george fleming

George Fleming
Born Ardrossan 1937

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Personal Recollections ~ Ardrossan

The wee Glasgow street gang had gathered under the street lamp on the corner of Glasgow Street and Hill Place. This was our usual meeting place; this was also where we played all our street games, Football, hide and seek, leave-oh, kick the Can and many others. All of this activity would take place in wintertime, when it got dark very early, about 5 o clock. In summer when it didn’t get dark until around 10 o clock, we would be up Castle Hill, or down the Inches or somewhere looking for adventure.

When the girls wanted to join us in any of our street games, they were always told they could, but we would be playing hide and seek. At this remark they would always start giggling, before saying that’s Ok, we want to play hide and seek.

The tenement buildings across the street from Hill Place were a slightly better design than the one we lived in. (Ours had an outside staircase,) these tenements had an inside staircase at the back end of the Close. There was also a door at the back end of the close, and when this was closed it created the perfect hiding place. It would be very dark in this space at the bottom of the stairs as there was never a stair lamp, someone always stole the globe, and so after a while it just never got replaced.

george fleming-1When the game started, and everyone had to run and hide, while the catcher turned his face to the wall, the girls would always run and hide in the dark space at the back end of the close, and the boys would follow them into the same space.

Corner of Hill Place and  Glasgow Street

Now the game was almost forgotten, as out of this dark corner came laughter, giggles, and squealing, as every one in the corner was squeezing and feeling. This would go on until a neighbour would come out yelling what the hell is going on here. Get to hell out of my close you bunch of hooligans.

This was our sex education, it was never taught in School in those far off days. Sex was considered a dirty word, and could earn you a good belt on the ear, if caught mentioning that terrible word. It was great fun learning the FUN way. After the games were finished, and the girls had gone home, we would stand around under the street lamp and boast about our shenanigans in the corner, Each boy trying to outdo the other, and exaggerating every detail way out of proportion.

On other occasions we would race round "The Wee World" this was our name for the block of tenement buildings reaching from, Hill place, up Glasgow Street, turn right into Winton Street, then back down Winton lane, then right into Hill place. The round trip, in distance was probably about 500/ 600 yards. First of all we would pick teams. This consisted of all the boys standing in a line with their backs to the wall. The Team leaders would stand in the middle of the road. From there they would each have a turn at picking, one of the boys from the line up.

We used this method of picking teams when playing Football or any other team game. It could be a bit embarrassing for some of the boys, as the fastest or best players were always picked first, but I can’t remember anyone getting upset over it. Maybe it affected them later on in life, if it did I never heard about it. I suppose in today’s world these boys would be having counselling.

So the teams are picked, the team leaders have picked their first runners and were all set to go. The rules were that the runners run in opposite directions, so you never knew how well you were doing until you arrived back at the start. To overcome this you just ran as fast as possible for all of the distance. It was great fun, but hard work. On the final straight, with the legs turning to jelly, and ready to give up, the rest of the team would jog along side the runner, and encourage him on to the finish.

On many occasions the runner had started off to fast, and nearing the finish, he would no longer be running, or some times not even walking, I think the action would be more accurately described as staggering, but they had to get to the finish before the next runner could start, so the encouragement could be quite harsh at times.

Quite often on those cold winter nights, the temperature would drop below zero, then we would get very heavy Frost. The rooftops, the streets and everything else would turn white. Although it was very cold, we looked forward to these conditions; this was our opportunity to make slides.

Glasgow Street is approx. one mile, straight and very wide. It was built with the rest of the town in the early 18 hundreds, by the earl of Eglinton, and was ahead of is time as far as town planning is concerned. All the streets are laid out in a square grid pattern, and are amazingly wide for the amount of traffic at that time; the old Earl was certainly looking to the future. Maybe he also knew these streets would make a great playground for us kids.

To make slides on a frosty road, you need a pair of Boots/shoes with leather soles. Next pick the spot were the slide is going to be, what you’re looking for is a nice smooth surface on the road. We were lucky here, as most of Glasgow Street had a very smooth surface. Great for roller-skating, but that’s another story.

To get the slide started, one of the boys takes a run at the chosen spot, sticks one foot ahead of the other and slides as far as he can. This leaves a skid mark about Four feet long on the Frosty road, the next boy does the same, followed by all the others, and in a surprisingly short time we have a slide, which could be anything up to twenty feet long, with a surface as slippy as ice.

