Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Part 2 The treasure chest of Mum's stocking

Somewhere in this treasure-chest of a stocking Mummy would almost certainly place a few sheets of transfers. There were two types available. The cheaper ones were printed about a dozen to a sheet, like postage sheets. We would hastily cut them out, lick our arm, and place the transfer face down on the wet patch. A soggy handkerchief would then be applied to soak the paper backing away, never very successfully, revealing a slimy, far from perfect picture in hues of red, green, and blue. The more expensive type of transfers, which we weren’t always lucky enough to get, had multi-coloured exotic pictures of butterflies and flowers and always produced a perfect result. These transfers were larger, about six to a sheet, and had a silvered coating to one side. We treated these with much more respect and each one was carefully trimmed from its sheet and gently soaked in a saucer of tepid water. It was then very carefully applied to an arm or hand, while we waited for the glorious moment to gently slide the backing paper away, to reveal the secret picture that lay beneath the silver coating.
The toe of our stocking always held an orange, a handful of assorted nuts, and a pink sugar mouse.
A present that arrived on most Christmas mornings, either in my stocking or on the floor beneath it, was a paint box. There was absolutely nothing in the world like receiving a brand new box of water colour paints. The outside of the box was black and so shiny, indented into six cushion shaped squares. The thrill of opening the lid and gazing at the pristine coloured slabs of paint
set in two or three rows, and nestling in the virginal white interior of the box, with the paint brush lying stiff and straight just waiting to be swirled into puddles of brilliant colour, took a lot of beating.
A new pencil case was another longed for luxury. These were double-decker boxes of varnished wood. The top layer not only had a lid that slid out to open up compartments for pencils and rubbers, but it pivoted at one end revealing a lower box for things like a six inch ruler and coloured pencils. The first thing I always did was to open the box and take a deep sniff of the lovely aroma of varnish and new wood, a smell that still transports me back to school days.
I received one of these wonderful magical stockings every single Christmas until I reached the age of fourteen. Naturally, the contents were updated to accommodate my increasing ‘old age’.
On the Christmas Eve following my fourteenth birthday, all the little ones having gone to bed, Mummy turned to me and said the words that would change my Christmas forever:

‘Now that you’re fourteen, would you like to stay up and help me fill the stockings?’

Now I really had begun to leave my childhood behind me, and felt very important. I gathered up the stockings, each with a label pinned to it bearing a child’s name, and excitedly helped Mum to fill them up. I certainly enjoyed this task, and went to bed looking forward to the next day.
Christmas morning dawned and the family trooped into the kitchen to see what good old Father Christmas had delivered. I looked along the mantelpiece for my stocking- it wasn’t there! Then it dawned on me: not only did Mum think that I was old enough to help fill them up, but she thought I was old enough not to have one! I was quite shattered and fought back tears that were hurting the back of my throat. I never said anything to Mum but, from that moment on, Christmas morning would never ever be quite the same.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Christmas magic

Mum and Dad made Christmas very special for us, and I always tried to carry on this tradition by making it so for my own family. This wasn’t always an easy task, as my husband hadn’t been brought up in the same family orientated atmosphere as I had, and I’m sure he often thought I went too far, worked too hard, and was slightly mad.
Whereas I was content to stay up on Christmas Eve until the last mince pie and sausage roll was baked, the turkey was in the oven, the bowls of fruit and nuts laid out and the last Christmas stocking (including one for the dog) was filled. Arthur would want to go to bed at the usual time and ‘do it in the morning’. But then he didn’t have the memories I had spurring him on!
Throughout my entire childhood the Festive Season was a wondrous time. We were often very poor, but oh so happy. I remember one year when the electricity had been cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill. It didn’t stop both my parents working by candlelight, way into the night after all us children had been put to bed.
Mummy would tuck us up and say ‘don’t come downstairs any more this evening: Daddy is helping Father Christmas.’
Dad made handsomely painted wooden toys for the children. Dougie and Bill were the recipients of trains, lorries and boats, while the youngest little girls in the family received doll’s cradles that rocked gently back and forth, complete with bedding lovingly made by Mum.
She sat and sewed till the small hours, so that each of her four little girls (I was, by then, a bigger girl) would have a pretty frilly dress to wear over the Christmas holiday. She made beautiful pram sets for doll’s prams, and baby clothes for the various dollies. One year, Dad built a doll’s cot, which was just like the drop-side cot that my youngest sister Gill slept in. It was painted a pretty pink and Mummy made all the frilly bedding for it. I believe that this was a present for Babs. We certainly didn’t go without, and only in latter years did I realise the sacrifice, time and, above all, love that went into giving us all ‘A Happy Christmas’.
I also received my share of homemade clothes. One year, I distinctly recall Mummy making me a dusty-blue dirndl skirt and a biscuit coloured single-breasted jacket to go with it. How proud and smart I felt that year as I went walking with my friends!
We all had a stocking on Christmas morning, and I still feel a thrill tingling through me, as I remember the excitement of delving into the elongated depths of one of Mummy’s carefully washed and filled stockings.
First out from the top would be a noisy blower with a feather on the end. Then, so that the stocking would stay open enough to hold the little gifts that were tucked into it, there would be a magic painting book, comic, or reading book, carefully rolled up and strategically placed, so that the centre was hollow. Into this tube of colouring or reading matter would be hidden coloured pencils, yo-yos, hair ribbons, dolls, Dinky cars, five stones, pretty beads, toy soldiers, pea shooters etc, depending on if you were a girl or a boy. In between all these wonderful surprise items were bars of chocolate, packets of toffees and, of course, chocolate money wrapped in gold paper and tied in a golden net.
To be continued…

Monday, 19 October 2009


We all know what she was like... "Don't give all the money to the Interflora!"

If you would have arranged flowers for Sindie's remembrance, she asked if you could send the money you would have spent to The Cavendish Centre instead. They were a great help to Sindie and Gary.Please only give what you can spare (the amount of your gift will not be shown), but rest assured, every penny you can give will be put to very good use helping families get through difficult times.

The centre provides supportive care to cancer patients, their carers and children. It helps people find ways of coping with the physical and psychosocial effects of the illness, helping them to live through the illness with maximum independence and optimum quality of life. The service is free.

Please click on the link and read all the lovely things that have been said about Sindie, from people far and wide! If you have lost someone to this dreadful disease called cancer, you might like to donate a small amount to Sindie's favourite charity. Thank you for reading this. XX


Saturday, 17 October 2009



I would like to tell you a little bit about my beautiful niece Sindie, because she was a very special person.
Last night after a five-year battle with cancer, and at the tender age of 39, Sindie closed her eyes for the last time and is now at rest.

Before she became too ill, we attended creative writing classes together, shared our hobbies and shopped together. She had the utmost patience and saw the funny side of life like no other.

When my husband was in hospital, and knowing of my great fear of spiders, Sindie told me that should I find a large eight legged beastie in my house I was to phone her night or day, whatever the time, and she would hurry round and dispose of it for me. This became reality one night about 1 am. I phoned Sindie and within a couple of minutes she had put on her coat (she was in her pyjamas and in bed), jumped into her car, and sped round to my house, to rescue me. She thought it was very funny and never once complained about me getting her out of bed. It was the first, but certainly not the last time she would save me from my worse fear.

I've been wracking my brain to think of lovely stories about her, but thinking of individual ones is very hard. I have suddenly realized why. Her life has just been one unending lovely story since she grew up and became a wife and then a mother. Always smiling, always there to help, advise or organize. Always ready to share, always ready to listen to your problems and never letting anything get her down. She was my friend, my confidante, and she brought sunshine into my life. I loved her to bits. You don’t meet many people like Sindie, and now there is a great hole in our hearts. Farewell my very special person.
Since posting this blog, we have learned that Sindie especially asked if, instead of 'donating ' to Interflora, we send a donation, no matter how small, to her favourite cancer charity. Perhaps you would like to click on the link below and read all the lovely things that have been posted about her. If you have lost a loved one to this dreadful disease, maybe you might like to donate a little too. Thank you.


Friday, 28 August 2009


Today I went to the doctor to get the results of the scan on the lump in my neck. I am relieved to say it wasn’t the dreaded big C. Thank you to all those kind people who sent me their good wishes or said a little prayer for me.
It turns out that I have a nodule on my thyroid gland that has to go one way or another. I have had another thyroid blood test and will be seeing a specialist as soon as the results are through. Whatever happens now can’t be as bad as I feared, so I am feeling much relieved and will now get back to my postings very soon.

Friday, 14 August 2009


Sorry I haven't been around much. I know a few of you have been waiting to find out all about my phone call. I have had a few problems just lately that have rather taken the edge off my blogging a bit. Not the least being the long wait for my scan. This has now come through and I 'walk the walk' on Tuesday morning. Once that is out of the way, I will feel more like blogging again I'm sure. Till then ...

Friday, 31 July 2009


Here I am again after an unforgettable string of mishaps. It started with my thirteen-year-old cat Boomer, suddenly having a heart attack and dying without any signs of illness. Shortly after, my computer deciding to go AWOL for six days. I thought that it was a server problem and sat tight. Suddenly it came back so I went to various friends’ blog sites to explain that I was back again – WRONG! After three days I went off line again.

