Category Archives: Holidays

Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars with Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Eventually Britain and Iceland came to a settlement, which stipulated that any future disagreement between the two countries in the matter of fishery zones would be sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Icelandic Minister Bjarni Benediktsson hailed the agreement as “Iceland’s biggest political victory.

cod war

But it wasn’t the end of Cod Wars because there was a second in 1972 and a third in 1975 when on both occasions Iceland further extended their territorial fishing waters without consultation and continuing to protect these is what keeps Iceland from joining the European Union even today.

I had no idea that when I visited Iceland that I was now there as a resident of the English fishing town of Grimsby which was once recognised as the largest and busiest fishing port in the world. The wealth and population growth of the town was based on the North Sea herring fishery but this collapsed in the middle of the twentieth century and so diversified to distant water trawler fishing targeting cod in the seas around Iceland.  The concessions that Britain made to Iceland as a result of the Cod Wars which put these fishing grounds off limit destroyed the fishing industry in the town.  It is said that many men who survived the sea came home without jobs and drowned in beer.

Today Grimsby is dominated by the fish processing sector rather than the catching industry. Processors are mainly supplied by over-landed fish from other UK ports and by a harsh twist of fate containerised white fish from Iceland.

There is a National Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby which is a museum including a visit on board a real Grimsby Trawler – The Ross Tiger.  It’s a museum well worth visiting and the last time that I went I learnt from the guided tour that ironically Grimbarians don’t particularly care for cod anyway and have a preference for haddock which they consider to be a superior fish!

Cod

It wasn’t only Grimsby that was adversely affected by the outcome of the Cod Wars and across the Humber Estuary the fishing industry in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull  was similarly devastated by the capitulation of the UK Government and also went into dramatic and irreversible decline.

In view of this in a previous post I expressed surprise that Reykjavik and Hull are official  ‘Twin Towns‘ but I suppose the arrangement may be an attempt at reconciliation and mutual understanding because this was one of the original principles of twinning which became a popular thing to do after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours

I have often wondered however what the process was for getting a twin town. Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful, perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency or maybe it was just a nice place where the Mayor and the Town Clerk rather fancied an annual all-expenses paid trip!

Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins.  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry.  Earlier this year I visited another of Coventry’s twin towns – Warsaw in Poland.

Other significant events of 1958 included a revolution in Iraq that overthrew the monarchy, murdered the King and triggered years of instability in the Middle East which continues today; Charles de Gaulle became President of France, which was bad news for those wanting to join the Common Market and Nikita Khrushchev became President of the USSR, who although a liberal by Communist standards was the man who would later approve the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Baldur Fishing Vessel Keflavik Iceland

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Age of Innocence, 1957 – Baby Boomers

In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born but around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.

The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and Anglophobe President de Gaulle.

Harold MacMillan became the new Prime Minister of Britain when Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis debacle and this ushered in the baby boomer years of the late 50’s and 60’s when life generally improved for everyone.  He led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election using the campaign slogan “Life’s Better Under the Conservatives” and MacMillan himself is remembered for his famous personal assessment of these years when he said,“indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”

So was he right?  In an honest personal assessment I have to say yes.  I was born in 1954  in the years of post war reconstruction and investment and at a time when there was genuine optimism about the future.  For me and my contemporaries there was no World War to live through, a free National Health Service, an education system that led to guaranteed employment and an expectation of a long and rewarding life.

My childhood was comfortable if not extravagant, dad had a career in Local Government and mum stayed at home and kept house.  There were annual holidays to the seaside, a sack full of presents at Christmas  and long glorious summers without a care in the World.

I liked to go to school, even though I wasn’t terribly successful but eventually I was able to progress to University  which in 1972 was an achievement rather than an expectation.

After three years of state funded education I started work immediately and followed my dad into a local government career with a guaranteed ‘gold plated’ (according to the anti public sector press these days) index linked pension.

I bought my first car soon after starting work and a first house soon after that, getting loans and mortgages was easy and I soon started to climb the property ladder.

  

I had my first continental holiday in 1976 and having got a taste for travel have been travelling as much as possible ever since and have been lucky to fly several times a year to Europe and beyond.

I have two children and three grandchildren . I have never been unemployed, sick or poor and now I am retired from work at sixty years old and hope to look forward to a long and happy life.

My Grandchildren

So, was Harold MacMillan right in his assessment of life for the Baby Boomers?  In my case I have to say a categorical yes!

