It’s hard for kids to understand that anyone over 30 was once a kid too. But we were kids just like kids today. The community we lived in, though, was very different.
Better or worse I don’t know. But certainly different.
In our world, we walked to and from school every day. No fear of strangers or catching cold back then. Rain or shine, my siblings and I walked the mile, mostly downhill, to Seatoun school, then home again at three. With just one cent, you could buy a handful of lollies to munch on the way home. After running around at play time and lunch time, we could afford the calories.
But not the tooth decay. We had a dentist on the school grounds, and with no anaesthetic, getting a filling was sheer torture. Some kids, when summoned, had to be dragged kicking and screaming by two older boys to the murder house.
We went to secondary school by bike. There were two roads down the hill, and my brother and I would take one, and Dad the other in his car. It was a race to the bottom. There we were, tearing down the steep hill, travelling at a guess 60kph, without helmets.
In hindsight, madness. Saturday was soccer day. Without the sand-based or artificial surfaces, the games were often cancelled. But when they weren’t I’d grab a soccer boot in each hand – thankfully slightly better boots than the plastic rugby boots I started in at age six, but nothing like the multi coloured high tech designs kids wear today - and run down the hill to the dairy. There we’d all pile into Mr Boyd’s station wagon – twelve kids bouncing around unharnessed travelling across town. Seat belts existed in the front seats of some cars, but there was no obligation to wear them.
After the game, we’d stop off at a dairy and Mr Boyd would buy us all a coke or fanta, probably our only fizzy drink of the week.
In the afternoon we’d watch the men’s team at Seatoun Park. Smoking was popular, and the clubrooms after the game looked like a heavy fog had made its way inside. The men would smoke and drink for hours while we kids would feast on sausages and secondhand smoke. Okay, and maybe another coke. Drink driving must also have been prevalent because not many people phoned for taxis.
On Sundays and summer nights we hung out with the kids in the neighbourhood. We’d roam around, riding our trolleys, building forts, collecting pine cones to sell, or playing on the big field up the road which is now covered in houses.
“Mum, we’re going out!” we’d call as we left. “Okay, be home for dinner,” she’d reply. In the summer holidays, we’d often head up the coast to our batch in Raumati South.
We’d never heard of the ozone layer, but it worked just fine because day after day we’d be outside, shirtless, playing tennis, soccer, running up and down sand dunes. We didn’t worry about sunscreen, and we didn’t seem to get burned. We were at the beach a lot, with or without parents.
“Mum, I’m going for a swim,” I’d tell her. “Okay, see you soon,” and there I was, age 10, swimming and surfing in the waves with no adult or lifeguard in sight. Afterwards, you needed to get the salt off. The shower was outside, with no pressure and no hot water. Cold water just fell on you from the nozzle overhead, leaving you covered in goosebumps for several minutes afterwards.
In bad weather, stuck inside, we’d keep busy with board games. No iphones or ipads. But we had TV, a black and white portable with dodgy reception, which we weren’t allowed on till 5pm. We had one channel to watch.
Any family with four kids is going to require some discipline. Mum’s common threat was to “knock our heads together”. Fortunately that never happened, but we did sometimes get the wooden spoon, which left a nice imprint on the back of your thigh.
No lasting damage from that. The wonder is how we got through everything else in one piece. (BILLY HARRIS)