Sunday, 5 January 2020

More mill days memories - and friendship

Vera (on the left) and me on Blackpool Beach
In the past, I’ve blogged about my time working in the mill during the 1950s. Now I’d like to introduce you to one of my dearest friends, Vera, whom I met when we were both working together in the mill (having asked her permission first). We’d be about 15 or 16 then. Her long fair hair, bubbly personality and ready smiles and laughter made her popular with everyone and as I was still of a shy nature, she sort of took me in hand.
              Horwich, along with other Lancashire towns, had its own Wakes Weeks, when the Locomotive Works and the mills closed down for two weeks in the summer, usually the second week in July. Each year, Harry Stocker’s Temperance Bar on Winter Hey Lane, organised about three coaches to go to Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Pwhelli. In 1956, the year I was 17, I went along with Vera Yates and two of her friends.
              I’d never stayed away from my parents before so it was a big shock for me and felt thoroughly miserable for most of the week. The trouble was, I was completely out of my depth, and couldn’t handle some of the things that were supposedly going on. Rumour had it, for instance, that some lads had already been thrown out of the camp for placing a French letter (a condom) on a light bulb. The camp was then made up of those flimsy looking wooden chalets and every night we had to lock our chalet windows. Even that didn’t stop gangs of boys going round the girls’ chalets and banging on the doors. I often quaked in fear at night even though there was what was called a Chalet Patrol which went round checking the chalets to see if anything was amiss.
              Mid-way through the week, my companions, particularly Vera, sat me down and gave me a good talking to, the essence of which was that even if I wasn’t enjoying myself, I shouldn’t spoil their fun by being miserable. After that, I made more of an effort to join in and ended up actually enjoying it. One of the worst things had been having to share such a small chalet with three other girls but towards the end of the week, I began to see the funny side of it, especially when all of us were trying to get ready at the same time and having to share one tiny mirror. Those girls taught me a valuable lesson on that holiday that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it.
              Vera became my best friend after that holiday. We went all over the place together, Bolton Palais de Dance, the Tudor Ballroom in Chorley, the Empress Ballroom in Wigan or more locally, Rivington Hall Barn, a 14th century tithe barn and organised every Saturday night. Being out in the country, there were special buses to and from the Crown pub. It was very popular with us locals, but people from further afield came too, so there was usually a good mix of the known and unknown
              In 1957, Vera and I went on holiday again. We stayed in a boarding house in Blackpool and had a wonderful time, dancing in the Tower Ballroom or the Winter Gardens, trooping along the Golden Mile or visiting the Pleasure Beach, especially the Fun House with its laughing clown machine outside that you couldn’t help laughing along with. The beach at Blackpool, then, was so crowded that you were lucky if you could manage to find a spare few inches of sand yet, one sunny day, we actually managed it and still have the photograph to prove it (see above). I remember that we used to meet up with some Scottish lads in a café on Central Drive that later became the setting for the B&B café in my book Bitter Sweet Fellowship.
Although there was good money to be made in the mill, I never made a fortune out of my time there because I did not apply myself diligently enough and spent too much time day-dreaming. Several times I tried to get out, such as the time Vera and I wanted to join the WRAC (Women’s Royal Army Corps). In the end I had to go alone to Manchester for the interview because Vera’s Dad, who was very strict, said she couldn’t go. I was actually a bit relieved when I was turned down on account of my ears, which were deformed as a result of scarlet fever when I was two.
Vera and me at Horwich Heritage
              After I left the mill and subsequently moved around a lot, we lost touch for many years. It was only after my parents moved back to Horwich and Mum started chatting to Vera on the bus one day that we got in touch again. There was much to catch up on! We’d both married (and I divorced!) had children, by then grown up but whereas I had moved around a lot, Vera had stayed in Horwich. We’ve never looked back since then and when we do go back to Horwich, every couple of years or so, the highlight of our visit is always the time we spend with Vera. We’ve been known to chat for hours and never run out of things to say.
              A few years ago, I was invited to speak to Horwich Heritage, a civic society that preserves the industrial history of Horwich, about my first book A Suitable Young Man, set in Horwich. It was entirely appropriate that Vera, herself a member of the society, was by my side supporting me. Thank you, Vera, for 65 years of treasured friendship. Yes, 65 years!

