Johnny Seven // Patrick

This photograph in the Shirley Baker exhibition (on until August 28th 2017) made an immediate impact on me when I saw it. I knew that gun. As a boy I dreamt about that gun, I coveted that gun. As Geoff Knight points out on the audio guide, it’s a Johnny Seven. In the mid-Sixties it was the ultimate gun toy. So what was a Johnny Seven? Here, let me show you;

Shirley Baker  Manchester 1968  © Shirley Baker Estate

Shirley Baker Manchester 1968
© Shirley Baker Estate

Who wouldn’t want one of those?

I never did get a Johnny Seven but my cousin did, so at least I got to die a thousand dramatic deaths from one.

I didn’t live in Salford during the Sixties and Seventies, but in Heaton Moor, Stockport and, looking round the exhibition, my childhood was the converse of many of these children.

We lived on new housing estate built on farmland and there were still several farms around the area. Hard to believe, but I can stand there now and legitimately say that when I were a lad, all this were fields.

At the back of our house was a pig farm. We used to play with the piglets in school holidays. They also ran a horse-drawn milk cart. Every Saturday morning my dad would give me and my brother our seaside buckets and spades to go and collect the horse manure from the road as it was ‘good for the roses’. In the same way, he used to say that the smell of the pig farm was a ‘good natural, healthy smell.’ I’m still not convinced.

There was a fallow field at the end of the road, where we played; one patch worn down to a fine lawn where boys played football and, in summer, the rest of the grass came up to your shoulders.

By the early Seventies that had been bought up by a property developer, too. So although we didn’t have partly-demolished houses to play in, we did have partly-built ones. Stairs led to first floors with nothing but joists, which led to daring races across them (no thought to the consequences of a missed step). Stacks of window and roof frames became instant forts and clods of dry soil became grenades that that, when lobbed, exploded in a spectacular and dangerous shower of dirt and stones.

We also had the common, known locally as ‘The Bonks’. No, no idea why - even the grown-ups called it that. ‘You’re not going down the Bonks!’ We did though. The big draw was a circular dirt track with steep rises and dips. We didn’t build carts, we built scramblers; bikes created from an assortment of chassis, handle-bars, saddles and wheels. If you were lucky, you might have brakes. These days they call it BMX.

In the holidays, we really were let out after breakfast and not expected home until dinner time and then out again until tea. And then there was one bath a week, on Sundays before The Lone Ranger, and…

Don’t get me started. Or rather, do.

Stop me and ask about the pop lorry, cap gun rolls, or today’s wimpy health and safety regulated playgrounds. ;)