book on the right. I think there were photos in it, but there were also the most terrifying line drawings, showing you how to bandage such injuries
as a fractured jaw, a fractured thigh (horror!) and - you've guessed it - a
broken collar bone. You would recognise the last injury by the forward
droop of the shoulder and limb, I recall, and the face of the victim would,
according to the illustration, bear a face of patient suffering. As I spent
quite a lot of time in the post-war years being ill with such things as measles and whooping cough (the first child caught everything. I was doomed) I tended to read anything that came to hand - and this book was one of the most gripping.

Another book I recall being horrified by was a collection of prints of work by war artists, the most worrying of which showed the aftermath of an air-raid. But my post-war traumas (not brought on by anything but my parents' conversations and the sight of the land-mine destruction along the road; I'm not that old) belong, I feel sure, to another post ...

Seeing the daffodils⤴

from @ blethers



Yesterday I posted about suddenly realising I could still feel what it was like to experience the world as when I was a child. And today I read the next bit in Michael Mayne's This Sunrise of Wonder and began to think again about this business of how we see the world around us. Is it simply the realisation that our time here is so limited - and getting shorter by the day? Is it also the fact that as we shed responsibilities - job, mortgage, family, aged parents - we are allowed to become like children again? (And if so, it's the best argument yet for not raising the retirement age).

Anyway, this is what John Updike has to say on the matter: (and yes, Mayne is quoting Updike; I'm not quite at the bonkers stage yet) :

Like my late Unitarian father-in-law am I now in my amazed, insistent appreciation of the physical world, of this planet with its scenery and weather - that pathetic discovery which the old make that every day and season has its beauty and its uses, that even a walk to the mailbox is a precious experience, that all species of tree and weed have their signature and style and that the sky is a pageant of clouds. Ageing calls us ... into the lowly simplicities that we thought we had outgrown as children ... The act of seeing is itself glorious.

Today, the sky is a perfect blue. The sea is darker, and in the open water there are small, north-wind-driven waves. But under the wall that faces the sun, there are daffodils in bloom.

LIfe in the bubble of wonder⤴

from @ blethers


On the boat
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Do you remember being a child? Oh, yes ... all these years ago ... But do you really remember? Do you ever find yourself re-inhabiting that wonderful bubble that could enclose you when you were small, when your imaginative world was the be all and end all; when the world of adults was an enabling machine, but little to do with you? Or are you so caught up in the business of being a grown-up that the bubble has long since burst, scattered like the rainbow, now only a damp circle on the concrete of your life?

I'm reading Michael Mayne's book This Sunrise of Wonder - at last, Jim, if you're reading this! - and it's fair got me thinking. Especially after last weekend, when I was visiting a Thomas the Tank Engine paradise with my four grandchildren and their assorted parents. Before we all headed away from the hotel and the theme park, we spent a couple of hours in a nearby playpark. The contrast with the theme-park rides was striking. Yes, there were swings and roundabouts, but there were also climbing frames and the wonderful galleon in the photo. And it was the galleon that kept all four of them playing together the longest. I could hear the oldest allotting roles to the others, who weren't really paying much attention; the smallest child was ferrying sand to the top of the chute that is just visible exiting the hull in the bottom corner; another had purloined a bottle of water the better to demonstrate the drainage the same chute afforded. There was another hiding under the deck, and the strange child that found himself in the middle of the gang was pressed into service as a pirate. And no-one wanted to come away.

And the combination of the book and the grandchildren's enjoyment of imaginative play brought an epiphany. I could remember my childhood bubble. And what was better: I could remember it in such a way that I could feel it again, feel it the way I did when I was under ten (the family moved house when I was ten; it's a useful watershed in my library of mental images of childhood). Here are some of the stand-outs:
  Sitting on the grass in front of our holiday house in Arran, around 6pm on the first of July, gazing at the hills at the head of Glen Cloy, smelling the bog-myrtle on the breeze, ready to burst with happiness because the summer was a lifetime long and I was back in the place I loved more than any other.
 Walking behind the rest of my family after a trip to the cinema - alone, because I was in a movie and Byres Road was actually Dodge City and a dangerous environment.
  Playing under and on top of the kitchen table, because it was a boat. The trick was to get onto the top without falling into the sea of the rest of the floor.
  Spending hours in a hollowed-out rhododendron bush with a few friends as the Arran rain teemed down, happy as could be because our 'house' kept the rain out.
  Looking forward to time alone - on a bus, on a train, in my bed - because I wanted to "think" - which I now realise was re-entering a bubble which was always there.
  Climbing rocks on the shore in the conviction that I was on a sheer rock-face on some distant mountain.

I could actually go on all day. Even writing these makes me feel I want to go out to play. The point is that it was all wonderful. Imagination took me way beyond what anyone else would have seen. On the odd occasion when I have a grandchild to myself, I like to put that child into a situation where they too will wonder at something I love - is this because I now need an excuse to be child-like?

Dammit. I don't need excuses. I'm fortunate in that I worked with young people for my whole life - ok, they were teenagers, not tots, but they were amazingly easy to make young again with a little encouragement. I was able to avoid growing up. I grow old, I grow old ... but I'm not going to succumb to the equivalent of Eliot's rolled trouser-bottoms: no. I may have reached the cardigan/tweed skirt era beloved of a previous grown-up generation, but there's nothing appealing there. Who cares what the world thinks?

I've had a taste of life in the bubble again. The life of wonder has been re-awakened, and it's ... wonderful.