It was great fun; we would try all different sliding positions and tricks. We could stand straight up, or crouch down till your bum was almost touching the slide, we would go on one leg, or try to reverse while sliding and go backwards, with this move you usually finished up on your back with a bump on the back of your head. One of the boys would lie on the road across the slide and the rest try to jump over him while sliding. Then Mothers would start shouting from upstairs windows. It was nine o clock and time to go indoors. So we would all go our separate ways, hoping the slide would still be there in the morning.

In those far off days we didn’t have TV or computer games, there were no CDs or DVD s and I don’t regret that one little bit. We grew up fit and healthy, we learned to be competitive but fair, we learned to interact and accept the other person, no matter what differences there was between us, religious or otherwise. We were just a bunch of kids playing street games.

Ardrossan 1910The kids in the this picture of Glasgow street, remind me so much of our Wee Glasgow Street gang. Although this is 1910 nothing much had changed by the 1940s. In fact the same rag and bone man was still walking the streets with his horse and cart. I would like to think he had acquired another horse by then. The tenements on the right hand side are part of the block we called "the wee world". The house I lived in, unfortunately is just out of view in the bottom right hand corner. Eglinton School in the distance was the school I went to.

My father built the pigeon loft. He built it inside our gang hut. Our gang hut was my father’s garden shed. The Garden shed was, slotted in a space between, The Washhouse and Mr. Agenew's Garden. The Washhouse, the Garden the shed, the Coalhouse’s, the drying green, the toilets, were all in the back yard of tenement building 158 Glasgow Street Ardrossan. The building was entered from Glasgow Street, through a passageway or what we called {the close}. On either side of the close, were two doors exactly opposite. This was the entrance to the down stairs houses, as we called them. Today they would be Flats or apartments, or something fancy.

These doors being opposite were a perfect set up, for ten or eleven year olds playing Thunder and Lightening. This game consisted of tying the two door handles together, but with enough slack, too allow the door to be opened about six inches then stopped by the rope, giving the impression, that the door is being held by someone in the Close. We would then bang the door like Thunder, watch the result for a while, and then when it got a bit dangerous, {the rope was coming off} We would run like Lightening.

Continuing all the way through the Close, we come to an outside stairway, leading to the second floor, and two more houses. From there a wooden stairway led up to the attics, {two smaller flats}. All of these families shared two outside toilets, one downstairs under the stairway the other at the top of the outside stairway. At one time this amounted to twenty-six people, but that’s another story, back to the Pigeons.

The loft was finished. It wasn’t very big maybe, four feet by five feet and about four feet high. With our saved up pocket money, and money we had acquired by returning empty soft drink bottles. My brother Ian and I had bought a pair of Pigeons, and introduced them to there new home.

Now it was decision time. The Gang had gathered to check out the pigeons, and place their orders. This was big business; Ian and I were going to get rich by breading and selling the young pigeons.

As we all sat around an upturned Tea chest, which someone had managed to pinch from behind Lipton’s Store? A problem arose, how do you get Pigeons to come back, when they have been let out for a fly around

This caused a lot of discussion, which boiled down to two opinions. My brother Ian said, that we should keep the birds in for a few days, then when they are let out, they will come back, because by this time they have forgotten there old home?

This imprisonment did not seem fair. My opinion, was to give the birds a good feed and let them out as soon as possible, like now.! Well being the leader of the gang, I won the day and we let the Pigeons out, they flew away and never came back.

Told you said Ian and a few other gang members. My leadership was being seriously challenged. I had to find the Pigeons.

Another meeting took place around the tea chest, and it was decided by all present that the birds would now be living with the other Pigeons that lived on top of the Academy school roof, so of we went to the Academy, which was a little over a mile away. This School was a big red brick building, three stories high, the only way on to the roof was straight up the drain pipe, the outside of it of course.

In those far of days drainpipes were made of cast Iron and properly fixed to the wall so they were quite secure, but a long way up. We asked for volunteers and go none so we drew the shortest stick. We had seen them do this in the movies. My brother Ian and Joe Dodds got the job of climbing the drainpipe and catching the Pigeons. It never occurred to us at the time how Ian and Joe were going to recognize our birds, or how they were going to get them off the roof when climbing back down the drainpipe. When you’re ten or eleven years old, I don’t suppose your forward planning skills are very well developed.

