Two weddings, a dumping and a new beginning

I picked myself up at the start of 1968, thanks to family and friends. I was working in the Children’s Library and one thing we were doing was helping to welcome the families who were beginning to follow the men who came to Bradford from Pakistan to work in the mills and on the buses. At that time, children who were newly arrived spent some time in separate schools learning English, a very different approach to nowadays when children go straight into mainstream school and simply assimilate the language. Anyway, we used to visit these centres regularly, bringing books with us, as well as entertaining children from all over the locality at our regular storytimes and craft sessions.

In July, I went to France again to attend Françoise and Claude’s wedding. What an experience that was! I met her in Troyes, I think. Françoise was just about to begin her teaching career and I stayed with her, in the school where she worked as a monitor until the it was the end of term. Then we drove home to the help with preparations. They day that I went with the two of them to purchase some of the alcohol for the celebrations, I keeled over asleep in the car on the way home! The day before the wedding a chef arrived (and stayed for 3 days) and dinner was prepared and served to a large number of guests in one of the buildings outside the house, which had been decorated specially for the occasion.

Next morning I dressed in a brand new outfit. Françoise told me to ditch the hat as no-one wore them any more! I was rather disappointed. Guests gathered and we walked in procession through the village with Françoise and her father at the front, then the bridesmaids, all the guests and Claude with his mother bringing up the rear. The first part of the service was at the Mairie (Town Hall), a civil service performed by the mayor. Then we all processed to church (which we had cleaned ourselves) for the religious ceremony. Almost immediately after this was finished, the bride and groom disappeared for at least an hour – they had gone to a studio for a formal indoor photo. Then back to the village for a single, enormous group photo. I was perched on a bench high above them on the back row, with my “companion”. He was chosen to accompany me as one of the very few unattached young men. He was not my cup of tea. I can’t explain why but he wasn’t!

The wedding meal was several courses long and lasted for several hours. There was a fabulous croque en bouche, the “pièce montée” at the end of the meal, lots of wine and champagne was consumed, then we danced in the village hall until it was time to eat and drink all over again in the late evening. More dancing followed and the newlyweds disappeared. Then, all of a sudden, everyone was piling into cars and setting off to find them. They were “hiding” at Claude’s parents’ house, the bedroom was stormed and we all drank champagne from a chamber pot! I arrived back at the house at 6am to find that everyone else had retired to bed, including a couple who were asleep in my bed! I staggered down the road with Françoise’ cousin and was found a bed at a neighbour’s house. There was another enormous lunch the next day to finish off the celebration and then I returned home.

I then took the huge step of moving into my own flat. I was feeling uncomfortable at home. I wanted to be able to do spontaneous things with my friends but I was expected to return straight home from work every night. Auntie was of the opinion that “nice girls” had no reason stay out after 10pm. Perhaps I just needed some independence. I found a flat in Bradford, went along to see it with an older cousin and plucked up the courage to tell Auntie. She was furious. She thought that she would never see me again. I promised her that that would not be the case and 24 hours later she relented and then gave me a number of lovely and useful items which set me up in my new home. I had a groundfloor flat at the back of an enormous victorian villa on the outskirts of Bradford’s city centre. It was not far from where I had lived as a child. In fact, only the red light district divided us! I quickly moved in. The rent was £16 per month.

It was around this time that I was unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend of just a few months. We were introduced by a mutual friend at work and over the course of the summer months he would pick me up in his car and we would go for a drive and usually listen to “Beyond Our Ken” or “I’m sorry I’ll read that again”. We didn’t meet up at work at lunchtime; I suppose we only saw each other once or twice a week. I remember we did go to see “Bonnie and Clyde” when it first came out and to one or two parties but it remained fairly low key. The end came when I invited him to my new flat and fed him the latest thing in instant catering – a Vesta Curry. As most of us had never tasted a real curry at this time, we thought this range, which you made from a dessicated state by boiling it in water, was the real deal. It definitely was not! You had to be there to appreciate just how dire this stuff was. Anyway, as he left, he said “I don’t think we should see each other any more”. I said “Oh, alright” and we parted company. I didn’t ask why.

