IT was just a modest park lake, mainly used for sailing model boats. But to a couple of owd codgers from that particular part of the borough it was once a magical place - a hotspot in summer, and a winter wonderland during the deep-freeze months.

Norman Owen and Harry Worthington, old pals since their pre-war upbringing in the Thatto Heath area, have now tossed the pebble of memory into the water, watching ripples of boyhood happiness come drifting back.

The pair, who have delighted our readership over the years with occasional dips into the past, now toddle back to Taylor Park at Toll Bar. "We had many happy family days out in the old times, when almost everybody was hard-up," they recall. There were picnics highlighted by brown-sauce butties and swigs from bottles of 'corporation pop' (tap water).

But the 'little lake', as they referred to it, was the key attraction, being plunged into during the school summer holidays and skated on whenever winter took its icy grip.

Summers seemed so much hotter then (or were our kids a hardier breed?). Those afraid to risk 'skinny-dipping', would strip down to their bathing trunks, leaving their togs draped on one of the lakeside benches.

The young urchins would then splash in at one end of the shallow watery stretch. Then, submerged up to their necks, they'd start to crawl on their hands along the lake bottom, racing their pals to the other end. "We were just pretending to swim, of course", the codgers recall, "and we'd always end up with a red belly and well-scratched chest, from scraping our little bodies along the rough lake bed!"


Those choosing not to brave the water would instead launch a flotilla of small toy boats of all shapes and sizes. Some were yachts with cloth sails, others homemade efforts towed along with a piece of string or driven by a propeller attached to a twisted-elastic 'motor'.

Harry Worthington must have then been regarded by his tiny peers as a being a bit posh. For he owned a small metal craft, complete with mast and a funnel specially designed to accommodate a lighted candle. As the boat was pushed out into the lake, the funnel gave off a convincing plume of smoke.

Those less fortunate had to make do with boats they had crafted from shiny leaves with a twig for a mast. It all helped to generate squealing excitement and all that happy childhood laughter.

When ice and snow arrived, the Taylor Park scene changed dramatically. "We used to trek down to the little lake with our sledges (usually hammered together by a willing father) and then we'd skate over it on our clog irons".

With their frosty breath issuing in steamy clouds, and little runny noses well wiped on a jacket sleeve, the kids would rapidly find themselves in the midst of full-scale seasonal battle. Girls and boys alike would be peppered with snowballs, some compressed into rock-hard icy missiles that made tiny ears ring when they found their target.

Their splashing, paddling and skating days may now be far behind them, but the memory of it all will never fade for Norman and Harry, our irrepressible pair of old-timers.