Sunday, 6 September 2020

Turbulent Times and Seeking the Safe and Secure

 


The only illustration I could find of an old-fashioned doctor's waiting room

What strange times we’re living through! We’ve been given warnings of a possible pandemic for many years and suitable preparations supposedly made yet when Covid-19 finally arrived, it seemed to catch the world unawares. Much of the resultant action has been reactive rather than proactive and, in many areas, chaos has ensued. I find myself turning to the safe and secure of my own world, my home, the garden, my family, my writing. But I’ve also been thinking about the past, in particular when I was growing up in the 1950s.

One particular memory came to mind when I tried to get an appointment at the doctors and had to make do with a telephone appointment (and here I have to say that I suspect that will become more of the norm even when the pandemic is over). Into my mind came old Dr Bennett’s waiting room in my home town of Horwich in Lancashire. Tucked away at the side of the house where he lived, it was painted a sickly green with wooden benches around and when you went in, you had to take note of who was already sitting there plus watching who came in after you so that you could gauge when it was your time. There was no appointment system then, you had to work out when it was your turn at which time, Dr Bennett would call out ‘next please!’ Dr Bennett was a dear old man, a traditional family doctor of the old school who had literally brought me into the world.

              Another memory came with a comment recently on Facebook about how Mums used to put their babies outside in their prams, either in the back yard or the garden, whatever the weather (obviously not if it was raining or foggy). The fresh air was considered beneficial at that time and, if it was cold, well, you just wrapped your little darling up more cosily. My own two used to love being outdoors in fine weather, being able to kick their legs and wave their arms freely. Neither of them came to any harm as a result. And, surprisingly, it was fairly normal practice to leave babies in prams outside shops then. Then, prams then were much bigger and simply couldn’t be taken into shops. Very occasionally, babies were snatched from prams but given the number of women who did leave prams outside, it was very rare.

Recently I was asked to contribute to an article about washing practices of the past. That certainly triggered a few memories! When I was a child in the 1940s, most ordinary working class people did their washing by hand and always on a Monday. To hang washing out on a Sunday was a sacrilege! Washing by hand usually involved a large tub with water boiled in the copper and involved using a dolly stick, a long stick with a handle and three prongs at the bottom which you had to swish backwards and forwards. People used a posser stick too, usually brass, which was dipped up and down. Then of course there was the rubbing board to get stains out, shirt collars etc by rubbing against the ridges with a bar of soap.

The first washing machine I remember us owning was a tub with a rotating handle on the top that you had to do yourself. Very tiring! Oh and it had a mangle at the back! Later we had a similar sized machine only it was electrical. I had a twin tub shortly after my first marriage in 1965 and it was much easier. It could be messy though lifting the wet washing with a pair of wooden tongs into the spin dryer. And there were always piles of washing around the floor, all graded into whites, towels, coloureds and finally darks. Even so, that took up much of the day so it was usually an easy tea on a Monday, leftovers from Sunday if you had them.

Me, taken around 1961, right next to our old fashioned washing machine

Saturday, 25 April 2020

The Singer Not The Song


The inimitable Tom Jones!
Throughout my long life, I’ve been lucky to see many singers in person, starting way back in the 1950s when post-war austerity was still being felt throughout the country.
It happened like this. My Mum had a couple of friends whom I called ‘Aunties' and they in turn had daughters a little older than me, say around twentyish to my naïve 14 year old self. Feeling sorry for me, I think, they took me to Manchester (some 15 miles away from Horwich, my home town in Lancashire) to see various famous singers of the day.

The first one we went to see, at a theatre, I think, was the crooner Johnny Ray, famous for crying while singing ‘Little White Cloud That Cried’ or ‘Walkin’ In The Rain.’

This was followed by a visit to see Frankie Laine who was appearing at the well-known Manchester venue, Belle Vue. He had a particularly striking voice that was at its best when singing songs such as ‘Rawhide’ (the title song from a TV series of the same name featuring a very young and very handsome Clint Eastwood) and ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’.

The very pinnacle of this time has to be the time when they took me to see Ella Fitzgerald at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Her rendition of ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ was something I shall never forget. Sung unaccompanied, you could have heard a pin drop so quiet was the audience.

Later, in the later 1950s/early 1960s, I went with friends of my own age to the Odeon Cinema in Bolton to see The Searchers, very popular at that time with their hits ‘Needles and Pins’ and ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’. Shortly after, we went to see The Springfields (before Dusty branched out alone) and watched them perform their big hit ‘Island Of Dreams’.

And then there was Tom Jones. He sprang onto the scene in late 1960s and I fell in love with his raw energy immediately. The fact that he didn’t even know my name made no difference to me. It was a love affair that lasted many years and I still feel the glowing embers of it when I see him now on the television. I joined his fan club and through that, got to know when and where he was appearing. I went to many of his concerts over the years and once even received a rather delicious kiss from him. One of the advantages of being a member of his fan club was that we were allocated tickets from time to time to see the filming of his TV shows in the early 1970s. (I was then living in Bedfordshire so it was relatively painless to get to London by train.) I was broken-hearted when he moved to America round about 1973 – no chance of going to see him in Las Vegas – I was by then a young Mum. In about 2005, he was in concert in the grounds of Chatsworth House (not far from where we now live) and I persuaded my daughter to go with me. She loved him almost as much as me and we were both waving our arms along with everyone else when he was singing 'Delilah'. He is only a year younger than me but he can still sing though his voice has now taken a more gravelly sound which is particularly suitable for the bluesy type of songs he sings on a CD we have of his called ‘Spirit In The Room.’ Although I have many CDs, my own particular favourite is 'After Dark' labelled as 20 Romantic Classics. The first track is 'Love is in the Air' - speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Incidentally, all my novels are available on the link to the side of this blog which takes you to my Amazon Author page.

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!