The garden fairy likes the sun, I hope she has used a high factor cream!
The Purple Lilac looks good and the scent is divine.
Gardening chores completed for the day…
The garden fairy likes the sun, I hope she has used a high factor cream!
The Purple Lilac looks good and the scent is divine.
Gardening chores completed for the day…
The last two weeks of March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer. There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavour and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets. But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.
In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring. First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.
The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a six-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road. This encouraged car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 MPH in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway, an incident that started the calls for a speed limit. In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.
The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day. When it first opened this was the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic! This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men that is about one mile every eight days.
In 1959 cars were still a bit old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!
The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car. The Mk 1 Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured. Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 673J.
Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that. His first car was an old fashioned white Austin A40 Cambridge, SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation! There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer.
The Cambridge had been introduced in 1954 and was kept in production for two years. It had a straight-4 pushrod B-Series engine with a maximum power output of 42 brake horse power and at 4,250 revs per minute an alleged top speed of 71 miles per hour. Power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a four speed gear box controlled with a column mounted lever.
It was a big heavy thing, hard to handle, I imagine, and by modern standards hopelessly inefficient, it only managed a disappointing thirty miles to the gallon or so but with a gallon of leaded petrol costing only five shillings (twenty-five new pence) this really didn’t matter too much. I can remember dad pulling into a garage where an attendant put four gallons in the tank and dad handed over a crisp green one pound note! I wish I could do that! Dad always insisted on buying Shell petrol because he thought it possessed some sort of magic ingredient but at one point we successfully nagged him to buy Esso so that we could get the gold and black striped tail to hang around the filler cap to show other motorists that the car had a tiger in the tank!
On the outside it had a voluptuous body shape, lumpy and bulbous, chrome bumpers and grill, round bug-eye lights with chrome surrounds, the Austin badge in the middle of the bonnet and the flying A symbol on the nose at the front. It was a curious shade of white, a bit off-white really but not quite cream with ominous flecks of rust beginning to show through on the wing panels and the sills.
I would like to be able to take a drive in it now to fully appreciate how bad it must have been and with narrow cross ply tyres it must have been difficult to handle. Dad obviously had some problems in this department because he had two minor accidents in it.
On the first occasion he misjudged his distances when overtaking a parked car and clipped a Midland Red bus coming the other way, he was upset about that especially when he got a bill to pay for the damage to the bus. The second occasion was a bit more dangerous when a car pulled out on him from a side street somewhere in London and, with no ABS in those days, dad couldn’t stop the car in time and did a lot of damage to the front off side wing. Fortunately this wasn’t his fault and someone else had to pay for the repairs this time.
After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again. My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.
I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children. Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book. These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory. Ah happy days!
“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.“
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!
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.
On the night of the 8th of February 1855 heavy snow fell on the countryside of south west England and small villages in the remote county of Devon. The last is thought to have fallen around midnight, and between this time and around six o’clock the following morning, something (or some things) left a trail of tracks in the snow, stretching for a hundred miles or more, from the River Exe, to Totnes on the River Dart.
The mysterious footprints have never been adequately explained. According to contemporary reports, they went through solid walls and haystacks, appearing on the other side as though there was no barrier. The extent of the footprints may have been exaggerated at the time, or they may have been the result of freak atmospheric conditions but in truth the ‘footprints’, if that is what they were, still remain a complete mystery.
Some clergymen suggested that the prints belonged to the Devil, who was roaming the countryside in search of sinners (a great advertising stunt to fill the churches I imagine), while others rejected the idea as reckless superstition. It is true that a feeling of unease had spread through some of the population, who watched carefully to see if the strange footprints would return. They didn’t and after a couple of days the news spread out of Devon and made the national press and sparked correspondence in some of the leading papers including the Times.
I mention this piece of nonsense because just over forty years ago when I was about fifteen I was bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’ and the story of the Devil’s Footprints was included and quickly became one of my favourite articles.
The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.” There were photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.
I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christlike wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed. There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue fames in the faces of young women.
I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls. You can’t dispute evidence like that. There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors
I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
My parents were married in 1953 and around the same time dad was appointed to a job as a clerk with Leicestershire County Council. They moved from living in Catford in South London with my mother’s family to a house in Una Avenue in Leicester where they lived with my dad’s grandmother, Lillian. Shortly after that my mother was pregnant and I was on the way.
I was born the following year and lived my first few months in that house.
