Thursday, 30 November 2017

In My Uncle's Cellar

So few houses have a cellar these days, but my late uncle's house, which had previously been my grandparents' house, not only had a full height attic but a full cellar as well. One corner was used as a storage for coal, with a trap door in the front path that the coal men could tip their sacks of coal down.

It was the last room of the house for us to look through and we weren't really expecting to find much of value in it. And in that we weren't disappointed! My Grandad had his workbench down there. Equipped with a large vice on either side it was used for woodworking and probably metalworking too as his trade was as an engineer. We found lots of taps and dies for cutting threads in both screws and screw holes and for all I know he may well have made the taps and dies himself as well.

The first thing to catch my eye was this rather gruesome looking figurine. Made of early plastic I remember it from being small when this topless grass-skirted beauty induced both embarrassment and a strange fascination for a twelve-year-old! The years have not been kind to her...

A vinegar bottle, complete with traces of vinegar in the bottom. Over the last twenty, thirty or even forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years, the fumes from the vinegar have eaten away at the metal cap, enlarging the sprinkler holes and creating a few new ones!

My uncle had his photographic darkroom down here, though at one time he had been making preparations to move it upstairs into the attic. It was - by design I suppose - dark in there! A new stainless steel sink and drainer was propped against the wall either taken out, or waiting to be fitted, I'm not sure. There were still jars of chemicals, labels long since made unreadable. Developers, fixers, toners, model aircraft fuel? Who knows... Against walls shelves held faded tins of motor oil, old Christmas sweets tins full of paper clips, pen nibs and rotted rubber bands and a cardboard tube of some probably toxic toilet cleaner.

There's also a tin of grease here. Cars in the 1960s had to be greased regularly by pumping grease from a hand pump into nipples set into axles and other moving parts. The tins had an inner lid with a hole that when pushed down, dispensed an inch thick rope of grease, like squeezing a toothpaste tube. For some reason motor grease was hugely attractive to earwigs and by the time of a tin's second use, there would be several of them either crawling about, or immobilised by the stuff requiring you to scrape their bodies out...

A Valor paraffin heater. These were in use every winter to heat those rooms without any heat or where you only needed a small amount of heat to keep water pipes from freezing etc. They burnt paraffin which you bought in gallon tins and they smelt and had to be sited carefully as if one was knocked over it could easily start a disastrous fire. One of the more memorable TV adverts of the early 1960s was for Esso Blue paraffin.

They asked me how I knew, it was Esso Blue
I of course replied, "with lower grades one buys
smoke gets in your eyes!"

A strong box. Iron bound. Locked. Entrancing, exciting... did we have any pirates in our ancestry? It took us a while to find a key which was eventually found elsewhere in the house. With amazement I turned the key easily in the lock and opened the lid to see... more woodworking tools...

A 1955 Wolf Cub electric drill. Costing five pounds nine shillings and sixpence or yours for a five shillings deposit plus two shillings post and packing followed by six monthly payments of nineteen shillings and sixpence.

There were lots of tins. My brother opened this without looking at the description and poked his finger in. "Eeeew! It's some sort of white gunk!" he said, regarding his sticky white digit.
"I think you'd better go and wash your hands..." I said. Before plastic rawl plugs that enabled you to screw into walls, you drilled a hole, spooned in some of this asbestos paste, left it to harden and then screwed into it.

A Hotpoint rotary ironer for fast ironing of washing. Fitted with a 1940s Wylex plug.

More paraffin heaters. Smaller and more easily knocked over than the Valor, these burned with a blue flame and the thin metal cage under the cone-shaped top would glow red hot, the heat being reflected forward by the large reflector. There is little protection in front of it - plenty of space for fingers or even a small child's entire hand to get through that grill on the front.

The cat's basket, sitting in a stone sink under the cellar window. The cat this belonged to was called Sooty, a tiny demented ball of speedy black fluff when a kitten in 1963, he grew into a right bruiser of a cat, but died in 1974 after having to have an operation to remove a tumour. This cat basket has stood here for 43 years...

I've no idea how long it has been since these large ceramic electricity fuseboxes were in use, but they too have been lying on the workbench for a long time!

