Thursday, 30 September 2010

Miss Franny Leads the Way!

The delectable, ever-sexy and kind-hearted Miss Franny (I think I got in all the things she told me to...) was in the local newspaper last night.

No, she hadn't created a rumpus in the chippy or been dragged off by the police for staggering around the village centre, swearing and swigging lager from cans, throwing her empties at passers-by, although it can only be a matter of time...

Instead she was shown displaying a number of alternatives to plastic bags as Blackpool has "declared war" on plastic carrier bags. A shame the photographer failed to spot that she was holding one of them upside down, but not to worry!

In the battle against plastic the weapons on display include cardboard bottle carriers, hessian bags and ... er... plastic carriers... Oh! They are the re-usable type Miss Franny assures me. Would it not be easier if shops just bought paper bags like we had in the 50s and 60s and like in modern day America?

And why has nobody the guts to declare war on the real bane of every shopper whether bothered about being green or not - the blister pack!!! You need a pneumatic drill to open those things and they are always several feet long and wide even to hold a toothpick! Put a tax on the suppliers and manufacturers and importers though - not on the public who don't have a choice... Or just ban the bloody things! I'd be quite happy to buy my razor in a carboard box or even a paper bag!

Heywood Grammar School Part 2

Heywood Grammar School was a bit old fashioned, formal and yet a place of great fun.

The first day there, way back in 1965, is remembered in a previous entry and that introduced some of the characters. There were so many more though.

A few years above us there was a lad whose nickname was Prof. I don't think I ever learned his real name. He had a book of double entendres, collected from the sayings of the Headmaster, which he called "Farish Funnies". It was full of things like "I'm not having you boys bringing your dirty balls in here..." or "I'm not having it! Mr Thomas isn't having it - and I'm damn sure Miss Woods isn't having it!!!"

I hated PE. I'd been afraid that the asthma would cause me real problems but it was mainly only the cross country runs that I found impossible. The first one started with a circuit of the playing fields then out onto the roads. By the time I was halfway round the playing field I was in trouble and by the time I got to the gate where the teacher was, I was ready to lie down and collapse, my breath coming in great panting wheezes. Mr Law grunted.

"Asthma?" I nodded, unable to speak. "Back to the changing rooms then," he said. That was the only Cross Country I ran. There were about 5 of us who were excused them and we looked forward to the afternoons when everyone else was sent to run round the streets of Heywood. We were sent out to leisurely walk the streets of Heywood.

A particular mate of mine was Andrew Robertson. For some strange reason we all christened him Sid. I can't remember why but he became Sid for the rest of his school career. Mum and Dad liked Sid because he made them laugh. He made all of us laugh. This was mainly because he liked to laugh... In fact once he started he couldn't stop! He would go off into weird and wonderful paroxysms, food flying from his mouth, should he have recently inserted anything and this would go on many a time until he was helpless with laughter and had infected all around him.

Except for once when he had undergone one of these transformations during a dinner hour. A workman who was digging the road up thought that he was the one being laughed at and Sid arrived back at school with a black eye. He had another bout of uncontrolled laughter trying to tell us how he got the black eye...

Sid was another fan of flying model aircraft and he also introduced me to a mate of his called Paul Fitton, who was in the year above us and who introduced me to the music of The Moody Blues. Paul had a superb hi-fi setup in his bedroom and also had the first set of stereo headphones I ever listened to. I was so impressed I bought the very same model. Hands up today any teenagers who were 14 before they heard music through headphones...?

Now I can't condone the next bit and certainly do not suggest anyone else try it, but for a while there was a craze (limited thank goodness) of making rockets from a mixture of readily available household products. Those doomed to abject failure mixed powders and filled tubes with this. It was highly explosive - I remember it being in the news that someone had made exactly the same mixture to blow open the coin box of a public telephone only to blow his hand off...

We made solutions of it and soaked newspapers in it. Then - here's the most dangerous bit - we dried the sheets over the fireguard of an open fire and rolled them up before stuffing them into cardboard tubes.

Most failed to move - as shown, they produced lots of smoke and a roar of sorts but failed to lift off. Bic pen tops you could make whiz about - possibly the reason Bic seem to make them open at both ends these days... (correction from schoolmate Alex Dyson: it's actually because so many people suck the tops of pens and get them lodged in their throats - you can still breath a little through the hole...)

Anyway Frank and his mates had to go one better and made a 3-stage 6-foot tall monster. Displaying "WRN" which stood for "Wardle Rocket Network", they took it up on the moors, lit a long fuse of magnesium strip and took cover behind a small hill.

The explosion was apparently heard half a mile away... The explosion was caused only by the bottom stage however and the top two stages, when rested on a plank of wood as a runway, actually took to the air for about 3 feet before turning to crash in the field. It was impressive looking but hardly aerodynamic! Cine film of this event exists. Wardle had had a flying saucer incident in the late 1950s and residents must have wondered whether the aliens had returned that day!

That marked the end of Frank's rocket aspirations but we in the 5th form were impressed at the success of the plank runway and devised a cunning plan. We reckoned that a 1-foot tall rocket launched from a high window via a runway would fly. We made the rocket, took it to the chemistry laboratory on the 3rd or 4th floor, borrowed a couple of test tube stands to make up a runway of smooth metal rods, poked them out of the window and lit the fuse.

Disaster! A gratifying roar heralded a ten inch flame shooting from the back of the rocket but it stuck on the test tube stands and scorched and blistered all the paint off the window sill until I tipped the whole lot out of the window with visions of a full-scale fire. The Lower 6th Form common room was directly underneath on the ground floor and I remember one lad telling me later of the impressive fireball that fell past the window closely followed by a couple of clanging bits of chemistry equipment...

We got in surprisingly little trouble - I think the chemistry teacher must have been secretly impressed with the sheer cheek. We did have to buy paint and repaint the window sill...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Chetham Arms, Chapeltown

Fantastic extended lunchtime gig today at the Chetham Arms in Chapeltown arranged by the Friends of Turton Tower.

We had to laugh when we got there because the shirts we had chosen to wear almost blended into the wall! We were just heads floating on a few white stripes!

But luckily the audience managed to overcome any squeamishness at this strange state of affairs and we had a really enjoyable afternoon.

I even managed to do a solo number! Is David admitting he's not worthy or saying "For pity's sake, STOP!!!"???

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Teenage Years

As I entered my teens we were living in the village of Milnrow, outside of Rochdale and on the edge of the Pennines.

School was Heywood Grammar School which we reached by courtesy of Yelloway Coaches and my own transport was this 3-geared racing bike.

Frank had a slightly more modest bike - a concession that I had to wait a year longer to get mine! We would ride all over the place on them but the usual outings would be to Hollingworth Lake, over to Rochdale via Stanny Brook park or occasionally up onto the moors at Owd Betts. This was a very hard slog uphill but a wild brake-defying zoom back down again!

We also found a block of wooden garages off a road in the next village of Newhey, where the ground was covered in cinders which made a great skid patch for riding at speed and putting the back brake on to skid round a full semi-circle.

We did all the usual teenage things - toys became more technical. We made hundreds of Airfix kits of fighter planes. Then we would tie them with cotton to the clothes line and shoot them down from the bedroom window with an air rifle... There were open fields at the back of us so it was safe to play with the airgun.

We also followed Dad's hobby of making larger model aircraft capable of flying. This is in the field at the back of the house and I'm holding a model aeroplane powered by a rubber band. Instead of a full propellor it had a half one that was hinged on a piece of wire. This was attached to a rubber band that was fixed inside the fuselage. You wound the rubber band up by hand and it had enough power to take the model up 50 feet or so. Wind pressure then closed the propellor back against the body and it glided back down for a minute or two.

The body and wings were made of a framework of balsa wood covered in tissue paper which was then painted with dope - no, not drugs - a lacquer that strengthened the tissue and stretched it tight over the balsa wood skeleton. Every now and then we would fly the powered control liners (see 1950s Childhood entry). My mate Sid was an enthusiast for those, though his "flying wing" had a sticky elevator and flying it was a nightmare of jerky movements almost always ending in a crash landing before you even completed one circle!

