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Baked Spuds and Tea Leaves.

Us Common kids would smuggle some King Edward spuds from home and some matches, with a bit of the striker off the matchbox. Hide them in our jumpers and sneak over to the furthest recesses of the Common, down into the holly bushes by the St. Nick's hospital wall.

We'd gather some dry dead twigs and dry grass and build a campfire in the clearings we made inside these big bushes. We'd skewer the spud on a pointed stick and hold it over the flames. We loved sitting around the fire holding and turning our smoke blackened raw spud. It really brought out some instinctive primal satisfaction, which was, after all, only just under all of our skins anyway!

If we were careful and kept the fire well supplied with dry twigs and grass this would keep the smoke down to a minimum.

We were careful about this as too much smoke attracted the dreaded Park Keeper. If this brown uniformed fella did turn up we would scarper, running in all directions to avoid getting caught. This uniformed fella with his brown serge jacket and trousers and his brown trilby hat complete with brass badge would, often enough, turn up during our spud baking sessions, or during our secret experimental smoking pow wows!

During these very serious and secret smoking sessions we would smoke the hollow stems of dry grass, or some smuggled tea leaves from home, wrapped in toilet paper or newspaper. We'd even smoke the tobacco from discarded cigarette butts that we'd find in the gutters.  I learnt this last mentioned method of illicit smoking from the tramps. As they filed along the streets on their late afternoon journey to the doss house they would pick up discarded cigarette butts.

The doss house was situated along Plumstead High Street towards the hospital. Sometimes, on our way home from primary school, we would help a friendly smelly old tramp pick up these cigarette butts from along the gutter, 'dog-ends'  we called them.  We would sit with him on the seat, situated on Brewery Road and Orissa Road corner, and watch him as he broke all these butts up into his tobacco tin then re-roll them into fags and smoke them. So, with this very valuable lesson learnt we put it into good use, as Common kids tend to do, without too much trouble!

Even if we weren't interrupted by the keepers we never actually ever managed to cook our spuds. We would bite into our still raw, smoke blackened charred spud and declare, very convincingly, mmmm!... lovely!....secretly spitting it out as soon as possible.

Although our spuds were ever only cooked to a depth of around a millionth of an inch and our smoking exploits made us cough and choke and our red eyes stream with tears we all agreed how good it was. I  don't ever recollect getting caught by the Keepers.
On the other hand, I certainly did get caught once though!
A stunt that we used to play was to set light to the gorse bushes. These bushes grew in clumps and were dotted along the Lakedale Road side of the Common's hills. We'd light the fire and then race down to the fire station on the corner of Lakedale Road and Plumstead High Street, push the big fire alarm button on the wall outside and tell the firemen where the fire was. If you were lucky you might even get a lift up in the fire engine to the fire.

Trouble was we got split on by another kid. A copper came to our house and told our mums, Ken (Dors) and me, what we had been up to. We got a bleeding good hiding of course. We were then marched down to Plumstead Police Station to a very stern lecture and more clips round the ears before being marched all the way back home, whilst being reminded every step of the way of how we were going to cop it when we got back home. And another bleeding good hiding from dad!

Colin Weightman

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