In the mid 1950s, we young boys didn't pay much attention to the fact that we lived in a company town under the ultimate control of the Harmsworths of London, England.
That London recently had the world's attention with the Summer Olympics. The original budget of $3.7 billion has skyrocketed to $17.3 billion according to The Guardian, UK. Once all the glory has died down will the Brits be crying in their bitter beer with those billions to pay off in a shakey economy?
As for the Summer Olympics of my boyhood years - 1952: Helsinki and 1956: Melbourne - who of us knew they existed? Meanwhile, our summers were full of games that were no match to London's, but they were always free and the only peeing we did was in the woods, not in cups to see if we were cheating to win.
On Gilbert Street we didn't call it archery - just bows and arrows. Some boys weren't allowed to have them so they would hide them at the end of the day. Mother never said a word, I guess a bow and arrow went with the ancestral territory and it was a favourite to make. I always found good young trees to make a bow and the arrows in a small woods that used to be near the Salvation Army. We mostly made targets to shoot at, or shot up in the air to see who could shoot the highest. Great fun.
Grandfather, Louie John, was a wicked shot and probably would have done well at the Olympics. I have hardly shot any rifles or guns, but BB guns were quite common in those boyhood summers. I had a Red Ryder used for lots of target shooting. No doubt some boys killed birds, but the biggest sin I remember was breaking bottles - especially popping the bottoms off milk bottles.
Cycling had us on our bikes often. Mine was a coaster brake with fat tires. When Union Street was first paved, we did some wicked racing down the hill. Fewer vehicles those days meant there was very little fear of encountering oncoming traffic.
A sword fighting movie would have us down to Harvey Dawe's carpenter shop (behind 48 High) to get free lumber strips to make our swords. Playing with them went well until someone got cracked on the knuckles and started to cry.
Swimming and diving was either at the downtown playground pool or the company built pool (beyond the fence at Injured and Dead Workers Monument) or along the riverbank up above the mill. Leech Brook was mostly for the older guys.
Rowing was mostly an adult thing - taking a boat across the
River to go fishing over in the ponds. But near the Company's coal pile there was always a small, rain created pond, on which we would venture on an old door as a raft. Getting wet was common.
Our gymnastics was at the downtown playground where we swung in the rings, on the crossbar and climbed the steel structure poles like monkeys. Terry Goodyear of East Street was fearless in climbing to the very top - close to 20 feet high.
We had no walking race, but our walks would take us to the River where, equivalent to the hammer throw and discs was rock throwing. One game was with flat stones to see how many times you could skim it on the surface before it sank. Another one was to find a nug (ends of logs cut off at the mill) on the shoreline, toss it back in and see how many times we could hit it with rocks before the current took it out of range.
We had a game called switches, which involved small trees that looked like a riding crop. One group of boys would chase another group with the objective being to catch up and give a flick on the rear end to the ones chased. Olympic skills such as running and jumping were essential to escape a flick. It was a high adrenalin and heart throbbing game that came with screaming, yelling, laughing and crying. It wasn't for the faint of heart!
And summer wasn't summer without wrestling, be it carrying someone on your back, on your shoulders, or a free-for-all. The first two involved trying to pull your opponent off his carrier. The last game was everybody-grabbing-everybody wrestling that in the end would have us look like a ball of worms.
We had no cricket or soccer, but we played endless street baseball, and grounders (one guy hitting with the others trying to catch the air ball or ground ball). A set number of catches or grounders would have you take a turn hitting.
Many of other games such as hoist the sails and run, giant steps and tintacks, you wouldn't find at the Olympics. And the many games we played had to do with large families that hardly moved, so games were passed from generation to generation. Nowadays, smaller mobile families have contributed to the death of many street games. And those I do see playing on the street all too often spend too much time on their cell phones or texting. Ugh!
The Gilbert Street summer games had us always in action, not glued to a television, watching. And our boyhood summer games we did all on our own - without overindulgent, pampering parents, standing around, watching and interfering.
Surely no gold medal awarded at the London Summer Olympics could match that joyful experience!
Andy Barker at email@example.com