Thursday, 31 August 2017

Nostalgia Part 2

It was a warm afternoon in August 2016 and Jim was catching the train to Lime Street, then the soccer bus to Anfield. I usually go with him on the train then spend the afternoon browsing Liverpool's shops, museums, etc, but I made a last minute decision to leave the train at Huyton and take a stroll around my childhood haunts. Huyton Station has been extended, there are extra platforms and extra subways to access them. As a very young child, the subway terrified me. It was simply a short, downward slope which then branched into two upward slopes, one leading to the Liverpool platform, the other to the platform for Prescot, St Helens and beyond. The problem was, if a train was passing  directly overhead when I was in the subway, I'd go rigid with terror and start screaming, unable to move until the thundering noise of the steam train had faded into the distance. A lifetime later, it's easy to see the reason. During the war, although we lived outside the city we still spent nights below ground in the air-raid shelter in our back garden, listening to the aeroplanes overhead and watching incendiary bombs lighting up the night sky. I had nightmares about that air-raid shelter for years afterwards.

Moving out of the area after my marriage, I still used this station to visit my parents and in-laws and it stayed much the same as I had always remembered it, although Huyton Village was already beginning to change. On my last visit, almost 20 years ago, it was no longer a village. The original council offices, with the children's playground behind, the library, the baby clinic, the essence of what had been a quiet country village, all had long gone.

Now, exiting the station - which wasn't as straightforward as I was expecting - I found it difficult to get my bearings. There used to be a solitary bus-stop, a few yards from the station, where you could catch the No.75 into Liverpool or to Pagemoss to visit my nan. It was in Poplar Bank, outside a former Approved School for Girls. As a child, I was always nervous waiting for that bus - what had the girls done, how long did they stay, and what happened to them when they left? Now, I think of the contrast between their lives and those of the girls who boarded at Huyton College, on the other side of the railway; daughters of well-to-do families. Soon after the end of the war, the College took in a small number of girls from local schools who'd done well in the 11-plus, their fees paid by the Council - but the cost of school dinners and the uniform was way beyond the means of working class families and what I guess was meant as a 'social experiment' wasn't repeated. On the site of the Approved School, which later was renamed a Community Home for Education there's now a bingo hall, and replacing that lone bus stop is a busy bus-station with a bewildering choice of bus routes to - at a guess - almost anywhere this side of the Mersey.

But my journey into the past would be on foot, starting with a walk down Derby Road, or what's left of it.
 


Brennand's shop has long gone - I can remember my dad taking me into Mr & Mrs Brennand's on my tenth birthday. A money box stood on the shop counter, collecting pennies for charity, I was so taken with it that my dad asked Mr Brennand if he could buy it for me. A ten-shilling note changed hands and I went home happily with my birthday present. I've still got it.

 

The top picture shows St Michael's Parish Church where I was a bridesmaid at my sister's wedding in 1957 and it's the one spot in Huyton Village that still looks exactly the same as it did then.

This is a much later view of the 'Village'.





Hard to imagine that this is where the Mayfair Cinema once stood.

Turning into Huyton Hey Road, I passed Park Hall, which I remember as the Congregational Church. This is where my mum used to queue to renew the family's ration books, green for under-fives, entitling you to extra milk, and fruit if it came into the shops; blue for over-fives - also with an extra milk ration; and buff-coloured for adults. I can remember the air-raid siren sounding while we were queueing one day, and my mum dragging me along as fast as my short legs would carry me, making for the safety of our air-raid shelter. Fortunately, the all-clear sounded before I ran out of breath. 

Continuing along Huyton Hey Road, I passed under the railway bridge, the road wider, and busier, than I remember it. St Agnes's Roman Catholic church is not the same building I regularly sneaked into with my best friend Pat, it has been replaced with a more modern structure. I say 'sneaked into' because as a non-Catholic I always felt slightly nervous in case the priest - or my dad - saw me and wanted to know what I was doing in there!

On the opposite corner to the church stands Huyton Hey Manor, a listed building known then simply as Manor Farm, which is now a nursing home. And the house that used to be the post office, run many years ago by a family called Bellis, still stands but is no longer a post office. I crossed the street to take a closer look and the GR post-box from my childhood is still there. One of my less pleasant memories is as an under-sized 11-year-old being pushed around by two robust sisters on this very spot, hair pulled, name calling, because I'd passed the 11-plus, and the younger sister had failed. I never did understand the meaning of 'college pudding' as an insult!



Continuing along Hall Lane, none of the shops I remember - Jack's Café, where Pat and I enjoyed the rare treat of a Cream Soda; the fish and chip shop with its two-pennyworth of chips and a six-penny fish, wrapped in newspaper; the sweet shop on the corner; Horace's greengrocery - have survived. But the Seel Arms pub is still there; and the Parish Rooms, where I joined the Brownies, still looks the same, as does St Gabriel's Church next to it, where I was married in 1960.



