Sunday, 31 December 2017

Challenging Times!

Taken at the Bolton Evening News in 1962

By early 1962 when I was 23, I was still single, at a time when if you weren’t at least seriously ‘courting’ or engaged to be married, you were considered to be on the shelf.
While I pondered on my seemingly bleak future, changes were taking place at the Bolton Evening News where I’d worked for a couple of years. In our little accounts department, we'd been doing more work and an extra person had been taken on, Lucy*. Her family had gone to live in South Africa a few years previously and with going to school there, she had become indoctrinated with the apartheid ideology. As a child in the Fifties, I'd become used to and accepted the influx of West Indians but her attitude was the first time I’d come across outright racism. I remember one day she came into work, shaking and crying, ‘because a native came and sat next to me on the bus.’
              One of the girls I'd worked with had married and moved away from Bolton with her husband. The vacancy caused by her leaving was filled by Elaine*, Lucy’s sister. Elaine was completely different than her younger sister and although she’d been married for a year or so, they’d returned with her family to England because they weren’t too happy with the apartheid politics of South Africa. She invited me to the family home and there I met her brother, Fred*.
              Older than Elaine or Lucy, he was different again to either of his sisters, small, slightly built, with a gentle quietness of manner. He and I started to go out together, enjoying each other’s company. He loved ballroom dancing and was very good at it. We used to travel to Manchester in his little Austin every Saturday to go to the Tudor Ballroom at Belle Vue. We had to be there was soon as they opened, while there was still room to dance properly. There was a great feeling of freedom in the way we swirled and dipped round the ballroom and we talked more than once about entering competitions.
Belle Vue dancing days!
              Neither the idea nor the romance came to anything for I soon found that poor Fred suffered from depression. Then he’d talk about his time in South Africa and I learned more about the inequalities of the apartheid system from him than I did in the newspapers. I learned too of the fear in which the far-outnumbered whites lived, with high security and guns, and the heavy drinking they indulged in to blot out the unspoken dread in their hearts.
              If I’d still been at the Bolton Evening News working with Elaine, it would have been difficult but by this time, in early 1962, I was working as a shorthand typist for an advertising agency, F John Roe, in St Ann’s Square, Manchester. At first, it seemed as if it would fulfil all my expectations. Even the tedious bus and train journey was exciting, especially when Philip Lowrie, who played Dennis Tanner in the new and innovative serial, ‘Coronation Street’, sometimes caught our train in the morning on his way to Granada Studios. Walking through the streets to and from work with worldly-wise commuters made me feel that I was much more at the heart of things, even if I was only a minor cog in the wheel of advertising.
              I worked for several people in a small typing pool at F John Roe’s and they were all very patient with me for my shorthand was abysmal. I could take it down fairly well, a mixture of shorthand and abbreviated names, but I could never read it back. That never changed. Being used to doing nothing more than invoices at the Evening News, letters were almost beyond me and more ended up in the waste bin than in my out tray.
              I made one very good friend there, Kathy, a down-to-earth girl and although she was younger than me, she took me under her wing. She was also at a loose end and we started to go around together. We solved the problem of me not being able to get home to Horwich from Manchester after a night out by me staying at her house a couple of times a week.
              Manchester, for all that it was a large city, still had that small town feel about it, an intimacy that meant you were often likely to bump into people you knew in one jazz club or another, or come face to face with Dennis Law of Manchester United or Peter Adamson, who played Len Fairclough of ‘Coronation Street’, at a party in Prestwich.
              Yet it was about to change again. Kathy had started going out with the lovely man who was to become her husband so I didn’t stay over in Manchester quite so often. With no boyfriend of my own, I was lonely once more. As was often the case, it was Mum who solved the problem. She still purchased ‘The Lady’ magazine every week in case that superlative job turned up. One day, she spotted an advertisement for an American couple who wanted a ‘Mother’s Helper’ for their three boys in Princeton, New Jersey. I was dubious at first, wondering if I could cope with three boys especially if any were like my young brother Mark. Although I loved him, he was a little terror and one of the few things my parents and I argued about was that they let him get away with so much when they’d been so strict with me. Still, I decided to give it a try and sent a letter off, telling them about myself.
              Letters and photographs flew back and forth across the Atlantic. When the Peters, as the couple were called, offered me the job, sight unseen, I think it was the fact that it rained nearly every day that summer that finally decided me to accept. There were no restrictions then about people going to work in the United States providing you had a job to go to. It was decided that initially it would be for a period of a year, they would pay my fare there and back, but if for some reason I left before, I’d have to pay my own return fare. It was an exciting day when my tickets for the Cunard Line’s ‘Sylvania’ departing from the busy port of Liverpool, arrived.
              With so much to do and a visa to arrange, it seemed as if I was on a roller coaster. The trip to the American Consulate in Liverpool was a nerve-wracking experience. It was awe-inspiring to be faced with armed guards standing stony-faced in the entrance lobby of the Consulate. And the form I’d had to fill in was something else, pages long and virtually wanting to know every detail of my past life and those of my parents. There was even a section on subversive activities, which listed peace organisations. I was glad then that I hadn’t actually joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during its Aldermaston period although I had been on the fringes for a while. Young people everywhere, having seen pictures of the devastation caused by the two atomic bombs in Japan in 1945, felt threatened by the seemingly endless conflict, known as the Cold War, between the two super powers, the US and the USSR who tried to outdo each other with bigger and more powerful weapons.
              If the armed guards were daunting, being ushered into the Official Presence was worse. She sat, a middle-aged woman, at an enormous desk with the Stars and Stripes flag at her side and a picture of John Kennedy, the new ‘glamour boy’ President on the wall behind her. Peering over her spectacles, she meticulously took me through every aspect of the form I had filled in. She made me feel decidedly uncomfortable as if I’d got something to hide and I squirmed several times. Finally, I walked out with my brand new passport stamped with that precious visa.
              Almost before I knew it, it was 29 September 1962 and time to go. My cabin trunk, purchased second-hand, with my favourite books and records wedged in between clothes that I wouldn’t need until I arrived in Princeton and my suitcase for the journey had both been packed.
              Having to accept whatever date I was given, my departure date had clashed with one of Mum’s periodic day trips that she still organised for the women from the Beehive Mill. She was horrified when she found out, but then she had an inspired thought. She’d juggle the day’s programme a little and divert the coach, so that the whole party, many of whom I knew from my mill days, could wave me off.
              And that is precisely what happened. My last sight of Mum was being

