Some of the Facinating Memoirs Produced by Caroline
I had never heard of anyone having their life story written and printed in a book except celebrities. I still cannot believe that my memoirs have been written in this way. I would certainly recommend anyone to do this.
Born in 1932, Geoff grew up in Llay, a Welsh mining village near Wrexham, a close-knit community which provided little in material comforts but much fun and security for a small boy. At the age of six he went to his first match at Wrexham FC, a club he has been supporting ever since. The chance to go to grammar school, followed by an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, led to a long career in sales of wire and cables which took him all over the world, providing many adventures. Geoff also tells of his uncanny ability to bump into famous people and of his long friendship with the comedian Ken Dodd.
Geoff says: My daughter Pauline persuaded me that I had a story to tell about my life, my travelling adventures and the people I had met. Initially I was reluctant to take on the challenge but Pauline insisted that I occupy my time during the pandemic. It sounded a reasonable idea but I realised it would test my concentration. She recommended that I should look at the website of Caroline Brannigan and I was impressed with her talent and credentials as a memoir writer.
I approached Caroline and we discussed the proposal. I found her to be very professional. We realised that she could not follow her usual procedure of visiting her client so our interviews took place during weekly two-hour telephone calls. Although we had not actually met, I soon became accustomed to her weekly telephone presence.
There is little doubt that Caroline is an extremely talented memoir writer with a remarkable eye for detail. Her work is of a very high standard. It was a pleasure to work with her. Recipients of my book have commented favourably about its quality and presentation. I passed a copy to a friend who is a retired lawyer. He told me he had read the book and was reading it again. "It reads as though it is you talking and is very compelling reading," he said.
I would not hesitate in recommending Caroline Brannigan as an extremely professional memoir writer. Thank you Caroline, you have made an old guy extremely happy.
Caroline says: Geoff's book is the first to be done entirely by phone or video interview and has been a great success. The finished book is just as good as anything produced from face to face meetings - just not as much fun for me! I always enjoy meeting people and, in normal times, will always make visits in person, staying locally if necessary, but some people are just too far away from my base in Richmond, North Yorkshire. I hope Geoff's experience will show everyone that they can use my highly professional and personal service, wherever they are.
We began, as usual, by making a plan of what would go in the book. I made sure I got all the fascinating detail about his childhood, a way of life which in many ways has gone forever. I broke down Geoff's working life into a detailed list for us to follow to make sure that all the anecdotes flowed well, in roughly the right order. However, these are life stories, not reports, and I never want clients to feel they are under any kind of test as regards dates etc.
Usually I scan photos at a client's home. Instead, Geoff and I spent a long time discussing the kind of photos to include, then he photographed some with his mobile phone and a friend was able to scan some which hadn't worked well on the phone and send them by email. Photos can also be scanned at local print shops when they're open.
Geoff certainly livened up lockdown for me, often beginning our calls with "Did I tell you the one about ..." followed by yet another entertaining anecdote. His stories about Wrexham FC from those early days, so different from today, were fascinating and a copy of the book is going to the club's famous new owners, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
(In the late 1960s Geoff was working for Pyrotenax, a large company supplying all kinds of electrical cables.)
Neil Cunningham, a colleague responsible for our heating cables, came to see me one day and announced that he would like us to break into the under-soil heating mechanisms which were just beginning to revolutionise football pitches. He had read a newspaper article by Don Revie, the hard talking and tough manager of Leeds United Football Club who had taken his team top of the league. They had a reputation as a dirty team but the only dirt Revie was complaining about was mud from the waterlogged and often icy pitches which could lead matches to be postponed. Catching up by playing three games in a single week at the end of the season had resulted in key players being injured and he wanted answers.
Neil Cunningham turned to me and said, "Do you think we can get to see him?"
"It won't be easy but I'll see what I can do," I replied.
After making several calls I managed to attract the great man's attention and received an invitation to the ground at Elland Road. I walked into the boardroom, an impressive and well equipped room with all the trophies shining. For a lad who had once played for Llay United (his home village) this was an occasion I never thought would happen to me, beyond my wildest dreams.
Lined up before me were Don Revie, director Bob Woodward who was in charge of the ground, Chairman Manny Cussins and Les Cocker, the assistant manager. Don Revie turned out to be a very approachable man and over the years we got on together very well. He saw an opportunity to get what he wanted, a better pitch surface and fewer postponements.
Between that dazzling first day and the end result were numerous meetings to decide how deep the cables should go and how many. Could a player damage one or, worse, blow himself up? We went to see scientists who were experts in sports turf who were all for it, then we had to find a company to install them, beginning with a trial.
On the eve of securing the order Manny Cussins was on a train going down to London when he happened to bump into Colonel Bill Dunville, a regional manager of our rivals BICC who was a law unto himself, as all the regional managers were at that time. He knew nothing of cables but knew how to work people. An ex-Army man, he liked to get his way.
"We make these cables, I'd like to draw up a quote for you," he announced to Cussins.
Suddenly we found we had competition and I had to go into Leeds United and explain that BICC knew very little about the heating cable business and would have to start from scratch in developing a solution. Common sense prevailed, thank goodness, and the order was signed to Pyrotenax.
The big day arrived in 1968 with us acting as the main contractor supplying the cables and sub-contracting the laying of them. Some of the most famous players of the day, including the great Jack Charlton, were photographed with the tractor which arrived to make the first cut in the turf.
Slits were made 6-inches down and the cables slipped inside then covered, a better method than previously used which had done much to give under-soil heating a bad name. Everton had scooped up the entire turf at Goodison Park, laid the cables then reinstated the grass, compacting the under-soil badly in the process. After unveiling their proud achievement the club discovered that rainwater refused to drain away and sat sulkily in large pools. However, the Huddersfield company we used at Elland Road avoided that pitfall.
We were there almost every day while work continued through the closed season and I became very friendly with a lot of the players, particularly Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter, both very nice people. After a topping off party to celebrate the end of the project, pitch conditions improved dramatically.
I was invited to a couple of games, sitting in the directors' box, and then into the boardroom for a meal, meeting the visiting directors. In 1972 Leeds United won the FA Cup and through Don Revie I managed to persuade them to bring the cup to Wales and it was placed on display at the Llay British Legion alongside the Welsh Cup, won that year by Wrexham. Norman Hunter came along for the occasion, which was a great thrill.
Born in London close to the Thames in 1929, Denis Pizzey comes from a long line of men who made their living on the river. Here Denis tells their story and relates his own adventures on the water as a boy. Choosing a different course, Denis went on to be an electrical engineer, surviving tuberculosis and marrying the girl who nursed him!
Denis writes: For my 90th birthday my friends and relatives decided that a book of my life would be a great present for me. My daughter contacted Caroline Brannigan who has a particular talent for drawing things from your memory in the most pleasant way. Caroline wrote with care and professionalism and I can only say how pleased I am with the results. Thank you, Caroline.
Denis's daughter Mary adds: We are really appreciative of how you managed to work through this with him, despite all the hiccups. Your work was extremely professional and yet not intrusive. Many many thanks. Everyone who has received a copy of the book has been so complimentary of it and it has led to many interesting and new conversations.
Other comments from family and friends include: I've just finished reading Denis's book and felt the need to tell you that I thought it was SO beautifully written - managing to keep his voice throughout - and the photographs were so well chosen. The whole book was wonderful - and very moving!
Caroline says: After Denis's daughter Mary contacted me I produced a personalised card, using photos she sent, which was presented to him at his 90th birthday party at the historic Watermen's Hall in London. Mary's reference to "hiccups" refers to Denis being taken seriously ill before we could start but he recovered and I set off for his home in Staffordshire where we carried out the interviews, with me staying locally, over two visits.
This is not just the story of Denis but of the generations of river men who came before him. I did a little background reading about lightermen and watermen - including the difference between them - but not too much as I think it's important to focus on the personal stories, rather than creating a general history book. Denis had plenty of his own stories which had been handed down to him.
I took great care structuring this book so that it read well but covered all the many different aspects, from the historic to Denis's experience of the war, then going to sea, followed by National Service, then becoming an electrical engineer.
Denis is a very understated person so it was only as our interviews progressed that I realised the extent of the trauma caused by the tuberculosis which attacked his bones when he was a young man. He's not one to make a fuss, despite spending a year lying on his back on a special frame in an orthopaedic hospital. "It was only a year," he said. However, I coaxed out the stories gently but persistently, something I'm very good at. I also asked his wife, Alicia, for her memories of when they first met at the hospital, where she was a nurse.
In the book we included a list of all the family and friends who contributed to Denis's present.
At this point Denis is 21 years old.
Because of my previous illness, which they had told me was pleurisy, I used to attend a chest clinic in Maze Hill, not far away, under the care of Doctor Geans. One day he came up to me and said, "Have you applied for a pension yet?"
"What for?" I asked, mystified.
"Before they took you into the Army for National Service, I had lots and lots of arguments with them, telling them it was unsafe and that you shouldn't be called up because you would be liable to secondary problems," he told me. "I'll get the almoner to write a letter which you must copy in your own handwriting." And he gave me an address to send it to. This I did and was awarded a one hundred per cent disability pension.
I was left to work out for myself, from information I've gathered over the years, that I must have had tuberculosis in my lungs, though the doctor never mentioned the word. Perhaps he thought I had already been told but I hadn't. You can have secondary reactions in any part of the body, even the brain. In my case it was the elbow and, though I didn't know it at the time, the spine.
One evening after finishing work at Earls Court I had a lift back to Victoria. As I was walking towards the Tube to go home I collapsed in the middle of the road and remember lying there with the traffic going round me. My back had given way and that was the start of my trouble. A policeman got me out of the road and I was in a lot of pain. I could walk only if bent double.
Unbeknown to me, three vertebrae near the top of my spine, the eighth, ninth and tenth, had collapsed suddenly and I lost an inch in height instantly. Tuberculosis had been lurking there, silently doing its damage. Having no idea how serious it was, I turned down the policeman's offer to call an ambulance and struggled home to Charlton, taking the Underground to Charing Cross then a train to Woolwich and a bus to Charlton. As soon as I got home I fell into bed.
My father, who was still working with rowing crews at that time, offered to give me a massage with strong smelling White Horse liniment and that hurt.
"It'll be all right," he said, "it'll ease off." But it didn't ease off. The doctor wouldn't come in the door until my parents put half a crown in his hands (two shilling and six old pence). He just looked at me and didn't say much at all, except that I must have ripped something and it would improve. After three weeks, which I spent almost completely in bed, the doctor returned and said to my father, "He's putting it on. He doesn't want to go back to work." That upset my dad quite a bit because he knew it wasn't true. Though I didn't have much of a relationship with him, he was very protective. They had a bit of a row and my father said, "I want him taken to hospital and I want an ambulance to take him down there. The boy can hardly walk!"
I can remember him saying that quite clearly. The doctor replied, "He got all the way from Victoria so I don't see why he needs an ambulance."
My father got his way and I was taken to St. Alfedge's Hospital, a former workhouse in Greenwich, where I was x-rayed and sent away because the results wouldn't be ready until the following week, the staff having all gone off for the weekend. The ambulance took me home again then back to hospital on the Monday.
Sitting in the chair opposite a line of doctors, trying desperately to get comfortable, I saw they were all whispering to each other. Then one of them came over and said, "Get on this trolley and try to lie still. Don't move if you can help it."
How the collapse of the vertebrae had missed my spinal cord was a miracle. Looking at the x-rays later on, I could see it had bulged out on both sides but nothing had gone inwards, which could have left me paralysed.
They made a plaster cast of my back then put it down on blocks over a bed and told me to lie on it, making fundamental errors because that was about the worst thing they could have done. Once they put pyjamas on me it didn't fit exactly anyway. From time to time the nurses would turn me over, brush out the plaster cast and put me back in. I was there for three weeks like that, in a lot of discomfort and receiving no real treatment. Still no one mentioned the word tuberculosis.
From there I was transferred to St Vincent's, a specialist orthopaedic hospital in Pinner, Middlesex. I arrived by ambulance, wearing my pyjamas, lying on my plaster cast and when the staff first saw me they couldn't stop laughing because it was completely the wrong thing to do! St Vincent's began to put things right by making up a metal frame which went from the top of my back with a collar and a loop round my head, down my spine, then it branched into two down each leg. At the end were two uprights for my feet. I was bandaged into this contraption. Their plan was to isolate the affected joint and try as much as possible to part the diseased surfaces by stretching me out a bit.
Wooden blocks were placed onto a bed and I was laid on to them, in my frame, with a gap of about six to nine inches below me. Bedclothes were tucked round me. I remained like that for a year.
Penicillin was the new wonder drug which had been used first to save the lives of wounded servicemen, to miraculous effect, and had now been refined for general use in the civilian population. Then streptomycin came along which was an effective treatment for tuberculosis and I was one of the first to be given the drug, through an inter-muscular injection into my thigh every day for about six months, using a very big needle. I was also being injected with penicillin and think they were done together. But still nobody said I had TB, maybe they all thought I already knew.
You might ask me how I was able to endure such a terrible thing but I was only like it for a year. One bloke had been in there for six years and some of them had to have amputations. Nobody ever said, "If we do this you will get better." I just hoped that I would.
Everything had to be done for me but you soon got used to it and stopped feeling embarrassed. The one thing I could do was move my arms so I could just about feed myself, breaking the rules by putting one hand behind my neck so I could tilt my head forward just a tiny bit. Then the ward sister would come round and lay into me.
"You've got to keep your head still!"
St Vincent's specialised in bone conditions, including secondary infections resulting from TB. The wards had open verandas down one side to provide the fresh air which for a long time had been the only treatment for tuberculosis. There were brick columns but apart from those you were looking straight out into the grounds. As long as the weather was all right the verandas were open, day and night. I didn't think too much of that! Only in heavy rain or snow did they drop the tarpaulins to close them off. Our beds were often pushed right outside so that we didn't even have a roof over us and after one blizzard we were out there throwing snowballs at each other. A basin was placed beside me each day with a flannel so I could wash my face and any other bits I could reach and in winter one hand ended up covered in chilblains. Other than that I was warm enough, with a hot water bottle under my frame to warm the air beneath me.
They made a plaster cast of my front and once a month I was taken out of the ward, which had about twenty five patients, into a more private and much warmer area where the cast was placed on top of me. Then the nurses turned me over carefully so that my spine would not move, took off the frame and cleaned me up. It was a very pleasant experience to have your back washed after so long.
Most of my fellow patients were suffering from osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection, and because we were all under thirty we developed great friendships and got on like a house on fire. Four beds would be pushed round a small table so we could play cards.
St Vincent's was a really nice hospital, run by nuns who wore big white butterfly-shaped hats and long blue robes. They made up the senior staff who were training younger lay nurses in orthopaedics. Because I was still there on my 21st birthday in June 1950, the nuns organised a little party for me with a cake and bottles of beer. It was quite a pleasant do.
It was at St Vincent's that I met my wife Alicia, who I soon came to call Lis, a very pretty trainee nurse from Ireland. The first time I saw her was when the plaster cast was being made of my front because she was working in that department at the time.
I'd heard of Denis through the grapevine from the other nurses who said he was a nice chap. When I was transferred to his ward I fell for him hook, line and sinker, those blue eyes looking up - that was the only direction he could look in, lying there on his back 24/7. We could only talk to each other when I was on duty and as time went by I never let on that we were having any kind of togetherness.
Denis had been really ill when he went in and St Vincent's was the only place where they could treat him but it wasn't very nice for him.
Alicia and I could talk more when she was on night duty. Sleeping was very difficult for me anyway. All the lads in the ward used to pull my leg about her.
At long last they took me out of the brace and I had to learn to walk again. It took a while just to be able to stand on my legs again because my knees and ankles were very painful, feeling like they were full of glass. Once I could get up and move around they discharged me. I still needed crutches and it was nine months before I was back to moving normally.
It's such a long time ago that I have only vague memories of going home again but I know it was difficult. Though I was glad to be out of hospital, it hadn't been unpleasant being there, being among such a friendly group, and I struggled a bit to adjust.
Maeve was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1932, the daughter of a bank manager. Home was always the Bank House and she tells entertaining stories of growing up in a small rural town. At the age of fifteen Maeve suffered the devastating blow of losing her mother but picked herself up, continued her education and eventually trained in dentistry. Maeve came to work in England, married a doctor, Pat McCormack, and ran her own practice. They had two daughters. Widowed suddenly in her forties, Maeve threw herself into her work and looking after her girls but found happiness again with Nigel Fawcett, a surgeon.
Maeve says: Friends had frequently told me that I should write my life story. Eventually my daughters became enthusiastic and set about finding a ghostwriter to undertake the project. Caroline's website immediately caught our eye and my daughters and I went up to Richmond to meet her. We were soon convinced that she would do a good job. Thereafter she visited us as often as she felt it necessary to obtain the relevant facts and she always managed to bring out the achievements I was proud of and the humour of certain situations. She did a great job helping us to choose the photographs and in generally putting the book together.
Maeve's daughters Sheena and Oonagh say: We travelled up to Richmond with our mother to meet Caroline and knew from the outset that she was going to deliver a book we would all enjoy. She listened carefully and patiently to our collective reminiscing, which was not necessarily perfectly aligned, and promised to help with dates. As Caroline was previously a journalist she had no trouble in locating a newspaper cutting from 1943 when a plane crashed in the West of Ireland - a dramatic event from our mother's childhood. We met again to select the photographs and Caroline made additional trips to Nottingham to interview Mum and Nigel in their home. There was a lot of information to pack into one book and Caroline managed this extremely well, mindful of all our expectations, and we are all delighted with the result!
Caroline says: This book contained not just Maeve's story but that of her first husband, Pat, his childhood and ancestors, an important element for their two daughters who commissioned the book. Maeve and her second husband Nigel have been married for 27 years so the book goes on to describe their time together. They decided later it would be nice to include a chapter on Nigel's early life, which I was happy to add. I kept in close touch with Oonagh and Sheena to make sure everything they wanted was included.
I always make sure when writing about a career that I show the way things have changed over the years so asked Maeve about dentistry from her own appalling experiences as a child, through her own training and on to what had changed by the time she retired. She and Nigel have travelled extensively and I took care to do extra research to make sure that section was a good read.
Maeve's childhood in Ireland was particularly interesting to write about. I helped her to put together some of the jigsaw where at first we weren't quite sure when or why something happened, particularly in her childhood when the family moved around quite often. I'm very good at that. However, I always tell people, "This isn't a report we're writing, it's your story, your memories and that's what matters."
In September 1952 I began a course in dentistry at University College, Dublin. My father encouraged us all to take up a profession, he was very good like that, but not pushing too hard. He spent all he had to educate us and it must have been difficult for him.
I was one of a very small minority of women out of 45 dentistry students. Our studies included visiting the hospital at the back of Trinity, following a doctor on his ward rounds, the medical students at the front with the dentistry students craning over their heads from the back. Not only did we have to learn how to look after teeth, we also had to learn how to make them. Many people wore dentures in those days after losing teeth through poor care earlier in life or having extractions because that was the easiest and cheapest way to stop toothache. At one time extraction was the main skill a dentist had to learn. Sometimes young people would have all their teeth taken out to be replaced by dentures so they would never have toothache or dental bills. They didn't think it through because without teeth everything drops and the whole face changes.
When I was a little girl I cleaned my teeth but not very well, using a bristle toothbrush. Nobody flossed in those days which was bad because you were leaving a lot behind, the toothbrush can never do enough, nor was there mouthwash. When I developed trouble I didn't want to go to the dentist and when I did it was a disaster. My mother took me but I made such a scene that she had to take me home again. My father took me back the next week and I had to have some teeth taken out, baby teeth fortunately. I must have been an awful brat. The dentist was a man, as most of them were, and he was pretty awful, slapping me round the face when I was shouting and screaming. That frightened me.
