Tuesday, 22 March 2016


In 1969, when I was 9 years old, I went with my Mum and Dad on a day out to Doncaster racecourse for the St Leger Stakes. My Dad got me to choose a horse (I can't remember its name) and he put a couple of bob on it for me. Miraculously I ended up winning 19 shillings (just under a pound back then) and when I got home, I hotfooted it to the toyshop and bought one of these:

This is a Dinky Captain Scarlet 'Maximum Security Vehicle', complete with its case of 'Radioactive Isotopes', and it cost me 13s 9d. Quite a lot of money in those days but that didn't stop me taking it out to play as soon as I could. Back then, my friends and I used every bit of the Middlefield Lane estate's infrastructure for playing on, and this naturally included the roadside kerbs. These came to act as a seemingly limitless micro-network of roads and motorways where we played any number of imaginary games with our Matchbox, Corgi and Dinky cars.

Day in, day out, we would play 'cars' at ground level, wearing out the knees in our trousers as we knelt on the tarmac gravel, or splitting the soles of our shoes as we squatted on the balls of our feet, while we pushed our cars along the kerbs. We'd get some chalk and create road markings, drawing parking bays, houses and shops on the pavements (these are surfaced over now but back then they all had real paving stones which gave us even more scope for designing our own little urban world). On a cornerstone like the one below for instance, we'd replicate the rules of the road by drawing some Give Way dotted lines and triangles.

But the only real limits here came from our imagination. One of the most important 'rules' of our own devising was that when we got tired down there on our knees pushing our cars along, we could decide to 'fly'. We'd announce 'I'm flying', and we'd pick our car up and walk over to where we wanted to go. As soon as I could, I took my new Captain Scarlet car out. At one point I decided to fly. Full of reckless excitement about my new purchase, I extemporised a bit and opened the gull wing doors for them to act as 'real' wings. As I pitched my flying car around the bend, the case of isotopes fell out, and through the grating of a drain. We all gathered together to peer down into the dark, oily, liquid depths of the estate's drainage system to see if we could fish it out, but we could see nothing: the case had sunk, lost forever. After that, I sloped off home. From then on I kept my treasured Maximum Security Vehicle on my windowsill for display purposes only. I felt so sorry for myself, I never even stopped to consider that I might have contaminated Gainsborough's water supply for centuries to come.