A TIME when the boys sported calf-pinching rubber-band garters and girls wore pixie-hats on their pig-tailed heads is vividly remembered by a pair of good-humoured old-timers who love to get together for a chinwag about the good old days.

Harry Worthington and Norman Owen, schoolboys back in the 1930s, have come up with some hilarious accounts of how things used to be.

“Those garters were to hold up our baggy socks. And they were a real pain” say the happy codgers.

“They were always too tight and used to leave red ring marks embedded in your legs.”

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Recollections were inspired by a form photograph taken at St Matthew’s School, Thatto Heath in 1938 and sent to the duo by Molly Roberts.

Norman, then glorying in the nickname of ‘Nitch’ is featured in the 11-strong urchin line-up. No signs of designer labels then!

The lads who tormented the girls with all that pigtail pulling, often made do with hand-me-downs from older siblings.

Home-knitted woolly balaclavas, red and white snake-buckle belts (alternatively thick braces hitched to rubber trouser buttons) together with well-kicked clogs and down-at-heel boots helped complete their wardrobe.

Yet they were a contented bunch and the school playground rang with happy laughter and squeals of excitement as the kids joined in the many street games popular then.

Most of the girls had a skipping rope with bells on the handles. There were games of hopscotch too. And when bored by all this, the girls would tuck skirts into knickers - in the interest of modesty - and perform handstands against the playground wall.

The boys’ sporting interest revolved around ball games, though other pursuits included jacks, marbles and piggy or guinea cat (a game in which a small round piece sharpened to a point at one end, was flipped in the air with an old axe handle and then swiped away as far as possible).

The unwary often got a peppering from peashooter gangs as they stepped through the school gate. Then, after running that gauntlet, they might settle down to a game of matchbox rugby or a session on the ‘clappers’, created from a couple of butcher-shop bones or slivers of roof slate. When rattled together between fingers and thumbs these homemade instruments gave off a delightful clattery sound.

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Playground fun could be halted in an instant by a dreaded shout from teacher: ”The nurse is here!”

Fear would seize young hearts for the school nurse’s main mission in life was to seek out head lice and nits, bad teeth and skin infections.

Yellow cards were dished out for dental work, with green cards distributed for the kind of nit treatment that could only be later concealed by a floppy flat cap.

“Victims would step into Lacey Street Clinic with a full head of hair and would come out with just a paintbrush fringe, the rest of their hair cropped off and the scalp painted blue with some kind of not killer”, Norman and Harry recall with a chuckle.

Loose teeth presented no problem for the more courageous kids. After some energetic waggling between thumb and forefinger, a length of string was tied to the offending molar, with the other end knotted around the handle of the door.

A quick slam of the door, as an older brother held on tight, and there you had it, instant dentistry!

Sometimes the tooth-tugging job proved more complicated and this meant a trip to see the school dentist.

Later, as a reward for being a “brave little soldier”, mum might take some of the pain out of that clinic visit by treating her kid to the pennycrush minors’ matinee at Thatto Heath Empire.

Noise was ear-splitting as cowboy hero Johnny Mack Brown fought off the Red Indians or spaceman Flash Gordon did battle with the evil Ming.

Fruit was scarce in those hard-up times and anyone lucky enough to have an apple was quickly surrounded by a clamouring gang chorusing: “Hey, save us yer core!”.

The bus-pass duo recall learning to count at school with the aid of music teacher Miss Cross belting out “Ten Green Bottles” on the piano keyboard.
Mischief was never far from the horizon and Norman and Harry recall the sort of mayhem that could break out if the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a minute or two.

“Ink bombs – made from screwed up blotting paper dipped into the inkwells – would hurtle across the room, flipped by wooden rulers.” they recall.

“But we found we had to be careful that the missiles didn’t hit the hard-knock of the class who, if accidentally splattered by ink, would be sure to get you at playtime!”

Easter was a real highlight, when the kids fashioned little baskets and then waited for the arrival of the Easter Bunny. As a special treat, he’d pop a hen egg, complete with a painted face on it, into each of the out-thrust baskets.

Harry recalls glancing through the classroom window one Easter and seeing the caretaker, Mr Sumner, stepping into the bunny costume.

His childhood belief in magical rabbits immediately shattered, Harry cried all the way home.

It was all inkwells and blotting paper way back then. “And the last in class ended up with crossed pen nibs which would not write properly”, recall our pair of greybeards.

After being commanded to correct spelling mistakes ten times over with scratchy pens, it came as some relief to hear the dinnertime bell.

“Then, over to Mooney’s for a penn’orth of chips with free battered scraps on top, served in a pointed toffee bag and soaked in vinegar which was later sucked through the bottom of the bag. Delicious!”

Next stop, Hitchen’s sweetshop for a ‘kali sucker’, a bag of sherbet with a small tube of black Spanish. Then the slow amble back to lessons, cracking the latest local joke.

“There was a wooden Spiritualists’ church down Scholes Lane and the story went that a drunk had tried to break in”, say our young-at-heart duo.

When asked by the local bobby why he’d done this, the drunk replied; “I thought it was full of spirits!”

An example of the simple humour that kept our pre-war kids in stitches.