Our Own Workshops:  Stories From Memory

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MORECAMBE IN SEPTEMBER . . .  a personal reminiscence from

Project Workshop Leader John Price

 

 

The first family holidays I remember were always to Rhyl in the first week of August. Until I was six, that is, when shortly after the arrival of my baby brother, Mum and Dad announced we would be going to stay with friends in Morecambe in September.

Nobody I knew had their summer holidays in September but Dad said we could have an Indian summer. I’d never heard of one of those but when we arrived at Morecambe station in a monsoon I realised that an Indian summer probably had more connection with Mahatma Gandhi than Hopalong Cassidy. As the comedian at the Winter Gardens said during what was almost the only dry two hours we had, ‘It’s forecast to only rain twice this week: Sunday to Wednesday and Thursday to Saturday.’

We never got on the beach because the gale force winds threatened to blow hats, deck chairs and the baby several yards inland. Waves regularly breaking into the middle of the road also made the sea-side of the promenade out of bounds.

The shops even ran out of Pakamacs, those unflattering raincoats that you could fold up and keep in your pocket, unless you were in Morecambe in September 1948, when you could easily drown before you’d finished the job. I did get some amusement as we squelched between shops seeking shelter, by seeing how many inside-out umbrellas I could spot in an hour.

One teatime there was a break in hostilities and Dad suggested we go to Happy Mount Park to see the much-talked about illuminations set among the trees and flowerbeds. We joined the queue waiting for the gates to open but only got a hundred yards inside when the heavens opened again. There was no way to turn back, we just had to snake our way through the park and get wet. There’s a limit to how enthusiastic you can be over a flashing scene from a Popeye cartoon with your underwear sticking to you at every step. The only laugh came from Mum wearing a pair of coloured shoes, quite a new thing after the austere war years, and ending the night with purple dye up to her ankles.   

Finally, thankfully, my holiday in Morecambe in September came to an end. I never really did find out what an Indian summer was - unless Hopalong Cassidy once met a Native American called Purple Feet.

 

Judy Davies  (Featured in Coldwynd Sands)

A Day at the Mumbles 

 

The rest of the school holidays was spent with my grandparents in the country where the boys and I could roam free and enjoy the fresh air and the countryside.  But this day was very special to us as we had just one day at the seaside each summer and for us seaside was what real holidays were all about.  Early in the morning, when we all bundled ourselves onto the Swansea train Nana was glad for the hour’s rest, having been up late the night before packing the beach things and preparing sandwiches and cake for the next day.  Looking at a photo now I am reminded that for Grandad it was a smart occasion demanding shirt and tie, trilby, cavalry twill slacks and highly polished brogues.  I can remember my whitened sandals and the black plimsolls for the stony beach.  The boys wore their blazers and carried buckets and spades.  Nana always had a bright floral frock.  On top of this was her mac, which was something to sit on and a wind break to change behind.

 

Before boarding the Mumbles train we used to have fish and chips at Woolworth’s in Swansea .  This was a very special treat.  In fact I still have some of the cutlery amongst my holiday treasures.  Once on the beach all our heavy bags were set down near the rock pools in the shelter of the cliffs.   The photo shows us leaning in towards one another  to fit into the picture, before dashing off in to the water to squeal and splash with all the other children.  My swimsuit is a kind of seersucker multi coloured number and I see that my oldest brother wears a similar model I presume a hand me down, while the little one is in an old pair of knickers.   I always felt at home in the water and being the eldest led the others on to explore the pools and collect precious bits of broken glass polished by the pounding of the waves.  Imagining riches beyond compare we eagerly sifted  for treasure.  My youngest brother, forever fascinated by creatures, spent his time looking under stones for crabs and dipping his little bucket down to scoop up a tiny fish, to carry triumphantly up to Grandad, an accomplished fisherman, for his approval.

 

Nana and Grandad  would have a paddle at some point before leaning back to relax and enjoy the sunshine while we played.  I have no photo of them but at this stage they had also changed into beach mode.  For Grandad this was rolled up trousers and  shirt sleeves.  When he had read it a folded newspaper hat was shared with nana who, stockings round her ankles would dole out tea from a flask and sandwiches inevitably dusted with sand.  But that was what made it real holiday food, it was grand.

