The long-gone sounds of the streets which were a melody of my youth
AS you do in doctors' waiting rooms, I was going through one of those upmarket, glossy magazines, costing the equivalent of a paperback book, when I came to a page displaying triangular-shaped objects, some open, some closed but having in common pairs of wheels and an ability to fold into smaller, and if anything, more grotesque forms.
They were called bicycles. So remote were they from the mundane, everyday bikes I grew up with that it wasn't only their odd names that created wonder, it was also that I had never witnessed in real life, as you might say, anything quite so bizarre being ridden on either pavement or road.
Among the Rolls-Royces of bikes in my time were the Raleigh, BSA, the Rudge Whitworth and, possibly, the Hercules. Content with its Sturmey-Archer three-speed gear, my Raleigh never appeared to be under stress in getting me to work or anywhere else I wanted to go.
Therefore, it was a bit startling for me to discover that the Moulton TSR 30 bicycle I was reading about required 30 gears to see it through – but then again, at a mere £1,695, well, who's to grumble?
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It was recommended for this and other models – one of which, the Ori CR3, carried a price tag of £2,300 – that owners invest in a "serious" lock to keep them safe. I read on but failed to discover what was meant by a "serious" lock.
It was unlikely, I had to tell myself, that I might one day come across any one of these wonders propped on its pedal against the kerb.
I can't remember when last I did come across a bicycle left unchained and unguarded but to older, erstwhile bike owners such as myself, kerbside bikes were at one time almost part of street furniture.
And, then again, when did you last see a tradesman's carrier bike, with its huge wicker basket slung over its smaller front wheel and propped on its stand unattended? Or come to that, the man creating sparks of wonder while sharpening knives and scissors at a stone driven by his bike chain working as hard as the rest of them for a copper or two to come his way?
Our streets, at one time, were settings for all kinds of "goings on"; filled with sights once commonplace and part of a vibrant community.
They were, for sure, far safer places. Bag-snatching and mugging are words coined decades afterwards and, as far as I know, to be found only in the latest dictionaries.
The policeman, or "bobby", with his measured pace has become another fading street memory. He would have known who the "bad 'uns" were on his beat, as well as what was going on unseen around him.
He would know about turning a blind eye. When not to recognise a bookie's runner in possession of illegal betting slips; to be tactful and not take sides in family rows, unless, of course, violence was involved; and, providing Saturday night drunks were not causing mayhem, be able to "show them the way home".
Most of all, he would know when it was prudent to accept a pint from the landlord of the corner pub.
Soon after ten o'clock at night after the pubs had turned out, the cinemas had played the National Anthem and the town was, more or less dozing off, the bobbies would be seen trying the doors of closed shops or shining lanterns through windows to make sure all was secure on their beats.
So great have been the changes over the decades within my memory, I find it quite a task to pinpoint many of them and what does come to mind can be somewhat odd. Sunday mornings, for instance, when was it I last heard the squeak of a home-made barrow being pushed towards the allotments or the gardens as we called them?
Although such "gardens" have gone, many allotments do remain. But home-made barrows? It must be many a day since I saw one of them and, though it is true they are not the sort of thing you do keep a lookout for, they have their place in a time that once was.
My childhood in Derby's West End was full of noise – everyday noise that is. If it wasn't shouting and bawling in confined spaces – people rarely seemed to talk in normal tones – and the Saturday night rows as the pubs turned out, it would be whooping children, rumbling cart wheels, barking dogs and factory hooters, the rag-and-bone men with their trumpets and street traders, all with their shouts and calls.
Butcher boys on carrier bikes could whistle the newest songs and tunes to be shrilly joined by women polishing windows or whitening doorsteps. In an era of true deprivation, the one thing we never went short of was music in all its raucous or tuneful variations.
The man with the tin whistle would be seen making a slow tour of the streets, pausing at crossings to lay his upended cap on the pavement edge and to give of his most lively tunes. The fiddle player would have his day, as would the man with the harmonica and cymbals attached to his knees.
