The Pink – sports results pre-internet

In those distant days, long before social media and the internet had been thought of, sports fans had to rely on results arriving in ink that was printed on pink, or sometimes green, paper.

The newspapers providing these results had to rely on phones and shorthand notebooks and brilliant sub-editors.

I’d often be sent to fetch The Pink, or Sporting Star, from the newsagents. It was a marvel of skill and timing that was somehow on the shelves at newsagents just minutes after games had ended. All the results were included, as well as league tables. While my Dad tucked into steak and chips he could see how Wolves goal difference might help them, or how Neath got on in the rugby or what won the 2:30 at Uttoxeter.

I got some sweets for fetching it. Some twenty years after fetching the paper I found myself writing for it. I had a boxing column and provided some non-league football too. Of course no one would wait for it now and its days were numbered. It simply couldn’t compete with updates via a phone.

But I have fond memories of eating fizzy cola cubes while sitting on the railings outside our Stars newsagents learning how many points Stoke needed to catch Albion.

Cross Country Runs

Remember cross country runs at school? The sleet and the biting wind. Having to wear mesh micro-shorts and a cotton T-shirt. The teacher with the clipboard. The shame of the results posted on the cork noticeboard for all to see. Crafty smokes. Sheltering behind hawthorn hedges and blanketed horses.

Love of Ladybirds (books)

Visitors to this blog will know I’ve written in detail about growing up in the 1980s (under the title Fade to Gravy), publishing poems and stories and short non-fiction. I’ve written about PE at school, Scouts, school dinners, swimming lessons and detention among much more. I recently wrote a poem about comics and was working my way towards Ladybird books when what should come up? Shrewsbury Museum is holding an exhibition titled ‘The Wonderful World of the Ladybird Book Artists.’ The good news is that it runs until 5 June so you’ve plenty of time to go and Shrewsbury is a great place to visit anyway. More info here.

The exhibition – see the wall of titles below – is curated by Helen Day. She has a fantastic blog Ladybird Fly Away Home which is well worth visiting.

Step into this room and rekindle powerful memories.

Wall of Ladybirds

My first book was called ‘Rocky Finds a Friend.’ But shortly after my fourth birthday I was given my first Ladybird book, ‘Chicken Licken’ (see below) by Holmcroft Playgroup. It’s a tale that might be familiar to many of you and it doesn’t sugar the pill. The ending is brutal. But I loved it. I adored the vibrant colours and the simple, easy to follow language. I remember being upset by the ending, but then life has its disappointments and hardships and losses and Ladybird titles, especially folk tales, introduced us to this at a young age.

Chicken Licken

As I grew older I got hooked on the Ladybird history series. I’d spend pocket money on them and fetch them from the (sadly no longer existing) Bookland in Stafford town centre. I’d find a quiet place and read them through again and again, by the gas fire or, in summer, beneath the apple tree. The artwork was wonderful and the exhibition features the work and background of many of these artists, including John Kenney, Robert Lumley and others. I’ve long admired Charles Tunnicliffe’s work as he captures nature wonderfully, so was glad to see this former Anglesey artist too.

Joan in trouble with Dad

What really came back to me was the sense of being lost in these wonderful books. Yes, of course tastes and attitudes have changed, but the stories are brilliantly told. I still recall much of the detail, yet I’ve forgotten so much of the thousands of books I’ve read since. Joan of Arc seemed to be eating Heinz cream of tomato soup, as we did (above) but I remembered the legend of the sword of Martel, the duplicitous dauphin and her dreadful death by fire in the marketplace at Rouen.

William I

I remember William saw Halley’s Comet and that Harold’s brother was called Tostig and that it was thought a riot had broken out when William was cheered at his coronation. Years before IKEA, the Duke of Normandy brought his own ready to assemble wooden fort to the Kent coast. It’s not known if he built it the wrong way round (as he had the instructions upside down), had to dismantle it and start again though.

Horseshoe trick

Robert the Bruce was a canny fellow. The Ladybird book relates two interesting tales along with the battles and skirmishes: he had the horseshoes put on the other way around (above) so the English would think he’d gone the other way. He also crossed streams to throw his own bloodhound off the scent after the English captured it.

Chicken Licken caption

It all started here (above). I love Ladybird books and passed them onto my sons. They were beautifully illustrated but also captured the complex lives of major historical figures in around 25 pages, managing to be thrilling, quirky and entertaining too.

If you can get along to the exhibition it’s a great place to rekindle those memories.

What was your first Ladybird book? What’s your favourite? Do you still have them?

The Mechanics’ Calendar – poem

When my Dad’s car didn’t work in the 1980s he tried to fix it himself or took it to the kind of garage that hardly seems to exist these days (there are a few about if you look for them).

The giveaway signs are men in oily overalls, a dog-eared out-of-date diary with a broken biro attached to it by parcel string, torn copies of Auto Trader, a busted chair sprouting mushrooms of foam and a calendar of women in bikinis on a Caribbean beach.

This poem is about that kind of place and how it was honest, fair-priced and decent enough. Times change and these places are not going to compete with the chrome and smoked glass and coffee machines of modern garages. Of course, so many modern appliances are not meant to be fixed or maintained cheaply.

I appreciate times have changed with regard to these calendars too (although there were plenty of calendars of Fabio and Chippendales a few years back), but the real issue here is they are dated, forgotten, tea-stained. I hope it contrasts the luxury of a Jamaican beach photoshoot and the fantasy of all that with a leaking sump on a Ford Escort somewhere in the West Midlands in February!

Games Kit Box – Fade to Gravy

The brave or foolish played Russian roulette in choosing to forget their games (sometimes called PE) kit. It was foolhardy and often meant the pain and humiliation of playing badminton in Y-fronts or joining in a game of Skins v Shirts at basketball.

If you ‘forgot’ your kit – genuinely, or in an attempt to avoid the lesson – you almost certainly ran the risk of the Games Kit Box. This meant choosing something to wear from the abandoned, fusty, torn and soiled items the school had gathered, probably since the time of the Suez Crisis. All the world’s ills were contained here: satin shorts with perished gussets, yolky armpit-stained rugby shirts and jogging bottoms big enough for a rhino to wear. Enter this box at your peril…..

Kit Box of Doom