The slight incline in the road doesn't seem as steep as when I was a child. It was known as 'the brew', I've no idea why, and during the severe winter of 1947 the snow drifts were so deep I couldn't get to my primary school in St. Johns Road.

The road where I used to live has changed beyond recognition. There is a modern building on the corner where the dairy and its shippons used to be. Even as a child, there were no cows in the shippons, but they made great play spaces for me, Pat, and Brenda, the daughter of the family who owned the dairy. The Victorian terraces have long gone, replaced with modern semi-detached houses, but about half-way down the street there is  the terrace where I was brought up, 'two-up-two-down' houses built in the 1930s. Outside toilets, but running hot water, and a long back garden. As I walked past the ten houses I was amazed to see that 'ours', although modernised with a front porch and a rear extension, still has the low, brick front wall topped with iron railings, that my dad built so many years ago! The houses were rented from a private landlord but my dad kept it decorated and in good repair. Now, they're all privately owned.

The memories of all the families who lived in those ten houses during my childhood, and those I'd loved and lost, came flooding back as I retraced my steps towards Huyton Station.

But the temptation to take the long way round, down St John's Road, and along Tarbock Road was too great, despite the heat of the afternoon. I knew that my High School - Childwall Valley - had been demolished to make way for 'executive houses', would my Junior School have suffered the same fate? Past the house where we could buy crab-apples for a penny on our way home from school, carried in the skirt of our frock, the hem gathered up to form a bag. We usually got stomach-ache after stuffing ourselves, but it didn't stop us going back next time. Past new houses called Scholars' Fields, oh no, had they demolished my school? No - Huyton Sylvester County Primary is still there. There are more buildings where the air-raid shelters used to be, but the original building still stands, Girls Entrance on the left, Boys Entrance on the right, although we all played in the same playground and were in mixed classes. The playground looks smaller than when I was a child, although it's much better equipped.



I was very happy in that school, I can remember the names of all my teachers, and Mr Welsby, the Headmaster, yet I can only remember one or two of my High School teachers. The school had a very modern approach for its time. We were given responsibility, such as answering Mr Welsby's phone if it rang while we were passing his study and he wasn't in. The teachers didn't comment on the fact that I was left-handed and never forced me to change to my right, even when it caused some confusion during sewing lessons! I'm glad the school is still there, I would love to go inside and see if it still has the original layout - the classrooms laid out in a square around a quadrangle. But no more time to stop and stare, I still had quite a walk ahead of me.

Turning right at the bottom of St Johns Road, I could see changes in the streets of terraced housing that ran off Tarbock Road, with new houses replacing some, but not all, of the original terraces. These were the streets where many of my junior school friends lived. I carried on towards The Rooley, looking for the dance school, located in a large old house called The Brooklands, where I met first met Jim. Dance schools were very popular in the late 1950s, Billy Martin's was also well-known. I know a lot of married couples who met in dance schools in the '50s/early '60s. In Brooklands we had two dance instructors and about an hour's tuition - ballroom dancing - before enjoying the rest of the evening showing off our new steps till it was time for the last waltz, always the Dream Weavers singing 'It's Almost Tomorrow' .

I don't know why I was surprised to find that the old, rambling house is no longer there - after all it's almost 60 years since I last visited it. In its place is a cul-de-sac of smart, modern houses, but I was pleased to see that they've retained a link to the past.   



By now, I was weary and foot-sore and it was time to make my way back to Huyton Station. As I sat on the train home, my mind was a whirlwind of memories, emotions, and images of lost loved ones; parents, in-laws, Freda and John, our lovely next-door neighbours, Pat, my friend for 60 years - and all the people who passed in and out of my life through those years.

Most of the landscape of my early life has changed beyond recognition, but the memories remain vivid. It is unlikely I will re-visit these places but I don't regret taking a nostalgic stroll through my past.



[I am indebted to various websites for some of these photographs, if anyone needs a personal accreditation, please contact me.]
 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Nostalgia - Part 1

Remembering my childhood haunts

I was a baby when my family moved from the centre of Liverpool to the comparative safety of Huyton Quarry at the outbreak of World War II, after a short period of evacuation when the family had been split up. Huyton Quarry was a village, not far from Liverpool geographically, but a world away in its pace of life. My childhood memories are mostly centred around Huyton Quarry, and Huyton Village, a ten minute walk away. All our day to day requirements were met virtually on our doorstep; a butcher, a grocery store, a greengrocer - and a newsagents and sweet shop next door to each other, businesses carried out in the front rooms of terraced houses by brothers called Echo Jones and Toffee Jones, for obvious reasons. Oh, the excitement of entering the small, dark sweet shop clutching my ration book, waiting as a coupon was stamped before my twopence was handed over in exchange for a paper cone of sweets. Back in those days, a child could also go into a newsagents and ask for 'Ten Woodbines for my dad, please' - cigarettes were mostly kept 'under the counter' and reserved for regular customers.

