It can’t be!

But it is! This is my dad, John Cuthbert Falkingham, born 28 December 1907. He was my grandparents’ only child, but had 3 older half siblings. Auntie Dodo said that she just came home from work one day, aged 15, and “the baby” was there! There had been no discussion about my dad’s imminent arrival.

He’s dressed in the gender neutral (or is it girls’?) clothing, typical of the time. He looks about 2-3 years of age I think.

He’s obviously a bit older here. Perhaps this is where his love of cars started!

And finally, here he is riding the penny-farthing which I remember was often a feature in one of our shop windows. It looks like he was riding on the cobbled street which ran down the side of the shop.

I never saw him riding it myself but, instead, I used to love it when the “stick-man” was put in the saddle and the power switched on so that it looked like he was pedalling.

I can see you, Jonny, in his face

Back to the start…

I’ve been looking through my family photographs, newly liberated from my loft. So I’m going back to the start of my story to put some faces to the people I’ve been talking about.

This is the only photograph of my paternal great-grandfather, James Bradley Johnson (1831 – 1907). He was a headteacher at a primary school in Bradford. I think he must be surrounded by his teaching staff here and that the young woman on the far left of the back row may be my grandmother. Unfortunately hers is one of the faces which is very unclear.

Here she is again, much later in life, with my grandfather. Although her face is still not perfectly clear, I see the “family face” and where my two aunts got it from. I hope I will find some clearer photos of her soon.

How I met your father!

Today, children, it is 50 years since I met your father. So it’s a very important day for all of us!

Richard and his friend had planned to go out with every girl who worked in the Bradford Central Library. I was Richard’s second girl. Enough said!

These are the earliest photos I can find of the two of us in the months after we met; probably in the spring of 1969. We just didn’t take so many photos in those days (no selfies!).

Anyway, it’s not yet time for more about the two of us, I have four more years of teenage angst to tell you about!

Les vacances en France

Arriving by air in Paris in the summer of 1964, I was met by Françoise, whose first word to me was “Goodbye”. I said “Hello” and we became firm friends.

Françoise and I had been penfriends for around two years when she invited me to go and visit her. Well, this caused a frenzy at home. I wanted to go so much but was worried about how much it would cost. Mum thought that I wouldn’t cope with going so far away from home, as I had never been anywhere on my own (not even a school trip). I found out many years later that my auntie had persuaded mum to let me go. I offered to contribute my pocket money of 6/- (30p) per week but was told that was not necessary. Mum insisted that I flew, as that would provide less chance of getting lost! There were no direct flights from Leeds/Bradford to Paris, so I still had to circumnavigate Heathrow. I had a suitcase which was almost as big as me!

Françoise guided us from the airport to the Gare de l’Est and onward to Troyes where her father was waiting for us. Very few details remain of the journey but I do remember that we were turned out of second class into third class on the train and that, trying out my schoolgirl French, I told her father that I had a 65 year-old cat (he was actually 15)!

We arrived at their house in a tiny village called Balnot la Grange and I sat down for dinner with grandmother, mum and dad, Françoise, her brother, little sister and cousin (who was her dad’s apprentice). We had yoghurt! It was so different from our little group of three at home, I was a bit overwhelmed.

Theirs was a big house but without an inside toilet or an inside staircase. There was large yard and Françoise’ dad had his workshop at one side. He was a craftsman in metalwork of all types. Françoise’ mum ran a shop from her kitchen and provided a telephone which most of the village used. People called in on and off all day to use the phone or buy cigarettes and sweets. Across the road was a long garden which ran all the way down to a stream.

It was hot. Even in the north of France it was consistently warmer than in the north of England. We wandered around the village, cycled and just enjoyed the sunshine but I was terribly homesick! We didn’t have a phone at home and the only way to get in touch was to write, so I sent mum a postcard telling her how homesick I was. It confirmed all her fears!

