Monday, 1 May 2017

Message in a Bottle

Everything seemed simpler in the 1950s when I was growing up. 

In the summer holidays (which, incidentally, consisted of endless days of constant blue skies and sun) we went to the local recreation ground - or 'rec' as we called it - most days. Sometimes our mum came with us and we took a cobbled together picnic - sandwiches, crisps, an apple and, if we were lucky, a Penguin biscuit. If mum was busy we went on our own. It was about a fifteen minute walk or a ten minute bike ride away.  My elder brother had a second hand bike - his pride and joy - from a jumble sale. Mum had paid seven shillings and sixpence for it - a lot of money at the time - but it turned out to be a sound investment.  So, sometimes we walked, sometimes we biked it, but either way we used to go and spend most of the day there, playing in the bushes and round by the pond. These days it would be unheard of for three children, between the ages of eight and fourteen to spend a whole day playing out, fifteen minutes from home, but in the fifties this was the norm. Men were at work, their wives were busy at home and so the kids entertained themselves.  

I only remember two incidents connected with the rec. One was when a man appeared from behind a tree and asked me to come and see what he'd got in his hand. I hadn't got a clue what he was talking about and took a step towards him, smiling politely.  Luckily my much more streetwise friend pushed me back and told him in no uncertain terms where to go  He turned tail and legged it across the rec, while we continued to play quite happily. I don't think I even bothered to mention it to my mum when I got home.  The other incident was far more worrying to me.  After a few hours at the rec I returned home, only to discover I'd left my brand new cardigan (hot off my mum's knitting needles) on a bench. Mum was fuming, promptly donned coat and shoes and raced up to the rec. Needless to say, in those days of common poverty, somebody had taken a fancy to my cardigan and it was no longer abandoned on the bench. My mum wasn't happy and my main worry was not that I'd lost my cardigan but that I might be banned from ever returning to the rec. 

We played out after tea - cricket, the stumps chalked on to our front wall, the bat another jumble sale find; 'keep uppies' - until Gilly's mum came out and shouted at us for constantly banging on her wall; 'Keep the Sunny Side Up' with Iris Whitewell and Christine Archer - two big girls who, in all honesty, struggled to keep anything up, least of all their beefy thighs. I was self appointed choreographer and star dancer, with absolutely no ability in either field. We practised for hours for the show in my dad's garage, stopping abruptly if my dad or brothers dared to come in; we played Mothers and Fathers where my poor younger brother was always the baby; we held sales in the front garden, goods set out on kitchen stools, signs made from cardboard boxes. Our mums took pity on us and came and bought our old rubbish back. 

Back then, everyone had a local milkman, complete with super slow milk float, delivering to every doorstep. We had a baker, too, who left us our daily bread. He still had a horse and cart, which was a great novelty to us kids.  Most days we had a couple of pints of milk delivered. Sometimes my mum would leave a note in the empty bottleWhat I really wanted was the half size bottle of orange juice that teased me from a crate on the back of the milk float. My mum said it was a waste of money - and at that time money was tight and certainly not to be wasted on such frivolities. The more I was told I couldn't have the orange juice, the more I wanted it. I devised plans of how to get hold of a bottle. I worked out how long I would have to save to buy one, but on 1d every other day for pocket money I soon gave up on that idea. Christine Archer had the bottles of orange regularly, but then she was allowed most things, including staying off school if she so much as murmured that she felt a little poorly.  In contrast, I had to be at death's door before missing a day's schooling. 

My lucky break came the day I was offered sixpence to go off with a man lurking at the bottom of our street.  I was highly temped to take the sixpence and leg it, but after the rec incident I was a bit more wary of strange men asking me to accompany them, and raced home to tell my mum.  The police were called, a description given and a police officer led me by the hand around the local streets, looking for the culprit.  I decided that any man who was willing to throw away sixpence on the off chance of getting a young girl to go off with him wouldn't be hanging around after his offer had been rejected, and sure enough, he was nowhere to be seen.  I actually felt it was all quite exciting being the centre of attention but my mum obviously thought I'd been scarred for life and was desperate to minimise the trauma.  She came out of the kitchen and handed me a scribbled note.  

"Just stick this in the milk bottle outside, love," she said, handing me the note.  I was about to complain when I glanced down at the piece of paper.  I grinned, went to the front door and poked the rolled note into the empty milk bottle.

The next day, my bottle of orange juice stood next to the milk on the step.  My brothers looked on enviously as I peeled off the foil top, raised the bottle to my lips and took a large mouthful. I never admitted to anyone, least of all my brothers or my mum, that the orange juice wasn't actually all that it was cracked up to be.

An Early Lesson in Disappointment by Jill Reidy

Eyeing up the bottles
On the milkman’s float
It wasn’t the white stuff that drew me
It was that amber nectar
Highly coloured
Reflecting the light

So many times
I’d imagined
The sweet, smooth orange
Sitting on the doorstep
In its half sized bottle
Next to the milk

It took a minor drama
To produce results
A simple message in a bottle
Foil cap peeled off slowly
Bottle to lips, head tipped back
Large swig...

An early lesson in disappointment

Thanks for reading     Jill



Lady Curt said...

Just like my childhood. However I was an only went about with neighbour's children. My Dad worked permanent night shift and my Mum worked part i was out all day . Making dens , climbing trees, having adventures in the very close countryside ( at that time our street was the last street...then farmland ). As you say we didn't have a watch, just went out with a few biscuits and maybe a bottle of pop...invariably returning at teatime .

Twigger said...

Nice bit of nostalgia there Jill - rekindles a whole pile of memories X

Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography said...

Absolutely! Very fond memories. I think our generation was lucky in that we were allowed so much freedom - and we didn't worry about what might happen.

Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography said...

Thanks Twigger, happy days, eh? Xx