Monday, 30 March 2009

XIAN, CHINA - DECEMBER 25: (CHINA OUT) A worke...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

When I was between the ages of seven and nine I walked past a railway line on the way to school and would often stop and watch the steam engines as they thundered past with their carriages full of passengers or wagons filled with coal. I never turned out to be a trainspotter but I could see why people in the days of steam trains, originated the hobby as every engine had it's own personality and appearance. There was a certain exciting feeling when you saw one of these iron monsters approach with it's smoke billowing out of the funnel and the steam jetting out of the valves leaving a trail of smoke and vapour behind it as it careered onwards down the line towards it's destination. I used to stand on top of a bridge to observe them and as they passed underneath the smoke would spread out engulfing the place where I stood and when I looked over the other side another blast of the choking fumes would hit my face preventing me from taking a breath until it dispersed. I was never late for school but as I waked through the gates to begin my lessons for the day the smell of smoke hung on my clothes for a while leaving ME with the visions in my head of the trains and my classmates with the sooty smell until it finally filtered away.
Most trains had their own names and of course their numbers making it an interesting hobby then, but now as the engines are more uniformed in style the anticipation of spotting a train that you have never seen has diminished, hence the reason that spotters now are called anoraks but my sympathies lie with them as all they have to write in their notebooks are the number and make of the uncharacteristic pieces of metal that glides past leaving only the smell of diesel oil behind. The electric trains might be better for the environment but for the enthusiasts there is no DOUFF! DOUFF and all the other noises and aromas that go along with steam engines as they go from a standstill, getting up steam and speed with every forward thrust.
I personaly have no desire to go back to steam but I can understand the enthusiasts that conserve these old trains, keeping the age of steam alive for each new generation to get the chance to experience the thrill of standing on top of a bridge and engulfing themselves in smoke as a real train with character thunders past leaving a trail of soot, oil, steam and smoke in the air and the dream in their mind of being a train driver some day.

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Friday, 27 March 2009

The wash house in the back garden

Glass washboard, early twentieth century, phot...Image via Wikipedia

When I switched on the washing machine this morning my thoughts went back to the days when I used to watch my mother doing her washing by hand in a wash house in the back garden, shared by three other neighbours. They had their washday allocated to them and if it happened to rain on that day it was just tough luck and instead of the washing airing on the line outside it had to be taken into the house to dry.
You didn't just throw your clothes into a machine and press a button then, and washing machines were not on the wedding gift lists either as a more likely present would be a washboard or wringer.
On wash day the "sunlight" soap would come out along with the scrubbing board and carried down stairs along with the clothes, while the heavy wringer that was used after they were washed was kept in the wash house. The clothes would be carefully separated into appropriate bundles as not to shrink or discolour them in the wash then they were, in their turn put in a tub of boiling water and stirred occasionally with a wooden stick that was specially made for the job. (The water was heated by a coal fire underneath the tub in a brick enclosure in the corner of the wash house.) Once the clothes were deemed to be clean enough they were lifted out by the stirring stick and placed into a tub of cold water where they were rinsed then, once the soap was extracted they were then put through the wringer (screwed onto another tub to catch the water) which could be adjusted to suit the thickness of the garment being dried and if any stubborn stains were spotted the offending clothes were taken to the scrubbing board and rubbed with the sunlight soap then scrubbed hard until the stain or mark disappeared. If it was a good drying day the clothes would be hung out to dry while the next batch was in the boiler then the procedure would begin again.
When we moved to a new council house the job was made more easy for my mother because she could wash any day of the week she chose and the large metal tub in the kitchen (provided by the council) was heated by electricity, also the wringer was screwed onto a attachment between the two sinks that was part of her modern kitchen. The task was still as tedious and very hard work but it was made more convenient given the electricity and the fact she was in her own kitchen.
She then progressed to a plain washing machine only then a twin tub that spun the clothes but still used her boiler to wash as she thought it was better for the really dirty clothes. Now she has an automatic machine but the irony of it all is that she only has her own clothes to wash in comparison to the five children and a husband she looked after in the days of the wash house.

