Friday, 22 August 2014

Chubbing as a nipper

Childhood freedom

As a child growing up in the 1960s on the Eastmoor Estate in Wakefield, my playground consisted of fields, dens, paths, bushes, trees, woods, a canal, a river, bridges, haunted ruins, marshes, bonfires…. On days out, my eldest brother would take me, my mum and sister to places like Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, a weird and atmospheric collection of rocks on the moors near Pateley Bridge. Another day might be spent exploring the ruins of the great northern abbeys – Byland, Fountains, Jervaulx, Kirkstall, Riveaulx and Roche. In winter laking out* might mean involving two gangs playing Kick Out Can in the smog-riddled ginnels** and gardens of the estate.
*laking out = playing out from the Old Norse laik – “to play”
**ginnels = snickets, alleyways

Bonfire night

TV for children was limited, computers were non-existent and so running free seemed to be the only way to live – but back for tea or for bed! Friendships, loyalties, enemies and rivalries were passionate, none more so than around bonfire night when rival gangs went chubbing*** and then jealously guarded their huge bonfires. It was a great honour to be on guard duty, especially if you were a nipper**** and you were paired up with one of the older lads. 
***chubbing = scrounging for stuff to burn on the street bonfire
****nipper = small kid
Chubbing in the 1960s. Photo property of Bill Bullock.
The giant stack – a health and safety nightmare
Modern health and safety regulations wouldn’t tolerate the sorts of bonfire night I remember from childhood.  The centre pole was usually an abandoned telegraph pole with discarded railway sleepers stacked around it.  Linton Road householders would shove in broken cupboards, old sofas and discarded toys so the stack looked like an immense wigwam jumble sale.  Whether the urban myth was true – that one year, one boy was burned to death because he fell asleep when on guard – I never found out.  But the nearest Saturday to November 5th always saw the conflagration go up with a roar.
A local bonfire stack that wouldn't be allowed these days

Tasty treats


Pork pies, mushy peas, baked potatoes, parkin and “bonfire toffee” appeared with paper cups of pop from the Corona van – dandelion and burdock, cola, lemonade, orangeade, cream soda, limeade, cherryade. Some “taties” were cooked on sticks in the fire itself. Did the mums all have a planning meeting to coordinate all the food and drink?   


Are the memories true?

Every year someone was burned with a banger and every year someone had to stay up through the night until the embers were safe to leave. Was it really as wild and pagan as my memory conjures? Or have the phantom dangers of childhood conjured a more feral existence than really happened?