At the weekend we went out with the whole family for a picnic. I’d never seen anything like it! No tired sandwiches and a few buns for the Hugerots; we sat down at a table for a full meal. We had other trips, including the “village day out” by coach to Fontainebleau. By the time Françoise and one of her schoolfriends delivered me back to the airport, I was able to declare that I had a new family here in the heart of France. And I had developed a passion for yoghurt and crusty bread.

And, above all, during the trip to Fontainebleau, I invited Françoise to visit us in Bingley next summer.

Next time….. Photographs. I can’t wait to start looking through them to see who I shall find.

1964 – That was the year, that was

I always seem to start my Christmas letter with “20whatever has been a year of ups and downs”. Well, 1964 certainly was one of those.

I’d had my 17th birthday in January and been given my Beatles album. I’m pretty sure I could listen to it in my own bedroom. After sharing a room (and a bed) with mum for several years after our move to Bingley, I was desperate for a place of my own. Eventually, I admitted how miserable I was about this and mum managed to find sufficient money to make half the attic into a bedroom. I loved it. It was perishing in the winter and like an oven in the summer but it was the first time I had space of my own.

Academically things were not going too well. My three ‘A’ level subjects had gone down to two (biology instead of botany and zoology) but I still wasn’t on top of them. Some of my classmates were aiming for university and some were aiming for teacher training (3 years but no degree at the end). I wanted to be a librarian and I wanted to go to a library school. There was one in Leeds but I applied and didn’t get in. I didn’t want to go away because I didn’t want to leave mum (or maybe I just didn’t have the bottle to go away from home!)

I had great friends at school. We had good times during the school day and we loved to go walking during the holidays – across Ilkley Moor and the moors around Haworth were two that I remember. Other than that I didn’t have much of a social life. I went very occasionally to folk concerts but mostly I stayed at home.

But during 1964, something dark came into our lives again. Mum became the third sister to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and, I believe, some crude radiotherapy. I can remember going on the bus to see her after school. Still, she seemed to make a good recovery and we were hopeful.

My ‘A’ levels came and went. It was time to leave school. But before I started work I had a most exciting holiday! It was my first visit to France. The first of at least twenty!

I’m going to write about my expedition next time. Afterwards I am going to take some time to search through my collection of photographs.

A kind person who sometimes reads my blog said that she likes my stories but would like to see some photos. So my grandson has been sent up into the loft and has brought down several boxes. They are very disorganised but I hope to be able to piece together an illustration of the story I’ve told so far.

(“That Was The Week That Was”, was one of the first satirical TV programmes. Starring David Frost, Roy Kinnear, Millicent Martin among others it was one of my favourites. I had thought I would have been watching it in 1964 but, in fact, it ran from 1962-1963. So there you are!)

I blame #EltonJohnLewis

I blame EltonJohnLewis for this. I’ve been thinking about my interest in music ever since I was whizzed backwards through my lifestory by this Christmas advert. Of course, by the time it was 1963, I had a very definite taste in popular music but this had developed slowly over many years. Grandma had a very definite interest in music. We had a piano at home, although I never remember it being played. I was supposed to learn to play but it never quite happened! We did have a gramophone though; one of the wind-up types with needles you had to change regularly. These things were so far removed from the way we listen to music now that I suppose most people won’t be able to even imagine what it was like. The records (no, they weren’t ,”discs”) were made of shellac; hard and eminently breakable! Our record collection consisted mainly of selections from musical films and shows. My favourite was “Annie Get Your Gun”. I was taken to see this by my dad, when I was very small. I’m not sure whether this was a show at The Alhambra theatre in Bradford or the 1950 film. I’ve recently bought (and downloaded) the soundtrack and find I can sing along with almost every song! I can also join in with the theme tune of “Desert Island Discs”, another of my favourites. I’m embarrassed to say that my cousin and I created a “dance experience” to this tune, which we imposed on any visitor who would stand still. Grandma loved Mario Lanza and Richard Tauber, so I was treated to their records too. There was a lot of singing along together, especially grandma and I. Anyway, over the years, our collection progressed to include some popular music. The records were still made of shellac when my mother stepped out of the shop with a record by Tommy Steele, whose title was “Butterfingers”. It smashed to pieces! Around this time, vinyl records started to appear in the shops. They required new equipment and we bought a small record player come radio which would play the new 45rpm singles and then the 33rpm LPs. (I should say that we had already upgraded our windup gramophone to an electric one). Our favourites included Adam Faith, Harry Belafonte, Nina and Frederik and Pat Boone. I don’t quite remember when the changeover came but, by 1963, I had moved on to bands that I liked, rather than the singers that we all liked. As 6th formers, we were allowed to bring records to play in the hall at lunchtime. The Beatles were being played more and more and, as has been the way teenage girls for many a year, we began to obsess over them. At the start, Paul was my favourite but, as time went on and I began to realise that he was a bit more edgy, John took over. As 1964 dawned and I turned 17, I was given my first vinyl LP. “Please Please Me”, with a song especially for me, “She Was Just Seventeen”. The era of songs your elders don’t like was really beginning.