Monday, 7 October 2019

September visit to Guernsey

View from our hotel gardens

Many years ago, I remember being captivated when watching a video (remember those?) about Guernsey. Ever since then, I’ve longed to visit the island. Well this year we finally did it. And I can honestly say, the anticipation lived up to the dream.

We chose to go on a package holiday via a well-known holiday company though, in truth, the company only acts as an agent and had very little input. As my husband won’t go near a boat (he gets sea-sick on a pedallo!), we chose to go by air, being met at the airport by a local Guernsey coach. Even driving from the airport, I was impressed by what I could see. It seemed less pretentious that Jersey (which we’ve visited previously) with many of the houses we passed seeming to conform to what I thought might be small country-style houses. Of course there were some large houses but they tended to be tucked away off the road and behind greenery. We didn’t see St Peter Port, the main town on the island that first day as it was a late flight and we were taken straight to our hotel. In fact, we were only just in time for a delicious dinner. And much to our surprise, there was waiter service. We were lucky with our room too as it overlooked the gardens. More about them later.

We’d been informed that the Town as it’s known was only ten minutes from the hotel but it took us a lot longer than that to find it. We quickly realised that we’d gone a very long way round to get there and, using short cuts and the inevitable steps, the Town being built on a steep hill, we often did it in the ten minutes. Inevitably, it took us a lot longer to walk back up, especially as our hotel was located on the formidable Hauteville (high town), and necessitated several stops to catch our breath. The Town itself was a delight with two main streets, the main shopping street, Le Pollet, and the quayside. Almost all the buildings along that stretch of road turned out to be original warehouse buildings, tall, angular and with several of them still bearing evidence of their origins by having hoists jutting out of upper floors. Of course, many of the ground floors are now occupied by shops, bars and restaurants but they don’t detract from the atmosphere. The harbours themselves are a joy to see with all the different types of boats moored there. Almost all the street names are in French and, in fact, until 1926, French was the official language there. I’m given to understand that in many of the more countrified areas a kind of Norman French patois is still spoken.

On the Monday morning, we went on a round-the-island tour as part of our package with a very knowledgeable courier/driver. With Guernsey being heavily occupied during WWII, there were many German fortifications and we saw several on our travels. He explained that houses are at a premium on the island and that there are two prices, one for local people and one for outsiders who want to settle on the island. Even the so-called local prices are high, being comparable to London, while an ordinary three-bedroomed house for outsiders would be over £1m+! As we needed one or two things from the Town, we chose to be dropped off there. Big mistake! The heavens opened (the remains of Hurricane Dorian) and within minutes we were drenched. By the time we made it back to the hotel, we were soaked through and had to get changed down to our underwear. Mind you, we still hadn’t found the quick way back by that day. Not our best day.

On finding out that the bus fares are capped at £1 per trip, we had the idea of going round the island on the local bus, stopping off at the various lovely looking bays we’d seen on the Monday then getting the bus back again. Unfortunately, the day we chose to do that there were two cruise liners moored in the bay and it seemed that one of the things the day visitors had been advised to do was to take the bus round the island and every bus was packed. Not daring to get off anywhere in case we couldn’t get back on again, we stayed on the bus! Our driver had to turn away a party of about ten Japanese as the buses are only single-deckers and quite small. I felt quite sorry for them as only one of them could speak English and the bus was packed with standing room only. I can only hope they made it back to their ship in time!

Most of our day was finding different ways into the Town and strolling round there, though we did fit in a visit to Cornet Castle, one time fortress to guard the island against French invaders. Lots of steps there too but the museum about Guernsey through the ages was good to look at and very informative. Another day, we caught the bus to the Folk and Costume Museum at Sausmarez Park which was also fascinating.

