The Penny Scrush

Beware of the pointed finger - you could never tell if it was loaded!

Did you know there was such a word as scrush? It’s a fact. There is crunch and scrunch and even squash, but no scrush. That is according to the Oxford Dictionary, but what do them foreigners down South know? Of course there is. We know that and if it isn’t in the English language then it ought to be.

There is scrush in, scrush along, scrush up and of course there is, or was, ‘The Penny Scrush’.

Nobody under the age of sixty will have experienced the Penny Scrush, but I can assure you that no self respecting flea pit would be without one on a Saturday afternoon and I can tell you they were the highlight of our young lives. We talked about them and role played our screen heroes from one Saturday till the next.

I loved them Saturday afternoons, well the part of them I spent in the picture hall that is, but leading up to that time could be a bit fraught waiting for the old man to come home from work via the boozer to give us our pocket money. I would be anxiously clock watching, wondering if he would arrive home in time for us to get to the picture house. Most times he did, but it was often a close call and when he did come rolling home, smelling of ale and full of blether about his drinking companions, our anxiety wasn’t over. For all the while he rambled on about his canny mates my mother would be ticking away like an angry time bomb so that we prayed he would dish out the dosh before she exploded, because then anything could happen.

One time I remember I did miss my beloved matinee. That was when my father wanted me to go to Gray’s shop for a double Woodbine before he would give me my pocket money. A double Woodbine was a packet of ten costing 4d while a single Woodbine was a packet of five costing 2d. I stubbornly refused to go as a matter of principle. I reckoned that I was entitled to my pocket money without having to earn it. Unfortunately for me he was just as stubborn so, like I said, I missed the pictures that week, but he must have felt guilty about it for it never happened again.

We got few treats in those days and of course there was no television so you can imagine our excitement when Saturday came. We would dash off to the Queens, Wallsend, my favourite Scrush and we would queue up in the back lane, behind what is now a fireplace shop on Station Road, clutching our precious entry money and perhaps a bag of bruised fruit if we had an extra copper.

Funny how we never seemed to buy anything new or undamaged. There were bruised fruit, cracked eggs, broken biscuits and bacon pieces. I suppose it was because times were hard, though as kids we just accepted that as normal.

There would be the usual argy bargy as we waited in the queue and the occasional scrap to keep us entertained before the doors opened. Then we would cast our pennies into a tin box, no tickets and enter Bedlam. Some folk remember gaining admission with a jam jar but that must have been before my time.

Monkey nut shells were ankle deep on the floor and a relentless bombardment of orange peel and apple cores, or gowks as we called them, went on overhead and the noise level was never less than five decibels higher than the Battle of the Somme.

The attendants had but one duty and that was to cram in as many bodies as possible, hence the term Penny Scrush and, as the seats in the Queens Cinema had no armrests, the numbers were almost unlimited. A present day safety officer would have died of apoplexy at the overcrowding.

When the last kid with the last penny had been scrushed in the lights would dim and, to the accompaniment of a combined Gallowgate/Roker roar, the first film would come on. This was usually a comedy short featuring the Three Stooges, or Edgar Kennedy, or Leon Errol in ‘Behind the Eight Ball’. Next came the ‘Big’ picture, invariably a Western starring the likes of Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, Dick Foran or Johnny Mack Brown. We would judge the quality of the film by its violence content. It would be acclaimed as ‘great, stacks of fighting’ or ‘lousy, full of slop’.

When we got home we would re-enact the parts our heroes had played. I was always Ken Maynard and we never walked anywhere, always we were mounted on horses, white ones of course, but beware of the pointed finger, you could never tell if it was loaded! Many is the shootout I’ve taken part in armed only with a pointed finger. But few people died in those gun, or finger, battles. The worst you would ever admit to was being shot in the arm and everyone knew that was nothing to the likes of Ken Maynard or Buck Jones.

The third film, we certainly got value for our pennies, was the one which really concentrated our minds and caused endless argument and speculation. It was ‘the serial’. Each week the hero or heroine would be plunged into a dire situation from which there could be no possible escape. He/she would be shot and fall beneath the hooves of a thousand stampeding cattle, or he would be flung into a pit of man eating lions or crocodiles while being bound head and foot, or he would be strapped to a platform whilst a hundred knives descended upon him and that was when the film would end with those immortal words flashing upon the screen ‘Continued Next Week’.

While the scriptwriters, (were they written or made up as they went along?) were very adept at getting our heroes into these impossible situations, their solutions were less than convincing, even to us kids. Nine times out of ten they resorted to the ‘with one bound he was free’ formula and, though it left us with a sense of disbelief, we couldn’t wait for more of the same.

Rather like some of our present day Soaps.

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