For us kids back in the Sixties, garden hopping was the equivalent of black ops. Requiring the most cunning of skills and hair-trigger senses, I'm surprised we weren't all recruited by the Green Berets!
Essentially garden hopping was the planned incursion into neighbours' grounds or put another way, walking voluntarily across enemy lines like suckers. Without the benefit of covert halo drops we had to rely on our nimble legs and sheer infant stealth to take us across the most herbaceous of borders.
Most garden hops took place at night under the cover of darkness [daylight missions were only dreamt of]. It was also a group activity, a bit like monopoly with torches. Usually we would plan a route, starting in my garden and ending at a specific destination several gardens away, considering all the possible hazards in what would now be called a risk assessment. We were ahead of our time and at the cutting edge of guerrilla tactics.
Chief among the risks was detection by the human enemy and their quadrupedals: dogs and cats, with the occasional ambush by avian agents and in particular patriotic geese. Other hostiles included milk bottles, garden chairs, gnomes [especially those gone fishing], deck chairs, plastic animals, sun dials, bird baths, dustbins [the metal ones] and rakes.
Rakes were the landmines of suburbia, completely invisible in the dark and if positioned correctly, utterly devastating on facial impact. Similarly, empty glass milk bottles left out loose for the milkman were the equivalent of nuclear strike sirens in the days before anyone had burglar alarms.
Touching one bottle would set off a chain reaction sending all of them spinning and gyrating like waltzers. If we'd been champion ten-pin bowlers we couldn't have done any better. The clinking vessels would whirl furiously like break-dancers, the 'Leave an extra Pinta' note flying through the air like a coded message and the hollow tinkling racket waking every canine operative in the street!
It was usually at this point that the enemy searchlights were switched on and trained into the garden as the householders turned the outside lamp on. This was the most heart-stopping of experiences, easily worse than your Aunty hugging you at weddings and the Def Con 1 moment of garden hopping.
Should we have been lucky enough to have actually dodged all these obstacles and come through the first garden unscathed we then commenced phase 2 of the operation, a white knuckle, hyper-ventilated creep across the party boundary.
Usually it was our special kit which came into its own at this dangerous stage: gloves. We wore gloves to limbo under fences or bulldoze through gaps in hedges. When the Kung Fu craze hit in the early Seventies we progressed to the secret moves of the deadly Ninja and boosted our black bags with torches, short poles, small rugs and garden shears. We stopped short at grappling hooks but we did black our faces and wear dark clothes and woolen hats. We were the the Ronin of the rockeries.
Once across several lawns and at the chosen end-point their began probably the most sphincter-loosening part of the whole mission: getting past the last house and out out onto the street. Sometimes this was my own and sometimes, if we had crossed back-to-back gardens, it was the opposite street, where we would be less recognisable under the jaundiced glow of the road lamps.
With a fair wind, sleeping dogs and milk bottles conveniently caged in special baskets, we would slip down the side of the last house, the last house on the left and smell the sweet perfume of freedom and a mission almost accomplished. Once home, we would each celebrate sharing a pint bottle of cold milk from the fridge, savouring the creamy pride only felt by members of the world's commando elite.
Yes, back then, we were the undisputed, milk-tashed Kings of garden hopping in our street. Were you readers?