SPECIAL DAYS & SPECIAL TIMES
As a youngster, the recall of those special occasions remain a vivid impression, not that there was anything expensive or magical about them in the context of today’s values, but rather as events that one looked forward to and endeavoured to savour to the full for weeks ahead. These impressions are not set out in any particular order of popularity, rather as an indication of how some of the comparatively simple things in life offered so much fun.
For weeks ahead before the onset of November 5th, the chase would be on by rival streets to collect unwanted rubbish for the bonfire. Households were badgered and harried weekly, for their castoffs. Obtaining an old mattress or rubber tyres ranked high on the list. Newspapers, by the hundred, were collected and stuffed into sacks. Trips would be made into town, where cardboard boxes, straw and other debris would be put outside the shops for the refuse collectors. The search went on for ages, excitement mounting with the ever increasing size of the haul. Weekends proved to be a popular time for this great scavenger hunt, the proceeds being shared among all involved, to store in their back yard until the big day. To leave them in a pile, in some secluded spot, was courting disaster, as a rival street was likely to set it alight long before Guy Fawkes Day. The guy itself was generally painstakingly made. None of this plastic face mask topping a bundle of clothes, no, it was a work of art, with many willing hands helping in its creation. On the night itself, as soon as school had finished, there would be a mad rush home to manhandle all the rubbish into one gigantic bonfire, even parents joining in the task. Where I lived, the bonfire would occupy the centre of the road, and it was the only time in the year when the Royal Mail van, used for emptying the street letter boxes failed to enter the terrace, instead taking an alternative route. The fire would be lit just after dusk, and such was its size, would still be burning the following morning. Alongside this would appear the various collection of fireworks – Catherine wheels, rockets, flying aeroplanes, sparklers, Jackie jumpers, roman candles and bangers. Pocket money had been saved for weeks for this gala occasion, and, even if the bangers appeared somewhat less powerful than those of today, they still created an unpleasant experience if they went off in your hand. The acrid smell of bonfire smoke hung over the district like a blanket of fog, the sparks shooting skywards enlightening the scene. By bedtime everyone who took part resembled a chimney sweep, but on that night not even parents minded.
There were two distinct types of election – that involving the electing of a member of parliament, generally a well to do Liberal or Tory, and the local council battles – the latter providing the greatest enjoyment. Parliamentary fights were fairly moderate affairs in Swansea at this time, as it was regarded as a safe seat for the better classes. The labour force, despite the numerical superiority it could have enjoyed among the ordinary working classes, always finished nowhere. When balloting was over, a coloured light would be flashed from a central point in the town, this being a quick method of telling everyone which party’s representative had topped the poll. The meetings before election time would attract large crowds, the canvassers banging on all the doors, and every now and then vitriolic attacks would be made against opponents by their rivals in a bid to bring about their demise and cast doubt on their character. The local council elections were also fought out in similar style, but being aimed at particular districts, rather than the town as a whole and brought additional attractions. A week before these elections, men could be seen wearing their party’s rosette on their coats, whenever they went out. Impromptu debates would take place in the middle of the street, with zealous minded supporters plugging their candidate’s cause. On polling day, with a few coppers given as a perk, gangs of children would march up and down the roads, carrying small placards or banners, depicting the face of a selected candidate, urging all who passed to vote for him, chanting out various slogans, including “Vote, vote, vote for Bill Bloggs, kick old Thomas – or whatever the rival’s name was – in the bin”. I do not suppose any of the children realised what it was all about, but it did enliven a serious event.
Another night to relish, with youngsters dressing up as witches, wizards or hobgoblins, parading the streets, swinging from their hands hollowed out turnip or swede heads inside which would be a lighted candle, was Hallowe’en. The vegetables would be hacked and hewed to produce a frightening face. The candle illumination created an eerie look. Inside the home several games would be played. Ducking for apples had everyone, in turn, including parents, attempting to pick up, with their teeth, an apple which would be placed inside a tin tub full of water.
