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THE GAMES WE PLAYED . 1. Where we played [9min read]

I played most of my games in Dale Street, Lansdowne where I spent my formative years before a Group Areas rezoning of our suburb.  When we moved in, I was four years old. I was not old enough to be a street kid, a term with different connotations these days. The original asbestos roof I slept under is still there at number 44, the white house.  Yes, asbestos – I lived to tell this tale.  The much used street drain cover is still there in the foreground.  It looks worn and must be the original one we used; but where are today’s street kids?

Most games had a season which lasted several weeks. Even today, I still wonder who decided these things.  The games we played were like Spring blossoms, all appeared and disappeared in the streets at the same time.  The best place to play was on the tarred road.  There were not so many cars around in those days and all involved in the game looked out for the rest.

At times we were more at risk from cyclists.  I can vouch for this with four stitches to my forehead after a clash with the bicycle of a local minister doing his rounds.  There were no top model cars for yesteryear’s people of the cloth.  I still find it a bit obscene when a religious leader in the townships drives a BMW or a Benz. The street pole visible in the photograph marks the spot where I stepped into his bike after I had retrieved a ball from the side of the road.


l street games’ survival kits included three tins, balls, and stick and kennetjie.  The hard streets were the best place to spin our tops.  The round drain cover provided informal wickets for cricket or “kennetjie.” Most of us were barefoot sporting warriors whose scuffed big toe tips were testimony to the main danger of street sport, especially soccer.  Bleeding was staunched by putting sand on the injured toe rather than miss out on the street action by going home.  Yes, I survived this childhood peril too.  There were no pavements, and the strips in front of the houses were a mix of weeds, grass, and sand, all with varying degrees of care.  Most houses had low front walls, hedges or fences.  Precast high concrete walls were a future, isolationist innovation. It’s no wonder we hardly know our neighbours today.

Die Boer se Veld[Farmer’s Field] ran the full length between Crawford and Lansdowne stations.  This was where most of our time was spent during school holidays or weekends.  The alien Australian Port Jackson wattle provided us with a jungle to explore.  It was where we played cowboys and crooks and sword-sword.  Swordsmanship skills were honed on rapiers from suitable wattle branches.  We modelled ourselves on Stewart Grainger’s Scaramouche.

A constant, large pool of water was for tadpole hunts, corrugated iron, home-made canoe launches and swimming.  A large clear area was big enough for a rugby field where the Saturday competitive matches were played in a not-so-gentlemanly league.  Cricket in summer was on a concrete pitch which occupied part of the rugby field.

There were several pine trees in amongst the Bush and winter was the time for firewood collection when these giants were blown down in the winter storms.  The metre-plus thick, pine tree logs had to be rolled home where they were split up for the next year’s wood.  Rolling thick pine tree trunks was no easy task and one had to team up with one’s pals to speed things up.

There was not a single playing park in our suburb so every few months we trooped off to a park in Athlone, two suburbs away.  We went there just for our favourite which was a three metre long swing with a seat at each end.  There were no protective layers beneath the swings, just grass and  a rectangular patch of sand eroded by the masses of feet vying for a place on this beast of all swings.  One of us stood on the ground at each end.  We had to catch and hold onto the seat as it whizzed upward past us and then had to jump off on its way back.  The action propelled these monster swings to great heights.  Between the seats there was a flat broad beam that was crowded with our gang who put life and limb at risk by constantly jumping on and off the monster swing in motion.  The ultimate was to jump from the seat when it was at its highest point.  If you timed it properly, the swing’s momentum pushed you forward and even farther upward.  Generous applause and cheers by one’s friends acknowledged the feat. It was no surprise that we never told our parents that we were headed for the park.  I suspect that these swings are no longer allowed because of risk to life and limb.  Such were some of yesteryear’s perils while growing up!

Our final local entertainment was along the banks of the Kromboom River seven blocks away.     We enjoyed jumping across a section where there was a ten metre height to the water below.  It was not the kind of stream that lent itself to swimming in.  It had a kilometre long, concreted length close to the Enterprise bakery and I often cycled through the water.  That strip almost cost me my life.  On my own, on a rainy day, I decided to cycle that stretch of the river.  Of course the water flow was much stronger and the bike and I were bowled over.  Fortunately I retrieved my much-prized Hercules roadster and had trouble explaining to my dad why I was so wet and his Cape Argus evening newspaper so sodden.  I am not sure that he believed the, “I fell in a pool of water” story that I concocted.  Telling the truth was too dangerous; most of our lies in those days were to avoid a hiding.  Now it’s no corporal punishment, physical abuse and the kids still tell lies!

Parents hardly ever knew where we were when we ranged far and wide in search of entertainment and adventure.  Dangers lurked in the bush and along the river banks, but we were spared them.  Maybe times were safer in those days; maybe we lacked the media scrutiny that we now have to highlight the serious issues regarding molestation, and worse, of children.  Maybe ignorance was bliss.  For me, “the good old days” is a hackneyed and flawed cliche; for many, it was “the bad old days” with some of the bad memories lost in the mists of time.  The memories I have are many fond ones of my time as a street kid.


So, where did you play?  Were you a street kid too?

Did you also do the beast of a swing?

Were they the good or the bad old days for you?

Posted 1.10.2017


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