Scrap Book Project – Twenty Years of the UK National Lottery

19th November 1994 was the day of the first UK National Lottery draw and a £1 ticket gave a one-in-14-million chance of striking lucky and guessing correctly the winning six out of 49 numbers.

I remember that everyone was talking about the National Lottery and I bought my ticket a few days in advance of the Saturday night draw.  This was in the days before ‘Lucky Dip’ so I had to choose my numbers and like a lot of people I selected meaningful dates like my birthday, my house number, my age and so on.

In 1994 I was working for Cory Environmental at Southend-on-Sea in Essex and I used to drive there everyday from Rugby, a journey which took just a little under two hours (it was a company car so I didn’t mind putting excess miles on the clock, running up a massive fuel bill or making a major contribution to global warming with my diesel emissions) and on that Saturday morning I was on weekend duty and as I drove along the M25 my head was full of plans for spending the winnings that I was absolutely confident of picking up later.  I mean, how difficult could it be to pick 6 numbers out of 49?

After a day at work the return journey was the same, would I move to France or Spain? Would I have a Ferrari or a Lamborghini? How would I tell my boss to shove his job and how far and how much would I miss my friends and family? I was totally confident of a life-changing moment in just a couple of hours or so.

Well, it wasn’t to be of course, I don’t think I even got one number, eight people shared the jackpot that night and I wasn’t one of them and I never have been of course and except for the occasional £10 win I have suffered from twenty years of LDS – Lottery Disappointment Syndrome!  I live in Grimsby, I have a Volkswagen Golf, three years ago my boss told me to shove off and made me redundant but on the upside I still have my friends and family and that includes three grandchildren who are worth several times more than any multi-million pound lottery win!

Children

 

Scrap Book Project – Hillmorton

The family settled in Hillmorton in 1960 when Dad took up a new job at the Rugby Rural District Council (created 1894, abolished 1974) and we moved from Hinckley in Leicestershire, about fifteen miles away.  In those days Hillmorton was only a small village and although there was no discernable boundary from the town it was undeveloped and had only a fraction of the population that it has today.

We moved into a brand new bungalow at number 47, The Kent that was one of the first new developments in the village at that time.  It cost £2,000.  All around there were exciting places to explore and play and there was lots of time to do so because parents were not nearly so paranoid about children wandering off to enjoy themselves in the 1960’s as they are today.  In those days it wasn’t uncommon to go out in the morning and only return home when empty tummies demanded that food was required and there certainly weren’t search parties out looking all over the place.  It’s a shame that these days children are confined to their back gardens or have to be taken back and forth to school by car because there was so much more fun when young lives were not subject to so many restrictions on movement.

The house we lived in was built on an old tip and over the back was a big hole perfect for sifting through and finding old junk and behind that was ‘The Bank’,which was a strip of trees and undergrowth that was good for playing jungle war games.  A narrow path ran from Sandy Lane to Tony Gibbard’s garden at no. 37 where two trees, one large and one small, were converted into tree houses and frequently doubled up as a Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire fighter.  You certainly had to have a vivid imagination to achieve this childhood fantasy transformation.

What is now Featherbed Lane used to be Sandy Lane which was an unpaved track and in the adjacent trees was a long abandoned car that in our imagination we converted into a Churchill Tank.  Beyond Sandy Lane was the ‘Sand Pit’, which was a bit of a forbidden zone on account of the large number of rats that lived there.  Mum didn’t like us going there and with her exaggerated warnings of how they would either dash up your trouser leg and chew your penis off or alternatively take a flying leap and rip your throat out was enough to make you think twice about venturing too far inside.

A few years later they built some houses on the sand pit and a lot of them fell down quite soon after because of inadequate foundations in the soft sand.

Further down the road there were some derelict old terraced houses that had been condemned by the Local Authority that we convinced ourselves were haunted, they were knocked down a few years later and some Council flats built there to replace them.  These days they would be boarded up and made secure but in the early 1960s they were left open so we used to go inside and frighten ourselves half to death exploring the empty rooms looking for their secrets.

On the road down to the Locks and the Oxford Canal there was the site of the old Hillmorton Manor House that lay in ruins surrounded by dense undergrowth of trees and vegetation.  This is where Constable Road is now.   Around the Manor House the bigger boys in the village had constructed a scramble track (a sort of pre-BMX thing) where we had bike races and pretended to be the Brandon Bees motorcyclists.

