Sunday, 16 September 2018

Myself and my sister on Weymouth beach  (I'm the elder one) wearing our knitted sunsuits.   

The latest instalment of my reminiscences as a child in the 1940s and 50s


Holidays when we were children were very rare.  Mostly we only saw the sea on a few day trips by coach or train to Weymouth or Weston-super Mare.  These were great occasions, especially the coach trips organised by the Working Mens' Club or the RAOB - 'The Buffs' as we called them - both of which my father was a member.  We would take packets of sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper, biscuits, and tomatoes to eat on the beach, so invariably we ended up with mouthfuls of sand.  There was a Punch and Judy show at Weymouth that we always made a beeline for, as well as sand sculptures, and The Pool, later called The Lido, was always first port of call at Weston-Super-Mare, with the pier to follow.  On the coach journey home, Dad would start a sing-song and everyone would join in, some popular songs of the day, some old favourites such as 'She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes', 'My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean', and 'You Are My Sunshine'.  I can hear those rip-roaring choruses now!

We did have a few stay-away holidays though.  The very first was when I was about five and my sister three.  I recall being very excited when the letter came - by second post, early afternoon - confirming the booking for two weeks at Seaton in Devon.  Mum, Dad, my sister and I were to stay in a holiday bungalow on the beach whilst my grandma - Gran - was in a hotel just a short walk away across the bay.  Grampy never went on holiday.  He was too fond of his home.  Two whole weeks!  It sounded like bliss!  Unfortunately, it was an unmitigated disaster.  From almost the moment we arrived it poured with rain, pretty well full stop.  During breaks in the storms my sister and I were able to get in the sea, wearing spare vest, knickers and liberty bodice that had been packed especially to serve us as bathing suits.   Dad would have come in with us - he was a strong swimmer, who, as I believe I have chronicled before, had once saved the life of a boy caught by the currents in Margate (or maybe Ramsgate, I can never remember which it was!)  And he was almost certainly wearing the one-piece bathing suit he had relied on since the 1920s and which was later to cause me great embarrassment.  Not on that holiday, though.  For one thing I was too young to realise how outdated it was and for another there was, as I recall, no-one else to see.  Our pebbly beach was quite deserted, understandably given the dreadful weather.

To make matters worse, the 'bungalow' had a tin roof which let in the rain.  One of the biggest leaks was right over Mum and Dad's bed.  And all our clothes were constantly damp.  After a week of misery it was decided we had had enough and were going home.  We caught a train which got into Radstock just before 9 pm.  How do I know that?  The clock on the market tower was striking as we left the station - nine o'clock!  I'd never been up so late before.  It remains the most memorable part of a most disappointing holiday!

Some years later there were week-long holidays in Barry (Glamorgan) and Weymouth.  In Weymouth we were able to stay with a cousin and her family who lived there, and as far as I remember the weather was much kinder to us and we were able to get in the sea, make sandcastles on the beach, and of course watch the Punch and Judy show as many times as we liked.  The first year in Barry we stayed with an old family friend, but not the second.  Perhaps she baulked at our treading sand into her neat little house.  Whatever, we stayed at a boarding house owned by a lady named Mrs Evans, who certainly did make it clear she would not appreciate footprints of sand.   We had to wash our feet on the doorstep.  We ate in her front room - full board - and had two bedrooms at our disposal with a chest of drawers in my sister's and mine, where we promptly made beds for our dolls, Anne and Helen.  It was on this holiday that I first became aware that Dad was the only one in the swimming pool wearing a one-piece bathing costume.  I remember being torn between wanting him to take me down the 'water chute' and not wanting to acknowledge that I belonged to this strangely attired man.  Thank goodness Mum must have persuaded him to 'splash out' on a pair of trunks after that as I don't remember him ever wearing the one-piece again.  Buying a new costume must have made a huge hole in my parents' very tight budget.

But I certainly remember mine and my sister's first bathing costumes ..!   My auntie knitted them in yellow, trimmed with white - she was a great knitter - and very nice they looked too, until we got into the water.  Then of course they absorbed gallons of it and ended up hanging down between our knees …

Oh, how these memories roll in as I write!  Later, when we reached our early teens, there were caravan holidays in 'Rita Showering's caravan'.  Rita, wife of one of the Showering brothers, famous for their Babycham, had been a friend of Mum's when they were young, and she let us have use of her static caravan. Naturally it was well equipped, with even an awning, and I thought we were the bees' knees to be there as the guest of such an important lady.   Later still, came a holiday at Butlins, Minehead, and a week in Switzerland!   Things had moved on from the days of our childhood.  And it's time I moved on, too!

But rest assured, I shall be posting more blogs about my life as a child in the 40s!   