There was another parade of shops on the other side of the railway line that bisected the village - these  shops were larger and purpose-built; one was a hardware store where I would pay in regular small sums of threepence or sixpence from my pocket money to save up for Christmas presents for my mum and dad. I still have the Dick Turpin toby jugs I bought almost 70 years ago!


My favourite place, apart from my Junior School, Sylvester County Primary, was Huyton Library. As soon as I was old enough to have my own ticket, I would walk the mile or so with my best friend, Pat. Rain didn't deter us, the children's section was equipped with large, green leather armchairs where you could lose yourself in a book until it stopped. We were voracious readers and during school holidays must have visited the library most weekdays. One day, having finished our new books before lunch, we returned them in the afternoon, only to be told that we had to keep them at least 24 hours!


Very close to the library was the baby clinic where my mum bought the concentrated orange juice and cod-liver oil she hoped would keep me healthy. I loved my daily spoonful of cod-liver oil, and she also dosed me up with every other supplement available; malt-extract, Virol, Scott's Emulsion, and Parish's Food - which tasted of iron and left you with a purple tongue.

I remember Saturday matinees at The Mayfair cinema in Huyton,  boisterous lads whooping and hollering, as they poured out through the big iron doors of the side entrance, blinking in the bright daylight, still lost in that make-believe world of 'cowboys and indians' or Flash Gordon.


As I grew up, my horizons widened. I attended High School in Childwall and made friends who lived further afield. I took two buses to visit my dad's family in Bootle on Sundays, and eventually started work in a city centre office. In the late 1950s, I enjoyed lunch-time sessions The Cavern Club, this was pre-Beatles when The Cavern was a jazz club. Weekend evenings were spent at The Locarno, The Grafton,The Harlequin, and other dance halls, or as a regular at the many cinemas in and around the city, with the boyfriend I would eventually marry.

Once married, and when my new husband had completed his National Service in the Royal Navy, we moved about 20 miles out of Merseyside to another small town where we brought up our family and where, 54 years later, we still live. Although I visit Liverpool on a very regular basis, and frequent visits were made to Huyton Quarry and Huyton-with-Roby while our parents were alive, it's now many years since I've walked the streets of my childhood. I knew that The Mayfair closed in 1960; I'd seen Huyton change while my parents were still alive. But as my train into Liverpool passes through Huyton Station now, I can see that even bigger changes have taken place and being curious as to just what remains of the scenes of my childhood I felt it was time to take a walk through my past. Would anything remain of my childhood haunts?


[I am indebted to various sites on the internet for some of these photographs, if anyone needs a personal accreditation, please contact me.]

Sunday, 31 July 2016

A Quiet Hero

A Tribute to One of Liverpool's 'Quiet Heroes'
 - John H (March 1924 - May 2016)

As the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme is being commemorated this summer, it seems an appropriate time to offer a personal tribute to a man who played his part in the D-Day Landings in World War II, just 28 years after "the war to end all wars".

John was born in Liverpool in 1924 and there were early signs that he would grow up with a sense of duty and responsibility. Ronnie, his younger brother, remembers John as his 'protector', spending time reading to him when he was very young, to the extent that Ronnie was already a proficient reader by the time he started school. Ronnie also relates an incident when John was was appearing in a school musical, with Ronnie and their mum in the audience.

'...The floor suddenly collapsed and crashed down sideways into the basement below, plunging everything and everyone into darkness. Mum and I were trapped in the rubble and smashed furniture and unable to move. After a time we heard noises above and a hole appeared...there was John, bloodied and battered, smiling down at us and leading our rescue. He was later taken to hospital for treatment where he met the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. He congratulated him on his bravery and gave him half-a-crown. John of course shared the money with Mum and me - he was nine years old.'

As a teenager - although that description hadn't yet been coined - John excelled at cricket, football and amateur boxing, but it was not until the 1960s that Ronnie introduced him to the game of golf, which became a passion which lasted for the rest of John's life.

In 1941, John, unwilling to wait for conscription into the army, lied about his age and volunteered for the Royal Navy. 



John served in Malta, Palestine, France and the Atlantic and before his demob in 1946 he was on leave in Weymouth when he met Freda - a Liverpool girl on holiday with a friend.


The romance flourished and the couple were married in Woolton, Liverpool, in March, 1948. Freda had saved enough clothing coupons to buy a white wedding dress and, like many post-war brides, her honeymoon nightdress was made from parachute silk!