November always saw us gathering wood for a huge bonfire on the spare land at the other side of the field behind our house. People used to fly tip there and we would gather all the wood and any other combustible items and build a huge bonfire that when lit could be seen from several miles away. Loads of people would come from all over the place and share food, parkin cake and treacle toffee, baked potatoes and black peas (which I used to hate).

Fireworks were less noisy then. Air bombs were only just coming out at the end of the 1960s and normally only had one bang in them. Most fireworks were designed to look good rather than make a noise. There were helicopters for 6d which looked like a normal firework but had cardboard wings. You placed them on their side and when they went off they spun horizontally and lifted off into the air.

There were bangers of course, and also Jumping Jacks - a zig-zagged package tied together with string that banged, jumped and banged again. The typical firework you see in Westerns when the Mexicans are having a fiesta. Catherine wheels, rockets, golden fountains and Roman Candles were the staple of a a good bonfire night. Oh, and some sparklers to hold! There were some other larger fireworks designed for holding too - Spitfire was one.

Mum didn't like fireworks though because when we were living at Royton around 1960 one - a Screecher - had gone wrong and instead of shooting up, it burst through the side of the firework and hit her in the throat. It wasn't a bad burn (though obviously not a "good" one either) but the sights she saw in the hospital, waiting to be seen, put her off fireworks for life.

I got very interested in photography and had a mate called Arnold Soloman who was also very keen. We spent hours blacking out bathrooms by pinning blankets over the window, to develop black and white films and photographs. The enlarger and dishes of chemicals would stand on a board placed over the bath.

I decided the instamatic just wasn't delivering good enough quality for subjects like stock car racing! We used to go to the stockcars regularly at Rochdale Hornets rugby ground on Kingsway. It's now a superstore - not even a comparison for the excitement the racing used to generate! We also used to go to Belle Vue sometimes to watch both stock cars and Speedway racing.

I bought a Zenit B camera - like the Zenit E shown above but with no light meter above the lens.

Now in order to make best use of the camera, I needed one other optical piece of equipment...

I'd known for quite a while that I really needed glasses. I'd gone from sitting at the back of classes to the middle and then to the front row but it had now got to the stage where I couldn't read what was on the blackboard anyway.

I was 14, almost 15 - a horrible age for feeling shy and insecure. No one that knows me would ever believe I could be shy but I totally was at that time. And I had teenage acne that used to drive me mad. If ever there was a time to dread having to wear specs it was then. But I had no choice. I went to an opticians and he must have been surprised that I wasn't already wearing them because he took me outside the shop with the huge test rig on and said "That's what things will look like when you get your glasses!"

I was amazed! I hadn't realised how bad things actually were. Anyway, my worst fears came to nought and totally turned on their head when I first wore them to school and the girl I secretly fancied said "I think they make you look really good!" Ooh! Ah! Jelly legs! But I was still too shy to follow up, even later when she made it plain she fancied me... What a steaming pillock I was...

I've said elswhere that Dad was a Main Collector for both Vernons and Littlewoods football pools. That means he collected coupons and money from all the normal Pools Collectors. When I was 15 he gave me a round on our local estate. By the time I was 17 I was out 2 nights a week and covered rounds all over Oldham. It's easy to forget how huge football coupons were before the National Lottery came in. Thousands of Collectors were out on Thursday and Friday nights, picking up coupons for the weekend's matches and giving a blank coupon for the following week.

I had rounds in some rough places... Walking round every Friday night at the same time when everyone knows you have a bag of money around your shoulders is not for the faint hearted! There were times when I would turn round and confront a group of lads who were following me making increasingly threatening comments. Luckily they always assumed that since I was willing to turn and face them that I must be sure of handling myself!

There was one estate in Rochdale where on one particular street, the Black Peas salesman, the Man from the Pru and I used to meet up to cover each other's backs... "See you next week, lads!" we'd say with relief as we reached the end of the street! During two years of collecting on that estate they convicted 4 murderers from it, including one guy who'd walked in a pub with a shotgun. No I didn't collect his coupon. But I did collect from next door and used to sneak through his garden as a shortcut to next door but one!

A few other memories of collecting coupons... There were lots of pretty girls, some of whom used to shout "I'll go Dad!" and I'd stop for a snog for five minutes! There were some terrible, filthy houses which really smelt awful, but with salt-of-the-earth people who always asked you in out of the cold...

There were people who would have a cup of tea waiting and people who tried to press sherry on me every week. There was my future wife, sometimes as a visitor, totally bloody ignoring me as I collected coupons from her auntie... and finally there was one incident as I tried to light a cigarette in the parked car. I couldn't hear the hiss of gas from the lighter and held it to my ear to hear better - totally ignoring the fact that the flame plainly indicated there was gas in the bloody thing. So I set fire to my hair which was shoulder length in those days. If anyone remembers seeing a 17 year old lad batting with his hand at the side of his head which was on fire, in an old Hillman Minx one night then that would be me...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Creeping Bentgrass Venue Change for 26 Sept 2010

For anyone planning to see Creeping Bentgrass at Turton Tower on Sunday afternoon the venue has been changed in case the weather turns... well it doesn't need to turn really does it?

We will be playing in the Chetham Arms in nearby Chapeltown, Lancashire between 1:00pm and 4:00pm.

Three cheers for those nice folks at Rimmers Music, Blackpool and Yamaha Service Dept. for mending the keyboard!!!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A House and a Home or Two

Nostalgia time again! This time we take a look at the home environment. There are very few photos of my childhood homes. Just odd bits seen as the background to a family snap.

This photograph isn't even a real room - it's a reconstruction that can be seen at the Castle Museum, York - a place well worth visiting.

The 1950s sitting room is so close to how I remember Nanna and Grandad's house, or Grandma and Grandad Burke's house, it could almost be my first home. Both had a front room and a back room. This is closest to the back room of Grandma and Grandad Burke's probably. Both houses had a table in the window and a writing bureau. They both had the tiled fireplace with an open coal fire. Both had carpet that covered the middle of the floor with polished floorboards around the edges of the room.

The big difference was that Nanna and Grandad used their front room almost every night whilst Grandma and Grandad Burke only used theirs on Saturdays and Sundays. In winter the fire took ages to warm up the leather settee in their front room and it took your breath to sit back on it! Both sets of grandparents had an upright piano in the front room. Nanna and Grandad had a TV. When Grandma and Grandad Burke got one, it went in the back room where they spent most evenings.

The settee and armchairs always had antimacassars draped over them. Men wore brylcream on their hair and the covers, named after Macassar hair oil, stopped the furniture from being ruined as they leaned back! There were a few other things the houses had in common.

They both had the same early washing machine - huge green things with a lever that had three positions and looked like the gear stick of a Morris Minor. I saw one in a museum ages ago but didn't get a photo.

Also the kitchen had a gas boiler for hot water. Again the photo comes from the Castle Museum, York. The clothes drying rack, suspended from the ceiling is very familiar too! I don't think either set of grandparents had one, but Aunty Cissie did and Aunty Muriel (Grandad's sister) also had one. In fact I'm sure at least one of them was in the living room not the kitchen. There would be a fire to dry the clothes in the living room! Most kitchens were only warm in summer or when the stove was on!

Though on washing day there was plenty of steam about - the boil wash was necessary! Nanna swapped her old green washing machine for a Hotpoint twin tub, but then got a separate boiler for doing the boil wash. I found one exactly like it at Elsecar Museum in Yorkshire - they have a knack for this sort of thing in Yorkshire, obviously!

Whites were kept white (almost) by the use of "dolly blue". This was some sort of soluble gunk that came on a small stick - a bit like a lollipop - and it was swished about in the washing water and turned the water blue. Later this stuff presumably got added to the more sophisticated washing powders coming out. Daz advertised "a new white - a blue-white!"... Huge wooden tongs were used for pushing the washing down into the witch's brew that was those early detergents.

The twin tub had one tub for washing clothes, then a spin dryer with a glass lid for spinning out most of the water and rinsing. It had a rubber ring, like a grill to stop the clothes from flying up - it had a hole in the middle and was great for whizzing round on your finger, then throwing it up in the air to catch on your finger again without letting it stop spinning!