This wasn’t my favourite game I have to say because I used to prefer to go down to the canal and mess about on the locks.  This is where my best pal David Newman and Gary James lived and his parents allowed us to build a camp in an old outbuilding in the garden.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the locks for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

School was about three hundred metres away and to get there we had to pass what was euphemistically called the ‘corn field’.  There never actually was any corn in it of course it was just a piece of uncultivated land with long grass that was waiting to be developed and it wasn’t long before the Council built a clinic and some houses on it and took away another useful recreation site.

At the back of the school was the Elder Forest, which wasn’t a forest at all just an area of overgrown vegetation with a predominance of Elder Trees.  That’s all been grubbed up and built on too of course now.  Given the shortage of playing space it’s hardly any wonder I suppose that today children have to stop at home and watch the TV or play computer games and are denied the pleasure of real play!

Scrap Book Project – The Annual School Outing (Away Day)

In the 1960s one of the highlights of the school year was going away for the day on the annual school outing.

When I was at junior school at the Hillmorton County school this was usually a simple affair with a trip and a picnic to somewhere fairly close by.  Dovedale in Derbyshire was about the furthest the teachers would venture to take us but it was more usual to stay within the county of Warwickshire and trips would inevitably be to Warwick Castle or Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.

I can certainly remember going to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day and visiting Shakespeare’s House on Henley Street in the town centre, Anne Hathaway’s House in Shottery and Mary Arden’s House in nearby Wilmcote.

One special trip from the Hillmorton School was an outing to London and a visit to the Science Museum in South Kensington in about 1964.  I had been to London several times of course because my grandparents lived in Catford and we used to visit and stay there regularly.

The Science Museum has always been one of my favourites.  I liked Stephenson’s Rocket and the replica coal mine, a sort of early interactive experience where we stepped into a dark world of a Welsh mine.  The exhibit may not be there anymore because since all the country’s pits closed in the 1980s you can go down real ones instead.  But my real favourite, and I agree that this is not especially exciting, was an exhibit that explained ploughing and tilling and was in a glass case with three tractors and three different types of plough and when you turned a handle then the whole thing moved and explained the sequence of farming. I was delighted to see that that particular exhibit was actually still there forty years later when I last visited the museum in 2002.

The junior school annual outing was generally a well behaved affair that can’t have been too stressful for the teachers and we would obediently form organised lines and follow them like sheep from place to place as we went through the day.

This was not the case however with school trips at secondary school when the day was a perfect opportunity for mischief and mayhem.

The day started with a lot of pushing and shoving waiting for the coach to arrive because, a bit like the classroom, it was essential to get the back seat and be as far away from the teachers, who inevitably sat at the front, as possible.  When I say coach what I really mean of course is the most ancient and worn out vehicle in the fleet partly because the school would have paid the lowest price possible but mostly because the coach operating company was not going to provide its best vehicles for a bunch of unruly school kids.

On account of the age of the bus and the worn out state of the engine it would take a couple of hours to get to London including a fifteen minute stop at a service station to let the engine cool down and give us an opportunity to run around the car park and for no reason other than we could, to cross the bridge to the other side of the M1.

After we had arrived in the capital we would go to the Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace or to some other sites as part of the formal part of the day.  Once we met the MP for Rugby, William Price, who took us on a tour of the Houses of Parliament.  In the House of Lords he carefully explained that it was absolutely forbidden for a commoner to sit on the red leather chairs so we then spent a few minutes trying to force other kids into the seats in the hope that someone would have their heads chopped off.

After that it was time for lunch so we would parade off to Hyde Park or somewhere similar and eat our sandwiches.  Most of us used to carry our sandwiches and our raincoats in a duffle bag, which was a sort of draw string canvas bag which no self respecting school kid would be seen dead with these days.  They were about forty centimetres deep with soft sides and a rigid round bottom, they were lined with plastic that used to split and break off and around the top were some brass rings where the cord passed through and was tightened to close it.  Even though our sandwiches were in airtight Tupperware dishes they always tasted of chlorine because these were the same bags that we used to take our swimming trunks and towels to the baths for our weekly lessons and it was impossible to get rid of the smell especially after you had left them in there over the weekend.

