Sharing memories is just the best!

I’m aware of some other holidays from those early days: trips to the seaside with my mum, my cousin and her mum. I’m not sure which seaside town it would be but it was almost certainly Blackpool or Bridlington (‘Brid” as it’s known here in the north). I know of these holidays through photographs I have found of two little girls – one fair and one dark – sometimes in matching clothes and almost exactly the same height. In the photos we are often holding hands and in one we are enjoying a ride in a motorbike and sidecar on a roundabout.

The other little girl was Susan and we were born just three weeks apart. But because my mum and dad were both the youngest of their family and because I had arrived later in their lives, my first cousins were all grown up well before me, so it’s actually Susan’s mother who is my first cousin. In reality, Susan was the sister I never had and we have remained close all our lives and now we have children and grandchildren of similar ages. I can remember just one major incident which threatened our friendship, which was the day when Susan abducted Ricky the dog, who you may remember, had to be rescued from a B&B in Callander. Susan had been visiting us for the day (we often played at each other’s home) and, unbeknown to me had decided to take Ricky home with her. Bedtime came and panic ensued. You children will all appreciate how precious these bedtime friends are. We were lucky enough to have a ‘phone and a call was made. Ricky had travelled back to Susan’s house, hidden about her person! He was found and returned straight away. I’m sorry, Susan, I’ve never let you forget this! It’s just another lovely shared memory.

Susan recently reminded me that one summer we both had a striped t-shirt /matching shorts combo, something I had quite forgotten. We were away on one of the short breaks we try to do once a year now. Alongside enjoying a visit to a special exhibition (this year it was the Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool), we always spend a lot of time remembering and laughing and sometimes we each remember something the other had forgotten. It often means that we have less time sightseeing than we anticipated!

Perhaps now is a good time to fill in a few more family gaps. As I explained before, mum had four sisters and of those sadly Jessie died at a very young age. Her half-sister, Emmie, never married although I always understood that at some point there had been a young man in her life called Fred and that he might have died in the First World War. Violet was married later in life and didn’t have any children and Bessie was the only other sister to have a family. Kathleen and Alan were her children and Kathleen had a son and Alan had two sons and a daughter. On my dad’s side, his half brother, Ronnie, had two sons but the whole family lost touch with them many many years ago. His half sisters Elsie and Doris were both married but Doris had no children. Elsie had three children, Muriel, Gladys and Alan and they all have children too and it’s Gladys’s daughter Susan who has always been my sister.

Just a quick mention that Susan and I made our first major family appearance at the original “Muriel’s Wedding” in September 1947, an event that was perhaps overshadowed by that ‘other’ wedding which took place in November.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my cousin, Alan, my mother’s nephew. We are the only 2 members of our generation on that side of the family and I am 71 while he is 85! We often try to piece things together and he can fill in some of the blanks but, as a young boy just growing up during and after the war years, he wasn’t privy to any of the family discussions. My aunties rather reminded me of Les Dawson’s fabulous creations, Cissie and Ada. Those two characters were typical (if rather exaggerated) northern women of a certain age. I learned that Alan’s father had fought in the First World War and was taken prisoner. He has no other details, so I am going to try and find out some more.

As to me wondering if there was any clue about why I am an only child? No! It wasn’t something they talked about in front of him.

Still, the pleasure of the afternoon was reminiscing; sharing memories with family.

No spoilers here!

Today the talk has all been of “spoilers” and those who have and those who haven’t seen the last episode of the Beeb’s latest drama “Bodyguard”.  I have seen it and it was gripping, although I must be the only woman who hasn’t fallen for the charms of Richard Madden. Great actor but not Idris Elba – or Luca Zingaretti!

That’s enough gripping for today.

We are back in 1947 again and I will have arrived home to our flat above the shop, where my grandma is also part of the family. You may remember that this grandma was a teacher, with bossy tendencies, and I have been told by one or two relatives that she was extremely bossy with my her daughter-in-law, my mum. Perhaps it’s no surprise when an experienced the mother of four bumps into a first-time mum aged forty-one! I’m also told that it is testament to mum’s calm and unflappable nature that they never came to blows.