Vacuum cleaners existed but were hardly powerful. Most housewives had a Ewbank - more or less a mechanical dustpan and brush. When wheeled about, the brush turned against the direction of the sweeper and brushed bits into the innards of the sweeper. A lever opened the pans for emptying.

If you think housework is demeaning or hard work now, how would you have fared in the 1950s? Housewives who lived in terraced houses used to wash the pavement in front of their house at least once a week! This would be done using hot water and a "donkey stone" that was bought from rag and bone men. Whoa betide anyone who dared walk over their bit of pavement whilst they were out scrubbing on hands and knees! Anyone who didn't have a pristine scrubbed patch of pavement was whispered about by the other wives!

We had a proper bathroom with a huge cast iron bathtub and taps and an indoor loo. Not everyone had those in the 1950s by any means. Once we moved from Nanna and Grandad's, to the ill-fated house in Castleton (see illnesses and ailments entry) we had an outdoor loo and no bathroom. An email from my mate Alex Dyson:

"I had forgotten how rich your family was, what with an indoor bog and everything! Until I was 10 our toilet was at the end of the back yard and the bath was hanging on a nail on the wall outside the back door! We had to fill it from a gas geyser in the kitchen and then empty it using buckets when we'd done. Same with the dolly tub and wringer for the washing."

My own first house was an inheritance from my Great Uncle and Aunt who had moved away from Rochdale but kept a small cottage as a base for when visiting family. It was a one up-one down cottage, just two rooms, no bathroom, with the toilet in a back yard row of privies, serving several houses. We all had our own little room, just big enough to take the loo and with a flimsy wooden barn door. Mine had a metal towel rail with a piece of rubber wrapped round it. Without the rubber in winter, there was a danger of fingers sticking to a metal bar in the freezing cold. With the door shut the bar was so close to your face that I wondered whether my uncle had piles and it was for biting...! A tiny paraffin burner had to be kept in there to stop the loo and pipes from freezing up. On winter's nights you only went out in dire need! Everyone had a chamber pot under the bed!

Auntie Cissie, Grandad Burke's sister, had a cottage in Castleton with a long garden that had a really tall rhubarb patch. It was taller than me as a kid and it scared me to death to walk through it to her loo! The loo scared me too. The little brick building had a seat over an open sewer which was about 30 or 40 feet down. If you shone a torch down you could see a small stream and sometimes rats scurrying along. The hole in the seat was adult sized and my bottom wasn't in those days! I was petrified of falling!

Alex again: "I remember going up to (a relative's) farm as a kid and the toilet was a big plank of wood with two holes cut in it, side by side - very sociable. The privy was built on the side of a hill which sloped away at the back, and under the plank it was open to the air, so everything just built up in a huge heap for 12 months and then once a year, he would shovel it onto the back of his tractor and spread it on the fields. Happy days - NOT!"

Double sitters were not uncommon - the family that dumps together, stays together - perhaps... The photo comes again from the excellent Castle Museum in York and is a double example of the one Auntie Cissie had. Some had a pail under the seat. Only one step up from sitting on a bucket. The council employed men to go round and empty them - Nightsoil Men. They were a bit like fishmongers... everyone knew when one had entered the pub...!

After Dad's health scare at the terraced house in Castleton we moved back in with Nanna and Grandad for a short while. The only photo I could find of their house was this birthday party shot with me going all red-faced, blowing out my candles! The photo was rather dark and despite my best efforts, the background objects are hard to make out. Behind Mum looks to be an old sideboard/dresser that I just do not recognise, but under her arm is our big old wireless set, the knobs of which have caught the flash - the two dots of white by my ear!

The mere fact that flash was used is probably a clue that the photo was taken by either Uncle Geoff, or Great Uncle Percy - who had a camera shop in Rochdale. Using flash meant flash bulbs, glass filled with yards of magnesium filament that went off with a pop and produced enough heat to melt and bubble the blue glass of the bulb!

Mum and Dad then bought a bungalow in nearby Royton. Although there are no photos of the house, this shows the bungalows opposite which were exactly the same. Whilst we were at this house, Dad bought his first (and second and third, if not fourth) car(s)! The bungalow was not quite at the top end of a short cul-de-sac, Grisedale Avenue at Summit. Whilst officially designated Royton it was so close to Rochdale that it made no real difference except that we now had to catch the number 9 bus to school!

How many kids today would wear a shirt, tie, pullover and blazer in sunny weather to play out? There would be a vest under that lot too! I sometimes wonder whether global warming has been going on for longer than people think! Go back 100 years and you see photos of folks in shirts, waistcoats, jackets and mufflers in the middle of summer... and that's the navvies digging roads and canals etc.! Either we as a whole (and me in particular) were immune to heat, or it had to be much colder then than now. These days I can't stand even a jacket on warm summer days - and despite Grandma Burke's sternest advice, gave up wearing a vest many many years ago!

Around 1964 we moved from Royton to the village of Milnrow to a brand new bungalow on an estate that was being built at the back of the cricket club. Our house was one of the first to be sold and when we moved in the roads and pavements were still to be built, so we used to slosh about in mud whenever we went out of doors for a month or so!

Behind the house was an open field - great for playing in. Across the field was a rough path that led down to Stanney Brook Park, a small park that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere between Milnrow and Rochdale. We used to walk through it every day, then through farm lanes and back roads to get to Lowerplace School. I was coming up to my 11-plus and Harry Whitehead didn't want to lose a pupil who he thought would pass! From home to school was probably a walk of 3 or 4 miles.

I was 11 when we moved to Milnrow and I lived there throughout my teens, through secondary school, college and first jobs, first love, first car and first heartbreak. Whether the latter was caused by the first car or the first love you will have to find on other pages!

Monday, 20 September 2010

High Days and Holidays

We were incredibly lucky as kids in that Grandad had a car and then later Dad got one as well. That meant that trips out were perhaps a bit more frequent and to far-off glamourous places like Blackpool!

Holidays for many still meant working but someplace different - strawberry picking or hop picking on farms. There were more Bank Holidays then, but some of them were religious holidays and even those of us not involved would turn out in our best clothes to watch as the procession went by.

Whitsuntide was one such. On Whit Friday there was a carnival parade and we would all go to the "Whit Friday Field" which was just "a field" for the rest of the year. On Whit Friday, however, it was packed - and I do mean "packed" - with families, eating sandwiches from waxed paper parcels and drinking tea from flasks.

The kids would have lemonade or my favourite, dandelion and burdock. Packets of crisps with a twist of blue paper containing a small measure of salt which you poured over the crisps and then shook them up - "Oh no! Hold the bag SHUT!!!" Many years after, in the days of "ready salted" crisps - yes, that's where it comes from - they tried to bring back the nostalgia of those days by bringing out "Salt & Shake", though the salt now came in blue paper packets which had to be torn open. Ha! Just plain sissy! Then a game of catch or football with Dad.

On Whit Sunday the churches all walked - the Whit Walks or Procession of churches and Boys' Brigades, with a band if we were lucky. If we were unlucky we just got lots of morose looking choirboys and two people holding up a huge flag on poles, struggling in high winds whilst rows of children to the front and back held streamers attached to the tops of the poles.

Visits to the park were common. There seemed to be lots of small parks - I suppose most of them still exist really! It was a treat to go to the "big" park, which for us was Springfield Park on the road between Rochdale and Heywood. It had a large duckpond and a putting green and a miniature train that you could have rides on!

Most parks had swings, roundabouts and a slide. Some had huge roundabouts, shaped like a cone that swung sideways as well as going round. You stood on a giant ring at the bottom and held on to the rods which made the side of the cone.

There were gardens, sometimes a small forest and grassy areas where families would sit for picnics or couples would lie to smooch. We'd make for grassed hills to play at lying down and rolling down the hill, covering ourselves in grass stains, ants and mud from the mucky patch at the bottom... This activitiy was normally undergone just after drinking orange squash and after a while we would feel sick and have to stop...

