Our leisure time was spent at any of the local parks, especially Victoria Park, known to the locals as Small Heath Park. We would spend many hours there. Maybe it is my imagination, but the summers always seemed to be long and hot. Another place we visited frequently was Elmdon, where the airport was located close to the present International Airport. We would take our sandwiches, which always consisted of margarine with sugar and a bottle of water. We would go paddling in the streams and fish for minnows with our jam jars, no nets only the jars. Children in those days could go anywhere without the supervision of adults; the world seemed a much safer place.
Kevin (hands on hips - 2nd from right) in the Cubs
Later, Kevin and I joined a youth club known as the Woodcraft Folk; the Birmingham Co-op organisation sponsored it and this gave us a broader outlook on life. The evening meetings we attended were so much fun and also the Co-op gave us a social education. We were taken on outings to various interesting places and they actively encouraged drama and entertainment; so we got to perform at the Town Hall on a yearly basis. I later became a leader and was in the movement for quite a few years. During this time I also attended the Brownies and Kevin joined the Cubs. Looking back over the years, I am so much indebted to those organisations for the confidence they gave me.
At this period I enjoyed visiting the library, another of my leisure activities. I quickly began to read any book I could lay my hands on. So the library staff would see me on a daily basis, in those days you could only take out one fiction and one non-fiction book daily. If time allowed I would read a book while in the library. My mother’s brother, Uncle John, was in the printing business in Dublin. He would send me a storybook every month, which I would look very forward to receiving. The swimming pool provided another leisure activity, although it was not my favourite place to visit, but thinking back it provided another means of keeping fresh. The other facility for keeping spotless was the public washing baths which had a different entrance to the swimming pool. We waited in a queue until our turn came up and a bathroom became available. We would hire a towel and be given a little bar of soap and then take our bath in the privacy of a cubicle. It was also possible to hire a towel for swimming and for young men a swimming costume, which was called a slip.
For a bit of nostalgia every Sunday night, mother would tune in to 208 meters Radio Luxembourg and listen to the radio programme ‘If you’re Irish come into the parlour’. To provide escapism and to take a trip into wonderland, there were the cinemas, or as we called them the picture houses. The films rotated twice weekly, with a different film for a Sunday and the children’s own films on a Saturday afternoon. These were very popular and there was always a long queue, but it was worth the wait, it was magical going into the picture house. Outside the cinema, an old man would be selling winkles (a small shellfish) from an open cart. For a few pence, he would fill a small paper bag with the winkles. Using a small pin the edible winkle would be extracted from the shell and the empty shell used to pelt other unfortunate kids in the queue. Inside the building the temperature was always warm, and gave a comfortable feeling. Sometimes the sound track could not be heard, as the noise was so great from the audience joining in the action. How my mother ever found the money for some of these treats, I shall never know.
After attending Mass on a Sunday, we would be given a few pence, which would be enough to take us all the way around the No 8 Inner Circle bus route. Thank goodness we did not do this every Sunday because, as explained previously, I did not have any love for buses and the journey often left me feeling a little sick. It did get the little ones out for the day and it was a treat, especially as we always went on the upper deck of the bus.