surrounded by many of her friends. Everyone from the coach was waving frantically as the ‘Sylvania’ edged her way down the River Mersey. Though my eyes were blurred with tears, it was a sight to treasure and one I shall never forget.
              Slowly, the gap grew wider and the coach party on the quayside grew smaller so that Mum was no longer distinguishable in the crowd. I stood there, hands clenching the rail, until all I could make out of Liverpool were the twin towers of the Liver Building. Time to face the rest of my life, I decided, and turned away from Liverpool and England.

*Names changed to protect their privacy.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Adventures Continue!

At a YHA hostel somewhere in Lancashire
At the age of 22, after a series of disastrous relationships, it looked like I was going to be ‘left on the shelf’. At that age it was expected that you’d be either married or at least seriously courting.  All my friends were either married or nearly so, all the men I met were either married or seriously courting and I was desperately lonely.

Following the advice of all the best agony aunts, I joined a youth hostelling group, going with them on rambles or walking weekends. It was all right, I suppose, but I was never the athletic type. I was more interested in meeting people, girls as well as boys, enjoying the evenings spent in the pub more than the actual walking. I remember once a crowd of us going up to the Pendle Hill (of witch fame) area for the weekend and being desperately tired after hiking about 20 miles on the Saturday, spending much of the Sunday in the pub and catching the bus home. The group later decided to get more involved in rock climbing which didn’t appeal to me at all so gradually I stopped going. The following summer, I learned that one of the girls had fallen to her death in Snowdonia.

I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my life, yearning always for some indefinable thing beyond my reach. Then, out of the blue, in the early summer of 1961, an opportunity arose to do something completely different. My parents were, by this time, working at the HQ of a local packaging company, Mum as a cook for the directors, Dad as a chauffeur taking directors and visitors to and from the station. One of the directors asked Dad if he would drive his Bentley to Cannes, while he flew, so that he could drive the car while he was there. The director would pay for Mum and my brother Mark, then 8-years-old, to go along. Somewhat diffidently, Dad asked if it was possible for me to go along too and they would pay for me. He agreed and wonderfully, marvellously, unbelievably, we were off to France for two weeks in a Bentley.

No words could ever describe my feelings on that holiday, the way it changed my life, but I’ll try. Having grown up with a chauffeur for a father, I was used to riding in luxury cars but none of us were prepared for the deference with which we were treated on the way. We flew from Lydd Airport, Kent, and drove down to the South of France in a leisurely manner, calling at various hotels on the way. I can still remember our stopovers. Abbeville, where they spoke beautiful English, and Maçon, where they didn’t and I had to practice my now rusty school French. We were so shocked, too, that the French showed no scruples, men or women, about urinating at the side of the road. One man was even eating a sandwich with his other hand. High on the Corniche, in baking heat, we stopped for ‘une thé’ only to find it was made with goats’ milk with globules of fat floating on top.