So then I was bridesmaid for the other friend who had come with Françoise and I to Scotland. It was a lovely day and Auntie came too. Which just reminds me that I had already been a bridesmaid for another friend who was married in late 1966. I was surrounded by weddings and still no-one in sight for me!

I applied for the post of the Children’s Librarian of Halifax. I had flourished under the mentorship of Vera Jacques, the innovative Children’s Librarian of Bradford. My library qualification was going well, if slowly. It was a day-release course paid for by my employer and took around 5 years to complete. I was successful and started in the autum of 1968. I also made my final appearance with Bingley Amateurs in the chorus of “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat) a Strauss operetta.

The end of the year was approaching and I was rehearsing with colleagues from my previous job ready to sing at the Christmas party. The friend who had introduced me to my previous boyfriend now invited me to go on a double date with her. She had met a group of students from the university (not sure how). She and another friend had gone out with them but it hadn’t worked out for the other couple. My singing friends gave me a lift to the flat where these students – 3 of them from Bradford University.

Children! I was about meet your father. He came down the stairs and I thought “I always end up with the short, round one”. For some reason, the three of them all lived in their own rooms and there was no socialising in the living room. I sat in his room while he prepared a meal of pork chop, peas and mashed potato. We talked for hours until I insisted on being taken home. His friend, a young man from Iran, had a Ford Capri! Richard asked to see me again…..

And to quote Charlotte Brontë “Reader, I married him”!

The girl who missed the summer of love

They say that, if you remember the 1960s, you couldn’t have been there! I was so conventional and unadventurous that I do remember all of it. The “Summer of Love” in 1967, however, completely passed me by, although for me it happened in 1969 instead.

For those who were there but don’t remember, as well as those who were not yet born, the summer of 1967 saw a great gathering, a “love-in” of hippies in San Francisco.

“If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there”
(John Edmund, Andrew Phillips)

If you’re unsure what a hippy is, I suggest you visit Wikipedia, as I’m not going to explain here. You could also listen on YouTube to Scott McKenzie singing this anthem for 1967.

Me? Well I was going on holiday with Françoise, back for her second visit and newly-engaged and a former schoolfriend, just back from teacher training and also newly-engaged. The three of us were off to Scotland, back to Oban which I had last visited at the age of about 4. We stayed in a small hotel, learned to eat porridge with salt instead of syrup, tried haggis, neeps and tatties and had fun exploring the locality. We did not visit any pubs because, at that time, Scottish pubs did not welcome women!  Our big trip was a repeat of my visit by boat to the island of Iona.  We had an interesting time – until we boarded the boat back to Oban.  It became very rough and Françoise began to feel very sea-sick.  She disappeared below deck and could not be persuaded to come out into the fresh air.  Afterwards, when we were back on dry land and she had recovered, we laughed a lot. It was a good holiday.

While I was in France the previous year, Mum went on holiday to Hastings with my Auntie Elsie and they flew to Le Touquet for the day.  This trip to France was the first time she had left England and she had greatly enjoyed it.  They planned to have another holiday in 1967 but then, early in the summer, there was a query when she went for her annual breast-cancer check up.  The consultant asked if she always had a croaky voice.  It wasn’t something that we had really noticed but it was the sign that a secondary cancer had developed and, when she was due to go away on holiday, she was, instead, admitted to hospital to have fluid drained from her lungs.  As the year went on, her health declined very rapidly.  I have a photograph of the two of us at my cousin’s wedding in October, which I find very hard to look at but which I can’t bring myself to throw away. It’s our last photo together.

In November I returned to the stage with Bingley Amateurs, this time in the chorus of “Summer Song”, based on Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”.  On the penultimate night I fell while leaving the stage and was carried off to hospital in full make-up and costume, where it was discovered that I had torn a ligament in my ankle.  I couldn’t go to work for a couple of weeks and, with hindsight, I am so grateful that I was able to spend this time with Mum.  When I visited our GP about returning to work, I was shocked when he warned me that she was soon going to die.  I think that, deep down, I knew it but I wasn’t able to admit it to myself. She slipped away day by day and then, one evening a few days before Christmas, she died.

A wonderful family and group of friends gathered around and I had a very understanding boss.  I can still remember making all the arrangements for her funeral, going to see her and thinking that all the suffering had gone from her face.

