A very special weekend

This was a weekend that we will always remember – not just as the annual Remembrance Day but as the 100th Anniversary Remembrance Day.  Yesterday, I attended a musical memorial at St Aidan’s Church, Skelmanthorpe, with children from local schools acting and singing and the Skelmanthorpe Brass Band.  Most moving, for me, was the reading of the names of all the boys and young men from the local community who had not returned from WW1 (the bodies of many of them were not even found).

Today, I joined many members of the Batley community at a service at the Cenotaph in Batley’s Memorial Garden.  It poured with rain throughout the service and wreath-laying but the sun came out as we made our way to the town hall for a welcome and warming cuppa.  Quite by chance, I met a lovely lady who had come to represent her husband who died only a month ago and who (she said) would have been there laying a wreath on behalf of one of the services (I don’t remember which).

This week I have also learned that my great auntie, grandma’s sister Edie, who was a nurse during WW1, actually served in France and was awarded a medal.  I hope to find out and write more about her and, hopefully, include some photographs.

So – to return to my time at SJC.  I believe that I settled in well and, by and large, I enjoyed my time there.  As I’ve already explained, I was taught by nuns throughout my school life but here there were also lay teachers.  Our headteacher was a nun and she knew the name of every one of the thousand girls in the school.  The nuns included some serious scholars who, in the main, were also good teachers.  The lay teachers were a mixed bunch, some good but many of whom would definitely not be up to scratch in the profession today.

I enjoyed embarking on new subjects, especially French (Où est Toto?  Où est-il? – The first sentence in my first French textbook, as I remember).  I was less enamoured by Latin, although I can still recite “Little Jack Horner”.  I began to lean towards science subjects, which led to a rather disastrous choice of ‘A’ Levels because we had to make choices in 4th Form which excluded either science or humanities.

I never shone at sports or PE and never represented the school at any team or solo sport. Our sporting activities included netball in the winter (no hockey, it was “too rough”) and tennis and rounders in summer.  Occasionally we even had modern dancing lessons.  My partner and I were once described by the teacher as looking like “brushes sweeping the floor”!!  I did, however, spend several years in the school choir.

The highlight of 4th Form was finding my penfriend and lifelong friend, Françoise.  I was at the back of the queue when penfriends were being handed out and the girl I was given was hoping to meet someone who lived in Scotland.  I hoped that her geography was not too good!  Anyway, I wrote to her and she wrote back!  And so began a friendship which has lasted almost 60 years. My children all know her and her children and grandchildren too.



“Gels” of “The Remove”

That was me. A young girl in a smart uniform (paid for by the local authority), randomly placed in Remove 1 and Cunliffe House (which involved wearing a green badge).

I managed two days in the new school, before I fell foul of the second flu pandemic of the 20th century. The first was the often heard of pandemic just after the end of WW1 but this pandemic also swept the world in two waves and, by December 1957, some 3,500 people had died in England and Wales. I was off school for two weeks and then began the process of becoming a “gel”, after the fashion of the popular school stories of the period.  Girls came from all over West Yorkshire and, as well as day pupils, the school also had a few boarders.

I believe that I settled in well and I was generally very happy at school. I had to make new friends because I had gone on to secondary school a year ahead of most of my classmates.  Some of those girls are still friends today.

I mentioned that my uniform was paid for by the local authority. It was a typical navy gym slip but, instead of the usual shirt and tie we wore shapeless navy and white check blouses with square necks. The uniform did not include a cardigan, so we all used to pad ourselves out with whatever we could fit underneath the blouse. This put them under so much strain that the shoulder seams regularly gave way and were always requiring mending.  In summer we wore striped dresses and a blazer. Oh, and the dreaded beret! Woe betide anyone who stepped out of school without their beret and a pair of gloves (white in summer).

The horror that was our gym outfit is practically indescribable! Known as “gym pinks” because of their ghastly colour, they comprised a dress, which allowed little room to move around and a pair of loose shorts underneath. When we were measured for our “gym pinks” we had to kneel so that the length of the dress was to our knees.

