Holidays were a little bit different back then

John Ward
John Ward
Have your say

WARD’S WORLD: By madcap inventor John Ward

With the crowds about at this time of the year, including many of the younger element last week, it must mean it was that half term break time again. Hearing one encounter recently took me back a few years ago now when our brood were at school as I saw another side to all this ‘holiday time’ that come round – not for us as in the adult side of course as we still had to do the ‘eight or nine to five’ thing regardless.

At the time I had a sort of hobby that was basically recycling of sorts and not the trendy stuff of today as I took an old used freezer, made it into a ‘caravan’ playhouse plus electric car from old washing machine innards and a twelve volt car battery, that ‘towed’ the above caravan, a fridge turned into a Wendy house with windows (made from plastic before health and safety and Box Tickers United get on my trail) plus tree house, roundabouts, slides but mainly built from stuff that was being thrown out or discarded, but I did clear up after myself.

As word spread (?) local (and further afield) companies, firms were getting in touch to ask if I would pop in and see if anything they were throwing out would be of use and this saved them skip hire space, so win-win really. I made a climbing frame from an old factory fire escape or rather its handrails, ‘tree houses’ from old pallets, three- and four- wheeled bikes (posh definition: cycle) from just old bits of bikes (cycles) and so on – nothing that could be called rocket science and one Sunday newspaper article actually described our garden ‘Disneyland by junk’ but hey, wadda they know?!

At any one time we had about a dozen or more of our children’s friends in the garden and had we charged entrance, we might have given Alton Towers the jitters.

A little while later, a delightful man from the BBC arrived called Richard Pearson – I would love to know where he is today – who was a researcher for the – then – lunchtime programme called ‘Pebble Mill at One’ and he looked over our garden on that Friday afternoon, then within minutes he wanted our garden on Monday’s lunch time show no less. He then said he would get a lorry to come on Sunday to ‘take it away’ to their Birmingham studios. Then wife was thrilled but then not so when she realised they would also be bringing it back afterwards.

Sunday came and garden, or its children’s playthings as in contents, also went.

Monday I was there in the studio. Being live, we had a sort of a ‘quick’ rehearsal but as the audience filed in, I also ended up (due to the man booked to do the ‘meet n greet’ was unable to get there at the last minute) doing the show’s ‘warm up’ as I greeted them all as they took their seats and also thanked them when they brought them back again.

The other times I appeared there, I shared the ‘warm up’ spot with the hired help!

The show itself went okay – they tell me – and the after-effects went on for ages and in a manner of speaking ‘set the ball rolling’ with my handiwork at turning basically cast-off bits and bobs into other projects.

I could see these items had another role to play rather than ending up in a scrap yard or tip and one observation picked up from one television crew a few months later was the fact I didn’t work to any drawings or lay-out as I just started off with a basic theme of how I wanted it to look, based on what material were there to hand and they were included.

Some time later one letter that tickled me was from a man in India, who had read about us in a magazine he had acquired, and he wrote asking where he could obtain an electric motor to make a battery car for his son and wanted the make or name of washing machine to look for in his search.

My reply was that we used the one that had conked out on us and did the best we could with it and a few months later, he wrote back saying he had got an old American made model and it worked perfectly after a ‘bit of this and that’ but stopping it was next on his list of improvements or refinements as there was enough room, he said, “to fit a brake pedal as well”! Health and Safety? Eat your heart out.

After I appeared at Pebble Mill, Richard rung to ask if I would sell a three wheeled bike (posh definition: cycle) I had taken onto the show as a lady in the West Country had written and inquired about it. She explained that she had a handicapped young daughter and her balance was impaired as she could not cope with normal tricycles with one wheel at the front for steering but ours had two at the front and so what was the chances of obtaining one?

To his credit, Richard and the office staff had offered to have a whip round among themselves to ‘make me an offer’ (!) for it but as I pointed out it was our children’s property or rather their toys and to think of selling their stuff was not the done thing.

However, that teatime they came in from school and I told them the situation and to their understanding, after explaining it as I knew it, they both said the little girl should have it as she had a real need and not only that they said, I, as in me, “Could build anuvver again anyway”(!)

I rang Richard and the deal was we would give it away to this young girl, with no publicity or ‘fanfare’.

He rung somebody in Birmingham who was sympathetic in such cases, and two days later a van arrived and it went on its way to its new home.

A few weeks later I had a delightful, and unexpected, letter from the lady complete with a batch of photographs taken of her daughter riding around in their garden and the biggest thrill to her was the fact her daughter no longer fell off her bike (cycle) and hurt herself and to us mere ‘minor cogs in the machine’ so to speak, it was most gratifying.

Present time then. I overheard a mum saying to her brood that “If they behaved themselves they could go to a certain take-away” (cor!) and to think we settled for a tree house, fridge-derived Wendy house, three and four wheeled bikes (posh definition: cycle/s) so where did we go wrong! –they tell us nothing!