All the fresh air and sunshine meant that we were constantly thirsty and gazed longingly at the ice cream kiosk.  At some point grandad would reach into his pocket and draw out his wallet asking who wanted to help carry the ices.  A chorus of eager helpers all trooped behind him desperate to gorge ourselves, except my youngest brother who used to make his last so that he could taunt us as he slowly  bit into his cornet and smacked his lips triumphantly.

 

Each time the holiday was over too soon. Nana must have started asking us to get changed at least an hour before we really had struggle back into our proper clothes.  The smell of the toilets our final port of call before leaving the beach, was quite overpowering, but in spite of this  memories remain unsullied.  Scratchy sand and tiny stones in my sandals were extra treasures to look at on the train after a lingering glance out of the window as the seaside disappeared from view for another year.


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C M Hewitt: Rising Brook Writers

 

For many years my family holidayed in Blackpool.

            Things were different back then. Not hotels or guest houses, they were far too posh and expensive for us. The 'class system' limited what you could do so the 'working class' just had boarding houses.

            Unlike hotels, where you could stay in all day, you left  after breakfast and didn’t go back until teatime, about 5.30 pm, when you had your dinner. You took your own meat ration with you; it was just the vegetables that the landlady supplied.

            The beach, made famous by Mr Holloway’s monologue, was a long walk for me. It must have been about a mile to the front but, once there, you could dig forever. Alongside burying dad, building motor boats and sand  castles on a daily basis took up most of the time. Walks on one of the Piers looking at the shops was always interesting because I wondered why they sold all those odd things.

    

My proper dinnertime, I didn't eat much and that   worried Mum to death, was something like a small part of the packet of sandwiches or fish and chips mum or dad had, or, for a treat, we went to the Woolworth’s cafe. This was on the third floor of the, now long defunct, Woolworth's seafront shop; and those stairs where a tough climb for a skeletal youngster of questionable health.  

     I did like visiting the Pleasure Beach to have a go on those rides it was thought ‘suitable’ for a child of my age to go on and just walking around it was fun. The excitement seemed to be in the air and you could catch it in your hands. The Ice Rink, on the few times we went in, was always cold and I did not like that!

     My fascination with the trams has stayed with me from that time. It was a marvel to be riding on them: I’d have stayed on a tram all day if I could, clanging along from Star Gate to Fleetwood was, and still is, a magic carpet ride!

 

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Edith Holland: Rising Brook Writers

 

Summer ’48

 

I had an Aunt living in the Isle of Man and this year Jack took our little girl over there to see the T.T.  Cycle races and to be cared for and have a lovely time by the sea. Her shorts and tops were all home-made as were other     children’s too. The donkeys had not returned but the rock pools gave endless fun

 

Summer ’49

 

Now with two children our holidays were more conventional. We took a farmhouse at Clynnog Fawr near Caernarvon North Wales. We sent on ahead by rail a cot, high chair and cycles, still leaving us with what all five of us might need for two weeks. It was late August and the farm was alive every daylight hour with the business of  HARVEST, all new experiences for us, as was the final flourish of their efforts when Mrs Roberts made a huge pile of pancakes for everyone and even for us as well. The nearest beach was Trefor a two mile walk, but empty for our children’s games. My Mother was sharing our holiday and was so helpful, drying off wet children after a paddle, and organising the food.

         We had travelled there by train from West Bromwich to Pwlleli then by local ‘bus. Imagine five of us and all we needed for two weeks piling in the ‘bus, but it was all part of how holidays were done then.

 

 

Edith Holland: Rising Brook Writers

 

 

I was a child in the 1920s and 30s, so have a memory of a day at the sea-side. I had a  younger brother and one Sunday our Dad took us to Weston-super-Mare for a day out. We went by train from Snow Hill station in Birmingham

            No doubt we had sandwiches packed to take and a towel for after paddling. What a disappointment. We didn’t see the sea. As everyone now knows when the tide goes out at Weston it stays out for hours.

            I will digress a little to tell of the social conditions at this time. My father was a carpenter and paid holidays had not been introduced then and a day at the sea-side was a rare treat. However once I had the chance of a day to Rhyl. I remember that Mom was with me and some school friends. I would be eight or nine years old. I wonder now who paid for that outing. Perhaps the school, or the local Labour Party, as there was a strong support for doing things for under-privileged children then.