Drills were awful things, foot operated, noisy and grindingly slow. Local anaesthetic was available but they were very mean about it. There was gas through a face mask but that was probably pretty dangerous. When I was a dentist I never did any fillings without giving a local, that helped me to relax as well, otherwise you were worrying about hitting a nerve. After my early experiences I decided always to be nice to my patients, that was very important, playing music in my surgery to distract them a little bit. Some said, "I only come for the music."
The seas of the Arctic offer tantalizing short cuts between continents which open for a few months in summer. The North West Passage weaves across the top of Canada and Alaska. The North East Passage skirts Norway and Russia.
In 2011 Jeffrey Allison, skipper of the Hartlepool-based yacht Eshamy, and Katherine Brownlie, his sole crew member for most of the voyage, became the first people to sail both routes clockwise in one season, right round the top of the world. Over five months they sailed 10,300 miles, dodging icebergs as high as office blocks, sea ice which threatened to engulf them and Russian officials just itching to arrest Jeffrey if he set foot on their soil.
Catherine Millar, Jeffrey's daughter, says: Caroline provides a very professional service and has written my father's story beautifully. Sadly, he passed away before seeing the final printed copy but Caroline's book has provided us with wonderful memories and she captured his voice brilliantly. Caroline was very patient with us and I highly recommend her, not only to create a beautiful memento but also for the quality of her writing and guiding us so calmly and kindly through the whole process. Thank you so much.
Phil Schofield, who was closely involved with the voyage, says: First of all I was amazed at the quality of the printing, the dust jacket and glossy paper. Then I was even more impressed with the page turning excitement that Caroline managed to capture in her writing. It was a perfect balance between the human story and the technical challenges. I had finished the book by midnight.
Caroline says: When Jeffrey first made contact with me he said he couldn't start yet because he was going off "to do bit of sailing". Even when he returned and I began my interviews, it was some time before I realised how significant his achievement had been. While writing the book I kept my globe at my feet to look down at the top and understand his epic journey. Spread out on the floor was the Times Atlas so I could check every place name and every stretch of water. I am not an expert on sailing but I am an expert at asking the right questions until I understand properly and can write something which anyone can understand and enjoy.
This story is not just about the voyage but about Jeffrey's childhood in County Durham, his career in mining engineering and quarrying and the remarkable tale of how he and his wife Prue bought a semi-derelict Georgian mansion, Middleton Lodge in Middleton Tyas, North Yorkshire, which they brought back to life. (The next generation has turned it into a premier wedding and events venue). A member of the Alpine Club, Jeffrey completed several first British ascents in The Alps. That was another section which required careful questioning and name checking to get right. Only much later in life did Jeffrey take up serious sailing.
During our meetings Jeffrey's wife Prue joined in with some, at times, very funny comments which I included in the book, and I made sure that her supporting role at home during his long absences was acknowledged.
The structure was complicated to sort out, integrating emails from the voyage and extracts from the blog kept by Jeffrey's main crew member Katherine Brownlie, liaising with Katherine who had returned home to Australia.
The fact that people find it so readable makes all that hard work worthwhile. In any case, it was great fun.
Jeffrey had not been well since his return and was eventually admitted to hospital where, to everyone's shock, he died. He had been through two drafts of the story and we had chosen most of the photos.
Naturally the family found the idea of returning to the project too emotional for quite some time but I said, "I'll be here whenever you need me." In January 2020 Jeffrey's family and friends gathered in the restored orangery at Middleton Lodge to celebrate the finished book and we all raised a glass to Jeffrey's memory.
The ghosts of the early explorers flitted around us as we headed past King William Island (Canada) and the Royal Geographical Islands. Nearby was Jenny Lind Island, named after a 19th century Swedish-born opera singer. Sweet or not, we knew that poor Jenny was still encased in ice and we needed to keep away from her, despite this being the recommended route.
We were more fortunate than the earliest pioneers for we knew where we hoped to go. They often had no idea of what was ahead or which turn to take in the maze. But Nature was still in charge and decisions had to be made constantly depending on which path looked most free of ice, where the wind would blow us and also where it was blowing the ice, plus changing tides and currents. Some charts were incomplete and some up-to-date internet data on ice was contradictory so we had to weigh up the information and decide what we thought was the best thing to do.
One of the many reasons this passage proved so elusive for so long is that it is necessary to duck southwards at some point to weave through the islands and find the best route west again. Even today that isn't something that can be planned in the comfort of an armchair months before and depends on weather and ice. A decision was needed on where to turn because to continue westwards to McClure Strait on a straight course offered wider seas but would be dangerously close to the edge of the ice.
We chose the narrow route of Peel Sound to make our turning which brought us down between Somerset and Prince of Wales Island and into the Franklin Strait. Katherine and I never discussed what we would do if we got iced in. Either you sit it out for 10 months until the thaw or walk. That could be a very long way. Eshamy carried no tent for such an excursion and we'd have had to rely on our survival bags. I tried to ensure that we would never find ourselves in that position. I had studied the ice for so long that I would only go on if I was sure we'd get through and you work with the weather because you want it to be as easy as possible for yourself.
Prue: You make it sound too easy.
The coastguard plane was buzzing around, seeing what everyone was up to and who was in the country. We spoke to them by radio around Larson Sound and could hear them quizzing a Russian ship which was nearby. I'd already used the satellite phone to let the authorities know as soon as we'd entered Canadian waters.
Our first serious problem of the voyage occurred in Peel Sound when we were 50 miles south of the nearest source of help, a small Inuit community called Resolute. We kept very quiet about this incident and didn't confess to it until safely back home. Prue never knew until Katherine mentioned it. Well, I didn't like to worry her.
Prue: Katherine came to stay with us in North Yorkshire after the voyage and the three of us were sitting here one night when I said, "I can't believe you went all that way and had no disasters. Something must have happened."
They were both looking a bit furtive then Katherine said, "Shall we tell her?"
Everything seemed to be set fair. I was sitting in the cockpit enjoying a nice day and, though there was no wind, I was thinking all was well. Katherine was supposed to be asleep. Suddenly her angry face popped up into the cockpit. "Whatever have you spilt now?" she demanded.
"Nothing! I'm just sitting here!"
Together we dropped down into the passageway where she pointed out a pool of water on the floor. A swift inspection of the engine next-door revealed that the sump was full of water which was lapping around the bottom of the engine. The batteries were already half covered which was potentially very dangerous.
"Get the hand pumps going!" I ordered, turning off the engine. Katherine leapt into action while I tried to find out where the water was coming from. My first thought was that a seacock was faulty and letting water in but that wasn't the problem. Then I stretched my hand down into the water to feel where the prop comes into the stern gland and nothing was coming through there either.
As soon as the water dropped below the batteries we switched on the electric pump. There must have been at least 500 litres of water in the sumps, under the engine and in the sole floor lockers. Once it was clear we spent two or three hours checking every sea cock, every possible opening but couldn't find any that were letting in water. As Eshamy had turned south into Peel Sound, there had been 5 knots of wind to the stern but then it died again as we were busy trying to find the leak. We went only 24 miles in 17 hours. The following day the wind was blowing 15 knots from the north so, as our frantic search continued, we were able to sail most of the day. Then it dropped to 5 knots again so the engine had to go on again, using precious fuel. The air temperature was 13 degrees and the water 7, not the kind of place for an enforced dip but much warmer than we expected.
All the time my mind was working. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? We weren't far from the coast but were a long way from anything you could call a town. Resolute was our nearest harbour which by now was about 70 miles to the north back the way we had come. Even if we went there Eshamy would have to anchor in the bay with no possibility of being lifted out for repairs. Despite its name, Resolute wouldn't resolve our problem. Our technology meant that whatever happened we could always send a distress signal but, if we were rescued, how could I leave my boat? I'd already lost one boat (more about that later) and the lesson that taught me was, never leave your boat as long as it's floating.
Every possibility was running through my head as we continued our fruitless search for the problem, looking for any possible hull damage. For 12 hours we checked every cupboard and lifted the floors. We found nothing and no more had come in, thank God.
Exhausted and worried, we sat and weighed up the risks. We couldn't see any water coming in yet Eshamy had sprung a serious leak somewhere and what had happened once could probably happen again. We decided to go on. After that we were on high alert for any signs of water but there were none. My mind churned with all the possibilities and eventually I decided that a piece of ice must have got between the prop and the skeg, which is the thing the rudder hangs on to. Later I found the shaft was moving in the flange of the gearbox, which shouldn't have been happening but it was only many months afterwards, once we were safely through both the North West Passage and the Northern Sea Route/ North East Passage, that I was able to make a proper inspection. In a marina in northern Norway I stripped it all down to find that the key and two studs holding it were broken. We must have hit something to force the prop forward and do that damage but what it was I'll never know. If it was ice which had smashed on to the prop and then melted, that would explain why the gap closed again and no more water came in.
For the remainder of the voyage we kept a very close eye on the sump and as we passed over the inhospitable top of Russia, where I knew I would be very unwelcome even in an emergency, it was a worry I could have done without. Katherine and I both kept very quiet about this and it didn't appear on her blog. Her blog was extremely good but did not always tell the complete story. Well, they'd have only worried back home.
Ann Clouston was born in Jarrow, one of triplets. With no special care units at the time, sadly one baby died but slowly Ann and her brother Bryan began to thrive. Ann grew up to become a nurse and also joined the Territorial Army, eventually taking command of a Field Hospital, achieving the rank of Colonel and receiving the accolade of being made the Queen's Honorary Nursing Sister. Despite all the letters after her name, Ann is still just a Geordie lass at heart!
Ann says: At first I found it difficult to talk about myself but Caroline manages with her professional approach and friendly manner to put you at ease and draw out the salient points. (Ann has already had a reprint because family and friends have enjoyed the book so much).
Caroline says: Working with Ann was great fun, she has a wonderful sense of humour and tells very good anecdotes. In our initial conversations she'd chatted away happily but once I sat down with my recorders she felt very uncomfortable talking about herself. Despite her many achievements, Ann remains fundamentally a modest person. I sensed the problem straightaway, raised the matter and we discussed how she was feeling. That in itself was an important part of putting Ann at ease. By our second meeting she was feeling much more relaxed and began to enjoy telling her story to me. Everyone does! After all, this is not a test but just me helping clients to tell their story so I can write it the way they wish.
In the writing I made sure I reflected her sense of humour. Going to war is not funny and Ann was part of a field hospital in the first Gulf War. But of course humorous things did happen and together we ensured the overall tone was right.
By the time I was 25 I was ready for a new challenge so went down to Fenham Barracks (Newcastle) to find out about joining the Territorial Army. "I won't know anybody," I thought but when I turned up I knew loads of them because it was a hospital unit, 201 Northern General Hospital (today it's called a Field Hospital). It had no actual beds unless mobilised but had the equivalent capability of a normal hospital of 600-800 beds. At that time all our equipment was stored in Germany, ready for deployment wherever needed.
All the officers were qualified people, doctors, nurses, physios, radiographers and so on. The other ranks were Combat Medical Technicians who could come from any background and we trained them in the paramedic skills they needed.
I took to it like a duck to water and within a month was the fire officer, recruit training officer and lots of other jobs because I was so enthusiastic. Nurses were granted years of seniority so after going in as a Lieutenant I was promoted rapidly to Captain, working my way up until by the time I retired from the TA in 2009 I had risen to the rank of Colonel.
When I first joined, platoons were split into males and females and the women had different uniforms from the men. For going on exercise we had drab green trousers and a top with a separate felt jacket underneath, totally impractical. The rest of the time we were in skirts. Another nursing Sister I knew was also in the TA and she guided me through the intricacies of winding puttees round your legs and polishing boots. Underneath we wore green longjohns, men's.
"Put them on back to front," Sandra told me, "so the opening is at the back."
My Nanna gave me a couple of new pairs of my Grandad's white fleecy-lined longjohns which were great but too wide and I'd cross over the buttons so all the excess material was doubled up.
Everything was topped off with a beret which arrives new looking like a flying saucer and needs moulding to shape so there I was sitting in the Sisters' home with a wet beret stuck on my head, water dripping down my neck. We had some fun and games like that.
Even when the uniforms got better they were still made for men so the crotch would droop round your knees until you got your needle and thread out.
I knew how to give medical care but couldn't put up a tent, read a map, march or shoot. Standards were exactly the same as the Regular Army. Off we went to the ranges at Ponteland and Whitburn where I got quite good at firing a pistol and a sub machine-gun, though single shots only. As nurses we had to know how to make a gun safe if someone brought one into the hospital and in a war zone I would carry a pistol to protect my patients.
Maiden Scurry was the name of our women's team which took part in competitions at Catterick, North Yorkshire and I was captain. There we'd be, struggling to carry a stretcher across water with a real person on board and invariably someone would fall in. Then an order would come to swim across with the stretcher, making a flotation pack, and off we'd set full of hope only to find that our packs sank almost immediately. Or we'd drop the stretcher. It was all hilarious but the reason you joined the TA was to train for war, you knew that was why you were there and I never forgot it.
Fran and Harry were both born in 1940 at the same hospital in Liverpool. Here they tell their stories of growing up in the city, including Fran’s memories of the blitz and Harry’s experiences during wartime evacuation. Married in 1961, they went where Harry’s Army career took them - including to Singapore, Germany and Northern Ireland - followed by three years with the Royal Brunei Malay Regiment. His Army service complete, Harry then joined the Royal Hong Kong Police and a whole new set of adventures opened up for them.
Harry and Fran say: We’re delighted! Caroline faced a major challenge when she took on the Fynn story. Not only did it cover two widely differing careers but she also had to control the subjects’ ramblings and inappropriate anecdotes. Despite these difficulties, she has produced a clear, interesting and very readable volume which has been enjoyed by the entire Fynn tribe and many friends. Well done, Caroline and very many thanks for your work in recording our family stories for future generations.
Caroline says: I pride myself on my expertise in structuring a complicated story. Fran’s amazing and sometimes hilarious tales of her enormous Irish Catholic family in Liverpool needed to be written so that all the characters and different homes were clear. Harry’s childhood was also complex because of wartime moving around. Then I began with the story of them as a couple and made a careful plan of the many places they went to, ensuring a balance between explaining the complexities of Harry’s career and Fran’s life keeping the home fires burning as well as having her own working life.
In the extract you can see how I will tell a couple’s story, dropping in individual quotes where appropriate (or where they tell a different side of the story!)
Harry and Fran first met at a cinema in early 1959, when they were both nineteen years old. It was the News Theatre in Liverpool where Fran and her friend Irene were working as part-time usherettes to earn extra money for their Spanish holiday. People with a bit of time to kill would come in to watch the news or a cartoon on a rolling programme.
Harry remembers: I was on leave from Dover and dropped in. Seeing Irene, who was tall, dark haired and elegant, I made a date with her. Though attractive, she wasn’t really my type so when Irene went off duty and fair haired Fran arrived - I had a preference for blondes - I made a date with her. Then I made some kind of excuse to Irene.
Fran: We thought he was foreign because he had a funny haircut like the sailors we’d met at Reece’s dance hall. He was really old fashioned in his belted mac when everyone else was wearing skinny trousers, tight jackets and winkle picker shoes. I had no idea he’d already made a date with Irene or I wouldn’t have tolerated it. However, we are still the best of friends.
Harry: I’d just spent 24 hours in a cell for some stupid offence, like speaking on parade when the Regimental Sergeant Major was in a bad mood, and straightaway they came round with the hair clippers. My first date with Fran was to see a film and that seemed to go all right so we made another date but she didn’t turn up.
Fran: To be honest, I wasn’t looking for any kind of stable relationship but Harry knew where I lived and turned up at my house.
Harry: Instead of telling me to push off she was nice to me, because she’s a lovely lady, and pretended she’d made a mistake.
Fran: I knew he was being posted to Singapore and hoped that would finish it.
Harry hitched-hiked to Liverpool from Dover and Edinburgh most weekends and used his time while operating an Army switchboard to make free calls to the new phone which Fran’s family had just installed, a party line shared with a neighbour.
Most of the weekends passed amicably except for the time when Fran, in a fit of pique at Harry’s unwillingness to do what she had asked, stamped on his foot with her stiletto heel. With the entire weight of even a slim woman concentrated into a tiny, metal tipped heel, Harry collapsed in one of the main streets of Liverpool city centre. Fran took one look at what she had done and fled, pursued by a limping and cursing boyfriend.
By the time the bruises had faded, good relations had been restored and gradually they began to talk about getting married and going to Singapore together. Fran wasn’t worried about going so far from her family because she felt the need to breathe, to become someone different. She had also heard from her brother, who had been to Singapore during National Service, that it had the best ice-cream in the world.
Fran’s family didn’t want her to get married and definitely not to Harry! Her dad was concerned because he was a soldier and would not be able to care for her properly; “You’ll have more dinner times than dinners,” he told her. Her mum was concerned because he was a foreigner - to her, anywhere two streets away was another country. When Fran first wanted to bring Harry to meet the family her mum said, “Do I know his mother?” She didn’t! Fran tried to reassure her, “She’s a lovely lady!”
To which her mother replied, “Always remember, if it’s in the cat it’ll come out in the kittens.”
In the end, her dad gave her away but her mum came to the wedding only under pressure.
Not being a Catholic, Harry had to go to a priest in Edinburgh to be instructed in the ways of the religion and agree that the children would be baptised as Catholics.
They were married at All Saints Church, Anfield, but only after the priest, who had forgotten all about them, had been dragged away from his dinner table by the best man. The reception was at Sampson & Barlows restaurant in London Road at 12/6 a head (12shillings and 6pence, 62½p).
(The following words are more important than what this book is actually about.)
Allison’s sister Fiona says: My lovely sister Allison was very suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. The days ahead for her family were bleak. I couldn’t stand the thought of the darkness that had inexplicably fallen over my sister, her husband and boys. I was desperate to make it better somehow - and that’s how I found Caroline. It’s true to say that she was a life saver - or at least it was a life prolonged. Telling her story gave my sister a focus and gave us all something to hang on to - and treasure now that she isn’t here.
I called Caroline the day after my sister’s diagnosis and she dropped everything to write Allison’s story, as time was so short. Allison was told she had two to four weeks of life left and might not make it to Christmas. In fact she had an extra seven weeks and passed away just after the book was completed. I believe it kept her alive and gave her a purpose.
You meet some people in your life who do something so special that they leave a mark. Caroline did that for us and she is not only talented and professional but also very empathetic. She makes you feel important and she understands - and I for one will be forever grateful.
Caroline says: When Fiona first rang I asked where Allison lived. It was Bury St Edmunds. No way could I come down from Yorkshire and get the interviews done in time. Fiona went away to find someone else but a few hours later rang to ask me to do the book by Facetime – “You’re the only one who got it,” she said.
It was just before Christmas. I dropped everything else to do this and spoke to Allison every day. I spoke to her in exactly the same way I would to anyone else and we had a few laughs along the way. I finished the first draft at midnight on December 23rd. I took three days off then continued our interviews to get Allison’s additions and corrections. She was able to approve the final draft and I’m glad we have her story the way she wanted it.
After Allison died her husband Mike asked if I could add in his story and this I did. We sorted out the photos and Mike approved the designed proof and cover. I’m really glad to have done this for the family.
I’m not putting in an extract from this book, just the quote which went on the back cover:
In the wise words of Winnie the Pooh: “We didn’t realise we were making memories. We were just having fun.”
Les Morgan was born in Grangetown near Middlesbrough in 1930. During the Great Depression his dad lost his job in the steelworks and joined a musical group, Tom Smith’s Harmonica Boys. Here Les tells the stories of his dad, mum and grandparents and recalls his own memories of living in Grangetown and Redcar.
Les says, Many thanks for your advice and guidance and also the way I was put at ease during our meetings, which I enjoyed and looked forward to.
And Les's son Ian adds, The book is fantastic, thank you.
