Destroying Ancient History and The Life and Times of Major Matt Mason.

Life was so much simpler back then… how many times have you heard that, how many times have I written that, well, it was probably true.

Just for an example, childcare for working mothers, how much simpler was that back in the day when I wor nobbut a lad ?

Much simpler is the answer, far, far simpler if only for the fact that my parents never had to factor in the cost of a child minder for Ned and I or factor in the cost of after school clubs, not when they could just shove us out the door, lock it behind them and then go off to work – and it wasn’t cruel or neglectful for the world we lived in during our school holidays was a kids paradise, imagine being given the run of your neighbourhood when all the adults were at work and you could do what the hell you liked – lets just say that there weren’t too many houses with apples left on their apple trees or fish left in their ponds by the end of the school summer holidays.

Dogs too, dogs could be just thrown out of the door in a morning and then expected to find their way back in the evening, the streets were full of roaming kids and roaming dogs – there are plans afoot now to imprison anyone who lets their dog roam the streets, Jesus Christ, EVERY dog roamed the streets when I was a lad and not all of them were ferocious.

Apart from the “Mad Dog” of course, there was that Mad Dog, the one that we would always run away from if we walked around a corner and found it standing on the path in front of us, I’m not sure that it was mad or whether it was just excited to see us, I’m not sure if it really was chasing us or whether it was trying to catch up to play with us but as far as we were concerned every time you shouted “Mad Dog” at it and ran away it chased you, so mad it became.

It helped of course that we lived here in the very last street in Leeds in this leafy 1960s suburb, you literally walked to the end of the street and there was the countryside, farm fields and barns to play in, lakes and ponds to push Stuart Ackroyd into, trees by the wood full to hunt for birds nests in – a gang of ten year olds could occupy their days for months on end without ever getting bored and if you got bored there was always another dare for Stuart Ackroyd to perform for he was a fool, “Dare you to jump off the roof of the barn and survive” we’d say, and so he would, just because we’d started the sentence with “Dare you to…”

We had the beck to spend all day long messing about in, a beck, a Yorkshire word for a stream, ours was about 8 to 10 feet wide and maybe 1 to 2 foot deep, its fenced off these days because its too dangerous for children to be near, fook me, we were never out of it when we were ten years old, our entire summer school holiday one year was spent trying to dam it and we managed to get a wall around three feet high across the width at one point which made for a marvellous swimming pool on the other side, marvellous until you tried to swim in it, its one thing to paddle in a stream all day long but take your shirt off and try and swim on the deep side of a dam and you’ll perish from severe frost rash even in August.

The dam was built from neatly cut and dressed stone that we found cutting across the bed of the stream at one point, a strip of what could be described as large cobbles, almost like a properly laid road running underneath the land and only visible where the stream had cut through the fields to expose it, its our fault that archaeologists can no longer find any trace of the Roman Road that is shown on all the old maps of these parts but if any of them want to know where it used to be I can point to where it used to be by means of recompense for destroying 1900 years of history and describe to them what a great time we had using that roadstone to dam the beck that summer, sorry Time Team.

We found an old wooden broom head one year that someone had flogged to death and then thrown away, it only had two tufts of broom left stuck to the oval wooden head but when you floated it on the beck it looked like a two masted schooner and so whole days were spent walking to the very far extent of our territory up near the airport, releasing our two masted broom schooner and following it eagerly downstream to the other extent of our territory about two miles away at the railway station, if I suggested to my kids that they could fill a whole day in by walking for several miles while following an old broom head down a stream they would have me committed to an asylum.

And it was aboard the two masted broom schooner that Needhams Major Matt Mason met his doom, or maybe not, maybe Needhams Major Matt Mason still sails the seven seas to these days, Major Matt Mason, a sort of Action Man figure that Needham was given for his birthday one year, we tied him to the broom schooner and set his sails for the Far East in the tradition of  the tea clippers – unfortunately we couldn’t get him out of the beck when he reached the station and with tears in our eyes we waved him a fond farewell as he sailed of into the uncharted waters of the Horsforth part of the beck, we didn’t dare follow him as some rough kids owned that part, the beck flows into the River Aire which in turn finds its way eventually to the Humber Estuary and hence into the North Sea, Forty four year later who knows where Major Matt Mason is now, probably living on a Polynesian Island in Paul Gauguin style, the dirty bugger.


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