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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

I longed for a bicycle

A common utility bicycleImage via Wikipedia

With the better weather coming in it put me in mind of the times I longed for a bicycle when all the children in the street would take off with their bikes on an outing and I was left behind because my family could not afford to buy me one not even second hand.
It wasn't until I was thirteen and started secondary school that I inherited my aunt's "Raleigh" bike. It had no crossbar of course with it being a ladies cycle and was black in colour with a three speed gear and a hub on the front wheel to power the lights. Bikes were very heavy in these days with thick metal mudguards and a heavy rubber reflector at the back and of course the pedals were made of thick steel with thick rubber at the edges and a saddlebag fastened to the back of the horsehair seat covered in leather. All these things added up to a heavy weight to push along with just the three gears especially if it was windy but I was grateful to own my first bike and made full use of it by cycling the three miles to and from school come hell or high water. (how bikes have changed since then) I learned so much about bikes with all the repairs and maintenance I had to carry out on it that I eventually built a bike out of pieces of old bike frames and spare parts I found lying around in an uncles garage which when pieced together gave me a bike with a crossbar. I added accessories like butterfly handlebars,twin horns, mirrors, mudflaps, and transfers to give it the "hot rod" look that cars and motorbikes had in the American comics and even painted "hot rod" in white on the black mudflaps for more effect. This also had the three speed gears but me and a friend who I traveled with still used to race the school bus and beat the other children home. I was very happy with my home made bike until one day after Christmas my pal appeared on a five speed racing bike which drew envy from me right away as we still could not afford a new bike. For the last year of my school days I pedaled extra hard to keep up with my friend but on windy days his five speed used to leave me trailing and I vowed that someday I would have a five speed racing bike.
I started the fishing in the July of 1964 and the following summer I found myself ashore for the weekend on a beautiful sunny day wishing I had my bike to go a spin in the country with, when I remembered that I had left my bike in my granny's garage. When I went to get it, to my disappointment the tyres were flat and beginning to perish and rust was appearing on the wheels while the moving parts were stiff and needing oiled. I thought that was my spin in the country hit on the head but when my granny saw the look on my face she suggested that if she gave me the money for a bike I could pay her back as soon as we had a good trip at the fishing.
With thirty pounds in my pocket I went "Donald's" cycle shop (no connection)and purchased for twenty eight pounds a shiny new gold painted five speed racing bike that at last I could call my own. Mr Donald wanted to keep it for a day to give it a good check up and see that everything was tight and working O.K. but of course I could not wait that long and declined his offer telling him that I would see to these things myself. The bike paid I swiftly left the shop and cycled home to check it out and show it to my mother before I eventually set off on my journey. It was late afternoon by this time but the sun was still high in the sky as I cycled proudly out of our street and into the country, cycling for miles taking in the beautiful fresh air and enjoying the scenery that could only be appreciated while walking or cycling until it was time to turn back and head for home.
The loan was paid back on my return from my next trip but the bike was used very little after that, between me not being at home much and the summer drawing to a close. It was not long after, that I purchased my first car and the bike took second place but I gave it to a family of young boys who made the most of of so it didn't depreciate like my home made one.
So I did get my dream bike eventually and progressed to dream cars with hard work and determination but I never forgot the summer days when I was left behind in our street as the other children disappeared round the corner, off to the country on their shinny bikes leaving me behind with my dreams and wishes.

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Monday, 23 March 2009

I watched in the mirror as my hair disappeared

A traditional red and blue striped pole locate...Image via Wikipedia

The old red, blue and white barber's pole is a rare sight these days but when I was young I hated the sight of them as I knew every time I went that shop in it would take me weeks to recover. From a very early age I was like Samson loosing my strength through getting my hair cut short which with me was more like loosing my confidence. I was quite shy and when my fringe was down over my face I somehow felt more secure but after watching in the mirror as my hair disappeared onto the barber's floor my confidence drained knowing I had to face the world with my short hair sticking out everywhere and no matter what I tried to do with it,it still had a mind of its own.
Once my hair got to a certain length my mother would give me 1s/6p (seven and a half pence)to get it cut on my way home from school ruining my day as all I could think of was how ridiculous I was going to look until it grew back to a decent length. It had to be short back and sides then and it was cut so short that my scalp could clearly be seen and the top of my head had so little hair left that no matter how much brylcreme was applied (and I can assure you I applied plenty as the greasy mark on my pillowcase showed)it just stuck out, up and every which way it felt like making me cringe at what other people would think. The problem was that a couple of weeks before it was cut I could put the fringe into a wave at the front similar to Elvis and just as I was getting used to it and my confidence began to grow it was chopped off again leaving me with an embarrassing tuft at the front. It is little wonder that when I got older I stopped using brylcreme and let my hair grow long, only getting it tidied up on my very rare visits to the barber. Looking back on old photographs my hair was really too long and unruly but as the years went past I managed to find a happy medium finding peace with my hair thanks partly to getting it cut by women rather than men as they knew better how to trim it to my liking.
It was my generation that started the long hair for men with the curly perms coming later but I often think that other schoolboys in my day must have felt the same as me and once they too got their freedom made their statement by growing their hair long. The style has gone back to short haircuts with some preferring skinheads especially if they are beginning to go bald but as long as I have hair on my head it will never get cut as short as it did in my schooldays. I get it trimmed by my partner now as the last time I went to get it cut at the hairdressers (by a woman) it cost me twenty pounds for five minutes on the chair. Its a vast difference from the seven pence in the early sixties, and me being a stingy Scot, I will stick to the efficient trim I get for nothing from my partner and never intend to enter a barber's shop again. Perhaps the rest of my generation feel the same way and that is why the distinctive red, blue and white pole is becoming a rarer sight these days.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The big band music played.