During school holidays we would go round to friends' houses, sometimes disappearing for the day. We had to tell Mum where we were going but apart from her knowing where that was and walking there herself, she had no way of getting in touch with us. No mobile phones, not very many houses with phones come to that, and certainly no computers and emails!

During holidays when we were at junior school we would often be round at Alan Telford's house. He lived next door to a classmate of Frank's called Kenneth Clegg if I remember rightly. They had rigged a two-way radio link between their bedrooms with a toy electronics kit and a wire thrown from one window to the other! It had started out of course as two baked bean tins joined with string. This really worked and was a staple piece of kit for spy games!

We played football and cricket in the street. Grown ups didn't like you kicking balls at their house walls but no one thought it necessary to put up signs everywhere saying "No ball games"... Were we that much more reserved with the power that we kicked balls, or are today's adults that much more intolerant and self-centred? Perhaps a bit of both. I can't remember Frank or I ever breaking a window with a ball anyway.

In the photo above, Frank is batting and I'm about to bowl. The photo was taken by Mum who had the unfortunate belief that hair had to be brushed just before a photo was taken. She actually came outside with a hairbrush for this - I remember being mortified...

We had a tricycle that we shared. I haven't seen one for years. There were three of them in our street when we were about 7 or 8 years old and five kids to take turns riding them. The two who were not riding played at being policemen on point duty. I haven't seen one of those for years either - traffic lights weren't as common then!

Trips to the seaside, whether day trips or a week's holiday were always exciting things for Frank and I. Day trips meant Blackpool, Morecambe or Southport and holidays in the 1950s and early 60s meant Blackpool, Bridlington or Great Yarmouth.

Blackpool was an hour and a half away (the only bit of motorway in existance was a short stretch of the M6 at Preston) but Great Yarmouth was a full day's travelling. Mum and Dad used to settle us in the back of the car in our pyjamas in the early morning hours and we would travel through the rest of the night, stopping to get dressed and have breakfast in Newark, with the river on one side and the castle on the other. "Are we nearly there yet?"

We played for hours on the beach - everyone did. It was free, it was fun, Blackpool and Bridlington had great sand for making castles and sand pies, but Great Yarmouth was rubbish as the sand never got covered by the tide and was always too dry! But it had shells and stones and a low sea wall that was great for jumping off onto the sand. We used to make "boats" in the sand, complete with seats and then the spade stuck in the "dashboard" for a steering wheel. Those early buckets and spades were metal too - jabbing one onto your bare foot could do real damage to your toes!

Arcades were full of Edwardian machines like one-armed bandits, Allwins and Bryan's Clocks. Then there were fortune telling machines, strength meters and punchbags that told you how strong a punch you had.

Early electric games were rifle galleries, pinball machines and just about every arcade had a jukebox that played the latest records. Sixpence a play or three for a shilling! We would spend hours around the jukebox, watching the records change and watching the bubbles or colours, depending on the make and model. They only disappeared in the later 1970s when electronic games started making noises of their own.

Waking in a hotel at the seaside was wonderful. Seagulls would scream and yakk once it got light. They were hardly ever seen inland in those days, that came later with landfill sites! Early morning coffee shops would open with - oh what memories this brings back - clear glass cups and saucers! Teasmaids were yet to be provided, if you wanted an early morning coffee you had to go out for one! Of course the cafe too would have a jukebox to play!

On a week's holiday we would go to at least one live show. Chart-hitting big name artists would appear at the end of the pier theatres in those days. We saw Cliff Richard and the Shadows a few times, Rolf Harris, Cilla Black, Morecambe and Wise, Mike and Bernie Winters. They were second only to Morecambe and Wise. However, more of this in an entry about live theatre! What I will recall here is how people used to dress up for the occasion of going to a show. Best suits and dresses would come out!

We would want to visit the Pleasure Beach or fairground every day at least once too! Blackpool Pleasure Beach still has a section of smaller rides for the kiddies. In my day it included roundabouts of cars or boats, both of which have long since gone. Still there however, is the fairy grotto with the mechanical man playing the organ. (This article was written in 2006. Recently in 2010 the Pleasure Beach have announced this ride will be demolished to make way for new attractions.) I loved the Big Dipper and the Grand National as soon as I was tall enough to ride them! There were no sissy harnesses to keep you in then - we had to hold on.

Another case of having responsibility for ourselves rather than expect to be looked after. It would help if judges stopped granting payouts to people who behave like idiots. In those days if you brought it on yourself it was your own lookout! If this seems like a repeated theme here, sorry but I despair when I see a bag of roasted nuts labelled "This product contains nuts"! It's not that the makers think people don't have the brains to work this out - it's because they know some judge will fine them if it's not there and someone with an allergy is taken ill and sues.

Anyway, moving on! Most people set off for home at dinnertime at the latest after a holiday. Mum and Dad used to wait until much later so we would travel through the night again, when it was cooler and the car not as likely to overheat (it was a regular occurrence with cars in the 50s and 60s, of which again... more to come!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

1950s Shopping

Imagine a world with no shopping malls, no indoor covered walkways and no supermarkets or hypermarkets.

Yes, it's another nostalgia page and welcome to the 1950s, where the weekly shopping was delivered by the grocer who actually owned the store where you shopped. My Grandad was such a grocer and is seen below, leaning on the counter of the shop with Mum who, before I came along and was followed by my brother, used to help out as assistant in the shop.

It was not a large shop even though it was on one of the main shopping streets in Rochdale's town centre. Think corner shop size. Also you can see many of the goods stacked on shelves behind the counter. People didn't just pick up what they wanted and take it to the counter - they asked for it and he would get it for them. Personal service, delivered with a smile and clothed in a white coat!

There were no refridgerators to keep goods cool. Just a marble top that Grandad would keep things like butter and margarine on - all waxed paper or foil wrapped - plastic tubs didn't exist yet. Foil was incredibly thin and called "silver paper". Lots of things were wrapped in it including chocolate and cigarettes, which had a layer inside the packet. Silver paper had two layers, the thin metallic-looking wafer thin layer, loosely attached to a thin layer of tissue paper. The nearest thing to it now is the foil that wraps individual chocolates in a box.

Butter also came in large barrels that Grandad would split down by hammering off the hoops so that the staves would fall apart. The barrel stood on the marble counter top to keep it cool but in the summer the butter would melt and go rancid in a very short time. Any that ran off would be scraped back - a never-ending task. It was sold by weight into waxed paper bags and he sold it whether it was solid or liquid. In October he would save the butter barrel staves for our bonfire on the 5th of November! We ate rancid butter as a matter of course - there wasn't any other option on hot summer days.

Bacon came rolled and tied with string and he had a big red hand operated slicer that I always wanted to play with but he wouldn't let me. The circular blade was incredibly sharp - it wasn't unknown for a grocer or butcher to lose a hand. All it took was a moment's lack of attention. There was a sliding adjustment on a scale and customers were always asked how thick they wanted their bacon. No.6 was the most popular.

Again in hot weather meat and bacon went quickly off. There was a butcher's shop two doors away and Grandad didn't sell meat apart from processed sliceable meats such as ham, corned beef and bacon. When maggots appeared he would pick them off and dispose of them out the back but the bacon would still be sold. And before anyone shrieks and wails, he always used to say that when he had had to remove maggots, that was the time customers came back to say how tasty the bacon had been! I always remember bacon as having much more taste than it seems to in 2006 (when this article was originally written). Mind you, we lose taste buds as we grow older but even so... It was certainly not pumped full of water and additives as it is these days.

Lots of things were sold from sacks or large cases by weight. Sugar, tea, coffee, even biscuits. The shop had a coffee grinder and when someone wanted coffee they were sold the beans by weight and then Grandad would grind the beans for them for free. The smell was gorgeous! He and Nanna had a big electric coffee percolator at home which was silver with a glass knob on the top. It used to come out on Sunday mornings and it always fascinated me watching coffee splash against the inside of the glass knob.

Tuesday was half-day closing in Rochdale and all shops closed at lunch time. Wednesday and Thursday afternoons were Grandad's delivery days. He took orders from customers for their weekly shopping and would pack the goods into cardboard boxes that tinned goods came packed in to the shop.

