Living in Glasgow in the 1950s my playgrounds were the streets and backcourts of the blackened city tenements. Each tenement building had up to nine or eleven flats (3 apartments on each of the three landings, and two in the close.) that each housed anywhere from 2 to sixteen or more people. (Mother, Father, the weans, as well as other family members.) And when you consider that most of these flats were only two rooms you can see how the housing authorities were concerned about health issues.

The backcourts of these tenements were our playgrounds and the middens our Treasure Islands. The middens, little brick huts that stood five feet high and had 6 ‘midden’ (trash) bins in each had concrete or corrugated tin roofs and were situated mostly in the middle of the backcourt. (Ma, I’m gaun, doon the back, roon the back, in the back, and oot the back, were all common phrases.) I should tell you before I go any further that only the posh folk, those who didn’t live in slum tenements, called the middens middens. All the rest of us called them the midgies. If you went treasure-hunting in the midgies you were called a Midgie-raker. And if you were a bad-yin you were called a Midden. “That wee midden swung aff my washin-line and broke it. An aaw ma washin wis lying in the muck!”

Children of all ages would climb the midgies and jump from one to the other proving our bravado was sincere and not hot air. Of course if you fell aff the midgie and skint yer arse or knee you weren’t feeling quite so brave. Especially if you’d ripped your dress or tore the arse oot yer good troosers. (Them being the wans you wore tae school.) Because then you were going to get a skelped arse into the bargain.

All photographs from the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol Ann Hoel
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 01:05:04

    Very interesting and informative post. I like the way you are able to write the dialect. We may be sure there will be no tenements in Heaven. No poverty. No sorrow or tears. Lots of praises to our Lord. Blessings to you, Elizabeth..


    • elizabeth
      Jun 18, 2012 @ 21:06:58

      Carol Ann, the tenements were wonderful. Neighbors knew each other well and shared everything from a slice of bread to a newspaper-sheet for toilet…use :) I have such happy memories of my childhood. But you are right, what a glorious place heaven is going to be. All the lovely neighbors without the dire poverty. :)


  2. Deanna Schrayer
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 06:26:52

    What a fun post Elizabeth. This reminds me of when my mom’s best friend, her children, and us three girls would walk from their house down to the county dump, where people would leave all sorts of treasure, (in my mind at least it was treasure). We kids couldn’t believe it when we found dolls still in boxes, full sets of dishes, working radios – we were in heaven! The bravado was attempted in the friends’ backyard, as we climbed every apple tree in sight, and then lazed about in them eating every apple our bellies could hold.
    Thanks for sharing your fond memories, and bringing them back for me as well.


    • elizabeth
      Jun 18, 2012 @ 21:09:54

      Deanna, you have to write about those times. I can’t imagine finding a doll still in its box at the dump! If we found a one-legged, one-armed, half-baldy, naked doll in the midges we thought we’d struck it rich! :)

      Tell me you will write a memoir about these times? I want to read about them.


  3. ivonprefontaine
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 09:53:35

    We used to go treasure hunting and never thought twice of it. One person’s treasure after all.


  4. Anonymous
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 11:57:58

    aye liz dae ye mind rakin the midgies in the posh backs, oor maureen was top dog at that. I remember her and her china helen found a working telly andthey stuck it in an auld bogie (pram) and selt it tae someone at the top of rutland crescent. also turning an old bike wheel i oor wee shop kiddin on we were selling a quarter o chopped pork, we had broken glass for money.I absolutley loved my childhood games, life was never the same when you reached the ripe old age of about ten years .


  5. Anonymous
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 12:02:41

    Liz thanks for the memories were great days and although we didn’t have much wealth every one around was in the same boat so they were happy times and I remember them fondly no fancy gadgets to play with or mobile phones we just played out in the back courts till dusk then you would hear your ma call oot the windy for you to come up the stair games were over time for bed great times xxx


    • elizabeth
      Jun 18, 2012 @ 21:17:17

      They sure were. I wish I was an artist and able to capture that time of night (6:00-10:00) in the summer. Aww the windows with the lights on and open. And aww the voices heard in the backcourt. Wonderful times. :)


  6. Anonymous
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 12:03:30

    I’m no anonymous I’m yer cousin Mary lolx


  7. Jim McManus
    Aug 04, 2012 @ 12:20:57

    haha! that made me smile! Wit a boot the mijy motor that we aw used tae try an get a hudgy oaf a. An then if ye found toys in a mijy you wid shout, ‘lucky midgy!!!!’ for aw the uther weans tae get some. An, the auld mattress it the boatin aw the mijy tae leap aff aw playin best man’s fall – or if yer a bit feert ye could dreepy aff it!!!!! Loved the backs


    • elizabeth
      Jan 04, 2014 @ 11:24:06

      Hi Jim, can’t believe I just stumbled over your comment. Sorry! Your dead right about the midgy-motor and hudgies. Scared the life out of me, but oh the excitement! I mostly dreepied-aff. :-)

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your memories. All the best for 2014.


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