We moved to 19 Gipton Wood Crescent when I was younger than seven. I can’t remember which year, but it was probably 1959 or 1960. The road was still cobbled in those days and it was only after we had been there a while that they came and tarmacked the centre of the road just leaving cobbles at the gutters on either side. The street was a hill that rose and fell from one side to the other and number 19 was just about at the summit. The houses were built before there were many cars and most only had a footpath leading up to them and ours was no different. All the houses were semi-detached and ours was divided from the house next door by a row of trees. As we had a car, one of the first tasks for my father was to build a driveway and garage so that it could be brought off the street. Being practical and young, my father went about the task of cutting the trees down and removing the stumps and assorted bushes. This was quite a major task and my mother blamed it for my father’s ill health a few years later.
Once the driveway was cleared then I remember workmen coming and laying a foundation and building a concrete garage. The garage was made of pre-formed concrete panels that were screwed together like a construction kit and the roof was probably asbestos. It was a very solid build and sat on a good concrete pad. They then laid the driveway and it was lovely black tarmac with white marble pieces. It looked very grand and, best of all, gave me and my brothers a lovely smooth surface to play on. The house was well above the street level so it had a steep hill at first and then levelled off. Prior to this we had had to play in the street, but the drive gave us a new experience. It was great to run toy Dinky and Matchbox cars on and they shot down the drive, under the gates and onto the road at a great pace. It was also our cricket pitch. We did sometimes play on the road and we just had to stop play if a car or van appeared, but this wasn’t very often. We still got ‘rag and bone men’ come collecting scrap metal and if there was any of value they may have paid a few pennies, but never very much. They came on a cart pulled by an old horse which must have done something wrong in a past life to have to suffer the dull existence. It would often have a nose bag on and when nature called left a little deposit of a warm smelly matter, which meant the cricket had to be abandoned as nobody was willing to remove it. My parents occasionally might collect it with the belief that it would be good for the garden. My wife tells me that her ‘rag and bone men’ in Stoke-on-Trent used to give goldfish as payment, but we never got anything as fancy.
This also reminds me that occasionally we would get knife grinders riding up the street. Most I remember came on a bike that had a grinding wheel attachment and they would sharpen your knives and scissors for a small fee. Nowadays I don’t know anyone who has knives sharpened unless they do it themselves. You knew when they were there, as both had their own cries that echoed down the street. The other occasional visitors would be gypsies. A gypsy woman might knock on the door selling wooden dolly pegs. This always created excitement as they had a bad reputation and might put a curse on you if you didn’t buy any. Mum always seemed to be friendly with them and their arrival tended to coincide with the fair at Roundhay Park or at another venue.
The video below was filmed in Leeds on a dull day and showcases just how much there is to see in the City, Canal Gardens and Roundhay Park.
Cricket on the road, when the surface had been tarmacked, was great. We would set up wickets, usually a cardboard box, and take turns. We needed some of the neighbours kids to play with as a well struck ball could shoot all the way down the road. The real problem with this playing in the street was the neighbor opposite. Miss Ellis lived directly opposite and she made it known very soon after we moved in that she did not like boys playing in the street or anywhere near her garden. She seemed very old to us, but maybe that was because everyone seems old when you’re a child. Anyway, when the first ball was hit into her garden and my older brother tried to get it, her front door opened and she marched out and told us in no uncertain terms that this would be the only time we would give us the ball back. She was true to her word and apart from lucky sorties, when we hoped she was out or not looking and managed to get in and out alive, she would keep any balls that strayed into her domain. She was the ogre of childhood stories, the witch that took little boys and cooked them, or at least she was to us. When I was older I did cut her grass for a while and she wasn’t quite as scary. I believe she was a piano teacher, but I never had lessons with her. She did want me to sing for her when I was teaching and she discovered I was in a production of Oliver as Fagin, but somehow I never found the time.
After our first encounter any shot into Miss Ellis’s garden was six and out, and it was your responsibility to attempt to retrieve the ball. Failure signified the end of the game. The new driveway provided another venue without the same risk. The adjoining house was owned by a more approachable family, the Wynns’. They had one son, Graham, and he was a bit older than us. The garage door provided a backstop and allowed just two to play. My brother and I could play for quite a time and as Boycott and Edridge were the cricketers we idolised, playing a ‘dead bat’ and developing our defensive style was quite important. For bowlers the run up the steep drive was a challenge, but when releasing the ball on the flat, a fair head of steam could see bouncers thunder into the door. They never complained about the noise as far as I know. There were not the same problems retrieving the ball from next door, but if it entered on the full it was ‘six and out’.
The slip fielder was a tiny gap between our garage and next door’s. The space was about six inches and if the ball went in, a long stick or broom could retrieve the ball. Sometimes it was too far in and one of us, usually me as I was the smallest, had to squeeze into the space and retrieve the ball. It was very tight and scraped and removed skin, and very claustrophobic. When your head was in it was impossible to turn it around and you could only reverse blindly.
On one occasion we all noticed quiet mewling sounds coming from the gap between the garages and we discovered that a cat had given birth to kittens in the space. My mum was always very fond of animals, and in some ways more than she was of humans, and I was sent in to retrieve them. I think my older brother might have tried first, but as I said he was too big, and so I was given the task. The problem was that to grasp the tiny balls of fur, teeth and claws, I had to lower myself in the space so I could reach down to grasp them. This was very difficult, particularly as the kittens weren’t too keen to be grasped, but I finally managed to get the first and make my way out, only to have to repeat the procedure until all were rescued. The rescued cats were placed in a box and fed a saucer of milk, before being driven to the vet’s for re-homing.
The driveway was steep enough to be a real challenge for getting the car up, but with barely a couple of inches on either side from the metal gate posts, my father developed the knack of coming in with surprising speed. At first the curb was a problem and he made wooden wedges to help the wheels get over it. Our playing space was taken when the car was in, but we developed a series of games for down the slope. It was a great space to race toy cars, as I mentioned earlier, but when the wooden gutters were removed and replaced with plastic ones then the lengths of wooden gutters were even better for channelling the cars. We even had them jump over gaps and the crashes were brilliant. My older brother had a Corgi James Bond car from Gold Finger, a golden Aston Martin DB5. I remember it well, as there was a button on the top and when pressed a metal bullet proof panel shot up behind the rear window and another shot the driver out through an ejector seat. It would probably be worth something if he still had it, and we hadn’t loved it to death.
We also managed to practise our tennis against the wall, which was challenging as there was only about three and a half yards of driveway before entering nextdoor. In a previous blog I mentioned roller-skates and riding them whilst sitting on a book, but there was also the red metal scooter. These were fairly basic, but great fun, but suffered the same problem as the roller-skates as any stones would tend to make them stop dead and throw you over the handlebars. Children now have their BMXs, Hot Wheels, skateboards, electric toys, but I feel it was more fun when your imagination was left to create new games and toys and the world was your oyster. Maybe every generation thinks that. It was even more magical when it snowed, but that will have to wait for another time.
All six parts of the Fantasy novel ‘Hell Fire’ can be streamed free of charge from the Soundcloud player below. A new part will be added each week.