Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chapter 2

An Imperfect Life contd.

2. And then there were four.

  It was Uncle Bill's fault. Dad's older brother was our favourite uncle. He always had toffees in his pocket for us - even if they were usually covered in fluff.

Dad's six brothers and his cousins formed a cricket team and Bill was the popular wicket keeper - which accounted for his corncrake voice - all those 'HOWZAT'S!'

  He was very proud of the cricket bat given to him by Constantine the famous cricketer. 

He had a brown leathery face and deep set, dark brown eyes in which – if you looked hard enough - you could spot a twinkle.  His big bluff exterior hid a very gentle man.

He was Dad’s favourite and, out of all his brothers, Bill was the only one Mum never found fault with.

  Like us he belonged to the Unitarian Church and for years - before WW1 - he had been friends with three spinster sisters - the Misses Taylor - Ethel , Edith  and Florence who although no blood relation became our honorary aunts. 
  When he went to fight in France I imagine he became their hero and he was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry near Ypres.  Maddie still has the beautiful embroidered cards he sent from France to 'my dear friends' - the Taylor sisters.

Maddie and I used to speculate about the relationship he had with the aunts.

‘I think Uncle Jack’s in luv with Auntie Ethel,’ I suggested to Maddie.

‘Yeah but he’s probly too shy to say so an’ anyroad Auntie Edith and Auntie Florrie are always with’em.’

‘Well Auntie Florrie does go away on ‘oliday wi’ Missus Mackie.’ 

‘But Auntie Edith is alus there.  They’re never alone,’ insisted Maddie.

‘Auntie Ethel and Auntie Edith even sleep wi’ each other.’

In those days it was not unusual for sisters – even adults - to share a bed.

 The Aunts were pillars of the Chapel and must have got to know Uncle Jack at Sunday School.  I can imagine how they felt – especially Ethel - when war broke out and he was sent to France along with his older brothers.

The three sisters were quite tiny in build but commanded great respect.  Ethel was the driving force and outwardly appeared cold and judgmental, Florence had austere good looks and as a trained chiropodist had her independence.  She used to have separate holidays with the local widowed post mistress.

Edith was just a satellite of Ethel.  I found her easier because I could make her giggle; I only had to mention Rennies - the well known aid to digestion and she was off.

She seemed to look more kindly on me than the other two.  Uncle Jack used to take Maddie when he visited them and this gave Mum a break from having three small kids under her feet.

 They lived in Waterfoot about a mile away.

I’m not sure how it came about; we kids were meant to be ‘seen an’ not ‘eard’ but I expect Mum –little more than a girl herself -was quite pushed with three small kids and as Uncle Jack took Maddie more and more frequently down to the Aunts and they all had happy times together I surmise that the time came when they suggested it should become a permanent arrangement.  Obviously Maddie would then have more opportunities and it would allow Mum and Dad to give Evan and me a better life - in theory.  In the end all three of us won scholarships to the Grammar School and had a good education. I suppose if there had been the three of us we would have had to leave school at 14 to get jobs like a few others on the estate.  Mostly the ones lucky enough to get to the Grammar School left at 14 to start earning.  

Whatever the reason when Maddie was six it was decided that she would go and live with the honorary aunts. Maddie was excited and happy; the aunts were well off and had a shoe shop and a telephone and Ethel and Edith were skilled seamstresses. Maddie would have corn free feet, shoes galore, exquisite dresses AND a telephone - a rarity in the thirties. 

Now that I’m a great grandmother I wonder how my parents could have done that: given up their eldest child to three maiden aunts of no relation, but at the time - with the mind of a child I thought ‘Oh Maddie’s t' lucky wun!’

I remember when I was at the grammar school racing home one day – very excited

‘Mum, Mum there’s a school trip to ‘arrogate at th’end of term.  It’s VERY EDUCSASHONOL an’ we stay there a couple o’ nights.  PLEASE Mum can I go?’

‘We’ll ‘ave to see.’  This was Mum’s usual response which drove me mad!

‘Oh PLEASE Mum - our Maddie went last year,’ I whined.

But the whining didn’t work.  We couldn’t afford it and that was that!

There was a bit of envy flying around.

 Maddie was given a beautiful doll’s pram with a big pot doll named Shirley.  Shirley was dressed in hand sewn clothes and when you turned her over she said ‘Mama.’

