Voices in the gloom

There is a joy in hearing children’s voices emerging from the greyness of an autumn evening. Every last minute of daylight is spent in the company of friends. Roller skates and bicycles are used on the road with a casual disregard for the fact that cars occasionally come and go. Drivers are expected to give way to the younger road users. The exceedingly mild temperatures for mid-October mean that t-shirts are still the normal wear; the days of warm clothing and waterproof coats are still to come.

There is a reassurance in the presence of the voices. Children still choose outdoor life when it is possible, still prefer their bikes and their skates to sitting in front of a screen, holding a console, engaged in pointless electronic battles with non-existent enemies. Nothing can beat real games with real people.

In a moment when past and present roll into one, there is a memory of such an evening fifty years ago.

The summer of 1968 had brought delight – a blue RSW 14 bicycle. Having reached the age of seven the previous October, I had been able to sign the withdrawal slip needed to take money out of my Post Office savings account toward the cost of the purchase. The bike had been used for countless hours over the course of the summer, but the shortening days had meant the opportunities to ride up and down Windmill Road at frantic speed were becoming limited.

Having an October birthday did mean there was a monent to which to look forward in a long autumn season that would drag its way to the Christmas holidays that seemed a lifetime away. My eighth birthday that year brought the promise of being able to ignore the dark evenings – I had lights fitted to my bike for my birthday. Lights meant being able to head out into the darkness and join others cycling the roads around the village.

In retrospect, it seems extraordinary that an eight year old boy and his contemporaries were allowed to head out on their bicycles on dark evenings. Fifty years later, there are still no street lights in the village; in 1968, there were far fewer houses and those there were did not have the numerous bright electric lights that are now the norm of modern homes. Dark evenings meant a real darkness, but with dynamo powered lights on your bike, darkness was no problem.

Darkness now brings the disappearance of the voices – the times have changed.


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