Anglican Samizdat

February 4, 2009

Blackberry Babies

Filed under: The fall of the West — David Jenkins @ 1:59 pm

I grew up – using that term loosely – without a telephone and my parents didn’t own a car; in my youngest years we had no TV and horses used to deliver the milk in the morning. Post World War 2 rationing was still in force, the iron railings outside my house had been taken to make guns during the war and, at age 4, I walked to school on my own without my parents having to worry about my being kidnapped.

My mother read books to me and soon I was reading them for myself; the first time I saw the seaside – Penarth in Wales – was riding with my father on a child’s bicycle seat fixed to the crossbar; helmets hadn’t been invented.

Johnny Onion men would sell onions door to door, there was no supermarket, no central heating and no complaining. My entertainment consisted of playing with the little curly haired girl, Anne, from across the street: we would play “alleys” – rolling marbles in the gutter and, on hot days dig up road tar with lollipop sticks.

My mother smoked in the same room as me, we had a tin bath that had to be filled from kettles boiled on an iron range that was heated by coal, no vacuum cleaner, no inside toilet and no money.

We did have a wireless and I can still remember – before school intruded – sitting down with my mother around 2:00 p.m. every afternoon to listen to “Listen with Mother”. Later, when I read to my children I usually began with, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

I don’t remember any children being hyper-active, suffering from attention deficiencies nor their parents being depressed, mentally unstable or malcontent. My grandfather, who lived with us, won my affection by being a soft touch for threepenny bits which could be used for ice-cream. He had worked in a brewery and – as my mother told me later – became a little too fond of the fruit of his labour. To my mother’s horror, he used to urinate in the kitchen sink, presumably after over-imbibing.

A rude interruption of these halcyon days came when I started Seven Road Junior School. One of my first teachers was Mr. Stucky who, on the first day, introduced thirty nervous four and five year olds to the oak case hanging on the schoolroom wall: it contained an array of canes, each with its own name. Bad behaviour in class was never a problem. It was in that year, as I recall, that my affections for the curly-haired Anne waned and I fell head-over-heels for brown-eyed Helen. Over the years, this became a recurring pattern.

A couple of years later we were handed a mug and given a half day off school to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

In the summer we used to catch a bus into the country to pick wild blackberries; later, these would magically be turned into blackberry and apple pie by my mother. An incomparable delicacy.

And now we have this:

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Parents who want to stop their children from picking up and playing with their gadgets can now buy a child-friendly alternative for £19.99.

Dubbed the ‘BlackBerry for babies’ the ‘Text and Learn’ device from LeapFrog looks like an over-sized PDA and is designed for children as young as three-years-old.

The gadget helps youngsters learn how to ‘browse’ and ‘text’ without going online, allaying parental fears of their children being contacted by strangers or cyber-bullies.

I am profoundly grateful to have grown up when I did.



  1. Ah – you brought back so many memories that had lain dormant. I grew up across the river – the Severn River that is. Or perhaps it was then wide enough to be called the Bristol Channel.

    Comment by Margo — February 4, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  2. We used to go for the occasional jaunt across the Bristol Channel on the paddle steamer; there is a big ugly bridge now, of course.

    Did you live in Weston-super-Mare?

    Comment by David — February 4, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

  3. No – but we went there to ‘the seaside’ – my first recollection of ‘the sea’ – paddling with buckets and spades. Not to mention the infamous mud! I grew up in a couple of places in central Somerset – edge of the Mendips.

    Comment by Margo — February 4, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  4. and no complaining

    I’ll bet your mum had a different memory- no whining, maybe…. 😉

    Comment by Kate — February 5, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  5. In Canada the ice wagon would stop in front of our house in downtown Montreal and the coal wagon came in the back. G-men, Gangbusters, Maggie Muggens and the Lone Ranger were on the radio, the newspaper was 3 cents, Winnie the Poo was a column read to me by Granny. Change from a nickle was mine for penny candy. I had a bracelet with my name and phone on for the times I would go for long walks and forget my way home. At 6-7 I could stop at any house to call home. I shared pop bottles, ate peanuts, raw from the shell, consumed enough dirt to fill a basement, played in the coal pile and ate soap for saying s–t at the dining room table. I owned a gun at 12 and still haven’t become a serial killer.

    Comment by Steve L. — February 7, 2009 @ 7:09 pm

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