            Into the 1930s and the building industry had recovered a bit from the slump and unrest of the 20s strikes. My brother and I were told that if we saved our pocket money all the year we could go on a week’s holiday in the summer. Our older brother and sister were now in work and gave us a penny or so each week. We needed to save 12/6d each to cover the trip to Ramsey in the Isle of Man. That was the train fare and boat trip right to Ramsey pier, where we stayed in a boarding house on the promenade with a Mrs MacDonald.

            Our room was at the top of the house which we thought was exciting and though we had to share it with Mom and Dad looking for the sea standing on the bed seemed quite natural and part of the fun.

            The Isle of Man was chosen because we had relatives there and could share some time with them too.

            The beach at Ramsey harbour was ideal for children. One end was rock pools and places to scramble about searching for little crabs and anything moving in the rock pools right as far as

Maughold Head where I think there was a light-house.

            We witnessed an hilarious  incident on the sands with a folding deck-chair which was  intended for a woman to use. Yes it was the usual farce of setting it up and making a mess of it.

            The woman was furious when she went down bump on the sand. We were shooed away to laugh. It was so funny to us and is remembered now in the family.

            Another day an unfortunate girl came running from the sea clutching her bathing suit and desperately knotting the shoulder straps as she ran up the beach to hide her blushes behind a towel. One more victim of the hand-knit swimsuit.



 

 Steph Spiers  Rising Brook Writers

 

Conway Caravan Park 1950s:  Sheep noisily grazing under the window and seagulls squabbling on the tin roof are the first seaside holiday memories I can clearly recall. My parents usually borrowed an ancient Austin A40 and hired a tiny caravan from a friend for seven whole days semi-camping in North Wales as our annual jaunt to the seaside.

            Always in Spring or Autumn I seem to recall, always when the gales off the Irish Seas were building up or not yet abating.  The shoreline camp site was a higgledy-piggledy mess of vans spread out over the dunes, sandwiched between the sea and the main coastal railway line which hugged the base of a sheer black mountain.  The toilet block was just that, one toilet block for the whole site, no showers and water had to be fetched from stand pipes. There was no electric light and the caravan (a very cramped affair) was lit by smelly gas lamps. Food was cooked on a gas ring and milk kept in a bucket of cold water under the van.

            Still the sand was golden and went on for miles, as did the wafts of jellyfish brought in on the tide and deposited in opaque purple streaks across the jetsam line which patterned the beach and had to be jumped over in order to go for a paddle.

 

 

Gill Simmons Rising Brook Writers

 

Trip to the Seaside                      

 

Every Spring we would start looking forward to ‘The Trip To The Seaside’.

            We were mostly miners’ kids and our dads would pay their membership fees into the Working Mens’ Clubs of which there were several. I remember outings arranged by, ‘The Labour Club’, and, ‘The Nest’.  Each club member got to take his kids to the seaside in the Summer. Every child got ‘spends’, pop, crisps (Smiths’ with a little blue twist) and a bag of sweets – probably pear drops – for the journey. (My sister still hates pear drops.)

            When the buses arrived to pick us up it was a real bun fight.  We’d all be scrambling up the narrow twisty stairs to the top deck to get the best seats.  Buses were provided by Harper’s Green Bus Company, garaged at Heath Hayes. Grown ups stayed below with the pop and beer crates (for the homeward journey).

            Quick head count – full to the gunwales – off we set.  Through Cannock up the Watling Street off to Rhyl or maybe Blackpool.  What a  noisy    clamour. Kids swapping seats, gossip, squabbles, and bossy older sister, bumptious brothers. All high spirits. 

            Half way stop at a country pub for a pee and a pint. Then out came the sarnies packed by mums. We all rolled out at the beach full of   energy and plans. Sand castles or big dippers? Candy floss or fish and chips? Paddle in the sea, no more than feet. Full emersion not an option. We loved the seaside but that much water was alien.  Not to be trusted.  Five o’clock: back to the buses.  Little ones flaked out. But time for the sing-song.  Got to do the sing-song.  Can’t be called a day out at the seaside without the sing- song.

