Saturday, 21 February 2015

Another Memoir - Four schools in one term!

I'm on the second row a little to the right of the teacher

What with the excitement of publishing my debut novel, I haven’t written any further memoir pieces so I thought it was about time I posted another one. I’d got to the stage where I’d passed my Eleven-Plus examination. This is what happened next.

So there I was, all set to go to Bolton County Grammar School in September 1950. Except that I never got there. In fact, I went to four different grammar schools in my first term, which is pretty good going even for our record of moving around. Before the end of that school year, we’d moved to Rotherham, now in South Yorkshire, where my parents would be working for a solicitor, in their usual capacity.
              This time, though, we weren’t ‘living-in.’ We were given a terraced house a mile or so from the big house. This was the first time we’d lived as a normal family, instead of the rarefied atmosphere of a wealthy household. Many of the neighbourhood children had been born and brought up on the same estate and knew each other from their early school-days. As usual, I was the perpetual outsider, never in one place long enough to make more than cursory street or school friendships.
              For a few brief weeks, I finished off the school year in a Rotherham Junior School, another Victorian building, high on a hill, with a stone flagged playground and the ubiquitous outside toilets, cold enough even on a summer’s day to freeze the bottom. I attended the school with a post-Eleven Plus confidence that was soon deflated as the teachers had little patience with the shy, quiet child who day-dreamed a lot.
              The situation improved slightly when I went to Rotherham Girls’ Grammar School. At least there, we were all new together and came from different areas of Rotherham. There was a certain anonymity, too, in our green uniforms, until personalities began to emerge later (and mine wasn’t one of them). We were all the same, First Years embarking on our secondary education, wonder on our faces as we watched the older boys and girls, confident and sure of themselves. Would we ever be like that, we speculated?
              It seems I was not to find out. After about six weeks, we were on the move again and my scholarship was transferred to Chesterfield Grammar School. Once more, we packed all our belongings, including Rex the spaniel, and moved over the border to Derbyshire. This time our destination was a large, very old house, Park Hall, on the outskirts of the town. I fell in love with the place, it reminded me so much of the old manor houses where adventures happened in the books I’d read. It captured my imagination at once, even the gardens seemed cottagey, if slightly overgrown.
              Park Hall Cottage was the cottage we were supposed to have but back in 1950, there was some slight problem, it seemed, with the previous occupants. Would we object to staying in the house itself for a few days? I didn’t mind a bit as the large room we had been allocated was high in the attics and the little bathroom was literally tucked under the rafters, its doorway so small it looked like a cupboard and you had to stoop to get inside it.
              Unfortunately, there was no place for Rex in the house so he had to stay in an outbuilding. He didn’t like that, he was used to our love and attention. Consequently, he barked all the time and got on everybody’s nerves.
              After six weeks, all the First Years at Chesterfield Grammar School knew each other and friendships were already being forged, so again I was on the outside looking in, not helped by the fact that I was wearing the green uniform of Rotherham, while Chesterfield’s uniform was navy. In spite of that, there was something about the school that made me think I was going to like it. It could have had something to do with the fact that the school meals were the best I’d ever tasted. With the school and the house, I decided I was going to like Chesterfield.
              Yet after only a week, my parents told me we were leaving. ‘But why?’ I demanded, most definitely upset.
              ‘Because it’s not going to work out, love,’ Mum explained. ‘There’s no way I’d get on with her (presumably meaning the woman whose house it was) under my feet all day, telling me what to do.’
              ‘Besides which,’ Dad continued, ‘you know the cottage we’d been promised? Well, apparently the people who had the job before us are still in there and short of a court order, they’re not likely to leave for some time. So you see, love, we were brought here under false pretences, that’s why we’ve decided to leave.’
              ‘But what are we going to do, where are we going to go?’
              ‘Your Uncle Mark’s coming over for us in the van, we’re going to stay with them for a few weeks till we get ourselves sorted out,’ Dad informed me.
              As we drove over the Pennines from Chesterfield to Manchester, where my uncle and aunt had a greengrocer’s shop on Stockport Road, Levenshulme. Uncle Mark’s delivery van wasn’t very big and we were a bit cramped with three adults, a growing girl, a fat lazy dog as well as the family belongings. Uncle Mark was his usual cheerful, blustery self but we were all subdued and miserable. I sat in the back cuddling Rex and watching the road back to Chesterfield disappearing behind us, infinitely sad to be leaving Park Hall and Chesterfield.
              Although my cousin Patricia was a year younger than me, I still felt hopelessly inadequate at her side. She exuded such self-confidence and was bright into the bargain, which meant that she was already settled at Levenshulme High School which I would be attending. I was still in my Rotherham green while she, of course, was in the Levenshulme browns and yellows. Fortunately, we weren’t in the same class, she being in the A stream (of course.) and me being in the B stream.
              The house seemed to be in a state of constant chaos and clutter, not surprising with so many of us living in such close contact and a busy shop to run. Mum helped about the house, cooking and cleaning, while Dad assisted Uncle Mark with the deliveries, while Auntie Lenora concentrated on serving in the shop.
              You entered the house through the shop, the bell of which jangled when you opened the door, past the wet smelly fish and earthy vegetables, up some stairs into a small sitting room dominated by a piano and a window overlooking the back yard. This room led through to the kitchen-cum-dining room, with a fire blazing in the corner, a table in the centre, a sink and a cooker to one side. There was a glass porch leading to the back yard piled high with old fish and fruit boxes. Up the narrow stairs was a large lounge, kept mainly for ‘best’ since Uncle Mark and Auntie Lenora never seemed to have much time to sit down.
              There must have been a bathroom and one or two bedrooms on this floor too but I don’t remember those. My memory skips up another flight of stairs to the bedroom I shared with Patricia and Pamela, my other cousin.
              I don’t know how long we stayed there but it can only have been a matter of weeks. Mum and Dad were looking for jobs and thinking of putting their roots down in either Bolton or Horwich, having had enough of domestic service life for the time being. Auntie Lenora’s father, a Mr Blakeley, a tall upright man whom I’d met a couple of times, had an end-of-terraced house in Farnworth, about five miles from Bolton, that he was willing to rent to us until such time as we could get on our feet again.
              We moved there some time in December and my parents must have begged and borrowed some furniture for having ‘lived in,’ we didn’t have much. The house, which had once been a shop, stood on the corner of Carter Street, on the opposite corner to the Black Dog Inn, the terminus for the number 43 Bolton to Farnworth bus. Having stood empty for some time, it was a damp, dark place, which always felt cold. The front door led straight from the street into an old-fashioned kitchen with a large range on the fireplace wall and a small scullery, shiveringly cold, off it. Steep stairs divided the kitchen from what used to be the shop which had also served as a parlour at some time but now, because of the damp, was largely unused except for storage. Up the dark, thinly carpeted stairs were the bedrooms, one to the left which was Mum and Dad’s room, and one to the right which was mine. You had to go through my bedroom to get to the piercingly cold, cavernous bathroom. Everywhere there was peeling wallpaper, patches of mould and tides of rising damp.
              Still, it was soon home and a place of our own where we could settle down after the past few tumultuous months, especially following the Chesterfield experience. As Dad had his PSV (Public Service Vehicle) driving licence, he was able to get a job driving buses for Bolton Corporation. Sometimes, on a standby duty, one of his runs would be the Bolton to Farnworth run, which meant we could take out a flask of tea on very cold days or simply chat to him for a few minutes in the cab.
              By that time, it was close to the end of the first school term and already I had been to three different schools. It was decided that, in order to settle me in more quickly, I should go to Farnworth Grammar School for the last few days of the Autumn term and this I did. Still wearing my Rotherham Grammar School green uniform! Talk about odd girl out!

