Described in a previous ramble entitled ‘Construction sets and playing with fire’, the playing with fire aspect of our boyish entertainment was far from the only potentially dangerous pastime we indulged in. As previously mentioned, as soon as our mothers were confident that we were able to find our way home, we were all encouraged to play out. I had the added incentive that not only was it home, but it was also where I was fed.
There were many boys and girls of all ages to play with on Bolster Moor, and later on the Sycamore Avenue estate. All happily forming little groups and gangs, usually somewhere near our own age groups. There were occasional little scraps to establish, or re-establish, a pecking order. But I can’t remember anything serious.The scraps were usually between best mates, and we were still best mates a few days later when tempers had calmed.
Norky’s gang versus gravity
Many of the dangers we faced were self-inflicted, of course, thanks to the challenges of our environment. When the Colne and, our neighbour, the Holme valleys were formed towards the end of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago – long before even I was born – vast amounts of ice and the rock that the ice had penetrated broke away and gauged out the valleys that we see here today. Also,later in our stumble through evolution, many stone quarries were dug to provide material for reservoirs, roads, walls, farmsteads and houses. As a consequence, there were many cliff and quarry faces to climb and test our nerve.
Even though, as described by Sir Isaac Newton 1643–1727, gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces, it still hurt a lot when gravity proved stronger than the grip we had on the rock face or the tree branch. It’s usually the sudden stop at the bottom that causes the most serious injuries, but being young, we usually bounced, but cuts, bruises and broken arms and ankles did occur.
Wild swimming: hazardous, potentially deadly – in other words, fun
Water was another natural hazard we couldn’t resist.
In the Golcar area, Woh Carr (its real name is Longwood Compensation Reservoir) was our nearest reservoir big enough for us to swim and fish in. We spent many a happy time near the footbridge fishing for roach, perch and pike. The other end of the ‘rez’, adjacent to the dam wall, is where we swam.This, of course, is where the water was deepest and coldest, only one of which we knew to be a problem before health and safety was invented. Even the simplest minded amongst us knew that if we submerged ourselves over our heads then our health could suffer. That knowledge didn’t stop some testing the boundaries of survival in the interest of bravado and daring. Boys will be boys.
Another of our popular swimming areas was the canal in Milnsbridge. This was an area of concentrated textile mills and there was one section of the then unused canal that was always warm due to the finishing and scouring outlets adjacent to the canal. This again was before health and safety, and we knew nothing of the harm we could suffer as a result of whatever the water from the mill might contain; nor did we know anything about Weil’s disease, also known as Leptospirosis, caused by a bacterium carried by animals, mostly rats and cows, which is not uncommon in canals. If we had ever heard of it, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the place.
The Huddersfield narrow canal had other temptations for the most foolhardy (which is mostly the male of the species, of course).The locks on this canal were only 6 feet 10 inches wide, so, obviously, jumping across them was too hard to resist for anyone with two good legs.
The excitement of railway lines
The railway was always a fascinating area to explore. The Colne valley boasted four lines before Dr Beeching drew a pencil line through two of them. There always seemed to be goods trains, usually coal, with their locos belching out black smoke while they struggled up the gradient of the valley. We would dare ourselves to stand directly over the relevant line on the open girder footbridge while a train passed only a few inches below us, excitement as it approached proving too much sometimes.
Another excitement was for someone to generously donate an ‘aipny’ (half penny) to a very worthwhile experiment of placing it on the track and see how big it became when the train had passed. We were always fascinated that the aipny had nearly doubled in size similar to the dimensions of a penny. Somebody would eventually speculate that they could pass it off as a full penny, usually the lad that had originally donated it.
Trespass: sometimes a criminal offence
Not only is trespassing on the railway stupid and dangerous, it is also illegal. It’s one of only a very few areas where trespass is not a civil matter but criminal, and therefore the police could and should be involved. Otherwise, in this beautiful country of ours, the sign on private land saying “Trespassers will be prosecuted”is meaningless. In the USA things are very different. Not only could you be prosecuted for straying onto private land, but you could be shot, and that is guaranteed to get your attention. I love Britain.
A few other obvious areas of national security where we could be prosecuted for trespass arevmilitary bases, chemical and nuclear facilities and the like. And since Michael Fagan managed to get into Buckingham Palace in 1982, and actually have a conversation with Her Majesty while sat on her bed, it is now a criminal offence to trespass in some royal residences.
It’s amazing that the only offence Michael Fagan committed at that time was “theft of wine”.
Trying for another smile
There was a young chap who had spent all his life in the Richmond, Chelsea and Camden areas of London. His only experience of the countryside was eating kale and asparagus, and reading stories about animals in his childhood storybooks.
However, he became so impressed with the aerial images of Yorkshire during the Tour de France that he felt compelled to take his life in his hands and see for himself what those people from ‘The North’ were really like.
He found himself tip toeing precariously along a country lane near Otley, desperately trying to avoid grass, mud, puddles and unspeakable mounds of things on the lane.
He eventually chanced upon a farmer tending his cow, and he said, “Look here, my good man, why does your cow not have horns?” The farmer doffed his cap politely and said, “Na-then lad, it’s like this eer, thasees: sometimes just after ‘t’ calf is born we treat thorn root wi chemicals to stop thorn growin’. An sometimes when ‘t’ ole milka is gettin a bit cantacrus, we cut thorn off for awer own safety thanose, and sum breeds don’t av orns at all, like Angus or Gallaway an tuthers”.
“But the reason this paticla cow has no orns is cos it’s a norse”.