Down to the lock gates where sticklebacks would be waiting for bent pin and worm, then on to the old ruined mill to fight the battles of old once more… how I recall those endless summers when the skies were always blue and the sun soon sent any rain clouds packing.
The summers were actually hot, the winters cold, and as far as spring and autumn… well, they were perhaps somewhere in between. In fact, such was the utter predictability of the seasons that all our games were based on the prevailing weather conditions in any given month. Like the 12 days of Christmas, the months of the year heralded a change in pursuit for the boys and girls of Churchover.
We’ll start during the Christmas season as our tiny world of two streets prepared to bid farewell to the old year. Play was almost certainly dictated by the toys we had received. Many a plastic soldier fell in mortal combat somewhere between the hearth rug and mantlepiece, while the perils of carpet fluff stuck in the tracks of model Centurion tanks were an ever-present occupational hazard, the wages of all-out war on the Axminster pile.
Shortly after the festive period, the snow usually fell, which meant sledging on the steep hill at the back of the church. During the big freeze of 1962-3, sledging became the main activity for village children and only came to a halt when the thaw started in March.
The arrival of the first signs of spring and lengthening days marked the start of the kick-can season. Variously called tip-cat or kick-cat, kick-can involved someone being ‘on’ with the rest going into hiding. If a player was spotted, the person who was ‘on’ was supposed to shout “one-two-three kick-can!” followed by a name.
June was my birthday month and also saw the start of the fishing season. If it began on a school day, we rushed home, grabbed our rods and fished until the moon rose. The most prized fish were perch and bream, even if the wily roach were the most difficult to catch. The majority of the fish were returned to the river but occasionally, one of the older lads might capture a pike or ‘Jack’ and that would be taken home for the pot.
In early September, the farmer knocked on our doors again looking for potato pickers. The payment, I seem to recall, was five ‘bob’ – or maybe half a crown – and all the sliced spuds it was possible to carry home in a bag. Such bounty, combined with the fabulous treat of riding on the tractor trailer, all added up to a great day out.
The shortening days usually signalled a retreat into one of our ‘clubs’. These were old pig hovels that we furnished with cast-off settees and tables. Lit by candles and heated by paraffin stoves, many a happy winter’s afternoon might be whiled away, our imaginations lost in faded comic ‘annuals’ that told of perilous cattle drives down the old Chisholm trail, gunfights in Dodge City and Comanche raids west of the Pecos mountains.
And so. Christmas came round again and the process was repeated. ..
This is an extract from Beef Cubes and Burdock: Memories of a 1950s Country Childhood by John Phillpott, published by Austin Macauley – contact email@example.com. It can also be bought direct from Amazon and from bookshops as a hardback, paperback and as an e-book.