The same family and friends helped me to celebrate my 21st birthday in Janury with a small dinner party at home.  1968 was a bit of a roller coaster but it did have a happy ending!

Snails and broken hearts

Throughout 1966 I was still working at Eccleshill District Library and enjoying the course (paid for by my employers) which would be the opening to full library qualifications, instead of the dreaded ‘A’ levels!  I’m relieved to say that my pattern of failures turned into one of success so that, year by year, I got nearer to my goal of becoming a chartered librarian.

I forgot to mention that, when I started work in 1964, I earned the princely sum of £28 per month. (That’s roughly the equivalent of £540 today). Someone used to go around by car to all the libraries and pay us in cash!!  I gave it all to Mum, save £2 per week.

In July 1966, I had my second trip to France and was with Françoise and her family for Bastille Day (14 July).  We went to a restaurant and I ate a dozen snails!  I loved them; they tasted rather nutty and were smothered in garlic and butter.  I did feel a little sick afterwards, though.  We watched a firework display and the next day (still feeling sick) set off with a coach full of people from the local villages to visit Mont Blanc and the ‘Tunnel’.  The famous tunnel at that time was under the alps, connecting France to Italy. We climbed Mont Blanc by a little train and then descended onto a glacier by cable car to explore ice caves. It had to be just about the most dangerous thing I had ever done (apart from the snails).

We also visited Germany, by car. Françoise had learned to drive and had purchased a 2CV.  She was, by this time, studying at university, while living and working part-time in a girls’ boarding school.  We set off in two cars, three girls (including Françoise’ cousin) in one car and four adults (aunt, uncle and two friends) in the other car. Françoise’ car was hit from behind when we slowed down to allow another car to turn.  Luckily, even the fragile 2CV was not too badly damaged and we were able to continue.  The two men of our party were concerned about meeting Germans for the first time since WW2.  “Will we want even talk to them?”  It’s strange though, that when we came to stay overnight, they settled into an easy conversation about their time as soldiers and our host’s spell in a POW camp on Corsica. We spent a couple of days with Françoise’ cousin – the boy who had been her father’s apprentice on my previous visit.  Apparently, he liked me and wanted to see me again.  I imagined marriage and an idyllic life in France ahead of me but no words were said and we drove home via Luxembourg, which we managed to see in one afternoon.

I developed a huge crush on another new colleague.  It lasted for many months and made me hang about, full of angst, even writing poetry which was returned with a “Thanks but no thanks” by a magazine.  He kissed me once and I was taken aback and didn’t respond, so he assumed I wasn’t interested and went on to go out with two of my other work colleagues.  At the same time, we were playing our guitars and singing together at his house on a regular basis but, to my total despair, it was just as friends (although I always clung to a crumb of hope).  It lasted until he left to study to become a teacher.  I saw him, in the distance, a few years later and not long after I married your father and I have to admit that my heart still skipped a beat.

In 1967, I moved to the newly built Central Library to work in the children’s library.  I actually moved just a couple of weeks ahead and helped to pack up the old library.  Every single box that I packed came open en route!  I was given a lesson in tying things up with string which I have never forgotten!  An amazing eight storey building,  arranged in a non-traditional subject-based way, it was built according to the dreams of the City Librarian, Harold Bilton.  It was a comfortable place to work, with windows right around the building. We even had a separate room for storytelling.  And our new overalls were slightly less offensive than the old ones!

I was in the reception area to watch Princess Alexandra officially open the building in the summer of that year.



Mum, what’s a trolleybus?

I settled in to work at the district library and sometimes at its small satellites. I travelled to work by trolleybus! I’ve added a photo because I think there will be very few people who will remember these quiet buses. As you see, they are powered by an overhead electricity supply. My journeys were made a bit more unpredictable because there was a sharp right-hand corner about midway on the way to work and often one or more of the arms flew off the wires as we made the turn. The bus conductor (there used to be someone whose role was simply to take the fares) had to jump off the bus, retrieve a long, hooked pole from underneath the bus and try to get arm to re-connect to the electric cable.

I think the highlight of 1965 was the return visit of Françoise. I had invited her to come and stay without checking with my mum and auntie but, as soon as they met Françoise, they fell in love with her, as did the rest of the family. We had a short holiday in Llandudno during her stay.

