Thursday, 14 April 2016

A baby, a bicycle and a boring job



Brother Mark aged about one

In my last but one blog post, Coronation Year 1953, I’d written about the birth of my little brother, Mark, in July 1953 and how, soon after his birth, I was forced to become much more than big sister. This is what happened.
Within a few days of coming home, Mum developed an abscess in her breast. She’d have been pumped full of antibiotics now but in 1953 they had to wait till the abscess came to a head when it had to be lanced. In the meantime, Mum was in such pain that she couldn’t bear Mark near her. So, for approximately the first month of his life, I was the one who looked after him, fed him, changed him, bathed him, dressed him, as well as looking after Mum and washing the nappies. Terry towelling ones, of course, there were no disposable nappies then. In preparation for that particular chore, we’d bought a second hand washing machine. It was a bit of an antique, with a handle to turn the machine manually and an attached mangle that you had to turn but it was better than hand washing them. The district nurse who came daily to see Mum called me, ‘A proper little wonder.’ Fortunately, it was during the school summer holidays and he was a good baby.
              Mum had to go to the hospital to have the abscess lanced and she was in such pain when she came back that we cried together. I was shocked when I saw the wound for the first time when the nurse came in to dress it. It reminded me of an open mouth just above her nipple. Mum was so embarrassed about me seeing her. She’d always been so shy about showing herself to me before. When I was a child, she’d always made me turn my face away when she was dressing or undressing. Not surprisingly, the intimacy of her need drew us both closer together.
              I think it was having been such a help to Mum when she needed me that I was given a bicycle the following Christmas, probably purchased on the ‘never-never’, things usually were. How I treasured that bicycle! The girl on the blue bike soon became a familiar figure in Horwich as I roamed all over the place.
              St Catherine’s Church, where both my friend, Ada, and I had been confirmed the previous year, had now instigated a youth club and sometimes a Saturday dance. One of the people who came occasionally to both was a lad I developed a crush on. He was dark-haired with very dark heavily-lidded eyes and I thought he was lovely. On my bike, I followed him and his friends everywhere, well into the next year, showing up at the park where they were playing football, or just riding round Horwich in search of him. He must have cringed in embarrassment every time I showed up. A few years later, he asked me out and although he kissed me, I felt nothing. I was terribly disappointed.
              Some years later, my husband and I returned to Horwich for a short stay to show the children some of our old haunts. While I settled the children in the bed and breakfast place where we were staying, my husband went into our old local pub. I joined him there later, to find him talking to two men of about our own age. One of them I recognised immediately as a friend and neighbour. The other I had to be introduced to. It was the same lad I’d had the crush on but he had put so much weight on that I hadn’t recognised him. The only thing that hadn’t changed was his eyes, still smoulderingly dark and heavy-lidded. I don’t know who was more shocked, him or me. I'm not ashamed to confess that I based my main character, Nick Roberts, in A Suitable Young Man on him.
It was about the time of Mark’s birth that Dad started having stomach problems. He was advised that being hunched over the wheel of a bus for several hours and the quickly grabbed cups of tea and sticky buns wasn’t good for him. Also, he often worked standby shifts to supplement his wages which meant he sometimes had to work double shifts. He was always out either very early in the morning or back late at night; consequently he was always tired and we hardly ever saw him. He made the decision to leave the buses and went to work as a coach driver for a local firm. The money was a lot less, especially in the winter when there wasn’t much work and no tips but he hoped seeing more of the family would compensate. It was still a worry making ends meet even though Mum had gone back to work in the mill part-time leaving Mark with her sister-in-law.
Taking my big sister duties seriously
Because of this, I got the idea into my head that I should leave school once I turned 15 in the February of 1954 and go out to work to help out. When I first broached the subject to Mum and Dad, they wouldn’t hear of it; I simply had to take my ‘O’ levels (General Certificate of Education) exams when I was sixteen. You couldn’t just leave school even though the official school leaving age was fifteen. At grammar school it was sixteen. You therefore had to have special permission. Mum and Dad agreed to see the headmaster at Farnworth Grammar School. He was definitely unhappy at the idea of me leaving. By this time, I was adamant that it was the only thing I wanted to do. Reluctantly, he agreed that I could leave though his final words were, ‘Anne, you’ll regret it later.’ He was right, I did. I made up for it a lot later when I got two 'O' levels, one in Sociology, the other in English.
          So, in April 1954, when I was barely 15 years old, I left school and went to work for the Horwich Industrial Co-operative Society on Lee Lane to work in the Drapery Department. It was a dark, old-fashioned store with glass counters displaying buttons, thread and collar studs, the sort of things you see in a folk museum these days. There was a large polished counter for fabrics too and I liked that best, measuring the lengths of fabric against a yard ruler (no metres then) set into the wood of the counter. Through an archway was the Boot and Shoe department and I was always getting into trouble for going through to talk to the assistants in there. Upstairs was the Gowns and Millinery department. The store manager was a tall, upright man, dressed very formally, with a balding head and trim moustache. I was very much in awe of him though he was actually a kind man. I liked the people, the work, the store, but the trouble was I was bored. If I sold a packet of needles or some buttons in a day, I was doing well. There is, after all, only so much time you can spend tidying up and dusting in an attempt to look busy. What I really wanted to do was work upstairs in Gowns and Millinery, which was busier, but I was only the junior and such a move seemed unlikely.
After only a month or so, I handed in my notice and left. Ada was, by this time, learning to be a weaver at Victoria Mill and already earning good money on piece work. I think it was her influence that convinced me to go into the mill. Mum, who knew what it was like, did everything she could to dissuade me. With the same obstinacy when wanting to leave school, I stuck it out and got a job as a trainee towel weaver at the Beehive Mill.

8 comments:

  1. Such a wonderful story Anne. I love it. What a life. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love the photo of your baby brother too. :)

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    1. Thanks, Jane, your comment is appreciated. I haven't dared say my brother's name on Facebook though, of course, there's always the risk someone might tell him!

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  2. Oh, the memories of a first crush.... Not only how you fall head over heels for someone, but how you, for lack of experience, make such an embarrassment of yourself. I can relate! Thanks for a nice post that I'm sure will bring back memories for all your readers.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments, Ann Marie. It was so very real at the time, as I'm sure you can relate to!

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  3. Lovely memoir, Anne. We often (well, I do, anyway) sentimentalise the past and your piece shows just how much harder life could be back then and the resilience one needed just to exist from day to day.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Margret, especially coming from someone I admire! Your articles in Writing Magazine way back then were always a great encouragement to continue with my dream of being published.

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  4. A friend who took her baby brother out in the pram was called names by people who thought the child was hers. I hope that didn't happen to you.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Charlotte. No-one ever did that except that once when I accompanied my mother on a antenatal visit, the midwife asked if it was me who was having the baby. I was mortified, especially as I was wearing my navy gaberdine school coat at the time.

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