Those early gardens were adventure playgrounds for myself and for my friend. Always odd corners where the wildness had not been tamed. Full of trees and shrubs for climbing, hiding and falling out off. Most of the gardens belonged to old houses and had rickety sheds or barns as well.
My friend and I played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ (I do not mean to offend but that was the name of the game back in the early 50s) we were always the Indians - we reckoned they were way more interesting than the cowboy, besides which they were actually called ‘braves’. So braver, more dignified, superior in every way. Hunted and massacred, hey we were British and we Brits love an underdog.
The games were inspired by the films from America which we watched avidly every Saturday morning. In the Library I did quite a bit of background reading on the subject when I was older, after we had grown out of the game and discovered some of their history. Later, much later, when studying anthropology at university in my 40s, I expanded my knowledge further and learnt of how they possibly travelled, when continents were still joined, when the straits were shallower. I discovered the journey of blood groups and languages as well. Read some of their speeches and realized I had been right all those years ago to be on their side:)
We used to play explorers as well, we would have our supplies - Rich Tea biscuits and soft cheese - very tasty smeared on with muddy fingers! River water to drink. We were intrepid explorers, are their any other kind:) hacking our way through undergrowth, fighting off snakes and wild beasts.
A garden with just a lawn and neatly arranged bedding plants is never as such fun as our garden was.
We read fiction about these explorers; we knew how brave and intrepid they were and how so very ‘stiff upper lipped’ they were. Not for us bewailing misfortune, no, we would straighten shoulders and backbones and ‘carry on chaps’. I was much older when I discovered our (British) part in ‘colonization, our history, it was not so brilliant, in exploitation.
We grow up, we learn.
What those early games did though, influenced as they were by the Victorian and Edwardian ‘standards’ was imbue us with those standards and the novels which glorified the better side of our natures, taught us to consider those less fortunate and those who would not be confined by strait laced society.
One year we discovered a huge pipe, just outside the garden, we had progressed to climbing through the hedge to explore further. A massive concrete pipe, probably getting ready to carry river water down it, not buried yet. That was scary and such fun, we cautiously walked inside it and along it, we never got to the end which was very dark. Buried already maybe? Our voices echoed and who wasn’t to say there were not ‘enemies’ at the other end, weren’t spies maybe, or a criminal, on the run, waiting to bash us on the head. The garden was a nice home to dash back to breathless and excited.
It had always seemed to me that the bare tools of survival should be easily made. A bow and arrow couldn’t be so difficult could it, I never attempted a cross bow that did look a puzzle to make I just wanted, like Robin Hood, to be able to shoot an arrow. Obviously my parents were never going to buy me one so I had to figure out how.
Wood was needed. We always had plenty of wood, chopped, sawn or just hanging about on trees.
First attempts were pathetic.
Equally second attempts.
If I managed to find a bendy kind of wood it either bent too much or snapped. If it wasn’t bendy I never knew how to make it so. I did once find a branch the right shape for a bow and with great anticipation tied some cord to it and found a stick which would be suitable for an arrow and let fly, well drop actually, it never flew anywhere, landed by my feet - I would puzzle endlessly over my failure to master this simple craft. Especially as my friend seemed to have more luck than me.
We could both manage to bake potatoes on an open fire. With sufficient kindling, a box of matches and years of watching our parents ‘draw’ fires this was almost an inbuilt skill! We didn’t mind half cooked charred potatoes. Once or twice maybe, I would try hitting stones together but I just knew that way of working would be as much a failure as making a bow.
So many years of adventure out there in the garden.