A Kid from Aston by Graham Twist

When I was a kid being brought up in the back streets Aston we used to play games in the yards and the “horse road”, so called because back then most of the traffic coming down our street was carts pulled by horses. The milkman, the coalman and the scrap man all had garden-enhancing manure-producing animals pulling their carts. There was no problem with clearing up the horse poo in those days, not when you could get a tanner a bucket as we could off a bloke who lived up New John Street West. So avoiding the dumpings of the friendly horses was nothing to worry about, and the games could proceed.

Games us lads used to play included, leapfrog over the “miskins”, hide and seek, cowboys and Indians, sliding on the blue brick pavement creating sparks with your hobnailed boots, playing on the “bombed peck” in Ormond Street, which was hidden from the travellers up “The Lane” on the number 7 bus by large hoardings. Those hoardings didn’t make it past Coronation Day, and made a great bonfire in the middle of the street. Multi coloured “glarnies” or marbles as they were often called were either played in the gutter or on any dirt patch that was available. In the gutter you had to get your marble to hit your opponent’s marble which he had rolled down the gutter. On the bombed peck a little hole was scraped out of the dirt and a marble put in the middle. The players would then try to throw their marbles into the hole to hit the marble.

There was also a future entrepreneur who had a board about eighteen inches long with various-sized holes in the bottom of it. Above each hole was a number and if you got your marble through that hole then that was the number of marbles you won. I imagine he went on to make a fortune, but I don’t know. The card games then consisted of cards out of the fag packets with photos or drawings of all the best football players, cricketers, jockeys or anybody who was well known at the time. A card was leant against a wall and the player flicked his card towards it, trying to knock it down.

Another wall game when we had a couple of pence was to all line up and chuck your halfpennies towards the wall. The one that got the nearest was the winner of all the halfpennies lying around Pontoon and three-card brag would come later. Football was played in the middle of the street with the players coats as goal posts – you were either the Villa or the Blues, and this being Aston, everybody wanted to play for the Villa. In fact one of my mate’s uncles had played for them before the war, we all tried to get him onto our side, probably thinking he was a good player, but he wasn’t.

On a Sunday if we were playing football when the Three Horseshoes threw out its happy imbibers they would want to join in, but not being quite sober were easy to dribble around most times. The local copper would stop us playing on a Sunday if there were no adults about but if there were he diplomatically kept his distance, blokes were not averse to having a set-to with the coppers back then. Races sometimes took place on four-wheeled carts. These Formula One cars of the day where made up of pram wheels attached to a wooden plank with a string steering wheel and, if you were posh, even a brake. The engine being whatever fool you could get to push you.

Miskin
We would go down Cowper Street up Newtown Row right into Ormond Street, to the top turn right and down Summer Lane and turn right at the “Three Horseshoes” back into Cowper Street. We would play cricket with a “miskin” as the stumps or we would draw set of stumps on somebody’s end wall. Long jumping over chalk marks on the pavement was also indulged in although this could be a bit risky in hobnailed boots.

The girls would have plenty of games to play including hopscotch, spinning tops and skipping, the hopscotch would be played on the pavement with the squares marked out and numbered with chalk. The object of the game was for the player to throw the marker either a stone (or, as in Cowper Street’s instance, a piece of slate – there being loads of slate on the bombed peck) into the number one square, then hop on one foot all the way to the top, turning round, hopping back, picking up the piece of slate at the finish. Then it was thrown into the next square, and so on.

The player either putting her feet on any lines or missing the square with the slate was out and had then to wait until her turn again, the winner being the first one to complete the course. Spinning tops was played by boys and girls and the tops would all be differently marked on the top and the sides by chalk, which looked ragged until the top was spinning and then the chalk lines smoothed out and looked great. Some of the best players could keep these tops going for ages.

Skipping was mostly a girls’ thing and with a girl either end of the rope there could be as many as four or five girls all skipping at the same time, till the swingers got tired, and all the while singing skipping songs. Most of the girls had dolls, and they could be seen to look after them as if they were real people, like injured Tommies or airmen or sailors, and I imagine to a little girl their dolls would be real. I suppose all of the above just goes to show how when you had nothing you made your own entertainment, and if you were bored it was your own fault.