No smoke without playing cards

As an only child, grandchild and nephew (not that you can tell!) it was my parents, grandparents and great aunts and uncles’ job to entertain me. One uncle decided he would introduce danger into playtime within my Balham flat.

There was always a pack of cards lying around when I was a kid (my mum always wanted to be a croupier, but never got further than the church whist drive); my uncle would build towers with them. My uncle was a heavy pipe smoker, so his pipe was invariably on – nothing like going to school smelling of your uncle’s finest shag (insert your own gag here).

He’d inhale and blow the smoke through the bottom of the cards. The smoke would drift up and eventually exit through the hole he’d made in the top. The first time I ever saw the election of the new Pope on TV I thought, once the decision had been made, my uncle had been in the cellars of the Vatican blowing smoke up the Papal chimney.

We would lie down on the carpet of my flat (which wasn’t shagpile, so no running gag this week) to get the best effect of the smoke rising – and it is only now, with my mental health & safety handbook going cray, that I realise how dangerous this would have been!

Highly-flammable carpet, burning tobacco embers, child who wasn’t allowed matches until he was twenty-six – what could possibly go wrong?

Either we’ve elected a new Vicar of Balham, or the Fire Brigade needs calling.

Mere bagatelle

If you asked anyone of my generation what Minecraft was, they’d probably say it’s something decorative made out of coal you’d put on a mantelpiece.  For those without grandchildren, it is a computer game.

In the ‘60s, growing up a computer was as big as a house, and you only saw one if you lived next door to Alan Turing.

One of the things which entertained me indoors was a bagatelle board.   If you were to describe it – a wooden slab, full of nails, splinters and with ball bearings hit viciously with a wooden stick – it sounds more like a Medieval torture than a schoolboy pastime.  

A good Balham primary school mate had one and, because neither of us had school dinners (both had allergies to caterpillars – which were prevalent within the salads), we’d play most lunchtimes.  I think we both secretly hoped we’d have an international bagatelle scout come and watch us.  This was unlikely, as my mate always kept his bedroom door shut – plus, we’d been warned at a very early age to look out for bagatelle scouts.

We also had a shove halfpenny board but, after decimalisation in February 1971, frantically stowed it away in case the Inland Revenue came to our flat looking for illegal currency.

Penny up the wall anyone?