I come from a time when health and safety didn’t really exist and parents really weren’t very worried about what happened to you while you were out playing. Of course I was told never to talk to strangers, but to be honest I can’t imagine most strangers would have done me much harm; well no more that at home.
Plasters were for babies unless your knees were cut to ribbons and required stitching by today’s standards and bleach, bottle upon bottle, sat under the kitchen sink without a childproof cap in sight. At five I could handle a boiling kettle, at six I carried a penknife, and by the time I was eight I was scouring the council tip in search of pram wheels to make a cartie.
I’m not sure who showed me how to make a cartie, but I think it was the Braham boys who not only excelled at that sort of thing but also had air pistols which could take your eye out. I think I watched them making a two-seater racer for the cartie races one day and from there decided to make my own. All I really needed was two sets of pram or pushchair wheels, a plank or two, some rope, and a bloody great nut and bolt.
As I mentioned I scoured the tip for the pram wheels, found them after a couple of days searching, and even came away with an old skipping rope that was just the job for the steering rope. The wood I ‘borrowed’ from a neighbour’s garden – a long wide plank and a short cross piece to rest my feet on. I wasn’t aiming for a fancy affair, nor to enter the cartie races that were held each evening in Summer, just something basic I could go up and down the hill at the bottom of the estate on.
All I needed was that nut and bolt and a few large fencing staples for the wheels..
I searched the shed but there was nothing anywhere near large enough. The bolt had to be at least three inches long to go through the plank and leave some play; and it needed to be strong, at least a quarter, better still half an inch thick. I searched everywhere for that nut and bolt, I even went back to the tip to see if I could pry one off something. Nor could I find any galvanised staples to hold the pram axles in place and allow them to turn.
Eventually I gave up, stored my wheels and wood in the lean-to behind the shed and decided that when a nut and bolt and some staples eventually appeared I would make my cartie. After all, there was no rush, I wasn’t even nine.
That nut, bolt and staples never did turn up, nine became ten, eleven, and then twelve, and my cartie never did get made. The pram wheels got thrown out, the wood rotted away to dust, and I discovered stamp collecting.