Monday, 17 July 2017

STOP PRESS! Bag a bargain time!


For the rest of this week (w/c 19th July) until Tuesday, 25 July, my debut novel, A Suitable Young Man  will be on special offer for 99p (UK) or 99c (US) from

A nostalgic tale of family, friendship, love, loyalty and loss set in a 1950s Lancashire mill town. 

Edited 18th July after making a mess of the original promotion by not completing the set-up. Many apologies to anyone who was caught out with this. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Forty Years On - Plus!

I'm the one just to the right behind the teacher.

 How many of us, singing that song in school assemblies all those years ago, could imagine ourselves forty years hence, let alone meeting up with our old school mates? Yet thanks to the wonders of the Internet, many of us have done that. Of course, the occasional newspaper stories about childhood sweethearts meeting up at school reunions, in some cases resulting in disrupted lives, can be a worrying aspect.
            Understandable then, that it was with some apprehension and nervousness, that a few years ago, I committed myself to attending a reunion of the 1955-57 leaving years of Farnworth Grammar School, originally located near Bolton, Lancashire, now sadly demolished to make way for the ubiquitous housing association development.
            While at school, I did not make friends easily, partly as a result of moving around with my parents’ jobs – as anyone who has read this blog before knows, they were in domestic service – and partly due to my own reserved nature. Joining the 1950 intake of Farnworth Grammar School late in the first term, by which time tentative friendships had been formed, and particularly when many of them had known each other from earlier school days, did not help either. I suppose I was lucky really; I could so easily have been bullied but for some reason I was not. I was teased but in a good-natured sort of way, made worse by being given a nickname by, of all people, our form-master, who used to read out the register until he got to the name of Anne Williams, almost the last on the register, when he called out ‘Wiggy.’
            So the anxiety and concern were perhaps justified. I had been such a nonentity at school, always on the outskirts of what was going on, the last one to be picked for team games, the one who was useless at PE. Would it be the same, I couldn’t help wondering, when I met up with them again? Thankfully, I was somewhat reassured by a couple of emails and a telephone conversation with the organisers.
            As I no longer live in the area, attending meant staying overnight at the hotel where the reunion was to take place. This could be a problem if the occasion turned out to be a disaster but I consoled myself that I could always sneak away early if that turned out to be the case. Walking into the lounge where we were to meet for afternoon tea, I was hit by a horrible thought. What if no one remembered me?
            I needn’t have worried. With my question ‘Is this the Farnworth Grammar School Group?’ a small, still slender woman with a vaguely familiar face rose to greet me and ask me my name, ticking if off a list.
Rita, the person who’d arranged this reunion and whom I’d spoken to on the phone, came forward then and said immediately ‘Anne, you haven’t changed a bit.’ Oh, no? What about the grey hair, the face in which gravity had taken over, not to mention the saggy bits on what had once been a skinny frame? I soon discovered though, that beneath the physical exterior of everyone there, you could still make out the youthful features of former schoolmates, so presumably it was the same for me.
This was confirmed when another woman, slightly frail looking but with an eager smile on her face said ‘It’s Anne, isn’t it? Didn’t we used to call you ‘Wiggy’?’ Oh, that dreaded nickname but which at least gave me some kind of identity.
A man came and sat at the side of me, apologising that he didn’t remember me. I didn’t recall his face either, but together we examined our form photograph taken in Coronation Year, 1953. That was him? But I remembered him as being tall and with abundant sandy gold locks! ‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘I stopped growing shortly after that’ he laughed, ‘and lost my hair’. It didn’t matter, what he lacked in height and hair, he made up for in humour. ‘Later’ he joked, ‘we all compare our ailments and what tablets we’re taking’.
            There were many such exclamations of wonder and amazement. Names were dropped, memories long forgotten re-surfaced, seemed as fresh as yesterday. There were shrieks of laughter over photographs produced and reminiscences of that teacher, this pupil, came to light.
            The mood continued over dinner that night when I found I was able to relax and really enjoy myself, even raising a laugh or two, something I’d never have been able to do all those years ago. But then, I’ve led a full and varied life and after a successful career, I’m no longer the shrinking violet I once was but well able to hold my own in company. Listening to the others talking, I couldn’t help reflecting on the many stories that made up our very differing lives.
            When it came to parting the next day after breakfast, everyone lingered, seemingly reluctant to say goodbye. There were many hugs and promises to keep in touch and meet up again next year. I left rather earlier than the others as I had further to travel than most of them, who still lived in and around the area, but as I did so, it with was the warm feeling of belonging in a way I’d never felt all those forty – plus – years ago.
            Sadly, I never did keep in touch. I wonder why?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

An early 20th Century childhood

Mum was the chubby one to the right of my Grandma

While sorting out some files on my computer recently, I found one about my late mother’s early 20th century childhood. Just right for Passionate about the Past, I thought. For the record, my mother was born in April 1911 just two days after the 1911 census was taken. What follows are her words, edited by me.

            My father, William Morris, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 when I was four years old. The only memory I have of him is seeing him walking down the street in his uniform. I was standing in our doorway, holding Aunty Mary Ellen’s hand at the time, and I had to ask her who the strange man was.

            Aunty Mary Ellen was my mother’s sister and she lived with us most of the time, sleeping on a sofa because there was nowhere else for her to sleep. She had a crippled leg and couldn’t work. Some of the time, she had to go in to the workhouse at Fishpool (Bolton) and she died there in 1931. I loved my Aunty Mary Ellen, she was always cheerful and I can see her now sitting in the rocking chair, her cheeks rosy from the heat of the fire, singing one of her silly little ditties.