I first met John and Freda when I was a young schoolgirl and they moved into the house next door with their baby daughter. It was around 1950 - I can't be sure of the exact date because from the moment they set up home in our terraced block I felt as if they'd always lived there. They were a lovely young couple with an adorable baby - and a second soon arrived to complete the family - what more could an impressionable 11-year-old wish for. I always felt welcome in their house, Freda was an excellent home-maker and I picked up many hints from her as a I grew up, which I put into practice when I was running my own home and bringing up my children. Of course, as a child, I didn't think that behind the scenes life probably wasn't easy for the young couple in those early post-war years, there must have been times when money was tight; yet both little girls were always beautifully dressed thanks to Freda's dressmaking skills.

When I married in 1960, Linda and June, were my bridesmaids, and although the family eventually moved back to Woolton, and we moved out of the city, we kept in touch as my own family grew and the two little girls I'd babysat also grew up and married. Family and friends were devastated when Freda died at the age of fifty-two after a short illness. After some years, John moved out of Liverpool and made his home in Suffolk after meeting and beginning a new life with Marion, but we still kept in touch. The last occasion we met was at Linda's 60th birthday party, John having managed the long drive north despite being in his 80s. And as I'd remembered throughout all the years I knew him, he was still smiling, still cheerful.

It was 2004, when Linda and June organised a visit to Omaha to celebrate John's 80th birthday, that they first learned of his experiences on D-Day. He told them that during all the horrors of that day, he had focused on a church steeple above the beach. They found the church, which had been bombed by the allies at 11am as German snipers were using it, and as they sat together, John broke down and at last spoke to his daughters about what had happened. When they returned home after the trip, John put pen to paper to record his thoughts and experiences and I can do no better than quote his own words.


'We leave home for Portsmouth on Tuesday, 13 July, and stay the night at the Holiday Inn... We were awake early to board the ferry for Caen...arriving mid-morning, then made our way to Bayeux which would be our home for the next few days. After unpacking and freshening up we would start our journey to Omaha beach.
   ...I didn't know what to expect when I arrived, after all it was sixty years since I was last there, and under very different circumstances. I think I felt more nervous than I did all that time ago. Arriving at the beach the memories came flooding back, not very pleasant ones. How would I know where we landed? I knew I could see a church spire in the distance, and if I could see it again I would know exactly where it was we landed.
   
On June 5 1944, we set off for an unknown destination. We all had an idea it was something big, we knew it would be France because we'd had the Americans aboard for over a week and they had all been issued with French francs. We sailed through the night and anchored off the French coast till daybreak, having no idea of where we were. We set off towards the beaches just after 6am, everything seemed so quiet till we were due to let the ramps down to let the tanks off, then all hell let loose. There were small craft alongside us with about forty men aboard, just disappearing, bodies all over the place. The Americans were dropping like flies all over the beach. The tanks disembarked onto the beach and I thought at the time, at least they had some protection, the poor infantry didn't have much. I will never forget that day as long as I live. I thanked God for his protection that day, and have thanked him every night of my life since.'

[Sixty years later] We walked down onto the beach and the memories kept flooding back. The first thing I looked for was the church steeple; stepping back along the beach I got a glimpse of it and knew then that I was in the right place. Walking back up from the beach, seeing all the old gun emplacements - it was a wonder anyone came out alive. The French government have given all the land above the beaches to the Americans, so that nothing will ever be built on it. It seemed so peaceful and hallowed compared with 60 years ago. I was one of the few lucky ones.
   A short drive from Omaha, we arrived at the village of St Laurent and found the church, Notre Dame. It had been badly damaged during the war but has been fully restored since. I went into the church with my family to pay my respects to all the men who lost their lives all that time ago. Seeing the church 60 years ago, little did I think at the time that one day I would be praying in it and I am grateful to my family for making it possible - a very emotional experience.'

John goes on to describe the next part of his journey, his visit to the American Cemetery; to Arromances, the scene of the English and Canadian landings, and its museum, where the Vets were made welcome and thanked for their part in the liberation. He mentions seeing the D-Day films at Cinema 360, which he describes as giving a good insight into what took place. He also visited the LST and Landing Craft Association Memorial in the town centre and writes of his sadness and the emotional impact of the day. His account continues:

'Friday 16th, this is the big day. We are due at the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen at 11am for the presentation of a chest badge. It is being presented by the French Government to all the Veterans, in order to pay tribute to those who have come to Normandy to remember their fallen comrades. We arrived at the Abbey in good time and were made most welcome, there were supposed to be eight of us, but for some unknown reason only two of us turned up - nevertheless, they decided to carry on with the ceremonies. We were introduced to the Mayor, who was going to conduct the ceremony, his speech was in French but translated into English by a young lady. After the very emotional speech our chest badges were brought in on red velvet cushions and presented to us by the Mayor, I felt really proud and it was nice to have my family present at the ceremony. Food and drinks were laid on for us after the ceremony and we were given a book and a poster to remind us of our visit. These memories will be with me for ever...