That wouldn’t have been so bad if at the same time my freezer hadn’t decided to join in the fun. I rang my friendly neighbourhood freezer mending man, only to be told that it would never make another strawberry ice-lolly again.

That wouldn’t have been so bad, if I could have gone on line and bought a new freezer. (People, who know me well, know that we don’t have transport and we live in a small village, so have to shop on line all the time).

That wouldn’t have been so bad if my telephone hadn’t started making a disgusting noise while I was trying to get my act together.

That wouldn’t have so bad if my keyboard hadn’t decided to seize up and refuse to type vowels, and gradually more and more letters. Although I couldn’t open any web sites or my blog site, I could send and receive emails. Now that too was becoming very difficult and time consuming.

My last disaster (or so I thought) came to light after a visit to the doctor. He found a lump on the side of my neck, and I am now waiting for a scan to find out what it is.

After a couple of hours spent in the very welcome company of my special computer doctor, I was back on line in full, and my blog site was also up and running.
That was two days ago. Two days spent trawling all over cyberspace for a tall frost-free freezer and a new keyboard. The former is still out of my grasp and the latter, luckily, wending it’s way to me. I thought that that was the end of my run of disasters until this afternoon, when the crown on my back tooth fell off! This coupled with the news that my lovely dentist was on holiday for two weeks and was leaving the practice in three! Mr. H. has been tending my teeth for fourteen years, what will I do without him?

Saturday, 27 June 2009


The three children were soon happily settled into the local primary school. New friends were made and the house and garden was often playground to several small boys and a dog. Lynne rarely asked her friends to play in the garden. She mostly preferred to go up to her own room where all her dolls, books and games were.
When we were all settled down to a routine, it was decided that I should return to work to enable us to have a better standard of living.
Feeling somewhat uneasy, I enrolled at the local employment agency for ‘temp’ work. Operating a PBX switchboard was no longer an option for me. Switchboards had significantly changed since my old ‘operator’ days. Also, apart from working for my brother for a few months, I hadn’t typed since my first job at the age of fifteen. To say that I was nervous was somewhat of an understatement. So I settled for general office work, which meant being a dogsbody who also typed envelopes and did everything that nobody else wanted to do. Of course this job carried he lowest paid rate for office workers, but at least it was a start.
There was no way that the children would suffer from my return to work. I made it quite clear to the agency that I would only be available to work from nine-thirty to three-fifteen. Each morning I prepared myself for work, then got the children up and gave them their breakfast. It wasn’t until I had kissed them all goodbye and waved them off that I left for work. Each afternoon, I would rush home to be there when they all returned. I didn’t want my children to become so-called latchkey kids.
I don’t pretend that the ironing didn’t pile up or dust didn’t collect in places, but I was always there ready to listen to how the children’s day had been, and provide them with hot meals and home made cakes, just as my mother had for me.
My typing capabilities soon returned and I upgraded myself to copy-typist – for more money! The children grew older, their school hours increased, so did my working hours. I seemed to be appreciated by those that employed me. I was hardly ever moved on, and stayed with each company for weeks and sometimes months at a time.
I worked for quite a long period at Wadham Stringer (Unipart), and shared a job in the stock control dept with a lovely lady who turned out to be Cliff Richard’s aunty. At that time, he and his family lived at Waltham Abbey, which was next door to Enfield where we lived. She told me many tales about Cliff and how he handed down his clothes to her son. I also got to see the wedding photos of Cliff’s sister.
School holidays and teacher’s strike days were a nightmare, as far as our income was concerned. Whenever the children were home from school, I also had to be home. That meant no wages for me, and no housekeeping. Arthur’s wages came under a great strain and something had to give: usually, an electricity or gas bill. If we really couldn’t manage, then Mum and Dad Chapman could always be relied on for a loan. It was at times like this that I wished my parents hadn’t moved to Kent. Although they rarely had money to spare, there was always an abundance of love, support, and an overflowing ‘goody-bag’ whenever they were around.
At eighteen, our dog Rusty was getting old. He was very arthritic and his eyesight was going a little, but he was still full of fun and ready for the odd game or two. He would spend most of his days mooching around or dozing. In the evenings he would snuffle around the back garden for a while, then usually lay beneath our bed in peace and quiet for the best part of the evening. The gap beneath our bed was so small that he had to get down on his tummy and shuffle along on his haunches to get into the gap. We would often hear a noise, like someone shifting furniture, coming though the lounge ceiling, and would know that Rusty was going for forty winks!
One evening at about ten-thirty the phone rang and Arthur answered it.

To be contd…

Thursday, 18 June 2009


The couple that sold us the house took everything they could remove without damage. We even had to go and buy light bulbs for all the rooms. The kitchen had a strip light that they‘d wanted to remove, but our solicitor had said no, it must remain. Nevertheless, all the curtains, nets and floor coverings had been stripped from the house, so we were glad of the two hundred and fifty pounds that we’d received from our ex-agents.
We were very proud of our new house. Lynne had her own bedroom. It only measured six feet by seven feet, but it was all hers. She could, theoretically at least, keep the boys out of her belongings. The room was so small that there was only room for a single bed and bedside cabinet, which had to stand at the foot of the bed! I said that Lynne’s clothes could go in my wardrobe, a decision that I never was happy about. As she slowly grew into a teenager, she always had more clothes than me.
Philip and John were allocated the middle bedroom, which was a good size for two small boys who loved sleeping in their new bunk beds. Once Arthur had got going with cupboards, shelving and toy chests, all the children were comfortable and delighted to have their own space. We painted a road plan on to a large square of hardboard and set this into the centre of the boy’s bedroom floor. It was complete with roundabouts, zebra crossing and petrol station. Philip and John had dozens of Corgi and Matchbox cars, and would sit for ages vroom-vrooming them up and down the painted roads. Those cars experienced more than their fair share of crashes and fatal accidents, involving soldiers and North American Indians, who just happened to be standing in the middle of the roads!
We hadn’t been living in Enfield very long when the firm that I worked for fell upon hard times. Belts were tightened and workers (including me) had to be laid off. As I had a whole house to play with now, Arthur and I decided that I should stay home for a while unless our finances dictated otherwise.
Then we received the letter from the hospital, saying that John could now have his second operation. This time, Mr Lloyd-Roberts wouldn’t be carrying out the operation; it was to be done by one of his colleagues. The operation itself was a success, but the scarring was quite bad and we weren’t very happy about it. We were, however, still very grateful for the skill and dedication of all concerned at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.

One amusing anecdote comes from this otherwise worrying period of time. After John’s initial operation he had proudly told friends, relatives, teachers and even strangers in the street, that he had plates in both his legs and, on learning that he was to have his plates removed, he asked if he could keep them afterwards. The surgeon who was to perform the operation told us that they were made of precious metal, which was very costly and always re-cycled. However, seeing the devastated look on John’s face, the surgeon took pity on him, saying that he’d ‘do his best’. John came back semi-conscious from the operating theatre and the surgeon came to his bedside to see how things were progressing. After chatting to us, he put his hand into his pocket, smiled, and pulled out a little brown envelope.
‘There you are John, I said I’d do my best,’ the doctor laughed. ‘You’ll probably get me fired, but you’ve been such a brave boy, you deserve these.’ He placed the package on the top of John’s bedside cabinet. ‘Here’s your plates, look after them.’
John smiled a sleepy contented smile and dozed off again. It wasn’t until later when he was fully awake that he asked once more if he could have his plates. We handed him the envelope. His face fell.
‘These aren’t plates, they’re just pieces of tin,’ he said.
The penny suddenly dropped. All this time, we had been glibly talking about John’s plates and had stupidly though he knew what we meant. In his childish mind, a plate was a dish that he ate from, and he had expected to be handed a couple of tea-plates! We felt so sorry for him. He’d longed for the time when he could look at his plates and, all the time, they weren’t what he thought they would be. Nevertheless, he saved the plates, screws and stitches and took them with him when he finally left home as a grown man.