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Auntie Doris, Françoise and Mum outside our house in Bingley

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You can see the goosebumps from here!

1965 also saw my debut as a member of the Bingley Amateur Operatic Society. We had been regulars at their annual show for many years and I had cherished the ambition to join them for some time! A brief audition saw me admitted to the chorus in time for the November 1965 performance of “The Merry Widow”. I loved the dressing up, the makeup and the performance.

I almost forgot to mention that I had more disastrous ‘A’ level results! I abandoned ‘A’ levels at last and started out on the long road to becoming a chartered librarian….

The rest of the year that was … and some teenage angst

I decided that I would leave the family photos for the moment. I have seen my parents through their courtship and the early days of their marriage and now they are waiting for an arrival! They won’t have to wait much longer!

In the meantime, I’m picking up where I left off at the end of my inaugural trip to France. I returned to disastrous ‘A’ Level results but was still able to start my first job.

I was going to be a library assistant at a brand new library in a suburb of Bradford. This was the time when public services were growing! They were also open long hours and I regularly worked until 8pm and most Saturdays. Females wore disgusting green coveralls which left us unpleasantly warm in the summer! But we were a group of young, new starters and we had fun together.

The only problem, as far as I was concerned, was that it was just down the road from my aunt’s house and my mother had negotiated a deal with her to provide me with lunch every day. The meals were lovely but I really wanted to be sitting, eating sandwiches, with my friends.

It was here that I had my first date, with one of the young men I worked with. We went to see “Goldfinger”. It wasn’t a success. I thought I quite fancied him but realised I didn’t. He thought I was cold and unapproachable. I thought he just isn’t fanciable after all!

Today is the day when parliament will vote on the Brexit proposals. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Another side of Bradford

I always thought that my family were fairly typical of Bradford’s working class inhabitants in the early to mid 20th century. Both my grandmothers had to cope with tragedy when they were young mothers.  Grandma Falkingham was abandoned by her first husband and left destitute with three little children. She met my Grandpa when he to returned to Bradford from the north east and a disastrous marriage. They set up home together, added my father to their family and eventually opened the cycle shop where I was born. Grandma Fordham had also been left with a small child when she was widowed less than five years after her marriage. Her second husband, my grandfather, had been a baker and then worked on the railways, latterly as a foreman porter. Mum and her sisters worked in local mills as weavers.

So, I was shocked to read, in two books by Harry Leslie Smith, the campaigner who died recently aged 91, about the absolute poverty in which some Bradford families lived.  In his book “1923: A Great Depression Memoir”, Harry describes a life, in Bradford and elsewhere in Yorkshire, where nothing is certain – not food on the table, not your home, not even the presence of a parent. People lived their lives hand to mouth, doing whatever work they could get, “flitting” from one place to another when they couldn’t pay the rent.

How lucky my parents and their two families were. They may have lived life at a fairly basic level but they obviously had certainty, even time for leisure. They had steady work, they had a home and my paternal grandfather must have made a success of his cycle shop because his son was able to carry it on and provide a certain level of comfort for us.

Here are my two amazing Grandmas – both strong women, as was my Mum.

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Grandma and Grandpa Fordham, with Mum

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Grandma Falkingham (left), with her sisters, Edie and Ada

Family goings on

It looks as if my family was having a good time before I arrived. They were out and about and enjoying life and being no more grown up than today’s group selfie posers, with their “careless” posing amongst the bracken

L to R (Back) Grandma, Mum, Grandpa, Cousin Gladys, Auntie Elsie, Auntie Doris
(Front) Dad (hidden amongst the bracken), Cousin Muriel
Auntie Elsie was Dad’s eldest sister and the two girls are her daughters. Auntie Doris (Dodo to every child in the family) was Elsie’s younger sister.
Gladys, Grandma, Muriel, Uncle Willie (Elsie’s husband), Dad, Auntie Dodo, Mum, Grandpa. I see that Dad is still rocking the Plus 4s and Grandpa is wearing a waistcoat, while the women are wearing strange hair nets.

That’s not to say that they didn’t go in for more formal photos…..

