"The difference which exists today as opposed to those days of the 1950s when I was a child is so great that it's little wonder that children today grow up into adults that weigh up all the risks before they dare take a chance with life. My dear mother used to tell me, 'Billy, if you risk nothing in the pursuit of happiness then I'm afraid you'll finish up risking everything and gain nothing.'
As a child between the ages of 7-11 years back in the 1950s, every part of one's life was different to what children experience or don't experience today. There were no mobile phones, play stations, lap tops and all the other sophisticated distractions that youngsters depend on today to occupy their lives stuffed with boredom. There was no staying in one's room alone, eating one's tea away from the family table or indeed, eating a different tea to the one that mum and dad ate or at a different time.
During the school day, children exercised their bodies as well as their brains. After tea, children played out with their friends and invented games to play that took no more than their imagination and whatever items one was able to find lying around any household. You might ride your mum's long-handled brush like a cowboy or put a few feathers in one's scalp to become a native indian. A stick would become a sword with which to fend off the sheriff's men and a dustbin lid would act as your knight's shield. Other games involved bats and balls, pieces of wood, pebbles and chalk, skipping ropes and old tin cans; even cracks in the paving stones.
As for the long summer holidays, unless you came from a well-to-do family, there were no expensive holidays to go galavanting off on. After breakfast, your mother would let you out with your friends and wouldn't see you again until tea time. She wouldn't have the faintest where you'd been, who with or what you'd done!
Summer months were marvellous months for a child to experience out in the fresh air all day long. We might visit the swings in the local playing fields where we would climb as high as we could and have no fear that if we fell to the hard ground that we might break an arm or a leg. On other days we would visit Kirklees Wood and try to discover the grave of Robin Hood; hoping that we'd find something before the gamekeeper chased us off with his shotgun. We never did find Robin Hood's grave and the only things we came across was a dead fox on one occasion and a courting couple on another. We found both sights disgusting at the time. On some days, we might make bows and arrows and insert darts as their tips and go down the nearby fields called Green Lane and have battles. Two boys even had loaded air rifles armed with pellets, and they aimed to hit. There was another wood where we attached a long rope to one of the tree branches and where we would swing across from one side to the other with a stream thirty feet below. On an evening after tea, we would go to play inside any new houses that were being built on Windybank Estate and jump from their top bedroom windows onto piles of sand. The boy or girl who jumped from the highest height was declared the winner, even though the game only usually ened after someone had broken a limb and an ambulance had been called.
Injuries along with hospital visits and inpatient stays were far more normal for a growing child then they are today. I would estimate that I had around six broken arms and half a dozen broken legs between the ages of 7-11 years, all obtained through my pursuit of having fun and taking risks. Saturday mornings were always matinee attendance at either the Palace or Savoy Picture Houses in Cleckheaton. If one had the money, one went in by the front door and if not, you hung around outside the fire exit by the cinema toilets until a friend would open up and let you in for free. It was common to see one boy go to the lavatory and two or three return.
By the time one reached their teens and the raging hormones started to kick in, games like Post Man's knock where the reward was a kiss from a local girl became exchanged for one which involved dares, whilst also improving one's knowledge on the subject of biology. Every healthy boy or girl would find themselves introduced to the most daring of games called, 'I will if you will' or 'Show me and I'll show you.' Play these games and you would one day marry, but sit them out and only the life of a bachelor or spinster beckoned.
I often think back upon those happy years of growing up on Windybank Estate and feel somewhat sorry for what the youngsters are missing out on today and can never know. I look around me and see how 'health and safety' regulations have essentially become the biggest pleasure spoilers in all our lifes today. The Women's institute can no longer make jam to sell, all playgrounds, where they exist, need felted grounds in case a child stumbles and grazes their knees and there are no more sack races for first-school attenders, along with fewer school activities without large amounts of cash needed for insurance purposes and indemnity charges against being sued in the event of an accident. In those days, having an accident was a fact of life and was usually perceived as essentially no one's fault; unlike today when blame needs to be placed somewhere and compensation sought from anyone else who might be considered negligible.
Heroes and heroines of my day came from the pages of books like Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Three Musketeers, The Famous Five, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Roy Rogers, Hawkeye etc or from the films of the time; unlike today where celebrity is easily purchased by anyone entering the 'Big Brother House' or in some tabloid newspaper where fame can be bought by the kiss and tell story of sleeping with a footballer.
I am glad that I grew up in the times I did and took the chances I took. Only those who risk going too far will find out just how far one can truly go. If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will end up settling for the ordinary." William Forde: March 6th, 2015.