Hide and Go Seek - A game we loved in the 1970s
The early January ‘stretch in the evening’ that we are now noticing naturally turns our thoughts forward to the new growth of spring and hopefully to pleasant summer days ahead. However, with summer in mind, and for the purpose of this piece, I choose to go in the opposite direction and reminisce on the summer holidays of a Clonmel schoolboy back in the 1970s.
Universally the last day of school before the summer break was - and still is today - a joyous occasion full of energy and enthusiasm for what might seem like a million care-free days ahead. Back then in the 70s, when the world seemed so much bigger and slower but yet much more parochial in structure, the prospect of two or three months without school seemed, to a child at least, like an adventurous expedition that would stretch to eternity. And while the days did all eventually come to an end, and schools re-opened as ever in September, the memories of those long-lost lazy hazy days of summer, for me, as indeed for everyone, last a lifetime.
Forty years ago is a long time for sure, but looking back now, those days seem like centuries back so different was the world then compared to today. For those of us who do the occasional “Beam Me Up Scotty” back to that era, each minute of melancholy uncovers a fresh memory, all so far removed from today’s world that present-day schoolchildren might only look on in a jaw-dropped trance.
The 1970s were days when just one TV channel was the lot for those fortunate enough to even have a television, and local radio stations were still a long way off. Those were days when the milkman delivered glass bottles to the front door each morning at dawn and when seat belts didn’t exist in cars, or certainly weren’t compulsory. Those were days when helmets weren’t necessary for hurling, and days when the Pound was still king (in 1971) with its 20 shillings and 244 pennies - and the Boy Scouts did their annual “Bob a Job” fundraiser.
The 70s were also days before the overwhelming mobile phone was invented - indeed most homes didn’t even have a landline back then. It was an era when you could go from morning to night without anyone knowing where you were; a child usually returned home just for meals and disappeared again outdoors until the next feeding time or until darkness eventually fell. Inaccessibility ruled in the 70s. If you wanted to chat to your friend you walked to his house and knocked on the door. And if he wasn’t there you walked home again and repeated the whole process later. It was an era of embedded exercise.
Back then on the last day of school before summer you said goodbye to classmates who, even though may have lived only two or three miles away, you knew you wouldn’t lay eyes on again for months. You went back to your own area/street for the summer holidays and immersed yourself in that small enclave where a non-stop self-evolving programme of activity ran seamlessly from June to late August. Summer Camps hadn’t yet been invented, or perhaps they were, but no one had to pay. Back then we simply called it “Playing.” There were no computers, no Nintendos, no Playstations, no Facebook, no Snapchat, no Instagram. It seemed, in retrospect, there was no obesity either. But that’s another matter entirely.
THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE
Baron Park was our summer world then and the “Big Green” seemed like the centre of the universe, as all summer long, day after day, games came and went. Boredom when it occurred was very brief but more probably it was just a time when bodies were replenishing while new fun and activities were being decided upon.
From early morning to late at night activity was non-stop. But it didn’t seem to have a start or a finish, one thing morphed into another, with the weather and the outside world often determining what games we played and when.
The game of soccer for us and for everyone went on for hours and hours and hours, often “first to get to 20 goals wins” games. Indeed 10-minute dinners or tea-times were often accommodated but nonetheless a cause of great annoyance in the middle of a 'seriously important' game. Goalposts were the standard bunch of collected jumpers and often the source of dispute as to whether a football passed inside or outside the jumper, or whether a ball went under or over an imaginary crossbar. The owner of the football though was king - and match arbitrator - and a special effort was always made to keep him sweet as at any stage he could decide he had enough and the ball went with him.
And young lads back then, as ever, dreamed. The midfield generals were either Bobby Charlton or Johnny Giles (he was Johnny then), and defenders who fancied themselves were Beckenbauer while upfront Cruyff or Muller were the guys to be. We had amongst our midst one boy who got his hands occasionally on the weekly “Shoot” magazine and he always wanted to be as we later deciphered - Gunter Netzer of Borussia Moenchengladbach - we said “OK so!”
Rounders was another staple summer-time game that invariably ended up in an inevitable breakdown. Sides were picked and then the games started. The picking of sides was the earliest form of self-evaluation for a child determined by how soon he would be picked by a captain; but we all got over it and got on with it. Counsellors and therapy for children came decades later.