After lunch it was free time and this was the opportunity to let our hair down. Out of sight of the teachers the first thing we did was to take off our caps and maroon blazers and roll them up into our duffle bags and then we made for the city centre.  Sensible kids did more sightseeing or a bit of shopping but I always hung around with the boys who wanted to misbehave and do silly things.  On one trip I remember that we wasted a whole afternoon by buying a ticket on the underground circle line to the next stop and then going all the way round, again, just because we could and it felt as though we were doing something wrong.

On another occasion, when I was about fifteen, one of my friends, Paul Connor, who was more sexually advanced than most of us, arranged for us to go to Soho because he had heard that it was possible to see live sex shows. He was confident that the way to do this was to go to a dirty book shop and just hang around and then someone would come and ask us if we wanted to go through to the back room.  We did this and we didn’t have to hang about too long at all (probably no more than a few seconds) before a man came and asked us what we were doing there (we were only fifteen and probably had no more than ten shillings each to spend) and Paul told him we wanted to go into the back room.  He told us to follow him and he took us down a corridor and opened the door at the end and ushered us all through – back onto the street!

At five o’clock or thereabouts we had to return to the rendezvous point for the trip home. Someone was always late or worse, lost, which meant thirty minutes of adrenalin filled panic for the teachers but eventually everyone turned up, sometimes accompanied by a police officer and by the time everyone was accounted for it was back on the bus to eat the last of the chlorine sandwiches on the way home.

school-trips-and-feeling-homesick

Scrap Book Project – Spalding Flower Parade

In the late 1970s my first job in Local Government was in the Finance Department at Rugby Borough Council and I worked in a small office of six people one of whom was a man called Ron Lindley (in the picture on the left).  Ron was in his late fifties and had previously served in the army and had worked for a long time at British Leyland in Coventry and, I’m afraid this has to be said –  he was a bit boring!  He had a lifetime full of stories about serving in India and production line techniques and if Ron caught you for a chat you’d really want to make sure you were the one nearest the door.

Anyway, one Monday morning in about 1978 Ron came to work after a week off and I made the mistake of asking him what he had been doing.  He told me he had been to Spalding to the Flower Parade and would I like to see some pictures.  I didn’t even know where Spalding was but it was rude to say no so I said that I would love to.  To my horror Ron produced five ‘Photo express’ packs of thirty-six photographs each and proceeded to go through each one with an explanation and a commentary.

This took some time I can tell you, and by the end I was close to using the office stapler on my leg to keep me conscious but eventually it came to an end and I mention all of this because when it was all over I clearly remember saying to myself, “Andrew, whatever you do in life, make sure you never go the Spalding Flower Parade!”

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the sheer number and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the market town became an annual feast of colour.  The crowds that came in created many problems for the town and coaches and cars caused chaos on the narrow lanes around the fields and this continued to happen until in 1948, the Growers’ Association became involved in organising a Tulip Week.  With the help of the Royal Automobile Club, a twenty-five mile tour through villages and country lanes was planned to show the best fields.

So successful was the attraction that by 1950, Tulip Week had become Tulip Time.  A Tulip Queen competition was organised and the crowning of the Queen was performed just before the start of Tulip Time.  The Queen and her two attendants had to be employed in the flower bulb industry and were selected at competitions held at village dances.

An influx of visitors created an opportunity and an idea to put on an attraction to publicise the bulb industry.  A few experiments with decorated cars showed that the tulip heads could be made into garlands and pinned onto backing materials in colourful designs and would still hold their colour for a few days at that time of year.

To ensure that there would always be tulips on display, even if they might not be in the fields, from the many millions of tulip flower heads removed it was decided that keep some available for decorative purposes, firstly for static displays and some selected carts and vehicles, and these eventually started to drive around the town until, in 1959, the first Spalding Tulip Parade took place.

Building of the floats began with an intricate outline of steel tracery welded on a base carefully measured to fit a tractor underneath it. The initial form and steel skeleton of each float was skillfully constructed into the outline shape of the subject and then the steelwork was covered with a special straw matting to form a base to which the tulip heads could be attached.

Teams of up to two hundred people then worked throughout the two days before the Parade using up to one million tulip heads and pinning each one onto the floats in the colours and patterns required until all the floats were covered with tulips.  A single float, which can be as much as fifteen metres in length was decorated by as many as a hundred thousand tulip heads.

The first Parade was described as ‘a floral pageantry a mile long’.  There were just eight floats but it became an event not to be missed – twenty special trains came from all over England to the sidings at Spalding station.  Temporary caravan villages sprang up and two hundred thousand (sad) people would watch the spectacle. The success of the Tulip Parade, the only display of floral floats in the world using just tulips, brought Spalding and its horticultural industry to the notice of the country. Within only three years, the Parade had become so famous that a quarter of a million people were coming to Spalding on Parade Day to line the four mile route around the town.