Caroline says, When I met Les’s daughter at the beginning of this project, she said, “I’m worried it won’t sound like him.” I reassured her that the thing most often said of my books, and that I like to hear the most, is “that sounds just like him/her talking”. I made sure the story read well and with a professional polish but without being a school essay. From time to time I dropped in some of Les’s little sayings such as “It was great” and “That was very good” and “Dear me!” I often do this and it strikes a chord with anyone who knows the person.
Les had made a start with his own writing but got stuck, as people usually do. I started with this material, getting the structure right, asking for lots more detail and removing any repetitions, then completed the rest of Les’s life story.
And what an amazing story it is! No doubt Les would call himself an ordinary person but, as with so many, he has an extraordinary story, not just his own but of his parents and grandparents. I’m so glad that’s now in print for future generations.
When I heard about Les’s dad joining a harmonica band in the 1930s, I don’t know what made me do it but I went on an internet search (usually I restrain myself because you can get lost for hours there!) and found a short news film of the band, including Les’s dad, which the family had never seen. Since Les’s dad died after an industrial accident when Les was only a small boy, this was especially poignant.
It’s difficult to choose an extract from this wonderful book but I’ve picked one which I found especially moving about the aftermath of World War I, in which Les grew up.
Once a week, (in the 1930s) when Dad was out of work, he would stand in the queue with many other men to sign on and collect the dole. The major part of the queue was made up of men who had served in World War I, many of them physically and mentally scarred by that horrific conflict. One such man lived two doors away and on occasion he would run out of the house waving his arms and shouting. Everyone knew him and he was soon stopped and held until his mother came to calm him down. Then, both crying, they slowly walked home, all at peace, until the next time. Some of the physically scarred were easy to identify by their missing arms or legs, facial injuries and the white sticks carried by the blind.
My dad’s brother Oswald, Uncle Ossie, received injuries to his leg which left him with a limp. Uncle Will, the husband of Mam’s sister Louisa, had problems with his speech. He had been gassed during the war and suffered from shell shock.
Uncle Bill, the husband of Mam’s sister Harriet, was stone deaf and had served as a Pioneer during the war. I didn’t appreciate what he had been through until many years later when I saw a television programme which outlined the hard work and dangers facing the Pioneers while they were tunnelling under the battlefields.
On Remembrance Day at eleven o’clock the works buzzer sounded, followed by the two-minute silence. In those days it was just that, perfect silence everywhere. No one moved and as a very small boy this was difficult for me to understand that first time, not knowing what was happening. When the buzzer sounded again people started talking and moving around and I realised I was free once again, which seemed strange after the stillness of only a few moments before.
Another year I was in a shop with Mam when the works buzzer sounded and once again no one moved, there was complete silence, no tills ringing, no whirring from the bacon slicer, until once again the buzzer went and the familiar sounds returned.
One morning I was in the busy main street when the buzzer sounded, everyone stood still once again it was completely silent. The trolley bus stopped, the driver and conductress stood beside the bus along with passengers who had all alighted and drivers of horses and carts stood beside their animals. There was what I can only describe as a great weight of silence.
So many people had lost loved ones and those who had survived were often suffering. The most memorable sight for us youngsters was a man with no legs who moved himself around Grangetown on an adapted pram wheel base, propelling himself with gloved hands along the pavement. When it was his turn to sign on, his colleagues would carry him up the stairs then return him to his vehicle. So much for the politicians’ promise after the war of “A Land Fit For Heroes”. In the 1970s my experience of being unemployed showed that the treatment of those in the dole queue hadn’t changed. You had to wait outside in the rain to sign on and those having trouble negotiating the stairs had to rely on someone to help.
Jean Slingsby was the daughter of an engineer, Peter Durnford was the son of a vicar. In 1963 when they were married, society saw them as “chalk and cheese”. Peter’s family hadn’t expected him to choose horticulture as a career but together he and Jean built up the successful Red Roofs Nursery in East Yorkshire.
Jean Durnford says: Caroline was very good at getting the story out of us. It’s written in an easy to read style. A friend said it sounds just like us talking but there is no waffle in the book, Caroline makes every word count. She is easy to talk to and asks questions in a way that you are very happy to answer. It was like having a conversation rather than being interrogated. Caroline showed a great interest in everything and did background reading to follow up the information. Thank you, Caroline, for your help and time in creating a book that means so much to us all.
Caroline says: This was one of my “just in time” books. The writing was completed, though the book not printed, when sadly Peter died. I’m so glad the family have the whole story.
Chris Durnford, son of Jean and Peter, commissioned me to write their life story and what a fascinating one it was. They weren’t sure at the start if they wanted paperback or hardback, photos throughout or in sections. That was fine. “The most important thing is to get the story written first,” I said. How true that turned out to be! We just set a budget and I got started then sorted out the detail, adjusting prices according to their final decision. At all times, prices were agreed before I moved on to the next stage. Nobody ever gets an unexpected bill.
I began with Peter’s childhood in the village of Longhoughton near Alnwick in Northumberland, including details of his father’s service as a World War I Army chaplain. He received the Military Cross for bravery in helping the wounded on the frontline.
I then moved on to Jean’s early life in the Kent towns of Dartford and Bexley. I used to know both these areas so we had a good reminisce!
Because of my knowledge of 20th century social history, I was able to help Jean and Peter pinpoint certain dates and events, though I always tell people it’s the story that matters, we’re not writing a report.
Then we moved on to Jean and Peter’s story together when they had a small market garden which eventually developed, now under Chris, into the huge Red Roofs Nursery in Cottingham near Hull which produces 3.6million punnets of baby plum tomatoes a year to Asda.
With Chris’s help we worked out when the first glasshouses were built, what was grown and how produce and markets changed over the years. Some of it was quite technical but I made sure I made it a human and easily understood story.
In one of the coincidences which happen so often in my work, I discovered that the grandfather of another client lived in the same road as the nursery and, more than likely, once lived in the Durnfords’ house.
We were married during the February half term of 1963 after knowing each other just three months. People called it a whirlwind romance but we’re not whirlwind people really. It was a bitterly cold day during one of the worst winters Britain has ever experienced, with snow lying in the churchyard.
Peter: I didn’t have time to get married after that, it had to fit in with the crops, so it was either that winter or the next.
Jean: That’s what you told my father, anyway!
Peter: I remember being very nervous before the service and afterwards thought, “Thank goodness that’s over!”
After the ceremony at St Mary’s, Cottingham our reception was held at the Newlands Park Hotel in Hull. Then we set off in the Mini pick-up for our honeymoon, a few nights in a very large hotel in Harrogate which was almost deserted because of the severe weather.
Jean had happy childhood memories of the Yorkshire Dales so on our return journey, instead of going straight home, we went on a bit of a tour and attempted the notorious Buttertubs Pass high up near Hawes where we got well and truly stuck in the snow. At each side of the road the snow was piled right up above our heads where it had been cleared. Nobody stopped to help us but in the end we managed to get out again. We were probably a bit mad to go up there but took it all in our stride.
Jean remembers: We hadn’t had much time to get to know each other’s families. My parents weren’t used to posh people and were rather taken aback by my mother-in-law. Our backgrounds were poles apart, like chalk and cheese. It was a different world then. Peter’s father was a lovely person. He was a great collector of books and I’ve been told that every time he went to London he took an empty suitcase which came back full of books. They were everywhere in double layers. That was so different from the home I’d grown up in.
Peter’s mother was so far removed from anybody in a trade like my father that she didn’t know what to make of me and my family. Her elder son had married a bank manager’s daughter and here was Peter marrying an engineer’s daughter. She hadn’t got the faintest clue what engineering was. After we announced we were getting married, she more or less sent for his CV. My father had a letter from her with a long list of questions about him, to see if I was acceptable. Not that it would have made the slightest difference to me and Peter! Whenever he saw her after that my father always pulled her leg about it. She was, as I said, very Victorian in her outlook.
Peter remembers: I don’t think Jean’s dad knew what to make of me either! I do know that my mother was very happy to have Jean in the family.
Jean: She’d got you palmed off at last, she’d been worried you’d never get married!
Within a week of getting married we were back at the cottage ready for the new growing season, as soon as the weather would allow. At the end of the half term Jean returned to work at the school and, not being a driver, Peter had to drive her there and back each day. Eventually she did take her driving test, very reluctantly, but hated driving and would always try to get out of it.
It was only after we were married that Jean moved into the cottage, people didn’t usually live together then. Temperatures were still very low but our coal fire, which also heated the water, kept the back room warm and cosy. Upstairs you just shivered. When our first child arrived we bought an electric fire to take the chill off and much later an electric immersion heater for hot water. The vicar of St Mary’s came to visit. Our area was always known in the village as The Common and people seemed to think all of us down there were still living in the Middle Ages. The vicar walked in, saw the roaring fire and said in surprise, “Oh, it’s quite nice in here!”
To other people we must have seemed rather out in the sticks but there was a great sense of community and we made plenty of friends. We certainly never felt lonely.
With no gas in the area, we had an electric cooker but no fridge until later, nor did we have a washing machine to start with. We had a pressure cooker which was marvellous for cooking stews and so on, making the best of the cheaper kinds of meat because money was very tight. One expense we had to have was a telephone, essential for the business.
We were still keeping chickens in the loft above the garage. Up we’d go to collect the eggs which had to be cleaned before sale. We bought a gadget which consisted of a bucket sitting on a base into which you placed the eggs, very carefully, then covered them with warm water and plugged it in. The bucket rotated backwards and forwards very gently, cleaning the eggs ready to be packed in trays. The noise it made seemed to go, “Oddle poddle” so that’s what we called it, the Oddle Poddle.
The summer of 1963 saw the first tomatoes growing at Red Roofs as well as the lettuces and other vegetables. As the crops became ready, casual workers arrived to pick and pack them. Tomatoes were picked under-ripe straight into large wooden boxes in the hope that they would better survive the journey to market. Growers wouldn’t dream of doing that today.
At that time we were living mainly off Jean’s salary as a teacher, which wasn’t very high in those days, but when we were expecting our first child she gave in her notice at the school. Despite not having much in the material sense, it was a very happy time, wonderful in fact.
Peter: I couldn’t believe my luck!
Tony Fletcher joined the West Riding Constabulary at the age of 15 in 1958 and rose to Chief Inspector. He tells many entertaining tales of life on the beat and documents more serious challenges such as policing the coal strike where many miners were his friends. Adventures after leaving the police service included being part of a group filmed surviving on an uninhabited island for a TV series - “The Island” with Bear Grylls. The book’s front cover shows Tony in 1959 with the West Riding Mounted Police at Pontefract.
Tony Fletcher says: It was not until I reached 70 years of age that I really reflected on my life. I wanted to record it for my children and grandchildren but felt that I hadn’t the skills to do this effectively, even though I believed there was a story to tell. Through her professional journalistic experience Caroline really helped me to put my story together in a manner that made all my family and friends want to read it. I keep getting requests for more copies! She gave my thoughts some structure and helped me draw out all that I wanted to say. What emerged from her help was a beautiful hardback book that captured my voice.
Caroline says: Tony had a remarkable story to tell about a world now disappeared where many young people left school at 15 and went out to work. To be a police cadet was even more remarkable. I helped to draw out all the interesting details about his duties, uniform, the changing technology over the years, his colleagues and his best - often hilarious – anecdotes about the criminals he had to deal with. As he rose up the ladder the stories became more serious, including working through the difficult times of the miners’ strike.
At the age of 70 Tony endured the deprivations of “The Island” and admitted, “If I’d known what it was going to be like I wouldn’t have gone!”
I organised the story into the right order and made it a good, flowing read even when Tony was explaining complex areas of policing in which he was involved as a senior officer. For me it was a fascinating insight and I was glad to be able to produce the book so that Tony’s family and friends can enjoy the story too.
As a young man I had been encouraged to become a miner as a well paid, secure and worthwhile job. For many reasons I am grateful I had another choice and one of those reasons is Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s determination to close Britain’s coal mining industry. In the early 1980s the mining communities in which I had lived and worked and whose inhabitants I had come to know so well had no inkling that the focus of their lives was about to be removed.
The miners’ strike began in 1984 in protest against the closure of just one pit but escalated into one of the most serious and violent confrontations between government and unions ever seen in Britain. Its bitter aftermath continues to divide communities, even families. I was on the front line policing the strike but considered I was just doing my job and expected to be treated as such. I continued to drink in the Allerton Bywater working men’s clubs with my old mates until one day a couple of men turned nasty, calling me a traitor, and the club secretary did nothing about it. I tore up my club and institute union membership card in his face. “You haven’t got the bottle to stand up to them,” I said and left.
As the strike dragged on and money dried up, half a dozen members of the National Union of Mineworkers decided to return to work at the pit in Allerton Bywater. It was my job to get them through the mass of pickets swarming round the pit entrance, seething with anger and frustration at people they regarded as traitors, ‘blacklegs’. These were nearly all people I knew, on both sides.
Miners converged on Allerton Bywater pit to stop anyone getting through. Scenes like this led to laws banning secondary picketing. In great secrecy, a team was set up of a superintendent and two inspectors, including me. I was unaware at the time how strong were the demands from Margaret Thatcher’s government. The orders were, I now know, that these men had to be got into work, even though it could only be a gesture as six men can’t run a pit made for 3,000. They were the first to break the strike in West Yorkshire and created a chink in the armour of the powerful NUM.
This was a village where I had lived and played as a kid and I knew every nook and cranny. The strike breakers lived across West Yorkshire and gathering them together then keeping them safe was a tough job. At two o’clock each morning I got up, put on ordinary clothes and drove an old van, its windows protected by metal grills, to collect the six men who sat in the back, terrified. Had the pickets found us I don’t know what would have happened and I remember feeling frightened. Nobody in Allerton Bywater or beyond knew it was me driving the van. I just disappeared from the front line. Until it was time to make our dash for the pit I kept on the move, hiding down quiet lanes I had known as a lad. It was August 1984 and the weather, in contrast to the atmosphere at the pit, was beautiful.
Meanwhile hundreds of other officers from all over the country were at Allerton Bywater clearing away obstructions put up by the pickets and erecting barriers. Then would come a call to my van, “We’re ready!”
I drove to the police compound near the pit and placed the van at the centre of a convoy. Then we headed for the pit as fast as possible as bricks flew around us and a great roar of noise erupted. Arriving very shaken, the men sat for a few hours doing nothing until it was time to do everything in reverse. Mostly I stayed with them unless a police car could get me out again, sitting low with my head down to avoid being identified. This went on every working day for weeks. As the summer came to an end the mornings became darker.
For some of the officers drafted in from the southern forces the sight of a coal mine was a new experience. After the daily confrontation the pickets wandered home but many of the police remained and some of those who had never been up north asked to see the mine, fascinated by the heavy machinery. They had no idea what it was like to work down a pit or what a mining community was like.
“This is the everyday working life of a miner,” I explained to them, “and most of them are the salt of the earth.” They thought miners were just animals and the conduct of some Metropolitan police officers was disgusting, waving £10 notes from their overtime payments in the faces of strikers.
On principle I believed that men who wanted to go to work should be allowed to but had no idea that by the end of the century most pits in Britain would have closed. I gave very little thought to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and what her long term agenda might be which was reflected in the money thrown at policing the strike. Resources were never a problem and we could have as many officers as we wanted. She saw a loss-making industry that couldn’t last. I just saw a lot of blokes I’d been at school with who wanted to go back to work but were too frightened to defy the union. They were hungry and their children were going without.
After about a year the miners’ strike broke up in disarray and workers returned to pits which would within a decade or so be silent and even wiped from the landscape. In Allerton Bywater I found little hostility towards me, though one or two must have harboured a grudge. Those who had broken the strike suffered and one of the men I had transported in the back of the van later took his own life.
When I was born many years after my brother and sister, my mother would say, “I never wanted him, you know.” She loved and cared for me just the same which can’t have been easy during the war years when our home city of Hull was so badly bombed.
I served my apprenticeship to be a brickie and then set up a building business which grew into the wide ranging Horncastle Group of companies. This is the story of my adventures along the way but is also the story of my family and the many interesting people I have met.
Tony Horncastle says: I am delighted to tell you that the book is a great success and I have had numerous comments from both friends and acquaintances who have read it which are heartwarming. Some were from people of a similar age who witnessed those early times of the Hull blitz and poverty, and others who tell me that they could not put it down until they had finished it. All in all it has been very successful, more than I expected. I have to say I am very grateful to you for your input.
Caroline says: Tony’s story began as a series of talks which he gave to various organisations about his early life. After deciding to develop these into a book, he approached me to help. Starting with what Tony had written already, I asked him a lot more questions so that I could add in more description, such as the house he lived in. I took out the duplications, sorted out the structure and made sure everything was clear. I added in more about the background of Tony’s wife and interviewed her to hear the remarkable story of her father’s service in the Fire Brigade, including during the war.
Then I carried out interviews with Tony to tell the story of his later life. I always enjoy telling the story of a business built from scratch. My work included sorting out some considerably technical information into a human, readable story. The fact that Tony says people “couldn’t put the book down” is the result of our painstaking work together, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also think it’s very important to record the wartime experiences of people in the North because so much focus is on London, including the way the war is taught in schools.
After being evacuated in 1939, nothing much was happening so I returned home - just in time to enjoy the Hull blitz! Hull had far more bombs per population than any other UK city. They say that there were sixty raids on Hull before London had any and that 87,000 out of the 92,000 homes in the city were damaged or destroyed. That gives you an idea of the pasting Hull got. Being on the River Humber, it was easy to spot from the air and a tempting dumping ground for bombers heading for or returning from other targets such as Liverpool, Manchester and the industrial areas of West Yorkshire.
“A north east town was bombed last night,” said the news on the radio. They never said where, just in case the enemy hadn’t noticed.
We were fairly well equipped to fight back and I remember the searchlights sending their huge beams up into the sky and when two or three crossed over a bomber all hell broke loose with the big guns going off, which were in a park near us. If I’d been one of those pilots I’d have thought, “I’ll let them have the lot then I’m off!” So we got all our own share of bombs and other people’s as well.
It was strange and exciting and I never felt frightened. We would just get to sleep and the air raid sirens would go. My father slept on but my mum would call out, “Come along Tony!” and with my sister we all ran for the shelter. I’d usually want to go to the outside loo so she’d be bawling at me to hurry. Then we would disappear into the street shelter.
The early shelters were Anderson dug-out types, made of corrugated iron bent over a hole and banked up with sand bags. The earth floors of these shelters filled up with water so hardly got used. Some people had their own in their garden but we didn’t. Then there were solid brick communal shelters in the streets, above the ground with thick concrete roofs and quite comfortable if you got there early before all the seats or bunk beds were occupied. People were chatting about the war, who’d been caught showing a light in the blackout and gossiping generally. There were leaflets given out for children to keep us amused with quizzes and ideas for drawings.
When the bombers were overhead people would fall silent, listening for the whine of shells and bombs, and we youngsters had to be physically restrained from flying out to find shrapnel souvenirs. The whole basis of school life was about exchanging a piece of shell, preferably the nose cone, for the fin of an incendiary bomb, which was quite small. It was a new currency. I can remember the delight of finding those. Our own big guns were firing at the bombers and their exploded shell cases fell to earth in jagged pieces which were interesting but not prized as much.
I have very vivid memories of the blitz of 1941 when the centre of Hull and West Hull got a real pasting. We seemed to get it nearly every night. Our neighbour but two had their own garden shelter and if you were in favour you occasionally got an invite. We were in their Anderson shelter one night, the noise was deafening and I couldn’t believe our house would still be there. When we finally emerged several streets adjacent to us had been devastated and whole rows of terraced houses had gone. Stirling Street was particularly badly damaged. A direct hit with a land mine, a big drum of high explosive, had reduced most of the houses to rubble. It made one hell of a bang and if it had been a bit closer I wouldn’t be writing this now. I was astonished when we came out and saw our house was still there with just a few slates missing.
