The Night Shift

The first thing I must do here is give a little apology from all of us boys to all of those people who put up with what were sometimes silly and thoughtless acts. Particularly at night, the pinching of fruit, throwing stones on rooves etc, left a lot to be desired. But the tolerance of the oldies in particular, who took all this in their stride, not complaining much but in fact going out of their way to make us feel welcome and valued members of the community. Those people are no longer here, but wherever they are, if there road is dark, I hope a little light will guide them. And if some are feeling lost and lonely, I hope a little thank you is whispered in their ear to warm their hearts and make them feel wanted, as we were.

In summer, the extended daylight hours after dinner were used to the full. Our street seemed to be the centre of most after dinner activities. A mob of about thirty children from adjoining streets as well as ours were all involved in a myriad of boisterous games. Anything from Hoppo-Bumpo, Skipping, Brandy, Hide and Seek and Hopscotch. With Hoppo-Bumpo, the participants hopping on one leg with a jockey on their backs would push and bump opponents until they either fell over or put both feet down. Jim Manton and I were the champions here. Because Jim was a big boy and I was small, our power to weight ratio was superior to all the others. Brandy was played with a tennis ball. Whoever was "He" had the ball and tried to hit any of the others with it. If anyone was hit, then they became "He". The noise this generated was intense, with all trying to get away from the ball. Leaping fences, yelling, screaming and dodging was great fun.

Whilst all this was going on the oldies would sit on their verandas with a cup of tea and (I think) thoroughly enjoy what was the closest thing to a serial (like the Saturday matinees) in cinema scope. I often saw them laughing at some athletic piece of dodging or fence leaping. As darkness slowly crept in the voice of one of the moms calling her brood would decrease the mob until eventually all the street was dark and quiet.

Guy Fawkes night was very special. It took weeks of organising and much work to build the huge pyre on the spare block Guy Fawkes sitting way on top was an added attraction. A team of moms made toffee apples for all the children. A marathon effort, for there were a million children. With the fire roaring, the crackers, rockets and sparklers were going off for hours. It was hard to take it all in but I am sure everyone including the moms and oldies enjoyed every minute. A night to remember always.

Every second Friday night was CEBS night (every other Friday from movie night). CEBS was Church of England Boys Society. It was run in the church hall at Upwey by a man named Jim. I never knew his other name and I did not know what Jim's position in the church was. I do know that Jim was an excellent teacher. I must give credit to the church, they had a lot of equipment. Medicine balls (a round ball twice the size of a basketball and very hard and heavy), athletic bars, a wooden horse for turning somersaults and lots more. Jim was very laid back, he never intervened until things got to the bedlam stage (this was about twice a night). On the way to and from the boys club, we practiced on streetlights and rooves with our slingshots. I never knocked out many streetlights (only because I wasn't much of a shot - I tried too hard). I bought a brand new torch for CEBS. All the others had one. Mine cost a full week’s wages, one and six. It was a two-battery torch, the same as all the others, except one. This boy, I cannot remember his name, had an eight battery torch. Fair dinkum, it was like an army searchlight.

The Upwey public toilets were onyx a dribble from the church hall. We had a competition going there before CEBS. It ran for many weeks, to see who could pee highest up the wall. It was head to head for a while (sorry about that). Well John Bland ruined the competition one night by peeing right over the wall. He streeted the rest by about two feet.

We had a break-up night for Christmas holidays. The club was to put on an exhibition of athletics with a supper after for all. Everyone was invited and Jim had tutored mostly older boys for the special night. They were all very good and sitting a couple of seats from the front, I was enjoying it all. We got to the pyramids. This is where four boys knelt on the floor. Three boys stood on their backs linking arms. Two boys climbed up those three and balanced on their shoulders (terrific stuff). They linked arms then stood one leg moving the other out as if doing the splits (Bill French was one of these two). It got great applause because it was very good. But a group of girls in the front row started giggling and holding their hands over their mouths. I was sitting behind them and when I looked where they were looking, Bill's baggy shorts were showing the audience plenty of Bill that he probably would not want shown. I'm sure he didn't know, so it saved him a lot of embarrassment. Still it could have been worse if Mr. Greg had been sitting in the front row instead of up the back. Remember this happened before supper and Mr. Greg, like me, was probably hungry. Heaven knows what might have happened.

I have said before about moms night work. If the weather, and of course the season was right, the rest of the Oliver's had a little night shift too. With aid of Bill French who stayed quite late at our house some nights, we went fruit hunting. Well perhaps hunting isn't the word because we had already reconnoitred all likely trees over a big area. It was not a good idea to stay in your neighbourhood when fruit hunting. Reg's ideas on fruit hunting were what we stuck with mostly and they were simple. Only take a few fruit from each tree. Fruit was always lost to birds, so the owners would not know the difference. But when we got to a really good tree, Tony got excited and took as much as he could carry. This created tensions then fisticuffs. While Reg and Tony sorted out their differences, Bill and I sat down in the dark and watched while sampling. We never interfered because the altercations never lasted long and were quickly forgotten. All over, our night shifts went well. A few stomachaches from eating too much fruit that wasn't quite ripe was the worst. Mom finding fruit under my pillow took some explaining.