In Cannes, once Dad had delivered the Bentley to the director, who was staying on La Croisette, the rich palm-fringed mile or so of hotels, restaurants and private beaches, we were free to enjoy ourselves for about ten days. Our hotel, the Belle Plage, was in the old part of the town, overlooked by the floodlit monastery high on a hill. Unfortunately, Mark got sunstroke very badly and had to be kept indoors for a few days, watched over by either Mum or Dad, which curtailed our enjoyment a little.

The American fleet was in port, with dozens of ships anchored in the bay, and the old town bars were packed with American sailors. There were so many of them, all of them confident and extrovert, I was a little afraid of them and stayed clear. That was until I met Butch on the beach, with Mum of all people. He wandered over to us, chatting in a friendly manner and calling her ‘Ma’am,’ which impressed us both.

When he asked if he might take me out, I agreed, and found him not at all how I’d imagined American men to be – ‘overpaid, over-sexed and over here,’ a legacy of the war years. He was quiet and a little lonely, not unlike myself really, and we had a rather sweet romance for a few days.

Then the fleet left, leaving the bay and a large part of Cannes desolate. To my surprise, most of our part of the town closed up for a couple of days, to recover, I presume. Fortunately, I met a German girl, Margrethé, and she and I chummed up together, so I was able to get out in the evenings with her. With everywhere being so quiet, she and I ventured up to La Croisette, calling in one of the more posh cafés for a cup of coffee, all we could afford. There, we got chatted up by a couple of Italians, who were working in one of the big hotels. I’d always thought of Italians as being dark, yet one of them, Max, was actually a blond, something that fascinated me.
We complained to them about the lack of night life in our part of town and they promised to take us to a quiet little place with good music and dancing. It sounded ideal so we agreed. Even when we entered the French apartment block, with atypical blue flaking paint on its walls, we didn’t suspect anything; we thought perhaps it was a private club. It was only when they opened the door to their shared apartment that we realised that they had tricked us. With a glance at each other, we fled back down the stairs, with the two of them hanging over the bannisters, laughingly taunting us all the way down.
Margrethe, Me, Mum and brother Mark
Maybe it was with staying in the old town, but I was surprised to find myself being mistaken for French several times. Once, in the main square, we saw a young man running for a bus which was just pulling away from the kerb. Without thinking, I called out to him, ‘Vite! Vite!’ He paused briefly, called something to me in French, probably suggestive, before he made a last minute sprint for the bus. And I became so used to telling enquirers that I couldn’t speak French that when someone asked me, ‘Parlez-vous Anglais?’ I automatically replied, ‘Non, non, m’sieur.’

All too soon, our magical holiday was over and it was time to drive back. Unfortunately, the director wanted the car until the very last minute which didn’t give Dad much time to drive back to Calais. It was a question of driving flat out in time to reach the ferry. Unlike our leisurely journey down, this was a mad dash through the darkened French countryside, with only the very briefest of stops. I felt sorry for Dad having to do all the driving and wished I’d carried on with my driving lessons. When Dad had tried to teach me, however, we’d had a bad experience, which put us both off. I’d put my foot on the accelerator pedal instead of the brakes, the car shot out of control into someone’s garden, narrowly missing a schoolgirl. Still, I kept him company throughout the night, forcing myself to stay awake, chatting about inconsequential things, while Mum and Mark slept in the back. On the outskirts of Fontainbleau, we stopped in a lay-by for a brief sleep, then it was on to catch the air ferry.

If I had been dissatisfied before France, deep discontent set in when we came back. Horwich seemed so dirty and smelly, with the blue sulphur smelling haze from the Locomotive Works hanging over the town, the people so parochial after the brief glimpse of cosmopolitan life in Cannes, that I couldn’t settle. The question was, what to do about it?

You’ll have to wait for my next blog post to find out!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Wine & chocolates with Elaine Chissick

A complete change from my usual memoir-based blog today! I’ve invited my lovely writer friend Elaine Chissick to have a chat over wine and chocolate. Elaine are Facebook friends and, though we’ve never met, I feel we are kindred spirits.

Welcome, Elaine, and do help yourself to a chocolate as well as a glass of wine. So, tell me, how did you first come to write?

As an only child, I loved to read and would happily sit alone with a book, comic, or magazine, I think it was inevitable that eventually I would start writing snippets of scenarios with different characters. As a teenager in the 80's, I met a girl in secondary school who shared the same interest in writing these snippets. Most were handwritten or typed on a typewriter and were never more than about twenty pages, except one story that I started with two characters called Nick and Sasha.