We knew we were not supposed to be in the school grounds when the school was closed, so we were taking a big risk, of getting into serious trouble as we were not only on the school grounds we were also on the roof. Lookouts were posted around the school, all seemed to be going to plan, although we had no idea what was happening on the roof.

All of a sudden one of the lookouts started running calling out, The COPS, The COPS. So we are off, all together, across the School playing field, except for the two that are still on the roof.

In Scotland at that time you had to be six foot or over to join the Police force, they then stuck a great round helmet on their head, which had the effect of the Policeman moving from very big category to monster.

It’s terrifying the sound of two pair of size 12 boots pounding the earth and a couple of big red faces roaring Stop. No way your going to stop, your to scared to stop, But stop we did. This was bad, normally we could outrun the Cops, but they had us this time. Again it was the lack of forward planning. We had no escape.

The Galloway Burn run through the school grounds at the bottom of the playing field. Our chosen escape route. Normally no problem, but it had been raining for several days and the burn was in full spate with no way across. We were nicked. Including the two boys on the roof. Who came back down the drainpipe? When they saw we were all {apprehended} and gave themselves up

We were accused of trying to break into the school, but after a while the Police half believed our story about the Pigeons. They figured it was so stupid it could not be a lie, so we were herded together and marched home.

Although the people who lived in the tenement buildings did not have much they were very proud. Anything facing the main street like windows, front door steps, If you had one, had to be clean and looked after.

Anything to do with the Law was a social disgrace, and brought about severe punishment from the Parents. This was seen as letting the family down. Being marched home, down the main street in town, was the worst crime of all. This situation would bring forth angry comments from my Mother like. I can never hold my head up in this town again, I’m black affronted {whatever that meant}. All serious stuff.

When the house door was opened to the Policeman’s knock. Mother would answer the question {do these two belong to you?} Not with a yes or no, but with a belt across the ear for both of us. This would be followed by what have they done now. Get into that bedroom it’s bread and water for you two for the rest of the week. Just wait till your father gets in then you’re for it.

But mother we were only looking for our Pigeons. Never mind the Pigeons you two will be the death of me, what must the neighbours think with two big policemen bringing you home all the time, but we didn’t do anything, we would wail. Shut up get in that bedroom you’ve disgraced the family

Next day it’s nearly forgotten, but we are still locked up. Dad had come in to belt us, but instead gave us a short lecture on right and wrong. It was short because he could hardly keep from laughing. His last comment was. Did you really climb up a drainpipe on to that high roof? He then left the bedroom mumbling something, but we never found out what. Later that day the man we had bought the Pigeons from, turns up at our door with our two Pigeons in a cardboard box. These came back to me yesterday; you have to keep them in for about a week before you let them out. Otherwise they’ll fly away.

I told you! I was right all the time! You know nothing about Pigeons?
OK Ian, OK OK, you win.

Wartime Ardrossan

In the early part of the 1940s life in Ardrossan, was pretty stressful. World War two was raging across Europe and almost every family in town had a Son, daughter or relation serving in the forces or at Sea in the Merchant Navy. The Shell Mex, the Can factory {they made Jerry cans} the railway yards, the Shipyards and Harbour were all going full steam ahead, in what was known as the War Effort. Every family gathered round the radio at 6 0`clock to hear the latest news of the War, and there was the dreaded Telegram, which could only mean one thing. Your Son or daughter was not coming home.

To all my friends, and me in the Wee Glasgow street gang none of this was unusual. We grew up with all this and though it was normal, we had never known anything else. I’m sure though, even at that young age, we must have wondered why a solid brick barricade was built across Glasgow Street. It was actually two barricades, one from the left side and one from the right, they over lapped in the middle and left a gap between them just wide enough for a small car to pass through, but not a Tank. The purpose of the barricades was to stop the German Tanks coming up Glasgow Street when the invasion came. I don’t remember ever seeing any Barricades in Montgomery Street, which runs parallel to Glasgow Street? Maybe they run out of bricks or the Germans didn’t know Montgomery Street was there?

Another curious thing happened at this time. Blast walls were built outside every passageway into the tenement building {the Close} I suppose the purpose of this wall was to stop the blast from a bomb shooting up the Close, but I’m sure if a bomb landed on Glasgow Street not only would the blast shoot up the Close, half the blast wall would go with it.