Trench art - two shell cases, I suspect from the First World War, one still with fire irons. When houses were heated by an open coal fire it was essential to have a set of fire irons. They comprised of a metal poker to stir the coal and mix the layers of warm and cold pieces; a pair of tongs to put fresh pieces of coal on the fire (it was usually wet from bringing it in out of the rain and in any case left your hands black if you touched it) They were also used to quickly retrieve pieces of red hot, burning, coal that fell out and rolled onto the floor before the carpet (or cat) set on fire! Finally there would be a small dustpan and brush to tidy up any coal dust that fell off the pieces of coal or to sweep the hearth once you had taken out the ashes of a dead fire before making a new one.

A house fire would be made on a grating in the fireplace, with either some twists (known as "spills") of paper or perhaps a commercial firelighter - Zip Firelighters were a well-known make. On top of this you would build a latticework of firewood to rest the coal on. The cellar fireplace still had a pile of firewood waiting to be used. It had been waiting since the 1950s.

More chemicals. On the left is one of those grease guns I was talking about earlier. Somewhat rusted now, but you gripped the bottom and pushed the nozzle against the nipple on the car and the body of the gun would slide up the tube at the top, pumping grease through the nozzle into the car's innards. When the gun was empty you unscrewed the bottom and refilled it with grease and earwigs. There's a bunsen burner there too - probably used my my Grandad in his metalworking. Or to light his pipe...

A bit of personal nostalgia. A 1950s Ludo board. A long time since I pushed a counter on that board!

And to finish this time, as we are almost into December now, a sheet of charity stickers from Christmasses of the 1950s. In those days whilst proceeds went to charities, their name would not be plastered all over the sticker (which was not sticky - you had to lick the gum on them). We would be disappointed as kids had a present not had one of these charming little Christmas scenes on them. I might put one on the presents I send this Christmas!

In memory of Geoffrey Burke, 24 May 1933 - 18 March 2017. R.I.P.

Charity Night For Trinity Hospice At Coast Riders

Saturday 25 November 2017 saw us back at Coast Riders Diner and Bar for a charity night in aid of Trinity Hospice and in memory of the wonderful Janet Houghton, whose baby Coast Riders was.

There were stalls selling all manner of crafts, perfumes, cakes, jewellery and lots more. Coast Riders was filled to bursting with people. There was a tombola and a raffle. Miss Franny came home laden with handbags and other stuff...

Two old geezers got up on stage and played a bit - a bit??? I think it was getting on for four hours but there was quite a break for food and the raffle. Even so by the end of the night I had some sore fingers after playing guitar!

A fabulous night was had by all though and it was the sort of night that Jan - "Big Jan" as she was known on account of her being ... not that tall really - would have loved.

We made sure we played all her favourite songs and everyone - eventually - went home happy...

...once the vampires had been seen to!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Photographs from The Geoff Burke Collection

My late uncle was a keen photographer, but didn't exactly show us very many of his photographs... Perhaps it might be said he was a photo enthusiast more than a photographer, for although he had lots of photographs from the 1950s, 60s and even into the 1970s, after that they sort of peter out. Even though, during these later years he spent a great deal of money on darkroom and other equipment, much of which is of only academic interest these days.

So today I am going to delve into the collection of photographs uncovered after his death, with the focus being mainly on his lifetime, either photographs of him, or family, or taken by him.

A hand-coloured studio portrait of Uncle Geoff on the left sitting with his brother, Allan, my father on the right. This photograph always sat in a frame on top of the piano in the parlour which was only used at weekends and special occasions.

Uncle Geoff with his parents, my grandparents, at his Christening in 1934.

A street photograph of all the children living in the street. Taken around 1936, Geoff Burke is sitting on the knee of the young lad on the front row, third from the right. This must be Church Street in Rochdale, near the gasworks and the general poverty of the times can be seen particularly by the state of the two cricket bats, proudly held by boys in the photo. Both are splitting and coming apart, yet bound together by string, rags, anything that could be used to extend their life as precious playthings.

There were very many photographs, loose, framed and in albums, that were older (in some cases much older) than Geoff and I'll just include a couple here. Labelled on the back: "Charabang trip, Rochdale, early 1900s". The correct term was "charabanc" but they were commonly called "charabangs". I suspect they did bang quite a bit... The two ladies towards the back of the carriage - third and fourth from the left of the photo - are both relatives: my Great-Grandma Brierley and the other being Great-Gt-Grandma Woolfenden or Brierley. I've no way of knowing which.