We have all experienced the school dance or disco as they are now called and every one of us will have good and bad memories of them especially when they occurred during our delicate adolescent years.
In our school we had to give up our physical training (or gym as some schools called it) weeks before the dance was actually due and replace it with sessions learning the Cha Cha or Gay Gordons, ETC. with the girls in our class who were just as reluctant to dance with us as we were with them.
The lady teacher who taught us would play the big band music such as Glen Miller on a small record player and demonstrate how it should be done before letting us loose on the poor girls.
Our class had more boys than girls and even then I had a preference for the slightly older women so I came as a great and pleasant surprise when four girls from the third year (almost fifteen and due to leave school that term) (us being thirteen and just starting our secondary school) volunteered to make up the numbers. I made a point of heading for one of the older girls who had dark hair and hazel eyes and asked her if it would be O.K. to practice with her (dancing only ha ha.) and after shyly accepting we proceeded to enjoy ourselves.
She attended all our practice sessions after that and lucky for me we always danced together but never spoke outside of school, me never having the courage to and her not wanting to associate with a younger boy outside of school.
On the night of the dance everyone gathered at the school all dressed up, the girls in their party frocks and the boys in their suits. When the music started up from the same record player that was used during our training (no pop group to play at our dances) most of the boys rushed over to grab a girl before they were all taken but not me I hung back in the hope of a more mature girl to dance with. The third year girls were not allowed at our dance and most likely would not have wanted to be there but there was a fairly young teacher who was a small blond blue eyed beauty who when I approached her agreed to dance with me and with a bit of shrewdness on my behalf allowed me more during the evening.
I went home from my first dance very happy having escaped the younger girls and by dancing with the most beautiful woman there.
I was never allowed long trousers at primary school and it used to embarrass me, so much so that I never went to these dances for that simple reason, but now I was into long trousers there would be no stopping me in the future.
The memory of that older girl in training and the dances with my mature beautiful teacher always comes back to me when I hear the sound of the big band dance music playing on the radio with the sax and trumpets softly blending romantically with the strings in the orchestra as their melodies resound in my head taking me back to the delicate years of my youth when the allure of the older woman was beginning to register.

My first record collection.

Jim Reeves on one of his albumsImage via Wikipedia

I started my record collection one weekend I came home from sea to a good wage after only one weeks fishing. There was a shop in my home town of Ayr called Fairbairn that dealt with all things musical from instruments to radios, radiograms, record players etc. to a great selection of records old and new. The upstairs department sold the records while downstairs sold all the other things.
Before buying my first records I had to find a suitable machine to play them on and after consulting the assistant I settled for a Dansett which had a medium grey coloured lid with the base being light grey with darker flecks through it. It was the best one in the shop to suit my purpose and price range, costing sixteen pounds seventeen and six (£16.65. roughly.) It had the usual controls inside with L.P. 45 and 78 speeds to adjust to the three different types of records that were on the go at the time, a full center piece that could hold ten 45 singles and drop them down automatically, each one in turn to play in the order they were placed while on the outside it had two control knobs, one to adjust the volume and the other to adjust the tone. The assistant was quite surprised when I told him I was paying cash as most items at that price were bought on hire purchase so I ended up getting a ten percent discount for cash. As simple as that, now upstairs to chose some records from the massive array of old singles to the top twenty displayed on the chart at the counter or the various L.Ps. old and new that were all around.
I picked out an L.P. of Jim Reeves first and after studying the top ten chart I bought five of them, from Roy Orbison to Cliff Richard among others then I went home in the taxi I had ordered beforehand knowing I would need it to get my purchases home with the least hassle.
After playing them continuously for hours I was becoming bored with them so, having time before the shop closed I phoned a taxi to take me back to Fairbairns where I purchased the rest of the top ten and an L.P. Dean Martin. That was the beginning of my record collection and on my return from trips at sea after that I would add to it although not as many at a time as the first day.
Many of them were lost or broken over the years between moving home or just drunken parties but I still have the majority of them in my loft and a more modern player to play them on if I feel the need, although most of my favorites have been transferred onto tapes which are now becoming obsolete also, so if I want to keep up with progress they will need to be put onto C.Ds until the next modern invention comes along.