   Leaving Caen, we headed for Le Havre, another place which held special memories for me. It was quite a time after the main landings that we had to call at Le Havre, to pick up a German E-boat and take it back to England. Arriving at port in darkness and thick fog, we were unable to find the harbour entrance, the skipper decided to drop anchor for the night and wait till morning. At daybreak we could see the harbour entrance but before we had the chance to do anything a voice over the loud hailer informed us that we were anchored in a minefield! It took quite a while to haul up the anchor, couldn't rush things, everyone had their fingers crossed, saying a few prayers I expect, and hoping we didn't hear a loud bang. It would probably have been the last bang we would have heard in our lives. Another lucky escape.
   We ended up in harbour for six weeks, our engines had broken down. Lost touch with the outside world and found out later that we had been posted missing. It must have been a very worrying time for my family. We were unaware what was happening at the time. We had no food supplies for all that time, had to live on emergency supplies that we had on board, consisting of corned beef and hard tack (dog biscuits). Thanks to the American army they gave us some of their grub to help us along.'

John ended his re-visit to Normandy on Saturday, 17th July, 2004 and completes his account with these moving words:
    
'I just hope the younger generation will not forget us. We Vets are not heroes, we don't pretend to be, we just did what we had to do. We were all youngsters ourselves at the time and we all thought we were fighting for freedom for everybody. Please protect that freedom, nobody with any sense wants wars. Don't let our efforts be wasted.'

In 2015, a year after the 70th anniversary of D-Day, John's daughter, Linda, read an article in a newspaper stating that as a gesture of appreciation, the French Government were awarding the Légion d'Honneur, France's highest honour, to all surviving Veterans. She subsequently applied to the MOD, filling in an on-line form giving John's Naval ID - Able-Bodied Seaman - and explaining his role on D-Day:
   'On board LCT 798 serving as AA3 Gunner for initial landing at 6am on Omaha Beach, 4th June, 1944, taking Americans in to land on beach. Also subsequent landings made on the same day.'

By now, John health's was deteriorating; Linda knew that time was running out as the medal could only be awarded to surviving Veterans, not their families, but she carried on her own battle to win this well-deserved tribute for her father. The look of pride in John's eyes when he learned that he was to be a recipient of the honour was reward enough for her determination.

John passed away in May, 2016, surrounded by his loved ones. Sadly, his brother, Ronnie, was unable to make the journey from New Zealand, his home for many years, but he sent a moving tribute to his much-loved older brother which was read out at John's funeral. It ended with the words:

'The sailor has gone out with the tide.'




 RIP John; a 'quiet hero', you were the perfect role model for your four grandsons and great-grandson and will be sorely missed by all who knew you.
























Tuesday, 14 June 2016

To Dye - or Not to Dye - That is the Question  (Apologies to The Bard!)

When I was a child I didn't know any women of the older generation who dyed their hair; you became middle-aged, you went grey, it was as simple as that. By the time I was a teenager in the '50s, young women were beginning to experiment with colour just for fun. I had friends who went 'plum' coloured and others who went blonde, but it was usually only a temporary phase. It was easier if you had 'mousy' hair - or to be kinder, hair of an indeterminate colour! On my father's side of the family there were women - and men - with glorious auburn hair which became in later life what was described as 'pepper and salt'. However, my mother was Spanish and I inherited her very dark hair - and I think the darker your hair colour, the earlier it will turn grey.

As a young child, my hair was very straight and was usually cut in a simple 'basin' cut by my mum. Oh how I envied my best friend, who had blonde, naturally curly hair!



As a teenager, I discovered the delights of home-perms.



My hair grew very quickly and as a young married woman in the '60s, I regularly switched between long and short styles - never worrying about its colour.


By the time I was expecting my first child, in 1966, my hair was long again.



The years pass, you're busy raising your family, you take the colour of your hair for granted, the image you see in the mirror, when you have time to look, is still familiar. Until change creeps up on you, one silver thread at a time. My first one appeared when I was in my thirties, a mother of three, blissfully unaware of the momentous change that was taking place - until a 'friend', standing behind me, gleefully pulled out a long silver hair from the back of my head! Even then, I didn't worry too much about it, I was in my fifties before the process began speeding up. Those were the days when you took holiday snaps on a roll of film that took a week or so to be developed before you could see the end result. And suddenly you don't recognise the woman smiling out at you - 'But I'm going grey', you wail.



Decision time! A point that most women will reach at some time in their lives. Will we embrace the change in our natural hair colour, from brunette, auburn, or blonde to silver, or will we step on that treadmill of home-colouring or expensive visits to salons? And if we go down the colouring route how many years will it be before we say, 'enough is enough'?