The same two ladies are seen on a spanking new form of transport a year or two later, back row, fourth and fifth from the left.

This photo is of the Nativity play at St Alban's, Rochdale somewhere from 1948 to 1951. My Dad stands behind his mother who is looking somewhat glum. She was always apt to be a bit maudlin at Christmas and could be counted upon to stop most Christmas parties with "Eeh, our [name] would have been here last year..." Making the most of this hobby, the X markings are made by her to highlight people who have died since the photo was taken. Names and dates are listed on the back...

My Mum and Dad at Belle Vue Manchester, 1952/53. The zoo and amusement park had opened in 1836 and at their peak covered 165 acres and attracted in excess of two million visitors a year. The zoo closed in 1977 and the amusement park in 1980.

Dated 1966, Uncle Geoff picks up a prize at Rochdale Photographic Society. His attic still held a small collection of large prints of some of his photographs from competitions and exhibitions. A couple of the subjects were quite stunning young ladies. He used to hire photographic studios in Manchester along with models during the early 1960s. These young ladies would be in their 80s, if still surviving today. He had meticulously written records to be kept with the negatives. "x: petite, good figure, poses well, very good indeed." or "y:" (less enthusiastic description) "no good at all..."

My grandparents outside at the back of their house. This is the one we have just cleared. This will be in the first half of the 1960s.

In the harsh winter of 1962/63 the local beauty spot, Hollingworth Lake, above Rochdale froze over solid enough for people to enjoy a February day walking across it. Today if we had such a winter again there would be chains and "DANGER - DO NOT CROSS" signs everywhere!

Very rare are photographs of possessions. In the days when photography was film based and required expensive developing and printing, few people thought to "waste" film on what was then quite ordinary day-to-day objects. This type of travelling alarm clock, again from the early sixties, can still be found today, but the modern ones do not glow in the dark like this one would have. The green coloured dots at each number and on the hands was radioactive paint. So radioactive that it would glow in the dark. They were commonplace. Everyone had a watch with similar properties. Even my cherished Mickey Mouse watch glowed in the dark. In pitch dark we would hold it right up to our eyes to see how bright it could be! I'm still alive...

Many of the workers at factories though contracted cancer and died early. They had been told the radium/paint mix was harmless and as japes they would paint their fingernails and teeth, turn the lights out and smile at each other... They had also been told to ensure a fine point on the brush using their lips... Do a search for radium girls to find out more.

And we'll finish this time with a slightly less tragic story, but one much closer to home, as the fire in Uncle Geoff's photo here is his garage and car which was set ablaze by arson on 7 May 2002. Two garages and cars were destroyed, my uncle's Nissan Bluebird being only a few months old at the time.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Every Lid Opened Is A New Adventure...

More finds from my uncle's (now empty) house. We had to wonder how long it had been since he actually saw any of this stuff himself? Looking through the possessions left after a relative dies is in turns nostalgic, surprising, incredibly sad, wondrous and, in the next moment, hilarious. Who, for instance, would have had any idea of the incredible number of cookery books that Uncle Geoff had amassed? Every now and then he would say he had baked some buns, or made some mince pies near Christmas. But I'm talking a stack of books by TV chefs that would reach as high as three feet...

Upstairs in what had been the main bedroom we uncovered a treadmill Singer sewing machine. My other Nana had one of these and we used to love it when she disengaged the sewing mechanism to let us sit at it, treadling away making the wheel spin so fast it burned your hand if you tried to stop it by grabbing the wheel! Of course (ahem) I was only a kid in my fifties then...

There were tins everywhere. Not all in great condition perhaps, as can be seen from this photograph. The tin is obviously one brought out around the time of Queen Elizabeth II's ascendency to the throne, or Coronation perhaps. But a label had been stuck over her face at one time and although removed, it has left remnants of gum that I couldn't shift. The tin contained oddments of buttons. There's something like it in every grandparent's house, whether a tin or a jar. My other Nana had a big Oxo tin and my Mum had a massive glass sweets jar...

