A good scatter, a shot on a friend’s Chopper and laughing at drunks – Jim Duffy recalls past childhood pleasures.
I recall being young and the grown-ups would talk about the good old days. Just using that term made them look much older. They obviously had memories of brighter summers, unlocked front doors and lots of buoyant community spirit that was deteriorating as time passed.
I would listen and wonder what it was like for them when they were younger. Perhaps the simplicity and pace of life then was much easier. A couple of weeks ago, I took a walk in my favourite Glasgow park – Victoria Park. Mind you, when I was young and lived nearby, we called it Whiteinch Park. I was only eight when I cut about there.
But it made me reflect on the good old days as I saw them then. And boy have times changed. This current crop of eight-year-olds will not even have heard of some of the practices, customs and pastimes that we engaged in. Many did put the good in the good old days, but some were awful and funny at the same time.
How many of you like me had a coal bunker outside? Every week, the coal man would visit our council estate and blow his whistle as he entered our street. His wagon would be laden with huge sacks of coal split into grades and sizes. My mum always ordered a bag of trebles and a bag of briquettes. The trebles burned fast, while the briquettes slowed the fire down and radiated heat for a longer time. The coal-man and his coal-men would lift these enormous bags onto their shoulders and then bring them around the back of our three-bed semi, where he would deposit them into our coal bunker.
My job was to make sure the bunker locks were off so he had free access. The thud of the coal hitting the bunker made the ground shake and this would go on for about 30 minutes as each house in the street was stocked up. This was the best bit. After that, on rain-filled, windy nights in winter, I had to get my duffle coat on top of my jammies and go out with a bucket and fill it with coal. It was cold and dirty, but that was life then. No instant gas central heating ...
Always in the spring and summer months, there would be a wedding or two. A local boy or girl would be getting married. We would find out either the night before or early that day. This meant our day was taken up waiting for the scatter – a term today’s eight-year-olds will not have heard of at all.
About lunchtime, the bride or groom would leave the house with a small entourage. Usually the local taxi firm would have provided the wedding cars. Essentially a Ford Granada with white ribbon extending from the bonnet to the roof. Us kids, usually about 10 to 15 of us would be waiting outside. The grapevine meant that kids from other parts of the estate would show up, ready to fight for their split. As soon as the bride or groom was almost inside the car they would throw a huge pile of coins on the roadway or pavement. We would pounce like rabid dogs looking for the silver. That 10p or 5p piece or maybe even a golden nugget – a 50p coin. Your fingers would get scratched as you clawed at the rough tarmac to secure your bounty. The wedding car would speed off and we would compare who got the most cash, then head off to the sweet shop. A good scatter was a real event.
Of course, the pinnacle of a young boy’s existence then was the bike he rode. I got a Raleigh Cygnet and a good bike it was. But the bike I really wanted was a Chopper. This was a cool-looking bike, albeit not all that practical. It had some real menace about it. It was the bike for pulling wheelies and performing great skids. Its back tyre was almost double the size of the front tyre, therefore it looked different, handled differently, but made anyone riding it look cool.
It had gears that were even cooler. Situated in the mainframe on a flat surface in front of your legs were gears with a proper gearstick. It was like having a car gear stick. I never got the chance to own my own Chopper, but I did get a “shot” on a few and the occasional “backie”.
In today’s world, where HM Revenue and Customs is trying its best to collect as much tax as it can using technology, many still like to deal in cash and have cash jobs done. For many of us, we get our monthly salaries paid into bank accounts by BACS credit. But in the good old days, as I remembered them, all the men were paid in cash.
From the shipyards to the steelworks to the newspapers to cotton works, the men and women of the seventies collected their wages weekly on a Friday in a buff-coloured envelope. Within was cash and a simple payslip. But this created huge problems, especially at Christmas. Everything shut down for at least two weeks then. Total shut down.
So, employers would pay three weeks wages in cash in these envelopes. This meant that working men were “in the money”. The wives would actually wait by the work gates or even at the entrance to the pubs as they had to get their hands on these envelopes to secure Christmas and New Year. If they did not, many men would go crazy, spending as if there was no tomorrow with all their workmates in the pubs. Many a family came a cropper as daddy went awol and then had to be carried home – as we all laughed – with a severely dented pay packet.
I’m not saying that good old days were all that great. You will each have your memories.
But, I just wonder if being an eight-year-old today is as much fun ...