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Key On A String

They were good old days, as the old cliché goes. Despite the fact that we had little of material value. We didn’t need it. Our parents probably did, but things like that do not enter the head of a seven or eight year old off to do battle against the raiders from Mars on the hospital debris. There was trust, and it was a trust that could and would not be broken by anyone. Not without the risk of being ostracised by the rest of the community. Street doors were left open in the Summer while the house was occupied. The next door neighbour did nothing more than give a gentle tap on the door and shout “It’s only me”, before walking into the kitchen and not bat an eyelid if one of the family happened to be using the tin bath at the time. When we were playing out and mum was off to the market the key would be left hanging on a piece of string which you could reach by putting your hand through the letterbox. We’d lose them if we had them in our pockets. No one else would touch it you could be sure. Streets were also communities then. Communities that looked out for each other. One of our next door neighbours, Mrs. Barnes, would always make great big bread puddings and never failed to hand one over the back fence to us.

Cash For Waste Paper

Most households held on to their newspapers, and with no Internet everybody bought newspapers to keep abreast of the times. Some were torn into squares to hang on the nail in the outside toilet, some used to light the coal fires and some simply to wrap kitchen waste. Over time the unused papers mounted up, and that meant a bit of cash for us. Around the corner to Russia Lane was the waste paper and rag man. We got one of the shopping prams and went knocking on doors. “Got any waste paper”? We asked at each house, and out came the piles of newspapers. Some small and some large, but they all mounted up. The shop paid a farthing a pound for it, a penny for four pounds. We tried putting roof slates from the debris between the sheets once to make more weight but the man knew all the tricks and we were caught.

Other Activities

We went fishing on the canal or Victoria Park lake. Sometimes we would take our rods to Chingford to fish Connaught Waters, or to Broxbourne on the River Lea. We didn’t sit and play video games; they weren’t invented yet! A Red Rover was another adventure. You paid half a crown (12½ pence today) and this let you travel on any red bus all over London, all day. Me and my mate Ron were always riding round in search of collectibles and adventure. We also played a lot of street games when there were a bunch of us. No traffic on the back streets in those days. I think the last generation to play games in the street were my children’s age. They were born a few years before the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the Internet was still a long way off, so in fact, they had the best of both worlds. Including a bathroom and inside toilet! The pranks >>

Childhood Experiences

Hard times but happy times. We never had computer games, smart phones or electronic toys. We did have our imaginations though, and the advantage of being able to play real games with real kids in the open air instead of at a computer or games console. If you were lucky enough to have a telly to watch, Children’s Hour meant just that, a single hour of BBC children’s programs a day. The rest was adult rubbish that didn't concern us. A policeman could slap you round the back of the head when he caught you up to no good, and if you told your mum about it you would get another one off the back of her hand for being naughty in the first place. But they were good times for kids and their mates playing in the streets. I hope the next few pages will give you a chuckle and maybe bring back some memories if you are old enough. I’ll start below with one of the most memorable occasions of my generation, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The other most memorable occasion was England winning the soccer World Cup in 1966 with three West Ham players in the team: Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters!

The Coronation 1953

Blimey, what a day! As young as I was I can still remember it. My dad took me to see the procession. I had a rough idea about what was going on and I remember the crowds and the Union Flags being waved everywhere. I was on my dad's shoulders and I can still remember the Queen waving as she went past. I can't remember my mother being there for some reason. I don’t even remember where I was at the time and unfortunately the old man’s not alive to tell me but the memory of the cheering people and the vision of the coach are still in my mind. I also remember the coronation party for the local kids held in my school hall, St. John’s Primary School. I can name almost all the kids in that photo but unfortunately lost touch with all but one, who went on to be best man at my wedding. We still meet up today. It is now 2022 and it looks l’ll be going to another one next year!

The Pub Doorstep

Us kids would never be allowed inside a pub. That law was changed many years after I became an adult. We had to sit outside and occasionally poke a head in to get our dads to buy us a drink, a packet of crisps or an Arrowroot biscuit. There were always a big jar of these on the counter. At the top of my street, Robinson Road, was the Approach Tavern. My parent’s local. I remember Jack and Blanche King with their son Harry running it for many years. Luckily they had a large area of pavement outside so us kids could congregate there to play while mum and dad were out for the evening. Today its a 'trendy' pub. The outside has been fenced off and turned into a seating area.

Our Adventure


Although the second world war had come to an end in 1945 there were still bomb sites and derelict houses everywhere in Bethnal Green in the early 50's. These were our playgrounds, hideouts, gang headquarters, and meeting points. They had an order of preference depending on what we decided to do. Cowboys, spacemen, Tarzan, or whatever the current mood was. Where I lived we had such a choice of places to go on our adventures that we never ever got bored. In one way I suppose it's just as well that today's children don't face the playtime dangers that we did, because when I look back at some of the things we got up to I wonder how any of us survived! First there was the debris on the corner of our street. That was just your run of the mill place to go and recruit a gang, or jump in the puddles, chuck a few stones, or dig a hole. We couldn’t get up to a lot of mischief here because some of our windows overlooked it, and someone’s mum might see us getting up to no good. Then there were the serious places, the debris behind fences and walls, the bombed out houses waiting for demolition, and the scaffolding of the new sites.

Wildlife in Abundance

Bethnal Green Hospital had two fenced off debris at the back. The "small" and the “big debris” we called them. They were so overgrown they were like jungles. Imagine it. In the heart of London Town, acres of land that had not been touched for years. Every single weed and bush dwarfed us. Nobody went over the fence alone. One of the things I remember most about those days was the abundance of wildlife which, because of the disappearance of waste ground over the years, today’s children never get to see unless they travel to the country. There were beetles that would actually attack you! Believe me, I saw it several times. If you went near them they would rush at you with Scorpion like bodies. God only knows what they were. There were so many types of caterpillar. Hairy ones, striped ones, green shiny ones, too many to list, and of course, because of the caterpillars there were many different Butterflies. Not just the odd Cabbage White that you see today. Grasshoppers. Every footstep saw them leaping away. I think because of the disappearance of the debris and it’s wild plants, the insects have had to move on. It had its down side too, there were also as many species of spiders lurking in our jungles. Bodies as big as your fist, some of them! (they seemed that big to me anyway). Many times while hiding from the enemy under a sheet of old tarpaulin , I would reveal my hiding place by rushing out in a panic after one of the beasts had run up the leg of my khaki shorts.

The Collectors

Most kids had hobbies. We collected anything. Stamps, matchbox labels, cigarette cards (flickers), football programs and, I’m ashamed to say, birds eggs. We even collected ice lolly sticks to play a game in the porch on a rainy day. Comics were also collected: The Beano, The Dandy and the Topper were my personal favourites.
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