Five years

When we went for walk this morning, George and I, there was a football match being played on the field so we walked around the outside instead. With George on the lead and no ball-throwing going on, there was time to reminisce as we were walking along.

I realised that I have said nothing about friends outside school. None of my school friends lived locally, the nearest being Saltaire in one direction and Keighley in the other. A girl came to live in the next street and we could see each other’s house from our back bedrooms. When we were small, we used to play in her garden, ride our bikes around the local streets and flash torches at each other when we were supposed to be in bed asleep. As we grew up, we ventured further afield, including going for a smoke from time to time in the park where no-one could see us. (Shhh… I haven’t told you that!) My friend went to the local secondary school and when she left and got a job, we grew apart.

Sixthformers were treated differently at school. We had more freedom to hang around inside the classroom, we had a different uniform (still unflattering, but different) and we got to wear a prefect’s badge and be a bit bossy.

As I’ve said, I made the choice to study Chemistry, Zoology and Botany for ‘A’ Level. We also studied higher level “Apologetics” and a bit of German (in case we were really going to be scientists).

I have to thank a teacher who ran an after school club called “World Citizenship”, or something similar. We learned and talked about issues which were affecting people across the world. She berrated us for our conservatism and said that, at our age, we should be railing against the status quo. I was surprised, as I came from a Conservative (with a capital ‘C’) household and she was a teacher with a plummy voice. However, she woke in us a desire to learn.

We learned about a young American doctor called Tom Dooley and the whole class became obsessed with him. We read his heroic account of being a doctor, treating refugees across South East Asia during the late 1950s and we agonised over his diagnosis and death from cancer in his early thirties. We didn’t know at the time that he also worked for the CIA and exaggerated his stories in order to stir up anti-communist sentiment. Our devotion was similar to that awarded to a pop-star. But at the very least, it kick-started my interest in the world outside Bingley.

As we moved into 1963, I had my first brush with breast cancer, when mum’s sister Violet died after a short illness, aged 62. Another sister, Jessie, had already died at the age of 35, I believe from the same cause. I’m telling you this on the day I took my final hormone suppressing tablet, having survived five years since my own breast cancer operation.

Saturday night’s alright for… BBC4!

It’s 11pm, “Beck” (my Saturday night BBC4 Scandi fix) is finished and I’m being transported back to September 1986 with TOTP. I’ve been singing at the top of my voice to The Communards and “Don’t leave me this way”. (Who knew that Richard Coles would end up as a Rev and be so funny?) So the 80s weren’t all bad!

Elton John has always been a favourite of mine and, watching the EltonJohnLewis advert has given me the feeling of watching my own life unroll backwards. I picture myself at the same age as Elton when he recorded “Your Song” in 1970; the same year as the first of his albums that I bought, “Tumbleweed Connection”.

I’m rushing ahead. It’s 1962, I’d passed some GCE’s, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and, at 15, I wasn’t old enough to leave school. So I was heading for 6th form.