Thursday, 12 July 2018



                                                                                                                                                                                               CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Writing my Families of Fairley Terrace series has been making me think a lot about my own childhood in the 1940s.  Although of course things had moved on since the early part of the century, very much remained the same.  Surprisingly so, considering how far everything has evolved in the last 50 years or so.

To begin with, when I was a little girl there were very few cars on the road.  I used to sit for ages on the steps at the bottom of our path watching for one to pass by on the main road from Radstock to Frome with a notebook and pencil to take down the numbers - it took a very long time to fill a page.  I saw a grey one regularly - our next door neighbour - who was the Miners' Union secretary, I think, and also a magistrate -  drove about in it.  My uncle owned both a motorbike and a car,  Sometimes he would take us out in the car on a Sunday afternoon for a ride and a picnic, often to Masbury Ring on the Mendips.  And on his way back to work at the NCB offices after having lunch with us, he used to give me and my sister a ride to the top of the hill sitting on the motor bike tank!  No crash helmets or 'elf an' safety in those days!

All deliveries were made by horse and cart.  The milkman, the baker, the grocery deliveries, all courtesy of the Co-op..  They came once a week on a Monday afternoon, the order having been taken by a man with an order pad who called on Friday afternoons.  I used to really look forward to his visits - he always played with me, doing bits of my jigsaws etc - and I clearly remember being in love with him at 4-5 years old and hoping he would wait for me until I was grown up so that I could marry him!   
The Co-op was locally owned and run and had their own farm, dairy and bakery as well as the retail shops - grocery, butchers, fish shop, drapery, furnishings and a cake and bread shop with a little cafĂ© at the back.  They also had dozens of horses to pull all their delivery carts and wagons.  Almost every evening at about 6.30 pm they would be taken in a long string to the Co-op field (behind the Football Field) which could be accessed either by the main road or by what we called 'The Back Lane', now known as Old Frome Road.  My sister and I would wait at the roadside until we heard the distant clip-clop, and if they were using the Back Lane, run through the house and up the back garden to watch them pass by.  We were always disappointed if they had been taken to another Co-op field in Tyning, on the other side of the valley.

The railway delivery wagon was huge, with a green baize cover and was pulled by a big cart horse.  And at the other end of the scale ponies pulled trucks of coal and coal waste from Ludlas colliery at the bottom of the hill on tracks that ran across the road.  Often on our way to school or home again we had to wait for them to pass.  They were later replaced by a kind of Puffing Billy.  

Life was simple, we played out all day when it was fine, across the fields and in the Back Lane - Off-ground-touch, hopscotch, marbles, all kinds of chases that involved someone being 'on it' and the rest running as fast as they could.  When it was beginning to get dark we would play 'What's the Time, Mr Wolf?'    Every summer the Methodist Chapel held a fete in a field that is now all houses, preceded by a fancy-dress parade.  A lady who lived in a row of four cottages on the Back Lane made the most amazing costumes out of crepe paper.  For dozens of children!  Stepping into her little living room for a fitting was like stepping into wonderland, beautiful costumes hanging from every possible hook - one year my sister was Little Bo Peep, with wonderful flounces.  Oddly I don't remember exactly what any of mine were, I just know nothing was beyond Mrs Bristow's talents.  One of our favourite sideshows at the fete was trying to get a metal ring round a multiply-twisted wire without touching it - it was wired to a battery and a bell rang if - when! - you failed.  This was set up by a gentleman named Ralph Chivers who lived with his brother (both bachelors) in one of the Big Houses on the main road.   

But there were drawbacks too.  Mainly, as far as I'm concerned, the lack of any form of central heating.  In winter I always seemed to feel cold.  We had only one fire - in the living room - and an Aladdin oil stove for warming any other room when necessary. We either sat as close as possible to the fire and scorched our legs or froze.  Water for the bath was heated in a copper and dipped out with a dipper while we filled saucepans from the tap at the bottom.  At school there was just one coke stove per classroom, surrounded by a fire guard on which knickers could be dried if one of the pupils had an 'accident'.  Our little bottles of milk would be stood beside it to thaw.  The walls of the cloakroom ran with water, and when the loos in our outside toilet block froze over paraffin lamps would be put in them to try to unfreeze them.  Most of all I hated the clothes I had to wear.  I have very sensitive skin and the woollen vests and jumpers made me itch so much I was constantly shivering.  How I hated those vests - particularly on a Monday morning when they were clean and tight.  We wore fleecy liberty bodices too and very big knickers.  

Other pet hates were: Milk of Magnesia on a Sunday evening 'to keep us regular' - ugh, that horrible thick powdery spoonful (though I loved orange Minidex for Vitamin C); lumpy dry mashed potato; and, in school, having to lie down for a rest after dinner.  In the first year infants' class children lay on a coir mat on the floor, but as I had a 'bad ear' my mother insisted I lay on a wooden pallet bed because of draughts coming from under the doors.  I hated feeling different as well as not being used to having to try to sleep in the day.  In the second year Infants' we lay on desks, so at least I wasn't singled out, but it was still a very long half-hour or whatever.