            A half way pee break. Pubs are busy now so the ‘No coaches or buses allowed’ signs go out.  So it is a quiet stretch of road so boys can pee on one side and girls on the other.  Except the mums, they stay put and ‘hang on till home’.

            ‘Women are like camels, they can hang on all week,’ mutters Dad. Back to base and the highlight of the year is over for a lot of kids. All for a bob a week dues. 


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Elizabeth Whitehouse:  Rising Brook Writers

                               

 

I was born in January 1942, in a snow storm which my father had battled through to come and see me. My father was in the RAF stationed at a camp in Hednesford  near Cannock staffs. The war eventually took him away to such places as North Africa and Italy, for four years he remained over seas the only contact he had with my mother was by letter. He was an engineer who worked on damaged aeroplanes repairing them for further action. He also played the cornet in the RAF band and a trumpet in a dance band when he was in Morocco.   My mother raised me on her own whilst dad was away fighting for King and country, although we did live with my grandparents in a tiny terraced house in Hednesford.                                                

            During the war years the local weekly dance hall was one of the big events of young people’s lives. Mom and dad met at the local dance to the tune of ‘Roll out the Barrel’, not very romantic but their song all the same. Due to the closeness of the RAF camp there were always more men than women at the dances, which always made my mother’s eyes shine when she related her war time stories to me. My grandmother babysat so my mom and her sister could  go dancing, that was if my mom could get me to sleep before she went, apparently I would always play up on those nights!       

My father was Scottish, coming from Motherwell a small town just outside Glasgow.  During the years he was away my mother often took me to visit my father’s sister  Aunty Jean and her husband Uncle Peter, obviously I cannot remember my early visits. The steam train journeys my mother made with me were long and quite traumatic but she loved staying in Scotland, it was a big adventure for her and seemed to make her feel closer to my father by being with his family.  When my father returned from the war mother and I were at Aunty Jean’s house, I was now four years old, a baby no longer. I was climbing a tree when he first saw me again.  Apparently the first matter he had to attend to on my behalf was taking me to the toilet, mother thought it was about time he took over as she had been doing it for four years.

I grew to love my visits to Scotland.  I remember the Scottish bands playing along with the return of the troops, the streets full of cheering people. The thrilling sound of the bagpipes and the wonderful sight of the uniforms and kilts.  Most of all though Aunty Jean always had the most wonderful food, there did not seem to be any shortages in Scotland like there were at home.  In later years when we talked about the shortages and rationing mom told me Aunty Jean had saved and done without between our visits just make sure we were fed well.                           

Going to Scotland was the only place I visited for holidays with my Mom and Dad. I did not mind I have lots of fond memories, sleeping in a space in the wall which was made into a huge bed, my sister Chris and I thought it was a great treat.

Riding with Uncle Peter on his horse and cart when he was delivering his supplies of beer and pop, the great dray horses causing sparks to fly from their hooves as they clumped  along the roads. Playing with the boys from the street in the back yard, throwing stones down the washing house chimneys hearing them plop in the soot. Catching bumble bees in empty jam jars, chasing butterflies, best of all having to bath in the wash house  cauldron in the soapy water left over from boiling the washing.  My happy memories of childhood Scotland are too numerous to relate in this short piece, what memories I have will never go away.




Peter Shilston: Rising Brook Writers

Memories of visiting my grandmother

 

 

I never knew my father’s parents, who died before I was born, and my mother’s father is only a very shadowy figure, since he died when I was five; so the only grandparent I remember is my mother’s mother.

Her name was Mary Anne Midgley but all her friends called her Polly and to us she was simply ‘Nana’: she never even signed letters any other way. Her home was at Keighley in Yorkshire and I don’t think she ever left there except to see us. She and her husband, Thomas, had a house which they had bought freehold just after the first world war: something which must have been most unusual then.