I on the other hand had a moth- eaten dog called Mona.  I experienced both envy and disgruntlement.  Evan just took the whole thing in his stride; he was the youngest and when he was a toddler he almost died with double pneumonia.  Consequently he was cosseted; having his chest rubbed with goose grease at the first sign of a cold and daily fed Fenning’s Little Lung Healers.  He could have turned into a spoilt brat but fortunately he was a sweet natured child and a very happy little boy.

My memory comes in snapshots and whilst writing about this period – the period when I was about four, I got a snapshot I wasn’t expecting.  I was walking on the top road coming home with another child – possibly Elsie from next door.  A tall  lanky lad – about 18 - with hair the colour of fresh horse manure and a face spattered with freckles called out to us..  He greeted us as if he knew us and said he would give me a piggy back.  He lifted me up onto the stone wall by the side of the Co-op, stood with his back in front of me and told me to put my hands round his neck.  Being tiny for my age I was used to people making a fuss of me - ‘Eeeeh in’t she bonny?’ they would say - so I did as I was told.  He carried me just as far as the corner shop and then put me down.
 He had touched me. 
 I didn’t tell anyone and managed to banish it from my mind until I started writing about this period.  Who knows if it had any subconscious lasting effect on me?  It certainly got me thinking about the times when I was accused of being ‘an ice maiden‘in my teens  and even Jamie saying I was scared stiff of men the first time he kissed me.  It seems strange that the memory lay dormant all those years.

   We always seemed to be short of money but Dad kept chickens so we could sell eggs and Mum did hair dressing in the evenings.  They were both very conscious of keeping within their budget and: ‘Never a borrower or a lender be!’ was a bit of a mantra in our house.

  I’m certain that everyone acted from the best of motives - believing that our lives and opportunities would be enhanced by Maddie being brought up by the Aunts. I‘m also certain that my parents regretted it till the day they died. Initially life did get easier; one day Dad came home with a big smile on his face.

‘Cum outside May an’ see what I’ve got.’

We all trooped out, down the steps to the road and there was the most beautiful Swallow side-car attached to a Rudge motorbike.  Mum’s face was a picture but when Dad kicked the motor bike into life she gingerly sat on the pillion whilst Evan and I got in the side-car. We knelt up on the seat facing backwards so we could see more and wave to everybody.

With Mum clinging on to Dad we roared off over the Fierns.  No more Wakes Week at Blackpool - now the world would be our oyster.

  Our first big trip was down through the South West to Land’s End.  It was like going to the end of the world and we kids found it very exciting.  The first night we stayed at a B&B (bed and breakfast)  at Weston Super mare and saw a fantastic sunset on the beach.  Then Ilfracombe, Torquay and Newquay which was very posh and Evan and I had a room with pink walls and a big pink jug in a basin for us to wash ourselves and we met a really nice couple who had two dogs – a Pekinese and a Chow.  We loved those dogs and had our photographs taken with them.  Everybody made a fuss of us and I’ve never seen Mum and Dad so happy.

Lands End was pretty frightening; there were gigantic rocks and the thundering waves beat against them - so loud you couldn’t hear yourself speak. 

I was always the mischievous one and Evan my willing follower.

 ‘Evan let’s ‘ide from Mum an’ Dad behin’ this big rock. They’ll think we’ve drownded.’

We giggled as they frantically shouted our names and searched for us but when we saw how upset they were my conscience pricked and we showed ourselves.  What a horrible child I was.  Dad was furious and Mum cried.  Dad grabbed us,

‘Y’little buggers!  That‘s last time we’re cumin’to this bloody place,’ he roared.

This trip had a lasting effect on Evan and me.  He followed the same route when he was grown up and went on his honeymoon and I eventually chose to end my days here in the South West.


  Maddie was also taken hither and yon by the aunts but travelled in a more up - market mode.  They went on the Queen Mary- not on a cruise but just to look round it.

Uncle Jack went too but as Maddie said – like the poor - Auntie Edith was always with them

Maddie would come home for tea every Sunday and we would swap experiences.

 After tea Madddie and I would give a concert, much to Evan’s dismay and Mum and Dad’s delight.  Maddie had been given piano lessons and played really well.

Deanna Durbin was our favourite artiste.

‘I’ve got t’music to Deanna’s latest film Pat.’ 

 ‘Just play it through once Maddie to remind me o’ tune then I’ll sing it wi’ you.’