Grandma was a fixture throughout their married life. She must have lived there with grandpa and stayed on after his death. Poor mum was the latecomer. What made me sad in later years was that I inherited many of my parents’ wedding presents most of which had obviously never been used.

So, to the cycle shop – a four-storey building on a busy corner of Carlisle Road in Bradford. There was a three-room cellar where dad kept huge containers of acid which he used to recharge car batteries and did some of his work. On the ground floor was dad’s main workshop, where he repaired bicycles and engaged in activities, such as soldering, which impressed me greatly. He had a work bench with a number of vices and I recall once crushing a glass bottle in a vice until it smashed and being very surprised! At the front of this floor was the actual shop, with bicycles displayed in the front window and around the shop and a side window where sometimes a stick man rode on a penny-farthing (I also have a photo of dad riding down the street on this contraption).  When the stick man was plugged in, he peddled and, of course, he never fell off. I’m not sure if thar was true of dad.  Upstairs was a small living room with a tiny kitchen area and a piano in the other corner, one bedroom which I shared with my parents and a tiny bedroom where grandma slept. On the top floor was an attic which was totally underused as I rremember.You may have noticed that there was no bathroom. We had an outside toilet where, in the winter, a small paraffin lamp fought a losing battle against the ice. Bathtime involved a tin bath in front of the fire. (At least it did for me, I have no recollection of anyone else in the household ever taking a bath). One of my earliest memories is of mum, on Monday, doing the washing. She was obviously up very early and the process seemed to involve a primitive washing machine and water being carried backwards and forwards from the living room. Washing was dried in the backyard or in the winter it shared the living room with us. Ironing was done on Tuesday. Another, rather macabre early memory was of keeping clothes pegs in a basket made out of an armadillo shell. At least I think it was clothes pegs, or it might have been shoe polish; but I have a vivid picture in my head of the poor old armadillo with its tail in its mouth which acted as a handle.

This all sounds very primitive but, as I recall, we were quite well-to-do. We had a car and a telephone and we had roast beef for dinner every Sunday. We also had it cold on Monday and made into cottage pie on Tuesday. I had a tiny mincing machine and I loved nothing more than mincing up slices of bread for the birds as my mum was mincing the last bit of the beef.

These early memories are very confused. I can’t put them in any order but it’s strange how vivid they are now that I’m trying to remember them and just how many of them have come flooding back.

Just to complete the austerity theme, it is amazing to think that, although I was born almost 2 years after the war ended, I was seven before the end of rationing. Many items were rationed until 1948. Clothes rationing ended in 1949 and soap rationing in 1950.  Sweet and sugar rationing ended in 1953 but I think it speaks volumes that, although rationing finally ended altogether in 1954, we still dismantled our sugar packets for many years afterwards to make sure that we extracted the very last grains. I certainly remember going to the grocer’s with my mum and handing over our ration books. Of course packaging was very different from what it is now. Many items such as tea and sugar were measured out in the shop and poured into plain packets. Butter was usually cut from a huge slab and then patted into shape before being wrapped in greaseproof paper.

But life wasn’t all austerity. We went out in the car, we went on holiday and, one day, we even got a TV!

Drought? What drought?

Well, the rain seems to have worked the dual miracle of reviving the gardens and erasing our memories of that long, hot summer. Time to retrieve the winter woollies and pack away those light summer clothes. (Except that I have the excuse to hang on to some of the summer clothes for my fast approaching holiday in the sun).

I have seen quite a lot of photos of my mum and dad, presumably taken in the years before they got married. They are riding about in, or posing beside a motorbike and sidecar or a smart little sporty car. This graduates to a bigger car when they appear to be travelling further afield chaperoned by my grandma (dad’s mum). Dad always looks a bit rakish – often with a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth – and mum was a rather glamorous “flapper”.

Although neither of them ever spoke about it in my presence (even though mum was with me until I was 20), other members of the family have told me that it was my mother’s family who stood in the way of their marriage. My mother’s family were members of a non-conformist church. Dad was a Catholic and therefore, according to tradition, likely to persuade their daughter to have numerous children (Hmm…. well that never happened). At least I’m presuming that was the reason; I know it was something to do with religion.