It was the same night the Hammonds Department store in Hull was bombed and razed to the ground along with most of central Hull. As the jerry aircraft came over several searchlights latched on to them then the big gun at the Costello playing fields nearby would start firing. Our houses weren’t very well built and the Costello gun would inspect all the footings with its vibrations. Yet even through all those bombing raids and Hull’s devastation, as an eight-year-old I cannot recall being scared. I suppose my age group were growing up with it and probably thought such things were normal.
By contrast I was terrified by a young woman living in our cul-de-sac who had been terribly burnt and most of her facial skin had been burnt off leaving her looking ghoulish and ghastly. She rarely came outside but the odd glimpse of her was chilling. Poor woman, I can see her now, and I had nightmares about her often. We are so fortunate these days to be able to help such unfortunate people to recover and live a full life.
When the sirens sounded my father only got out of bed if he was doing fire-watching, extinguishing any small incendiary bombs which fell before they could start big fires. Some bombs didn’t explode and the area was cordoned off until the bomb disposal experts arrived. As children we were fascinated and would get as close as we could to watch.
So bad was the bombing that the council started evacuating whole streets to safe areas and it was quite exciting to think I might get posted somewhere but we never were. If I’m honest, I’m surprised that more people weren’t killed in the bombing considering how many homes were damaged. The civil defence services did well during a very rough time.
We kids got to recognise every aircraft by the noise and shape. I could tell a German plane just by the peculiar chug of its engines. It gets me when people say how awful it must have been in the war because we got used to it. Patriotism played a big part and everybody was on side because the alternative of living under Hitler was terrible. Prime Minister Winston Churchill led us with dogged determination as Britain stood alone against the Nazis. The propaganda was very good, telling us our army, navy and air force were a match for anyone. Whether they were or not I don’t know. I also recall that in the early days of the war an armed trawler from Hull captured a German submarine and, having killed most of the crew, towed it into the docks. It received national publicity and was used to boost people’s morale. This was a period when Hitler was having all the success and anything to strengthen the war effort was highlighted. One of the trawler’s crew, the mate, lived near us and had an unsavoury reputation. Rumours were rife that he had been involved in helping himself to the sailors’ personal belongings.
Everybody in the street hated the arrival of the telegram boy.
“We regret to inform you that your husband (or son) is missing presumed killed” was the standard message.
I remember him arriving at the house opposite and hearing the poor young woman inside cry with anguish. Usually everyone rallied around to offer tea and sympathy and that was it, no counsellors, no carers, nothing, and the war continued.
Holiday Diaries from the 1950s
World War II and its aftermath put a stop to foreign holidays for many years. In 1950 Clifford and Lucy Thompson from West Yorkshire set off for the Bavarian village of Oberammergau to fulfil a long-held ambition to see the famous Passion Play, with its poignant Christian message of resurrection, performed every ten years but cancelled in 1940. Travelling through France and Germany, Clifford recorded in his diary the bomb damage they saw. Only neutral Switzerland was unscarred. Then in 1956 came the excitement of a hop across the Channel by plane for a holiday in a Belgian seaside resort and a tour into Holland.
Elizabeth Benjamin says: Thank you once again Caroline for your excellent memoir work. My aunt and uncle’s holiday diaries have really come to life with your attention to detail. Our families are grateful for all your hard work. It has been a pleasure to meet and work with you.
Caroline says: Some years ago I produced a book for Elizabeth (who was born a Thompson) telling the story of the Thompson wood-turning business of West Yorkshire. It was called Chapel, Wood and War. Then Elizabeth came back to me with some fascinating diaries kept by her uncle during the 1950s. It gave a glimpse of Europe recovering from war and many other interesting details such as the plane which used to fly cars across the Channel from Kent. I had great fun designing this book, using their photos, old tickets, hotel bills and samples of the original writing. I also explained anything which would be unfamiliar to younger readers. Now all the family can enjoy a story which had been tucked away in exercise books.
We came to the frontier of the French and American zones of Germany without any ceremony and just a post to distinguish it.
After leaving the Black Forest the party was split between two hotels. We stayed the night in Stuttgart in the Hotel Ketterer, a new building opposite a cinema showing Bill Boyd in Hopalong Cassidy. Afterwards we walked out into the streets. As we were looking into a shop window, talking away, a German who overheard us and knew some English asked if he could help us. We said no but he wanted to talk so he gave us his life story and seemed pleased that we would listen.
After the usual rolls for breakfast we were away at 7.30am and climbed very high out of the city and were able to look down which showed it was very beautiful or at least was before our boys did the damage.
Now for Hitler’s autobahn we hear so much about!
One of Hitler’s major pre-war projects was the building of motorways. Britain had nothing like it at the time.
It was a magnificent affair with two roadways, a central grass verge and secondary roads coming into it at an angle or passing over on a bridge or underneath with no crossroads like ours.
Much repair work was going on to bomb damage, especially to bridges, and we went miles sometimes using only one track. Time after time we saw women scything the grass at the roadside. The most interesting portion of the autobahn was where we went up a mountainside and, near the top, through a cutting where the slope was made easier by a long viaduct. In some places they had tunnelled through the mountain and occasionally the road went along the side of a steep precipice.
We came to Ulm where here again was much bomb damage but the Lutheran Church with its spire of 520feet high, the highest church tower in the world, was not touched. Here we saw Cadbury’s chocolate sold in the streets, no points of course and about our prices. Always you could get fresh fruit and ice cream.
Some foods including sweets and chocolate were still rationed on points in Britain. Food rationing did not come to an end completely until 1954.
We arrived in Munich at 1.30pm and had lunch at Fahrigs Hotel. A woman showed our driver the way and waved very briskly and smilingly when she saw “London” on the side of our coach, pointing it out to her little girl.
We stopped in the square which Hitler knew so well and were shown his house, all very much damaged as was Munich itself. Quite a number of temporary shops were in the main streets, rather similar to our Coventry, but the crowds of people were quite well dressed and seemed much as they do in England.
Leaving at 3pm, our next place was Starnberg, quite picturesque on a lake bearing the same name. In the distance could be seen the Bavarian Alps and now we saw many bicycles, coaches and cars on their way, perhaps to Oberammergau as we were.
Passing through a very pleasant village we climbed steeply through a beautiful mountain pass through wooded scenery with deep valleys.
Of course we were all expectant, wondering what Oberammergau would be like and at last the name plate appeared and we knew we had arrived. The drive through the village was better than our expectation especially on this very sunny day. No more picturesque or romantic a village could be possible with its little curio shops dotted everywhere with the buildings whitewashed or done in cream with sloping roofs and mural paintings on the outside walls. We even saw one actually being painted. We came to a very excited stop outside Cook’s Travel Agency in the main street or Dorfstrasse.
We were met by porters wearing Bavarian costume of leather trousers with braces joined between the two strapovers and looking very nice. They had grown beards, no doubt they were in the Play. With them were small boys who had also let their hair grow and looked of course more like girls. These small boys were detailed to show us to our apartments whilst the men brought the luggage on afterwards. Our courier told a boy our hotelkeeper’s name and address, Josef Führer at No.7 Theaterstrasse, and from Cook’s the way led us up to the Passion Play Theatre and past the English Protestant Church.
The boy took us to our apartments with absolutely no hesitation, although being only young. He knew the way quite well and volunteered to carry our hand luggage. In his Bavarian costume of leather trousers, colourful shirt and leather laced trimmings here and there - and bare feet - he smilingly accepted one deutschmark and ran off.
Everything was charming and we all knew that this was something which had superseded all expectations, a feeling which lasted right through our stay at Oberammergau.
I was born in the town of Deal in Kent in 1934 because I wanted to be in good time for World War II. Evacuated to Worksop, I never went back. As a teenager I was a driver for my dad’s taxi business and worked as a mechanic in his garage. Later I ran my own taxis, a wedding fleet and a funeral business as well as buying and selling cars.
You’ll be amazed at the hilarious adventures I had and the characters I met, including the wedding Cadillac which expired in a cloud of steam outside the church and the bishop who tried to seduce me!
The front cover of my book shows me aged about fifteen in my dad’s taxi uniform. Yes, I was driving even then!
Derek says: I have had many lovely comments about my book. Friends and family seem to have genuinely enjoyed it and I am so pleased with the whole thing. I can't thank you enough for your input and for helping me to get this book out.
Some of the latest comments are:
“I can hear Derek speaking as I read it ... it’s his voice coming through.”
“I salute you for all you have achieved from nothing.”
“What comes through for me is what a softie Grandad really is!”
Caroline says: Derek had already made a start on his story but, as so often happens, he got stuck and the years passed by without much progress until he called me in to help. It had turned from a pleasure into a worry. Within a few months, I helped him to tell me the rest and sorted out the original, putting things in the right order and cutting out any duplications. I also made sure that everything was explained so that each character and event was clear. When people write their own story, they’re often too close to it, leaving the reader wondering what’s going on.
This is a remarkable story of making a success out of nothing and of working extremely hard. The title Driven is just right. It’s also very funny and made me laugh out loud! Because Derek commissioned me to work with him, his story is now there for everyone to enjoy.
One night when I was only a teenager, I had to pick up seven men from the Normanton Inn, some of them the worse for drink. There were ten of them so one sat on the boot which let down like a shelf, not like today where they lift up. He was a big man, about 18stone. I told him to hold on tight. It had just started to snow and the car was very heavy as we started off. When we arrived in Worksop eight miles away there was a great big snowball on the boot. We thought he was dead, frozen to death. If he hadn’t had so much to drink I think he would have been. I didn’t charge him anyway.
I had to take another drunk to Creswell, a model village where all the houses look the same. I helped him inside and into a big armchair, taking off his shoes and jacket. I had a phone call from his wife the next day:
“Why did you put my husband in one of the neighbour’s houses? I don’t know if there’s something going on there or not! He won’t be bringing your fare in and I’m not paying for it!”
My dad had a regular customer, a very smart man who only paid in white fivers (large notes before the blue ones came in). One day he drove this man to a court in York and was told to wait. After an hour my father went in to ask how long his passenger would be.
“About three years!” they said.
He had been forging five-pound notes.
I did many weddings over the years and some funny things happened. One day we took some cars to do a wedding in Manton, a mining area where everyone turns out to see the bride. We parked the cars outside the house for twenty minutes as we were early and everyone was looking at us. Eventually I went round the back looking for the bride and bridesmaids only to see a woman with her washing tub outside, scrubbing away.
“Where are the bridesmaids and the bride?” I asked.
“You’ll have to wait until next week,” she said, “you’re a week early!”
I had a lot of cheers coming out.
There was a wedding where the bride and groom never turned up. Another groom booked a wedding car twice a year and cancelled them each time, losing his deposit. He did this for four years and never did get married. There were many weddings where the family fell out before the bride and groom had even gone on their honeymoon. They’d even argue over who was allowed to take the cake home.
I had an American Cadillac in white to bring in wedding business and it did. Everyone wanted it. I was in Creswell doing a big wedding on a nice hot summer’s day. I had to park the Cadillac on the main street outside the church and I dare not stop the engine as it might not start again. It wasn’t very reliable.
Out came the bride and her new husband standing by the car, me with my uniform and holding the door while the photographer was taking photos. All the guests who’d come out of the church and all the shoppers were looking on. There must have been three hundred people.
Suddenly there was a very big bang and smoke and steam everywhere. I couldn’t see the bride and groom even though I was standing next to them. When the smoke cleared most of the people were 100 feet away. The water hose had expired because I’d left the engine running. I stopped a two seater saloon car to take the bride and groom to the reception. There was no money coming that day!
If your ideal walk is six or seven miles but you dream of walking the Coast to Coast then this book is for you. That’s how the two Annettes began. After managing to complete one section with trepidation they were determined to finish the whole 192 miles. All the trials, tribulations and the nitty-gritty, all the tiredness, laughter and elation and all the Downs and Ups along the way - you can read about them here.
Annette Hirst says: I was lucky enough to have Caroline recommended to me by a bookshop owner. The book I had written and the photographs taken by myself and my friend needed organising and putting together to make a book worth printing. Caroline did that for me with care and thoroughness and produced a book with the quality I had hoped for.
Caroline says: One of the things I helped Annette Hirst to do was decide who this book was aimed at. It’s not a map-style guide to walking the Coast to Coast but a real life experience of two ordinary women who were going to tell the story, including all the bits the other books don’t warn you about. I checked all place names, distances etc and made sure it all made sense. I advised a slight change to the beginning to draw the reader in, then designed the book using their beautiful photos throughout. It’s an inspiring read.
The Little White Bus looks innocent enough waiting at the stop, pretty pictures of the places it serves on its sides. Only once the doors have shut and there’s no escape does it reveal its true nature. After boarding in the village of Reeth tucked into the folds of Swaledale, we whizzed off so fast along the winding route that by the time we got to Keld twelve miles away Nettie (Annette Freeman) was feeling pretty sick and I was almost as bad. Glad to be off the bus, we strode away full of enthusiasm.
As I had already walked the first part of the route with my son, I was confident I knew where I was going. We admired the tumbling water of Kisdon Force and the ruins of Crackpot Hall - yes, it really is called that! The views to the River Swale were lovely and it was a joy to be out.
Rounding the hill above Swinner Gill on a much lower path than I had previously walked, it was quite difficult in parts, very narrow, muddy and slippery. What really surprised us was that, other than the prominent finger post proclaiming the Coast to Coast at our start in Keld, there had been nothing to indicate our route.
How naive we were on that first day! As we were to find out the hard way, this is not an official national trail such as the Pennine Way and is notorious for its lack of signs. Some areas, mostly going east from Reeth across Yorkshire, were excellent. Other areas were very poor.
Every modern book and map suggests a slightly different route. Alfred Wainwright, who devised the walk, is partly to blame for the muddle for not sticking to rights of way so you can’t always go where he did. Further detours have happened because of new development and re-routed paths.
Having read that thousands of people, many of them from abroad, walk the Coast to Coast every year, we had expected that the route would be marked at least with basic short posts. We were wrong, very wrong.
To guide us we carried maps and Nettie’s GPS. Wainwright, being hard to read on the march if you’ve always got to fish out your glasses first, stayed at home after the first section we walked and often it was only when I was back in the comfort of my armchair and studied his original writings that I could see the contradictions.
We reached the stone bridge and crossed, saying hello to three elderly men who were sat resting on the stones, reminding me of Last of the Summer Wine. They asked if we were doing the Coast to Coast and when we said yes they nodded solemnly. I had warned Nettie that the climb from there was very wet, rough and pretty steep so we were prepared and slogged up determinedly, thankful to reach the level track at the top. Then we made really good progress. I was amazed at the number of grouse we saw on this moor, flying up every few yards as if shouting, “Go back! Go back!” and startling us until we got used to them.
The walk across the moor top was marvellous and a left fork to the path down into Gunnerside Gill was considerately marked by a pile of stones. Filled with the joys of spring we neared the ruins of Blakethwaite smelt mill in the bottom, reminding us that at the height of the lead mining industry Swaledale was noisy, smokey and full of spoil heaps, some of which remain today.
Charles Tate was born near Wakefield in the 1920s and knew from an early age that he wanted to work with wood. After leaving school at fourteen he became an apprentice joiner. Being wartime he joined the Home Guard, carrying a rifle almost as big as himself! Later he started his own business and built about three hundred homes across West Yorkshire.
Philippa says, My father enjoyed his time talking to Caroline about his past and he has been pleasantly surprised by how many people wanted to read his memories, not just his family. From my point of view too, it was a straightforward process where I knew exactly where I stood in terms of scheduling and costs. Thank you, Caroline.
It’s always a great pleasure to write the story of someone who started with nothing and built a successful business through sheer hard work and courage. Charles is a very modest man so naturally I had to ask all the right questions to discover the full extent of his achievements. I made sure I wrote about the business against the backdrop of what was happening at the time, reflecting the highs and lows of the economy and showing the gradual rise in expectations of buyers. At first, coal boilers were fine because they provided central heating, then it had to be gas, then there had to be utility rooms and en-suites - even bidets! All this from a man born in a one-up, one- down cottage in Wakefield!
As a background to the dust jacket I used a photograph which I had taken of some timber with a nice grain, the main picture being a fabulous photo of Charles and his brother as boys.
I was born in a one-up, one-down cottage in Yorkshire but my father lost his job in the mine when I was a baby and we had to move to Cheshire where there was work. Our new home was bigger than the one in which I had been born, being two one-up one-down cottages put together. They were built of stone on a slight slope and there was a step up to the kitchen where a door had been knocked through.
The house didn’t have a rear door, probably because about ten feet behind was a sheer drop down into a quarry. There was no fence, they didn’t do things like that in those days, but that didn’t stop us playing out there. We could walk round easily. As a child I didn’t like cabbage and my mother left me sitting at the kitchen table until I had eaten all my midday dinner. While she was in the other room I nipped out and threw my cabbage down the quarry.
“What a lovely boy! You’ve eaten all your cabbage!” she would say, seeing my clean plate.
We had no electricity and had gas lights which hissed gently on the wall. Like many houses we had no bathroom or inside toilet and the only water supply was a single cold tap in the kitchen. Toilets were in a block of four further down the road with several seats and as a small boy I had to hang on tightly. I didn’t mind having to go outside to reach the toilet because that’s what everybody we knew did. During the night we used a chamber pot. Bathtime meant filling a tin bath in front of the kitchen fire so you only did that once a week.
Outside the front of our house the road was unmade and opposite stood a building which was something to do with the waterworks. One day my brother and I opened a hydrant and water shot about twenty feet into the air so we scarpered quickly.
Down the road was a shop with a gas streetlight outside which was lit each evening by the lamplighter who took his ladder from one light to another. One night the lamplighter had climbed right to the top when my brother took the ladder away. The shop owner was called Evelyn Pilling and she was killing herself laughing.
At the age of five I was told I had to go to school so I went along with my mother on the first day. At mid morning break she was surprised to find me home again.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’ve been to school,” I replied.
Nobody had said anything about staying. I was taken back.
I had an accident and bear the scar but have no memory of it happening. Apparently one washing day my mother had a bucket of very hot water in the back kitchen. I walked up behind her, she didn’t see me, stumbled and the water scalded me. Fortunately a doctor was visiting next door and he sorted me out straightaway. Over the years I forgot all about the scar. When I was eighteen I went for a medical to join the armed forces.
“Do you have any distinguishing features?” they asked.
“No,” I replied.
“What about this scar on your shoulder?”
“Oh, that!” I said.
Like many men during those difficult years of the 1930s, my father had to follow the work and was often away for long periods. The jobs were usually on railway widening, a lot of which was going on at the time, including Northallerton in North Yorkshire and Peterborough. One day he came home and I took a long hard look at him.
“Mum!” I said. “That man’s come again!”
My father thought, “If my own children don’t know me it’s time I got another job.”
I was born in a small village in India in 1936, not far from the holy city of Amritsar. When the new border with Pakistan was drawn close to us we were plunged into violence, changing the course of my life. My journey has taken me to Delhi, Bombay, Kenya, Uganda, back to India and many other countries, with a lot of adventures along the way. Finally I made Britain my home with my dear wife, our three sons and their families.
Harry says, I find Caroline a person not only well qualified in her work but also so understanding when helping you to remember the past and make your story real. If you want to write your memoirs, you cannot ask for a better person.
It’s very important that we record how the lives of some ordinary people are swept up by international events beyond their control, their futures often changed forever. My parents had just such an experience and telling their story was one of the inspirations behind this business. I asked Harry a lot of questions about his time as a small boy to paint a vivid picture of life in a peaceful Indian village in the 1930s before the violence of partition. We also told the stories of his parents, grandparents and other important relatives and gave an explanation of the Sikh religion for those unfamiliar with its details.
As usual, I used my enormous Times atlas to work out where Harry’s travels had taken him, checking all place names and explaining those which had changed.
Some of the book is very sad, other parts hilarious and I made sure I reflected Harry’s sense of humour. He was very keen that people could laugh at some of his crazy adventures as a young man, like driving a car along a railway line to avoid floodwater. One of my favourite anecdotes was about his grandmother sitting on her trunk on the dockside refusing to allow customs officers to open it because she had hidden her stash of opium inside.
