Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Coronation Year 1953

My life has undergone many changes but by far the most significant came when I was 13 and we moved back to Horwich. Mum had been born and brought up there and still had lots of family and friends. Before moving into domestic service, Mum had worked as a towel weaver so she went back there part-time. Within a few weeks, she was persuaded to organise to celebrate the upcoming Coronation of Elizabeth II. She and some friends got together to draw up a programme and the hard work began, planning, deciding who was to do what, what kind of costumes were going to be worn, being involved in the actual sewing of them.
              As for the concert itself, who could forget tall, ungainly Mona, dressed as a ballet dancer, singing, ‘Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty,’ or Mum and a busty woman called Kathleen singing ‘We Are The Bold Gendarmes,’ or Mum later doing her standard impersonation of Carmen Miranda. Even I sang, in the chorus, dressed as a toy soldier while a tackler from the mill sang, ‘Goodbye,’ about a young man joining the Foreign Legion.
              After the concert, my mother seemed different. It must have been a week or two later that she told me that she was going to have a baby. Surely, at 42, she was too old to have a baby? Suppose she died like I’d heard some women did.
              Our flat had only two bedrooms and was on the first floor so Mum and Dad began to look at the possibility of getting a larger house. After asking around her friends in the mill, she heard of a couple who had no children but had a three-bedroomed house. After the pokiness of our flat, the house seemed enormous and very tempting but there was a big drawback. The rent was 42/- a week (about £2.10p) which was almost double that of the flat and as Mum would have to give up work, they didn’t know if they could afford it. Yet now, it seems a paltry sum but back then, wages were much lower.
              Eventually they decided it would be worth it and early in 1953, we moved. It proved to be one of the coldest houses we’d ever lived in, simply because of its size. The only really warm room was the kitchen which had a large range, called a bungalow range. We lived in the kitchen and kept the front room for special occasions like Christmas.
              The bathroom was so cold that we only took a bath once a week on Sunday, when Dad took a paraffin heater up there. In the mornings, with your breath misting in front of you, you had just a quick ‘cat-lick’ and got dressed as quickly as possible. At least we had a bathroom and didn’t have to resort to using a tin bath in front of the fire as so many people still did.
              The bedrooms were almost as bad for although there was a small fireplace in each of the two big bedrooms, we could not afford the coal for them, except when anyone was ill, when Dad carried hot coals carefully on a shovel. We had no fitted wardrobes either, just big old-fashioned wardrobes bought second-hand. There was a rug by the side of the bed on bare floorboards to begin with, later on linoleum. Downstairs, we had new-fangled asphalt tiles which we kept polished, with a large square carpet rug in the middle.
              Moving to a new area meant making new friends, something I’d never found easy. Someone Mum knew from the mill had a foster daughter the same age as me who knew hardly anyone in Horwich and the two of us were introduced. She was small and pretty with well-endowed breasts. I still had none to speak of.
              Ada and her foster family lived in a terraced house. The rear of the houses had small gardens rather than back yards and these, together with the alley in between, made a marvellous play area. With the selfishness of the very young and oblivious to the fact that my poor mother suffered from sickness all the way through her pregnancy, I spent almost all my time there in the spring and summer of 1953.
Harry on the right
              Ada had a boyfriend Brian, and I was thrown together with Brian’s best friend, Harry. Brian and Ada kept telling me he fancied me, although I privately thought he was more interested in playing football than in wanting to go out with me. Still, having turned 14 in the February, I went along with the idea and agreed to go out with him as a foursome to the pictures, having asked permission of my parents, as one had to then. There on the back row of the cinema, I received a tentative kiss from my very first boyfriend.
              That must have been about May 1953 when preparations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II were at fever pitch. There was a tremendous feeling of excitement in the country that year, despite the fact that the so-regal Queen Mary, the Queen’s grandmother, had died only a couple of months before. We were all fierce royalists at that time and followed the Royal Family’s doing avidly. There was so much about them in the papers, much like the celebrities are these days, showing informal glimpses of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, with a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
              The Coronation took place on 2nd June 1953 and it was televised for the first time which meant that we could actually see it happening rather than watching it on the Pathé Newsreel at the cinema a week or so later. Those who could asked friends, relatives and neighbours round to watch it. Mum’s sister, Mary, had obtained a set for the occasion, probably rented from Radio Rentals, and we went to watch it at their house. It seems laughable now that a dozen or so people clustered round a tall wooden box housing a 9” television screen. The pictures were fuzzy, the commentary hackneyed but the sheer excitement of the occasion outweighed such minor drawbacks. Everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ and toasted the young queen in bottled pale ale and ham sandwiches.
              At night I was to attend a Coronation party with Harry, Ada and Brian. Mum had made me a white dress for my confirmation at earlier that year and she had dyed it yellow for the ‘do’ which was to be held in a private function room at a local pub. The dress had a simple fitted bodice to show off what little bust I had and a full flared skirt. The black bow at the collar and a black belt at the waist made me feel very grown-up. I was so dizzy with the excitement of the whole day that I don’t recall much of the party. I do remember doing a novelty dance with Harry where I had to wear his new brown sports jacket and clomp around the dance floor in his shoes. I don’t think he took much notice of me other than that.
              In the July Wakes Weeks when the mills and factories closed, I went away for a week’s holiday with Ada and her foster family to Blackpool. I hadn’t really wanted to leave Mum, who was by then was in a constant state of discomfort but, as she said, the baby wasn’t due for a week or two. I’d never been away from my parents before and it was a strange experience for me. Brian and Harry came over to spend a day with us but Harry seemed a bit half-hearted about it and didn’t want to kiss me. I sensed rather than was told that our brief romance was at an end.
              Within a few weeks of the holiday in Blackpool,  two events occurred which marked the end of my childhood. The first was starting my periods. At fourteen and a half, I was one of the last girls in our class at school to have had a period. Although I’d been well prepared for it by Mum, it was still a shock. Money was so tight then that both Mum and I used to cut up old towels which were attached with safety pins to our knickers. There was nearly always a bucket of stained towels soaking in cold water and salt in the scullery which were later washed and used again. It wasn’t until I was working that we could afford proper sanitary towels.
              The second event was the birth of my brother, Mark. Mum was two weeks overdue and had to go into hospital to be induced. At that time, only fathers were allowed to visit the new mums and I didn’t see my new brother until Dad and I went to the hospital to pick Mum up after his birth. In the taxi back, I sat with him in my arms, looking down at his little face, scarcely able to believe it. Circumstances meant that I had to take my duties as big sister seriously over the next month. (To be continued.)