Today is the 49th anniversary of dad’s and my wedding. On our photos we look ridiculously young but, of course, we were (21 and 22 respectively). Family, you will hear more about the days before you were around later on. There is still something to tell you before the 50s are finished (“surely not” you will say!); Something happened which brought about a huge change in my life…
Life drifted along fairly easily until 1956. I can remember birthday parties, sometimes in our tiny flat but occasionally at my cousin’s house which always seemed enormous to me. But one thing that was different was that I was not allowed to invite my friends in ‘to play’. I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind this and it’s another of those things that had a profound effect on how I wanted to behave when I became an adult and a parent. I always felt that the family home was our home not just mine or mine and my husband’s. I felt that if my husband turned up on the doorstep with a friend I wouldn’t tell him that the friend couldn’t come in so why did I have the right to tell my children that their friends couldn’t come in? Gosh (that’s a mild exclamation to protect the sensitivities of any readers) I hadn’t realised just how much of my early life has influenced me. And how it’s made me want to do the direct opposite of what I experienced then. It’s happened with my political affiliations too but, as I wasn’t entitled to vote until I was 21, that comes much later.
Contrary to what people seem to believe, I don’t think this was a particularly friendly and open time. Anyone who wasn’t family was kept at arm’s length. I have recently discovered the announcement of my birth in the local paper. It says “to Mr and Mrs C Falkingham (Manningham) a daughter. Both well”. No “delighted to welcome” or “precious gift of” even though they had been waiting many years for this arrival. No mention of my name and only the most formal mention of their names. It was a different era and I think my parents belonged to an era even before that.
It’s not that I didn’t play with my friends but we played outside. We played in the street and we played on the slum clearance sites a few streets away. We played cowboys and Indians and sometimes we played Tarzan. When we played that I always wanted to be Tarzan and my best friend had to be Jane. Any boys around had to play the parts of whatever villains or creatures Tarzan happened to be fighting that day. And of course I always had a bike! I was allowed to ride my bike in the street and sometimes one of my parents would take me to Lister Park along with the bike. I have unsightly scars on both my knees caused by accidents which happened after my mum told me it was time to go home and I had begged for just a few minutes more. (I think the damage to my knees was not helped by my grandma’s over-enthusiastic commitment to Germolene combined with less than thorough cleansing techniques). We were regular visitors to Lister Park where I loved to see the stuffed animals, working models where you could turn handles and the glass fronted beehive, all in the museum. In winter my dad used to take me sledging there, down a scary hill known as the “Yorkshire Bumps”.
As with other children who do not attend the local state school, I was lucky enough to have a second set of friends at school. Some of these lived near enough for me to be delivered to their houses to play but some lived far enough away for it to be only birthday parties which brought us together out of school. One of them obviously had cause to leave some sort of hand-written evidence in my house – perhaps it was a message in a birthday card or a birthday present or an invitation – but it was used as a reproach on the state of my own handwriting. You can tell that even after 60 years I still haven’t forgiven her!
One day at the beginning of August in 1956 dad wasn’t well. I remember this clearly because he was in bed during the day. For some reason nothing was done about the pain in his abdomen for at least a day. But eventually he was taken off to hospital where it was discovered that he had appendicitis. In those days (there I go again) children were not allowed to visit adults in hospital, so I was only taken to the hospital on one occasion and then I had to stand at the door to the ward and wave to him. I can still picture him sitting up in bed and waving back at me and I was sure that he would be home soon. Then a few days later, on a Monday morning, my mum was missing when I woke up and I found out that she had been called to the hospital during the night.
She returned later in the morning and told me that “Daddy has gone to sleep”. I know that these days this would not be thought of as the best way of telling a child that her father has died but, as I keep on saying, things were different then. According to his death certificate, which is now in my possession, he died of an intestinal obstruction, following an operation for adhesions and appendicitis.
So that’s when our life changed and the end of 50s was very different.