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Tuesday, 17 March 2009


The cigarette is the most common method of smo...Image via Wikipedia

I dabbled in smoking when I was at the school but only having a puff now and then from one of the other boys "nicks as we called them" in the school toilets during breaks but I never really took to it. The first full cigarette I smoked was around the age of eleven when a cousin we used to visit, bought a packet of five "Bristol Tips" from the shop, we then went to his bedroom and lit one each and began puffing away inhaling some, but mostly just blowing it back out again. He was used to it but I was just a novice and when we heard his mother coming up the stairs he quickly hid the still smoking fags on a small ledge behind the mirror of the dressing table. Our parents were brethren in faith and when she open the door to the bedroom she immediately smelled the tobacco smoke and asked who was smoking. Obviously we denied it but when she spied the smoke swirling above the mirror the game was up.
Her son being all innocent in her eyes and him being caught for the first time when he was with me, made me the bad influence on him instead of the other way round, however I took the blame and the punishment, which was only a warning of what I would get if I got caught again plus the guilt I felt within.
I still only dabbled occasionally never buying any until I started work at thirteen years of age as a bakers delivery boy on a Saturday morning. My pay was fifty pence for the mornings work starting at eight till one thirty in the afternoon and my tips would give me enough to buy a five packet of fags, which I did to impress one of the young female counter assistant that shared her tea break with me.
We used to think it made us more of a man then but I never plucked up the courage to chat the girl up and it only resulted in me having one fag less to smoke after giving her one of the precious sticks to smoke along with our tea.
It was when I went to sea to begin my career as a fisherman that I really took up the habit though not right away. We got what was called a "bond" which was forty fags every two days away from shore and with me smoking fifteen to twenty fags in that time I would sell the extra packets to the crew for ten pence each, (a packet of twenty costing around twenty four pence at the time) so everyone was happy.
I became a very heavy smoker though going through eighty Players plain a day depending on the long hours we worked at sea but never less than sixty. It wasn't the fact that I could not get breath or the fact that I had to get up during the night at times and cough, cough then try and draw some air into my lungs before I could relax enough to go back to bed that stopped me smoking, no I had another incentive. One day about thirty years later out of the blue I suddenly tallied up the extra tax the government were fleecing out of me over and above the heavy taxes I was paying out of my substantial wages and I being a stingy Scot eventually saw the light. Suddenly after savoring every puff of every fag, almost anticipating the next before the present one was finished the habit became a smelly disgusting thing to do and I stopped immediately, saving a fortune in the process and depriving the government of my extra contributions. My lungs have recovered and I never need to go to the window for air during the night, my breathing having eased tremendously but regardless of this it was the money side of it that was the main contributor to my stopping although I am grateful for the benefits my health gained.
When I see how much the fags have risen since since then and the money I have saved I never regretted giving them up and when I smell the musky tobacco stink on my clothes after being in the company of smokers I wonder why I ever took up the habit in the first place. One thing I never do though is preach to others about the habit as I know how hard it is to give them up and after sixteen years the urge still sometimes arises but fortunately I have never given in to it.
So if any smokers want a good reason to give up the habit, just realise that for every fag you pay for the cost of three is going straight to the government in taxes. NOW! Would that money not be put to better use by you?

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Monday, 16 March 2009

Dinky and Corgi cars

My favorite toys when I was young were my cars and every new model of Corgi or Dinky that I could afford which was few, I would buy or receive as gifts. I visited the toy shop on my way home from school and used to browse eyes agog,and long for the expensive ones I knew were well outside my price range like the large car transporter
and the circus lorries or other special issues of that ilk. I did however always have an up to date book displaying all the new models and in the privacy of my bedroom I would plan how much I could save and how long it would take before I could buy my next car. Among the cars I had when they were finally passed on to my younger brother was one of the first cars to have fingertip steering; a Jaguar fawn in colour with red seating and when you pressed the front wing the wheels would turn in that direction. Another car I remember was the sunbeam rapier that had little glass beads inserted acting as headlamps or the pale blue jaguar mark ten with the boot that opened to reveal two suitcases inside. I used to keep them lined up under our living room table and used their boxes as a lockup type of garage. The progress these toys took in my lifetime was fantastic as they went from the basic hard wheels and no glass to doors and boots opening even ending up with a good engine compartment that looked so lifelike to a young boy when he lifted the hood his imagination would take over until he was living it and driving it for real in his head. I had a black and green Humber Super Snipe in my collection, possibly influencing the purchase of my first car which was a pale blue and black Humber Super Snipe that I had for the first year of my driving life. The real car will be long gone to the scrapyard but the the Dinkies and Corgis I used to play with were handed down and eventually passed out of my life. I am sure some of them will still be around unlike the real thing and of course the value of them keeps going up unlike real cars, and knowing what I know now I wish I had kept my treasured cars instead of passing down. If I still had them I doubt if I would sell them though as it is quite acceptable for grown men to have them now and it was only because I thought I was too old for them then that forced me to give them away in the first place. I enjoy browsing in shops that sell these old toys to see some of the cars I owned in my childhood or watch The Antiques Road Show where you get the occasional glimpse of the past.
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Friday, 13 March 2009