Friday, 5 June 2009


Philip and John were almost six years of age, and Lynne was nearly nine, and we were now beginning to run out of breathing space in our flat. The little box room was too small to hold all three children and their toys. Something had to be done.
When the children became toddlers Arthur changed jobs and went to work for the bank. The salary was far better and he got two bonuses a year. By far the best perk the bank had to offer however, was the prospect of us owning our own house one day. Once Arthur had worked for the bank for six months he could apply for a mortgage. Not only did they give employees a 100% mortgage for a house, they also gave them a loan to cover the solicitor and surveyor’s fees, together with moving expenses. All this at 2½% interest!
Because rented accommodation was still at a premium, we contacted our house agent and offered to vacate our flat if they would pay us five hundred pounds towards our expenses. After a bit of haggling, he agreed to give us two hundred and fifty pounds. This money was to help with the cost of things like curtaining and floor covering in our new house.
Arthur applied to the bank for the mortgage and was told to go ahead and find a house. It wasn’t easy to view property with three small children, when it all had to be done in the evening or at weekends. We worked out that we viewed about sixty houses in all (we even accidentally viewed one house twice). I think we were starting to get punch drunk in the end. We finally chose a house in Enfield, paid the deposit and started the ball rolling.
We decided to move on a weekday while the children were safely at school. We took them to the school gates in the morning, and told them we would pick them up at home time and take then all to the new house. They were so excited; I don’t know how they managed to do any schoolwork that day.
Everything went as planned. Arthur, Rusty and I moved into our new house and the sun was shining. The first thing I did was to open the back door and gaze in wonder at our very own private garden. How the children were going to love running in and out of the garden and having friends in to play. Perhaps we might be able to buy them a swing or a see-saw to play on. No more Aunty Minnie watching us from behind her nets. I was so happy. We’d been married for about sixteen years and, until very recently, had had no chance of ever owning a real home of our own. Now, here we were. Just the two of us (and rusty), sitting on boxes in our first dining room eating fish and chips from our just discovered, local fish and chip shop. Oh, bliss! The three children were duly collected from the old school, beds hastily made up, and curtains draped across bare windows in new bedrooms. It had been a thrilling but tiring day. We ate a simple meal in a picnic-like manner, after which we all went happily and excitedly to bed; ready to start a new life in the morning.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


Lynne was keeping all the teachers and children at St Aiden’s School well informed about John and his various brushes with the medical world. He was to start school in about six months.
The first year teacher, Miss Loney, who had been Lynne’s first teacher, was a little worried about him falling in the playground or in PE lessons. When the day came for the boys to start school, she wanted to know just what he was and wasn’t allowed to do in the way of physical effort. I told her that, to all intents and purposes, John was a perfectly normal little boy and she was to treat him as such. I said that I didn’t want him to grow up frightened to jump or run or play rough. If, in the course of his school life he broke a bone, then so be it.
The only accident John ever had at school was when a bigger boy tried to lay a punch on another of his classmates in the corridor. It seemed that, as John walked by minding his own business, the boy had ducked, and John caught the full force of the blow. The headmaster phoned me to say that John was in the Cottage Hospital, having a couple of stitches put into his forehead.
The three children were all very happy and did well at St. Aiden’s School. Lynne was in a class ahead of her age during her time there. John’s operations had apparently no adverse effect on his work or during his playtime at school. In fact, he once told his classmates that the scars on his legs and body were caused by him being attacked by sharks! This made him somewhat of a hero. Philip, who was so laid back he took everything in his stride and made no ripples, just continued to be studious and deep thinking and let John get on with his accident prone life.

John’s legs were still very thin, but his muscles were slowly getting back to normal. This, of course, was more noticeable at bath time. I would wrap a large towel around him and carry him in to the warm kitchen to be dried but, as I towel dried his legs, I could feel the heads of the screws sticking up just beneath his skin. He would wince and, when I asked if it hurt, say: ‘It’s OK Mum’.
On his next hospital check up, I asked the doctor if all was still well, and pointed out the prominent screw heads that I could feel. After an X-ray, it was revealed that the screws were in fact, becoming undone and both plates and screws would have to be removed after all. They would send for John when there was a bed available. Though they would operate on both legs, the operations would have to be done one at a time, on separate occasions. The first operation was performed by Mr Lloyd-Roberts and went well, leaving a second, but quite neat scar on his thigh. We then began the wait for the second operation.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


One of the great things about being mobile was that we visited the family, most of whom lived in Kent, a lot more than hitherto. It was on one of these trips that fate dealt us another blow.
My sister Tina (Croom) and her husband David lived in Erith, Kent. They had been very good to us when John was hospitalised, sharing the task of looking after Lynne with another of my sisters Sandie (Weechuff). It was good now to be able to visit them as a complete family and just for pleasure.
Tina and I were in the house, chatting and making tea, while Arthur and David played in the garden with the three children. They were taking turns to throw the children up in he air, and swing them round. Arthur swung John and, ever mindful of his bad legs, lowered him to the floor. As his feet hit the ground, John started crying and yelling. I rushed out to find David looking very worried and Arthur cradling a very distressed John in his arms.
‘Give him to me’ I said, gently taking him from Arthur… I looked down at his leg while I held him close trying to comfort him. I could see that the shape wasn’t right. ‘I think he’s got a broken leg’ I whispered, so as not to frighten John.
‘It can’t be, I was being very gentle with him,’ said Arthur, who was so upset to think that he was responsible for John’s pain. Tina rang for an ambulance and both Arthur and I were thankful that it had been Arthur’s turn to do whatever it was that caused the accident, and not David’s. Poor David was shocked and worried, and he wasn’t even responsible.
I went in the ambulance with John, and Arthur followed behind in our car. Since we weren’t au fait with the area, Arthur had great difficulty in keeping up with the ambulance, especially as it went through red traffic lights.
The doctor in the Casualty Department confirmed our worst fears. John had, indeed, broken his leg. The thought of him being in a Kent hospital for weeks, with Arthur and I in London, and the other two children with Tina and Sandie, didn’t bear thinking about. In any case, we wanted, above all else, for John to be cared for by Mr. Lloyd-Roberts at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
The Erith hospital agreed that, instead of plastering John’s leg, they would splint it so that we could lay him in the back of the estate car and drive to Great Ormond Street. They phoned he Children’s Hospital to let them know that we were coming and, after a quick phone call to Tina to arrange for Philip and Lynne to be left for the time being, we set off. The journey was a horrible nightmare for all of us. John’s leg was stretched out and on either side were wooden splints held in place by bandages. Arthur had to drive extremely carefully so that John’s leg wasn’t jolted by any humps or holes in the road. Each time the car jerked a little, John would scream out. All I could do to help him was to stroke his hair, hold his hand, and tell him it would soon be all right.
It was one o’clock in the morning when we finally arrived. John was taken into X-ray and we waited nervously for news. We were so worried in case his first operation had been ‘undone’ and he had been set back to square one again. The doctor told us that John would be put into traction and plaster, and we would know more the next day.
We crept into the ward to say goodnight to him. He was once again under sedation, tucked up in a hospital bed, in a ward that was dark and very quiet. With a lump in my throat I kissed him and we whispered ‘Good-night, God bless,’ and then we slipped silently away, and drove home to an unexpectedly empty and lonely flat. Before going to bed I went into the children’s room. I gazed at the empty beds and the rumpled nightclothes that had been discarded so excitedly that morning. How could such a lovely day out end in such a cruel, miserable manner?
It turned out that no one was really to blame for the accident. While playing, John had landed on the side of his foot. Because he had a steel plate fixed to the thighbone, the bone wasn’t able to bend as it normally would. Instead, the plate acted as a lever and just snapped John’s bone in half. It was one of those one in a million chances that happened.
John wasn’t too long in hospital this time and, in due course, the plaster was removed and we all settled back into some sort of normality.
To be continued…

Friday, 15 May 2009


So far, our beautiful new car had been a blessing, enabling us to travel back and forth between Kent, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Oakfield Road. I can’t even begin to imagine how we would have coped without it. It was as though it had been sent by providence, to help us survive our ordeal. It was, however, now time to use it for the purpose that we had envisaged when we first set eyes on it. A holiday.
And what a holiday that was. We packed so much into those two weeks. Our base camp was to be in Somerset, where we’d rented a holiday chalet. We all bundled into the car, with our dog Rusty sitting in the front seat with me. He loved travelling with his head out of the partially opened window, his fur and ‘chops’ billowing in the wind.
Our luggage, which comprised of a large expanding suitcase (a left-over from our honeymoon) and several bulky egg-packing boxes, was all securely strapped to the roof rack with webbing straps ‘borrowed’ from Midland Bank.
We were all in a happy holiday mood, as we set off singing at the top of our voices: ‘We’re all going on our summer holiday’.
We arrived at the site tired and hungry, so I made something quick to eat and we relaxed till the next day.
The car was parked under the trees next to our chalet and, after breakfast, we all packed into it ready for our first outing. It wouldn’t start! We were horrified. In those days, we hadn’t yet joined the Automobile Assn. And, as I said earlier, Arthur knew next to nothing about the mechanics of a car.
The God of Automobiles was still with us, however. In the next chalet was a family group consisting of two married couples and a young girl of about twelve. It was the two men, however, who had been sent from heaven. One was a train engineer and the other a car mechanic. Without any more ado, they took off their jackets, rolled up their sleeved and disappeared under the bonnet of our car. They were obviously in their element. Their womenfolk looked on happily as the men flung oily rags, spanners and feeler gauges around.
Arthur and I were understandably worried that this might herald the end of our touring holiday and, as more and more of the engine was dissembled, we became increasingly fearful.
Philip sat on the grass at Arthur’s feet watching the unfolding of events, and then uttered one of his most memorable remarks ‘Dad, I can see all the hairs up your nose.’ It wasn’t only the way that he said it, but his completely inappropriate timing, that lifted the gloom of the occasion and reduced everyone to helpless laughter.
In no time at all, the car was miraculously repaired and running better than ever. We couldn’t believe our good fortune, and all offers of payment or reward were absolutely refused.
The young girl, whose name now escapes me, became quite attached to Lynne and the boys. Her family left a few days before we did, and she bought sweets out of her pocket money and ceremoniously handed them out to out three children.
During that holiday we visited the Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole, Castel Coch, Cardiff, Stonehenge, Exeter Moors, Newport, and lots of other places. The children saw the wild ponies on the moors, and witnessed wild pigs trotting up and down a village street, in and out of front gardens. They visited the place where cheddar cheeses were made, and went down into deep caves with beautiful stalagmite formations. See pictures above.