On those afternoons he would load the boxes into his car and drive all around the town delivering them. I always enjoyed going with him as a youngster because it was a chance to sit in the front seat. Boxes would fill the boot and back seat and we would go back to the shop a couple of times to fill up again. And yes, that's me above "helping" load the car.

At these times the shop would be looked after by Mrs Gallagher, his assistant. The law required shops to have somewhere for female staff to sit and so there was a single wooden chair provided - which older customers used much more than Mrs Gallagher!

In the 1960s I became aware of Grandad being worried about something called a "supermarket". He joined a buying group called Mace and became a "Mace Grocer". They advertised on TV with a cartoon figure called Milly Mace and I was dead impressed that my Grandad should be part of something on TV! They even supplied him with pencils which were triangular instead of hexagonal and had Milly Mace and the logo stamped on, gold over dark blue. Totally impressive for a young lad! I'd never seen a pencil that wasn't either hexagonal or round!

The supermarket opened a couple of hundred yards away from his shop, closer into the town centre. It was a bit like a Spar shop is now, a large shop but only about twice the size of Grandad's but it was filled with shelves and bins and people had to rummage and get all their own stuff and then take them to the counter where they were put into paper - not plastic - bags. Grandad hoped that this lack of service would lead to its downfall but as we all now know...

Every woman carried her own shopping bag. It might be a wicker basket or a sturdy affair - Mum had a leather one that lasted ages. They were exensive - they had to last ages! There were no plastic bags or carriers. Paper carrier bags with string handles and metal eyelets to stop them ripping were charged for often and in any case ripped if anything heavy was put in them. Large goods were wrapped with brown paper and string. Brown paper was used for so many things... We saved it and used it again. We drew on it. If we hurt ourselves sometimes we had it wrapped around us - remember the second verse of the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill"?

Up Jack got and home did trot as fast as he could caper
He went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper


Brown paper had something in its chemical make-up that actually did have beneficial effects on sprains, bruises and aches. There was a line in one of the Sharpe TV historical episodes where Hagman, the old soldier tells his new officer, Sharpe, about the benefits of "...oil of parafin and good brown paper." Vinegar was widely used from ages long past as a disinfectant. In times of plague, money was dipped in it to try to prevent the spread of disease. I'm going back a bit now - I can't remember that!!! My brother Frank and I used to sit for hours though, dipping pennies and ha'pennies in vinegar to restore the bright copper colour.

Rochdale had a couple of department stores, Iveson Brothers was one that I would later work in for a year and a bit, but for sheer shopping luxury most people caught the bus or train to Manchester. The No.9 bus took longer because it was a "stopper", or the 24 would take you there much quicker. It was always a treat to go on the top deck and if Nanna was with us she would fascinate me by "talking" to people she knew who she saw on the pavement whenever the bus stopped. Nanna had been a mill girl and they had all learned to lip read because of the noise of the factories.

Manchester had Lewis's store and Paulden's (which was taken over by Debenhams in the 1970s), each of which had large toy departments with model railway layouts and hands-on areas where kids could play with toys and then pester to have one bought! Best of all, one exit from Lewis's led to an arcade which had a huge window display of Bassett-Lowke's toy shop with a huge life size clown and a train layout that you could "work" by dropping a penny in a slot. It was always a disappointment if other kids had put a penny in and your parents deemed that enough!

As kids we never realised why the arcade always seemed so busy - it was (I was told much much later) a favourite patch of Manchester's "ladies of pleasure". Dad used to tell of one who came up to proposition him whilst on one side he held my hand and on the other was my brother Frank. "I'm a little busy..." he pointed out.

Manchester also had trolley buses! Trams had disappeared around the time I was born but trolley buses were still in use and it was fun to ride on them as they were so quiet in comparison to normal buses.

In the early 1960s the shop next to Grandad's became available and he moved into it as it was slightly bigger. The lease on the other shop was kept on and Mum opened it as a wool shop, selling balls of wool, buttons of all shapes, sizes and colours and she and Nanna spent all their spare time knitting furously - cardigans, tops, baby clothes... We would go there after school, I remember Grandad Burke used to pick us up from school sometimes and we would walk to their house.

We had a collection of toys at the shop and we would play in the back room whilst Mum looked after the shop.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ambleside at Dusk

Every now and then you have to do something on impulse. This particular one didn't end up with a slapped face...!

Fran has been working some grotty shifts recently. Either we have been up at the crack of dawn so she can be in work at 7:00am or she has been working late. A couple of times a 10:00pm finish has been followed by a 7:00am start.

The other day she finished at 4:30pm and arrived home looking like she didn't want to do a right lot. I offered to cook or we could go out for a meal. She chose the latter. Now stop right there that reader - yes, you! My cooking is not so bad!

So she got changed and we set off and motored north into the Lake District, heading across to Newby Bridge and then up the eastern side of Lake Windermere until we reached Ambleside.

We parked the car and walked up into the village and had a meal in a pub. It was just starting to go dark when we came out and I suggested a walk before returning to the car and heading for home.

We walked up as far as the Bridge House - the tiny cottage sitting on top of a bridge over the river. It was in darkness and not offering a great photograph at that time of evening so I concentrated more on shops or pubs that were lit up.

Arriving back at the car we ignored the motorways and ambled down the A6 through Milnthorpe, Lancaster and Caton before turning off towards Blackpool just after Garstang.

We were home by 9:00pm but it had made a good change. Hurray for the simple things in life!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Illnesses and Ailments 1950s Style

More from the now-vanished Nostalgia web site.

My very earliest memory is of an incident that happened when I was two. We had moved from living with Nana and Grandad to a terraced house of our own in Albion Street, Castleton. My Dad was ill and in bed. He had had asthma from being a young boy and he was particularly bad at this time. I remember running up the stairs behind Mum and going into their bedroom and seeing him hanging out of the bed in a state of collapse.

That one scene fades into another where I am looking out of the window of "Aunty Sally" our next door neighbour, watching the ambulance come for him, emergency bell ringing.

Sirens did not come into use until much later and in 1956 ambulances, police cars and fire engines had an electric bell on the front to clear traffic. There was much less traffic anyway and very few of those very few cars had a radio, much less some form of personal music player in their car to block outside sounds out.

Dad's lung had collapsed with the strain of trying to breathe. He was taken to Rochdale Infirmary where the doctors said if the traffic lights had been on red he would have died on the way to the hospital. I only mentioned this memory to Mum when I was in my 30s or 40s and she said it explained why I used to have nightmares after that day for a few weeks. She said Dad's face had already turned blue. My memory is just black and white and I hadn't remembered that.

When I was seven I started to develop asthma myself. Trying to run more than a few steps brought on the most horrendous attacks of it. I could breathe in but breathing out had to be forced and I wheezed and gasped for breath. Aerosols were rare for any purpose - for inhalers they definitely were not in use. The remedy was to measure an amount of liquid into a glass bubble affair with a rubber bulb underneath. The bulb forced the liquid into a fine mist spray which came out the top of the glass bubble into a tube which led to a hard black plastic face mask which covered the nose, mouth and most of my cheeks and chin. It took around 20 minutes hard pumping on every inward breath to calm an attack.

It seems an incredible amount of time now when modern inhalers have an immediate effect but once the aerosol inhalers came in, the old type were still sold with the slogan "An overdose would be beyond the strength of an average man"! Asthma shaped my life from age 7 until my twenties. I was unable to do most sports so have never had an interest in them. Instead I took up music in the shape of the guitar at 12.

For a couple of years I went to a chest clinic at Rochdale Infirmary two mornings a week. I suppose I'd be between 7 and 9. All I can remember is a group of about 20 kids all around the same age, some of whom seemed to have nothing wrong with them and others who were the same as me, and one or two who wheezed and gasped all the time. We did gentle exercises, lay on mats for an hour's sleep then had a competition to see who could blow a bit of cotton wool the furthest along a table.

As a result of those exercises I now have a lung capacity in excess of most healthy people!

