We were a scruffy bunch of urchins. Cuffs always shiny because they were more convenient than a handkerchief; long socks crumpled round our ankles, toes of our shoes always scuffed, dirty knees and hands with a "tide mark" (as our mums called it) round our necks where we were in a hurry to get out and just rubbed a flannel round our face and missed the rest. But we were always laughing. Except of course when we had trod on a nail or grazed our knees. Or had just taken a bang on the head from the bigger kid at the end of the street. Then it was time to try and hold back the tears while hobbling home to get the yellow accraflavin out, and have a cry in private.
The other thing to remember was that we were mischievous. Not evil, mischievous. Most of us would run errands for the elderly if asked and although what we called sheath knives were readily available and most of us possessed one, you never heard of stabbings that plague London today. All we wanted to do was have a giggle.
Now you might think that the episode at York Hall baths, with the cold water, was a bit evil but lets be fair, kids are bloody evil. We never did anything that would cause permanent distress like some of the kids today. It was just a laugh, and you would always get caught out yourself from time to time.
For instance, we would go to the Victoria Fish bar in Green Street (now Roman Road) and get our threepenny portion of chips. We would then lean on the railings outside eating them. We were eagerly awaiting the next customer to enter the shop. Why? Because the the last one of us to use the condiments had carefully unscrewed the lid of the giant salt pot till it was barely hanging on the last thread. Another unsuspecting victim was about to get a quarter pound of Saxa salt all over his cod and chips. I think that's why most keep it behind the counter now and put it on for you.
It was hard, and sometimes frightening trying to keep a straight face while denying all knowledge of it when you found out that they could run faster than you!
Another popular game of the time was “Knock down Ginger” where you rapped the knocker on a street door and ran off. The best way to do this was to drop behind your mates while they dawdled along and knock on the door. You then ran in the opposite direction to which they were walking. By the time they realised what was going on and started running, the chances were that the occupant would catch one in the confusion and give them the blame instead of you. We did at one time improve on this by going back and forth across the road threading heavy duty black cotton through as many knockers on opposite sides as we could. Then it was time to wait for a lorry to drive through, or for one of the doors to be opened. This would set off a chain reaction, and a dozen or more people to open their doors at once. The beauty of this was that there was no running away. You could hide in a porch and watch from a distance. I wonder if this was the reason you rarely get heavy knockers now!
The other thing that cotton came in handy for was tapping on peoples windows. Not people on the ground floor but those who were several stories up in a block. If you had a mate who lived high in a tower block so much the better but there was access to the roofs of the old blocks of buildings like in Quinn Square, Russia Lane. People used to hang their washing up there. Armed with our cotton and with a metal nut tied to the end of it we would lower it down a couple of floors and swing it to tap on the windows below. This caused a lot of puzzlement to the residents who would look out the window several times wondering what the hell it was. We may have annoyed a few people but it kept us happy for a while anyway.
Saturday! This was the morning for children only at the cinema. Cheap rate. Every cinema used to do it and there were a lot of cinemas in those days. There were none left here at one time but there are a couple of decent ones now. Rich Mix in Bethnal Green Road and the Hackney Picture House in Mare Street are both very good.
“We come alooong on Saturday morning,
Greeting everybody with a smile.
We come alooong on Saturday morning,
Knowing that its all worth while...”
I cant remember the rest of it but that was the song we were singing as the bouncy ball hopped from word to word on the big screen. Everyone was there, every single kid went to this weekly hour or two of total mayhem. Any posh kids who actually wanted to have sound with their films had no chance. The noise when I look back on it! We shouted at the baddies, cheered at Zorro, and screamed with laughter at the cartoons. It was an absolute waste of time running the soundtrack, you could here the music in the exciting bits, when it got louder but no one could possibly hear what the characters were actually saying!
During all this din and excitement you were also required to duck the flying objects being tossed around. while scoffing your tub of ice cream so you could crumple it up and hurl it at anyone’s head who was facing the other way. I never really gave much thought to the cleaners who would have had to clear up before the adults came in that evening, they must have been cursing us.
One thing I do remember vividly was the serial. There was always a weekly serial. The trouble was, the continuity. There you were screaming your head off with the music getting faster and louder, and the stage coach with the hero inside, tumbling over the cliff. That was the end of the episode. You actually saw it go over, and start bouncing down the rocks with our hero inside. Certain death.
On the next thrilling episode a week later, it starts with the stage heading for the cliff and just as its about to go over, out jumps our hero just in time. That was Okay, we just cheered louder when our hero saved the day!
The ABC cinema (the Regal) on the corner of Mare Street and Well Street where I went to Saturday morning pictures, and in later years did my back seat courting has been closed for years. It was a snooker hall for a while and has now been an Iceland store for a few years until present(2018).
There was always something to do in those days. We didn’t have computers, electronic toys or smart phones The nearest thing we had to a mobile phone was two Cocoa tins on each end of a length of string. But we always found something to do that although sometimes annoying to adults, was never vicious or cruel to them.
If you were playing out near your house you could nip indoors and get the cowboy guns you got last Christmas. If not, any lump of wood from the bomb site could be used as a rifle or six-
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