Aunty Maude

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 Aunty Maude (technically my great-aunt Maude) was one of Nana’s older sisters but despite her only being eighteen months older she seemed very much older to me. After Grandpa died she came to live with Nana and it was Nana who nursed her in her final illness when she was 83. She died in 1959 when I was nine. She passed away in Newsham Hospital which in those days was simply where people went to die. People would do anything to avoid ending up in Newsham as they knew what it meant. Their relatives also went to any lengths to avoid seeing them go in there so I assume Aunty Maude was past caring and / or beyond being cared for at home by her 81 year old sister.

Like Grandpa she was a background figure at Nana’s and I recall little of her except her small, round, thin metal-framed glasses as I visited her, sitting up in bed in the front bedroom in something very pink. She had quite a hard life but it was long after she had died that Mum told me all about that and in the early days it was her cottage on a hillside near Bodfari that was the main topic of conversation. By contrast Uncle Wardie – who died the same year as Auntie Maude is a far more developed figure in my memory and I have lots of memories of him. That suggests she must have kept to her room most of the time while she lived at Nana’s.

 Aunty Maude had been married twice and both her husbands had been less than one might have hoped for. The first, Will Noble, was a drunkard and she eventually left him but not before having a child, Tom Noble, who died in infancy. Ironically Will Noble’s death notice read ‘beloved husband of Annie Maude Noble’. He wasn’t! After Maude and Will Noble separated she bought a shop in the Shiel Road area of Liverpool – next to the Berwick Hotel and public bar in Berwick Street which her mother ran. (Aunty Chrissie took over the shop when Maude moved to Moel y Parc, Bodfari.)

 She then lived with the man who was to be her second husband, Jack Watson, but she couldn’t marry him until her first husband died. Aunty Edie – another of Nana’s sisters – refused to speak to Maude while she was living in sin and they never made it up again afterwards. Although Aunty Maude was happy with Jack Watson the rest of the family considered him slimy and only put up with him for her sake. There is no doubt he cheated on her and he even made advances to Mum.  He died in 1944.


Mount Helicon

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 Often I think of the beautiful town

      That is seated by the sea;

Often in thought go up and down

The pleasant streets of that dear old town,

      And my youth comes back to me.

          And a verse of the Lapland song

          Is haunting my memory still:

          ‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’

                              Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ‘My Lost Youth’

 Mum had two principal poetry books – ‘Mount Helicon’ and ‘Lyrical Forms in English’. Both of these have ‘Flora Body Form VA’ pencilled on their flyleaves. Between them they contained all one could wish for in English poetry. There were few greater delights for me in my early years than listening to Mum reciting poetry and, alter, to learn those very poems myself and proudly recite them to Dad and Mum. As I grew older it became slightly less delightful as it was a requirement during school holidays to spend at least half an hour learning poetry before going out to play.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t keep up my poetry reading in later years. A little bit of occasional repetition would have firmly implanted them in my mind as they were in Mum’s.

To digress into older years for a moment, it was a real delight for me to discover my first english teacher at The Holt, Miss Evans, was equally enthusiastic about ‘old’ poetry and my next English teacher, Peter Hikins, introduced me to modern poetry, including the book ‘Here Today’, and even invited his friends – the Liverpool poets like Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten – into school to read to us (McGough and Henri were part of the group ‘Scaffold’ and so had two claims to fame). Charles Causley also came along to give us the brilliant poem ‘Timothy Winters’ which ended up as one of Mum’s favourites after I had recited it from memory a few times.

In addition to the poems in Mum’s books the weekly periodical ‘Look and Learn’ had a poem every issue. I was later to discover that Jo used to learn this poem every weekend and recite it at the dinner table on Sunday for a reward of sixpence.

Another source of poems were the volumes of ‘Highroads of Literature’. These took me across the worlds of art and literature as its matching volumes tackled history and geography. GB still has some of these on his bookshelves.

Sadly, the last poetry source I can recall disappeared at some stage. This was a Bibby’s Annual.   Bibby, Joseph (1851-1940) was an animal feed and soap manufacturer whose factory was just down Bowring Park Road from us. Joseph Bibby often said that, if the accident of birth had not made him a miller, he would certainly have gone into journalism; as the opportunity arose, he spent more and more time on writing and editorship. From 1896 he produced Bibby’s Quarterly which was intended mainly for farmers, it contained material of agricultural interest (including photographs of livestock reared on Bibby’s feeds), as well as general articles. By 1905 when it stopped it had become an almost exclusively literary and artistic magazine, with excellent colour reproductions of celebrated paintings and from 1906 to 1922 he produced Bibby’s Annual with the same literary and artistic ideas. Nana had a Pears Annual but that too disappeared at some stage. From 1891 to 1925 Pears soap manufacturers issued a large format Christmas Annual, similar to Biiby’s Annual, each year. I cannot remember if that poems in it but if so I never used it as a source for my poetry learning.

