Trevor Laffan: In my day, we cycled, raced go-karts — and even walked!

We didn’t have Garmin or Fitbit watches in the ’60s, but if we had, the step counting mechanism wouldn’t have been able to keep up, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: In my day, we cycled, raced go-karts — and even walked!

OLD SCHOOL RUN! Two children head off for their first day at the new school at Brooklodge, near Glanmire, in September, 1946.

EVERY year around this time, as the kids go back to school, we have a national moan about the weight of children’s school bags.

We complain about the damage being inflicted on young backs and how they’ll suffer later in life from carrying them to school.

But how far do they really carry them?

It’s difficult to drive past any school in the morning without getting caught up in traffic. The roads are clogged up with cars because the little darlings, and the not so little ones in secondary school, can’t get there on their own two feet. They’ve lost the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

When I was going to school in the ’60s, cars weren’t as plentiful, so parents only collected their kids if the weather was bad or if they were living a long way from the school. But even those children who lived outside the town limits usually walked or used a bike.

We regularly walked home for lunch and back again after, and the only fast food outlets we had were chippers — and they only opened at night for the guys coming out of the pubs.

Shops didn’t have deli counters either, and even if they had, we didn’t have the money. On a good day, as a treat, we got a few pence to buy some Chester Cake.

When the weather was cold, our mothers wrapped us up in layers and when it was raining, they gave us a hat.

As soon as we were old enough, we got a bicycle, if we were lucky, and in the wintertime when it got dark early, we used our lamps.

In those days, the school yard was full of bikes. We raced each other on them, crashed occasionally and fell off regularly.

We put some disinfectant on the cuts and if they were bad enough, we got a plaster and a lecture about being careful in future.

It was very common to have a passenger sitting on the crossbar to get a ‘crosser’ home.

We also had bicycle clips that went around the ankles to prevent the legs of the trousers getting dirty from the chain. In the absence of clips, you just stuck the pants inside the socks which was just as effective.

Of course, we often got wet on the way into school, but every classroom had big iron heating pipes running along the walls near the floor and we sat on these until we dried off. At least the backside would be dry, and the rest would dry naturally as the day wore on.

Strangely enough, it didn’t kill any of us, but this would be too much for modern mammies to cope with.

There were a few other things they might have struggled with too.

We were all making ‘go-karts’ in those days out of pram wheels with a few pieces of timber attached and a bit of rope tied to the front axil to steer them. You pulled the rope attached to the left or right wheel depending on which direction you wanted to go. These things could build a lot of speed and the only way to stop them was to drag your feet along the road.

I had a close call on one of them when I was about ten. I was going down a hill near my house and I was gathering momentum. When I rounded the corner, I saw an ice cream delivery van turning in the road. Unfortunately, I was going too fast and couldn’t stop.

There was nowhere else for me to go so I ended up crashing into the ice cream van as he was broadside on the road. I ended up underneath it, cutting my body on various bits and pieces on the underside of the van.

The go-kart disintegrated and I didn’t fare too well either. I was in a bit of a heap.

The poor van driver must have got an awful fright, but I persuaded him I was fine, and I ran in home. When I went into the bathroom and peeled off my clothes, I discovered there were lots of cuts and scratches but nothing fatal.

My main concern was that my parents would find out when they got home. I figured that if I put on a long-sleeve shirt and didn’t try to move around too much, I could probably get away with it.

I didn’t count on the van driver being such a decent man though. He had seen me going in home, so he knew where I lived, and some time later that evening, he knocked on the door to find out if I was OK.

That was the first my parents had heard about the incident and of course, when the clothes were taken off me, the full extent of the injuries became evident.

The remains of the go-kart ended up in the bin and I was put off the road for the foreseeable future.

Those days are gone now because the roads are too busy for go-karts and kids prefer to play with their phones. I can’t imagine that in 2019, that van would come back to the scene of the crime either, to check up on my welfare. The prospect of him being hit with a claim for compensation would keep him well away from the area.

Childhood obesity is probably more of an issue than heavy schoolbags and healthy eating policies have been introduced in schools to tackle that issue by promoting a healthy diet. But maybe walking would help too.

We didn’t have Garmin or Fitbit watches in the ’60s, but if we had, the step counting mechanism wouldn’t have been able to keep up.

We wore out lots of shoes, unlike today.

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