On one of our car trips during the holiday, we inadvertently came across Aberfan where, in October 1966, an avalanche of black coal slag demolished the school in a matter of seconds, killing 116 children and 28 adults, following the collapse of an adjacent slag heap. Because Aberfan was a small mining village this disaster removed almost a complete generation from it’s midst.
Although this had happened a couple of years before, it still sent an overwhelming feeling of horror and sadness through me as I saw the school site and the empty cottages opposite, still half full of dried sludge. I quietly hugged my three children and thanked God for them.
To be contd…

Saturday, 9 May 2009


Lynne and Philip were sent to stay with my mum, and sisters Sandie and Tina in rotation, which upset me a great deal. I hated the idea that they might think they were being pushed aside, while we stayed with John. Lynne, as usual, was very grown up about it, taking Philip under her wing and explaining all the whys and wherefores. Philip, however, didn’t accept the situation very well. He became jealous of all the extra attention. He resented staying with aunties, and also all the fuss that John generated. He once said to me ‘it isn’t fair: why is it always John that gets ill?’
Of course, we tried to make it up to Lynne and Philip. I wrote them letters and sent them goodies. We spoke to them on the phone each day and tried to explain what was happening, but I think Philip kept a chip on his shoulder for a few years. I was once again being torn in different directions. However, I knew that Lynne was very level headed and sensible, and that she and Philip were in good and very caring hands, so my time and attention had to be given to John who was really going through it and needed us more than ever.
Each morning I would see Arthur off to work, and then catch the train to the hospital. I would spend the entire day there, not only looking after John, but also helping with all the other children on his ward. Arthur would come straight from work at five o’clock and spend an hour with John and me. Then we would say goodnight to John and travel back to Oakfield road, telephone Lynne and Philip, and snatch a couple of hours to ourselves before going to bed. The next day it would start all over again. This went on for weeks and was quite exhausting, day after day. The only deviation to this routine was my driving lesson. Once a week, on top of all else, I would rush directly to the driving school and do an hour of reversing round corners or hill starting.
The day of my second driving test, which my instructor I and now knew I was capable of passing, arrived. Murphy’s law lay down that it was also to be the time that John was having his second hip operation. I must admit that, on the day, my mind was more on John than the examiner. I failed, but only just. Nothing worse than ‘driving too close to stationary vehicles’.
I really was shattered not to have passed, but decided I had far too much going on in my life at that time to continue. I would re-start driving lessons when John was entirely better: a completely wrong decision since, as it turned out, I never again sat behind the wheel of a car.
Not only did we visit John every day, but all my family at one time or other made the trip from Kent to visit, as did Arthur’s mum and dad, his brother Bill and sister-in-law Jean. This went on for weeks and weeks, and then they said that John could come home. He had plates screwed into both his thighbones, and was encased in plaster of Paris from his armpits down to his toes. He couldn’t sit up or move anything except his arms and head. The poor little mite had to eat and drink flat on his back. He couldn’t go to the toilet properly, and, since he couldn’t even partially sit up, wasn’t able to play or amuse himself. The only way I could go shopping was to take him laying flat on his back, on a sort of mattress on wheels. Life wasn’t easy, but it was wonderful to have all my children back home together.
When John said that he needed to go to he toilet, this entailed holding a bottle at a very funny angle, and a lot of strategic positioning, which used to make him laugh. But a week later, it wasn’t a laughing matter. He said he’s finished, and I removed the bottle from the bed. I nearly died of fright. His urine was the colour of red wine. I immediately made a phone call to the children’s hospital that said we should bring him straight back. I phoned Arthur who hurried home from work. Off we sped to the hospital, leaving poor Philip and Lynne with Aunty Minnie and Ruby, once again.
After more tests, we were told that John’s kidney had a tube running from it that was malformed. He’s been born with a ‘kink’ in the tube, which probably wouldn’t have given any trouble under normal circumstances. Because he’d been lying on his back for so long, there’d been a build up of calcium at the kink and a stone had formed. There would have to be yet another operation. Poor John was only three years old and was clocking up his third major operation. Once again he rose to the occasion and was the perfect patient.
This time he was already known to the nurses and Sister, and was treated like an old friend. The surgeon had to remove the plaster that encased John’ body in order to perform the operation. This time he had tubes running from the new incision and into a urine bag attached to his bed. He wasn’t allowed to run around with his bag on wheels like the other children, because of the troubles with his legs.When he was discharged from the hospital on this occasion, things were a little better. They decided to put the plaster on only one of his legs so that they could keep an eye on his new operation site. Now John wore a plaster of Paris equivalent to a pair of long johns with one leg cut off.

Monday, 27 April 2009


‘My foot still hurts, Mummy.’
We went through the motions once again, carefully examining first his sock, then his shoe, and lastly his little foot. There was simply nothing there that was out of the ordinary. I honestly thought that whatever it was, it would be gone by the morning. But it wasn’t. I kept an eye on him all day, and when Arthur came home from work I said that we ought to take him to the doctor. We both felt a little stupid, as it seemed such a minor thing to worry the doctor with. All that John would say was that his shoe hurt him and, of course, he was still limping. The doctor examined him very carefully, and asked us if we had a car. Puzzled, we said yes.
The doctor looked at us and uttered the words that chilled us to the marrow.
‘I think that this could well be Poliomyelitis. The quicker you get him to the Isolation Hospital the better.’
I don‘t remember where Lynne and Philip were. We must have left them with aunty Minnie or Ruby. I thanked god that we had just bought the car.
We put John in the car and sped off to Coppet’s Wood Isolation Hospital, Finchley, as fast as we could. The medial staff did all manner of tests on him including a lumbar puncture, which was very painful. We could hear him screaming and crying out for me. Our hearts were breaking.
The part of the hospital that John was in looked like a row of holiday chalets, with a wooden verandah running along it’s length. He was all alone in his little chalet. This wasn’t too bad if you were an adult but for a little three year old, who had never been parted from his family, it was very traumatic.
It was with great foreboding that we said goodnight to him and left the room. We walked away, turning to look back one more time before getting into the car. There, to out horror, was John, running down the verandah, looking for us and screaming ‘Mummy! ‘Mummy!’ We didn’t know what terrible contagious diseases the other patients had, and there was our little baby running up and down outside their rooms, nothing on his feet screaming and crying for us.
We ran back, scooping him up in our arms, just as a nurse appeared. She scolded him for getting out of bed and took him back with a ‘He’ll be aright now’. But we were very worried and afraid that he might get out of bed again, and come into contact with a contagious illness.
The next day we went back and were told that the doctor wanted to see us. We sat in her office while she gave us the results of the tests.
‘John hasn’t got Polio,’ she said. ‘That much I am sure of. There is, however, a rare disease that I have only come across once before. It’s called Perthes disease and I have a strong feeling that all the symptoms point to this. We are not equipped to deal with it here, as it isn’t a contagious illness, so I’m going to give you a letter for The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.’
We were so relieved to get John out of Coppett’s Wood and into Great Ormond Street. There, they confirmed the other doctor’s diagnosis. How fortunate we were that the very doctor on duty at Coppett’s Wood, had actually come across Perthes disease once before. We blessed her, and confidently handed John over to the staff at Great Ormond Street, where I knew he was in the very best of hands. This was to be the second occasion that I was to be eternally grateful to Great Ormond street Hospital, and feel that I owed them a debt that I could never repay.
The surgeon, Mr Lloyd-Roberts, who was the father of the TV news correspondent, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, explained that, as a result of the Perthes disease, the ball of the ball and socket joint of John’s hip had softened. He said that it would harden again, but in a flattened shape, which would prevent John from walking properly. At best, if untreated, it would mean leg irons, at worst, a wheelchair. However, Mr Lloyd-Roberts said he could cut through John’s thighbone, twist the ball joint, and then plate it back together again. This would take the pressure off the joint and enable the bone to grow again into the proper ball and socket joint. Unfortunately, the disease had attacked both his legs, so it was to be a double operation.
John was only three and a half years old and such a brave little fellow. The only thing that upset him was the ‘prickit man’. This is what he called the technician, who took blood samples. All the nurses on the ward loved John. He was so easy-going and never complained or screamed to be with us, as lots of the children did.
To be continued….