Our Bibby’s Annual lived under Mum and Dad’s bed along with a pair of indiaqn clubs (more for self defence than callisthenics, I believe), a policeman’s truncheon that had been Dad’s father’s or Uncle Frank’s and a Victorian / Edwardian massage machine. This latter was wound up to generate an electrically driven massage devices on which could be fitted leather pads or a long metal stick whose purpose I could never guess but which may well have been an early form of vibrator (according to Rachel Maines who lost her teaching post at Clarkson University, in northern New York, in 1986 when she published her first article on the history of vibrators in a Bakken Museum newsletter).

The mind is a strange thing when it can wander from Longfellow to vibrators….


My First Football Match

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 It is no surprise that I recall my first visit to a League football match. I was taken by Uncle JPD on 17th March 1956 during Don Welsh’s last season as Liverpool manager. GB had already declared himself as an Everton supporter and I was more than happy to enjoy this adult treat, going alone with Uncle JPD to a real football match. He even bought me a programme which I kept for many years. And I much preferred the colour red to Everton’s blue.

Billy Liddell

Liverpool were still a Second Division team in those days and the first match I saw was against Swansea Town. Liverpool beat the visitors 4-1. My hero Billy Liddell scored one of the goals inside the first two minutes, winger Joe Dickson bagged his final two reds goals in that match and Eric Anderson scored the fourth two minutes from the final whistle. Hard luck on anyone who arrived late or left early. The squad for that match was –

1 Dave Underwood Goalkeeper

2 John Molyneux Left back

3 Ronnie Moran Right back

4 Roy Saunders Left half

5 Dick White Centre half

6 Geoff Twentyman Right half

7 Brian Jackson Outside left

8 Eric Anderson Inside left

9 Billy Liddell Centre forward

10 Joe Dickson Inside right

11 Alan A’ Court Outside right

Knowing now how short-sighted I must have been at the time I wonder how much of the match I actually saw. But the atmosphere of the 48,217 crowd was as thrilling an experience as one could hope for at the age of six.

Billy Liddell’s sons – the twins – went to Ryebank and were in the year below me.  It was great to see one’s hero drive up to the school gates and pick them up from school.

Phil Taylor’s three years as Liverpool manager began shortly after but I think it was about 1959 or 1960 before I went again to Anfield – the start of the Bill Shankly era. Liverpool were still in the second division but not for long. By the end of his fifteen year reign they were one of the top clubs in Europe.

Roger Hunt

Another of my most memorable early games came during Shankly’s last season in Division Two and again Swansea were the victims. This time the score at Anfield was 5-0 and by then I had spectacles to help me to see what was going on. All the goals came in the second half with my other hero – Roger Hunt – scoring a hat-trick after Jimmy Melia had scored the first two. Liverpool won promotion to the First Divison (later re-named the Premiership) that year and have never been out of top flight football since then but I can always point out that I began supporting them in the days when they were a second division team. I’m not a fair-weather friend.

In those days one would have been ashamed if one could not recite the team sheet faster than one’s times tables. The squad that day was –

1 Bert Slater Goalkeeper

2 Dick White Left back

3 Gerry Byrne Right back

4 Gordon Milne Left half

5 Ron Yeats Centre half

6 Tommy Leishman Right half

7 Ian Callaghan Outside left

8 Roger Hunt Inside left

9 Ian St John Centre forward

10 Jimmy Melia Inside right

11 Alan A’ Court Outside right

I have been to many other memorable matches over the years but those were two of the best from my early years.

(Roger Hunt was to go on and be part of the 1966 England World Cup winning squad and with regard to the controversial goal in the final Geoff Hurst always commented “Would Roger have turned away from the goal celebrating if it hadn’t been over the line.  Never – he would have followed it up and made it his own.”)

Signing the Register

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Uncle Eric – Mum’s younger brother – got married in 1955 when I was just five years old. I can remember it well, partly because it was an opportunity for me to show off my school uniform which was in pristine condition, having been bought ready for the new term at Ryebank. (I’d been there a year already so presumably had outgrown my old uniform or done it so much damage that it wasn’t fit for a wedding and Mum had taken the excuse to outfit me anew, notwithstanding the expense.) GB looked equally smart in his new Quarry Bank uniform while Roger – about whom more in another post – looked far too big to still be wearing a Ryebank blazer, smart though it was.

 The wedding, Mum explained to me beforehand, was to be held in a registry office and then we would all come back to Nana and Grandpa’s house on Queens Drive for a buffet which she and Nana had prepared. I was terrified until the moment we left the Registry Office at which stage I started to relax and enjoy myself. Why was I terrified? Because in her explanation Mum had mentioned that at the Registry Office Uncle Eric and Aunty Doris would sign their names and then the witnesses would sign. It seemed obvious to me that if I was present I would be a witness to the event and therefore would have to sign my name. I could print it easily enough but writing it, in front of other people, was a terrifying prospect. Perhaps my relief at realising I wouldn’t have to do that is one reason why I’m smiling so much on the photograph back in Nana and Grandpa’s garden.