"Get out there, the sun is splitting the trees" my mammy would say, it's an old Glasgow saying. I was nine years old living in the East End of Glasgow. Our school summer holidays were so different from the kids today. These pampered children who have play schemes, play dates and a collection of activities to keep them away from computers and hopefully engage them in positive social interaction.
Back in the day we made do with a three legged dog to play with and a creepy old man who was the park keeper to hide from, our scope to learn interaction was right there on the streets.
Looking back, I have no idea why every park in Glasgow I went to in the East of the city seemed to have a dirty old man in a brick hut who liked to show you his wrinkled penis. The council hired them as 'park keepers' and their hut was always directly opposite the swing park....for perfect viewing I suspect.
We kids all taught each other, no matter what injury you sustained falling off swings "don't go near the parky hut" as he liked to rub parts of your body that clearly weren't injured. Times were different in 1970.
On the hottest days, we wandered our city armed with a bottle of diluted orange juice, some bread and margarine wrapped in a loaf wrapper, packed into a string bag. The bag always contained old remnants of papery onion skins, as it was your mammy's vegetable carrier. Us kids would be a raggle taggle bunch who would set out on adventure to find another green park in Glasgow on the other side of the city. Glasgow has more parklands than any other European city, a legacy of Victorian times, where poor people never had much food but many pretty flowers to look at.
We never told our parents where we were going, we had no mobile phones nor bus money we just heard there was a good park on the south side of the city and we were going!
Without street knowledge or maps we would set off on foot. We knew basically that the river Clyde would need to be crossed and we would head south to Queen Park over past the Gorbals.
The walk would full of excitement as we anticipated new shops to look in, new dogs to play with on the route (back then dogs walked about without owners) and new people to meet on the way. What would this magical park have? Would there be different swings? Would it have a big slide chute? Would the parky be a pervert? We didn't know!
The sun would beat down and we burned slowly as we didn't know what factor 30 sun cream was back then. We had Calamine lotion for the after effects, we Glasgow people didn't do prevention, we did cure! Popping the blisters later was a past time for us.
Walking down strange main streets we would see children in prams, mums walking with shopping bags, men outside betting shops, pubs that spewed drunks and all the while our eyes were fixed on the ground for a dropped penny or a lucky find of loose fruit near a shop front.
We didn't see it as stealing if an orange was rolling on the ground!
Sometimes we would look in people's dustbins on the way and pick out stuff, like a discarded/broken toys or clothing. Yes, we were recycling and up scaling way before the middle classes found it interesting. I once found a great pair of ladies burgundy patent leather shoes in the bins outside a big smart house in Kings Park and carried them home in the string bag, my mammy wore them proudly for years afterwards.
The tall tenements passed, the street names were read out loud so we could retrace our journey, we stopped women and asked them directions and plodded onwards. Nobody thought a bunch of nine year olds walking themselves through streets was a bad thing, they pointed the way and waved us on. We patted strange dogs, ran our fingers along metal railings, splashed through burst water mains on the road and asked a nice Italian man if we could use his cafe toilets and on the way out watched people eating their lunches. Glasgow had the best Italian cafes outside Italy. The shops often had colourful displays of giant knickerbocker Glorys made of plastic outside on the pavement...making every child yearn for one as they walked past. It looked the height of ice cream sophistication.
I can still recall jealousy of watching a wee boy standing outside the cafe with a big ice cream in the baking street, the envy overwhelmed me, who gets a whole big ice cream to themselves? "One day I was going to buy a huge big tub of ice cream" I told the gang and they all agreed that they would too. We would buy a whole big tub and eat it with a spoon near a swimming pool that we owned and it probably would have a dolphin in it.
Yes, we all thought that was amazing and ran off to a grassy patch where we slugged on the diluted orange juice and headed on towards the River Clyde. The sun beat on our heads.
We crossed dangerous railway lines, we marched through high stretches of tall grassy fields, ran through grave yards, spoke to drunk men in the street and watched buses rattle past us on busy main roads.
We came upon a small burn with a rope swing and all took turns of being a commando, we waded through dirty water in our sandals and squidged towards Queen's park.
When we finally arrived two hours later we were amazed to find it had a pond! This was like America to us.....it had a POND!
Of course we threw ourselves in, with no thought to the filthy algae or worry about getting dried afterwards, the sun would dry us!
We roamed the whole park, speaking to people we didn't know, chatting to mammies on the grass and telling them where we were from and how we got there. They were fine with it, we rarely spoke to men, not because we were scared or anything, there just weren't that many about. It was mostly women in the park with kids....we played on the swings, we met new kids, we formed wee gangs and played rounders with new kids we just met, one who had a baseball and a bat and a few adults helped organise the teams.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find their parkie was a man and a woman who were kind and helpful, not creepy and would wave at us as we circled the park and gave us plastic beakers of water as the sun scorched the landscape. This place was just magical to us.
Finally the sandwiches would be shared on the grass with wet bums and then as the sun was dipping in the west, we would head for home.
It wasn't better times, it was just what it was. Different times....of course kids were abused back then, bad things happened but we knew they didn't happen all the time! I was aware that bad things could happen in your own home, so the bigger world couldn't be as bad could it?
Staggering back with sore legs and chafed feet from wet sandals, we ambled up to our doors -where my own mammy would say "Where were you today? I never saw you once in the street" and I would tell her where I was and she would ask if we all behaved ourselves and not blink twice at the thought of us walking five miles across the city. We kept ourselves occupied. It was back in 1970....where I stayed out all day walking in the sun, meeting new people and would finally go to bed and dream about owning a swimming pool in America and feeding my dolphins.
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