Friday, 17 April 2009


We were out for a walk with the children who were now aged three and six years old, and happened to pass by a friend’s house en route. There we found our friend Mike, as usual, underneath a car parked outside his home. It was a beautiful, pale blue and cream, Vauxhall Victor Super Estate with pale blue, leather upholstery. Arthur stood admiring and coveting it, his eyes gleaming like Mr. Toad’s.
We desperately needed a car, but it was completely out of the question. As always, we were living on a shoestring budget and couldn’t afford hundreds of pounds for a good second hand car. Since Arthur knew absolutely nothing about cars, except that they ran on petrol, we couldn’t risk buying an old banger.
‘If you’re interested, I could probably get you a good deal on it; I know the guy that’s selling it,’ said Mike.
In a mad moment, we succumbed to Mike’s encouragement to sit in it.
‘We could never afford a car like this. By the time it’s repaired and cleaned up, it will be right outside our means. It’s a beautiful looking car though,’ sighed Mr. Toad!
‘Leave t to me,’ said Mike. ‘I’ll see what I can come up with,’
A couple of days later Mike came back with some exciting news. The car was a hire purchase ‘snatch-back’ and the dealer was prepared to sell it ‘as is’ for £120. Mike said he would go over it with a fine toothcomb and make certain that it was running like a dream. He wouldn’t charge for his time and labour, and he thought that, for another £80, he could replace and repair anything that was necessary.
Now we had to see if the bank would lend us the £200. The bank said yes. Never was there a happier couple than the two of us. Mike got to work immediately. Every day, we would walk round the corner to see our new baby and give it a loving pat.
At last it was ready, and Mike took Arthur for a run, to get the necessary MOT certificate. Arthur had already passed his driving test before buying a car. Better to have passed the test first, than buy a car that he wasn’t allowed to drive.
We spent a whole day washing and polishing the paintwork, leather, and chrome of the new car until it sparkled and gleamed. At last, we were car owners!
We decided it would be a good idea for me to learn to drive. Since it wasn’t practical for Arthur to use the car to travel back and forth to work, the car sat outside our house all day while I pushed prams, and lugged shopping about.
I started driving lessons and loved it. Although I wasn’t ready for it, my instructor applied for a driving test for me. He said I was almost ready, might pass if I was lucky, and it would be good practice.
In those days it took about nine or ten weeks for a test application to come through. The driving instructor would sometimes, if you looked promising, book one at the beginning of the course, hoping you’d be good enough to take it when the big day arrived. We managed to afford one lesson a week for me, but I couldn’t practice in our car as it had column gears. I knew I wasn’t ready for a test, but took it anyway, and failed. I wasn’t upset because it was as I had expected. I now resumed lessons once more.
By now, Lynne was coming up to six and a half and the boys were three years younger. We had a beautiful family, a faithful dog, a lovely home and A CAR! Our cup runneth over – but not for long.
It was Sunday morning and the children were getting ready for Sunday school.
‘Mummy, my foot hurts,’ John’s voice piped up.
‘Let me look,’ I said, taking off his shoe and sock and examining his foot. I couldn’t see anything untoward.
‘It’ll soon be better,’ said Lynne, always the little mother where the boys were concerned. Lynne helped put John’s shoe back on and I tied the lace.
‘I’m sure it will be alright by the time you get to Sunday school,’ I said, thinking that a little psychology would probably do the trick. Arthur bundled them into the car and off they went, while I busied myself preparing Sunday lunch. When they returned from Sunday school, John was still limping.
To be contd…

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


Lynne had already been given her own bedroom, long before she knew about the new baby. We were determined that she would not feel pushed to one side, particularly now there were going to be two babies. She was a very sensible little girl of three years old. I explained that some people were very silly when new babies came on to the scene. I warned her that neighbours would probably all want to peep into the pram and say daft things to her, like: ‘Do you love your little babies?’ She understood.
With only one day to go before I was to be hauled into hospital, my waters broke. This time, Arthur left me at the labour ward and went home to bed. He didn’t want to be present at the birth, and couldn’t anyway, in case of complications. He was ready to rush to Hanley Road Hospital the minute he had news, and would be as relieved as me to get it all over with. He later told me that during my pregnancy he was quite concerned, as I was so huge and not at all well.
We had chosen two girls’ names (which I can’t now recall) and two boys’ names, covering all contingencies. When the first baby was born, the doctor said it was a boy.
‘His name is Philip Lea,’ I managed to say, before the next wave of pain. Seven minutes later, they held up the second baby.
‘That’s John Lea,’ I shouted. Then: ‘Are they identical?’
‘No’, said the midwife, ‘but they’re bonny babies. The first one weighs 7 lb 2oz and the second 7 lb 4 oz.’
Not only were they perfect babies, but also they each weighed much more than Lynne had when she was born. No breach births, no incubators, just a cot each side of my bed, each containing a perfectly beautiful, baby boy. Bliss!
The hospital authorities kept me and my boys in hospital for just four days. They needed my bed and I had to go home, but my doctors made me promise to stay in bed for a further week.
From then on there wasn’t much rest for Arthur or me. We were inundated with visitors wanting to see the wonder babies. Mum helped out for a couple of days, then Daddy became stroppy and said it was too much for her. Soon everybody had gone, and Arthur and I were left to our own devises. Of course, Arthur had to go back to work, (no maternity leave in those days) so it left just me and a three year old with the two newly born babies, to cope as best we could.

I was three years wiser now and so didn’t think the babies were ill every time they cried or that, if they slept too long, they were dying. I took it all in my stride and had no problems cooking, shopping and looking after three little ones.
The twins were super babies and never cried at night. However they had to be fed every four hours, which meant that one or the other of the boys woke up every two hours all through the night. I would feed, burp, change and put down Philip, which would take about half an hour. He would go back to sleep, no problem, but one and a half hours later, John would want feeding, and so it would go on and on. I never had more than 90 minutes sleep in one go, all night! This was the period of my life when I acquired my first grey hairs, and I was only thirty-two.

Note: For my female readers who can cope with this information. Since each of my twins were full sized babies and not identical, I carried two lots of water and two afterbirths and nearly fifteen pounds of baby. No wonder I looked like the Titanic!

Friday, 10 April 2009


One of the perks of Lynne’s birth was that we received an unexpected income-tax rebate, which was quite large and came in very useful at the time. Because she had been born in the last month of the tax year, Arthur was entitled to nearly a whole years rebate, now that he had a child.
By the time that Lynne had turned two, we decided that we would like another child. Having a three-year gap between them seemed just right. Then we remembered the tax rebate and decided that, if we were gong to have a second baby, we might as well have it at roughly the same time of the years as the first, and reap some more tax benefits. After working out the relevant dates we became aware that, if I didn’t become pregnant very soon, we wouldn’t manage to ’complete’ by the end of the tax year.
Out came the thermometer and we drew up cycle charts. Since, in any one month, there is less than a week in which it is possible to conceive, it was again all systems go as often as we could muster!
The day came when I knew that, once more, we were going to have an addition to the family. Soon I’d have not only Lynne and Arthur to look after, but also another brother or sister for Lynne. Although I didn’t say anything to Arthur, I said many a prayer on the lines of ‘Please God, don’t let it cry all night, like Lynne did’. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to stand that all over again.
Throughout the pregnancy I felt certain that I had more than one baby growing inside me. I asked for, and was given, examinations by several doctors and midwives. They all assured me that, not only was there only one baby with one heart beat, but that it was a large baby. That really cheered me up! The thought of giving birth to a nine or ten pounder wasn’t something to get too enthusiastic about.
Nothing daunted, my strong feeling was that I was going to have twins continued, and I set about getting two of everything together. Two sets of clothes, two shawls, two sets of bedding etc. The whole family thought I’d flipped my lid, and Arthur was worried that I would be so upset and disappointed, when only one baby arrived.
The midwives were being very kind and gentle, but quite firm in their belief that it was to be a singe birth.
Two weeks before the birth, I developed a kidney infection, which confined me to bed and gave me a raging thirst that had me drinking four pints of water during the night, every night. Because of the imminent birth, the midwife thought that I ought to see a hospital doctor with a view to having the baby in hospital, instead of at home as planned. Off I wobbled, looking like a tramp steamer on legs, to be examined by the hospital doctor.
He did the ‘laying on of hands’ bit and said: ‘ Has any one ever mentioned that this is possibly two babies?’ I was elated, and told him my tale of the unbelievers who had consistently hammered my maternal feelings into the ground.
‘The first thing to do is to get you X-rayed and make sure’, said my knight in shining armour. (No scans in those days).
I balanced precariously on my oversized, over-filled belly, feeling that any moment it would split asunder and we’d all know what was in it, while the radiographer took the necessary X-rays. Within minutes I knew for certain that the three of us were very soon to become the five of us. Now I would have to go into hospital for the births, like it or not.
‘If you don’t go into labour in the next week, come in under your own steam and we’ll start things off for you,’ said the doctor, adding, ‘One will probably be breech birth, that’s quite often the case with twins and, because they’ll only weigh about five pounds each, they’ll go into incubators for a while. Don’t worry about it Mother, it’s the normal procedure for twins and there won’t be any cause for concern. You’ll be able to see them, but you won’t be able to have them in an open cot, like the other mothers, until they’re a little bigger.’
I rushed to telephone Arthur at is office and give him the fantastic news. Every member of the family was so excited. There was no history of twins on either side of our families. Arthur and I were making history.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