Crawford's Red Lion Shortbread from Edinburgh. Scottish shortbread was one of those regular Christmas purchases. Still is, if it comes to that... I wonder if there's any left...

It contained combs. And a couple of fierce looking fancy combs designed to be worn rather than just for combing through your hair. The spikes on one look as though it is secured right down into the brain and beyond... There's also a couple of forerunners of those 1970s K-Tel comb-with-a-razor-blade instruments of torture. The cream coloured Sabo which bears the message "Do it yourself hairdresser" and the grey Easytrim towards the bottom. Top right is a blue long-handled comb with bristles on the side for that extra tug on your tangles (ouch!) There's enough samples of DNA attached to clone a few members of the family too...

This tin from many Christmases past doesn't give away what it was intended to contain but has a design of fruit trees, acorns, birds, deer and squirrels.

Roka Cheese Crispies. I don't remember these at all. But it all serves to remind us that there was a time before Twiglets and After Eight... Just the thing to go with your Cherry B.

Would you believe it? All the cheese crispies have gone and it now holds a bunch of candles. Memories of all those power cuts during the 1970s perhaps.

Elastoplast in a tin. It came in a massive roll and you cut off how much you needed. As kids in the 1950s our play areas were not spongy, impact absorbing soft-surfaced ground coverings. As likely as not public playgrounds were thoughtfully protected with a covering of rock hard, irregular shaped, lumpy, pointy, nasty tearing things called cinders. They were the charred clinker left over from fires and furnaces that were almost indestructable and would certainly come off best in a match against knees and elbows. Grown-ups would tut in sympathy and wash the grit out of your cuts and then splash on the iodine, which not only stained your skin purple, but was incredibly painful as it stung every exposed bit of flesh. "There, you'll be alright now..."

There were so many tins. My Grandad Burke was a pipe smoker for most of his life. As often as not instead of flaked tobacco he would buy rough cut which had to be rubbed in the hand to break it up before stuffing it into the pipe bowl. We saw an Iron Jelloids tin in yesterday's article. Let's have a look inside...

Paper clips and strips of rubber letters that look as though they have come from some sort of printing toy.

We did, in fact, find a John Bull Printing Outfit No.6. The little letters were mirrored and you arranged them to spell your message between the runners of the stamp (the red thing with the handle on the left in the box). The tweezers were so you didn't get ink on your fingers, but were incredibly good at springing a line of letters all over the room so you inevitably lost some. Inky fingers were much to be preferred than losing letters... Then the stamp pad - the other red bit) and hey presto! You could create a message. Though some letters would be darker than others because you hadn't pressed them as deep into the runners as other letters... The box also contains a rubber eraser that has seen better days and a box of gummed reinforcers. In the days when we used to put a lot of papers into ring binders, these were for reinforcing the punch holes so they wouldn't tear.

Also in the photo are a John Bull fountain pen, a bottle of ink, a Marathon pad for cleaning suede, a Progress typewriter ribbon tin now containing dip pen nibs and drawing pins, a maroon rubber endorsing ink container that was squeezed onto stamp pads in the John Bull outfit, and roll of gummed tape - pre-cursor to sticky tape but requiring you to lick it!

Old halfpennies or ha'pennies. There were several tins with old coins and some complete sets of pre-decimal coinage in old paper change bags. There's a few larger coins in there too. They are pennies.

This one contained farthings. There were four of these to the penny and 240 pennies to the pound. Hands up if you can imagine there being anything to buy using a 1/960th of a pound? The last issue of the farthing had a picture of a wren on the reverse (there's one in the middle of the tin). Earlier ones had that truly British image of Britannia with her shield. Even earlier ones had her between a ship and a lighthouse. There are some of those visible too.

Yardley's Brilliantine. It was hair oil. You put some into your hand, rubbed your hands together to make a horrible squelchy slapping noise...and then slapped both hands into your hair and rubbed the oil and goo all over your head. This gave your hair a brilliant shine as the light reflected off it (hence "brilliantine") and also made it possible to create horns and waves and sculptures of Blenheim Palace with your hair... Uncle Geoff had a habit of plastering on the hair oil and then grabbing lines between his fingers to create four deep waves. Always one for a bargain he must have bought it by the case... He wasn't planning on going bald, was he?

No, he wasn't...!