Because my mother was an immigrant, I’m always interested to chart the story of people who arrived here from abroad, the cultural differences they faced and the prejudice. Through his determination Harry established a very successful career with swimwear makers Speedo.
Our meetings began not long after Harry’s wife had died. They had had a long and happy marriage, having married without seeing each other beforehand. We made sure that the book told her story as well as his. This led to some tears, of course, but was important to do and, I hope, ultimately beneficial. Because Harry lives some distance away from me, after the interviews were complete I did my follow-up work by phone, email and facetime, even when Harry was in Spain. That all worked very well.
It was as the morning trains were passing. That’s what my mother said if people asked, “When was your son born?” I made my appearance and a train let out a piercing whistle as if to announce the big event.
For many years I knew only the year of my birth, not the day. I was born in Talwandi Nahar, a village near the holy city of Amritsar in the Punjab at the far northern tip of India, in gentle countryside before the mountains begin. When politicians far away were poring over their maps to create the new country of Pakistan they drew a line close to Talwandi Nahar, just keeping our village in India and dropping us into an area of bitter conflict. But that was all eleven years away and as a small child I had no idea that men I had never heard of would change the course of my life.
My full name was Harcharan Singh Sagoo. Being the first son after four daughters and the only boy even in the wider family, my parents nick-named me Shinda, which means “the loved one”. I was their little prince and some of our land was given to the gurdwara, the Sikh temple, in thanksgiving for my arrival. My parents held open house for forty five days during which anyone could turn up and be given delicacies such as ghee with raw sugar and rice, along with other foods.
I had three older sisters, Charni, Sona and Phola. There was another daughter who died at the age of fourteen, I believe, but sadly I don’t remember her at all. Memories of my two eldest sisters are very vague, the brightest being the day they were both married because this was also my naming ceremony. I was dressed in very fancy clothes and ladies were hugging and kissing me, pressing money into my small hand. Men did not do hugging in those days! There was a lot of food and celebrating.
My family, who were Sikhs, led a simple village life. Everybody knew everybody else, whatever religion or sect they were. Our house was built from clay bricks, which reflected the higher status of my family, others used bricks made from dried mud. We had a hand-carved wooden door which was still there when I took my grandchildren to see the village. It is so different now with many new buildings that I had to ask someone to show me where my own house was. The barn where we kept our animals in winter and where my father had a special place to rest when he was not working has been converted into two homes.
The rooms in our house were very simple without a great deal in them. Downstairs was one large living area and above it hung a fan, a frame stretched with fabric moved to and fro in the summer heat by a servant pulling a string. My parents paid people to help in the house but all had their own homes in the village. A woman collected our laundry, took it away to wash by hand then brought it back dry and pressed using irons filled with hot coals. Our land was cultivated for us by people who gave us half the crop, I think that was how it worked. Others cared for our livestock, fed the chickens and milked the cows and buffalo, though I have seen my mother doing that, sitting beside the animal, milk squirting into a bucket. All the work was done by hand, with ploughs hauled across the soil by buffalo. The roads were very quiet with no cars, only horses and carts.
As night fell the oil lamps would be lit. We had no electric light, telephone, television or fridge. Computers were a thing of the future.
I shared a bedroom with the younger of my sisters. Being so far north, winter nights could be very cold and my mother made quilts for our beds. She and the other women would work together on one quilt, skilfully stitching the material together, padded with shredded cotton for warmth. In summer these would be rolled up carefully and lighter bedding shaken out and aired in the sunshine. On cold winter days a pot filled with charcoal was set alight then brought inside the house when the flames had died down to a glow. That, apart from our kitchen stove, was the only heating.
As the weather became hotter and hotter we all took our bedding on to the roof to sleep under the stars. It was very dark and I remember lying there listening to my father telling bedtime stories.
There was no flush toilet and instead a very deep pit was dug outside with a wooden seat above. As a small boy I was rather scared to sit on the wooden seat because it was a long way down. The ladies would go in groups at a certain time in the morning and evening. When the pit was full it was covered over and a new one dug.
In front of our house was a large well for drinking water. We had no bathroom but went to our second well where a buffalo walked round and round to draw water up to fill a tank. Showering was a communal event under a shelter but with men and women separated and still partly dressed.
It was not so different from Britain where in the 1930s bathrooms and inside toilets were a rarity for ordinary people. Like them, we were quite happy with our arrangements because we knew nothing else and everyone around was the same.
The women spent much of their time feeding their families. In the kitchen cooking was done over a traditional stove called a chulha, a three-sided box on the floor containing a fire of wood and dried cow pats, with clay or copper pots balanced on top. The women squatted down to cook amid the smoke. Piles of chapattis were mixed from flour and water and patted quickly into shape before being cooked on a metal plate. A lot of fuel was needed every day and some villagers collected wood to dry and sell.
The grain came from our own fields and was brought into the house in sacks to be ground between two stones. Better off women like my mother paid other ladies to do this for them.
Shopping was not done in the way it is today as much of our food came from our own land. As Sikhs we ate meat now and again but not beef, out of respect for our Hindu neighbours for whom the cow is sacred. My father was completely vegetarian. Our meals always had a lentil dish such as dhal and a vegetable dish. Saag was a delicacy made by cooking mustard leaves for nearly twenty four hours in a clay pot. Sweet pilau rice with sultanas, almonds and pistachio nuts was a dessert, very delicious! Every night we drank milk and usually in the morning as well, or a yoghurt drink called lassi, with a stuffed chapatti. That was our breakfast. Tea was almost unheard of.
My mother used both buffalo and cow’s milk, making her own yoghurt, butter and ghee. With no fridge the milk would not keep so each night my mother boiled it up to make yoghurt for the following day, lacing it with lemon or other spices in a clay pot. Village life meant helping each other and it was expected that if you had more than you needed, as we did, you gave it to others. People would knock at the door most days asking for buttermilk or some vegetables and we sent food to the temple, the gurdwara, for the free kitchen where a vegetarian meal is served to anyone who needs it.
There were a lot of trees in the village which grew the most delicious berries, what they were I am not sure. Fruit was seasonal, you ate it when it was ready and when it was finished there was no more until the next year. Men would bring sacks of melons or mangoes and you would be eating them for weeks. Some mangoes were so ripe you could squeeze the juice into your mouth. There are some fruits of my childhood which I have not seen in Britain and would love to taste again but have never been in India at the right time.
Living with us was my father’s relation, known respectfully as Uncle, who had no children. In his early days Uncle had worked, I think, on the railway in Assam. His wife and my mother shared the work in the kitchen. Uncle was very interested in traditional medicines and often prepared treatments for people in the village, never taking money. He had learned his skills from wandering monks known as Sanyasi who lived in the jungle meditating and surviving on what they could find. By the time I knew him he was an elderly gentleman and he used to say to my mother, “I wish these children could grow up fast enough for me to teach them what I know.”
When I was growing up in Jamaica I loved watching an American TV show called The Love Boat, set on a cruise liner, and at the age of fourteen made three promises to myself - to work on a cruise ship, to be a nurse and be in the army. And I’ve done all three! These are the stories of the hilarious adventures I had working on board ship after joining in the 1980s and one terrifying Atlantic crossing.
Thank you so much for your tremendous help and impressive work putting my story into the correct order and making changes so it’s easy to read. What an excellent service you provide, you guided and advised me every step of the way, making suggestions here and there. Most of all you kept me informed at every stage. I didn’t have to wonder what you were doing or how far you were working in the book.
Usually I use extended interviews to help clients to tell me their story then write it for them. Annette was one of the first people to contact me after I set up my memoir writing business in 2008 but she lived in London, my children were very young at that time and I just couldn’t take on her project.
“Have a go at writing it yourself,” I said.
And she did! Ten years later the phone rang and it was Annette. I remembered her straightway. How could I forget such a great personality and such a great name? She had a hilarious and sometimes outrageous story which made me laugh out loud but, as is usual with untrained writers, it jumped around a lot, was unclear at times and some important details were missing. By talking by phone and emailing I put all that right and Annette is now selling her book.
We finally got to meet when I delivered the books to Annette when she came to Yorkshire on a training exercise with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, of which she is a part-time member.
In the 1990s I was promoted to cabin attendant. How I loved that job! On embarkation days some of the cabin attendants had to go to the main gangway to meet and greet passengers as they boarded the ship, looking immaculate in our uniforms with white gloves and smiling nicely.
Then we showed the passengers to their cabins, explained how everything worked and answered any questions they had. I love talking and used to enjoy giving them all the valuable information about the ship, the best ports to visit, the entertainment on board and much more. I found it very amusing working the gangway because the questions they asked were out of this world, such as:
What time is the midnight buffet?
Do the crew members go home each night?
Can I take the ice carving home?
What do you do with the ice carving when it has melted?
Has the ship ever sunk?
I have an outside cabin, will I get wet when it rains?
How do we know which is our photo?
Why is the ship rocking?
Is the toilet water salty?
How do I walk forward?
What time are we taking off?
Where are we sailing to?
Passengers also did daft things. On the last night of the cruise they sometimes packed all their clothes in their suitcase which was taken away, only to find out in the morning that they had no clothes to wear. One passenger had to wrap himself in a shower curtain because his luggage had already been taken off the ship and he had to go through customs before he could get it again.
On that same cruise a passenger went to the purser’s desk to ask why, at some point between him boarding and his cases being put in his cabin, they had been sent to Texas. The purser was completely at a loss for an answer until he spotted that the luggage had been given tags saying Amarillo (yellow) and the passenger thought that meant they had gone to Amarillo, Texas.
Naturally the weather sometimes defeated us and one cruise heading to Grand Cayman had to be diverted because of a hurricane. An elderly lady was screaming on the main deck because her vacation of a lifetime was ruined. She had been so looking forward to going to the Grand Canyon. She had got it totally mixed up.
Ever since I was a small boy I’ve loved cars and motorbikes and in my early twenties built myself a motorcycle which the tax office christened the Jim Baxter Special. I’ve been a bit naughty in my time, driving very fast round Liverpool and getting chased by the police - who turned out to be more interested in what was under the bonnet rather than me breaking the speed limit! They all knew Jim Baxter. I don’t do that anymore - and nor do they! I’ve brought a neglected Ferrari back to life and got many a grand old car purring sweetly again. Most of all I’ve loved preparing and racing vintage motorcycles, especially Scotts, coaxing these wonderful machines and testing them to the limit.
Jim and his wife Jane in Liverpool say,
For several years we had an ambition to write Jim’s life story. When he suffered a debilitating stroke we had no excuse to delay any longer as there was little else that we could enjoy doing together. We made several attempts but found it was an impossible task, mainly because we knew that Jim had to “tell” the story - not write it, and I had already heard the stories before (several times!) The text would have emerged looking rather bland. In desperation I resorted to my ipad and by a lucky chance stumbled onto Caroline’s website. Our problems were over. Caroline took charge and guided us throughout the whole project. We were well aware that there would be costs involved but we feel it was money very well spent. Some people think nothing of spending thousands of pounds on cruises but at the end of the day, the story of a life is worth more!
The book got an immediate WOW from us on opening the parcel! Caroline, you have done an amazing job on our behalf - can’t thank you enough. We are so excited by the book. You have a very satisfied customer on your hands.
The feedback we are getting is fantastic.
The best thing for me about doing this book was that it shows everyone what an amazing person Jim is. He was in hospital recently (much better now!) where the staff were captivated by his book. To write it, I travelled to Jim and Jane’s home in Liverpool, stayed in a b&b and spent several days with Jim, helping him to tell me his story. I took care not to wear him out but on the other hand, as I often find, the enjoyment of telling his story was a real tonic for Jim. We both had a good laugh most of the time but his childhood was very tough and far from funny. I encourage people to talk about parents and grandparents and those details were also very interesting and a good firsthand record for Jim’s descendants.
I had to make sure I understood the technical details of the motorbikes and cars Jim loves, especially the vintage Scott motorcycles which are his passion, gently asking questions until I could write it clearly for anyone to enjoy. In the following weeks Jim had other stories to add which we did successfully by telephone and email.
His wife Jane also shares Jim’s passion for vintage motorbikes and cars, was a great rider in her own right and owned several wonderful models so I made sure her own story came in too, as you can see in the extract.
Vintage cars and bikes excite me most, made between 1919 and 1930, and when I ran my own garage in Liverpool there was always something interesting being restored. When I met my wife Jane we got into motorcycle racing and I loved the exhilaration of riding something built in the days when Britain led the world in motorcycle production. They can still do 100mph. Despite this, it wasn’t until the 1970s that you had to wear a helmet and Jane just wore a headscarf.
When we first got together we were in a pub boasting about our prowess on motorbikes. I’d had one when I was sixteen, a 1934 Francis-Barnett Cruiser which I bought for £10 because I lived out in the wilds and needed it to get to work. Jim called it the Frantic Bastard. What I really wanted was a second-hand 150 BSA Bantam but they were too expensive for me at around £70.
Jim hadn’t been on a bike for years and neither had I, then he bought a box of bits which turned out to be a 1929 Scott motorcycle for me. He spent two years completely restoring it to concours condition, including soldering a brand new radiator from brass tubing.
I thought what a wonderful present it was, not realising that this gave him permission to buy whatever bike he liked for himself, starting with his own vintage Scott. A whole procession of bikes came through the garage to be carefully restored but Jim was no good at selling them, only buying.
They were invented by a brilliant Yorkshire engineer called Alfred Scott and known for their distinctive “yowling” engine noise. For their time (from 1908) they had an outstanding performance. In competition they were deemed to be “too efficient” for racing against motorcycles of the same capacity so their cubic capacity was multiplied by 1.32 to handicap them for competitive purposes.
I’ve restored so many Scotts that I’ve lost count. They performed like new when I’d finished. My own Scott was a 1929 Flying Squirrel and I was the only rider on our club circuit with a hand gear change. This was on the right side of the bike. In order to enable faster gear changes I kept my right hand on the twist grip and used my left hand to change gear over the tank. In 1914 Alfred Scott challenged his workers to a trial ride which has evolved into the famous Scott Trial still held today. Though I never took part in this gruelling ride I bought the 1928 Scott bike on which Eric Langton won in the 1930s.
Jane and I volunteered to become scrutineers at Aintree during the 1960s and 1970s, checking bikes before they were allowed to race. In the 1970s they wanted to start a vintage class so I decided to help make up the numbers. We were members of the Vintage Motorcycle Club North West Section and I became best club man in my class at one point. Compared to other riders on later vintage bikes, I wasn’t a real racing man. There’s nothing heroic about what I did, I was just there with the other lads trying to get in front of them and enjoying the fun of being involved.
I’ve raced lots of different vintage bikes and they’re all good fun but my 500cc Scott with its two cylinder two stroke engine was very quick off the mark, running and bumping at the start of a race. I was confident in the knowledge that I’d restored the bike myself and it was in peak condition. That was just as important as any riding skills I might have.
At the Oulton Park circuit a club champion was next to me on the grid. I cheekily tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Would you kindly keep to the left because I’ll be overtaking you on the right.”
“You and whose army?” he replied.
My eyes were glued to his back tyre and the moment that tyre moved I was off and past him but he overtook me on the straight and gave me two fingers. When he lapped me he gave me another two fingers. On the third lap the marshals were pushing bits of his bike into the side because it had fallen to pieces. Weight is crucial and his was a “cheat” bike, pretending to be a Scott but with lightweight parts sneaked in.
I must have enjoyed going fast because I blew up one of Jim’s bikes trying to keep pace with a friend on an MV Agusta on the way to the Blackpool Sprint (straight along the promenade). Since Jim was riding mine at the time, that’s what he had to make do with on the sprint.
Your grid position in races was determined by drawing lots - selecting a piece of wire sticking out of a bag held by a boy scout - so a quick start was vital if you were at the back. You ran with your bike to bump start it then jumped on and, being a mechanic, mine always started first time. There’s a film somewhere of me coming right from the back to be ahead of all riders at the first corner.
I never came off in spite of giving myself a fright now and again. Racing at Oulton Park I was disappointed to see another rider pass me until I realised it was just the bike with nobody on it. I reached out to shut it down so the marshals could catch it.
I was too timid to do the terrifying TT on the Isle of Man but Jane and I have followed the route with all its hairpin bends and mountainous terrain. We took part in the island’s vintage time trials on our Scott motorbikes where Jane invariably won the ladies prize and sometimes I’d win the distance award.
Keith Heckles, my very dear friend who’s sadly no longer with us, was a top TT and MGP rider and held the lap record at the 1976 MGP. I only out-cornered him once because I knew the road and he didn’t. He was a lovely man with a great sense of humour and once went round Silverstone on a bicycle sitting on the handlebars, facing the wrong way and ringing the bell with his bottom. He was magic.
One winter we went to Brooklands together and looked for somewhere to stay. All we could book was a bedroom up in the roof of a house which was freezing cold but better than nothing. There were two beds and when we got in between the chilly sheets Keith said, “My feet are freezing!”
I replied, “I don’t care, I’m still not coming into bed with you!”
Keith often repaired things for people. One day a hairdresser he knew called him over as he was walking past and asked if he could mend a hand-held hairdryer.
“Yes, I’ll fix that,” he said.
The shop was on a busy dual carriageway and when Keith took the hairdryer back he decided the traffic was going much too fast. He held up the hairdryer and watched them all slow down immediately, thinking he was a policeman with a speed camera.
He was the most marvellous motorbike rider. One day Jane and I were following him. Just before a left turn we saw him put out his left arm to signal, then his left leg went out and he went round the corner with his arm and leg sticking out, steering with his bottom!
One of our favourite friends was Marjorie Cottle who had been a celebrated racer in the 1920s and 1930s and was a test rider for Raleigh motorcycles before they were better known for their bicycles. Everyone was spellbound by her talks. She’d often stay overnight with us which was rather disconcerting because she’d be bombing around in a rather skimpy silk negligee, puffing on a cigarette. Marjorie was a marvellous person with great spirit and one typical event saw her trying to get out of the car as I drove her to a club meeting in a blizzard. She wanted to walk in front to guide me and I had to physically restrain her because by then she was quite an elderly lady.
I owned a 1953 1000cc Vincent Twin motorcycle and used it to visit a fellow enthusiast, Charlie Rumble, when he had to spend time in Rhyll Hospital following an accident with a lorry - he had to swerve to avoid injury to his grandson who was riding pillion. Unfortunately he sustained leg injuries himself.
To cheer Charlie up while he was in hospital I’d take the Vincent and run the engine outside his ward just so he could hear it. Coming back from one of these visits with Jane’s nephew Paul on the back, a car in front was weaving all over the place and I realised the people inside were eating fish and chips. Every now and again a greasy paper would come flying out of the window. I moved forward until we were alongside as the driver was stuffing himself. When the next lot of litter came out I caught it, stuffed it back through the window and told him he was a filthy pig. Paul never forgot that incident.
When Charlie came out of hospital I modified his car so he could drive despite his injuries. As he was paying for petrol one day, a villain jumped in and tried to steal the car but couldn’t work out how to drive it because I had fitted handlebars instead of a steering wheel.
On a visit to Hoghton Tower, the stately home near Preston, Jane and I left the Scotts outside the cafe where they were spotted by Major Richard Adams who was married to Lady de Hoghton, owner of the ancestral home, after she was widowed. He loved motorbikes but his wife forbade him from riding. They were looking for ways to help the estate and I was looking for somewhere to stage a safe sprint so their long straight drive was ideal. Major Adams said, “If you can run it, be my guest.”
That was the start of the now famous Hoghton Tower Sprint which has been going for over thirty years and which Jane and I set up. Jane printed every programme by hand on an old-fashioned Gestetner stencil machine. Our friends Derek and Jos played a big part in setting it up and on the first day organised free tea and coffee for the riders and their helpers. I was clerk of the course and Jane was timekeeper. Jos kept plying her with whisky in her coffee which wasn’t too good for the accuracy of the timekeeping. Jane even emptied the chemical loos and went into the woods one day to do that and somebody was just about to make off with the spade she’d left there!
