Life has changed so much since my grandparents met and married. They enjoyed a happy and fulfilling life without cars, television or any kind of labour-saving device run on electricity. The wireless set about which I wrote earlier had an accumulator which had to be charged regularly. They walked miles and had a healthy diet sourced from their garden and local suppliers wherever they lived. Motor vehicles were in their infancy. Horses were the mode of transport and pulled the ploughs, harrows and so on. Their children saw the tractors and cars grow in numbers and silent, then talking, films appear in the many cinemas; they lived to see the advent of television, washing machines and other new-fangled items. John and Janet’s grandchildren have seen an even greater step forward with the electronic and digital age. What would Granny think to see me writing a message to my daughter on my iPad and getting an answer in a minute or so? I find it quite amazing that there are telephones that you can speak on, send written messages on, take photographs with, get information from and probably more. Television is a modern miracle – pictures out of the air? It seems impossible. Granny might think of it as sorcery!
I don’t suppose many children play the kind of games we did. They live with computers and games consoles now. They will have fun with modern toys, and would find it hard to believe we had fun with our playground and home games. We certainly had a lot more fresh air and exercise. The range of playground games was wide, many I can’t remember. Tig, hide-and-seek and rounders were always in fashion. Skipping was for the girls, with a long rope ‘cawed’ by a child at each end. The rest queued at the side and took turns to run in and then out the other side. I can’t remember the rhyme we sang. Skipping alone involved fast, slow, arm crossing, on alternate legs or another girl running in and skipping tandem. There was endless variation. We had ball games. One was throwing it high against the school wall singing: Plainy, clappy, rolly, backy (clap hands behind), right hand, left hand, high Schottische (fingers intertwined and palms up to catch the ball), low Scnottische (palms held low), touch the ground (bend down) and twirl around. Then there was 1-2-3-a-leerie (bounce ball under knee and again at 4-5-6 and 7-8-9) and 10-a-leerie postman. Daft isn’t it? But we enjoyed it.
There was a season for marbles which was considered to be a boy’s game, but we played too. There were plain clay marbles, called bools, and lovely glass-patterned ones in all colours. We’d make a circle on the concrete with chalk and each put some marbles in it, then take turns flipping your lucky marble to try to knock some out and win them. There were other versions, such as rolling them along the gutter trying to hit your pal’s marble to knock it out the game. Great fun and kept us on the move. Beds was a playground or pavement game, and the game I remember best is peever. The peever was made of white marble, round and about 3 inches across. My Dad made me a brass peever at work, and it never broke as some of the marble ones did. The bed was probably about 5 feet long and 3 feet wide. We hopped from 1 to 5 and back, shuffling the peever along. If it went on a line you were out. Another game we hopped and skipped to a pattern on a bigger bed. It sounds pretty tame now, but we all played together and had a great time. Quieter and less active games had one girl standing hiding her eyes against the wall. The others moved away about 10 yards. If it was Statues we had to tiptoe towards the wall and the girl would suddenly turn around and whoever she saw moving became ‘It’. If it was Giant steps, Baby steps she would call out “2 Giant” or “3 Baby” (toe to heel) and so on, and first to reach her was in. On reflection we were pretty noisy!
We had lots more pastimes; they kept us active and most of us were ready for bedtime when it came. There were so many great places to play and do useful things too. When Annabel was still my wee follower, we’d go up to the Moss. Mum would give us some biscuits and a flask of milk or lemonade. At the right time of year we’d also take paper bags and gather blaeberrys which grew in abundance then. They are low plants so small people could take part. Mum would make a tart with them. There was a stream along the edge of the Moss, always of interest to minnow hunters. I once was bitten by a horse-fly there and had a painful arm for a few days. On the very wet bit of the field, bog cotton grew and in late summer /early autumn it was a lovely sight with the wee blobs of white all over it. We often saw frogspawn and sometimes took some home.
That reminds me of when I was in my second year at school. We had a fish tank with stones and sand in the bottom like a wee pond. It had frog spawn in and we watched as they changed and their legs appeared and they became baby frogs. We had turns at feeding them – with what, I can’t remember. One night someone must have dislodged the cover of the tank and some of the frogs were let loose in the classroom. We had to be very careful as we searched for them, then gently lift them and return them to their home. Miss Lang took them back to the place she had brought the spawn from.
Back to the Moss – there was a nice raised grassy spot where we had our picnic. Annabel sometimes went home from our outings wearing a daisy-chain – making these was another pastime most little girls learned at an early age, wherever daisies were. The autumn was the time for brambles and there were a lot of places where they grew. Granny made jelly with them every year, as well as with gooseberries. She made Rowan Jelly, too, though I think it was more of a relish to be served with meat dishes. The tree which held the aerial provided lots of red berries for the jelly. Getting up to gather them was another job for the ‘boys’. Most of us had scratches on hands and arms after the bramble picking. We always had a walking stick handy to pull down the stalks that were too high to reach. It was a happy family outing from the Toll up to Old Duchal which was quite a walk uphill. But coming back laden with pounds and pounds of berries made it worthwhile.
The girls (Mum, Mary and Annie) and Granny would get the brass jelly pan out, boil the berries and they would hang in a muslin cloth over a basin overnight. It couldn’t be squeezed or the jelly would be cloudy, I was told. Granny would add the sugar, I think a pound for every pint of juice, followed by the stirring and boiling, then the testing. A few drops on a cold saucer for a minute or two then if it wrinkled when you pushed it gently, it was ready. All this stood me in good stead when I had a home of my own. But I never felt my jam or jelly was as tasty as the stuff made at the Toll!