It says something of their love that they were determined to stay together over all this time, although I can never quite understand why they were not determined enough to go against mum’s parents’ wishes and get married anyway. It seems so sad when they were to be separated much too soon by my dad’s death at the early age of forty-nine and it’s made me believe that you should never let chances of happiness go by.

By the time they were married (December 1939), my dad’s father had already died (in November 1931). Mum’s parents were still alive but her sister Jessie had died in March of that year of the cancer that eventually killed all of the sisters. The war had started in September of that year. I have never seen a photograph of their wedding day.

Throughout the war, during the day, dad worked in the cycle shop he had taken over from his father and in a local heavy engineering factory at night. I think my mother worked at the factory during the day. They lived over the shop and dad’s mother lived with them. I know very little about their lives during this time, although mum once did tell me about the bombing of Bradford. She clearly remembered the occasion because she was walking back home after a visit to the local cinema with her mother-in-law. From one of the high points on the outskirts of Bradford, they could see the city in flames and she particularly remembered this because they had just been to see “Rebecca” where, at the climax of the film there is a huge fire which destroys a house.

So now we must jump forward to 1947 again.

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Great Expectations (of Ikea)

It wasn’t me who had to do the construction work, it was my son, who took me to Ikea to purchase some shelves for my spare room, then ended up putting them together last night after work.  They look great and will help me solve my constant problem of where to keep things.

Downsizing is a difficult process , not least because you have to sort through all the rubbish you have collected over the years, throw some of it away and then find room for the stuff you decide to keep!  I’ve downsized twice since my husband died; once to a house with the same number of (slightly smaller) rooms, to which I then, rashly, added a conservatory, and then, more recently, to a much smaller bungalow.  I have great expectations of my Ikea unit!!

Yesterday we left my grandma struggling on her own with three children. Somewhere on the horizon was my grandfather. Grandpa John was some sort of engineer and when he was a very young man had travelled up to the north-east of England to work at one of the big engineering firms. A distant relative of mine has done a great deal of research on grandpa’s family and once gave me a very detailed family tree which I have lost. I shall try and catch up with them again at some time in the future.

Anyway the story from them is that, at 19, grandpa lied about his age in order to marry his landlady’s daughter. Quite what happened over the next few years I’m not sure but it would seem that, at some point, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital because of her drinking and grandpa returned to Yorkshire where he met grandma. I wish I knew something about how they met but there is just a big gap until I can see them in the 1911 census. They are all living together, my father has arrived but strangely enough grandma is listed as the housekeeper. So it begs the question were they ever free to marry? According to the researchers in the family there is no trace of a marriage ever taking place!

The thought of my straight-laced Victorian grandma “living over the brush” makes me smile but I’m glad she found someone and was happy and safe.  And a cousin (who was much older than me and who had personal memories of grandpa) once told me that she had always thought of him as her grandpa and that he always treated his stepchildren and stepgrandchildren as if they were his own.

So now I guess the family entered into a much happier period, my dad grew up and when he was about 17 he met my mum. He had an Irish friend called Pat and Pat’s girlfriend at the time was mum’s sister Jessie. Mum was a mature lady of 19. How strange then that, by the time they got married, he was 31 and she was 34!

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24 hours in A&E (well, about 5 actually)

Tuesday was mostly spent in the children’s room at our local A&E with my daughter and tiny grandson who had decided to top up his dose of liquid paracetamol by drinking from the bottle. We were well looked after and Isaac had various tests to determine the level of paracetamol in his blood. It was very low!! My daughter thinks that most of the stuff was spilt. However, it didn’t stop her feeling bad, even though the doctors and nurses said that this was one of the most frequent reasons that small children visit A&E; even when I reminded her that her older sister had done the same thing when she was very small and that it had never even occurred to me that I should take her to see a doctor!

Anyway, it’s not time yet for them to come along or for me to demonstrate my dodgy parenting!

Right – it’s back to my dad, the strangely named Cuthbert whose first name was John. He was born in December 1907 and was the only child of my grandma and grandpa. However he did have two half sisters and a half brother and this is how that came about.