I seem to remember sitting with goggles on huddled around a very bright light, which would have been a sun lamp. Sunshine was thought to be good for all sorts of ailments. Some schools were built with special glass that didn't block UV rays - kids tanned as they sat in class... When Ventolin came out I was on it for 25 years, taking 2 puffs at least 8 times a day, more on most days.

An earlier visit to the infirmary came when I was 3. Dad was cleaning out the gutter at Castleton and looked down to see me rubbing my eye. He was horrified to see it bulging out of the socket and, unable to see the cause, took me up to the infirmary. I can't remember this incident at all, but he told me years afterwards that the doctors had taken from the back of my eye socket a long piece of string that had fallen from the gutter into my eye and my rubbing had wound it around the eye inside the socket.

All I remember about the event is that after coming from the infirmary he told me I'd been very brave and that he would buy me any record I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted but we went to one of the two shops in Rochdale that sold records and I stood looking in the window at a display of lots of 78rpm discs, pinned up on a display, pointed and said "That one..." What he bought me was Don Lang's "The Witch Doctor" which I still have in my collection of 78s from that time.

It was important to catch some of the childhood illnesses early. Mumps was a case in point - horrible symptoms in post-adolescent males! If you caught it, your Mum would tell all the other mums and that night after school you had all your chums round to play in a darkened room whilst the grown-ups sat anxiously waiting for the swollen glands to appear...

We had polio jabs and sometimes took the polio vaccine by eating a lump of sugar or a jelly baby that had been squirted with it!

At least some of the real child-killing diseases had been got rid of. As a child, Dad had caught Scarlet Fever. He had been taken into hospital and not allowed visitors at all as it was so contagious. "When it was visiting time all the parents would gather at the railings around the hospital," he told me. "Nurses would make you stand at the window and tell you to wave at your Mum and Dad. Even if they were there, they were so far away you couldn't make them out in the crowd, but you waved anyway... I was lucky - lots of the kids died."

Perhaps "nostalgia" isn't quite the word for this entry...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

First School, 1959-1965

I was sent off to school aged four and a half in 1958. Lowerplace Primary School was about a quarter hour walk away from home and we followed the same route every morning, back home for dinner, back to school after dinner and back home after school finished. It's amazing how the mind has the capacity to remember details from such early life - I can name a commendable number of the class, though some surnames have dropped off I'm afraid.

The Head Teacher was Harry Whitehead - I'm standing in front of him. Our class teacher is Mrs Wormauld and the kids:
Back row: Geoff Hunter, Mick Tattersall, Timothy Bate, Thomas Clegg, Gareth Hunt, ?, Alan Telford, Geoffrey Thompson, ?, Graham Nutter
Middle row: John Burke (me), David Nutter, Peter Sinclair, David Hunt, ?, Judith ?, Gillian ?, Maurice Golding (or Goulding?), ?, Robert Brennan, David Clayton, Brett Robinson
Front row: Megan Brown, Pamela Courtauld, Suzanne ?, ?, Think this one began with a C but not sure!, ?, Susan Ashton, Katherine Clegg(?), Patricia(?) ?, ?

Well a few blanks but not bad for half a century on! One of the lads was the last in the school to wear clogs - there was a new parquet floor in the hall and I remember one of the teachers asking him to tell his mother to buy him some shoes as the clog irons damaged the wooden floor.

I found myself for a while in David Nutter's gang - though drifted off when I found with something of a shock that this apparently meant having to fight other gangs... I was brought up fairly gently and fighting, though necessary at times unless you were going to be unmercifully picked on, wasn't something I particularly enjoyed. (With my brother Frank it was a different matter I suppose...)

Particular friends were Brett Robinson, Ian Kilby (who must have been absent the day the photo was taken), Robert Brennan and Maurice Golding whose birthday was the day before mine.

There were two reception classes. The teacher we didn't get was Miss Anstess - young apparently, though to a 4-year-old, anyone over 7 looks old... She impressed Dad though...! I can't remember the name of the teacher we had... Each year had a teacher who as far as I remember taught every subject.

I remember there being a sandpit in the class and besides buckets and spades there were all sorts of moulds that you could use to make sand starfish and the like. The building was a long corridor with two wings with classrooms off both sides and - this impressed me at the time - windows not only to the outside of the building but to the corridor as well!

In the middle of the morning a crate of 1/3 pint bottles of milk would be brought in and you each got a bottle of milk and a straw. Straws at this time were waxed paper - plastic was not yet all that common, particularly for items where it needed to be so thin!

In common with all older generations, I learned my "times tables" up to the 12 times table by chanting them over and over, "one two is two, two twos are four, three twos are six..." up to "twelve twos are twenty four". Regardless of what they say now about kids learning the tune but not the words we all learned to count and multiply and add a shopping bill in our heads. Electronic calculators didn't exist as far as I knew until I had left school in 1972! The first one I saw was in college and was almost the size of 5 laptops stacked on top of each other. (I was going to say a typewriter but kids wouldn't know what that meant either...)

I would have loved to be good at drawing but in those days I'm afraid I was one of the messiest kids when the paints came out... Something always seemed to smudge! We had blocks of shaped wood that could be dipped in paint and then pressed on the page and I never learned the knack of lifting them off without smearing sideways first. I remember our teacher for one year was Mr Daly - who everyone was frightened of because he shouted quite a bit and I was desperate not to let him see the colourful mess I'd made. Thankfully once he had forcefully moved my encircling arm away and seen the sorry state of what I'd done he merely sighed...

Lowerplace Primary School led to Lowerplace Junior School and then they merged anyway so we still had Harry Whitehead as Headmaster. Our final year teacher was Mr Metcalfe which confused me as that was the name of Nanna and Grandad and how could someone else have the same name if they weren't part of the family?

He was wonderful. Though somewhat scathing of the unrealistic exploits of the child heroes in Enid Blyton's books. I loved the Famouse Five and the Secret Seven and the Barney books but he read us "Martin Rattler" and "Children of the New Forest" and used his voice to make all the scenes and characters come alive. Thank you, that man - he awakened in me an unquenchable desire to read, without which my life would have been so much the poorer.

Playing out meant hide and seek, playing catch, tig, hopscotch. Hide and seek wasn't much cop because you couldn't leave the playground and there were only so many corners to hide behind! As we moved up the school we played cricket and football and "Muggins in the Middle" - playing catch with someone in the middle trying to get the ball before it was caught by the one at the other end. By the very end of junior school, talking to girls started to become popular... Up until the last year they were something to be avoided as they giggled a lot and cried too easily - apart from a gypsy girl who joined us for a couple of months and flattened a couple of the fighters in the class with a somewhat more scientific knowledge of fist fighting that completely outclassed them...

When winter came - and in the late 1950s and 1960s that meant snow and ice and lots of it - we made huge long slides by running at a patch of ice then leaping onto it to slide as far as we could. All the repeated goes left a long shiny totally resistance-free slide that would stretch as much as 20 feet or more. The trick was to turn sideways and flex the knees! Great fun, some pain and scabbed knees and elbows but great fun. No one got sued, no one thought it too dangerous to allow. We had to learn - kids don't do that now, they get "looked after" and still expect it as adults. We learned to take responsibility for what we did. Nowadays people sue for damages because they slipped on a spilt drink in a MacDonalds that their own kid threw down in a tantrum. Ridiculous! Don't get me started!

Punishments - well there was having to sit with your hands on your head, sometimes an individual, many times the entire class because we had been noisy. Individuals had to stand in the corner facing the wall. We were smacked, on the thigh normally - wearing long trousers was unknown until you were in your teens. Mostly it was the hand that smacked but if you had been particularly naughty you might get the "pump". Trainers hadn't been invented. For sport we wore plimsoles - rubber soled canvas shoes known as "pumps" that were extremely flexible. When swung they flexed like a whip - being whacked with one of those hurt. Being whacked on the backside six times really hurt. Or you could be whacked with one on the palm of your hand - "Hold your hand out and put the other one beneath it!"

