“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, known in other parts of the country as dinner or supper. We eat our dinner in the middle of the day. Dinner, known elsewhere as lunch, was generally our main meal of the day and 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, Prof 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 little bit of Scotch mist

So many photos of my dad as a young man featured a sporty car (or a motorbike and sidecar) and he was often accompanied by my mum (and even his mother, who seemed to be a constant chaperone). Before I was born, dad and mum belonged a group called  “The Gypsy Motoring Club”. They and their friends would zoom around the countryside, participating in organised trips, time trials and treasure hunts. These activities came to an end upon my arrival, but driving out into the countryside on a Sunday was still our family treat. The shop was open 6 days a week and dad never let up. I can remember him often having to jump up from the table and rush downstairs to serve customers because the shop didn’t close for lunchtime.

I do have memories of standing behind the car with the boot down (yes down not up) and our big picnic box which just fitted in. Sadly, missing from the trips that I can remember, was Sheila, my parents’ beautiful Irish (red) setter which appeared on their photos but died before I was born. One of my older cousins was especially fond of her and, later, told me many stories. Apparently, she was a very giddy dog, who never quite grew up and often returned home in a very smelly condition due to her love of rolling in cow pats! This (the photos, not the cow pats) has just reminded me of how many photos I’ve seen of my parents out and about in the countryside, posing (sometimes in very silly poses) with dad’s two sisters and their husbands and children. Lovely family photos which have made me smile over the years and have helped me tell you – my children – about your grandparents.

I have real memories of one very early holiday, touring Scotland. This was a place that mum and dad (mostly with grandma) often visited. I was a small child – maybe 4 – but I have 3 very vivid memories. One was being lifted down from a ferry boat into the arms of a crew member in a small rowing boat as we visited the island of Iona. Iona is a small island in the Inner Hebrides, famous for its abbey. Part of the abbey, built in the Middle Ages, still remains and it is still a popular destination for tourists. The sail, from the small town of Oban, takes you past the beautiful houses of Tobermory (or Ballamory as thousands of parents know it today) and the atmospheric Fingall’s Cave, before arriving at Iona, where the only way to land is by transferring to a much smaller vessel. I made the same trip with friends as a twenty-year old, but that is another story! My dad told me the story that there were some American tourists on our Iona trip and, being interested in history, they were asking “Who was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father?” It seems nobody knew the answer – except me. I whispered to my dad that I didn’t understand why nobody could say – that “it’s the Duke of Edinburgh of course”! My second memory was being in a bed screaming,  because mum and dad had gone out and left me with my grandma. They never went out together, even though they had a potential live-in babysitter. I never asked why but I realise now that I am showing distinct signs of having “only-child” syndrome! My third memory was of the moment, during our drive home, when I realised that my little plush dog, Ricky, was not with us and dad obligingly turned back to Callander to collect him. Thanks dad!

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

Austerity: Post-war style

I’ve always thought of my parents’ generation and their parents’ generation as being the ones who had seen the big events and huge changes during their lives but I think that there have been tremendous things – both good and bad – happening during my lifetime. So I’ll try to remember them as they come along during this story. There were several such moments in the first few years of my life but I don’t have any personal memories of them.

A few days ago, I talked about the terrible winter which was in full swing when I arrived home to our little flat above the shop. The country was freezing while struggling to get back on its feet, less than two years after the end of World War 2. I was lucky enough to be one of the early beneficiaries of the national health service which came into being on 5 July 1948. When I was looking up the date for this event, I was interested to read that even in its first year of existence the NHS was suffering from a shortage of nurses and had cost £248 million to run, almost £140 million more than had been originally estimated. No surprise then that it is in the difficulties it finds itself in today. The resources needed have always been underestimated and, I guess, its users have always expected more of it than they were prepared to fund. My grandma, who lived with us in our tiny flat, did not welcome the coming of the NHS, which she took to be yet another socialist plot conjured up by Attlee’s government. She refused to join and continued to pay for her doctor’s services until my father signed her up without her knowing.

One welfare benefit that I know we didn’t benefit from was the so-called “Family Allowance”. In these early days it wasn’t given to the first child and I remember that my mum was always rather bitter about it. It doesn’t seem fair, as it is the preparation for the first child which was and still is, very expensive. My mum also had very definite views about mothers (and even married women in general) having to go out to work. She had obviously worked in the early days of her marriage during the war but, to her, one of the most awful thing to happen to a married woman was to have to go out work. After my dad died and she was in receipt of a widows pension of about £4 a week, she sometimes used to say, anxiously, “I think I’m going to have to get a job” but we seem to have managed and it never came to that. I wonder how she would have felt about today’s women, most of whom would hate to stay at home and not have a job.

I’ve been trying to think of what my earliest memory could be. I’m not one of those who claims to remember things that happened when they were just a baby. But I do remember – Rationing!