As I understand it the domestic arrangements were less than perfect so Lillian’s sister, Aunty Mabel, stepped in with a loan for a deposit that allowed my parents to buy their first house. It wasn’t a great deal of money, I don’t know exactly how much, possibly around £100. My scrapbook records of dad’s employment reveal that his annual salary at that time was £240 a year just £4.60 a week! The house that they bought would sell now for about £150,000 so in 1954 it probably cost somewhere between £300-400.
They chose a house in Tyndale Street, quite close to the Leicester City Centre. Tyndale Street is in an area of the city called West End because it was outside of the western Braunstone Gate and on a previously marshy area west of the River Soar.
It was developed around about the 1900s when affordable housing was required to provide accommodation for the workers in the booming footwear and hosiery industries in the city. The land was acquired from a wealthy protestant landowner who had some residual say in the naming of the streets – Luther, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer and Tyndale, all sixteenth century Protestant martyrs. The area is predictably called the Martyrs and the Church of the Martyrs stands nearby.
William Tyndale, the man who first translate the Bible into English…
I can only find one other Tyndale Street and that is in McLean, Virginia, USA, a much more upmarket sort of place than Leicester West End. It is the most expensive place to live in Virginia and houses sell for millions of dollars.
Wiki puts it into some sort of perspective… “Mclean is an unincorporated community in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. McLean is home to many diplomats, military, members of Congress, and high-ranking government officials partially due to its proximity to Washington, D.C., The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. It is the location of Hickory Hill, the former home of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy”.
So, back to reality. They lived there for two years. Mum worked evening shift at a biscuit factory. They took in a lodger to help pay the bills. People had to stand on their own two feet, in the 1950s, no constant whining about inequalities and unfairness in society. No Universal Credit and no free school meals. Mum and Dad couldn’t afford tattoos and takeaways paid for by the State/Taxpayer.
It was a very basic two bedroom terraced house with a front door that opened directly onto the street and with a small garden and back yard at the rear and typical of any Midlands artisan house of that period.
The house today is now well over a hundred years old but still has some of the original decorative features over the doors and windows, but the doors and windows are plastic, there is a satellite television dish and there is a refuse bin outside the front door.
Naturally I have no real memories of living in this house and we had gone by the time that I was two years old. Dad had been promoted at work, he was working in the Education Department, he had an increase in salary and they aspired to move up a notch or two on the property ladder.
Whilst living there I did have my very first bike…
This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.
Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived at the foot of the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant near Dolgellau in wales. She was born into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age.
Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy the story goes that she started out one morning in 1800 and walked barefoot all the way to obtain a copy from the Reverend Charles who was the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.
According to one version of the story Thomas Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for and Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies already promised to another. In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family.
According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that impelled Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.
Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.
How much of the story is true will probably never be known. However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society. This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years years distributed thousands of Bibles to people across the world.
The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa and is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation and the story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible was central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.
The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings that soared into the sky and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks with years of scratched graffiti and attached lift up seats on squeaking hinges.
The picture above is from about fifty years before I went there but it looked very similar in 1960.
The classrooms smelt of furniture polish, dark blue ink and chalk dust and in the long corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the wash room doors. There were two entrances, one said boys and the other girls but these were from a previous time when the sexes were carefully kept apart. This was no longer the case by 1960 and with segregation a thing of the past we were free to choose whichever was the most convenient.
These pictures are of my grandchildren visiting a similar school at Beamish Village Museum…
I rather liked going to school! The day started as early as possible with a bit of a play on the way there and then there was fifteen minutes of activity in the playground behind the building, two playgrounds one for the infants and one for the juniors. At the back of the playground were the outside toilets with no roof and completely exposed to the elements. I think it is possible that the girls had inside facilities, I can’t remember, but for the boys it was the most primitive of arrangements.
After the whistle blew we lined up and took it in turns to march inside to hang our coats and bags in the cloakroom. In winter there were several rows of identical duffel coats with gloves on strings dangling through the empty sleeves and underneath in neat rows, wellington boots with puddles of water seeping from the compacted ice in the soles that was melting and spreading over the red, cracked quarry tiled floor.
The Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks and he generally led an assembly with a hymn and a prayer and a short address. He was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive. I just enjoyed being at school, especially the play times, and wasn’t terribly bothered about the learning bits in between so I think he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.
I met him years later when he came knocking on the door collecting for the RNLI and I think he was genuinely shocked when I told him that I had been to University and had a nice office job with good prospects at the Council.
