In circa 1956 when I was about twelve, I remember going with my mate, Peter, to what would now be termed a Youth Club, held in the Free Church Hall in Alpha Terrace, one evening a week. I suppose the idea was that whilst enjoying ourselves we were hopefully endeavouring to learn to be good Christians. Compared to the media image of today’s “yoof” I dare say we were easily led in that direction, having had Christianity drip-fed into us from the day we started school. Even if we eventually became disillusioned with Christianity, or religion as a whole, it was all part of the experiences of life that helped mould us into rounded, decent citizens.
There was none of the usual modern youth club equipment, like table-tennis or pool tables. After all, we were barely out from under the thin grey blanket of post-war austerity. The games we played had been passed down through the generations and would not have been out of place in a Yuletide Victorian drawing room. We would be split into teams or columns and have to pass balloons along our respective lines – using only our knees; or the outer sleeve of a matchbox from nose-tip to nose-tip. Another version involved passing an orange down the line – using only one’s chin and neck to hold it. Oh how I would have blushed when required to pass this non-too-large an orange onto a girl! Fortunately there was also a less embarrassing game called Fish or Flounders. A piece of brown paper, cut into the outline shape of a flatfish, had to be ushered along the floor to a finish-line by flapping the floor behind it with an old magazine. We really knew how to enjoy ourselves in those days – and at such little cost!
Back in the 1950s, on Shelford Road, there was a relatively low-key nursery, presumably where Scotsdales Garden Centre now stands. During the school summer holiday, the daffodil and tulip bulbs would be dug-up, presumably to be sold for autumnal planting. Some of us local lads would get casual work as bulb-pickers, hoping our earnings would enhance our meagre pocket money.
A small, single-furrowed plough, pulled by a rotovator – rather like the one in the 1970s’ BBC sit-com The Good Life was continuously driven up one side then down the other of the nursery’s bulb-field; each time turning over a single strip of soil on one’s allocated patch of the field. Those lads with previous experience had thought to bring a trowel; an old dinner-knife; or other suitable hand-tool. But for the novices it was bare-hands and we used our increasingly sore thumbs and fingers to gouge the bulbs out of the sticky, cloying soil and put them in the wicker baskets provided. If you were too slow, as I was, the machine would come around again on its next lap before you had finished picking out all the bulbs from the previous one; so you then had two rows of turned soil to rummage through. In my case this became somewhat accumulative, as I could never finish ahead of the machine’s next visit and it was steadily gaining on me.
I did just the one day; and never went back … not even for my wages! I’ve often wondered just how many unpaid days of work the nursery must have had; out of what was, I suspect, a very transient workforce.
In the 1950s we still had traditional, Romany style gypsies travelling around looking for seasonal work on the farms. I would hear them approaching – alerted by the ringing sound of the steel-rimmed wooden wheels of their traditional horse-drawn vardos as they steadily trundled along the tarmac. I would stand at our open front-door of the thatched cottage opposite the church to watch them go by, their horses no doubt relieved to be on level ground again after hauling their respective vardos up the long incline of Grantchester Road from the river. I felt safe standing on our threshold, within easy earshot of my mother. There were still old-wives’-tales of child abduction by gypsies. I did not really believe them, but better safe than sorry. I feel somewhat ashamed now that I never waved to them. Our elders unwittingly passed on so many unjustified prejudices.
We were one of the few groups, presumably along with the local Girl Guides, that were allowed to hold our activities in Trumpington Park. In the summer it would be a game of rounders; or some sort of Treasure Hunt – usually with strong natural history content. We may not have been very knowledgeable on the “birds-and-bees”, but we were well versed on the birds-and-trees! In the dark winter months, weather permitting, we played various night-games in the park; often involving running around with lighted paraffin lamps.
And then there was camping: a large wooden trailer would be loaded at the Scout Hut with all the tents, cooking pots, etc. We would pull the trailer, by hand, down to Wood End, opposite the entrance to Byron’s Pool. On the right hand side, just before the bridge over the river, there was a large five-barred gate, normally chained and locked, but the scoutmaster (possibly a Mr Meadows?) had a key. Once through the gate it wasn’t far along the track to the camp-site, adjacent to the bend in the river. I think I only went camping once; even at that age I appreciated the benefits of a flushing toilet!