I’d seen too many riders leave other sprints with damaged bikes and not a thank you. I wanted ours to be different. When we sent the entrants their “regs” (regulations) we included stickers and toy balloons. Each rider was photographed setting out from the start line and plaques commemorating the event were distributed during the day. Afterwards they received the photo, their results and a certificate with their best time printed on it, signed by me as the clerk of the course.
We were praised for our good organisation and safety standards. Major Adams was thrilled because they made so much money from the public coming in to watch and he was vindicated in his passion for bikes and respect for the motorcycle fraternity.
Jane and I were looking for somewhere to stage a sprint on Merseyside and the track through Knowsley Safari Park looked promising. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I think motorbikes can go faster than lions. Jane and I went up with Keith on our bikes to mark it out and poor Keith, on his Norton, made a world record by skidding on a pile of elephant droppings!
Road racers will look out for brake markers before a bend so they know where to slow down on the next time around. It might be a particular tree or an electricity box. Once Keith spotted a large stone at the side of the road and decided to use that as a marker. He came round the second time, braked at the stone - and much to his surprise ran out of road! The stone happened to be a tortoise plodding its way slowly around the track.
In one race I made the mistake of using a group of Army display riders as my brake marker. They were standing shoulder to shoulder in just the right place. As soon as I was out of sight they all scurried closer to the corner and when I reappeared enjoyed watching me brake far too late.
Bill Burton was a great friend and outstanding character who had raced cars and bikes all his life, winning the Aston Martin Horsfall trophy. He was getting on a bit when I met him and I always said the reason he went so fast was because he couldn’t see the hazards until the last moment.
At New Brighton I asked the marshals to give Bill a push off the grid to save him running and bumping. Unfortunately they pushed him into the wrong race. “It’s not my race!” cried Bill plaintively as he was manhandled into a scrum of modern bikes with fairings on but it was too late and suddenly there was this 1928 bike roaring along with them. He was a terrific rider, much faster than me, and managed to come in fourth.
When I bought myself a paraglider the engine needed running in. What a bore it was to watch its big fan going round and round, safely attached to a stand. I decided there might be a more interesting way. I strapped it to my back and got on a bike to see what happened. When people saw me pedalling round the lanes at up to 50mph they were unconcerned.
“It’s just Norm,” they said.
I’ve flown all kinds of gliders and microlights. A couple of the more quirky ones did their best to kill me. But I survived.
“How come you’re still alive, Norm?” people ask. Well, I suppose it’s so I can still give them a laugh!
Norman says, After leading a rather adventurous life people kept saying to me, “Norm, you really must write a book!” But how was I ever to manage that? Fortunately my daughter found Caroline Brannigan through the internet. Telling my story to her was an enjoyable experience and my book has had a very good reception. In fact I’ve just ordered a reprint. So thank you, Caroline, for capturing my voice and making it sound just like me talking. That’s what everyone is saying. And, best of all, it has given my daughter a good laugh reading about my exploits.
Norman lives in Leicestershire so I travelled down and stayed in a local pub. Before this we had spent time on the phone working out the “map” of major events and dates to use as a guide for our meetings. As always, I helped Norman to tell his story as fully as possible by asking lots of extra questions to prompt memories which he might not have thought about for a long time. Norman was very keen for his sense of humour to shine through so I made sure it did.
We began with his childhood on the outskirts of Coventry where Hitler celebrated Norman’s fourth birthday by putting on a fireworks show. Unfortunately he flattened Coventry in the process.
When we met, Norman began telling me of his flying exploits and my hair began to stand on end. How did he survive! It was all very funny but underneath I could sense great skill and judgement (well, maybe not all the time).
I like my books to sound like the person talking so I dropped in one of Norman’s catchphrases from time to time. It was, “which is not a good idea”. That seemed to come up a lot, funnily enough.
As often happens with my books, I had to make sure I understood all the technicalities of gliding so that I could write a story which anyone could understand. However, as always, I was careful not to make the explanations tedious for the experts I knew would love reading this book.
My follow-up questions were done over the telephone then I posted proofs to Norman which he corrected and returned to me. Additional stories were recorded by me over the phone. Everyone thinks of more to add!
I bought a share in a T21 vintage open cockpit glider which, being fabric covered, was easily damaged and had been rather patched up over its career. I love the open cockpit, the sense of freedom and the wind in your face. It’s a true feeling of flying, wonderful. You’re out in the open air and not looking through anything. Ahead is the whole vista of the sky with no reflections in the way. When you look over the side it’s straight down. It also makes you much more accurate in your flying because you can feel what the wind is doing and how the glider is reacting to it. You can tell if you’re flying accurately because of the wind in one ear or the other.
Top tip: if you’re navigating from a map on your lap, don’t let it go over the side!
Sometimes I wore goggles and a helmet but not always. It does get cold, especially flying through cloud, and the glider can ice up. The other problem is disorientation. When you can’t see where you’re going you have to believe your instruments, not the motion of the aircraft.
You can’t go up into cloud without a radio to announce your position. I actually liked cloud flying because you could get up much, much higher. I went up to 9,000 feet over Husbands Bosworth once, a girlfriend sitting in the passenger seat. I don’t know if she was impressed or not. She couldn’t see a thing.
One sweltering summer’s day a young lad asked me to take him up in the T21 and called me a wimp when I suggested he might like to wear something over his shorts and T-shirt.
“Ok, I suppose I am a bit,” I replied. “Getting old, you know.”
I pulled on my trousers, insulated jacket and flying helmet and we went up in a thermal to about 4,500 feet.
“Fancy a bit of cloud flying?” I asked.
Yes, he did fancy that. In cloud it is very, very cold. He crouched down shivering in the cockpit crying, “Get me out! Get me out!”
“What was that about a wimp?” I said.
It took him ages to thaw out.
The T21 has two seats side by side and was designed before the war for training RAF pilots before they went on to powered planes. It doesn’t go fast at all, flying at about 36/38 knots.
My mate Lou Frank, an instructor, had a thing about doing a Golden Distance - 300 kilometres - in a T21 which had never even been attempted before and has not been done since.
“You haven’t got enough time in the day,” people said.
He’d tried with a few people but they got so cold he had to land.
“How about you, Norm, will you come?” he asked.
Of course I would. This was in 1984. I had two survival suits which I had purloined from a North Sea barge that I’d worked on (more about that later) so we put these on, packed up a few sandwiches and took off for Plymouth.
It wasn’t a particularly good day but we were progressing. We didn’t go fast, you can’t in a T21. Our radio packed up after half an hour. Near to a big town we had dropped to about a thousand feet which is a bit close to the ground for a glider but Lou managed to catch a thermal to take us up a bit.
There was always a possibility we wouldn’t make Plymouth. Our friends Roger and Wendy were following by road for the retrieve. There were no mobile phones so every half an hour they’d stop and phone back to the gliding club to see if we had called in to say if we’d landed and if we hadn’t they would press on.
We went across Dartmoor with all our fingers crossed because it would have been impossible to land there but the thermals took us over and we kept going to Plymouth. By then we’d been going for about six hours.
“I’m dying for a pee!” I told Lou. “Can I stand up and do it over the side?”
“No you can’t, you bloody poser!” he said. “Use the plastic bag like everyone else.”
I would like to point out that we do not tie up the bags and drop them as a nasty surprise from the sky but empty them over the side, having checked wind direction first.
Now that I was comfortable once more we looked out for a field to land in. Plymouth Airport had already told us before setting off that they would not give us permission to land there. I spotted a field with a cricket pitch but Lou said it was sloping too much.
“Have you ever seen a sloping cricket pitch?” I said.
“It’s sloping!” he argued.
It turned out we were both right. The pitch was flat but at the end was a steep drop. We came in over a hedge and just managed to put the glider down at the edge of the drop, not far from the football ground and with buildings all around. We discovered we were in Central Park, quite a famous place. The police came and the local radio. They had never seen a glider land there before, or crash as they saw it. To the uninitiated our landings can sometimes look a bit accidental.
The police were very interested when we explained we’d just made a record-breaking flight of 305 kilometres, the longest distance in an open cockpit two-seater glider. As far as I know that still stands and nobody has attempted it before or since. I think that most people who know anything at all about gliding will be astounded by it.
“But why did you land here?” the police wanted to know.
“Because we couldn’t find anywhere else!”
“So it was an emergency landing then?”
I thought for a minute. “Yes, it was.”
“That’s all right then.”
The really clever bit was that Roger and Wendy arrived within twenty minutes of us. They’d been to the airport where they’d heard a glider had landed in the park.
If you ask me what our secret was I’d say tenacity. At one point we got up underneath a thermal and it was going well but very cold, even though it was May. Snow was falling from the cloud then going up again so we were in a constant snow storm! But we got about 5,000 feet out of that so it was worth it to get the distance.
Arriving back at 1.30 in the morning, the whole club was there waiting at the clubhouse with pints all round. That was quite a night.
Jimmy was born in Edinburgh in 1938, the oldest of nine children. He tells hilarious tales of a happy childhood despite the family’s struggle to make ends meet. Growing up to become a butcher, Jimmy kept greyhounds and entered an exciting world of unregulated dog racing called flapping.
Marie was also born in Edinburgh in 1938 which has been her home ever since. But some of her family have gone far and wide, creating connections from Scotland across the oceans to Canada, America and Australia. With the help of her brother Felix, Marie tells both her own story and the tales of those who made their lives across the seas.
These two books were commissioned by Jacqui Glasgow. Marie and Jimmy are her parents. Jacqui says:
It was a real pleasure meeting Caroline. She engaged with my parents sensitively and with good humour to elicit the stories of their lives. She made them feel at ease and they felt the process was extremely relaxed and enjoyable, bringing back stories which were almost forgotten. I am so happy with the memoirs and delighted how Caroline has captured the essence of my mum and dad’s lives. These are priceless little gems full of fantastic stories which can be enjoyed by future generations of our family. Thank you Caroline for your patience and for doing such a wonderful job creating these beautiful books of treasured memories.
Like many people, Jimmy didn’t think his story was anything special. He told me, “I didna think I’d done anything because I just done it but everything’s coming back to me now. Reading it made me laugh but it put a lump in my throat too.”
He certainly made me laugh but I’m glad he can now see what a fantastic story it is. It’s particularly wonderful for his grandchildren to understand the world Jimmy grew up in, especially those who now live abroad. One of the best things people say about my books is, “That sounds just like him talking” so the story followed Jimmy’s rhythm which added to the humour.
I went by train from North Yorkshire to Edinburgh where Jacqui booked me into a local B&B and I carried out the interviews over two days, returning later to do the same for Jimmy’s wife Marie. All follow-up work was done by post, email and telephone. This worked very well.
Marie’s book is slightly different, bringing in family tales of previous generations who went across the seas to find a new life. Marie’s older brother Felix joined us to fill in details of the years before Marie was born. I made sure we didn’t repeat what was already in Jimmy’s book.
Like many people of their generation, Marie and Jimmy had few pictures of their childhood. Jimmy’s only one was badly damaged and I spent some time on Photoshop fixing it as best I could. However, I never make these pictures perfect because that takes away some of their character and their history.
It’s good to add another book about a woman because there aren’t enough of them on my shelf. Ladies, do you think you don’t have a story worth telling? I bet you do!
I grew up on a five-storey stair in Tennant Street, Leith. That’s five floors with a flat each side of the stairs. It’s not there any more, it’s been knocked down.
I don’t want to criticise my Dad because he worked hard but his older brothers were right rough and ready and liked a drink and that was what my Dad learned. They didna hand over all their wages to their wives and neither did my Dad. When all us children came along he didna change.
When he came in with the money my Mum used to say to him, “Just keep it and you keep the kids! It’s not enough!”
Nearly all the men were like that then. I seen it when I got older and tried to help her. I thought, I’m never going to be like that. When Dad was away in the war we got money from the Army but it still wasn’t really enough.
There was no room to do washing in the flat so once a week my Mum piled our things in a pram and I had to help push it to the washhouse up in another street. Sometimes she kept me off school to help with the washing. Women would be scrubbing away in clouds of steam. The things they said! I was just a wee lad, folding up the clothes.
“He never got it last night! Think he was gonna get summit if he gave me any money!”
They were swearing, really giving it big words!
“The old bugger come in but I had a splitting headache and was glad of it!”
I didna know what they were saying at the time. My Mum didna say too much because I was there.
We were always on the lookout for moneymaking schemes. Every Sunday men used to sit on the landings of our stairs gambling with cards. Every stair was full of them. There were all kinds of people, some who’d run away from the Army or the Navy. Gambling was illegal so my brother Andrew and me worked as shotties - lookouts. Andrew would be at the back entrance, me at the front.
Every time they changed over to another man dealing the cards they’d throw us two or three pennies. We done well! If we spotted the police coming we shouted, they’d all scramble away and by the time the police came in they’d gone. I gave my mother all the money and she was glad of it and passed a few pennies back to us.
The gamblers used to love drinking sour dook, which was buttermilk. My mother knew all about it from making butter up in Shetland. Sometimes she still made her own butter, shaking up cream in an old jam jar. A woman used to come on Saturdays and Sundays with a big can of it and up would go the cry from the men on the stairs, “Jimmy, get me a pint of sour dook!” I didna like it but the gamblers couldn’t get enough. Another woman used to come round from Newhaven at weekends with a basket of mussels and buckies and they sent us to fetch those for them.
One day I was sitting watching for the police when four or five taxis came down the street, one pulling up at every stair. You didna see taxis in our kind of street very often. Women and men climbed out but they were in ordinary clothes so we didna bother. Then they pulled off those clothes and were in police uniforms! They rushed into every stair and people were jumping off the landings to get away but a lot got caught. The inspector then was called Merrleas and he’d been trying to catch them for years. Me and Andrew just took off as fast as we could and hid.
Our parents were Marie and Felix Prior and we were named after them. It wasn’t as confusing at home as you might think because our mother got called Maria and Marya a lot and you knew by the tone of her voice exactly which Felix she was talking to! We also had an older brother called Frank.
Both our Mum and Dad belonged Edinburgh. Our father was born in 1901 and had two brothers and two sisters - Frank, Robert who was killed in World War I, Maggie and Mary, who we always called May. Times were hard then if you didna have much money. Our Dad’s family were very poor and he ended up with badly rickety legs.
At that time rickets was rife among children in poor districts, caused by a lack of good food and sunshine, which stopped bones forming properly.
Felix’s oldest son has traced back to where our family came over from Ireland and on one of the birth certificates the father’s job is given as a fish seller. That man must have been illiterate because he has signed his name with a cross. For a later birth his job was given as cattle dealer, so he was coming up in the world but there was still the same cross again on the certificate.
Our mother was born in 1902. Her name was Marie Philp and she had four sisters and a brother, Mary, Nell, Kate, Annie and Tom.
She and our Dad never said much about their early lives, which is a shame. Our Mum’s mother did a lot of waitressing up at the zoo when there was a function on and I think our Mum and her sister Annie helped out.
There are a few funny stories which have come down through the generations. When our mother was a teenager her family all went to a place just out of the town, Dalmahoy, for a holiday in a farm cottage.
Our mother’s sister brought her pal and the two of them were sent to fetch milk from a farmhouse about half a mile away. They thumbed a lift and this car picked them up and took them away past where they wanted to go. Then the driver stopped and said, “Now you can get out and let that be a lesson to you never to get a lift with someone you don’t know!”
They had all that distance to walk back and our Granny says, “Where the hell have you two been?”
They told her and she leathered the two of them. The pal got it as well. Every time she gave them a whack she said to the pal, “Your mother will be thankful for what I’ve given you today!”
At the end of the holiday the sisters all got together and put horseshoes in their auntie’s suitcase after she’d packed it. They had a long walk and the auntie kept complaining about how heavy the case was! A fish van came along and gave them a lift. There were lots of them this time so that was allowed! There was only one boy in the group and he was the youngest so they stuffed fish down his shirt then ate them when they got home.
This is the story of a family business, Brightside Foundry of Sheffield founded in 1864 by my great grandfather Ambrose Firth. He was one of the old school of Sheffield manufacturers who by hard work and practical skill laid the foundations of a profitable business in iron and steel heavy engineering. The words family and business are just as important as each other in this story. However, it was not only my family who were important but the many other families whose men worked for the company. Like so many businesses, their dedication was not enough. Gradually the family lost their majority control, as too often happened, and Brightside was sold at the end of the 1960s to a company which then went bust. It was just over a century from start up to wipe out.
My very sincere thanks to you for your clarity of thought, sorting the confusion and leading the way to the printers. It has been a joy for me to collaborate with you in this effort! Congratulations to you for your encouragement and keeping the momentum going! Just what was required.
Like many people who set out to write a book, Anthony had a wonderful time researching it over many years but found the writing very difficult. I think he was pretty fed up when he came to me and so was Mrs Firth, if I’m not much mistaken.
He had a marvellous collection of information, piles and piles of it in fact, and it was very satisfying to take the burden off Anthony and turn it into a readable story. First I worked out who all the characters were. Different generations often had the same name so I made sure each had a clear identity. The story of any business is always a story about people.
So close was Anthony to his subject that one of the first things I said to him was, “You haven’t explained what it was that Brightside actually made!” Without blinding everyone with science, I picked out the most important elements.
As a writer you also have to “kill your darlings”. This means cutting material which you love and might be quite good but doesn’t actually fit in to the story you’re telling. So there was a bit of pruning though no butchering.
This is a great story of a British business and the people behind it. A copy has gone to the Sheffield Archives where it adds an important chapter to the story of the city’s steel industry.
Family folklore reports that the nineteen-year-old Ambrose Firth (Antony’s great grandfather) started in business on his own in 1864 with a hundred pounds. The Brightside Foundry was founded in Bright Street on Brightside Lane in the Attercliffe district.
A century later the firm was looking back at these early years and Ambrose’s venture was described in the company literature as a jobbing foundry “specialising in ingot moulds and maintenance iron castings”. For the lay person, an ingot is a lump of metal formed in a mould by pouring liquid metal at temperatures in excess of 1,000°C. The shape of the ingot mould would be formed in the pattern shop in wood to give precise dimensions for one-off moulds, depending on what kind of product it was destined to become.
At the time there were many slum houses in the area. There was no separation of industry from residential streets and new businesses often simply took over a house or a group of houses and worked from there.
George Grant, who joined the Brightside Foundry aged 14, was a great source of information for this book because he could recall the stories of the early days handed down from his grandfather and father. All three generations worked for Brightside. George recounts a story told by the workers about the dangerous, dirty and smoky streets where Ambrose began his business in those completely unregulated days. The tale was that cupolas full of molten metal were poured from the upstairs window of what could have been little more than a hovel.
It was comparatively easy to start-up in foundry work as ladles or “pots” of molten iron were for sale from the larger iron smelters on a casual or daily basis. How they were transported by horse and cart is hard to imagine.
The steel business of Sheffield in 1864 was dominated by the “Big Four” - Firth’s (the other Firths!) Brown’s, Cammell’s and Vicker’s, often selling pots of molten steel to smaller businesses. The big four handled the heavy work, then there were the specialist companies with much smaller niche markets.
In 1869 Ambrose, aged 23, married Sarah Milner who had been born on 9th April 1849 and was then aged 20. Sarah’s father Manwaring was by then a property landlord along Gilbert Street as well as having his business in table knife manufacture and being a cutlery dealer. He appears to have been a rough tough man. According to Elvia Jones, Ambrose’s granddaughter, Ambrose married Sarah “to rescue her from her stern and savage father”. Sarah had a brother Thomas who apparently was not much nicer than his father.
Phil Lovell was born in Sheffield in 1929, surviving so many brushes with death that he earned the nick-name Lucky Lovell. These included his house being bombed in the war, a train crash and two crash landings while in the RAF. Then there was the morning when, on a trip along the River Nile, he woke up to find a crocodile snoozing next to him.