‘Waltzing, waltzing high in the clouds.  Only you and I in the clouds.’

No-one will hear when you call me your dear one.

Whilst waltzing in the (high note) clouds.

I still remember all the words but sadly the voice has gone.

Mum and Dad thought we were very talented and should have been on the wireless.  I had quite a sweet voice and longed to have it trained but instead Mum and Dad scraped the coffers to get me piano lessons; the aunts had given Maddie piano lessons so they would do the same for me. A TOTAL waste of money in my case.  Why would they NEVER listen to me?

  Now we had transport the Lake District became our favourite place. We camped in a tent on the edge of Lake Windermere and hired a wooden rowing boat - I was nine, Evan seven..

Dad would row us all over the lake but I persuaded Evan to ask Mum if we could take the boat ourselves and have an adventure.  Dad had gone to get some petrol so there was a chance she’d say yes

‘Mum can me an’ Pat  tek t’boat out an’ go fishin? ‘

 We had one of Mum’s long pauses whilst she weighed up the possibilities.

‘Oh please Mum- it’ll ‘elp Evan when ‘e joins t’ Sea Scouts.’

‘Well alright then but mind y’keep in sight o’tent al’time.  Think on!’ 

Our tent was right on the edge of the lake so we had a wide area of safety

We took the rods down to the wooden boat

‘What’ll we use fo’t bait Evan?’

‘Go and ask Mum for a jam - jar an’ sum bread.  I’ll show you ‘ow we can catch minnows in’t stream and then we’ll stick ‘em on th’ooks and there’s yer bait.’ 

‘OK Evan but just don’t expect me to stab them little beggars wi’ th’ook

Later he laid the jam jars on their side in the brook and before long we had quite a few minnows.

Considering Evan was two years younger than me he was quite bright – for a boy.

‘Once we had the bait we rowed out to a large rock and tied up to the rusted notice that said DANGER – KEEP OFF.

 Fortunately it was too far away from Mum for her to read it but it was almost opposite the camping ground and well in sight of our tent.

It was so exciting when the coloured floats attached to the rods bobbed under the water; this meant we had a bite. We caught perch and once Evan caught an eel. Mum cooked them on the primus in the evening – I can still hear the roar of the flame and smell the metafule.

I’ve never tasted fish since that tasted so delicious.  We were the providers!  Yay!

 That first week we had another big adventure and climbed two enormous mountains - Helvellyn and Skiddaw.  Going up was made easier because there were some other folk with us and they couldn’t get over these two little kiddies climbing so high and we were bolstered by their praise.  At the top our paths diverged and they were continuing on along Striding Edge – too dangerous for us Dad said and it did look pretty scary – like a knife edge with sheer drops either side.  So coming down without our admiring audience was quite arduous and there was a bit of moaning and groaning.

Still Dad said there weren’t many kids who had done that at our age and we swelled with pride.  Our legacy was a life-long love of lakes, mountains and our blessed country-side 

  I loved waking in the morning and smelling the damp grass beneath us.  Sometimes Mum would let me stay reading in bed till late morning.

Favourites were Angela Brazil – all boarding schools, jolly hockey sticks, sucked lemons and midnight feasts; another was Richmal Crompton’s glorious ‘Just William’ and my all time favourite 'Little Women.' 

Mum sniffed - ‘That’s our Pat,’ she said, ‘bed, book an’ biscuits!’

Looking back I feel sad that Maddie missed out on those trips. Although no expense would be spared on her upbringing she would be an only child with just the ageing aunts and occasionally Uncle Bill for company.

We were quite an emotional family and there would be the odd Sunday when Maddie was upset about something or other and Dad would say:

‘Right!  Yer cumin’ ‘ome then!’

But Maddie, although she often had the chance, never wanted to.

 I suppose - depending on your point of view - you could say she had the best of both worlds.

This idyllic childhood was about to change.

 'Storm clouds were gathering over Europe.' It was 1939 and by September we were at war. 












Monday, August 17, 2015


An Imperfect Life


1. Early Days

‘Pat quick!  Give me yer prayer book.’

I recognised the panic in my Grandmother’s voice and quickly handed her my latest acquisition – a present from her - a hard, white, shiny prayer book with some coloured pictures inside.  Following her gaze I saw my father on the other side of the road astride his motor bike.  His arms were folded and with his clenched jaw and lowering brow he looked grim as only Dad could look grim.