Is it easier for blondes? Probably; I imagine silver can become ash-blonde quite easily, and look very attractive. But if you've always had very dark hair, it's more difficult. Black was out of the question, it just didn't look natural, so I began with 'mid-brown', going slightly lighter as my hair became more and more grey. But I never really liked it. I don't enjoy going to the hairdressers, I get my hair trimmed at home, so colouring was a DIY job. I'm sure home products are improving all the time, but I always dreaded it, the preparation - covering the bathroom floor with old towels (once I still managed to 'drip' onto a new stair-carpet) - and the timing, if I was going somewhere special in a couple of weeks time would my colour last, or would I end up with the dreaded 'badger streak'?

When I reached seventy, I was ready to give in, but my husband kept persuading me otherwise - even though his own hair was completely grey. Funny how on men it's considered distinguished - the 'silver fox' look - while on woman it's said to be 'ageing'! I persevered for another couple of years but I knew there was no way I was going to keep on past the age of seventy-five. Once the decision was made, it wasn't an easy transition. I had to watch the silver creep, inch by inch, from the crown to the ends - not a pretty sight! One word of advice - if you decide to take the plunge, do it in the winter when you can always wear a hat outdoors.

Once the last half-inch of coloured hair was snipped away (a 'semi-permanent' colour lasts much, much longer than the six weeks it's supposed to) the sense of relief and achievement was wonderful. There have been annoying moments, but fortunately I've been able to see the funny side of them. Booking into a hotel with my husband, we were asked if we would like an 'accessible' ground-floor room!
   'No, we'd like one on the top floor please.'
   'Well, we have got one on the top floor but I'm afraid there's no lift.'
   'That's not a problem.' The hotel was only two storeys high!
   'But the room is at the far end of the corridor.'
   'Yes, yes, that's fine.' 
We're now regulars at this particular hotel - it's where we stay when we're visiting family - so now they just smile and say, 'Room 208, as usual?' I also appreciate it when young people give up their seat for you on buses and trains, I certainly don't resent the gesture.

Of course, I miss the thick, heavy hair of my youth, the gloss, and the way the sunlight would highlight glints of chestnut; but I know it wouldn't suit the face I inhabit now, Mother Nature's taste is excellent when it comes to colour schemes - and all the family love my 'new look'. Although I'm a little sad when my grandchildren browse the old photograph albums and say, 'Gosh, Nanny, is that really you!'

According to Shakespeare, I have now reached the seventh age of  [wo]man - but although my 'crowning glory' is silver, and no longer glorious, I'm not yet 'sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything' - so, sorry, William, I'm not quite finished yet!


Thanks to my good friend, children's author Annie Holland, for my latest photograph. Annie's delightful 'Stella the Stork' tales are available from www.stellathestork.co.uk.
 


  

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

'Knowledge is Power' - The Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool

The closure of many public libraries is currently a contentious issue, widely discussed in the media, so what better time to visit the Victoria Gallery's exhibition 'Knowledge is Power' and discover the roots of Liverpool's own library services. The exhibition opened last November and runs until the 18th of June, 2016. On the Gallery's website, I read about the drop-in reading group sessions, Reading is Power, run by Richard every Wednesday at 1pm as part of the exhibition. These sessions were described as friendly, informal, and free, with no prior booking required, which meant I could attend as and when it was convenient for me, without having to make a long-term commitment. Its intention is to 'explore stories and poems by great writers', no prior reading required, another plus, although I did hope that I would be familiar with some of the works.

It was the Wednesday of Easter week before I had a chance to 'drop in' and the timing probably explains why only four of us, two men and two women, turned up that particular day. It also explains why Richard was unavailable, although we were lucky that Kate, one of the Visitor Services Team, stepped in to lead us, handing out photocopies of an extract from George Eliot's Silas Marner. We each read out a short section of the extract and then discussed it as a group. The reading aloud is voluntary. I can vouch for the description 'friendly and informal', as I spent a very enjoyable hour in the company of others who also love reading. Which brings me to the exhibition itself.

I arrived early and had time to look at the exhibits before the reading session began. The first thing to catch my eye was the quote from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice : 'I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book!' This statement by Miss Bingley is a ploy to attract Mr D'Arcy's attention but is none the less true for many of us. There were very few books in my childhood home yet thanks to the local library, I became an avid reader at an early age. I wonder whether the character in Sheridan's, The Rivals (1775) reflected the playright's own view when he says, '...a circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge! Had I 1,000 daughters, by heaven! I'd as soon have them taught the black art, as their alphabet!' The Public Libraries Act 1850 was introduced by Liverpool-born MP William Ewart and funded by taxpayers; without this free service my access to 'the tree of knowledge', diabolical or otherwise, would have been very limited.