A couple of years later, we left school and I was told that writing wasn't an option for me, that I had to grow up, get a job and pay my way - so that's what I did and any dreams of writing were filed away and left in the past, but I never gave up on the reading.

Fast forward to 2002, and you’d find me married and working a full time job. Although my husband had children from a past relationship, a family would have been great but due to certain things, we couldn't have our own children, and so we started down the route of adoption. In 2004, our son and daughter came to live with us. 
Elaine Chissick, in the glasses, at a recent author event

Now, my husband and I are not perfect, we are not rich, we are not in the best of health and there is a 16 year age gap between us, but we got through the adoption process and found ourselves with a family. At that point, I felt like I needed to tell people that if they wanted a family too, they didn't have to be perfect either, and so I sat down and wrote 'Willing and Able, a True Story Of Adoption', which is a true account of what my husband and I went through to adopt our children. Unfortunately, the agency who I thought would be interested in the book, were not, so, not really knowing what to do or where to go from there, I shelved it.

In 2007, we relocated 123 miles away and resettled on the North East coast. For some reason, around 2011, I pulled out the adoption manuscript and sent it out to 25 agents. 13 refused it, the rest never got back to me, and then my husband bought me a Kindle ... That opened my eyes to self-publishing and in 2012, I self published 'Willing and Able'.

At that time, I was still reading lots of books but nothing grabbed me, nothing quite managed to pull me in completely - although a couple came very close - but some of those books made me think about the stuff I used to write back in school, and on 1st September 2012, Sasha and Nick barged into my mind quite unexpectedly with the story I had been craving, which resulted in me sending an email to my friend which simply read, "am having a go at fiction, a love story, I think,"

Those characters changed their names to Alexandra and Gabriel, and I threw myself into the writing, (it's a good job my family love me because for seven months, I might as well have not been there as the book took over my life.)

I first published 'Ties That Bind' in 2013, it was a huge learning curve in both the writing and the publishing, and in 2016, I followed with the sequel, 'Ties That Harm'. Both have had their covers redone professionally, and I'm very proud of them.

Tell me, what genre would you say your books fit in to?

'Willing and Able' is true life. 'Ties That Bind' and 'Ties That Harm' are hard to place, they are romantic fiction, contemporary fiction, and also have an element of eroticism in them, insofar as they have descriptive sex, but without the addition of extras like ... sex toys, whips, chains, you get the idea. Does this mean that they are not quite erotica? Is there a genre for contemporary romance with added steaminess? That could be a subject for another blog discussion ...!

Interesting thought, Elaine. Coincidentally, in one of my books I included a short ‘hot’ scene. Afterwards, I realised it would have worked just as well without it.

So, what are you currently working on?

I'm currently doing research into writing a murder mystery/thriller that's set around the life of a club owner. I've never written in this genre so it's taking me a while to get it right. I also have plans for another true life book centered round adoptive fathers, and I also have plans for a recipe book at some point.

Something that always fascinates me, do you have a dedicated work space?

Ha ha! I do ... I have a little office/cubbyhole (ironing room/room to pile all the books, wrapping paper, junk, hoover, hairdryer, etc) which has a regular office desk in it. There's a big window in front of the desk which has a roller blind on it, and on that blind is pinned the full family trees of my main characters. However, in a bid to get me out of the cubbyhole and back into the living room, my husband bought me a much loved and much wanted pedestal desk, so that is now my main working space. As you can see, I work using two screens, have low level lighting and wear earbuds so I can listen to music while I work. The only thing I'm now missing, is the family tree, I couldn't get away with pinning a four foot wide bright orange piece of paper to the living room wall!
Elaine's evocative writing space

All that being said, I've been known to take my laptop to the pub, to my son's football matches, to bed, and to the beach ...!

What sort of books do you read for pleasure? Favourite author?

I like to read a bit of everything, but I do like comedies. Favourite authors are Sue Townsend, Dan Brown, Sophie Kinsella, E L James, and Jackie Collins to name but a few.

Besides writing, what is your other passion?

Cooking and baking. I love baking. My day job involves working in a kitchen and it's something I really enjoy. It's also a skill I've passed on to one of my characters, and the reason I would like to do a recipe book.

Thank you so much, Elaine. I’ve really enjoyed our chat. It’s fascinating finding out about other writers’ modus operandi.  Do have another chocolate.

All three of Elaine’s current books can be found at Amazon by following this link

She can be found on Facebook at and her website is