Getting the girls

The cafes I mentioned in my last post was where a lot of couples met and paired off (for life in some cases) over a coca cola while the record of their choice melodically drifted out of the jukebox as they gazed lovingly into each others eyes.
My memories of these days begin with coming home from the sea and jumping into a hot bath, after painfully scraping the heavy growth of hair off my chin (simply delightful after days at sea working with fish) then a home cooked meal (another delight taken for granted now) before I started the real grooming process.
My newly ironed white shirt was laid out on the bed for me (by my mother of course) when I entered my bedroom for the final preparations, the suit and other attire would come in their turn. The suit was made to measure and tailored to my instructions with narrow legs and turn ups at the bottom, the jacket having one vent at the back.
I wore a narrow tie that was clipped onto my shirt half way down the front by a mother of pearl tie clip set in gold coloured metal (it looked the part) of which I had an array of as I used to buy a selection of them when ordering new suits which varied in pattern and colour but, the shirts were always white.
My shoes had buckles rather than laces with a slight heel on them which was the style then (a bonus to me at the time as my legs needed an extra bit of height)
and they were always highly polished by me. I took great pride in my appearance and made sure my shoes were ready polished long before I wore them and took great pains to get a good shine on them.
I had a sheepskin over jacket for the winter if it was really cold and a shortie corduroy stylish jacket for milder days.
After the trousers and shirt were on and the tie knotted to my satisfaction (I never got it right first time) I sat at the mirror and firstly splashed my face with "old spice after shave", sprayed my under arms with "old spice deodorant" then began the task of getting my hair correct.
Out came the "BRYLCREEM" which was thickly plastered into my hair then the parting was combed across before the Elvis style wave was meticulously shaped at the front then another mirror was held up so I could be sure the back was flattened down and not one hair was out of place. This took quite a while because if one hair was out of place MORE brylcream was added until it stuck.
Once satisfied I donned the suit jacket, grabbed the over jacket (if needed) and went down stairs to stand in front of another mirror while my mother brushed the fluff, hairs and dust off my suit then I would turn round and jokingly say "do you think she will like me?" Smart as paint and not a hair out of place I would walk out the door to catch a bus and the first gust of wind blew my hair all over the place leaving me with greasy aerial type protrusions sticking out at various angles from my head.
Undeterred I sauntered down for the bus and combed my hair again once I sat down only to have the same thing happen ten minutes later when I departed.
After all my preparation I walked into the cafe with my hair askew and a mild sweat building up within me from my brisk walk from the bus stop (shoes splashed with mud if raining) to face the girls I had went to great pains to look good in front of but thankfully, as the saying goes "its not the looks that count but whats underneath" must have worked for me as I always got the girl of my choice.
I was one of the ones who met their soul mate in a cafe but it was many years before we were allowed to be together as we went in different directions at first until finally our paths crossed again (no not a cafe this time) and we realised this time we wanted to spend our future together.
The cafe holds many treasured memories for me and the people of my generation but I often wonder what happy memories today's teenagers will have to look back on if all they have are drunken escapades outside in all weathers with the absence of the warm homely Italian cafe that we found solace in.
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Wednesday, 11 March 2009