In the deep midwinter

So, it’s 26 January 1947. I’m told it was one of the worst winters in living memory. But of course my memory doesn’t stretch back that far. Good old Google tells me that one of the cold spells started on 21 January, so I guess there must have been some difficulty in getting my mum to hospital. I was born in St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford. The main buildings of this hospital formed the infirmary of the Bradford Union Workhouse (completed 1852). It was not luxury, obviously!

Everyone was also dealing with the difficult post-war period. In1945, Labour had won a general election and on 1 January 1947 had nationalised the coal industry and created the National Coal Board. Still, due to a lack of planning for a possible cold winter, there was a coal shortage and, together with food rationing, we all had a pretty tough time.

Health-wise, the NHS was taking longer to be born than I was and, apparently, it was practice at that time for new mothers to stay in hospital for two weeks, having bed rest. So again it must’ve been difficult for my dad to visit us in hospital. We were one of the lucky families who had a car but as I’ve been told that snow was so deep that people had to walk on the walls I’m not sure if the roads will have been open. Anyway I presume that at the beginning of February I arrived home to our cycle shop (perhaps strapped to the handlebars of a bicycle) where the other person waiting to meet me was my Grandma.

Before I start moving forward from January 1947 it’s time to explain who my mum and dad were and where they came from. Phyllis and Cuthbert (whoever would call themselves by their middle name, Cuthbert, when their first name was a perfectly normal John?) had been married since November 1939 and had known each other for many many years before that. I believe I was their first and only baby. No-one ever mentioned miscarriages or stillbirths but then, they wouldn’t. So I have no explanation as to why it was more than seven years after their marriage that I was born. My belief through teenage years that it was because Dad was doing war work in a local factory through the night, while Mum did similar during the day was poopooed by a kindly colleague who assured me that “people will always find time for a little love”.

Let’s start with Phyllis. Born in August 1905, she was the youngest of five sisters. Emma (known as Emmie) was the oldest, born in 1891. Her father, Thomas, was my grandma’s (also Emma) first husband who sadly died at a very young age only two or three years after they were married. I haven’t been able to find out what happened to him, although I know that he was farm labourer. Grandma Emma later married my grandfather Frederick and had four more daughters, Bessie, Violet, Jessie and Phyllis. Frederick had been a baker at some point and, possibly, a soldier. He was born in Lincolnshire in 1863. Emma was also born in Lincolnshire in 1869. By the time mum was born Frederick worked on the railways and they lived near Wakefield. Bessie was born in 1896, Violet in 1901, Jessie in 1904 and Phyllis in 1905. The girls all worked in the local mill when they left school.

I think I’ll leave dad’s early story until tomorrow. It includes desertion and, possibly, bigamy, a drunken first wife and illegitimacy so will take a bit of explaining.

In the meantime, I’m digesting the final episode of “The Plague” from BBC4. Not an easy watch, what with the pustules, the Spanish Inquisition and a pre-NHS doctor who shouted for “lard” when the hero was brought in close to death. He patched him up and bathed his wounds with a mixture of egg and turpentine. BBC4, my staple Saturday night fare (sub-titles and all) was on hold last night while I went to a party. I’m coming to terms with the fact that BBC1 has started has started showing an equally gripping but totally different, Saturday night serial. “Killing Eve” is fast, edgy and has me hooked already. How will I juggle the two?

Life is a bowl of soup!

I’m full of enthusiasm!  Resurrected with the help of my cousin. We spent a few days away and, as usual, we meandered down memory lane.  We grew up together, more like sisters than cousins. Two girls, born just a few weeks apart and both only children. 

We laughed at the things we remembered and filled in the blanks that the other had forgotten.  We laughed a lot! Into the early hours of the morning.  We talked about the blanks that we can no longer fill in, because the people with the answers are no longer with us and how we don’t want our own children to be in the dark as they grow older.  So, I’ve decided to write this blog for my three children.

Writing a blog?  Well, I keep a diary when I go on holiday.   In fact I’ve just been reading all those diaries written since 2004 when I did my first big trip abroad.  I wish I’d kept the diary that I wrote when I was a teenager and totally in love with a boy I worked with.  You don’t think you’ll ever want to read those again or maybe they are so embarrassing that they just have to be got rid of.  I’m excited to be going away again in a few weeks’ time. To India. It’s sort of a goal, booked as soon as I got the all clear after having a kidney removed (on my birthday too!), because I had to cancel this same trip earlier in the year. I shall be taking my pen and notebook with me as usual.

I’m feeling a similar enthusiasm about telling the story of my family for my children and grandchildren.

Is it over the top to put 12 year old Calvados in soup because I forgot to buy cider?  Well, the leek, apple and spring greens soup tasted very good.