View of a small part of the gardens
Normally when we go on holiday, we like to take a stroll after dinner but with our hotel being on THAT hill we didn’t bother and as we’re not ones for drinking in the lounge as many other residents did, we were at a bit of a loose end in the evening. Having said that, it was the best hotel we’ve ever stayed in. Everywhere was clean, the service was exceptional and the food was brilliant. If anyone ever fancies going and don’t mind walking up THAT hill, the hotel is called The Pandora. The serving staff were nearly all Portugese and they couldn’t have been more obliging. I’ve already mentioned the gardens and they were truly beautiful with various terraces all leading down to more gardens many with views of the sea. Unfortunately, we weren’t too lucky with the weather and there were only three days that we actually managed to sit out.

Just a hint though, if you've read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or seen the film and think that's what it looks like now, it doesn't. I'm given to understand that much of the film was shot in Devon because Guernsey has altered drastically since the war. There are certain locations that I recognised particularly the German Observation Tower shown here.

So did Guernsey live up to my expectations? It certainly did and more so. Would we go back again? Yes, we would. All being well, we plan to go again next year. Just not to the hotel on the hill!

Friday, 16 August 2019

A learning curve with Amazon's new Kindle Create Program

Well, I finally did it! It’s been a long and often trying process but I’ve finally gone and done it! Now, what you are wondering, could I possibly be talking about?

My new book, of course, Such A Time As This. It’s the third and last book in the series centred round the Roberts’ family and the small Lancashire mill town of Horwich in which all the characters from my previous two novels, A Suitable Young Man and Bittersweet Flight, are brought together for one last time. I found this book harder to write because all my characters have moved on, changed, developed and are having to face up to various challenges, some of which involved considerable research.

Then, having written and edited it to within an inch of it’s life, it was time to publish it via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP for short). My previous two books were published as an ebook by KDP itself while the paperbacks were produced used a subsidiary company called Createspace. Last year, Createspace was amalgamated into KDP which involved a completely different process so it would be a learning curve for me.

However, Amazon have now produced a program called Kindle Create, easily downloaded and surprisingly easier to use than Createspace in that it uses templates that are easily adaptable. At first, I didn’t see any need to include a Table of Contents but when I did, I discovered that if I right-clicked on first page of Chapter 1, I could set it so that page numbering began on that page. After the various problems I had with page-numbering in Createspace, this was a real bonus. There are various aids to formatting as you can see from the screen shot here.

It’s obviously better if your manuscript does at least have some kind of formatting in place but the program certainly takes most of the hard work out of the process, including setting up chapter headings and dropped caps, if you wish.

Carried away by my success and pleased with the result, I enthusiastically clicked on the ‘publish’ button. Big mistake! KDP wouldn’t accept the document. Chastened, I went back to the tutorial I’d watched initially and saw that I had to ‘save’ the document (.kcb) to a different file (.kpf). This was done by clicking on ‘file’ then ‘save project’. Having done that, it was time to ‘publish’ by following the dialogue box and uploading the kpf file. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, by and large, it is although I did have one or two problems with the cover (designed once again by the talented Berni Stevens but between us, we sorted it out. The Kindle version came out on 31st July while the paperback version became available a few days later. My main bit of advice if using Kindle Create? Look at the tutorials and keep them open on your laptop/computer. I’d have saved a lot of time if I’d done that in the first place!

So what is Such A Time As This about? ‘On the cusp of the 1960s, in the small Lancashire mill town of Horwich, three young women are facing heart-ache and problems that could affect their future.
Mill girl Joyce Roberts finds her long-standing love for Dave Yates being tested in ways she would never have thought possible when they discover that Dave has a life-changing illness.
Sally Roberts, married to Joyce’s brother, RAF serviceman Phil, learns that living in close proximity to an air base brings the reality of the Cold War much closer to home. Back at the family home, her two younger sisters are facing problems of their own.
Kathy Armstrong, engaged to be married to the eldest Roberts’ brother, Nick, is disillusioned at being side-lined by her male colleagues at the newspaper where she works and decides to take matters into her own hands.
And bad boy, Jud Simcox, is about to be released from prison…..’

You can find out more here -