I was admitted to the Hanley Road Maternity hospital at 10pm on March 9th. Lynne was born at 11.20 the following morning, March 10th 1960, weighing in at 6lb 11oz.
As I hadn’t expected her to be born until March 20th, I could be excused for deciding to have a home perm on that fateful Wednesday evening. At twenty-eight, with my first pregnancy, I wanted to look glamorous during my ten day stay in hospital.
Ruby had kindly offered to give me a perm, and we were at the stage where the curlers were all firmly in place, ready to dry naturally on my head overnight. It was at this point in the proceedings that I decided to go to the toilet, for the umpteenth time (one of the side effects of having a baby sitting on your bladder for nine month). My waters broke, a sure sign from the baby that it was eager to make its appearance into the world, and there was I with wet hair rolled up in tight, little packages of tissue paper and perm curlers. Dozens of the damned things!
Ruby quickly loosened and removed them and we towel dried my hair (we didn’t own a hair drier), until I looked fairly presentable. The ambulance could then be called; using the telephone we had installed for this very purpose.
I won’t dwell on the boring and yucky bits, only to say that Arthur stayed with me throughout the birth. He has often remarked since that, in his opinion, it was an experience not to be repeated. Since he wasn’t allowed to be at the next birthing, he thankfully didn’t have to make the choice.
We called our daughter Lynne Lea: Lynne for no other reason than we liked the name, and Lea because we decided to start our own ’family name’ from the first two letters of my name and the first of Arthur’s.
Ten days later I was back at home. I kept gazing in wonderment at Lynne, realizing that her very life and safety depended on me and the way that I cared for her. It was an alarming thought to have this new life resting in my hands, and to know that all my maternal feelings and knowledge of what was good or bad for this tiny creature would have to be put into practice with only instinct to guide me.
As Lynne grew into a chubby little toddler, each day became a joy to us. Arthur adored her and spent all his spare time with her. He loved getting her ready for bed and tucking her up. Being read to was one of Lynne’s favourite things and something that we both enjoyed as much as she did. Her eyes would sparkle, and she would jog up and down with excitement as we pointed out the pictures in her favourite ‘Cat in The Hat’ book.
The two things that members of the family mostly remember about Lynne’s early days were her infectious belly laugh that had everyone joining in, and the way that she would wave her arm in the air and pontificate, in a non stop babble of nonsensical words. She could keep this up for ten minutes, stop, thump the tray of her highchair and start all over again. We felt certain that she’d turn out to be a politician. Her chuckling, robust laughter once had a great section of the Victoria Palace Theatre audience laughing at her, instead of the cast of the Black and White Minstrel Show, and she was only three years old!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


I accidently erased this blog and have had to re-install it. Unfortunately, I have also erased the comments that were kindly left for me. I apologise for this and if possible would appreciate the comments being re-instated. Thank you.


The Highlight of 1951 was the Festival of Britain, built one hundred years after ‘The Great Victorian Exhibition of 1851’. There were many facets to the festival. The Pleasure Gardens, a huge fun fair, a tree walk, The Dome of Discovery and, of course, the world famous ‘Skylon’, a futuristic structure which appeared to have no visible means of support. This magnificent and prize winning structure was sold for scrap in 1952 (the following year).

All this was an enormous feat of design and technology, and intended to show the world how well we had picked up the pieces and recovered from World War ll. The Royal Family, heads of state, and millions of tourists visited the Battersea Pleasure Gardens.
Hoping to get the public into a festive mood, the organisers announced that there was to be a huge fancy dress night at the Pleasure Gardens. The entrance fee would be waived for any person arriving at the turnstile in fancy dress costume; the Leach’s and Chapman’s needed no second bidding, and immediately organised a large group.
Aunty Minnie, Ruby and her son, Mummy and Daddy, Arthur’s brother and Arthur and I, and several friends made up a large party, and let ourselves loose on the London Underground, bound for Battersea. Dad this time became ‘Old Mother Riley’, and stole the show.
Much to Arthur’s embarrassment, and everyone else’s joy, his brother dressed as a Romany gypsy, strapped his piano accordion on and serenaded us all during the underground tube journey and at the Festival.
When we arrived, we discovered that hardly another soul had made the effort to dress up. We didn’t care, it was still a lot of fun, and the Press was pleased that we’d entered into the spirit of the occasion. They interviewed us and took our names, and a group photograph duly appeared in the next day’s newspaper.

The only part of the Festival of Britain still surviving is, of course, The Festival hall on the South Bank.
Although we threw lots of parties and enjoyed dressing up, I must admit that we did change our party tastes after a couple of years of married life. This was solely down to the couple that had the flat above ours at Oakfield road. He was about fifteen years younger than his partner and they lived together many years, later marrying.
They had a circle of about a dozen or so close friends who they often brought home after an evening out, or sometimes instead of going out. Rather than have the inconvenience of guests tip-toeing past our bedroom door on the way to the loo, they would ask if we would like to join the party. We really came to love their get-togethers, and our taste in parties changed from then on. Our hosts would have little dishes of nuts and crisps and sausage rolls lying around, the drinks were plentiful and generous, the lights were turned low and the music was classy. It was all very intimate and we all got quietly, slowly and sedately drunk as, arms entwined around each other’s necks, we danced into the small hours. Pure magic!

Sunday, 22 March 2009



Because we were such a large family, we didn’t need many extra people to make ‘a party’. With the coming of Arthur, our family increased by another five people: his parents, his brother Bill and wife Jean, and their daughter Wendy. Doug’s teenage friends accounted for another half a dozen or so more, so party we quite often did! Fancy dress parties were a favourite and everyone joined in with gusto.

One Christmas, Arthur’s brother Bill organised a party for the two families and their friends. Mum went dressed as a Harem girl and Dad as Charlie Chaplin, a role he played almost as well as Chaplin himself! I put all my dressmaking efforts into Arthur’s devil’s costume. I made him a close fitting helmet with a ‘widows peak’. Arthur fashioned a splendid pair of horns, which we painted bright red and attached to the helmet. He had a voluminous black cloak lined with red satin, and sported a wicked beard and moustache. All this, together with a full-size ‘devil’s fork’, also painted bright red, made him look really fiendish.

At another of our parties, Mum and I made Can-Can girl costumes, and burst into the room, high-kicking and showing our frillies, to the strains of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’.
A regular at our parties was Doug’s friend Fred. He lived with his gran (to whom he was devoted) and he was also a devotee of fashion: the Teddy-boy fashion. In Fred’s case this meant shoes with thick crepe soles (known as brothel creepers), topped by narrow, drain-pipe trousers and a three quarter length, black jacket trimmed with black velvet. Beneath his jacket lay a snowy white shirt trimmed from neck to waist with layer upon layer of narrow, white lace ruffles. Fred embellished this with a black shoestring tie, and an immaculate, Teddy boy hair-do, gleaming with hair cream, in a style that resembled a sculpture.
He was a tall lad; in fact over six feet tall, and he cut a very dashing figure dressed as he was. He didn’t have a great deal of money and so wasn’t able to spend as much money on his appearance as he would have liked. Nothing daunted, what he couldn’t afford he made! Fred would spend hours in our kitchen at Oakfield Road, sitting at Mum’s treadle sewing machine, laboriously stitching yards of lace on to his shirt front, and adding bits and bobs to his clothes. He was always very fussy about looking just right. That is, until one of our family parties when Fred got ever-so-slightly drunk and, feeling very hot, decided to cool off in the kitchen. I shall never forget the sight that greeted me as I followed him into the room a few seconds later. There, with his lace trimmed shirt awry was Fred. His head was scarlet from the effect of heat and booze, and fully submerged in the goldfish tank with fish swimming around his face as he cooled off! The only sound in the room, except for the noise of bubbles, was Dad’s tired, somewhat disgusted but very patient plea: ‘Don’t do that Fred!’
Last photo: Arthur as a
devil,with his brother Bill
as a witch!

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I explained to the doctor all about Patsy and Doug, and that we wanted to tell Mum together, and that they wouldn’t wait two months to break their news. Being the lovely old man that he was, he immediately said: ‘OK there’s a special test that I can give you that usually is only carried out in emergencies.’
Home pregnancy testing had not yet been developed, and wouldn’t be for many, many years to come. The test that the doctor was going to do had something to do with sending a sample of my urine to the hospital laboratories, injecting it into a frog, and waiting to see if the frog laid eggs!
‘Ring me at the surgery in three days time, and I’ll be able to tell you the results of the test,’ he said, and if you really are going to have a baby.’
They were the longest three days of my life, and on the third day I rushed to the telephone box.
‘Have you got the results yet doctor?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ said the doctor, ‘the results were positive. You were right: congratulations!’ I couldn’t believe it.
‘Am I really going to have a baby?’ I asked.
‘You certainly are. Come to the surgery and I’ll give you a letter for the antenatal clinic.’
The four of us went to visit Mum and Dad, so eager and happy that we could hardly contain ourselves. Needless to say, Mum, Dad, and all the siblings were ecstatic about the news.
It was a wonderful nine months. Pat and I did everything together, and Arthur and I were so happy. When you consider that David was born to Pat and Doug on February 27th, and Lynne was born less than a fortnight later, you must admit that we did remarkably well, at very short notice!
Daddy was working away in Wrexham for a lot of the time I was carrying Lynne, and he wrote me many letters about his hopes and love for his forthcoming grandchild. I still have them in my treasure chest.
When I look at my children I still can’t believe that Arthur and I made them and that we alone are responsible for these lovely people that are now part of our legacy to the world. If we never achieve anything else of any worth in our lives, we have at least done this.
I remember dreaming a particular dream several times during my first pregnancy, always a variation on a theme. I would carefully put my baby away somewhere safe. Perhaps in a bed, cot, room or even a drawer. Then I would forget it for several days, and the thought would suddenly strike me that I had omitted to feed it. I would wake up in a cold sweat! Perhaps this is a common dream for expectant mothers.
Even now, as I touch the fingers of a small baby and feel the little wrinkles of its skin I am immediately transported back forty-something years to the births of my children. All those years ago, the sensation of holding a baby in my arms, made a perfect job of imprinting itself upon my brain. I close my eyes and my babies are back. The warm head, so soft and downy against my lips. The smell of baby powder and clean, sterile linen. I lay my finger in the palm of a tiny hand and it closes its fingers around mine, in a reflex action: so tightly, so tightly. The baby blue eyes are closed and the perfectly formed mouth makes little movements. I lay my baby against my shoulder and a tiny face nuzzles into my neck. This must be one of the most wonderful of all wonders of the world!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009



