Taws and Bottlewashers

I found a taws today out walking with my dog.

I found a marble today let me know if you lost yours? I’ll give it back. When I was a lad we called the small one’s taws and the large one’s bottle washers. It was just lying by the road among bags of trash. Why would anyone throw such a precious object out?

I was taken back fifty years to my carefree days of childhood. Hours of fun, free to roam and wander. The only rule be home in time for tea. No phone or money, just your mates and a big wide world to explore.

There was no monetary value to these beautiful coloured orbs of glass. Worth more to us than jewels or cash. To win and see your stash grow was wonderful. ‘Losing your marbles’ to some other kid going home with bags full, was terrible. Seeing someone else walk off with your treasured property was one of life’s first tough lessons.

Today though was good I returned home plus one. It was a little dirty and scratched, a good day, my stash has started again. All I need now is a game or two to see it grow.

I was exploring places I wandered as a child, there’s a little of it left.

It was called Black Road I never knew why. All I could see was a dirty, rutted lane. Maybe the name was a link to way back when. The area had coal mines a long time ago. I suppose the coal dust could have given the lane its name.

Red Road started next to it. One went left and the other right. East Leeds cricket club was and still is nestled in between.

Red Road followed the railway line down to Osmondthorpe and Halton Moor. The quickest route for us to the wonders of Temple Newsam. It meant passing by these two large housing estates always with some trepidation less we be accosted by a hitherto unknown adversary.

My Dad once told me that Red Road was a service road for Temple Newsam, the city end of the estate and parkland. The estate was sold to the city council in the 1920’s as the slow process of it being swallowed up by the Leeds began. Red Road was a place of much fun. There were ponds half way along fed by a natural spring that must have been rich in iron, giving the rust coloured mud and water. I collected tadpoles in a jar there and climbed up the banking to explore the railway sidings.

Later in life I learnt to ride a motorcycle up and down the track road before being old enough to take on a proper road. I walked to and from a girlfriend’s house. It had a feeling back then of being in the countryside, a place of happy memories. It’s gate in the heart of East Leeds opposite the Bridgefield Pub. Even as I was growing up it felt like a gate letting you out of the city. Now with all the factories, warehouses, cars and roads that feeling is gone.

The other road the black one was also bristling with adventure and excitement for us kids growing up along the city edge. I think it’s proper name was Pontefract Lane and even though it’s namesake town is less than twenty miles away I never understood why it had that name. As a child I had no idea where Pontefract was. Communities even in the 1960’s were quite insular. I’m sure there were plenty of people in Pontefract who had no idea where Cross Green was.

It wasn’t a grand road going all the way to Pontefract as you might expect, just a track. Drab and dreary leading to a bygone industrial landscape of landfill, old mines and slurry pits. Hamlets and the hard farming life long gone. There were old railways lines and buildings to explore. The stream at Red Walls to splash about in or just hours of fun just riding over the humps and bumps of the rutted road.

For the true adventurer, there was an old shooting range in the grounds of Skelton Grange Power Station. Entry was of course strictly forbidden. The River Aire meandered nearby on its journey towards the sea. In those days it was black and dead, with pollution of all kinds pouring into it from the towns and cities upstream.

The area was a strange one, land scarred and poisoned by industry never to be built on. Not urban, not rural. Once more Temple Newsam was always there for us at the end of journey. The return journey home could be up either of the roads you hadn’t used on your outward journey.

I drive through the area regularly now on a new link road, a link road to join a new motorway to the city. The beautiful parkland is still there hemmed in on all sides, the river much cleaner. The city’s sewage works is itself the size of a small town. There’s even a new park and ride facility and a huge wind turbine. Factories and warehouses cover every inch of green. It seems once more this part of the Aire valley south of the city has found a purpose other than a playground for young lads and lasses.

It is still a lifeless eerie place, just a handful of people living here, who would want to? Today though instead of a handful of kids passing through, there are tens thousands each day working or heading into the city.  Maybe it’s me growing older. The place seems soulless, melancholier than it ever was back then. Big business fast lives and progress are the order of the day.

I found a taws today out walking with my dog.

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