  Gran - my maternal grandmother - was my greatest influence.  It was because of her I eventually became a nurse.  It was the thirties - we were the cinema generation and with the cheap seats costing tuppence we could go twice a week

 Inspired by Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers I planned my future.

‘A’m going to be an actress when I grow up Gran.’

  Gran gave one of her sniffs and folded her arms over her capacious bosom,

 ‘Not if I’ve owt to do with it yer not! Actresses are no better than they should be!  They ‘ave to sleep wi’producer to get on.’

‘But what d’ye mean Gran?’  I was very young at the time.

‘Never you mind lady – you ask too many questions for yer own good.’

End of conversation.

 She was built like Queen Mary – our Queen’s Granny I mean - not the ship; regal and deep-bosomed with the demeanour of a duchess until she lost her temper.  Then she would become a positive virago and the family would take to the hills until Granddad - a man of few words - would glare at her and call out in his booming voice:

’OH WOMAN!’ and I could feel the furniture reverberate as Gran subsided.

 They were an unusual couple: Granddad an English atheist and Gran an Irish Roman Catholic.  He was an engineer and he and Gran led a good life travelling in South Africa and Portugal with their small baby – my Mum.

Then one day Granddad got his right hand caught up in the heavy machinery he worked with.  Fortunately they managed to release him but he was left with a badly crippled hand and - no longer able to do his job - was pensioned off.  With the insurance money they bought a grocer's shop and settled in Lancashire near the rest of Gran’s family.
  Never one to be dictated to by circumstance, Gran left Granddad holding the fort, the shop and their small daughter and took herself off to Edinburgh to train to be a midwife.  She was successful, returned home, became the local midwife and from then on half the babies in the valley were delivered by her and she became a respected member of the community.   Travelling on the local buses with Gran you could bet your bottom dollar you would be told at least a couple of times:

‘See that lad/lass over yon? That’s one o’mine!’

  Granddad made a success of the shop – he loved people and they warmed to him. From humble beginnings – a terraced house in Cumberland – he had travelled the world, was well read and hadn’t lost the common touch. I thought he was the best Granddad in the whole world and loved going to stay with them in the holidays.

As soon as I got there I would give him a big kiss, trying to avoid his tickly moustache and say:

‘Please Granddad can I ‘elp  in’t shop?’

I would be given a miniature striped apron-like his - and was allowed to do simple tasks.  I could only just see over the top of the counter but I could reach things at a low level to stop Granddad having to bend down and I burrowed in the dark, scary  corners helping to find things.  Scooping up dried peas from the sack to put in a paper bag was my speciality.  If ever I had a sore throat I would be given a spoonful of a deep purple, sticky liquid from an enormous glass bottle, kept well out of reach.  Indian cough medicine was how Granddad described it

There were no refrigerators and the shop was full of interesting smells.  It must have faced north because in the window was an enormous pat of butter on a large oval dish and two ridged wooden paddles to handle it.  After Granddad died the plate was kept and is still used today for the turkey at Christmas

    The Rossendale valley where we lived (sometimes known as the Valley of Death) in NE Lancashire was surrounded by hills which were soot – blackened  from the spirals of smoke emanating from the mills, factories and all the coal burning houses. We kept the fires going winter and summer.  Even the sheep were black.

  The main road alongside the River Irwell was lined with slipper factories and cotton mills.  Dad worked at the Globe, and my Mum at Lambert Howarth’s.  Four times a day you would hear the clang of clog irons on the cobbles as the workers marched down Edgeside Lane in the morning and returned back up the hill at dinner time, down again in the afternoon  and back after the hooters had sounded at 5.30pm.    Maddie, Evan and me were latch-key children.  Money was tight but every Thursday the ‘order’ would be delivered from Granddad’s shop.

On Saturday Gran would take three buses to come and see us. 

She would sit down briefly; have a cup of tea and a slice of Mum’s malt loaf then say:

‘Cum on Pat we’ll go down t’ Scout Bottom and get sum fruit an’ veg,’

 She would make sure that as well as Granddad’s groceries we had adequate vitamins in our diet.  As I was quite tiny I was constantly dosed with Cod liver Oil and Malt – to little effect - but I was quite healthy.

