Wright's Aerials

The Annexe of Irrelevancies

How to fly your own kite

Boyhood in the early 1930s, at 3 Rosslyn Crescent, Bentley

“Mam, can I have tuppence for a kite?”

Where do you think I’m going to get tuppence from? No you can’t! If you want a kite you’ll have to make one.”

Well, you know how it is. Suddenly, everybody who was happy playing marbles or hopscotch or whatever all want a kite. Pleading for tuppence for a kite from Bailey’s shop brought no favourable response, so there was only one way to get one – make it. All the other kids had a kite so I had to have one. What could I use for paper? We had no tissue paper, so it would have to be a sheet from the Sheffield Independent. Now what could I use for the sticks? We had some canes from old fishing nets, but they were a bit heavy. I tied two together to form a cross. I cut the paper to shape, then I needed something to stick it together, so Mam made me some paste with flour and water. All this had to be done on the backyard because Mam wouldn’t let us mess with paste in the house.

When the kite was made it wouldn’t fly. It was too heavy. It was a disaster. Time for a rethink. The main problem was the thin sticks used to form the cross. Then my eye caught sight of someone’s fence, made with tongue and groove boards. If only I could cut off the tongue it would be perfect! First the board had to be discreetly detached from the fence and taken home, hoping no questions would be asked as to where it had come from. Then with great care using the carving knife (without Mam’s knowledge) I managed to cut off enough of the tongue to make the kite. The two slivers of wood were tied together to make the cross.

This kite was to be much smaller than the first one. This time I tied some sugar string to the tips of the cross so that the paper could be folded over it. This made it much stronger. By taking more care with the sticking down of the paper and having less overlap the weight was much reduced. String threaded through the paper and tied to the long stick to form a loop gave me the place to attach the long string. Now some tailings were needed. Pride demanded that these be as long as possible. A string was tied to the point of the kite and four inch long folds of paper fastened to it every six inches or so, then on the very end a piece of rag or sometimes a tuft of grass was fastened. The weight of the final tailing was important. Too heavy and the kite wouldn’t fly; too light and the kite wouldn’t stay upright in flight. Now I was almost ready for a trial run. But I had no string. A search of the string bag revealed only a few short pieces that were nowhere near long enough even when I tied them all together. A visit to Grandma’s was called for.

First make sure your shoes are clean and dry and your knees are not dirty, then off you go on a casual visit. You go in and sit on the sofa. Grandma is suspicious, she looks you up and down, can’t find anything to grumble about, and asks you if you would like some bread and jam. Of course you would. Bread and jam eaten you tell Grandma the reason for your visit. She brings you her string bag and lets you look through it for anything you want. (String bags – everybody had one, a cloth bag with a drawstring neck, and every bit of string that came into the house would be carefully tied up and put in the bag for future use. There was no Sellotape in those days.)

But even with the string from Grandma’s it was nowhere near enough. Then my cousin Hedley came to our house. His Mam had bought him a kite but he couldn’t make it fly. I noticed the string he had on it. “Where did you get that?” I asked.

“My Mam gave it me. She’s got a big ball of it in her machine drawer.”

How to get my hands on it was quite a problem. Auntie Dorothy was not likely to let me into her kitchen, never mind the front room where the sewing machine was. It wasn’t an old Singer like Grandma’s; it was a posh one with three drawers on each side. Then I had a thought. Maybe Hedley could manage to get into their front room. I knew it would be difficult because the room was out of bounds to Hedley and Clifford. So I fixed his kite and he promised to try and get the string, and in fact he did. It was on a kind of bobbin that said ‘Crochet cotton’, and it was very thin and quite strong. I took my kite to the park and after a few alterations to the tailings it was a great success. But I soon got fed up with it and turned to something else.

I never heard any more about the crochet cotton, but Hedley stopped coming round to our house to play. Maybe I was leading him into bad ways.

Albert Wright

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