On the hand you could also receive the strap - a two inch wide leather strop that the teacher would swing after wrapping one end around his hand. It wasn't nice and you didn't want it to happen again so most people didn't repeat whatever had led to it. Some teachers got rattled at you and you were likely to get a more informal slap around the head - "having your ears boxed" it was called. Again, no one got sued - if you told your parents, you were likely to get your ears boxed by them too for having gotten into trouble at school. If you were asked to stand up in disgrace and didn't then a teacher would grasp an ear and pull you up! This was nothing compared to what would happen later at secondary school!

School dinners were a shilling a day (5p). I'll say more about them on the secondary school page - to be honest I can remember very little about them at Lowerplace though I stayed for school dinners for two or three years.

Here is the final year class - we would now be 11 years old. Lots of the same faces as before but joined by a few newcomers - Ian Kilby stands next to Harry Whitehead at the top. In front of him is another great mate from those days, Martin Davenport. Immediately to the left of him Alan Telford had become a very good friend too. He lived next door to a great mate of my brother Frank, they were in the year below us, so we spent a lot of time together the four of us.

Mr Metcalfe, one of that great breed of teachers who helped shape us into what we became stands at the left. I am fourth from the left on the front row with a prefect's badge pinned on my shirt.

We had moved out of Rochdale to a village, Milnrow during the last year, but we stayed on at Lowerplace School until we left to go to secondary school. Unfortunately as we had moved out of the borough, this meant that for me it would be a different school than all my mates.

We sat our 11 plus - I remember it as being far easier than I had thought, though only a few thought the same as me. Apparently it had a pass rate of only about 10%. I passed and would be going to a grammar school. Those who didn't pass would go to a secondary modern school. What the difference was, I didn't have a clue at that time. Mum and Dad took me to visit Chadderton Boys Grammar School and Heywood Grammar School. They both looked terrifying to me. I was to end up at Heywood Grammar School and - ripples of both excitement and concern - it was so far away we had to go on a coach!

I've done these a little out of sequence so you can read about the first day at secondary school already!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Childhood in the 1950s

Another page from the old Nostalgia website.

That's me on the left, playing with a jigsaw with my brother Frank, with Great Grandad (known as "t'other Grandad") sitting in the chair. It must have been a family party occasion - on the left of the photo a folding chair awaits a late visitor who has missed their place on the settee (always called a "couch" in those days!)

The jigsaw looks to have wooden pieces and would have been moved onto after having mastered the wooden cubed blocks with 6 different scenes to be put together. The paint used would probably have been highly leaded and would have made us ill had we sucked on them too much... In those days kids were expected to eat a certain amount of dirt, dropped toffees were washed under the tap if a grown up saw it fall, or rubbed on a sleeve if not...

The open fire looks and probably is unlit, as a wire mesh fireguard would have been in place to stop us burning ourselves otherwise. A set of fire irons would hang on a stand and include a poker, set of tongs for picking up lumps of coal, small brush and a small shovel. Smokeless zones came in later - we still burned coal which gave off a thick smoke at times and always seemed to require a vigorous poke by grown-ups whenever there was a boring lull in conversation.

The coal was delivered by incredibly blackened rough looking men who tipped sacks of the stuff into the coal bunker outside the back door. They would have a wagon full of sacks that quite often was still drawn by a horse, though flat-backed lorries were starting to replace the horses.

Rag and bone men still wandered the streets with a horse and cart, buying odd bits of furniture or old clothes and shouting "Rag'n'BOOOOAN!" - a call that we kids loved to imitate until the rag and bone man got fed up of us and threatened to call a policeman.

Now, in case you think "what a stupid, wet thing to try to stop kids shouting", let me tell you that such a threat would be enough to send most kids flying home on the verge of tears!

Policemen were "Bobbies" and were partial to giving any troublesome kids a clip around the ear. If you were stupid enough to tell your parents why you were crying then they would give you another for getting into trouble with the police. Don't even attempt to tell me this was cruelty and that it's better now that we can sue anyone who touches us.

We learned what was right and what was wrong and we rarely gave cheek to strangers. Well, unless they looked as though they couldn't run fast and there was no one else around...

Toys were either unmoving things requiring imagination or were purely mechanical. I had one of these Merit driving games and the "gear lever" style stick operated a scissor movement underneath the playing field, moving a magnet about that would move the model car on the carboard playing surface. It was nowhere near as big as it looks in the illustration!

Magnets were a favourite tool of the toymaker - we had magnetic soccer games with long poles to move our players from underneath the playfield table and I had a bus that ran along a track until it zoomed into the "depot building". When it came out it would have been converted from a double deck to a single deck as the roof stuck to the magnet in the depot. A loop of track and it went back into the depot travelling the other way and would pick up the roof again. Magic to our minds!

Speaking of magnets and magic, there was the Magic Robot which had a swivelling base. You slotted the robot into it's base on a board and swiveled it until a rod it held pointed at a question. You then stood the robot on a different part of the board, surrounded by lots of answers and it magnetically twizzed round until it pointed at the answer to your question!

We had a collection of model soldiers - plastic models were starting to replace the tin ones. Tinplate cannons had a spring action that you could use to shoot matchsticks out to knock over your opponent's soldiers.

Dinky and the later Corgi toy cars were eagerly collected. In fact I still have some of them! The early ones had no windows or interior fittings and until we were a bit older things like opening doors, bonnets and boots were unheard of!

Matchbox cars were fun and cheaper than the larger Dinky or Corgis! Dad still had his Hornby clockwork train set - the scale was such that you could only have a very simple oval track. He later bought us a Hornby Dublo set - it had three rails as the engine picked up the current from the middle rail. When we eventually got a more modern Hornby set, we had to replace lots of metal wheels from this set as they shorted out the current which made great sparks but not a lot of movement!

Cowboy programmes were all the range on television and so almost every boy had guns and holsters and would play for hours shooting each other and flopping down on the grass to play dead! The guns were obviously fake and no one ever worried we were being seduced into lives of violence. If we could afford it we would spend a penny on a roll of caps which exploded somewhat unrealistically in the guns, but were also good fun just thrown on the fire or hit with a stone!

The Danes had yet to unleash Lego on us and the most popular building toy was probably this one - Bayko. Judged as hideously dangerous now because of the metal rods that had to be pushed into a plastic base so that bricks could be slid down between them. I can't honestly remember anyone losing an eye, but I did hurt myself a few times with them I suppose. We just learned to be more careful.

As can be seen from the illustration, the houses you could build were definitely not the sort soon to be earmarked for slum clearance... Our house was not this fine, but neither was it one of the many terraces - for the moment anyway! Even so there were terraces and there were terraces! Not all were slums! More to come!

All sorts of card games existed - special packs for "Happy Families" and the excellent "Speed" or we would play rummy and chinese patience...

At school we would play football, cricket, hopscotch (our junior school had squares already painted out in the yard - that was seen as a bit sissy!) The best hopscotch grids were drawn by scratching a stone on the pavement! Chalk was sometimes used, but not essential!

Dad and his brother, Uncle Geoffrey were keen model aeroplane enthusiasts. Radio control was unheard of at the time. These had wire cables to the wing tip attached to the rudder. You unrolled control wires about 50 feet to a handle and then the plane flew around you in a circle and by tilting the handle you could make it go up or down until it either crashed, ran out of fuel and crashed, or you got dizzy, fell over - and it crashed...

They had engines that used ethanol or diesel fuel that you started by flicking the propellor with a finger. You had to be quick or the prop would whiz round when the engine fired and whack the back of your finger hard enough to draw blood and hurt a lot! The photo shows Dad and Frank in 1982 having a bit of a reprise of this activity.

The World I Entered, 1954

Another recreation from my lost Nostalgia web pages.

I was born in 1954 in the bedroom of a semi-detached house in Rochdale, Lancashire. My mum was 19 and my dad was 22 and doing his National Service with the army.

I'm seen here with Mum, Nanna, her mother and Grandma Mercer, my great-grandmother. For the first couple of years of my life we lived with my Nanna and Grandad. I was followed after 11 months by my brother Frank, whose arrival so upset the family that they set fire to the house a week later resulting in smoke and fire damage to the entrance hall. Not that I remember this all that vividly, but I was told about it afterwards...