Here are my mother’s parents, her sister Violet and Violet’s husband, Edwin Craven (Uncle Eddie)
This is Violet and Eddie’s wedding in 1945. The people I recognise, apart from the bride and groom, are Uncle Willie Waite (Auntie Bessie’s husband and Mum’s brother-in-law), standing next to the bride, with his daughter, my cousin Kathleen, in front of him. Also seated is mum’s eldest sister Emmie.
I love this photo of Mum and Grandma.

I’ll have more to say about the Fordhams and Falkinghams the next time I post some family photographs.

Cuthbert on his birthday

Today I heard of the death of the oldest man in the United States. He was 112 years old.  Today is also my father’s birthday. He would have been 111 years old but, sadly, he died in 1956 aged only 49.

I’ve decided that I would take a look back to the days when he and my mother were a young couple “courting”. I realised that I’ve never looked at these photos in that light. I just remember my parents as busy people looking after our shop and keeping my grandma and I entertained. They met in the mid 1920s, when he was 17 and my mum was a mature lady of 19. They were introduced by my father’s friend Pat (who wasn’t a postman but a printer from Ireland), whose girlfriend at the  time was my mum’s sister, Jessie.

I’m not sure that the “Plus 4” was ever a great fashion statement but my father was seemingly besotted as he was still wearing them when I was a little girl in the 1950s! Happy Birthday Dad!!

And here are my parents as I have never really thought of them before, young and in love!

Dad’s older sister, Doris, was married to a merchant seaman and I know that she regularly accompanied him, so I think this must have been one occasion when mum and dad went to meet them when they were berthed somewhere on the east coast.

Jessie and Phyllis

I’m so pleased that I found these photos of Mum and her sister, Jessie, as I never met Jessie. She died in 1939 aged only 35, from breast cancer, I believe. If so, she was the first of the four sisters who all died from this awful disease. I wish I had known Jessie because, from the number of photos I have seen of them together, it looks as if she and my mother were close. They were certainly close in age, with only about a year between them.

When I checked the 1911 census, the older sisters, Emmie, aged 20 (Mum’s half sister from my grandmother’s first marriage) and Bessie aged 15 were both working as weavers. I know that Mum and her other sister, Violet (born 1901) also worked in a mill prior to their marriages.

Sarah and Louise – can you see a family likeness between Mum, me and the two of you? I can!

Phyllis (rear) and her sister Jessie (front)
Jessie and Phyllis

I am getting such a lot of pleasure from looking through these photos and studying the faces of my family more closely than I usually do. It is almost Christmas and today the whole family, plus my cousin, Susan’s family will be gathering at my house for tea. The people who won’t be seeing each other on Christmas Day will be exchanging presents. (I hope that we are allowed to keep them for opening on Christmas morning!) I will be looking at my children and mentally comparing them to the photos.

So that’s where I get it from

Unlike Dad, I have no photos of Mum when she was a baby or small girl. This is the earliest one I can find of her. She is standing outside the house in Eccleshill which became so familiar to me when we visited her sisters every week. A two-bedroomed house with no bathroom (the lavatory was at the bottom of the garden), the whole family, except possibly Bessie, who may have already been married, must have lived here. That is grandma, grandpa plus Mum and three sisters!

So, if you haven’t read my posts on 16 and 20 September, where I introduced my parents, this is Phyllis Annie Fordham, born 21 August 1905, the youngest of four sisters.

As far as I was concerned, she had all the qualities that a great mother should have; kind, gentle, supportive and very diplomatic. She had great inner strength and I aspired to be like her. There was just a short time, after my father died, when she became very ill (due in part to having to deal with the sale of our shop, I’m sure) and had to be cared for by my auntie.  But when she was becoming very weak as her cancer returned, she showed such a determination to carry on as normal. I once saw her appear round a corner after she had walked into Bingley and back. She straightened her body and put a smile on her face before coming into the house. It’s hardly surprising, then, that when our doctor said to me, “She’s going to die soon, you know”, I found it hard to believe!

She was my guide until I was almost 21 and I so regret that she was not there for all the wonderful times, the hard times and just every day when I became a woman myself. I wish she had met her son-in-law and her grandchildren. They would have adored her and she would have adored them.

Oh, and her lovely smile, of course. That’s where I get it from!