            I got into trouble once at a tea party for singing one of Aunty Mary Ellen’s songs about a young woman who pretended to be a soldier in order to stay with her sweetheart. It was the phrase ‘her lily white breast’ that earned me a telling off from the good ladies of the Co-operative Guild.

            There were six of us, three boys and three girls. The boys slept in the back bedroom of our two-up, two-down house in Wright Street, while us three girls slept in the front bedroom with our mother. She had one bed, we three the other. Our Mary, being the eldest, slept at the top, while me and our Annie had to make do with the bottom bit. There wasn’t much room in the bedroom but somehow we managed to make a swing between the two beds with an old piece of blanket.

            With my mother being a widow, we were very poor and I remember being sent to the butcher’s for ‘6 pennorth o’bits’ We only ever had half an egg each, with a whole one as a treat at Easter. I remember, too, drinking tea out of jam jars and standing round the kitchen table because we didn’t have enough chairs.

            Clothes were always ‘hand-me-downs’ or bought second or third hand. Shoes came from Mrs Cooper, who kept a stock of assorted sizes. You had to rummage through until you found a matching pair that fitted reasonably well. I was a bit luckier than my two sisters. My mother used to clean at a big house in Rivington and the housekeeper there had a daughter about the same age as me. Her cast-offs were always given to my mother and they would only fit me. This way I once inherited a pair of kid gloves that I refused to take off, even in bed.

            When I was 11, I passed a scholarship for orphans of the war and went to Rivington and Blackrod Grammar School. How my mother managed the uniform, I don’t know. At one point I had to have a navy swimming costume. My mother managed to get hold of a grey one and dyed it navy. Unfortunately, the first time I went into the water, the dye ran and streaked all down my legs. At the school, being a Catholic at a Protestant school, I was excused from Religious Education lessons and had to sit them out in the cloakroom.

            There was a gang of us girls used to meet on the corner of our street. If it was cold, we used to stand against the wall of a baker’s shop near the Tram Shed, which stayed warm because of the ovens.

            We used to walk for miles with only a bottle of water to keep us going. We’d go down Bob’s Brow, a hill in Crown Lane leading to fields, a stream which we’d paddle in and even a waterfall. Once, a man flashed his willie at us but we just laughed at him, we never thought of it being dangerous. From Bob’s Brow, you could walk right through to Blackrod.

            Going ‘Up Rivi’ was one of our favourite walks, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Often we walked through to Belmont or all round the Lakes, coming out by the Millstone, then along the banking by the reservoir to home.

            When I was 13, my mother fell off a chair while cleaning windows and shortly afterwards fell seriously ill with pneumonia. The priest from St Mary’s was called to administer the last rites to my mother but he refused to do so. He said would only do that if ‘that girl’ (pointing to me) left ‘that Protestant School’. My mother, ill as she was, argued with him and forbade me to leave, but as she grew weaker and I came under more pressure from the priest, I said I would leave so that she could have the last rites.

            After she died, the authorities wanted to split us up and put us in an orphanage but by then our John was 19 and our Mary nearly 19 (John was born in January 1905 while Mary was born in December 1905) so they insisted that they would bring us up. I was 13, Annie 15, George 11 and our Bob only 6. How they did it, I don’t know, but they did and I’m here to tell the tale, the only one left now.

The areas mentioned are in and around Horwich, near Bolton, Lancashire and are featured in my novel A Suitable Young Man, about life in the 1950s. For details of how to obtain, click on the link to the side.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Matters of the Heart

Think of heart attacks and you picture someone clutching their chests and dropping to the floor, more often than not dead, probably influenced by watching the television. Believe me, it doesn’t always happen that way. Five weeks ago, my lovely husband had a heart attack. Normally very active, fairly physically fit, not particularly overweight, he came out of work with a feeling of discomfort in his chest. As he was driving home, he started to feel unwell and instead diverted to the nearby hospital. Within an hour he was in the resuscitation room wired up to all sorts of monitoring devices and I was on my way there, having been alerted by one of the nurses. Within a few hours he was being whisked to Sheffield Northern General Hospital in an ambulance with blue flashing lights and two paramedics in attendance, feeling, he said, ‘a complete fraud.’ Once there, he was whisked into an operating theatre and had a stent fitted to one of the coronary arteries.

I’m glad to say he’s recovering well and has just this week gone back to work, albeit on reduced hours, which I believe is normal practice. Best of all, he’s agreed to carry a mobile phone with him at all times, something I’ve wanted him to do for years. In a couple of weeks, he’s to start attending cardiac rehabilitation which should help with things like diet and exercise. But this experience has been a real shock to him. He’s gone from someone who ‘didn’t do sick’ and who refused to take tablets of any kind, beyond a couple of painkillers for a headache, to someone who’s now taking eight tablets a day. That will probably be for the rest of his life too.

But it’s been a real wake-up call for both of us, made us realise just how precious life is and how precarious our hold on it is. As a result of what’s happened, we’ve taken stock of how we lead our lives. He was one for going at jobs hell for leather, always trying to get ahead of himself. I’m pleased to report that he’s now pacing himself and actually having ‘a bit of a sit-down’ in between jobs. We’ve also gone low-fat in our diet wherever possible and trying to eat more vegetables and fruit. Will we be able to keep it up? At this stage, I don’t know.

The irony is that I’m waiting for a CT scan to see if my own coronary arteries are silting up. It’s just possible I may need a stent myself!