Anyway, I also had a free bus pass and free school meals. Except that I wasn’t having the free school meals. After a few months the school realised that they had been claiming the money while I had been travelling home for lunch (a round trip of around 10 miles). For some reason which I totally fail to understand, I continued to make these unnecessary journeys every day until I started the 5th form (Year11).

Successes, holidays (and a nod to Professor Green and #iwishthatitookmorephotographsofus)

At some point, possibly when we still lived in Bradford, I was entered for my “scholarship”  (more recently the 11+).  As  I was still aged nine when we moved to Bingley, I think it was possible that the local authority was one step behind and not aware of our move out of their area.  Anyway, when I was around ten years old, I took the scholarship in Bradford, only to be told that, as we now lived in West Yorkshire, I had to do it again under their regime – in Wakefield, a town that I had barely heard of, let alone visited.  The test was done (several of us had been “crammed” in the art of answering these IQ related questions) and duly forgotten.  Then, one day, I was informed by one of the nuns that I had passed and was despatched home in the middle of the day to tell my mum the good news.  Like most people we didn’t have a telephone in the house. For some reason I must have knocked on the door.  I remember my mum answering it (although I don’t remember whether she was wearing her morning or afternoon clothes) and looking utterly horrified when she saw me standing there.  She thought something terrible had happened – as if I had been sent home to tell her that I had been expelled or had developed a contagious illness during the morning.  I said “I’ve passed”.

And so, that’s how I came to have a place at a grammar school in Bradford, starting in September 1957.

That summer, mum and I went on holiday to Bridlington, with mum’s sisters, Violet and Bessie and their respective husbands.  We stayed at a boarding house run by a pleasant couple who had recently come to England from South Africa.  (It was well before I understood anything about what was happening in South Africa, so no questions were asked).  Staying at a boarding house involved going out after breakfast and not returning until tea-time, whatever the weather. (Tea-time, by the way is when we northerners eat our evening meal, otherwise known as dinner or supper. We eat our dinner in the middle of the day. Dinner, otherwise known as lunch and dinner was generally our main meal of the day, the meal at the end of the day was lighter.  We often ate supper too but that was a snack during the evening, when we got hungry again because our “tea” was not very big, I suppose.  That makes perfect sense to me but I understand if others find it confusing!).

The meal to which we returned was usually the sort of food which got England a bad name in les cuisines, les cucines and die Küchen of Europe (and no doubt prevented our entry into the Common Market until the 1970s), such as boiled ham and limp salad.  There was no choice, so you either liked it or lumped it! There was never any venture into Afrikaans cuisine which would, I’m sure, have sent the guests running for the hills.  We arrived on Saturday and on Sunday we would walk along the promenade and the sea but custom dictated that we weren’t allowed to actually step onto the beach until Monday. This branch of non-conformism robbed me of a day’s digging, paddling and sand-castle crafting.

The uncles would stride out wearing jackets and flat caps.  The only nod to informality was to lose their tie and wear an open-necked shirt.  I think the jackets might have come off on the beach and I do recollect the odd handkerchief with knots tied at the corner, being used as headgear.  Anyway, it was lovely that they took mum and I under their wings and they were there to comfort her on the difficult first anniversary of her husband’s death.  I can still picture us, walking along the promenade arm in arm, our photos captured by one of the seaside paparazzi who promised to develop the photo on the same day and then displayed it in a booth for all the world to see.  I think there were two of these holidays.

And so, in September 1957, I embarked on my time at one of Bradford’s most sought-after single-sex grammar schools.  Sadly, I think I peaked at 10!  Although my GCE results were OK, my A Levels were dire (probably due to choosing the wrong subjects) and I had to pick myself up again when I left school.  For that reason, if for no other, I have been a lifelong advocate of further study and I am happy to remind parents and children alike that there is a hell of a lot of life still to go after you leave school.  So, if you didn’t achieve what you (or others) thought you should, you shouldn’t despair but grab all the opportunities for study as they come along, whatever age you are.

