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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….

 

Grandpa Body

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 I hope that folk who know me don’t consider me mercenary and yet one of the few memories I have of Grandpa Body is of an old man giving me a florin in the dining room (his room) at Nana and Grandpa’s Queens Drive home in Liverpool. Grandpa didn’t die until I was just turned seven but he always seemed to be a background figure. I can see him in the garden on a sunny day but otherwise he rarely seemed to be around. Like Nana and Mum he pronounced his surname Bowdee but Uncle Eric was quite content for his name to be pronounced Boddy.

 A stooped old man with just a little white hair at the sides of his head, a large nose and a tall forehead he had deep-set eyes, a sunken mouth and a decrepit appearance despite being dressed in a dark suit with a waistcoat of matching material. His shirt had no collar. (Shirts in those days had stiff detachable collars, fixed with collar studs). He was just 79 when he died, of pneumonia and bronchitis, but a life of excess alcohol had taken its toll.

 Grandpa’s death provided me with a most strange experience. He was laid out in the front room, Nana having migrated into the dining room for the time being, and the door was firmly closed to us children. Childish curiosity being what it is I asked Mum if he was dressed in his best clothes and lying in an oak coffin for everyone to see. Heaven knows how I appreciated that was the norm because death was not a subject for mentioning in front of children. Mum’s reaction was to ask, quite horrified and suspicious, if I had been into the front room. It took some effort on my part to assure her I hadn’t and even now I’m not sure I convinced her.

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.

My Tricycle

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 My parents home for almost all their married life was a privately-rented ‘superior’ (so they were advertised in the late 1930s) terraced house in Broad Green, a suburb of Liverpool. It was the third house down from a bend in the road on which stood a wooden telegraph pole. The other direction, along the straight, was known as ‘down the road’ despite it being the direction in which the numbers went upwards. About seven houses down the road there was a yellowish concrete lamp post near the kerb. The telegraph pole and the lamp post formed the limits of my world for a number of years.

(‘My’ lamp post and telegraph pole can be seen in the distance between the larger ones in the foreground. By the time I took this photo – in the 1960s – the lamp post had been moved up towards the corner a bit and replaced by a newer model – perhaps the original one was suffering from what occurred below!)

Every mother in the road was concerned about the dreaded ‘Hunter’s vans’ – vehicles from the local meat processing factory, Hunter’s Handy Hams, which used the road as rat-run and whose speed was considered excessive bearing in mind the narrowness of the road and the number of children playing football in it. As soon as a car or van was seen the first adult to spot it would shout ‘Car’ or ‘Van’ and children were excpected to dive for the pavement at all speed. But for me, a pre-school youngster, there was no ball play in the road. I was permanantly confined to the pavement between the telegraph pole and the lamp post. Trespassing off the kerb, for whatever reason and however little, was punishable by a few days indoors.

Fortunately my principal playthings were Dinky cars and, from 1953, Matchbox cars or my beloved tricycle, neither of which required me to go off the pavement. I would pedal up and down my alloted space for hours on end, content with my own company and my own thoughts, whatever they might have been.

My brother, GB, being five and a third years older than me (and the four months mattered at that age) had long since started school. Either by some inner clock or by a warning from Mum as to the time I always cycled down to the lamp post to meet him as he came up the road from school. I say always because in one’s memory the sun shone every day and it was warm; warm enough to be outdoors all the time.

I am extremely short-sighted and have been all my life but when I was small no one realised it. Regular eye-sight and other health checks now undertaken in all schools were a thing of the future in those days though Council schools did suffer the attentions of Nitty Norah – the nurse who checked all the pupils for head lice. Certainly pre-school medicals of any sort were non-existent. As result I was about eight before anyone appreciated I needed glasses. It is therefore unsurprising that in my pre-school days I managed to ride my tricycle at full tilt into the lamp post on at least one occasion. I don’t remember the pain involved but I can vividly recall the shock of suddenly coming to a body-jolting halt. Perhaps this metaphorical hitting the brick wall is my first real memory. I’m tempted to think that both appropriate and a pre-cursor of things to come.

My Early Life

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 My early life is a jumble; a tumble with a cloudy mixture of glimpses that seem unconnected by any sense of continuity. Yet I can often roughly date them by other events that were going on at the time – the death of a relative, what GB (my elder brother by 5 years) was up to, when I started school and even major events in the world. I have divided those early days into a variety of headings from ‘My Tricycle’ to ‘Radio Programmes’. Hopefully some of them will be of general interest as well as being absolutely fascinating to my family!