As a child I was inquisitive about everything, as every child is. But in my home, it was not considered proper for children to question anything, you just did what you were told. There were rules to obey, a routine to live by and if you didn’t eat your main course, you weren’t allowed pudding. In fact, you had to sit at the dinner table until you’d eaten all your food – brussel sprouts and all!
So to satisfy my curiosity and eager longing to break out into the big wide world, I formed a gang!
Obviously the first thing you need is a battle tank! This is what you do.
Turn This Silver Cross Pram Into A Battle Tank!
Go down to the local rubbish dump and rummage. In those days rubbish tips were not regimented, departmentalised, organised and policed the way they are today. It made the job of rummaging a little more precarious and a lot more messy, but it was amazing what you could find. For a bunch of eight year olds just starting out on the business of forming a gang to terrorise the neighbourhood, we knew exactly what we were looking for. We needed a few planks of wood and a wooden fruit box preferably with some interesting signage on the outside belonging to the company who discarded it. Something like “Jaffa Orranges” – although the Jaffa Gang would definitely not be the right image! You also needed to find a good length of sturdy rope, at least two yards of it, a few nuts and bolts and the most important of all, a set of pram wheels still attached to their axles.
Within two days of finding the goods, our battle tank was built and ready.
Go karts are not difficult to construct, you just need to make sure you put the big wheels at the back and the small wheels at the front. One six foot plank runs through the centre bolted front and back with two smaller cross members holding the axles in place. And of course, our fruit box seat was bolted down between the two big wheels proudly proclaiming our logo, “The Flashman Gang!” The rope was attached to the front cross member and, with your feet placed firmly on each side and the rope “steering wheel” firmly clasped, the battle tank was finished.
Taking our battle tank on its first outing is a day I remember well! Hurtling at some speed down Lovelace Road and making a screaming right turn into the oncoming traffic of the South Circular on Thurlow Park Road was a hair raising business! Rapid adaptations were needed to our battle tank – we needed a brake! Easily achieved with a piece of wood attached securely to the side of the fruit box with a nut and bolt designed to engage with the hard rubber tyre of the large wheel to the side when applied.
The alternative was shoe rubber, which always seemed slightly more effective, though not popular with mum and dad when they had to fork out for a new pair of stick on rubber soles.
In reality, it was just harmless fun.
We liked to think we were terrorising the local community by scrumping apples, knocking on doors and running away, climbing over walls into private property bravely ignoring the ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs, ‘experimenting’ with insects and mixing all kinds of harmless chemicals together in test tubes to see what might happen.
I never realised in those early days that there were two sides to the street. If you were middle class you lived in your own home but if you were working class you rented. We were working class and some would say, lived on the wrong side of the street. The class system was far more pronounced in those days. For instance, Dinky Toys, the small model cars that were so popular with little boys, were for the working class kids like me and Corgi Cars were for the “upper class” kids who lived up the road in Dulwich! This may have been because Corgi Cars were made with windows whilst Dinky were more basic. Later a class war started with both makes vying for business and introducing working suspension, ‘fingertip steering’, detailed interiors, and jeweled headlights. I often regret not keeping my collection of toys from those heady days of childhood. I understand they’d fetch quite of lot of money these days.
Incidentally, you can still buy Silver Cross Pram wheels on Ebay – to make your own battle tank of course.
Life was a great adventure, until the day I fell unconscious on the street.
See you next time.