A Baron Park Street League hurling team from the early 1970s: Back row: Maurice Kennedy (coach), Dominic Walsh, Noel Sutcliffe, Pat Linnane, Thomas McMahon, Colm Linnane, George Pyke, Eddie O'Donnell, Dessie Doyle, Jerome Tobin (RIP), John Ryan, John O'Brien. Front row: Maurice Byrne (RIP), Peter Gaffney, John Ruth, Gerard Walsh, Kieran Dargan (RIP), John Walsh, Joseph Grogan, Pascal Logue, John Reddan, Cormac Dargan, Michael Smith, TJ Corby (coach). Note: Not a hurling helmet in sight - another things that has changed from the 1970s.
In a game of rounders everyone got their minute of glory as a batsman where you could choose how the ball would be delivered to you (how civilised) with the intention of hitting it as far as possible so you could run from base to base while your opponents played fetch. And when everyone on the team had been eliminated the last to bat had a chance to have all his team reinstated (“all back in”) if they could hit the ball into some specified distant garden. And that’s where the game invariably ended in anarchy or exhaustion. To hit the winning ball into a certain garden over the heads of a dozen children was an heroic feat and led to huge celebrations (or an instant walk-out if you were on the wrong side).
Tennis, or the most basic form of it, appeared around Wimbledon time each year. A section of the public road near the “Three Poles” would become our SW19 for a day or two with a line in the road an imaginary three dimensional net which somehow had a set height. The local Borg, Nastase or Goolagong would emerge as champion, even after a couple of dubious line and net calls, and then all would move on to something else.
And around August, showjumping made an appearance as the RDS staged its annual event. A mix-match of sticks and poles from every house were collected with an ample supply of wooden clothes pegs to hold up the so-called fences. And we would construct a half dozen jumps (including a waterless water jump) culminating in the final fence which was moved higher after every round. Of course how you negotiated the final fence didn’t matter, the horse could even do the Fosbury Flop to clear. But one thing we all had in common was everyone wanted to be “Eddie Macken on Boomerang.” Our form of ‘democracy’ decided that only the biggest guy could be Eddie Macken. Names like Captain Raimonda d’Inzeo of Italy, Paul Schockemohle of Germany or Harvey Smith for Great Britain (they had to be properly announced a la RDS as you began your round) were dished out to the smaller children. But flip that ('flip' was an acceptable expletive then), in our minds we were still “Eddie Macken” even when others decided we couldn’t be.
But there were a myriad of games to be worked through each summer, there was no time for dallying or getting bored.
THE MAGIC OF MARBLES
Marbles were magic also for a week or two each summer and “The Green” would host many different games, boys and girls, some more serious than others. Games would start from 2-a-man to 10-a-man to the mad 50-a-man high-roller games where “Steelers” the size of tennis balls would be produced and players would start throwing from 50 yards away. Games of marbles also, for the most part, ended in uncivilised mayhem with differences of opinion about what was on the line or inside or outside the line hotly contested. And the stroke of a contestant when it was his turn to throw often explosively ended a game if the opponents deemed it in anyway illegal. The battle cry “grab your own” precipitated a free-for-all where mental and physical toughness and life skills were honed. You learned to fight your own corner, get in do the business and get the hell out of there quickly.
And God be good to the "Gink". When you had a "Gink" at marbles you were made up. It occurred when on your opening throw you managed to knock a marble out of the ring. And then it gave you first turn after that. It was like winning the lotto in those innocent times.
A couple of times each summer the local Corporation would come to cut the grass on “The Green” and that in itself would provide a day or two of entertainment for everyone in collecting the grass.
The girls would gather their lots and make dainty little “houses” with different rooms in each, explaining to those who cared to listen what each room was exactly for.
The boys would build “castles” with higher walls and just a single door entrance to the castle. Depending on your input into the collection and construction of the said castle you would be permitted to enter or not. But of course there would be a couple of these said constructions scattered about the park and inevitably the grass fight would commence. Like Robin Hood and Little John, we worked out plans to destroy the others’ castle and to run away with the heaps of stolen grass. But then always someone “bigger” (a sibling, occasionally a vexed mother) would be summoned to go and “reclaim the stolen grass.” And then they would always take more than their due, to great encouragement from the fellow henchmen.
Eventually a good rain shower the following day or so put paid to grass fights until the next cutting.
The game of Jack Stones
After tea, which was around 6 o’clock for everyone (weren’t meal times then more fixed than today) the games tended to drop a gear or two in terms of intensity. Games such as “Tig”, “O’Grady Says”, “Skittles,” “Head Tennis,” “Skipping,” “Queenie” “Betchel,” “Jack Stones” “Stuck in the Mud” all surfaced, and whiled away endless hours.