In memory of Bob Sutherland, email and Facebook friend, who wanted to know what happened next.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Bag a bargain!

Sally Jenkins

I’d like to introduce you to my writing friend Sally Jenkins. We’ve known each other for about four years now and, along with several other writers, meet up about every three months in Birmingham. She was also a beta reader for my novel ‘A Suitable Young Man’ for which I was very grateful. As she’s so knowledgeable about writing matters, I asked her to tell me how she came to be writing and what it means to her.

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog, Anne. I’ve been writing for around twenty years. My books aren’t on the shelves of Waterstones, I haven’t won a prestigious, international prize and virtually no one has heard of me. So why, you may wonder, do I still churn out the words? Indeed, why did I start writing in the first place?

When my eldest daughter was a toddler, I, being the insecure type, bought a lot of parenting magazines in order to learn how to be a mother. As my confidence in maternal matters grew, I began to think that I could write articles for these magazines. So I began a correspondence course with The Writers’ Bureau in order to learn how to do it properly. I had some initial success with readers’ letters in magazines and a short piece in This England. Then I targeted those parenting magazines - and had a handful of articles accepted! Baby number two came along, we moved house and I was working three days a week as a computer programmer. Writing time was scarce. I never gave up completely but for a number of years my output was restricted to letters and the odd article.

As the children grew up and became less demanding I started writing short stories for women’s magazines. It’s a hard market to crack and I was overjoyed when I made a sale to the Yours annual and then another to People’s Friend. By now I was reading a lot of writing magazines (that insecurity again!) and eventually thought I could write an article to help other writers. I’d been fairly successful with readers’ letters so I produced a ‘how to’ feature on this topic. Writers’ Forum accepted it and that was a great confidence boost. Since then my articles have appeared in Writing Magazine, Freelance Market News and The New Writer (which has, sadly, now ceased publication).

But the real turning point for me came around five years ago, when I met my writing buddy, Helen Yendall, at a day course on writing fiction for women’s magazines. Since then we have exchanged work once a fortnight for critique and that brought a real discipline into my writing life. In January 2013 I published my first e-anthology of short stories and several more e-publications have followed, both fiction and non-fiction.

I continue to write because I am addicted to that feeling of satisfaction generated by completing a piece and submitting it to a potential market. I am addicted to the high of seeing my name in a magazine or receiving a 5-star Amazon review. I am addicted to the camaraderie I’ve found with other writers, both virtually and in the real world. I’m sure I’m not the only one addicted to writing, am I?

What Sally isn’t mentioning is that she has had considerable success in getting her short stories and writing how-to articles published nationally. Her well-reviewed e-book The Museum of Fractured Lives (Omnibus Edition) is only 99p from February 2nd to 8th inclusive. As she says herself on her blog, 'This e-book is a compelling collection of four emotive long stories. Each one is perfect for filling a lunch break, coffee break or commute to work. Dip into this collection and escape into someone else’s life, experience their ups and downs, joys and sorrows.' Her blogs about writing are always popular and you can find her at