by NEILL GREENLEES
Enjoying the best of times in the Lisburn of yesteryear
TO quote one of Dickens most famous lines, the autumn of 1939 could be said to be both `the best of times and the worst of times'.
For Bill Rea and his classmates at Lisburn Central School taking their first tentative steps in education under the watchful eye of Miss Bowden it was a time of discovery and excitement.
But for their parents it was a time of great fear and dread as they lived through the opening phases of World War II.
Providing children with a secure, happy and stable environment in those days could not have been easy.
Yet Mr. Rea, who now lives in the Canadian province of British Columbia, has happy memories of life in Lisburn during his first days at school.
Despite the ominous international situation local youngsters were still able to enjoy themselves.
"I recall sitting out on the front lawn of the school making daisy chains as part of our nature study I suppose," he said.
"Or maybe it was a chance for her to get out of the crowded classroom and enjoy a breath of fresh air."
Mr. Rea also recalled the scramble to find a patch of bare earth on which to play marbles during the lunch break: "The pitch as we called it."
"The gaily coloured beauties became scarce as the war progressed and 'steelies' were substituted these being small ball bearings from the shipyard."
He described how the Principal of the school rang 'a big handbell' to announce the end of the lunchbreak.
"It was game over, ready or not. There was no lingering in those days because to be late was good for a slap or two of the cane," he said.
A favourite pastime for his generation was the collection of cigarette cards obtained from fathers, uncles and friends of the family.
"These were traded in class until a complete set was collected and I still have mine to this day," he added.
Children's games during Mr. Rea's childhood were a world away from the Playstations of today.
"A little game of blowing cards on a windowsill was very popular," he explained.
"The idea was to place a card on a windowsill upside down, press your lips on the sill and blow to flip it over.
"If achieved the card was yours and doubles were sometimes placed to 'up' the odds.
"Spinning tops with a whip was played on the way home from school on a suitably smooth pavement.
"A favourite spot for the Warren Park kids was the entry to the cemetery which was like a billiard table."
Local children soon began to make their own models of the British and American tanks which were a familiar site on the roads around Lisburn.
"Cotton reels or spools from Barbour's Mill were made into tanks by cutting notches on the circumference," said Mr. Rea.
"Climbing ability and power was obtained with an elastic band tethered at one end with a nail and threaded through the hole to a short stick which acted as the winder and guide when placed on the floor.
"For a friction reducer a piece of candle was placed between the spool and the stick.
"We raced these tanks the length of the classroom on wet days, sometimes betting with cigarette cards."
Improvised hoops to trundle along in the evenings were also the order of the day.
"Old bicycle rims or tyres were trundled along with a stick or a piece of wire bent into a 'U' shape for more control," he added.
Some pastimes were seasonal: "March was kite flying weather," said Mr Rea.
"We made our own of course out of bamboo cane and newspaper with a long tail for balance.
"We would send bits of paper flying up the taut string as secret messages and see whose got up the kite first."
Other pastimes required a bit of work: "We made guiders as. they were known and which I guess were the forerunner of the go-cart," Mr. Rea explained.
"Old pram wheels were used or bigger ball bearing wheels from the shipyard which were common and noisy.
"Sitting was more fun than pushing - a mile to the gallon of sweat as we said."
Mr. Rea's recollections of his childhood are obviously very precious to him.
"Time passes but the great memories linger on," he added.
"The cigarette cards are still here but I had to trade in the hoop for car, distances being what they are in Canada."