Dad, once he stopped playing at soldiers, got a job as an insurance surveyor in Manchester, peering into the inside of boilers and trying to decide whether they looked fit for purpose. I suspect my Mum was quite relieved. At the time, the Suez Crisis was rearing its head - British soldiers could still lose life and limb. The after effects of World War II were still felt in Britain, as rationing was still in force when I came into being - "Have you got a coupon for that baby, Ma'am?"

Apparently Mum got extra rations because of me - isn't that nice? Again, I had to be told this, I was too young to notice even the things that were soon to disappear like farthings - a quarter of a penny. Heck, there were 240 pennies in a pound for Heaven's Sake, neatly counted in 20 lots of 12 pence known as a shilling. Pre-decimal England was a bewildering place for a baby of my tender years... or days... whatever! Luckily Mum did most of my shopping...

England in 1954 would be almost unrecogniseable to people in these days. There were very very few cars on the roads, trains were still pulled by steam engines, supermarkets were non-existant, and the effects of two world wars in the 40 preceding years meant that there was a sort of military culture. Most people wore some sort of uniform for work even if it was only a white "laboratory" coat worn by shopworkers, or a very strict dress code - very few men did not wear a tie.

Best clothes, meaning suits and ties came out every Sunday. Not to have your shirt tucked into your trousers was enough to make people faint... Sorry, slight exaggeration there, but it simply wasn't something you would even contemplate! People in authority at home, at work or in jobs such as the police force, or any job in charge of the environment you were in at the time such as a station master, were respected and deferred to. In the main people followed a well regulated and ordered lifestyle. Oh - and you called everyone "Sir" or "Miss" or "Madam". If you knew them it was probably "Mr X" or "Mrs X". Even some married couples called each other by that!

People got married much younger - it was just about the only way you were ever going to get to have sex! There was no pill, and the danger of pregnancy was drummed into girls. There was an tinge of disgrace about getting pregnant before being wed. Even Mum, who wed Dad a good 4 months before I came into the world, felt compelled to wear a green dress for the wedding - wearing white would not have been "the done thing" in her condition! And she had the support of her family - many girls were thrown out of the house. 40 years earlier, many of them would have been locked away in institutions for having a baby!

Televisions were rare and in any case had only one channel - the BBC. Nanna and Grandad had one - a huge wooden thing with a tiny screen. By the time I was old enough to want to watch it the BBC had been joined by ITV. The radio was called the "wireless" and was still large enough to be a piece of furniture! They were full of valves as yet, even portable radios were the size of a handbag. There were no computers, no electronic anything... Things that plugged in were "electric" and electric things to play with did not yet exist apart from Dansette record players, the wireless and the television. All of these were expensive things! Records played one song and then you turned them over and played the "B" side. 45s were only just coming out. Most people still bought the old 78rpm records that broke when sat on or knelt on... Rock and Roll was just beginning, mostly guitars were an instrument that you could never hear in an orchestra.

Many houses had a piano in the "front room". Both sets of grandparents had one. On Mum's side it was Grandad who played it, favouring hymns, he was after all, the organist at the Park Baptist church. On my Dad's side it was Grandma Burke who played. (They were always Grandma and Grandad Burke whereas Mum's parents were just Nanna and Grandad without any surname!) She favoured music hall and ballads - Carolina Moon was one I used to enjoy hearing her play.

Ok, so let's introduce you to the clan so you know who's who in this set of pages.

This was taken at my christening, where I ended with the name John David Burke, John after my paternal grandfather and David after Mum's brother - the slightly nervous 14-year-old who looks unsure as to whether to curtsy or not...

Top row: Auntie Cissie - Grandad Burke's sister (she was really called Mary but never used it as she hated people saying it as though it rhymed with "furry"), Grandad Burke, Grandad (Frank Metcalfe).

Middle row: a friend of the family - could be the next door neighbour I think, this is Nanna and Grandad's back garden, Grandma Burke, Nanna

Front row: Dad (Allan Burke), Mum (Evelyne) holding me, Uncle David (I called him "Dowa" as a baby but then when Frank came along that proved too hard for him to manage and it got shortened to "Dow" which he still gets called at times), Great-Grandma Mercer.

Grandma Burke and Nanna were both housewives, that is, they spent all day enjoying the best that 1950s gadgetry could provide in the way of helping with household chores and sewing and cooking - which wasn't a lot in those days. I suppose both halves of the family were fairly well off, considering. Both had indoor toilets and bathrooms - by no means did everyone have those things!

Grandad owned a grocery shop in Rochdale and had a "sit-up-and-beg" Ford Prefect car to deliver weekly grocery orders around the town. More of the shop in another page. Grandad Burke was an engineer who made carpentry and other tools for a local firm. He had lost the little finger and the one next to it in an accident at work sometime around World War I, which put paid to any dreams he may have had of joining up - though he was in a reserved occupation anyway. Both fingers were non-existant, they had been amputated at the very knuckle of the fist of his right hand. Being smacked by that hand didn't half hurt!

What else sets the scene? There were no fast food shops - fish and chips were the staple of the drunken after-hours set, though at least this had taken over from the ghastly tripe and vinegar of the earlier generation! Queen Elizabeth was getting used to the idea of being Queen, Rochdale was "Home of Gracie Fields", the world's first nuclear submarine was launched, the Cold War was hotting up, Bill Haley released "Rock Around the Clock", Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio and the Creature from The Black Lagoon popped out at cinema audiences in glorious black and white 3D!

Very few people had telephones in their houses at this time. I only saw them being used on TV and was actually terrified of them as a small child. I remember having nightmares where the sky would go dark and then every time someone somewhere in the street would use a telephone, this gigantic scary face would appear in the sky, scowling down at me whilst talking silently into a telephone. They always seemed just about to "get" me! I had, luckily, grown out of this phase by the time we got our first phone when I was 12...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Drive Through The Illuminations

It's been years since we did it. Driving through the famous Blackpool Illuminations, that is.

Last night I was dying to get out of the house and find some fresh air. A day either peering at a computer screen or talking on the telephone had left me feeling a bit cooped up.

I suggested a ride out into the countryside and Fran countered it with a suggestion we go shopping but we could go to the Asda in Fulwood, north Preston. So a compromise and we set off around 7:00pm taking all the back roads through Elswick to Broughton then cutting down the A6 to just past the M55/M6 junction and then across to the Asda.

We bumped into Rachel and Katie in Asda and caught up on a bit of news, then zig-zagged up and down every single aisle - oh joy - because we had no idea where stuff was.

Fran claimed she was disappointed because she had wanted to go to look around the clothes section and it was closed off. There was someone watching over me after all... It was daylight when we went in. It was pitch black when we came out.

So I headed back for the A6 but then turned left towards Preston until I hit the old Blackpool Road and we drove through Lea and then left through Warton and Lytham, then along the front at St Annes and so to Squires Gate at the start of the Illuminations.

By the time we got to the Pleasure Beach we had joined a crawling queue of traffic. This surprised me a bit, I didn't think the Illuminations were that popular these days to have such a queue mid week, but obviously they still draw visitors in.

So we stayed mostly in first gear and inched our way along the Promenade, seeing all 3 of the current illuminated trams - the trawler, the warship and the wild west train.

I turned off at the Gynn, just before the large standing tableaux along the cliffs at North Shore. They are best seen on foot and we'll go another night.

But I had had my fresh air, mingled a bit towards the end with exhaust fumes. It also struck me as we drove along the Golden Mile how the smell of frying onions has totally disappeared, such a shame! In the 1970s and 80s until the yellow M and Burger King arrived, burgers were griddled in their scores and kept hot by piling them on their ends in a heap of fried onions. They were put in a bun with or without onions and you added ketchup and mustard to taste and they were gorgeous! You wouldn't have dreamed of putting salad or pickles on them in those days but they tasted fantastic.

I don't often do burgers these days and if I do it has to be as a meal, not in between meals. As a teenager calories used to bounce off me. Now they cling on hard and fast...

I was driving of course so the photo is an old one. But interestingly for the past day or two it has been the one getting the most hits at Flickr, where you can see a larger version.

Flickr have recently changed how this works. Follow the link then click on the photo. It will be shown on a black background but then you will see a link for view all sizes.
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