Grandma, Lavinia Ethel (known as Ethel and another of these people using the wrong name, although maybe I can understand it in her case) was born in 1868 and her father was the headmaster of a school in Manningham. I’ve heard rumours that JB Priestley was one of his pupils but it might just be that – a rumour. I believe that grandma also had a spell teaching in the school, which might explain why she remained bossy right up until the end of her life, when she was still telling her 60+year-old daughter what she should and shouldn’t do when looking after me. (“Don’t take Anne to the park Doris, she might fall in the river”). Anyway, Ethel married Charles who, I believe, came from a fairly well-to-do family who owned a factory in Halifax. They had three children who survived and two who died in infancy. All these children were born between 1891 and 1899. The children who survived were Elsie, Doris and Ronald. You will see that there is no mention yet of my dad. Rumour has always been that Charles was a bit of a bad egg. I understood that he left Ethel on more than one occasion to seek his fortune elsewhere in the world and that every time he returned there would be another new baby. As I say, I have no proof of this whatsoever but what Charles did next perhaps does make you think that he was by no means a saint. I had always believed that Charles had eventually gone off to South Africa where he had died fairly soon, although we have found a single birthday card which he sent to his daughter, Doris. However, thanks to the wonders of family history research on the internet, I have discovered that Charles had a whole new family in South Africa. There is no record of him being divorced from my grandma so, whether he was a bigamist or not we shall never know. However, he did marry someone in South Africa, they had a son together and Charles lived until 1937. Actually I’ve been in contact with Charles’ grandson and his wife and, although they are not directly part of my family, it has been a nice feeling that something positive has come out of what appears to have been a sad time in the family history. It’s always been part of the family story that Charles’s family did little to help my grandma and her remaining children and that they struggled in poverty for some years until, that is, she met my grandfather.

I think that’s enough bigamy and desertion for today.  I have been to the opening of a fabulous school library and am gearing up for some intense furniture construction this evening. More tomorrow, including a love story with a happy ending.

A touch of the shipping forecasts!

I was so enthusiastic about starting this, that I was late to bed and even the sonorous tones of the 12:45am shipping forecast did not send me to sleep. Even so, I was up, out for a walk with Gorgeous George (the four-legged half of One Anne and her Dog) then off to the Grand Theatre in Leeds for a behind the scenes visit to Opera North and a seat at the dress rehearsal of their new production, Tosca. The visit was organised by the same cousin who recently enthused me and she was equally good at doing this.

So, how to maintain enthusiasm for a blog after a day of talks, torture, sexual violence and (I think) death? I didn’t stay for the death bit as I was exhausted but I’m told there isn’t a happy ending.

I don’t know if anyone is going to come along and read this. I’m not giving out fashion tips, videos about putting make-up on or instructions on how to restore factory settings on your tablet. I might mention food from time to time but this isn’t a food blog. So what would bring anyone here? Well I’m doing it this mainly for my kids: Sarah, Louise, Jonny – the best things I’ve managed to produce in 71 years (with a nod to my Richard P who sadly is no longer here to share them with me).

We all regret not talking to our parents about things which happened in the past and asking them questions which come back to haunt us when they’re not there to answer them any more. It was even more difficult with my parents. God! They were Edwardian – by birth anyway. They were also gone before I was properly grown up; my dad when I was nine and my mum just before I was twenty-one. You don’t ask questions at those ages.

So my children are always asking me to make sure that I tell them all that I can remember about when I was small and, even before that. The things that my mum and dad did tell me and the things that other people have told me since. I’ve been lucky enough to have some cousins who are/were a lot older than me and who were around at the time when my mum and dad were actually quite young and they’ve been able to fill in some of the gaps.

I can’t promise that this will all be in sequence and that I’ll remember everything in the right order or that I won’t want to put in the odd thing about what’s happening now, especially when I go on holiday. Oh, how I love my holidays!

Tomorrow I’ll start to work backwards as far as I’m able from the arctic blast that was January 1947. There will be drama, destitution, bigamy, drunkenness, a difficult mother-in-law and plenty of happiness. In short, a typical family!