By now, we’d been married seven years and had collected a good home around us. In our lounge we had a new 21-inch screen television set, a three-piece suite and a carpet square! In those days only the relatively wealthy could afford fitted carpet. Then, Cyril Lord, a carpet entrepreneur, introduced plain coloured carpets that could be purchased by the yard in several widths and at affordable prices. We managed a large square, but were still not in the fitted carpet league. We also had one of the first Hi-Fi systems, fresh from the Ideal Homes exhibition. Not only did it have FM radio and a built in reel-to-reel tape-recorder, but it also had an echo chamber and the facility to make double track recordings, all with plenty of echo-echo-echo! It was very modern and stood on long, spindly, black legs ending in shiny, brass ferrules. How proud we were of our gleaming, black and gold Hi-Fi.
We had also bought a kitchen table and chairs made from bright yellow Formica and vinyl. The chairs stood proudly on black, tubular steel legs, looking like great, yellow beetles striding across our red and white chequered linoleum covered floor. At the same time, we indulged in a matching yellow fibre glass sink unit, and a pale green kitchen cabinet with, as the brochure said: ‘ a fitted clock and bread bin together with pull-out work surface’. It was all very modern and much sought after! We even had Rusty the dog to complete our happy picture.
Remember we were just entering the ‘swinging sixties’ and this was reflected in our home. Purple, mustard, terracotta and burnt orange were the colour we chose to paint the doors in our flat. It started when we bought ‘contemporary’ linoleum to cover the floor on the landings. It had a black background and lots of colourful designs all over it, squares and triangle with rounded corners. We decided it would be fun to pick out all the bright colours in the floor covering and echo them on the doors that led off from the landing. Very fiftyish, which, of course it was.
Arthur and I were still very happy with our life together, and had no desire to start a family – we thought. I’d started looking at little girls wearing frilly frocks, cute smiles and ribbons in their hair but, at the time, didn’t recognise it for what it was: broodiness.
One day in June 1959, Doug contacted us and suggested that we all go down to the Railway Tavern for a drink, as there was something that he and Pat wanted to tell us. We were agog with curiosity. Surely they couldn’t be moving. Maybe Doug had landed a good job at last. When we’d settled down with our drinks, Doug told us that Pat was pregnant and they wanted us to be the first to know. We were so surprised because they hadn’t been married very long. Suddenly, I knew that I wanted to be pregnant too!
‘Can you imagine Mum’s face if we were to tell her that we were both expecting babies?’ I said. Doug and Pat agreed that it would be fun, but there was one little drawback. Pat was already pregnant and Arthur and I hadn’t even started yet!
‘Please wait just a couple of weeks’ I pleaded, ‘before you tell Mum and dad. It would be wonderful if we could present Mum and Dad with their first two grandchildren at the same time. Especially since they’d waited so long’.
‘OK,’ Doug agreed. I think he secretly thought we were both off our trolleys. After all, we’d been childless for seven years.
That night we set about fulfilling our part of the plan. After only one try, I was absolutely certain that it had worked and that I too was pregnant. We suddenly wanted to be parents more than anything else in the world, and there didn’t seem to be any reason to waste time now. I don’t think that it occurred to me that we might have to wait months, or even years, to make a baby.
It was just a short time later, and my period was overdue by three days. I just knew this was it! I went to the doctor and told him that I thought I was pregnant, He asked me how late I was and, when I told him three days, he roared with laughter and said: ‘Come back in a couple of months.’
To be contd…

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


After we left St Paul’s Road (see ‘Back to my childhood home’) Mrs ‘S’ the mother of Joyce, who rented the top floor flat with her husband Wally (see ‘A Move – But Not too Far’), moved into our original rooms, with her younger daughter Pat. St. Paul’s Road now housed Mum, Dad, brothers Doug and Bill, and the four girls on the ground and basement floors. Mrs S and Pat had our old flat, and Joyce and Wally still lived on the top floor.
Doug and Pat started dating and they finally became engaged and subsequently married.
From the outset of their relationship we became a regular foursome. Doug and I had always been very close to each other and, as Pat was roughly the same age as me, we all became very good friends, spending most of our spare time together.
In 1957 we formed a skiffle group and jazz group and, night after night, well into the wee small hours, we would make our own music recording it on to a Grundig reel-to-reel tape-recorder. Doug played a guitar and banjo and home made drums. Arthur played guitar and piano, and I played guitar, and Pat and I sang.
At one point, Dougie took up amateur photography, so we had a spate of taking black-and-white photographs of anything and everything, doing our own developing and printing in a makeshift dark room under the stairs.
This is one of the posh ones he took of me! Next we became very keen on table tennis. As we never had any money, it was decided that we make our own table. Arthur and Dougie also made the bats. They were a trifle heavy, but manageable! Why we never bought proper ones I don’t know, but it was fun, and we held tournaments in mum’s front room.
That year, Doug and Pat joined us on holiday in Dorset. They weren’t yet married. We had such a crazy, happy holiday. Our chalet stood on the bank of a river and Arthur and Doug did silly things like staging water pistol fights, and building a raft with a sail that sank immediately!
We walked across the fields at midnight, and came home to our chalet with our shoes and legs covered in snails, slugs and bugs!
One afternoon Pat’s deckchair collapsed while she was lounging in it. The whole thing folded up with her body on top, and her fingers trapped in the mechanism. We all thought for one horrible moment that she’s severed them and were frightened to look! However, they were still attached, so we rushed her to the doctor’s and spent a worrying hour at the surgery, Pat spent a few painful days with her hand in a sling.
After that, all went well until Rusty (our dog) was savaged by the swans that used to swim along the edge of the river in our front garden begging for pieces of bread. He was so scared; he leapt into the air, pulling his head completely out of his collar. Apart from the loss of dignity, he was otherwise unharmed! Doug and Pat duly became a married couple and rented a flat at Finsbury Park. This was good news because they now lived a lot closer to us and we could spend more time together. Their landlord lived in the flat below them and always banged on the ceiling if we made a noise, which we frequently did! More of that later.

Friday, 27 February 2009


When we had settled in and were starting to think about building our first kitchen, I suddenly had a much better idea. On one hand, there was Mum, Dad, six children and a dog, boxed up in the small, first floor flat in Oakfield Road. They had no garden for the children to play in or for Mummy to hang out the washing, and they had Aunty Minnie forever thumping on the ceiling and shouting at them all.
On the other hand, Arthur and I now had the offer of half a large house, complete with a very large garden. There were only two of us and we were out at work all day. The sensible solution seemed to be for Mum and Dad, and Arthur and I, to swap accommodation! The agents on both sides were happy for us to do this, and Mummy and Daddy were overjoyed at getting out of Oakfield road at long last.
And so the switch was made. Dad spent his every spare moment working like mad to get St Paul’s road how he and mum wanted it. The ground floor rooms became bedrooms, and the basement was turned into a beautiful fitted kitchen, living room and lounge.
Sandie, Babs, Tina and Gill loved it. They played in the garden and Mum hung out her washing in the sunshine. Mum and dad planted flowers and sat out in deckchairs.
With Arthur at my side, I arrived back at Oakfield Road, the house that I had first moved into as a little girl, all those years ago. This was also the home that all our children were to be born in, but that was about seven years away.
Mummy was worried about us having to deal with aunty Minnie’s moods and her moaning. We felt quite confident that it would be OK and Arthur wasn’t the least bit scared of her. We knew that legally, as tenants, we all had equal rights in the house.
When Mum and Dad first came to Oakfield Road, during the early war years, to share the house with Aunty Minnie, she had been renting it in her own name. She was, in fact, the legal and sole occupier. Then individual flats were gradually taken over by Gwen, then Mum and Dad, and also a couple who applied for and rented the three-roomed attic flat. Aunty Minnie became our unofficial landlady to whom they all paid rent. She in turn paid her rent to the real landlords. Eventually the tenancy was taken away from her and they were all given their own rent books. 71 Oakfield Road had become a tenement block. Now all the tenants had equal rights to the hallway, garden and cellar. This was great news, except for Aunty Minnie. She still said: ‘This is my house,’ and made life so unpleasant for everyone that no one really stood up to her. That is, until Arthur and I moved in!
The first hurdle was hanging out the washing. Although I didn’t relish carrying wet laundry down two flights of stairs, through a dark, dirty cellar and up another flight of stone steps outside, there was a principle at stake. Doug and Arthur waited for a fine Saturday afternoon then proceeded to erect a magnificent, wooden clothes-post that Arthur had made for me.
Aunty Minnie sat at her kitchen window, watching us like the Wicked Witch of the West until she could stand it no longer. She jumped up and ran into the garden. This happened to coincide with the moment that Dougie broke in half the handle of the garden fork he was using.
‘How dare you use my garden fork without my permission,’ she shrieked at us. ‘This is my garden and you have no right to dig holes in the ground and break my garden fork.’
This was a beautiful moment… our moment of triumph. Doug looked at her as she leaped up and down with what I swear was smoke pouring out of her nostrils.
‘This,’ he said truthfully, ‘is my fork, I brought it from home specifically to do this job.’
Arthur then informed her in no uncertain terms, that she no longer had exclusive rights to the garden, and we continued to erect the clothes post. Poor Aunty Minnie had met her Waterloo and she was thoroughly deflated. Turning on her heel, and throwing the rather inappropriate remark: ‘Get off your high horse!’ over her shoulder, she strode indoors, slamming the back door in her wake. We had started as me meant to continue, and had won the first battle.
There were many such upheavals about who had the rights to what, and of course we always won.
I am now much older and more tolerant of elderly people’s behaviour… Auntie Minnie is no longer alive, and I must admit that I do feel a little guilty about the way we treated her. She was in the wrong, but she was in her seventies and no doubt felt justified in her behaviour. We should have been a bit more understanding. We never found out why she was so bitter and resentful. Perhaps she resented other’s pleasures or good fortune because life had been very hard for her. There were many such battles with her during the first year or so, but she eventually came round, apparently accepting that it was quite handy to have a man around the house occasionally.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009



