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Recounting Blessings

Chapter 11


1944-1949

Banknock Village – ‘Fun and Games in 1948’

The severe weather during the period covering Autumn 1947 to Spring 1948 may well have appeared to adults as the cause of what could be called ‘their winter of discontent’. But, through our eyes as children such a phrase could never have appeared anything like the truth, and particularly so in relation to the emotions that were stirred so excitingly by our unparalleled enjoyment of the abnormally ‘arctic’ conditions and from the games and sport that these had provided. Thus it seems apt, as I recollect the months between November 1947 and September 1948, not only to describe my experiences of that winter as ‘bliss’, but to refer to the subsequent spring and summer as ‘magical’. Why the latter?

 Well, amongst many other happily eye-opening insights into what village life could offer me, the nine-year-old son of a village dominie, like --- possibly surprisingly, being allowed to buy and read a weekly short-story type comic like the ‘Rover’ so full of sports or war-stories, or like --- perhaps more predictably, being introduced to, and being able to talk with, the likes of Mr George Young of Rangers F.C. and Scotland, Mr Alex Mercer, the Organiser of Stirlingshire Schools’ Physical Education, and, Mr James P.R. Hunter, a visiting tutor for student teachers of Jordanhill Training College, Glasgow --- I can also clearly highlight four never-to-be-forgotten memories of people and events – firstly, as a ‘cricket daft laddie’, my hero, Dennis Compton of Middlesex, MCC and England accumulating one thousand runs in May, secondly, the Annual Banknock Gala Day held in June, thirdly, our Primary School Concert, also in June, and, fourthly, the staging of not just one, but ‘two’ Olympic Games in August – the real thing at Wembley in London, and the almost simultaneously occurring mini version that was organised, and participated in, by ‘John Henderson and Robin Profit Enterprises’, at Bumpy Ibrox, Banknock !

(See Chapter 12 for Concert and Olympics)

Cricket:

It seems to me now all the more amazing, that, without the benefit of TV, I should have become so fascinated by English County Cricket and Test Matches, and in Middlesex and D.C.S. Compton and W.J. Edrich in particular. Dad’s own interest in cricket must have started it off. Listening to Tests on the wireless and reading the detailed County score-cards and reports in the Glasgow Herald newspaper must have added to my keenness. Imagining the run of play of such matches and ‘play-acting’ them with Robin on Bumpy Ibrox must have contributed too. A further catalyst, I am sure, was my developing passion for Arithmetic, because a present of a small cricket scoring book from Mum and Dad soon had me glued even more than before to the wireless and my keeping of a ball-by-ball record of what I was hearing and imagining, from commentaries by the likes of John Arlott and Rex Alston for the BBC, at Lords, or the Oval, or Trent Bridge, or the like. However, perhaps the most telling factor in the growth of my passion for the game was early-on overhearing Dad saying to Mum that, from what he had already noticed from his adjacent vegetable garden about my ability with a cricket bat, I looked ‘a natural’! All this did not prevent Mum coining her thereafter constantly recurring comment on our continual listening, “Always the cricket”!

‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity’ – and, even today, wee lads like me certainly like hearing their praises sung! I was no different in 1948. Although fathers tend to be somewhat infamous for extolling the virtues of their offspring, my dad never ever openly praised my successes in any games to my face. Indeed, if any sport-related plaudits may have been due to me throughout my whole sporting life, he left that to others. However, that never meant that he was not quietly proud of what I achieved. I learned later that he felt strongly that encouragement from the wings by merely supporting my participation rather than smothering me with criticism or praise was best route to take. Thus I never ever lacked for money nor for needed equipment to indulge any of my sporting whims, far less any of my more serious sporting addictions. Indeed, in his last year of life, aged 81, he gave the Gargunnock Village Cricket Club that I founded in 1983, the generous sum of £5 000 to buy second-hand tractor and gang-mowers to support me in the realisation of a childhood dream of one day cultivating, and then caring for, a new cricket ground.