When I hear of teenagers standing drinking alcohol on street corners, I often wonder why they would want to stand out in all weathers when they could be sitting in the warm somewhere enjoying their selves just the same and then I realise that the comfortable places we used,to hang about in our youth do not exist anymore. When I think back to when I was that age memories of the Italian cafe springs to mind with the gang of girls and boys that I used to run with and listening to the jukebox as we drank our coca colas or eat our dish of ice-cream. There was always the smell of fresh coffee hanging in the air when you walked through the doors and the first sound you would hear would be the latest chart hit blasting out of the jukebox as you approached the counter to order your bottle of ice cold coca cola with a straw sticking out of the neck. "Sita down I bringa over to you" the friendly Italian waitress would say as I looked to see which friends were sitting in the booths on each side of the corridor. I looked around to see which booth had the best looking girls in them before I chose where to sit, then I settled down and watched the waitress drop my bottle of coke into the chiller that sat in the corner. For the first few weeks of observing this act I thought the same bottle she was putting in was the one that came out chilled, and marveled at the machines capabilities until it dawned on me that the reason the cooler was so large was to hold enough bottles to get cold and the bottle she put in was just keeping the same amount in the chiller to cool while waiting for the next person to order one.
We used to chat up the girls and go up to the jukebox and play their choice of record to get in their good books and if we had partnered off would play an appropriate romantic song to enhance our chances of maybe more than a cuddle when the time came to see them home.
We did have an occasional drink at the weekend but the pub was not too far from our cafe and as the pubs shut at ten o'clock we would often go back to the cafe for a coffee as it didn't shut until eleven.
If such places existed now we might find that our teenagers would enjoy them the way we did and come to find the comfort and homeliness the friendly Italian cafe brought to our generation.
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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

I did however enjoy my holiday

The first holiday Our family went on was to Fraserburgh, to visit my mothers home town which we had heard of but never seen, being a very long and tiresome journey by road in these days. We left Ayr on a service bus that took an hour and a half at least to complete the fifty miles of country roads we had to negotiate,(no motorways then) stopping at several towns and country outposts before we finally arrived in Glasgow to catch the coach leaving at midnight that was to travel through the night reaching Aberdeen some seven hours later with only one toilet stop in Perth.(No toilets on buses then either)
After having our breakfast in a cafe we headed to the station where we caught a service bus to Fraserburgh which took another two hours till finally we reached the bed and breakfast that was to be our home for the next two weeks.
We arrived on my tenth birthday which was never a highlight then as little fuss was made through lack of money to celebrate the occasion and a small gift sufficed later that day.
I did however enjoy my holiday, visiting relatives we had only heard of and receiving money from them when it was time to leave, this process being repeated at every house giving us more money to spend during our holiday.
The harbour was the biggest attraction to me as we watched the drifters landing their herring in the early morning, caught during the night while we slept.
My mothers uncles had one of these drifters which made it even more interesting to me as it gave me a bigger insight into the fishing industry and was probably the reason I started the fishing as soon as I left school.
Its amazing to think of the time spent traveling, and only covering such a short distance compared to now with the better roads and even internal air travel,you have to wonder what the people from the past would think if they could see the way things are these days. Would they see it as an improvement to life or would they prefer they less hectic but harder lifestyle they had to bear?
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Friday, 6 March 2009


My mother used to do her shopping on a Saturday morning and we all (my older sister and younger sister)would sit around the coal fire waiting for her to come home with our comics. I would get the Hotspur and the Rover which had more reading than pictures with war stories and football sagas (Roy of the Rovers) that carried on each week, with characters like Alf Tupper the tough of the track written in comic strip. My older sister got the Bunty (the four Marys being one story I remember) or the Judy with my younger sister getting the beano or dandy. After we had read our own comics we used to swap them around and YES, I have to admit that I read both the girls comics although I would not have admitted it to my friends at the time for fear of being called a big Jessie. The beezer and the topper were the broadsheets of the comic world and when a new comic first came out there would be a gift in them to encourage you to buy them. Things like small plastic flutes or whoppers (a triangle shape piece of cardboard with paper glued at the edges inside so when you thrust it down the paper came shooting out making a loud bang) were two of the gifts that spring to mind but there were many more cheap and fragile tempters. Regardless of their worth it did the trick as we bought the comics and if we liked them would persuade our mothers to purchase them on her Saturday shopping expedition, which she often did as she too had been known to read them.
Other (American) comics like Archie and his gang, Casper the friendly ghost plus the super heroes like Superman, Batman and the Flame were all in my collection that was kept together and used for swapping with the other children in the neighbourhood who would come to the door periodically to swap when they needed a change of reading material. Sometimes if the comic you wanted was new and in good condition you would have to swap two old ones for the new one or if your swap mate wanted rid of some of the boring comics in his collection you could get a bargain of three for one, the problem being then was, you found it hard to exchange them too and found yourself having to do a similar deal when you wanted to get rid of them. The classics as they were titled (like Treasure Island and Kidnapped i.e.) were the hardest to get rid of and although educational it was the super heroes that caught our imaginations then, as the classics meant nothing to us except a quick read on a rainy day.
I wish I had my comic collection now as the older ones are sold for quite large amounts of money and its galling to think that most of them at one time or other had gone through my hands.
If only we knew then what we know now!
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Thursday, 5 March 2009