  We lived in a brand new council house; a small, three bed-roomed, end of terrace, with a piano taking up most of the living space.  We would all cluster round the ever burning open fire which heated the oven, the water and left brown scorch marks on our legs.  The oven shelves, wrapped in a towel kept the beds warm in winter and the larder, facing north was as cold as any fridge. We were poor but well loved and content.

  We kids had all been brought up in the Unitarian chapel which is why Gran panicked when she saw Dad that Sunday morning.  He knew very well where we had been.

 Gran used to take me to the Catholic Church every Sunday when I was staying with them.

‘No need to tell yer Dad Pat’, she would say.  Granddad – very wisely - kept well out of it.

 I really enjoyed the theatricality of the Roman Catholic service; the ornate costumes, the scattering and smell of incense, the devoutness and above all the knowledge that it was naughty and I really shouldn't be there.  It was anathema to my Unitarian parents.

 Prayer book or no prayer book when Dad saw us he knew exactly where we had been and what we had been up to and I felt my new found holiness dissipating fast.
'Right,’ he growled, 'Get in’t sidecar. Yer comin’ ’ome!' 

 For once Gran was speechless.


  I can’t remember how I found out that Maddie was conceived out of wedlock although a favourite pastime of mine was to sit in the stairs steps and listen to grown ups talk.   It was never really mentioned until my last chat with Mum.  She was aged 90, and about to emigrate to America to live with Maddie who was - by then - widowed.

All I knew was that Mum had left the Grammar school as a teenager and was working in a mill when she met Dad and they fell in love.  She got pregnant and they were married – she was just seventeen.

  As we waited for the taxi to take her to the airport I knew it could be my last chance to ask her about it.

‘Mum d’ you mind if I ask you something?’

  Encouraged by her silence I went on:

‘Mum how did Gran react when she found out you were pregnant?’

‘Well she wasn’t best pleased,’ Mum said with one of her sniffs

‘But did she try to persuade you not to have it?’

Mum looked horrified.

‘Eeeh no Pat!  Never!  Yer Gran and Granddad were my friends.  They did everythin’ they could to ‘elp us get married before Maddie were born.’

‘But what did Dad think about that?’  Mum shook her head.

‘I don’t think we should be talkin’ about this Pat.’

‘But Mum you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’

I knew she had had a hard time in the early days - from such august bodies as The Ladies Aid at Sunday School.  She was a teenager, pregnant and an ex- Catholic.  She must have been very vulnerable.

 Mum went into one of her silences when you never knew if she had said all she was going to say or if there was more to come.  After a lengthy pause she said:

‘Well yer Dad and me alus wanted to get married but we knew with me being R.C. and ‘im Chapel it wouldn’t be allowed.’

I wanted to ask more questions but didn’t want to overstep the mark.

 I marvelled at Mum; outwardly quiet and gentle but - like Gran - she could make things happen.  Did she get pregnant deliberately?  The more I thought about it the more likely it seemed.

 It was very shocking in those days to have an unmarried, teen- age daughter who was pregnant and involved with a person of a different religion.  I’m really proud of my grandparents.  They took the whole situation in their stride and did all they could to support the two young people.

Gran made sure they were married before the birth and four months after they were married delivered my sister Maddie the same year 1927.  Two and a half years later I appeared and after another two years my brother Evan was safely delivered - all by Gran.

Meanwhile back in the thirties our family of five became a family of four as my sister Maddie, aged six, left home.




Monday, August 03, 2015

The French in Gavarnie

Our French family have been on vacation in Gavarnie a village in the Haute Pyrenees and the Prime Meridian passes through it.  Pilgrims en route to Santago de Compostela used to stop for refreshment.
A play was being produced whilst they were there
The play Ulysses was excellent - over a 1000 audience - enjoyed by teenagers and grown - ups alike.
Ulysses was slightly upstaged by a glorious sunset
This was the spot where the three ladies (including Ivy the dog ) opted out whilst the men- father and son carried on to complete the 13kilometres and climbed the 600metres.  At the end of the day all took off for a massage.

More Gavernie

 Our French family -  husband and wife,  2 teenagers and Ivy the dog - the eldest son is studying at home - have been climbing in Gavarnie - not to be confused with Giverny.  Above is Gloriette lake which gives access to below.

This dramatic looking spot is less well known Cirque Estaube.

The water is very clear and freezing cold I'm guessing.

The only way is up:)