Talking of catching things, we used to go fishing down the canal and this wasn’t quite so dangerous except when my friend Colin Barratt (who was forbidden by his parents to go to the canal on account of not being able to swim) fell in while struggling to land a four-ounce Perch with a home made rod and line. One minute he was standing on the towpath with his garden cane rod and bit of string and there was an almighty splash and Colin was thrashing about in the water struggling for his life. Between us we dragged him out without having to jump in ourselves and took him home and didn’t see him again for about three months after that but to make him feel better we told him that it was a monster Pike that had pulled him in.
Water always had a special attraction and when we weren’t messing about on the canal there was always Sprick Brook where we used to fish for minnows and red-breasted Sticklebacks and take them home in jam-jars in the days before goldfish. Sprick brook ran under the railway bridge on Hillmorton Lane and was just the sort of place where you could have an accident and no one would find you for days.
One place that wasn’t nearly so dangerous as it is today were the roads and we used to play on our bikes without any real sense of danger and certainly without those silly cycle helmets that kids wear today. Cycling however did get me into trouble once when I was about ten and persuaded some friends to tackle a cycle ride one afternoon to Leicester to see my grandparents without checking with anyone first. I have to confess that this was both ambitious and thoughtless especially on a Raleigh Junior bike with 18” wheels and no lights and not in any way suitable for a fifty mile round trip. Getting there was reasonably straightforward but the return journey was a bit more difficult on account of it being dark and us being completely knackered. There was a search party that night for sure and I can remember being astonished about how much fuss was made over such a trivial incident when Dad intercepted me at Abbots Farm and sent me home immediately for a good telling off from Mum which turned out instead to be an emotional and tearful reunion and I can remember being thoroughly confused by that.
Apart from the dangers presented by the transport system there were other equally hazardous places to play as well. Building sites for example. There was a building boom in the 1960s and this presented all sorts of opportunities. Especially good fun was climbing ladders and playing on the scaffolding and hiding in part constructed rooms. There were piles of bricks to build camps (much better than Lego), sewer pipes to crawl through, sand and cement to kick around and oil drums and bits of timber to take away and use to build rafts to sail on the canal but this never worked either. Once a passing police patrol car stopped and the officers watched us building a waterway craft with bits of stuff we had ‘borrowed’. They teased us by asking to see our boat license and then as we dawdled about hoping they would just drive off told us to hurry up and get on because they wanted to see us fall off before getting on with their duties. We clambered aboard and didn’t disappoint them. I can still hear them laughing as I write this.
Perhaps the dumbest and most dangerous thing we ever did on a building site was to go underground. In preparation for new houses on Bridley Road there were some new storm drains installed so we lifted the manhole cover and went inside, crawled through the pipes and made a camp in an inspection chamber where we sat in candle light and thought that it was all great fun. I dread to think now what might have happened if there had been a storm while we were down there. I certainly wouldn’t be writing this retrospective journal.
Most of these dangerous places are closed off to children these days, the railway line is fenced, building sites are secure, the canal locks have wooden guardrails and you would have to be just plain daft to take a bike out on a main road. Given the modern restrictions it’s hardly any wonder I suppose that today children have to stop at home and watch the television or play computer games and are denied the pleasure of real dangerous activity and that is a real shame.