starting school

In the summer of 1954 I started school but the build up in the weeks before that added to the excitement of that important milestone in my life.
Everyone who visited us or met us in town always remarked, firstly to me "you'll be starting the school now" or words to that effect, then to my mum "aye you'll miss the company now Donald is starting school."
The best part though was going to the shops for the uniform as this meant new clothes and not being very well off things like new clothes were a rarity.
The first purchase was the blazer, brown, with the badge on the top left hand pocket done in yellow braid spelling out the name of my new school (NEWTONHEAD PRIMARY SCHOOL) around the edge, with the initials (N.P.S.) in yellow, large and intertwining in the center. A cap only a schoolboy could wear and typical of the era, was the next purchase and it too was brown with a small badge in front replicating the one on my blazer. Next was the short grey flannel trousers and rather than braces I opted for the modern belt of the time which was elasticated with a shiny metal snake fastener at the front and came with the school colour of your choice. (very popular at the time and I'm sure well remembered by those who wore them). White shirts, two of, brown socks with two yellow rings around the top, two pair of was the next purchase, then the shoes. Being quite poor as I have already mentioned, expensive shoes were out of the question so I was forced to wear sandal shoes which had the same type of sole as sandals and the uppers were made of the same thin leather but it was a shoe rather than a sandal. (I hope I have described them well enough) Cheap sand shoes for gym, my sisters old schoolbag, with a basic pencil case inside (a gift from an aunt) finished off the attire that would become so familiar to me through the early years of my education,(being grudgingly renewed by my mother when needed of course).
I am quite sure anyone from that era will recall happily, similar events and attire when that unforgettable milestone in their lives crosses their minds.
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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

remembering our first car

As soon as I was age to hold a provisional license I applied for it,received it and went to purchase my first car immediately after it came through, such was my haste to learn to drive and gain some independence. I was a commercial fisherman and through hard work I was making enough money to buy a fairly decent car while my friends who were working ashore learning trades and the like could not afford to buy any kind of car as their earnings would be poor until they served their time or got promotion in whatever occupation they had chosen.
I took my father with me as I thought I would benefit from his experience and we went to a trader who was a family friend thinking this would also benefit my purchase.
On arrival my father and I browsed over the dozen or so second hand cars on show until we whittled them down to two, one of my choice and one to my father's taste.
It was an old basic Morris 1000 that my father advised me to choose because it would be economical to run but as it had a bit of rust about it and a few rips on the leather seats I had opted for a pale blue and black Humber Super Snipe with overdrive, luxury interior with picnic trays on the back of the front seats.
The salesman had appeared by this time and after considering our choices he too opted for my fathers Morris 1000 explaining to me that it was a more sensible first car and as I had to learn to drive in it, it was the more sensible choice for these reasons. After much debating I ignored their advice and purchased the Humber Super Snipe because of the luxury, style and power it had over the Morris.
It was sitting in all its glory at the front door one day when I arrived home from a trip at sea and instead of having a well needed bath and food I threw my kit bag down and asked for the keys.
DO NOT MOVE IT! I was warned as I unlocked the door and had my first real examination of my car. The gear shift was situated on the column on the left hand side of the steering wheel with the hand brake on the right hand side of the drivers seat leaving plenty room between the two well padded reclining front seats. I pulled out the choke and started the engine, pushing on the accelerator and listening to the sound as it revved up then wound the window down so I could hear better. With the engine running to my satisfaction I started to examine all the luxuries on the inside like the cigar lighter, wireless that needed a license in those days, the luxurious leather seats and the real chestnut wooden dash and surrounds and everything else that made this car special. Many of the extras on that car are standard on the cheapest of cars now and when I think of the wireless that needed to be licensed and all the other standard things that cars come with now (like electric windows and central locking) compared to the cars of then maybe my first car was not so luxurious after all but I did make full use of the reclining seats though. It would have been better though if I had taken my fathers advice and gone for the Morris as the Humber could only get twelve miles to the gallon compared to to forty odd to the gallon that the Morris could do. In the end after I had a lot of bother with the clutch, plus a crash which put it off the road for a while as I had ages to wait on the insurers assessment I decided to sell it. So after a year my pride and joy went to an auction with a still faulty clutch to be sold for a fraction of the price I paid for it. With my first car came an expensive lesson in life but enjoyable memories to look back on as I am sure yours has too.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