Fast Forward…

In August 2000 I had a change of job and went to work for South Holland District Council and over the next few months I became aware of preparations for the 2001 Flower Parade and it seemed that as part of the duties of the job I had a part in all of this.  Even then I had forgotten about Ron’s boring story and just made my contribution.

On Saturday May 6th I got up for a day at work and travelled to Spalding and spent the morning making sure everything was in place for the event and still my memory wasn’t nudged in any way until the Parade came into view and started to pass by.  It seemed to take forever and suddenly it came to me, my words from 1977, “Andrew, whatever you do in life, make sure you never go the Spalding Flower Parade!”

This goes to prove that we really need to be careful what we say because our words can come back to haunt us.  I have now been to ten Spalding Flower Parade’s, each one has long and tedious as the first, each one just as mind numbingly boring as Ron’s never ending packs of photographs.

I left Rugby in 1980 and never saw Ron again, he died a few years later but I will never forget his Flower parade photographs.

Scrap Book Project – Ivan Petcher

March 27th is a very special day to me because in 1932 that was the day that my dad, Ivan Petcher was born.  He was the sort of man that you hope to be like when you grow up and then wish you had been like when you are old.

I don’t know anything about his childhood of course and there is no one to give me any clues so my story fast-forwards to 1947 and the year he met my mum.

From the way dad used to talk about being a teenager I have always imagined the post war years to be an almost idyllic existence, Enid Blyton sort of days with long hot summers, blue skies, bike rides, ripping-yarn adventures and picnics, where young people were polite and had good manners and didn’t spend their evenings hanging around Tesco Express with a bottle of cider, frightening the old folk and no one had heard of the concept of anti-social behaviour.

These were surely days of optimism with a country led by a Labour Government that had been elected in the summer of 1945 with a landslide majority and a promise to make everything better and which had embarked on a radical programme of nationalisation including coal mining, electricity supply and railways.

These were the days of the new National Health Service and the Welfare State all based on the optimistic principles of socialism.  And to add to all this good news the United States announced the Marshall Plan to pay for the reconstruction of Europe and that meant over three billion dollars was on the way to the United Kingdom to rebuild its bombed-out cities and its shattered economy.

This was the year of the inauguration of the United Nations which meant peace for ever more and the year that Princess Elizabeth married Prince Mountbatten.

Life was not so idyllic however in the big cities just after the war so I suppose it was nice to have a holiday and that summer mum left London for a few days with a friend in Rushden in Northamptonshire and at some point during that week she met my dad.  He was sixteen but looked younger, he hadn’t finished growing so was still quite small, his nickname was Pid as in little piddy widdy, and he he had boyish face and an impish grin with piercing cobalt blue eyes and a distinctive hairstyle with a fringe that flopped over his forehead in a Hugh Grant sort of way.

He obviously made an immediate impact on the young girl visiting from London and they spent the next sixty years together.

Not straight away of course because his new girlfriend had to go back to London to finish school and here is something else that I find absolutely charming.  These were days before mobile phones, skype and instant messaging, even before regular telephones so the only way they had of keeping in touch and keeping the romance going was by sending each other letters and photographs.

They kept this up for three years before dad was called up for national service in the RAF and he moved to London where he stayed until they married in 1953.

In 1948 dad left school and went to work for his father in the family business, a grocery store in Rushden, but they sold that sometime at the end of the decade and they all moved to Leicester and dad got his first proper job at Jessops.  I don’t know how much he earned, it couldn’t have been a lot, but from photographs it would seem that he spent quite a lot of it on clothes and he was always a smart, well turned out young man with an impressive wardrobe.

The picture above was taken in 1947 and his clothes look a bit shabby and worn through and they are in total contrast to the one below taken two years later on holiday in Skegness.  It’s a bit of a surprise to me because I don’t remember him being particularly interested in clothes and he would make most things last much longer than they could be reasonably expected to but for a couple of years in the late 1940s he obviously cared a lot about his appearance.  Or perhaps, judging by how much he had grown in two years, replacement clothes were a regular necessity during that time.

I like this picture, dad was eighteen and looks smart, self assured and full of confidence, mum was sixteen and looks really happy to be with this really special man.