Another variation would be several apples, alongside candles, hanging from a suitable height. The participants were blindfolded, and had to take one bite at random. If they were lucky they had the apple, if unfortunate the wax candles. The evenings would generally end with the telling of gruesome ghost stories, which kept many a child awake for a long time after going to bed.
MAGIC LANTERN SHOWS
These would be shown, at infrequent intervals, generally in some church or school hall. The projection cameras always broke down at some time. The films, by today’s standards were awful. The noise of shouts, boos, yells and laughter was deafening, but for the price of a few coppers it provided exhilarating entertainment and frequently a sing song while the reels were being changed. Most of the programmes would consist of silent films, with a short talking feature thrown in for good measure. It was a pastime that caused the principal cinema owners no loss of sleep.
Whit Sunday was the time when many churches banded together on the outskirts of Swansea, marched through the town carrying their various religious banners and, eventually, reached a suitable place where an open air service would be held. Thousands of children would gather to process. All dressed up in the best clothes that could be mustered. It was a case of showing the religious flag to the non believers. At the end of the open air service, the procession would break up into their particular church group, then walk, yes, walk – not travel by tram or bus – to their own church hall, sometimes miles away, where all would sit down to a traditional Whitsun tea of assorted sandwiches, cakes, scones and lemonade. The Catholics always held their procession separately. It was generally grander and more ornate, but provided a similar climax.
SUNDAY SCHOOL OUTINGS
If you attended Sunday School regularly, as many youngsters did, there were certain advantages to be gained in exchange for listening to the sermonising that took place. There would be books for those present throughout the year, generally a small Bible or a classic story, a party at Christmas, and above all else the annual Sunday School outing in the summer. Some went to Porthcawl, other boarded the train at Victoria Station, travelling to Dunvant. Many others made Singleton Park their focal point, its acres of once open space offering endless opportunities for adventure games. But, wherever you went some things never changed. The little colony of adult helpers, who always seemed ancient, busy setting out long wooden trestle tables. White linen tablecloths were placed on top of the boards. Mounds of sandwiches, plain cake, seed cake, sandwich cake, cut rounds with ham filling, slab cake, scones, jelly and lemonade were there for the taking once the tea bell rang. In the background would burn a small wood fire, heating various forms of enamelware filled with water for the washing up that followed. There would be all sorts of games in progress – football, rounders, cricket and sports, the latter generally holding the promise of prizes for the winners. And what sports – egg and spoon race, sack race, three-legged race, blindfold race, balloon race and, of course, the obstacle race. Another popular event was the treasure hunt. This sent youngsters of all ages scampering across the park, attempting to solve a series of clues. I can assure you that there were many anxious eyes scanning the heavens for days before the outing, and no doubt numerous additional prayers were also uttered!
Visiting the bays, when two or three families joined forces, was like having a troop of soldiers out on parade in full kit. Everyone had to carry something, indeed everything seemed to be taken from the house, except the kitchen stove. There would be wicker picnic baskets full of food, nothing fancy, but nourishing, cans of drinking water, armfuls of sports equipment, towels, sometimes tents, bathing costumes, buckets and spades, and a bundle of dry firewood. The latter would provide the base for lighting a beach fire, which in turn would heat the drinking water in small kettles, which helped produce endless cups of tea drunk by adults. A visit to Caswell or Bracelet Bay was highly regarded, Swansea sands being ordinary. But wherever you went, it was non - stop play for the duration of your visit. Competitions for the best sand castle, games of hit rice and French cricket took place. Larking about in the sea, even the ladies venturing to roll up their voluminous skirts got their feet wet. Hunting for crabs and fish in the rock pools, throwing stones at tin cans, the list went on and on. By the end of the day it was hard to know who were more tired, the children or their parents. Even allowing for the odd tantrum thrown, or clip around the ear, it was a day that always provided a feast of many good things.
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