the buses

Living in one of the housing schemes just outside of town meant having to travel by bus when going back and forth to visit relations or just shopping.
The buses were all double-decker on the local roots with entry through a wide open space at the rear which had a pole down the center to hold on to when entering or, while standing on the platform waiting to depart. This made it all too easy to jump on to while the bus was moving away if you were late and had to run after the bus. It was very dangerous and if the conductress caught you she would give you a telling off as signs were painted around giving warning not to be on the platform while the bus was in motion. The large entrance meant that if it was cold and windy, all the icy drafts would blow up the corridor, nullifying the effect of the small fan heater situated on the bulkhead at the front. Both upstairs and down had one of these fan heaters and the fan upstairs became a source of entertainment for the school children who sat near it because, when you stuck one of the plentiful matchsticks (or bus ticket folded done just as well) lying around into the rotating blades, protected only by a wire mesh cover it produced a loud noise similar to an airplane engine, much to the annoyance of the conductress and passengers alike who duly told us of....again,and again!
There was always plenty spent matches on the floor along with cigarette ends as smoking was allowed upstairs but, only just tolerated down stairs though not advisable as the non-smokers of that era could and did complain.
As we would always go upstairs when travelling to school we used to come across the odd fag end still burning so we would look to see who was watching before we picked it up and dragged the last few puffs out of it. Smoking was barely tolerated down stairs as I have said but when the bus stopped at the terminus for the drivers scheduled break, the conductress would have a cigarette ready lit and both of them would sit on the long bench seat that faced onto the corridor and puff away while chatting and eating biscuits between puffs.The fag was more important than the food or cup of tea and when my sister and I played at buses at home the fag break was always introduce but with pencils as a substitute for the fags. (our parents never new about our fly puff on the bus). The buses always had a heavy smell of smoke, no matter where you sat and on leaving the bus your clothes would reek of tobacco smoke. The driver was isolated in his cab and responded to the bell, sounded by the conductress when someone wanted the bus to stop. If we skipped our fare or the conductress missed us out by mistake it gave us a penny to spend at the tuck shop. (the conductress having to have all her wits about her between, keeping an eye on mischievous children, taking fares and watching for departures, having to give one ring of the bell to stop and two rings when it was safe to drive off). The fares rose gradually of course as the years went past but only by a halfpenny a time but it made skipping your fare worthwhile or walking if desperate enough for a sweet. I use conductresses as the term because there were very few conductors at the time (some but few) and I don't seem to recall any female drivers.
The long distance buses had the same procedure with no closing door so some cold journeys were spent on the bus during the winter when we went to visit my grandparents some fifty miles away but as my parents were with us we had to sit down stairs and BEHAVE!
What a difference to the single-decker buses of today with closing doors and driver, conductor...... conductress combined as now it is just as common to see a female driving as it is a male.(And just as competent too).
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Monday, 2 March 2009

mobile tradesmen

photo of an ice cream van in Coventry, EnglandImage via Wikipedia

Long gone are the days when men in vans would come round the housing schemes to sell their wares or to collect unwanted goods. Yes we still get ice-cream vans but we never get the rag man or grocer only, or a man selling only rolls. The ice-cream vans carry as much as they can hold from bakeries to vegetables, which now takes precedence over the sweets and the ice-cream they originally set out to sell in days gone by.
Years ago the roll man would come around in the evening with an old banger of a van (before M.O.Ts.)and sell his wares allowing us to have fresh rolls first thing in the morning without having to leave the house early to go and fetch them.
Another beat up old van was used by the rag man who went from street to street blowing a bugle and shouting "toys for rags" "toys for rags" then blowing the bugle again prompting the young children to ask their parents for any old clothes that was ready to be thrown out. A large toy, like a train or something similar would be in view at the far end of the van among a few other small toys to entice us further, and lead us to believe that one of these worthwhile playthings would be returned in exchange for the rags. Not so,because every time the rags were handed over a balloon was handed back and on asking about the more desirable toys was told that we never had enough rags to warrant one of these. This only made us more determined to produce enough rags on his next visit but, the same performance occurred regardless of the amount, or quality of rags we handed over. The same excuses like "that's synthetic; its wool we want" or "NAH! you'll need a lot more rags than that for one of these toys" and then the customary balloon was handed over once again. It never deterred us though and every time the bugle was sounded, we would once again go through the same procedure in the hope of receiving that elusive toy, but once again the rag man would carry on to the next street having handed out balloons only, with the toys still displayed at the back of the considerable bundle of rags he had by now accumulated from this con.
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