When I think back to my childhood, I am often a little surprised just how much freedom my brother and I were allowed. Certainly, my own children were not allowed as much, and as for the grandchildren . . .
We lived in a house in the middle of a short terrace of six which had been built in the 1920s. There was a mix of houses further down the road on our side, while the other side of the road consisted of two long terraces, each running for half the length of the road. Our house was perhaps 50 yards from what we called "the Top Road", in reality the A2 Watling Street, the main London to Dover road that followed, for much of its length, the old Roman road. But that is by-the-by.
Although our house had both a small front garden and a much larger back garden, we boys were generally allowed to play in the street. Next door but one to us lived the only two other children in the street - or, at least, the only two other children of comparative age to my brother and I at our end of the street. But Barry and Susan were rarely allowed out to play, so it was my brother and I on our own. I had a scooter and my brother a tricycle and it was on these machines that we - probably - scared the living daylights out of the housewives as they shopped on the Top Road.
This stretch of Watling Street had a few local shops. There was a branch of Lloyds Bank on the corner, then a wool shop, a ladies' hairdresser, a bread shop (I think - not the one my mother used), a couple more I can't remember and, at the end, a newsagent/confectioner/tobacconist. The pavement in front of these shops was wide - probably 15 feet or so - but narrowed after the tobacconist's shop as it passed in front of a petrol station. We never went beyond the tobacconist. But we raced as fast as we could up our road, around the corner and along to the tobacconist before swooping round and racing back again. As we got older, so our boundaries stretched. There was an alley running behind the houses on the opposite side of our street, with a cross alley halfway down. That became one of our favourite race tracks.
Our street had - and still has - an odd shape. One side of the road is straight as a die, while the opposite side - ours - has a big bow in it. In the middle of the road is a green, a patch of grass split across the middle by a hedge-lined footpath. It was that footpath where we, together with Barry and Susan, made our slide in the winter. It must have been lethal for any of the old dears who used it, but I don't think many did. At each end of the green was a small, round traffic island. The one at our end had a street light and hollyhocks - just the place for a game of cowboys and indians!
Ball games were forbidden on the grass but we children, naturally, ignored the notice. I remember that on one occasion, I was at senior school by then, we were playing cricket and a grumpy old git stopped us. "Don't they teach you to read at your school?" he asked.
I replied, quite truthfully, "No, sir", but I don't think I was punished for insolence on that occasion.