COLUMN: Looking Back with Pete Colman

Identical twins John and Pete Durkan  swinging from the military bridge by the River Ure in the mid-60s.
Identical twins John and Pete Durkan swinging from the military bridge by the River Ure in the mid-60s.

As the Looking Back column celebrates its first anniversary, Pete takes you back to those childhood days of yesteryear when life was more about making your own entertainment.

Thankfully I was lucky enough to have grown up in the ‘50s, what I call the ‘good old days’ before health and safety issues and Playstations, Nintendo and Xbox games.

Yes, life was much simpler then, most of the time you made your own entertainment with no computers and mobile phones to take over your life.

As regards health and safety, when school sports days are being cancelled because the grass is wet ... well, that says it all.

The problem today is people use the term “health and safety” too freely to describe anything and everything that is an unpopular decision. When you went on a Sunday bike ride no-one ever used a helmet, you just used common sense (mind you there wasn’t as much traffic as there is today).

As a group of young lads we would always share a bottle of pop and after a quick swig you would wipe the top with your mucky hand before passing it on to your mate. No-one died from poisoning!

Later you would return the empty bottle to the shop for a 3d (three old pence) deposit return. When the shop owner put the bottles of empties in the crate outside at the back of the shop, we would nip round and pinch the bottle back and take it in again the next day.

One of the biggest differences from today’s world to that of growing up in the ‘50s is that we seemed to play outside a lot more, like going for long walks, etc.

I would leave home in the early morning and as long as you got back before it got dark there was no problem.

If the door was locked – which wasn’t very often – the key was on a piece of string you would pull through the letterbox.

We always seemed to be making treehouses, dens and swings or just enjoying climbing trees and sometimes falling out of them.

Picnics were a common sight along the River Ure at the military bridge after walking through bluebell wood. Lots of families would be sat along the riverside just enjoying those long summer days (something we don’t get nowadays).

With the Army using the area for manoeuvres, sometimes when you were on a night walk the sky would suddenly light up with a flare and soldiers would tell you to get off range in no uncertain terms.

I have fond memories of the rustic bridge where you would catch bullheads, crayfish and minnows, or just enjoy riverbed walking along to the seven bridges and then on to Studley Lake. We would also catch frogs, toads and newts at the water meadow at the paddling pool. The meadow was opened in May 1930 and was given as a perpetual playground to the children of west Ripon. We made our first fishing net with an old garden cane, a piece of wire and a pair of your mothers old knickers. Other things I remember making were bows and arrows, catapults and go-karts.

My favourite shop from my childhood had to be Jack Thompson’s model shop in North Street, which was every child’s Aladdin’s cave. No matter what you wanted Jack always seemed to have it.

After throwing boxes about in the back storeroom, he would return covered in dust with what you wanted. Jack never let you down. You could buy just about anything from the shop, from a stink bomb to large-boxed Airfix models. He was one of Ripon’s characters, a nice man who even apologised when he closed for lunch with a sign he hung on the door saying “Sorry, closed for lunch, man must eat”.

And while on the theme of food, takeaway food was limited to fish ‘n’ chips, with Harry Bell’s, Fletcher’s and Danny’s being the three I remember.

Lots of shops had a penny-weighing machine – Danny’s chippy had one and I’m sure it’s something that wouldn’t go amiss today.

I often remember those cold frosty nights leaving Danny’s with a 4d bag of chips and scraps and when reaching the paddling pool, my fingers would be stuck together with the fat off the chips.

To finish off this month’s Looking Back, can anyone please tell me why everyone today seems to be obsessed with either talking or texting on mobile phones? It seems everywhere you look someone has one plastered to there ear. Is this one of the reasons people struggle to have proper eye-to-eye conversation today? It’s time to bring back those old red phone boxes, with the A and B boxed phones, where you even got your money back when you pressed the B button.

I think I’m turning into one of those ‘Grumpy Old Men’ from the telly!

lIn next month’s Looking Back we will be remembering the glory days of Ripon’s pubs and bars. See you on October 25.