Arthur had told me that, if I wanted to give up work and be at home, he would be quite happy with the arrangement. So, with a heavy heart and mixed feelings, I handed in my notice. There were lots of tears on the day I left. I really was very happy at the old ‘Angel Madhouse’, as it was affectionately known, and probably would not have left it if it hadn’t been for the move to Dalston.
I didn’t make a bad decision, as it happened. My suspicions turned out to be right. The angel Warehouse became very impersonal, as I had predicted.
That summer, Miss ‘D’ went somewhere out east to an expensive and very hot resort for her annual holiday. There she suffered a stroke and died. This was a terrible shock to the girls. Although Miss ’D’ had been Company Secretary, she was always a good friend to all the female staff, whom she treated as her equals.
Doreen left to have a baby and, now that she, and Miss ‘D’ had gone, there was no reason to keep in touch. I often think of all the ‘inmates’ and occasionally look at their photographs, wondering where they are, how they are, and even if they are all still alive. They were happy, happy days.
Our house in St Paul’s Road was divided into three flats. A married couple were living on the ground floor, though we never really got to know them, and a young married couple were on the floor above us. They had a baby boy.
One day the couple on the ground floor vacated their two-roomed flat and we asked the agent if we could take it over. As it included the basement, that had two further rooms that were never used, we had ideas about getting a kitchen at last. The agent agreed that we could move downstairs.
As we were not actually moving house, Arthur and I decided that, with a little help from Dad and Doug (my brother), we could move our furniture piecemeal down the stairs ourselves. We thought this would be an easy job. We moved everything straight down into the relevant rooms, thereby positioning everything roughly where we wanted it to stay. The really heavy furniture such as the wardrobes, sideboard and bed, Arthur, Dad and Doug could man-hand between them, with me yelling out the appropriate encouragement like: Mind what you’re doing!’ and ‘Be careful you don’t scratch my table top!’ and, occasionally, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea!’
Arthur and I had started moving the smaller things on Friday evening and it was now Saturday morning and time to get stuck in with the large items.
Everything went well for a while, and then it was time for the piano to be shifted. Originally professional piano movers had transported it from my mother-in-law’s house to ours. We had been amazed at the alacrity and ease with which they sped up two flights of stairs; the piano balanced on one man’s back while two others steadied things. Oh how very stupid we were to mistake professional artistry and experience for something that appeared to be the proverbial piece of cake!
We had already stripped the top, front, and lid from the piano to make it easier for them to handle, and all went well from the lounge to the bottom of the first flight of stairs. It was when the men were negotiating the 180-degree bend between the two flights of stairs that the house demolition started.
Somehow, the piano slipped, and one corner began deftly to push out, one by one, the banister rails that blocked its way. Suddenly it stopped. Completely jammed. With much yelling and grabbing, the three men tried to pull the piano out from amongst the banister rails, only to firmly drive the opposite corner of the piano into and through the plaster on the stairway wall.
It was at this point that the couple upstairs, (Joyce and Wally) and their small son descended from the top floor flat. Their path was of course blocked very firmly by three grunting, puffing men, one slightly hysterical me, and an upright piano that was wedged, it seemed forever, across the stairs between the wall and the banisters!
Wally, with a look of chagrin said: ‘We really do need to get to the front door. Actually, we’re on our way to a family wedding’. It was only then that I realized Wally was dressed in a smart, navy suit, complete with a floral buttonhole, and that Joyce was wearing a resplendent hat trimmed with an equally resplendent floral arrangement! Oh my God! They really were dressed for, and on their way to, a wedding. Joyce and her little boy retreated a few steps up towards her kitchen door, and Wally, realizing that he really didn’t have any other option, if he was to make the wedding at all, said: “Come on, I’ll give you a hand”
The men in unison, and now numbering four, managed to get the piano back in a straight line pointing down the stairs, but there still was no way they could make it turn the bend, try as they might. By this time, Wally’s beautiful, smart, navy-blue, wedding suit was covered in white plaster dust. His face was sweaty and his hair dishevelled. The rest of us were beginning to feel rather embarrassed when Doug’s’ face suddenly lit up, as in idea struck him. Had I known the outcome of his idea, I’d have probably struck him too! “Let’s turn the piano upside down,” he said, “so that the wide keyboard area is over the top of the handrail, then the narrower base will easily make the bend in the landing”
This was hailed by the others as a brilliant, “why didn’t we think of it earlier” idea. With more grunts and shouts of “one, two, three, over”, they turned the instrument, which had been our pride and joy, upside down … and all the keys fell out! With a discordant, clattering sound, they tumbled down the stairwell and into the quarry tiled entrance hall below.
Alas! This was to be the swan song of our beloved pianoforte because, although the keys could have been put back, there was also extensive damage to the hammers.
Wally and Joyce finally made their way, brushed and re-groomed, to their wedding celebrations, and our beautiful piano, that had been handed down from the last generation, was dragged unceremoniously into the back garden. There, sadly, it was hammered, hacked, and chopped into pieces small enough to dispose of. If any of you have ever attended a piano-smashing event at a local garden fete or County Fair, you will know just how difficult and very, very noisy this act is!

Thursday, 19 February 2009



Some months later, the company Secretary Miss D, told me that she had been invited to a Masonic dinner and would like me to make her an evening gown. She was about size eighteen and didn’t care for the styles that were available in larger sizes. This was a lady who had lots of money, made tea in a black Wedgwood tea-pot and had a mink coat hanging in her wardrobe! As money was no object, she bought some extremely expensive, mid-night blue brocade. I had only ever worked with cheap and cheerful material and felt just a trifle apprehensive.
Once again, I made the sketches, held my breath and cut into the brocade. I had a deadline, several weeks away, which was necessary as there was a lot of work to do. This was to be a dress with a matching, fitted jacket.
All went well for a while, and then I suddenly became quite ill. The doctor was called in, and Arthur was informed that I had pleurisy and wouldn’t be well enough to go to work. In fact, I had to remain in bed for several weeks. Poor Miss D kept sending messages that, if she wasn’t to get her new dress in time, she’d have to go shopping for a replacement. I was so embarrassed, but could only assure her (with fingers crossed) that, come what may, she would look stunning in midnight-blue brocade on her special evening. I did manage it and she was overjoyed with the finished garment. I can’t remember how much I charged, but you can be sure it was put to very good use, however much it was.
Another little moneymaker that I managed to wangle was ticket writing. This was still during the birth of self-serving grocery stores, and bar codes and shelf pricing had yet to come. Attached to the edge of each shelf, in front of the commodity, was a piece of white card showing the price, written in black ink. This usually said something like: ‘Baked Beans 16-oz. Usual price 7d. Our price 4d!!!’
When SJI found out that I was artistically inclined, he asked if I’d like the job of keeping the price cards in our local store up to date each week. I said I’d do a good job if he let me buy the materials myself, and pay me one penny for each card I supplied. He laughed and said: ‘You’ve got a bloody cheek; I already pay you to work for me! But OK, buy what you need and let’s see how it goes.’
I went to a small artist supply shop in Camden Passage and bought sheets of the recently developed Day-Glo board in bright orange, plus a couple of thick marker pens. Next I went to Chapel Street Market and noted how the market traders formed their letters and numbers on their market stall price tickets.
I ended up doing all the price tickets for all the Anthony Jackson grocery shops. I charged a penny for small tickets and 1 ½d for larger ones. Nowadays it seems very little money for lot of work, but in fact it boosted my wages considerably and I became expert at it. However, I did feel a little guilty, being paid so much for an enjoyable job that was very quick and easy for me to do.
News came that SJI was opening larger and flashier premises in Dalston, and the old warehouse on the Islington green was to close. It was going to be a complete change and, as I had suspected, would no longer have the lovely ‘family’ atmosphere that we had enjoyed for years. Sidney Ingram was going up in the world, and we were all going with him. The trouble was that I loved the cosy, friendly little firm, and didn’t want to move into a cold, impersonal, ‘new-age’ company.
To be cont…