These blast walls were a great hazard to anyone trying to make there way home after dark. During the war there was total black out. This meant that as soon as it got dark all the windows in the house had to be covered with black cloth, if one little chink of light was showing from the outside, the Wardens who patrolled the streets would report that person. This happened to us and Mother had to go to court. She was find one Pound about a fifth of the weekly wage. So because of the Black out, the blast walls were very hard to see. It was amazing the number of people who arrived home with bleeding noses and a couple of black eyes. Especially after a few Pints

I remember a large water tank was erected in Bar Street. This was an emergency water supply to be used for fighting fires after the town had been bombed. Fortunately this was never needed as the town was never bombed. As kids we used to climb into this tank and have a swim, but a grid mesh was soon fitted over the tank and spoiled all our fun.

The town had a siren. This was to warn of an impending Air Raid by German Bombers. This siren would be tested from time but always during the Day. On one occasion it went off in the middle of the night. This was the real thing. My brother and I were told to wake up and get out of bed, but we were already awake {that siren was loud enough to awaken the dead}.

Mother got us into our siren suits. This was a one-piece suit that buttoned or zipped up the front and also had a hood to cover our heads. These suits were probably the forerunner of the Tracksuits the athletes wear today. Now dressed and clutching our Gas masks we headed for the Air Raid Shelter in our back yard.

As we lived up stairs we had to descend an outside staircase, the other neighbours had hesitated on the stair head and were all looking up. Although I was very young I clearly remember looking up and seeing the silhouette of big Planes passing overhead. There was a lot of noise from the drone of the planes, and Gunfire from the Navy Ships in the harbour, and away to the South the sky was all lit up. The bombers having Bombed ICI at Ardeer caused this, we found out later. I don’t remember anything else of that night, but the memory of those bombers is still very clear.

There was an army unit stationed in town, their barracks was at the bottom of the Caledonian brae on Montgomery Street. We kids soon found out where their Mess Hall was and would sneak up to the windows and ask for some food. I remember at one time a Soldier handed out a few big red sausages, we thought all our Christmases had come at once, until we tasted them, they were far too spicy for our simple tastes. They got thrown to the birds, but even the seagull wouldn’t eat them.

One day there was a great commotion outside the Castle Graigs, a lot of people had gathered around the entrance, What we saw when we joined them was all very strange to us as just kids, But we new something bad had happened, though we didn’t understand what. I have since found out that this was the 27th March 1943 the day HMS Dasher blew up just outside Ardrossan, with the loss of 379 officers and crew. What we were watching were the survivors arriving on all sorts of different Vehicles. The Castle Graigs had been turned into an emergency Hospital.

Then there was VE day {Victory in Europe} the excitement was amazing. There were lots of people dancing in the streets. The Air was filled with music and laughter people were hugging, kissing and shaking hands. The War was over

A huge bonfire had been built on top of Castle Hill, not far from the Castle and near the old shelter. On top of the bonfire there was an effigy of Hitler. That evening, which was sometime in early May 1945, the Bonfire was lit. As the flames got higher and Hitler started to burn, there were great shouts, whistles and clapping of hands from the huge crowds of Adults and Children.

The mayor of the Town, (I think his name was Captain Cunningham?) was on top of the old shelter setting off Ships Distress Rockets. He had a tripod of some sort set up in the centre of the shelter roof and the Rockets lying on the low castellated wall that run round the shelter roof. The Captain or his helper would pick up a Rocket place it in the tube on the tripod and light it with a hand held flare. The Rocket would shoot into the Air to a great height, explode and red or green flares would float slowly back to earth. This was very spectacular, the first fireworks we Kids had ever seen.

But unfortunately it all went wrong and there was an accident. It would seem that after the Captain had lit one of the Rockets in the tripod with the Flare, he brought his hand with the Flare down by his side and ignited two of the Flares that were lying on the wall pointing at the Bonfire. The first Flare shot into the Bonfire sending up a great cloud of sparks that showered down on all the people. The second Rocket slammed into a young man who was standing no more than 20ft from my Pals and me. We knew this young man, his name was Billy Dickson, and he was my Mother’s cousin. Billy was killed, I don’t remember how I knew this {probably heard some one say it}. My brother and I ran home and told Mother, at first she would not believe us, but soon found out it was true. Very sad very unfortunate a young life lost in the midst of all that celebrating.

George Fleming ~ West Australia