It was a small terraced house, two rooms upstairs and two downstairs, with an attic and cellar, a very small yard-cum-garden at front and rear, and an outside lavatory: being built of stone it was likely to last forever, but is the sort of house nobody wants nowadays. My father explained  to her how it would be easy to get a grant for an indoor lavatory, but she always ignored him: I suppose she considered it an unnecessary frivolity. Similarly we had a gas fire installed for her in the front room (the parlour, to which only the most important of visitors were admitted), but she hardly ever used it, preferring to live in the kitchen and fetch coal for the kitchen fire up from the coal-hole in the cellar. Beyond the coal-hole and the outdoor lavatory ran a little cobbled street, with washing lines strung out across it. I always thought this a self-defeating exercise by the housewives, because on the other side was the railway and when we visited her, back in the days of steam trains, we contrived to get dirty without even venturing out of the house, so it couldn’t have done the washing much good either.

Apart from us, Nana only had one blood relative: her sister, Aunty Maria, who lived with her husband, Uncle Percy, nearby in Haworth. They were childless and we were always given to understand that we would eventually be their heirs. But when Aunty Maria died, Uncle Percy, who was well over seventy and extremely deaf, promptly remarried. Nana never forgave him for this, and they never spoke again. Thomas Midgley, by contrast, had numerous relatives around Keighley plus at least one who had mysteriously ‘gone to the bad’ and was never mentioned. They all seemed to be much better off than him. My father said that Thomas was, unjustly, he thought, considered the  stupid one of the family. Most of these Midgleys were in the Yorkshire wool business; a sure sign of which was a tendency to feel people’s lapels and say, ‘You didn’t get that at Burton’s, did you?’

 I have a photograph of Thomas and Nana early in their married life, both looking highly respectable. They bought good quality furniture for their house, some of which I still have, along with the piccolo that Thomas played in the town orchestra, and part of his collection of books: the Sherlock Holmes stories, Alexander Dumas, Walter Scott and Thackeray; all with his names stamped inside. It goes almost without saying that they were pillars of the local Labour Party in its early days. Nana said that she had known Philip Snowden, one of the earliest Labour MPs and the first-ever Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that Ramsay MacDonald himself had stayed at their house; but unfortunately by the time I was old enough to be interested in such things, Nana’s memories were getting confused, and my mother believed the MacDonald story was imaginary.

Nana was also a lifelong vegetarian, with an interest in fringe medicine, which must have been very unusual for those days. Clearly she and Thomas could be classified as serious-minded working-class intellectuals: a category probably hardly existing amongst young people today.

I remember Nana as seeming very old and deaf, and frail-looking, but fiercely independent and hating being  patronised. We used to drive out to see her, arriving around mid-day. ‘What have you come for?’ was often her opening question. ‘We’ve come to make you lunch!’ my mother would announce brightly. ‘I’ve had mine!’ Nana would reply; quite often adding, ‘Your hair’s a mess!’, or even, ‘Tha’s getting to be a gurt fat podge!’ Because of the wool connection, I always had to be well-dressed for these visits; otherwise I would be told I looked like a ‘top o’ the town kid’. This meant nothing to me until my mother explained that in Keighley the top of the town was where the Irish lived, and they were certainly not considered to be respectable! She could remember a time when the Irish children came barefoot to school, and the babies slept in orange-crates. The need for working-class respectability also led, I was told, to the only doubts Nana had about my father as a prospective son-in-law; namely, ‘He drinks!’ This referred to the fact that he occasionally had a glass of beer at a local pub on Saturday lunchtime, when he finished work. The problem here wasn‘t teetotalism, Nana cooked up some lethal homebrew in her cellar, but the pub: pubs were also most definitely not respectable places.

She had a very strong Yorkshire accent, and naturally identified strongly with her county.  Just about the last thing I remember upsetting her was when Brian Close was sacked from the England cricket captaincy. ‘They’ve only done it ’cos he’s working class and Yorkshire!’ she  exclaimed. She didn’t actually say, ‘southern MCC *****,’ but I’m sure that was the gist of what she thought.

She had plenty of friends in and around her street, few of whom I remember meeting. This once created a problem: when we visited her for her 80th birthday, and her neighbours were invited round, my mother was put in charge of handing out the drinks. Nana gave her a bottle of standard sherry, saying, ‘This is for my friends’ and another of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, ‘And this is for my SPECIAL friends!’ and left my mother to decide for herself which category any visitors might fit into. She compromised by  giving everyone Harvey’s until it ran out.

My parents had hoped that when my sister and I left home, Nana would come and live with them. But she always refused to do so and eventually she died in her own home, which was what she wanted.

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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