He tells a fascinating story of Sheffield life of the 1930s and 1940s, then many entertaining tales of his posting to Africa with the RAF. Later Phil worked for the city housing department where his maverick way of solving problems led to more adventures
For many years I struggled to find the time to write my life story. I started to gather information and wrote copious notes but never got on with the writing bit. One day my daughter told me about Caroline Brannigan. From then on the task was made easy with her pleasant manner and the way she patiently and gently gathered information with an efficiency gained from her many years of writing and interviewing. The job was turned from a nagging worry into a very pleasant experience which I really enjoyed. I am extremely pleased with the result because she made it into my book. It sounds as if I had written it myself.
Caroline says, This was one of several books wrapped up by clients and placed under the tree for their family and friends at Christmas. It’s the highly entertaining story of an ordinary boy growing up in Sheffield in the 1930s and 1940s. Phil’s adult life is also the story of his wife Betty, who died not long ago, and it has been great for their son and daughter to read about her young adventures too. They had no idea their mum went on the back of Phil’s motorbike, let alone about the times they fell off!
The book also contains Phil’s memories of his mother, who was a dancer, and his father, a stage manager, and their wandering lives before settling in Sheffield.
Phil’s life story contains many funny moments but it wasn’t all a laugh. After their home was bombed in the Sheffield Blitz Phil and his mother and young sisters walked past the smoking remains of Walsh’s department store where they had shopped the day before. They trudged on for ten miles to find safety with relations in the countryside. I sourced a photo of the burned out store for the cover. Inside Walsh’s was a beautifully stitched tapestry belonging to the mother of another client who had taken it to be fitted to a footstool. It was destroyed. Such are the lives of ordinary people intertwined.
Before we could afford a car, Betty and I were enthusiastic motorcyclists. I’d bought my first motorbike when I was 20, an ex-army Ariel 350cc still camouflaged, which I painted. It was a great bike and the beauty of motorcycles in those days was being able to take them apart yourself and put them back together again. Betty rode on the pillion, which had no springs. We went all over the place, Blackpool, Liverpool, Southport, Bridlington, Scarborough and Cleethorpes as well as lots of runs closer to home.
We didn’t mind what the weather was like. Clothing was in short supply so most motorcyclists wore ex-RAF kit which you could buy in military surplus shops. Betty and I had flying suits and my goggles were Mark 8s used by Spitfire pilots. Hardly anyone wore helmets and instead we had woolly hats.
A farmer who knew me asked if I could collect some chicks for him. That was a way for me to make a bit of extra money.
“I’ve only got a motorbike,” I pointed out.
“You’ll get them on the bike,” he assured me.
Off I went 30 miles to a farm and collected a pile of boxes about three feet high, full of at least a hundred tiny fluffy yellow chicks, which I had to strap across the top of the panniers. Then off we all went back to Buxton.
After our wedding I changed the bike for a brand new Norton Dominator, a beautiful model with rear suspension and telescopic forks at the front, unlike the Ariel. I made the panniers for it - you couldn’t buy that sort of thing then. People today can’t imagine what it was like after the war with so many things either in short supply, very expensive or impossible to get.
Living in RAF married quarters, Buxton was a costly place to shop for food so we’d go off on the bike to Sheffield to visit our families and stock up on food from the market. The panniers were stuffed full and Betty had a wooden-framed Bergen rucksack on her back full of tins, the weight resting on the panniers.
One winter’s night we were riding home in the dark along the notorious Thirteen Bends between Baslow and Bakewell. I’d always told Betty that if I got into trouble she should jump off.
“I could never jump off!” she said.
“You must do.”
That night we hit black ice, skidded and I knew I couldn’t hold it.
“Jump!” I shouted.
And Betty jumped.
Then I deliberately laid the bike down, that’s better than hitting something. I lay on the road with my leg trapped underneath but the crash bar I’d added stopped any serious injury. I managed to get up then had to make a choice.
“Shall I go for my bike or shall I go for Betty?”
Betty won. I went back and found her sat in the road unable to get up because the heavy rucksack was still strapped to her back. She wasn’t very happy and was beating her fists on the ground. It wasn’t me she was angry with, just the accident.
I helped her up, we got back on the bike and carried on home. We were both bruised and my knee had to be strapped up for a few days but otherwise we were all right.
She loved her job at the Liverpool Victoria and was very good at it but they didn’t employ married women so sacked her when she became Mrs Lovell. People can’t believe it today. She got a job in the tax office in Buxton then had a call from the Liverpool Victoria begging her to come back.
At seven o’clock each morning I used to take her on the bike 12 miles to Bakewell to get a bus early enough to reach Sheffield on time. One day Betty had just sat down on the pillion when one of her friends leant out of a window nearby and they started chatting. I was sat there with my hand on the throttle, anxious to get going.
At last the window shut and I set off, not realising that Betty had stood up to adjust her coat under her, and she somersaulted straight off the back. It was a quarter of a mile before I realised because you can’t feel a good pillion rider, which Betty was. I put my hand behind me and thought, “She’s not there!”
I went back and she wasn’t very happy about it, but hadn’t hurt herself.
Betty and I had some great motorcycle holidays both before and after we were married, loading up our camping gear and heading for Combe Martin in Devon and Land’s End before it was blocked off. There were no motorways and Buxton to Combe Martin took 14 hours, setting off at 2am. Every time we got behind a hay wagon we just couldn’t get past!
A girl who worked in the Naafi in Buxton begged to borrow my bike one day because her father was in hospital in Blackpool.
“I’ve got to get there fast because he’s not got long to live,” she told me.
It was a big bike and she was less than five feet tall and I agreed reluctantly. When she set off she couldn’t put her foot to the floor.
“Whatever have I done?” I thought as she roared away.
I was on tenterhooks until she came back the next day, having managed to be with her father when he died. Then she told me that all through the war she’d been a motorcycle despatch rider! So I needn’t have worried.
Once when I was in Sheffield Betty’s mother asked me to give her a lift to a friend in Totley. Out we went to the bike where she perched herself on the pillion side saddle.
“You can’t ride like that!” I said.
“I always rode like that with Tom,” she told me. That was her husband and in the 1920s!
“Go on then,” I said and took her all the way to Totley and back and couldn’t even feel that she was there. She was a perfect pillion passenger.
A Kindle edition of Gama’s Journey is available through Amazon
When Abdul Qadeer Khan was born in Nagpur, India, he was rather small so his parents gave him the nickname Gama after a famous wrestler, he assumes to provide inspiration. It must have worked because their son thrived and went on to become an MSc in chemistry. After establishing a successful career in India he and his wife Farhana came to Britain where Gama became a respected authority on pollution control, his work culminating in the award of an OBE.
Caroline is a real professional. She had four meetings with me and by asking the relevant questions helped me to tell my story. Based on these meetings she was able to write my book, Gama’s Journey. We were very impressed with her friendly and polite methods. After a couple of meetings she became our friend. I would recommend her to anybody who wants to have their life story written.
Caroline says, I was very pleased when Qadeer’s son approached me to commission a book to mark his father’s 80th birthday. For a long time I’d hoped to write the story of someone who began their life in India because these stories are often remarkable but not recorded enough.
Qadeer had already written some of his story but his family felt that it was a little too much like a professional report. Naturally, as a scientist, this was Qadeer’s style. They wanted more about his childhood and personal experiences.
I made sure I understood what Qadeer’s work in pollution control had involved and wrote it in a way easily understood by a lay person without trivializing it. I also brought out more of his sense of humour and used many comments made by his wife Farhana which added another dimension to the story.
Working with the Khan family was delightful and I’m proud to think of this book going out to be read in India.
It was very hot in the build up to the monsoon so when the rains came it was a relief. All the boys and girls would go out to get wet. It was such a nice feeling. Once the monsoon arrived it would rain very heavily for seven to ten days continually but it was still very warm. Then there would be a few dry days before another week or so of rain. There was a lot of mud everywhere.
Invariably, the monsoon would arrive in my home town on June 7th. Ten days before that it arrived in Kerala and Goa. The monsoon continued until September when the rain became less intense before ending in October.
Our front garden was full of roses and marigolds and at the side was an allotment for vegetables. Our home was in a jungle area where many fruit trees grew. When I wasn’t at school I would be either swimming in the lake by our house or picking fruit, eating it straightaway under the tree - dates, mango, guava, mulberries and other fruits which I have never seen in Britain.
The jungle came close to the house with a lot of snakes. The Nag in the name Nagpur means cobra so we lived in Cobra Town. There were so many of them! Goodness knows how we survived. If someone was bitten the area round the bite was cut and allowed to bleed to wash out the venom. I don’t think anybody in my family was ever bitten. Snakes only bite if they think they are in danger.
Farhana once had a close encounter with a snake. When I went to Britain I went alone to see what it was like and Farhana went back to live with her family until I had settled.
One day our son Asif, who was about two, came in pulling something behind him. My sister thought it was a stick until it moved. She swept the snake on to the floor then picked Asif up, stood on the dining table out of harm’s way and shouted, “Snake! Snake!” My father had visitors so they all came running. They got rid of the snake but my father was very upset. He said, “Gama has gone to England and left his family with me to be safe and now this happens!” As a penance he gave money to poor people.
When I was a boy there were no fridges and food was kept in a cupboard with a wire mesh door. One day a snake got underneath it and my mother shot it dead with a 12-bore shotgun. Forever after that the cupboard was covered in holes as a reminder. At night the light of our lamps attracted insects which in turn attracted the snakes who wanted to eat them. There were a lot of snakes where we used to swim but we were told that if the snake goes underwater it’s not a poisonous one. I don’t know if there’s any truth in that.
Two kinds of monkeys lived in the jungle, one with a black face and the other with a white face. Each group had a dominant male who would attack you if threatened but the others would just rush up then run away again. They were quite big, as tall as a small boy when on their back legs. We would look for a mango tree full of monkeys and throw sticks at them so they ran around, dislodging the fruit which we caught and ate.
One day when I was about ten I was alone when the monkeys spotted me. One of them rushed up and slapped me on the face! I started crying, my brother Achay heard and came running to save me. I always say that I used to be quite handsome until the monkey hit me!
I was told that a tiger used to come at night and sit in the wartime trenches in our garden and watch the house. I’ve seen a panther, hyenas, peacocks and deer in the jungle near our home. I remember a man called Paul was killed by a wild boar at the edge of the lake. Our elders used to point out the tree under which he was attacked and warned us not to go alone into the forest.
Robin Hutton was born in Dublin in 1918 where his cot was moved away from the window to avoid snipers’ bullets. When Robin was ten his parents returned to England and he went as a boarder to Fulneck, the Moravian school in Yorkshire. After university he taught there, his career interrupted by war service where he came under fire once more, this time with devastating results. Robin went back to teach at Fulneck and ran the archive after his retirement, having a connection with the school which lasted nearly 90 years
Robin’s son Roger says, The books look great and we’re very pleased. We’d like to thank Caroline for all her hard work. It’s great to have Dad’s story left to help us to remember him by.
We have all enjoyed the experience of reminding one another of memories forgotten. Dad found Caroline most helpful. He didn't get to see the final book but we have it now and it will be treasured for generations to come.
Caroline says, Robin Hutton nearly made it to his hundredth birthday but not quite. He didn’t see the printed version of his book but had approved all the proofs. Our work together began with my advice to separate off his father’s story into what turned out to be Robin’s first book, The Seven Stone Champion, before tackling Robin’s own remarkable story. My main task was to make sure the many anecdotes ended up in the right order, that the people mentioned were identified clearly and that a little historical backdrop was added to explain the events in which Robin was swept up. For example, he thought he was British but, by an accident of birth and timing, was surprised at the outbreak of World War II to find he was officially an Irishman.
I love recording these accounts of ordinary people who found themselves living through extraordinary times, stories which would otherwise be lost. It also tells Robin’s role in the history of Fulneck School.
In one of the many coincidences which occur in my work, I was able to put Robin in touch with another of my clients whose father he had known well and they enjoyed a wonderful time reminiscing.
September 1939, just before war broke out, found me visiting my brother Eric in Dublin. It was on this visit that I decided to explore the mysteries of St Michan’s Church in the centre of Dublin. It surprised me to find that it was a Protestant church, Church of Ireland, dating back several centuries. It had vaults where some peculiar air quality had preserved some of the bodies stored there. I paid the entrance fee and warily descended the stone steps to the vaults. There they were, a row of coffins with their lids off, each containing a body, a skeleton covered with leathery skin. It was eerie and weird, even more so when the guide invited me on payment of a further shilling (5p) to “shake hands with the crusader – it will bring you luck!” Tentatively I touched the skeletal fingers of the body in the last coffin as it gazed at me with eyeless sockets, wondering I know not what. Many times since I have wondered whether perhaps, just perhaps, that shilling was the best money I ever spent.
I was well aware of the political situation in Southern Ireland as the clock ticked remorselessly towards war. This was reinforced a few days later when I went by train to Bray, a seaside resort a few miles south of Dublin. There I saw what I was told was the Irish navy on manoeuvres. True or not, what was more disturbing was a conversation between some ladies in the train carriage discussing “a wonderful speech they had heard on the radio”. It was in fact a speech by Goering in Germany.
When Chamberlain made his announcement of the declaration of war I was still in Dublin with Eric. I listened to the Prime Minister on the radio on Sunday September 3rd in Eric’s flat. My first thought was to get back to England as soon as possible but to do so a visa was required. Because I had been born in Dublin and was living there in February 1922 when the Irish Free State broke from Britain, my visa stated that I was a citizen of Eire! Arriving back in Manchester I went to join up but after looking at my visa the sergeant said, “We don’t want you.”
Britain didn’t want citizens of neutral Eire in the armed forces. How very different it was two years later after the terrible retreat at Dunkirk when they were desperate for recruits.
I was born in Cornsay Colliery near Durham one morning in 1936 and the King cleared off with Mrs Simpson in the afternoon. After serving my time as a joiner I started my own building business which I had always wanted to do. During my life I’ve climbed mountains all over the world which gave me a great sense of excitement and feeling of achievement. For all the mountains I’ve climbed, the most enjoyable thing I’ve done was the Coast to Coast Walk with my wife Pauline, carrying my baby son on my back.
(This book was commissioned by Brian’s son and daughter)
Thank you for everything and the time you have taken with our dad. He has enjoyed it and been pleased with the care you have taken with it. I think it has also helped him through this difficult year after our mum died as it has been an interesting and enjoyable experience for him.
Our mum had wanted him to do his life story for a long time and just a few weeks before she died reminded us to ask him to do it. The story sounds just like him and it has been so good to learn about his life before we came on the scene. We cherish having this book and only wish our mum could have been there to help.
Caroline says, I had Brian’s name written down for a long time on a note in my file of possible clients. I had written, “His wife Pauline would like him to do it.” She had seen one of my other books. Sadly, it was only after Pauline died that Brian got round to it. Brian tells some very funny anecdotes so it was a mixture of laughter over those and tears as he recorded the happiness of his marriage to Pauline. I made sure, as I always do, that her contribution to his many achievements was acknowledged.
People used to say Cornsay (in the 1940s) was such a rough place that football teams from other villages refused to play us. Gangs of boys used to hang around street corners but to me it was just home. I was very happy there but being a shy quiet lad I had to learn to look after myself.
The village had a great sense of community and everyone knew everyone else. With no television and being far from the nearest town, the football field was a favourite place to gather and on a summer evening 300 people might be up there, playing football or cricket or just chatting. It was years before I even went into Durham.
There were lots of children around and with houses being small we spent most of our time out of doors whatever the weather. We made dams at the beck to make a six foot deep pool which was dangerous if you were three feet high and couldn’t swim. After a day making a raft out of old oil drums the others went home but I decided to have one last go on my own. I was about seven. Starting off in shallow water it felt great, poling along, then the water got deeper and blacker and the pole got stuck in the mud. I jumped off but missed the bank, fell backwards and thought that was the end of me but I managed to get myself out.
I walked home soaking wet and stood at the back door.
“Ma, Ma! I fell in the beck!”
She appeared and sorted me out. She wasn’t angry, that wasn’t her.
We used to roam for miles, right across to the Colliery Wood then on to Harrisons Wood where an enormous horse grazed. If it saw us it would come charging over, teeth bared ready to bite, and we had to run away as fast as we could, leaping over the fence or scrambling through a hawthorn hedge. We could have been trampled to death but kept going back because it was exciting.
Being chased by bulls was another thing but cows could be even worse. You had to be good at getting up trees fast and wait until they lost interest, then scarper.
These were the last days of heavy farm horses and also the huge steam traction engines which travelled from farm to farm to thresh grain from stalks before combine harvesters cut and threshed in one. As children we watched the machine puffing slowly along the lanes and into the farm yards. At harvest time we followed the reaper and stood the bundles of corn in stooks to dry.
We were always dirty with bumps and bruises. One day my mother put me in smart clothes because visitors were coming but I managed to find the remains of a bonfire to play in, turned up at the back door covered in soot and was sent to bed.
Irish labourers arrived with bulldozers to excavate a new open cast coal mine about a quarter of a mile away. They let us kids do what we liked as long as the boss wasn’t around. I was standing on the caterpillar track of a bulldozer that had stopped. Suddenly the driver gave it a sharp jerk just for the fun of seeing me fall off.
I must have had nine lives.
The remarkable story of First World War soldier Fred Atkinson of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry told in his own words
After fighting in fierce battles at Mons and Le Cateau, Corporal Fred Atkinson was captured and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. In 1920 he left the Army and settled in Northallerton where he wrote this memoir.
Caroline says, Most of my work involves interviewing people at length then writing their memoir for them. This was different, a hand written manuscript from 1964 which Fred had tried to get published to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. He was just a bit too late, with publishers writing to say they already had other stories ready.
Fred died in 1967 and his possessions passed down the family until earlier this year they came to Elaine Sayer, his great niece. She was astonished at the archive Fred had accumulated, boxes and boxes of documents and photographs - and this remarkable manuscript.
The first thing was to commission Sue Hillmer to input the words into a computer. She has the skills to unpick handwritten documents and input them accurately. Then I began to sort out Fred’s story. Elaine and I did some detective work to find out more about his background. Frustratingly, Fred usually wrote about himself in the third person so I had to work out which things had actually happened to him but, after going through other documents and photos, this became clear. How I wish I could have asked him a few extra questions!
We ended up with a highly readable story which makes complete sense to a modern audience. It is still his story but edited and with a few extra notes. I was very moved by his tale of endurance through great suffering.
Elaine says, Thank you so much for all you have done to produce such a lovely book from my great uncle’s 53-year-old manuscript. I had only met Fred when I was a child and knew nothing about his wartime experiences until I inherited an archive of family documents and photographs. When I came across the manuscript I was determined to get it published.
At first it seemed an impossible task, until I pulled one of Caroline’s other memoirs out of our bookcase and saw her details. After our first conversation I knew Fred’s manuscript would be printed.
Caroline, you made everything fall into place and did the work in a very short space of time. I am sure Fred would have been truly delighted with his book. Thank you on behalf of the Atkinson family past and present.
Please go to the contacts page, send Caroline an email, include your phone number and she will put you in touch with Elaine.
(The last stand at the last ditch at the battle of Le Cateau on 26th August 1914).
The bombardment from the artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire at this time was as though an arsenal of high explosives had been let loose upon us. After playing their fire on our position for many hours preceding this violent onslaught, the result was disastrous to us. During this terrible inferno there was no communication and no ammunition. The rumour had spread during our previous engagements at Mons and St Ghislain that the Germans were not taking any prisoners.
‘Survivor’ (as Fred Atkinson called himself) silently and sincerely called upon God for wisdom, guidance, courage and protection. Then with all the lung power he could muster he shouted, “Let’s charge! We might as well die charging as die in this hole!”