I saw Stephen Manderson ( aka Professor Green) on BBC Breakfast this morning.  He was urging people to take and print photographs of their loved ones so that they have something to remember after that person dies.  He very movingly reminded us that this can happen a long time before you expect it to and that you can’t do anything about it then.  He wishes he had more photos of himself taken with his father who, sadly, took his own life at a very young age.  It’s an important message, Pro Green and, although we do have family photos going back to before WW2, I’m writing this blog because you can’t ask questions either!

People of my parents’ generation were far too zipped into secrecy and thinking things shouldn’t be talked about. That is how I came to miss out on big chunks of my family history.

Early days in Bingley

We had not been long in our new home when mum was taken ill. My memory of those weeks is that she could barely eat without being sick and that she had to have complete bedrest, except for a short while when she was allowed to sit up in a chair for just a few minutes each day. I don’t know how long this went on for but, knowing how strong she was, I think this illness can only have happened because she was so overwhelmed, both by her loss and the responsibility that she had to bear in disposing of the business, the building and our houses.

But eventually she was well again and life seemed to slip into a very easy pattern. Of course, with two women in the house, house work was not a huge problem and both mum and auntie Dodo used to change after lunch from their ‘cleaning and shopping’ clothes, into outfits more appropriate for knitting, sewing or reading. Theirs was a fairly routine existence with certain days set aside for cleaning each room or doing the washing and ironing. Tuesday afternoon was the day when mum walked into Bingley to collect her widows’ pension at the Post Office and Thursday morning was the day when auntie Dodo collected hers.

I’ve been looking at the rates for benefits for widowed mothers and have discovered that, in 1956, mum will have received 13 weeks at 55 shillings. (£2.75) + 16 shillings and 6d (82p) for me. After 13 weeks this was reduced to £2+82p for me. Widows aged over 50 were not expected to seek work as it was assumed that they would not have worked throughout their married life and would probably find it difficult to get any job. However, I do remember my mother over the years worrying that we wouldn’t be able to manage on her pension and that she would have to find some sort of employment.

By 1964 the pension had risen to £4.15s (£4.75) + £1.17s.6d (£1.87) for me – which will have ceased when I started to work and began to contribute to the household expenses. By the time she died in 1967, aged 62, her state retirement pension would appear to still be under £5 a week.

I always enjoyed going into Bingley because it included a walk through the park. We always took Pat the dog who, at that time, was allowed to accompany us into all the shops (I think). On pleasant days we would often take a longer route through the park on the way home. This was known as the ‘Bottom Meadow’ which, as its name implies, was a large open meadow quite different from the rest of the park which had flowerbeds and trimmed grass. The River Aire flowed past the Bottom Meadow and you could cross the river into another large meadow via a bridge which had been built in 1951 to commemorate the Festival of Britain.


I’m back – in more ways than one!

Whew! I’m back from two weeks in India and back in my original blog site. I managed to lock myself out of here, had to prove that it actually belongs to me in order to get back in and then had to import my “On Tour” blog.

So, it’s back to the original storyline next time. I will skip through to the end of the 1950s (I promise I will) and get on with my story….

A reflection

After a leisurely morning and farewell lunch, the car picked me up. I was sad to leave. (I think I said a few emotional words). For miles we drove around the borders of Kanha, it’s so huge! I could write a book about this journey but, other than the Nagpur rush hour, the two images which will never leave me are the man cycling along with tiers of trays of eggs strapped to his chest and the man cycling along with a full rail of garments right around his body.

I have so many wonderful memories from this holiday: all the animals, the tigers, the wild dogs, barasingha and other deer and the langurs of course! But my holiday was made even more special by the kindness of ALL the team at Shergarh.

Being woken with a tray of tea or coffee at whatever time you get up is a winner anyway but I never left my tent without someone appearing, as if by magic, to take my hand and guide me along. So, for once, a holiday when I stayed upright the entire time.

I was taken for (short) walks, fantastic drives around local villages and the owner spent a morning helping me to photograph flowers and butterflies. Shergarh team, you are AMAZING!