There were 'public' libraries long before the 1850 Act, of course, but they were available only to privileged members of society, allowing them to pool resources and gain access to commercial and professional information. Liverpool's Athenaeum (1797) was a private members' club and in 1802 the 40 guineas fee to join, and therefore have access to its library, was prohibitive to all but the wealthiest men in the city.

Books from the Medical Library (1779) which individual members of the medical professional would not have been able to afford, gave valuable information on the symptoms and cures of diseases. Some of these books were on display in the exhibition, along with pieces of equipment such as a Georgian Resuscitation Kit - a rather gruesome contraption!




There were books on display that I would love to handle, my fingers itched to turn the pages of William Enfield's The History of Liverpool (1758). Almost 50 years later, The Strangers Guide to Liverpool described the city as '...one of the finest towns in the world; the abode of industry and of opulence; the home of commerce and magnificence', and William Roscoe believed it was 'the new Florence'. I knew a little about William Roscoe, the abolitionist, but I didn't know that he was 'one of the best-selling historians of his generation'. Both the draft copy and the final printed version (1805) of his Life of Pope Leo X are on display in the exhibition. They are huge tomes and he must have spent years handwriting that first draft; I wonder how many modern writers would have been up to the task.

There is a large Survey Map of Liverpool on one wall, dated 1836, and I was able to find Upper Frederick Street, where my mother grew up in the early years of the 20th century. There is also a hand-written census from 1801, the first to document the whole population of the city; it was interesting to see the mix of occupations in one street - a Turnkey (at the Bridewell), labourers, mariners, and even a doctor.




The Athenaeum and The Lyceum shaped the elite culture in Liverpool but it was interesting to read that Henry Gearing, the Athenaeum's first librarian was 'reprimanded for drinking spirits'. It seems he wasn't dismissed from the post, which he held from 1799 to 1817! During the  late Victorian era, the working class began to benefit from free libraries; access to knowledge was the means to self-education, and reading for pleasure a welcome relaxation. Richard Warbrick's English and Foreign Circulating Library on Lime Street held 6,000 titles - which could be borrowed for a day, a week, or a month. The annual subscription was £1.10s, or you could borrow novels, romances and plays for the cheaper rate of £1.00! Also, the Athenaeum began taking boxes from Mudie's Select Library Ltd - there is one of the original boxes on display in the exhibition.

The philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie became the main force behind the spread of the library service. Between 1883 and 1929 he donated funds for over 2,500 libraries, 660 of them in the UK and Ireland, with a dramatic increase from 1899 onwards. Many of us will have a Carnegie Library in our town - if it hasn't already been closed! He required each town to make some financial commitment towards the cost, believing that people would feel more involved in the service if they had some input. And, of course, Liverpool is indebted to Sir William Brown MP, who paid the entire cost of the Brown Library in 1860, now the Central Library in William Brown Street. Later, six branch libraries were funded by Andrew Carnegie. My local library, built in 1906, is a Grade II listed Carnegie building. Fortunately, after a public compaign and consultations with the Council, this has remained open, although with reduced hours; another Grade II listed library some five miles away has been converted into office space.

As readers, we have much to thank those early benefactors for. I think everyone who is interested in keeping our libraries open should visit the VGM's exhibition to appreciate how much effort went into opening up the world of books and knowledge to the wider population. The rise in the popularity of e-books does not mean we have to make a choice, the physical and the digital can co-exist happily. When travelling we can have an unlimited supply of reading material at our fingertips without the extra baggage charge! In whatever form,  'I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading'!

When exploring the Victoria Gallery and Museum, a visit to the Waterhouse Café adds to the pleasure. Being surrounded by stunning architecture makes it a unique place to enjoy lunch, or one of their delicious cakes with a coffee.



Photographs courtesy of The Victoria Gallery and Museum

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Reader's Digest 100 Word Story Competition 2016

As last year's winner, and as the deadline for this year's competition draws ever closer, I would like to wish everyone who enters, the very best of luck.

My winning story was inspired by a painting by a Victorian artist, L C Henley, which depicts a young woman reading by the fireside and idealises Victorian domestic life. I wanted to twist the title and approach it from a modern, chilling perspective.

A Quiet Half-Hour

A quiet half-hour was all she needed. Settling in her favourite chair, she closed her eyes and let the silence wash over her. No sounds to disturb her thoughts, no banging doors, no raised voices - just peace, perfect peace. The peace she had craved for months but never expected to experience again. It couldn't last, of course. Reality would come crashing in and her life would change forever. But she still had this half-hour. She felt the tenseness leave her body.
Only twenty-five minutes left now. And then she would telephone the police and tell them what she had done.

