On the days that I travel into Darlington quite early, I frequently pass two similarly attired women on North Road. Dressed in long coats of high-viz yellow, which in case anyone should miss them are augmented by matching hats, they carry oversize black tennis racquet bags slung across their backs.
They are not however exponents of some new ball game with a complete disregard for fashion, out to bag the court before anyone else (though it would be amusing to see them trying to play with these “racquets” and trying to run in their long ungainly coats). They are a School Crossing Patrol, dressed to ensure that they are visible to motorists, and the bags they carry contain their “lollipops“; long poles with a round sign attached, used to stop the traffic.
When I was young, these lollipops were constructed of a single long pole, which the lollipop man or lollipop lady would carry home with them on foot at the end of their shift. They were far too long to fit into most vehicles. Modern lollipops now break down into something more portable and pack away like a sniper’s rifle.
The idea of the patrol developed in the UK in the 1950’s (though they also exist in Australia), but it was in the 1960’s that the term “lollipop man” was coined following a successful road safety campaign featuring a ventriloquist whose dummy used the phrase, although lollipop ladies are just as prevalent. It seems strange that as children we were warned against accepting sweets from strangers, but then expected to befriend one who was associated with a lolly!
The round sign at the end of the pole instructs motorists to “Stop” and carries either the word or a symbol for children, and between these is a wide black stripe. Apparently the intention of this element was to allow patrol men or women to record, with a piece of chalk, the registration numbers of any motorist who refused to stop. I have never ever seen this done, and wonder if any of our numerous lollipop men and women who patrol our roads today even carry chalk.
The lollipop man who patrols the crossing at the school where I run my photography club is not stranger to having his photograph taken. In a competition run by local paper The Sunderland Echo he was named School Crossing Patrol of the Year a couple of years back, and has featured in other local press stories too. John Plumb who originates from Plymouth (that would be a long walk with a lollipop) has even had a song written in his honour – though it wasn’t the one that is the title to this blog.
Viewing the images of him that have appeared in the press, I didn’t feel that the quality did justice to this special individual. I hope he likes the picture I took today. Wish I’d asked him about the chalk though!
*”My boy lollipop” was written in the 1950’s, but became a huge UK hit in the 1960’s when recorded by Millie. (I’ve never liked it because you can’t get it out of your head – even now!)