Village Gala Day:

As in most Scottish villages, Gala Day in June was so special as it was of course a festival for children and a celebration of children. Little did we children realise then what a power of work the grown-ups put into making each annual Gala Day so unforgettable in many ways.

The Banknock Gala Committee, like most other organisers of like occasions, concentrated on a number of traditional events and competitions:

Most importantly (in some eyes!) there was the pageantry, the processions to the Gala Field on the road out to the Haggs, and the culminating ceremony on an elaborately decorated stage in the Gala Field of the Crowning of the Gala Queen who had been chosen by popular vote of the top class in the school from amongst the girls of that class. Behind the scenes this not only involved the hiring of costumes and all the other trappings of ‘royal’ pomp and ceremony, but also the training of the whole ‘royal party’ for the big day.

Secondly, all the rest of us youngsters, as ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Subjects’, were supposed to attire ourselves in Fancy Dress and parade and be judged for money prizes in various age-groups and sub-categories according to chosen themes and/or family sub-groupings.  …. More work for over-worked mothers creating costumes for invented ideas like, ‘Twin Liquorice All-Sorts’ or ‘A Loaf of Bread’ etc. Personally I hated all this palaver of dressing-up  … I saw it all as ‘cissie’ stuff  … but I had to conform … although for the life of me, I cannot remember what I dressed-up as in the four Gala Days I attended in Banknock.

Next, as soon as the seemingly interminable judging of the Fancy Dress at the Gala Field had been completed, the Food Bags and Lemonade were distributed … a provision that always ensured that being sick was a common occurrence in the immediately thereafter starts of The Races …. Flat, Obstacle, Sack, Three-legged etc. again for money prizes.

Costumes were discarded with abandon for The Races and soon the whole Gala Field had more the look of a second-hand junk yard within a garbage dump from the growing dispersal of wind-blown paper bags, half-drunk bottles of ‘scoosh’, empty ‘tattie’ crisp packets and rejected half-eaten sticky buns  … and of course pails of sawdust ready to deal with ejaculated sicknesses!   ….. Great fun !!

Of course The Races were vitally important to competitive me …. Not so much for the money but for the joy of winning … although I suppose I must admit it was good to jingle a few more pennies than usual in my pocket now and then… until often, to great chagrin, such contents of one’s pockets, if not deposited safely with adoring spectating parents or grannies, got lost in the long grass of the often uncut race-track area (though trampled down) during the more adventurous races.

I am fairly certain that 1948 was my vintage year for taking the spoils in the age-group races because that year’s Gala Day was before my birthday on the 16th of June Thus, due to this accident of birth, I cleaned up for once in the 8 year-old races, rather than being an unfortunate also-ran in the 9 year-old group.

Nobody really bothered much about the mountains of litter cluttering the Gala Field …. But things got even more congested, if not downright dangerous, as soon as the ‘big-money’ Open Slow Cycles Races were announced. As if by magic, all sorts of contraptions posing as two-wheeler bicycles flooded on to the field from hiding-places in bushes or from other sides of dykes or where-ever! Thereafter, I vividly remember one couthy character likening The Gala Field to a ‘Knacker’s Yard’!

But how could I forget it ? …. the freely dispensed ice-creams and cones during the afternoon adding their wonderful stickiness to children’s already messed-up clothes, not to mention all the earlier melted discards providing slithery booby-traps for the unwary when choosing to sprawl in the grass somewhere to have a wee rest!

While out of sight of all the mayhem abroad, wise folks had retired to the Tea-Marquee to escape the rituals that many of them had survived either as participants or helpers for countless years before.

I smile as I remember the last act in these ‘wonderful’ afternoons. Nothing cleared the field faster of hyper-active children than the re-appearance of the potato sacks … not for more races as a finale … but for scavenger volunteers to clear up the mess all around. Despite the offers of more prize money for filled sacks, children as workers were but few. But then “the skil maister’ wisnae in cherge,” said one elderly sage in my hearing. “They wid hae jimped tae it fur heem oar suffer’d the conse’queen’cies cam Monday mornin.”


‘Queen’ indeed ..eneugh sed.


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