When I make mention of street singers I don't have in mind their successors, those you now see in the busier parts of town with their solo instrument and amplified accompaniment – but actual singers.
Some of those men were on crutches, survivors of the First World War. Old soldiers back to a "land fit for heroes". What I most remember about those men, apart from their various talents, was their politeness and dignity.
Even before the wireless came into our world and as young as we were, we got to know a good many of the music hall songs as we heard them coming from the open doors of the Albert Vaults, the Maypole, the Ram or the Woodlark.
Weekends, in between days of hard slog, were when the pubs were filled with enjoyment and when best suits would have their brief outings until the morning "putting in" again at Pickering's pawnshop.
On lighter nights, when the streets were still warm and lively, the Salvation Army band, with drum and shiny brass instruments, would position itself as close as it could get to the doorway of its chosen pub and it never shirked the hard job it had on hand in trying to outshine the rewards of hard-earned jars of beer.
Should messages of a better life have penetrated as far as the inside of the pub, I doubt they were ever taken up.
Outside in the street, though, less tuneful voices of we kids helped out with the singing of hymns and, given the chance, we'd shake and bang tambourines with all the joys of conversion.
It was the barrel organ man we liked most of all. From this distance I see him as a small figure in an overcoat too long, a cap and a cigarette either unlit behind his ear or smouldering atop of his piano-like instrument on wheels.
To transform into the pied-piper of the West End, all he needed was to turn a handle at the side of his barrel organ and, from all around, children would gather to follow him from street to street.
I remember him as a good-natured man who, with no hope of reward, would continue turning his handle to our dancing and singing.
While it is certain that we still have ice cream sellers today, as their loud jingles from moving vans make us aware, the man and his ice cream barrow waiting patiently on a street corner is another of the sights now gone for ever. Ready with a quip or a smile, he would for a penny, scoop a dollop of "one taste fits all" ice cream from his aluminium container and plop it expertly on top of a cornet, while, for the better-off, those with 2d, he would spend time spreading a thick layer of the ice cream between two wafers.
To those with less far-reaching memories, the "stop and buy one" slogan might not mean anything. It appeared on our streets with the arrival of Wall's Ice Cream, towards the end of the 1920s and was carried on blue-painted tricycles. These had large box-like carriers in which was kept exciting icy innovations such as "Snofruit" and were mostly sticks of ice of various colours and flavours.
For the more discerning and wealthier, blocks of ice cream hygienically wrapped, with a choice of flavours, came with wafer biscuits, again untouched by hand, at a cost of 3d.
I know we still do have hot cross buns and these tend to appear in supermarkets soon after Christmas. In contrast, those we enjoyed were rarely to be seen until early on Good Friday mornings.
Cries of "Ock-bunoc-bunoc buns!" arising from street urchins carrying clothes baskets or similar, lined with white cloth and containing still-warm buns from the baker's oven, would awaken the neighbourhood.
And I have to own up to being among them. A baker's dozen in those days was 13 and we were paid a penny for each dozen sold, with the unspoken agreement of making the extra penny on every 13th bun, if not claimed by the buyer.
The proceeds we spent at "Tittle-cock Fair", a fair that for centuries had visited Little Eaton every Good Friday but was sadly to disappear after the Second World War.
On the other hand, many were the things we did not have in those grim inter-war years. Houses could be bleak places in the winter months, with inadequate clothing and food.
One coal fire and, of course, no central heating. No electricity until the 1930s, no running hot water, no baths, washing machines or detergents.
No NHS, no penicillin, antibiotics or free treatments. No Social Services, no child allowances or any other payments, come to that.
Most of us survived it. Times change and it is pointless to make comparisons. However, if able to make a choice for the return of something from the past, it would be for quiet and restful Sundays.
Do you remember the barrel organ, Tittle-cock Fair, or any of the other people and places recalled by Harold? Please send us your memories, see our contact details on Page 2.