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Saturday afternoon was the weekly event when children would go to the Regal Cinema or what was then called the “Pictures”, and those of us who were better off had another penny to buy our comic paper and a third to be spent on sweets, either at one go, or In portions of two halfpennies or four farthings. This inevitably led to other problems, the Sunday School teacher Informed us that the “Pictures” were the seed of the devil and we knew what the devil was like from pictures, but theirs was the teaching that he reigned In “Hell” and that “Hell” was somewhere down below in the bowels of the earth with an everlasting fire.
Despite these threats however, the “Pictures” were well patronised, with Charlie Chaplin, Cowboys and Indians and the Keystone Cops proving irresistible, and won the hearts of the children who noisily cheered the heroes and booed the villains. And so it was the ultra respectable and Calvinistic parents who denied their children the opportunity of some excitement and pleasure. The Band of Hope we attended could not compete with the “Pictures” the main attraction being slides shown on a makeshift screen, and this simple apparatus was known as the “Magic Lantern” So talk of the Devil, and I immediately think of the “Belt”, which we readily accepted as part of our curriculum.
It was particularly painful on a cold Winter morning with cold hands to receive two strokes on the palms, even the bravest of lads found it quite difficult to suppress a tear, especially if the teacher missed, and caught you on the wrists. However we are not finished with the belt, a smaller type hung from a hook round the corner of the mantlepiece and served as a symbol of authority, no doubt it would be used only occasionally In many a home since the fear of it had been experienced at school.
Giving or going to a party was a social necessity, at a time when social activity as we know it today was negligible, and offered further pitfalls for the child expected to behave. One did not speak in the company of ones elders, and at the dinner table would not be served until ones “betters” had been attended to. And being offered a cake it was polite to decline, and on a further Invitation not to accept the one you desired but leave it for someone else.
Some homes would have a Gramophone and the horn would have an attractive colour, and for years I was puzzled as to see how one could hear a man singing Just by turning a handle. If perhaps there was a piano in the house, the hallmark of success in working class homes, Wee Hughie or Wee Jeannie would be glowered upon if they bungled their rendering of the Snowdrop Waltz.
To be upsides of course, a visiting child would be invited to give a recitation, and any child capable of playing a solo by ear entitled “Oh can you wash a sailors shirt” was considered to have potential ability, but sorry to say many a budding pianist never got round to playing, never mind owning a piano. Apart from the parties there were games for the children, such as “Snakes and Ladders” and Ludo, and the adults had card games or dominoes, and if not a church going family would play for modest stakes. So the pleasures were simple, and life, while hard for many people was not complicated.