I was thrilled with the judges' comments:

'This story is full of unspoken, suppressed emotion. It crackles with underlying tension and never overplays its hand. A hugely impressive piece of writing.'

Click on my earlier posts which tell of my great excitement on learning I'd won the 100 Word Story Competition, and all about the photo shoot that followed - the latter giving an insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes to make Reader's Digest such an enjoyable read.

Visit the Reader's Digest website.

My prize money of £500 paid for a trip to Santiago de Compostela to research my Spanish roots - I hope that this year's winner will also spend the prize money, now increased to £2,000, on something really special. Good luck everyone!

Friday, 1 January 2016

An Hispanic Liverpool Heritage Walk

On Tuesday, 29th December, Dr Kirsty Hooper of the Hispanic Liverpool Project - www.hispanicliverpool.org - arranged a meeting at the Baltic Fleet pub so that members of the group could catch up on the latest developments, pore over maps, and generally chat and exchange family stories before taking our heritage walk.


The Baltic Fleet - www.balticfleetpubliverpool.com - proved to be the perfect place to gather. It's more than likely that any seafaring ancestors would have stepped through its doors when coming ashore after a long trip, and some members of the group have happy memories of drinking at the Baltic in more recent years. Although not everyone in the Hispanic Liverpool Group was able to join us, we were still quite a large group, but the Baltic's Landlord, Simon Holt, was happy to accommodate us. We arrived after lunch, but the sight of their signature dish, Scouse, (adopted by Liverpudlians from the Norwegian Lapskaus) being carried through to other customers, made me determined to return one day soon to sample it. I did enjoy the coffee though, and according to the men in the group, the beer was excellent!

When I look back fifteeen years to when I first began researching my family history, I am amazed at the progress Kirsty has made in placing Hispanic immigrants in Liverpool's history. I spent the early years of my research frustrated at the lack of information; for all my efforts, it seemed my Spanish ancestors had arrived, lived, raised a family, and died in the city without leaving any trace. There was a thriving Chinese community, celebrated by a splendid Chinese gate, even an area called Little Italy, but what of the Hispanic immigrants? I knew my grandparents couldn't have been the only Spaniards to arrive in Liverpool at the beginning of the 20th century. My research was made more difficult because my family had moved from the heart of Liverpool, way out into the suburbs, at the outbreak of WWII; perhaps if we'd stayed, I would have met other children of English/Spanish heritage and perhaps heard their family stories.

I have mentioned in a previous blog, that I met Kirsty when she was head of Hispanic Studies at Liverpool University and I attended one of her lectures. That night was a turning point for me, for the first time I was in a room full of people who had a shared heritage; whose grandparents had lived in the same streets as mine; whose grandfathers had worked alongside mine for the Larrinaga Shipping Line. That was the first time I gained a sense of my place in the city's rich multi-cultural history. Now, thanks to Kirsty and her team's ongoing, tireless, research, we have the Hispanic Liverpool Project, where we meet up, in workshops and on line, to share photographs, memories and family stories, and discuss our ongoing personal projects.

Before setting off on our walk to trace the homes of our Spanish parents and grandparents, using maps and old photographs to try to trace where their long-gone homes once stood, we gathered outside the Baltic Fleet while Simon gave us a brief, but very interesting, talk on the history of the building. We plan to meet there again at some point in the future and hear the full story - ghosts and secret tunnels, I can't wait!


After a December of above average rainfall, the weather that day proved kind to us, perfect for strolling, taking photographs, and above all reminiscing. We all had different addresses we wanted to trace and by physically walking the area around Park Lane we could get a sense of just how many Hispanic people lived in that part of the city. I could see Liver Street, my grandmother's first destination on arrival; and although there is now no trace of the house in Greetham Street where my mother was born, the street sign is still on the wall and part of the cobbled street remains. I was able to walk in my grandmother's footsteps and imagine her pushing my mother's pram, the first child of her Liverpool-born family.





Kirsty had taken a packet of chalks along on our heritage walk, and was soon marking precise spots on lamp-posts and pavements.



Old photographs and maps made it possible to trace where the homes and businesses of other Hispanic families once stood. We learned where Christina's grandparents had their fish and chip shop, and a secret family recipe - but that's her story to tell!

What Liverpool has suffered over the years, especially in the Blitz, has made it almost impossible for a family historian to find physical traces of their ancestors' homes. I have had more luck in Santiago de Compostela, where I have been able to trace, stand outside, and photograph, every house that my grandmother lived in, the churches where her family were baptised and married, and the cemeteries where they are buried. My next project is to trace my Spanish grandfather's roots - and, with a great deal of help, I am on the verge of an important discovery!

Until then, I am extremely grateful, and proud, to be a member of the Hispanic Liverpool community and I look forward to our next get-together. Thank you all - including my very patient other-half, who took the photographs!