But this was the holidays. I’m trying to remember where Mum and I went. I know that there were only a couple of Bridlington holidays. In 1961 we went to Ireland. We flew!! It was a short hop from Yeadon Airport (now Leeds Bradford) to Dublin to stay with mum and dad’s friends – and my godparents – who had returned to live there a few years earlier. The had a printing business near Dun Laoghaire. Their son had a motorbike and he took me for a ride on it. I thought he was cool. On the way back, we had to circle the airport several times because the landing gear was stuck!!

A bit of research about the airport tells me that it first opened in 1931, with scheduled internal flights starting up as the 30s progressed. Having been a military aerodrome during WW2, civil flights began again in 1947. The Dublin route had not long been established when we took our first ever flight.

We had two holidays, I think, in London and Southsea with Susan and her grandma. These seemed terribly sophisticated, compared to the Bridlington B&B, as we travelled to London by train, then on to Southsea where we stayed in a hotel. After a week or so of sea air, fancy bathing costumes and sunburn, we spent a few days sightseeing in London before returning home by Pullman!

Before I go (TOTP has been replaced by something called “Guitar Heroes Part IV” and I have to say that few of them were heroes of mine! Well, some of the clips are from “The Old Grey Whistle Test” and I haven’t changed my opinion that some of the performances were somewhat self-indulgent) I can’t talk about EltonJohnLewis without also mentioning Iceland’s Christmas advert. I am proud that I am among the many people who shared it across social media so that it has got the publicity it deserves. It’s a fact that palm oil is responsible for the destruction of so much of the orang-outan’s habitat and I’m sad that it was felt that the message of the advert was “too political” for viewing on TV.

Where is Hockney’s chippie painting?

The years ticked by and I progressed up the school. We had to make a choice in Year 4 whether we wanted to do humanities or science. Based on not very much, I chose science and left behind all the subjects I love these days – history, geography, art, cookery/domestic science. We did have some tremendous science teachers, particularly two nuns who were known as “Gus” and “Gerry”. I understand that they both could have been serious scientists had they not answered the call of sisterhood. Sadly, not every teacher was so good and many did not have any real teaching skills. (They certainly wouldn’t get a job in teaching today). For many years I felt that I must have peaked when I passed my 11+ at the age of 10 but I know now that I had an awful lot more to achieve.In 1962 it was time to sit my GCEs in Maths, Chemistry, Biology, English Language, English Literature, French and Latin. We also sat a strange RE exam called “Apologetics”, which unfortunately didn’t count towards our GCE numbers. I was not entered for physics because I wasn’t expected to pass but I did take it the following year and got a good mark and another pass.

On the home front, my mum and I became closer and closer. Every week we still went to visit her sisters in Bradford. My dad used to take us there when the shop was closed for a half day on Wednesdays and now we went by bus on Saturdays. Mum’s family lived close to David Hockney’s family in Eccleshill. I don’t know how well they knew them but my auntie Emmie used to tell me how Hockney had once given a painting or sketch to the local fish and chippie and that it used to hang by the counter.I wonder where it is now! Yesterday one of his paintings (Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures)) sold for £70m, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a living artist.

Some people I did know were neighbours who lived further along the row of terraces. Ada was a hairdresser and from time to time, my mum would go along to have her hair doused in some foul smelling liquid and then attached to something suspended from a huge stand, which often smelt as if it was burning! Then she came out with curly hair. And that, folks, was a perm! Albert had been gassed in WW1 and wore a wig. He mainly sat at home and put up with the terrible smell from Ada’s hairdressing. I don’t know if she did any “normal” treatments, perhaps people did stuff like for themselves.

Our journey home by bus involved a walk and two bus rides. I particularly loved bonfire night when almost every street we passed had a bonfire right in the middle of the road and fireworks being set off around it. I remember that, when we had the shop, we used to sell fireworks so we always had a good display which we would take up to share with Susan’s family. When we moved to Bingley, the local bonfire was often just in front of our house.

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.