For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs, classroom assistants or additional support mechanisms of course and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia. I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard. I was a late developer!
I can remember two other teachers, first there was Mrs Bull who taught year three and had a ferocious look that made our knees knock with fear and then Miss Roberts who taught year four and was a bit of a pin-up who made our legs turn to blancmange when she looked our way. Oh and Mr Etherington, who always had a cold sore and a drip on the end of his nose, I think he took the top class in juniors but I can’t be sure.
After morning lessons there was break time with more play and a bottle of milk for every pupil courtesy of the County Council. The 1946 School Milk Act had required the issue of a third of a pint of milk to all school children under eighteen and this was a nice thought if not always a pleasant experience. In the summer it stood outside in the sun and it was warm and thick because this was full cream milk, not the semi-skimmed coloured water that we have today, and in the winter it had a tendency to freeze and pop through the foil cap in an arctic lump that had to be sucked away before you reached the semi-liquid slime underneath.
No one knew about lactose intolerance in those days and it was compulsory for everyone and there were always teachers on hand to make sure that everyone finished their drink of milk whether it made them ill or not.
More late morning lessons then lunch break with a quick dash home for lunch and return as quickly as possible for more recreation in the playground. Afternoon lessons and then it was soon all over and we were released onto the streets to make our way home.
Outside the school at the end of the day there were no rows of cars clogging up the streets because everyone walked to school in those days. And we weren’t kept inside, in a state of paranoia until we were collected either. There was no need to worry, you see, children knew instinctively to keep away from the strange people in the village and there were not nearly so many cars on the road at that time to knock us over.
The friendly little Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School was demolished sometime in the 1970’s and a featureless replacement was built at the top of Watt’s Lane. They built some houses on the site and my sister Lindsay lived in one for a while which surprised us all on account of her previous history of serious allergic reaction to anything to do with being anywhere near a school building.
Gardening is a life skill that it is a pleasure to pass down through the generations.
My dad used to love being in the garden and at weekends he would put on his working clothes (burgundy check shirt and courdoroy trousers) and his worn out old gardening boots, which I think may well have been his National Service issue boots and toil away for hours, mowing the lawn with an old Qualcast push mower, tidying up the flower beds and borders and most of all looking after the vegetable plot at the bottom of the garden. There were always a couple of rows of potatoes that needed earthing up, cabbages that needed to be inspected for cabbage white caterpillars and some rows of beans that needed tieing in.
One of the nice things about this was that while he did this he encouraged me to help and passed on his knowledge and his tips – always sow runner beans on June 6th is one that always sticks in my mind for some reason. To encourage my interest he would let me have the responsibility of looking after the easiest plants, the lettuce and the radish, those that could be relied upon to germinate quickly and to grow without too much trouble or the need for constant attention.
In my turn I taught my own children about seeds and plants and gardening and growing fresh vegetables so I was delighted this week when my daughter sent me this picture of my granddaughter looking after her seedlings in a way that I can remember doing myself under the supervision of my dad.
On a visit to Riga and the Hotel Latvia in March in addition to enjoying the Skyline cocktail bar we decided to eat there as well.
The food was excellent and there was a reasonably priced self-service buffet but what was especially good about his meal was that it happened to coincide with ‘International Woman’s Day’ and there were free cocktails for all of us and flowers for the girls.
To be honest I had never heard of ‘International Woman’s Day’ before, it certainly isn’t that big in the United Kingdom, and to be honest I have to say that I thought it was a bit odd to have it on a Saturday, which is a day really reserved for sport, but it turns out that this was just an unhappy coincidence because IWD is held every year on March 8th and is a day of day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.
It all started in New York when in 1908 fifteen thousand women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.
Then, in 1917, with two million soldiers dead in the war, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February to strike for ‘bread and peace’. This turned out to be hugely significant and a contribution to the overthrow of the Romanovs and four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar, then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar that was in use elsewhere.
It has since become very important in Eastern Europe after a 1965 decree of the USSR Presidium that International Women’s Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR “in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace.”
Another interesting thing is that although Latvia doesn’t care to remember or celebrate much about the Russian occupation they seem happy enough to continue with this day off from work arrangement.
In these days of equality it is important to be fair of course and I am pleased to say that ‘International Men’s Day’ is an international holiday, celebrated on the first Saturday of November. It was first suggested by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1999 and was supported fully by the United Nations.