This is turning into a very long trip down memory lane, so I think I'll have to save the rest for next time.   But I can't leave without mentioning some of the everyday items that have disappeared from the face of the earth but were commonplace when I was a child.  Zambuc, a wonderful thick green ointment that healed almost anything, but primarily the long 'cuts' on ones fingers from constantly being in water, either doing the laundry or the washing up.  Minidex, as already mentioned, Thermogene, sort of pink cotton wool for putting inside your vest if suffering from a chesty cough - my grandmother used to use it - and tiny bottles of olive oil, bought from the chemist, and warmed by the fire before dripping into the ear to soften wax.  And of course Gibbs Dentrifice tooth powder in a tin, as pictured above.   You wetted the toothbrush and then scrubbed it round the tin's contents to make a paste.   Our bathroom had a bath and a loo but no handbasin, so in summer we washed and cleaned our teeth in the kitchen, and in winter with a bowl on a stool in front of the fire.

So you see much of the world The Families of Fairley Terrace is set in I experienced too, and can easily fit myself into the early 1900s with the help of a little imagination.  Time moved so much more slowly then, now the pace of life rackets by in the blink of an eyelid, with new innovations and discoveries we did not even dream of.  And I count myself very lucky to have had the best of both worlds!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018



Our name is probably one of the most personal things bout us.  Even though we share it with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of others.  Whether we like it or not, it's who we are.  No wonder expectant parents agonise over what their offspring should be called.  In most cases, they are stuck with it for life.  Though some, like my own daughter, manage to make the change.  She was christened Tracey Louise, which I thought was a very pretty name, but she hated the Tracey.  As soon as she started at uni she called herself Terri.  Her dad, my darling Terry, used to joke that she'd had his money, had his car, and now had his name.  

It did make for difficulty when her friends called, asking for 'Terri'.  I had to ask - which one?  And when she was married she was horrified when she realised her real name would be used and printed in the Order of Service!  (She soon got over that!)  Everyone, including her sister, Suzie, (christened Suzanne), call her Terri nowadays, as do I - most of the time, though when talking to relatives or old friends I still say Tracey.

Another thing about names is that many of them are tell-tale signs of how old you are.  Janet must have been very popular when I was born - when I was at college there were two others in my class.  Terry also had two girlfriends called Janet before the third one sealed his fate!

One of my best friends at school was named Enid, which she thought dreadfully old-fashioned, and hated, though her mother could never understand why.  She always went by her middle name, which was very pretty and is still popular today, and no, I'm not going to let on what it is.  But she was entered in the school register as Enid, and when a teacher who didn't know about her preference called her 'Enid' she would blush scarlet.  

Though some names remain popular through the ages, most seem to go in cycles - what were the names of old people I knew when I was young are now back in fashion.  Alfie and Emily are just two examples.  Some however, such as Mabel and Maud have largely been left on the back burner.  My own grandchildren all have traditional names - Tabitha, Barnaby, Daniel and Amelia.

When I'm writing a book, I take a long time deciding on the names of the people in the story.  I have to find one that belongs in the right era and also fits their character.  Once I have found the right name, I instantly get a clearer picture of them.  It's fine with the hero and heroine, I don't think many people would object to a strong, good woman sharing their name.  But when it comes to villains I get a bit worried.  What would so-and-so think if their name is used for the 'baddie'?  I've sometimes changed a name midway through because I've thought of someone who might be offended!  Because inevitably, names are attached in your mind to people you have known.  For instance, when I was at Primary School there was a little girl in my class who was a skinny little waif and none too bright whose knickers were frequently put to dry on the guard round the coke stove (no central heating in those days!) because she'd had an accident.  If ever I picture a similar character, her name instantly pops into my mind, though I've never used it yet!

Sometimes with minor characters the same name occurs to me time and again, so my editor has to point out - 'There are rather a lot of Freds..' or whatever!  And one of my regular readers made the mistake of reading the heroine's name wrongly in my Janet Tanner Oriental Hotel.  'Why ever did you call her Elsie?' she asked me.  I had to point out that she was actually called Elise, a name I'd taken a long time choosing!

So there you have it.  And besides being Janet I'm also Jennie and Amelia, and once, long ago, when I wrote a couple of bodice rippers which were all the rage at the time I was Jade Shannon.  I thought Jade was perfect for that!  

In fact, I'm very happy with all my names.  Though my mother very nearly called me Grace .... And I'd have liked that too.  In fact, my heroine in the new family saga I'm writing is called Grace.  But that's a story for another day ...