“Conkers” also made its annual appearance each Autumn with the usual accompanying boyhood boast about some guy from such-and-such a far-off place like the Old Bridge or Ard-na-Greine who had a champion chestnut seemingly made of stone that had already won 21 duels. The following week the champion chestnut had moved to Connolly Park or Jackson’s Cross.
“Hide and Seek” was an epic game late in the evening where vantage points around ‘The Park’ were sought out and children “disappeared off the face of the earth” for great lengths. All sorts of shenanigans went on, about “reported sightings” or where someone was last seen, to the eventual “squealing” when someone overdid their disappearing act and others began to get bored waiting for them to return to base.
Eventually each night the dreaded call came from a parent to summon a child home, often at the third or fourth attempt as the voice pitch raised and the clip on the ear safely ushered an exhausted child in the front door. “I never heard you” never worked.
Sleepless nights were another thing that never existed back in the 70s. And would you wonder?
But life wasn’t totally confined to Baron Park for us during summer months.
SWIMMING IN THE RIVER SUIR
When the annual heatwave came we headed for the river and depending on one’s size or swimming ability, there were a few choices back then.
“The Green” (just upriver from the Convent Bridge) on the other side to the Abbey Road Ball Alley was first stop for most. No one ever remembered learning to swim, somehow you just jumped in from the wide diving board, and instinctively like a salmon turned underwater and headed back for the ladder. Water safety didn’t seem to exist but Angel Guardians were definitely in abundance in the 70s.
And as one progressed, there were other more adventurous places to head for such as “The Turn of Abbey” which was up a few fields from “The Green” (there was also "The Grotto" somewhere in between) or downriver to “The Island” with its high diving board. Oh how many a boy stood on top on that high diving board and wished they hadn’t, as the only face-saving way down was a leap of faith into the River Suir. And, not forgetting, the Tarzan Rope from a nearby tree that kept us all occupied for hours on end, out over the river and “splash.”
In a 1970s Clonmel before the first Swimming Pool opened, “The Old Sandybanks” at Marlfield was by far the safest place in town to swim. In days when you walked everywhere the biggest drawback was that it seemed almost too far away from 'The Park', taking a child a good hour each way. But it was always enjoyable and was always packed, so popular was it in those long lost summer days.
And there was the race to the river each time so as to be “the first in”, to “break the ice” as we called it. And the first in always had to shout back to answer “what is it like?” A sometimes-almost-blue child would either lyingly croak out “It was lovely” or more truthfully “It was f…. freezing.” Either way we all went in, one by one, bravely “bombing” or terrifyingly tip-toeing.
There were of course other swimming haunts around Clonmel, depending on where you lived, such as The Anner or the Shower Baths (Old Bridge), and once or twice we ventured to the open air swimming pool (being generous) beyond Ferryhouse, but again two or three miles was way too far to be travelling back then.
The Convent Bridge, always a popular spot for diving into the River Suir.
The Convent Bridge was then almost a “Rite of Passage” each summer. At some stage you had to jump or dive from it into the Suir below. There were four very distinct grades too. The easiest accomplishment was to jump from the big black pipe which was about four feet lower than the top of the bridge. And then you could jump from the bridge itself which earned a youngster even greater accreditation. Having mastered the art of jumping you could progress to the art of diving from the black pipe and ultimately from the Convent Bridge itself into the Suir. It was a badge of honour you could carry for life (if you survived it), or so you thought.
But it took great courage. To stand atop of the bridge and look down the 30 feet or so into the deep dark waters. And the very first time, like a fledgling bird about to take its first flight, to almost convulse oneself into a focused concentration, away from the bridge. The terrifying thrill of that briefest descent and attempting to stay pencil-straight to avoid a “belly-flop”. The sudden silence as you entered the water and continued down into the pitch blackness. And finally from the darkest depths to look up and see the distant light way above as you turned, lungs bursting, to reach the surface again. Priceless.
But the real master of diving from the Convent Bridge was James ‘Frosty’ Kennedy who lived at the time in Baron Park also. Occasionally we would just be passing when he was about to dive and a crowd would gather to see him. In fairness he did it better than anyone else, fearlessly and with style, arms gracefully outstretched like a bird until the exact moment to complete the perfect entry. He had been doing it for years we were told and no one did it better. Fittingly years later there was a plaque unveiled at the site in his memory.
And so our summers came and went and everyone went back to school in September exhausted but fit and healthy and happy. Childhood seemed much simpler then, and truth be told it was.