The bombardment immediately died down and our position was rushed from all sides by the 26th German Infantry Regiment. Five men of my section, including myself, managed to rise from the slaughter. Glancing to the right, my attention was drawn to the tall figure of my Company Commander Major C.A.L. Yate about 20 yards away, stubbornly resisting capture by a number of German officers. He was brandishing his revolver high in the air, loudly exhorting, “No surrender! No surrender!” Then one of the German officers approached from behind and snatched the revolver from the Major’s grasp as a mounted German Commander looked on. Major Yate was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.
About 30 yards away to the left I noticed Private Atkinson of my section wriggling upon his back with hands and feet in the air, being attacked at bayonet point within a few inches of his stomach. At this moment the mounted German Commander galloped towards me, halted and in plain English angrily requested, “Where is your machine-gun brigade?”
“We haven’t one, Sir!” was my reply.
“You’re telling lies, you merit to be shot!” he snarled.
Just then Private Bryan, a young soldier of my section, staggered towards me gasping, “Oh Corporal, I’ve been bayoneted!”
With the help of Lance-Corporals Hepworth and Harper the lad was moved to the road and laid down. Whilst under extremely heavy gun fire from our own artillery I hurriedly took a field dressing bandage from the inside of Private Bryan’s tunic and bound up his chest wound.
Two comrades, using the ‘armchair’ lift, carried Private Bryan whilst we were hustled by our captors to a stable. This was full of seriously wounded British prisoners of war lying upon bundles of straw. Many of these casualties had received head and neck wounds, some lacerated beyond recognition. They lay bleeding and helpless under the attention of a German medical officer. We were then searched.
“Now we’re for it Jim!” I whispered to my comrade, implying that we were going to be shot. We believed the rumour that no prisoners were being taken and were reconciled to our fate. Indeed, as time went on we were very much surprised to find ourselves not shot.
The Battle of Le Cateau ended at 4.30pm. Official history gives the time as 3.30pm, not taking into account so small a unit in the continued fierce action of ‘B’ Company 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
Private Bryan had received bayonet wounds through the upper arms and chest. The news later of his recovery (subject to a recurring wound) seemed incredible.
Thus ended one phase of the war for some of ‘The Old Contemptibles’ and another began for those taken into captivity.
David and Annifer were born into two of the families who helped turn Sheffield into a city famous for steel. They tell their stories of childhood evacuation to the country to escape wartime bombing while the works continued to produce vital products. After joining Arthur Lee & Sons David experienced the fluctuating fortunes of the business over more than 40 years. A highlight was the couple’s appointment as Master and Mistress Cutler.
David and Annifer Lee say, Caroline Brannigan has the skill and gifts of a talented interviewer and writer which enabled us to produce our memoirs from the years of 1933 to 2016. This has been a gratifying opportunity which we would wholeheartedly recommend.
Caroline says, This story tells an important part of Sheffield’s industrial history. I knew very little about the steel industry and worked with David to make sure we told the story accurately but also in a very human way so it would be understandable to all.
It was satisfying to be able to tell the story of both man and wife as Annifer has led an extremely interesting life in her own right but also, as so often happens, held the fort at home when the children were young.
There were some very sad parts to cover, the handling of which we discussed carefully beforehand, but also some very entertaining anecdotes. Most life stories contain light and shade.
Their individual stories were told in the first person but when writing about both of them I used the third person, such as when they were Master and Mistress Cutler.
In the early 1970s David was invited to join the historic Company of Cutlers, which was a great honour. Founded in the seventeenth century to protect Sheffield’s cutlery trade and ensure high standards, its modern role is to promote the industry and the interests of the city in general. The Master Cutler is Sheffield’s ambassador of the steel industry.
Members must be in business in the Hallamshire area, manufacturing a cutting edge or the materials which go into it. Membership is open only to 33 people - Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden, six searchers and 24 members. The term searchers originates from the men who used to ‘search out’ makers and check their standards were satisfactory. Later David was surprised to be asked to become Master Cutler for 1976/77, beginning in the October. “It was very exciting,” says David. His grandfather Percy Lee, his uncle Wilton Lee and father-in-law John Hunt had all been Master Cutlers. Annifer would now become Mistress Cutler, following in her mother’s footsteps. Their youngest daughter Rowena thought Annifer was going to be Mrs Cutlass.
The grand inauguration event was held in the Cutlers’ Hall, one of the finest livery halls in the north of England. Always a demanding job for Master and Mistress Cutler, the function list lengthened dramatically as 1977 dawned, the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee. High profile guests such as the Archbishop of Canterbury attracted press attention and occasionally television cameras and the Lees had to get used to flashbulbs bursting in their faces.
Taking a few lessons in speech making, David’s first attempt sparked this reaction from his tutor: “That was very good .... but how dull!” His material was interesting but David had to change his monotone delivery.
Annifer’s role was more wide ranging and about half of the events on her calendar were attended without David. She found herself President of the Townswomen’s Guild, many invitations came through the Council of Voluntary Service and each religious denomination held events requesting her presence.
At most Annifer was expected to give a speech, having to select an appropriate topic. Her mother advised, “It’s no good relying on David, he has a job to do and his own speeches to write so you’ll just have to get on, write them yourself and do the best you can.”
Annifer recalls, “It was good advice. The verse speaking I had done at school was very helpful and I soon learned to stand up, speak up and shut up.”
The title of this book comes from Rosemary who, being married to a busy farmer, was always waiting for him to turn up for meals. She used to say that one day she would write a book and call it Waiting For Tom, though in the end it is the story of both of them. Rosemary and Tom write about farming in the Yorkshire Wolds and Dales. They also describe growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, Rosemary in Sussex and Tom on his father’s East Riding farm.
Without Caroline’s help we would never have completed our story. We are most indebted to her for sorting us out and guiding us through.
This is a fascinating story ranging from Hurstpierpoint in Sussex to a farm near Market Weighton in East Yorkshire and then over to West Burton and Thoralby in Bishopdale, North Yorkshire. Tom and Rosemary had begun writing their own stories about 20 years before but came to a halt, as so many people do, daunted by the scale of it. I put it all together, asked many extra questions and made sure it flowed well. Then I carried out interviews to cover the years Tom and Rosemary had not written about.
The couple share a set of great grandparents. Rosemary had begun with a laborious description of their predecessors and was disappointed some time ago to hear a grandchild describe this as “really boring”. If people wonder why they should employ me, this is a good reason. The stories were interesting but needed to be made readable. Also, most of the family history was moved to the end so that we could start with Tom and Rosemary’s first person accounts of their own lives.
Sadly, family history can read like a court list, rather like “Norman Stanley Fletcher” at the beginning of Porridge. By the time I’d finished with it, this section was much more readable. This is one of the many very good reasons why it’s worth investing in my skills. Another granddaughter has just finished the book. “I couldn’t put it down,” she said.
There were moments when Rosemary felt it was all getting too much, even with my help, for they had already written such a lot. Like most people, they kept remembering things they had forgotten to put in. It is my job to guide, encourage, to push gently when necessary and take as much of the hard work out of it as possible. I also help people to come to a point where they feel the book is ready to go to print. You can keep adding for ever but I ensure that nothing vital is omitted. At last, with my help, Tom and Rosemary have the book they always wanted to write.
(Tom tells of his childhood in the 1930s and 1940s on the family farm in East Yorkshire)
Mother sold eggs to the egg packers at Beverley and the money she earned went to pay Mabel and to buy groceries, clothes, and all other household things. Father’s younger brother, Uncle Guy, used to come every Friday evening to help get the wages ready for noon on Saturday. Things were extremely tough in the 1930s and I can remember that Mother had to lend them cash on more than one occasion to pay the wages.
As well as feeding her own family, Mother provided what were known as the louances, mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks for the men at the busiest times of the farming year such as hay time, harvest and threshing days. Before combine harvesters, cereals were gathered into sheaves then stacked. There they would stay until a steam traction engine arrived to power a threshing machine which knocked the grain from the straw. This process required about eight men. The louances consisted of home baked bread, butter, meat and cheese and perhaps a slice of apple pie. My mother also cooked a huge midday dinner for the family.
We used to thresh nearly every week in winter and lead a lot of the straw straight into the yards. There we left the trailers with gaumers on, which were wide rails angled outwards from the trailer body so that the beasts could eat all the straw. Modern varieties of cereals are much shorter on the stem.
We were fortunate to have electricity in our house but, like many people then, used it only for lighting. Washing was a huge chore in those days, carried out in the wash house next door. On wash day, always Monday, an enormous boiler bubbled away in there over a fire of coal and wood. This was used to fill a dolly tub into which soap was grated, the whole lot stirred with a long stick called a posher.
After rinsing in a large sink the clothes and linen were fed through a mangle on iron wheels, its heavy wooden rollers three feet wide turned by hand using a big wooden handle, the water cascading into a bucket. A wooden shelf below caught the washing. Large items were carried to the line strung across the orchard from an old horse chestnut tree, the small things being hung in the yard.
One large room in the farmhouse had been the old kitchen and dining room where meals were served to the single workers in my grandfather’s time. The big table was still there and could seat three across each end and seven or eight down either side. A wide board full of horse brasses hung above the fire place. This was where mother and her helpers served hot meals to those who had come to buy stock at the yearly sales we held in spring, selling perhaps 200 to 250 beasts – cattle, sheep and sometimes pigs. On sale days the auctioneer Dick Hornsey would stand on a tumbrel and auction the stock near the fold yard door.
The single workmen used to sleep above in a large bedroom which, after I had left school, became my own. As I write this it makes me lift my shoulders and shiver as it was one of the coldest bedrooms in the house. The sun only shone into it for an hour or two at the most in the very early morning. A staircase by the cow house once led up to this room but by the time I moved in a new set of stairs had been added from the big kitchen below.
As a young boy I had a much cosier bedroom with a window looking on to the garden. At night Mother would come to see me when I’d got into bed to teach me to say my prayers and she would often pray with me.
Not every house had a bathroom in those days but we did and a flush water toilet. Smaller country cottages often made do with an earth closet, a wooden seat over a bucket or pit which had to be emptied from time to time. There was a bath, a wash bowl and a small chest of drawers for towels. In a dry summer sometimes there was not enough water to have a bath but then Father had the well deepened to solve the problem.
Before the flush toilet was installed, there was an old toilet down a passage on the way to the stables. This was a wooden seat with a hole over a big tub on wheels. The tub had an iron ring bolted onto the end and when it was full we fastened a horse with traces on to that ring and pulled it out, taking it to one of the ploughed fields to spread out as fertiliser. We rode home standing up in it and as we passed the pond yard often turned in there and had a row round, using shovels as oars.
A life story with tales from home and abroad
Nora Lewis tells her entertaining stories of life as a Nursing Sister, first with the Merchant Navy aboard the Queen Elizabeth passenger liner in the 1960s and then as a member of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, work which took her across the world.
Before enlisting, she qualified as an SRN at a London hospital then trained as a midwife, spending time out on the district, pedalling her heavily laden bicycle to women in labour.
Nora also gives an intriguing account of her childhood when, being the daughter of a prominent railway engineer, she lived in a house on the platform of a busy rural station.
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that if I had not found Caroline and used her skill, knowledge and expertise my memoir would never have been written. Random ramblings have been transformed into a coherent story and the book pleases me, my family, friends and acquaintances. Apart from that, it has been a very pleasant and helpful experience recalling sometimes hidden memories - like clearing out an old cupboard, but in a good way! Thank you, Caroline!
The first time I met Nora, Winston Churchill had just walked past. I had a stand at the Leyburn 1940s weekend in North Yorkshire, standing in astonishment as a succession of impressive military uniforms, French resistance fighters armed with grenades and even King George VI passed by. Nora, in her uniform of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, told me that she had long wanted to do a memoir and often gave talks about her experiences. I was keen to work with her but later Nora rang to say she would do it herself. A year or so passed. She rang again and said, "Help!"
Like many people, Nora had several strands to her tale which we had to sort out. Her father, Terence Miller, was a prominent railway engineer and she had an interesting childhood spanning Kirkcaldy, Helensburgh, Bottisham & Lode in the Fens and St. John's Wood, London. Then came all the great tales of nursing training at the Middlesex Hospital, London followed by midwifery at Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital and then a life at sea.
Nora was very keen to include her diagnosis of breast cancer in 1987, describing her experience as a patient and her dismay that amid medical advances some of the fundamental strengths of nursing care have been lost. She is a keen campaigner for change.
There was also her love of horses and work with the Riding for the Disabled Association, settling in the famous horse racing town of Middleham in Yorkshire, and her time spent in the United States, Middle East and Canada.
We began with a plan and a budget but soon realised more words would be needed. I gave Nora the options of covering things in less detail or leaving out certain sections. As always, the number of words was not exceeded without the client knowing beforehand.
Nora, as so many people do, decided she wanted the book done thoroughly or not at all. I loved listening to her stories and writing the book, which is proving very popular. It's highly entertaining.
We also got on very well and I had to keep stopping Nora from asking me to talk about myself (which I love to do but that was not what she was paying me for).
When the book was finished we went out for lunch and had a really good natter. I feel I've made a new friend, so thank you Nora.
In my own copy of Nursing In The Navy Nora wrote, "For Caroline, what a star! Couldn't have done it without you!"
(Nora was working as a district midwife during her training in London)
In the early hours of one morning I delivered a baby for a woman whose family had come over from Pakistan. She had been very uncommunicative and I was to learn that it was part of her culture, that you just got through the pain of childbirth and that was that.
Her husband remained in the background until the child arrived and mother and baby had been checked and bathed. Then the kitchen door swung open and he arrived with a large tray bearing tea, bread and butter and an enormous fry-up of bacon, eggs, sausage and beans. The new mother tucked in with relish.
Then the door swung open again and out came the same laden tray just for me. As I was writing up my notes the supervising midwife arrived to check all was well. The kitchen door swung open again but this time out he came carrying a little tray with glasses of cherry brandy for us all, including the mother. This was all too swiftly followed by a second round. All this at four o' clock in the morning!
Afterwards we packed up our considerable amount of equipment on to the bikes, including the delivery pack, now containing the afterbirth in a plastic bag.
"Thank you!" we called back to our kind host and off we went into the dark.
Half way down the road the delivery pack fell off with a clang and all the steel bowls went rolling down the silent street into the gutter. As the odd light came on in nearby windows and curious people looked out to see what all the noise was about, we raced to retrieve our things. Standing gasping by the bikes once more, we thought we had got away with it. Then we looked at each other.
"Where's the afterbirth?" I asked.
There, in the distance, was the plastic bag and heading straight for it was a large dog with a hungry look in his eye. We ran down the street to head him off.
"Leave it! Leave it!" I shouted, snatching up the bag from under his twitching nose and making off back to the bikes. By this time we were hysterical with laughter, made all the worse for it being amplified among the neighbouring houses, still mostly dark and quiet. What those behind their twitching curtains thought I just do not know.
The Story of Kirwin & Simpson
Kirwin & Simpson supply seating to Britain's most prestigious theatres and cinemas. With more than 70 years of experience, their work is in demand across the world.
This book tells the story of how Bernard Simpson began repairing seats in his garden shed in 1944, leading to a highly successful family business now in its fourth generation.
Bill Simpson, Bernard's son, writes:
I had never heard of anyone having their life story written and printed in a book, except celebrities and film stars. I still cannot believe that mine has been written in this way.
At first I was apprehensive but I enjoyed Caroline's weekly visits and our telephone chats and it has certainly brought back many memories for me. I would certainly recommend anyone to do this if they get the chance. It is a once in a lifetime experience.
What a great story this was! So many family businesses have fascinating histories and it pains me to come across those which have been written in a pompous and dull way. When I first heard that Bill lived near Rugby I thought it was too far away but we arranged for me to come down for a full day of interviews, stay over at a hotel, then carry out another day's work, followed up by additional questions by telephone and email. It worked very well, involving other members of the family who work for the company.
As often happens in my work, I had to understand the technical side of the business and write it in an understandable way for outsiders while keeping the human story strong and making it a good read. There were a lot of funny tales to tell.
It was great to hear about contracts for prestigious venues including the Stockport Plaza, the London Coliseum, The King's Theatre in Edinburgh, the St. Ann's Warehouse in New York and the Orient Express. Kirwin & Simpson's work has brought them into contact with some of the biggest names in showbusiness and provided wonderful backstage stories never told in print before.
Short notice jobs are all part of the trade. Kirwin & Simpson were called in one afternoon to re-upholster a piano stool ready for that night's performance by Victor Borge, the Danish comic piano virtuoso and comedian. Sometimes sets arrive only the morning before a performance and if something is not quite right or has been damaged in transit it must be repaired. If that involves upholstery then an urgent call will go out to Kirwin & Simpson to come to the rescue. Dressing rooms and bars are now all part of the portfolio.
Occasionally a prima donna will throw a hissy fit and demand instant changes or they will not perform. Managements, faced with embarrassment and losses, must comply. After Kirwin & Simpson refurbished one dressing room, the star concerned complained that the colour of the shower curtain offended him and he would not go on that night if it was not changed. So it was. Another actor well known for his bad temper poured fruit salad over Bill Simpson's head and trashed an expensively upgraded dressing room.
In 1982 the West End made a major coup with the signing of film star Elizabeth Taylor to appear in her American stage hit Little Foxes at the Victoria Palace theatre. Said to have been paid $50,000 a week during the US tour, Taylor was used to getting what she wanted and demanded a dressing room in which everything would be lilac. Kirwin & Simpson's reputation for excellence landed them this tricky contract. Taylor informed the management that she found the sight of fish swimming in an aquarium to be very relaxing before a performance but even this had to have lilac coloured fish. Finding a lilac shower curtain proved extremely difficult. On the Sunday evening before the superstar's opening night on the Monday, Andrew and Anne Simpson finally managed to fit a satisfactory curtain. Anne was transfixed by the rows and rows of shoes lined up awaiting their owner's arrival and tried on a few for fun but found them too tight.
Joan was born in a small Yorkshire mining community in the 1920s. Her father was employed at the local pit. She tells of his tough working life below ground in an industry which has almost disappeared. During World War II Joan did a heavy manual job in a steelworks producing vital products for the military.
Her story is one of surviving challenging times, of hard work raising two children mainly as a single parent and the satisfaction of coming through it all, still smiling.
The idea to write a book about my life came from my family. I wasn't so sure about it myself but Caroline made it so easy and simple for me. She visited my home several times, asked me questions and just let me talk. She also helped me to pick out suitable pictures to include in the publication and the end result was a wonderfully well written story that I hope my extended family will enjoy for years to come. I'm really pleased I did this and my heartfelt thanks goes out to Caroline Brannigan for bringing my story to life for the generations yet to come.
I was approached by Joan's son Martyn and his wife Nora to produce a book for each of their mothers. Since both mums lived close to each other I carried out interviews with one in the morning and the other in the afternoon on the same day each week.
Joan's story was fascinating, growing up in a small mining community near Sheffield then working at a steelworks during the war. She was concerned about how we would handle the story of her marriage, which was unhappy and ended in divorce. Many people have parts of their lives which are not easy to talk about. As always, I advised giving the facts straight and this is what we did. I pointed out that the marriage was only a small part of a long life but had important results, her children. We went on to focus on how strong Joan had been to bring up her children as a single mother and how hard she worked to make ends meet. It was partly in gratitude for this that her son Martyn felt her story should be told.
(The parts in italics are extra research added by Caroline Brannigan so younger generations can understand the background to the story)
When I was old enough I got a job at Samuel Fox, the steelworks in Stocksbridge, where the pay was much better but the conditions were very hard for a young woman.
From 1941 women aged 18 to 60 had to register to take the place of men called up from their jobs into the armed forces. The women were conscripted and had to go where sent. They were not allowed to move jobs without permission. Joan was too young at first and does not remember being called up but by the age of 18 was already doing an important job at Samuel Fox's steelworks.
Sammy's, as it was known, was a very large steelworks employing several thousand workers in the valley of the River Don. The plant stretched for about two and a half miles and into Deepcar. The houses of Stocksbridge and Deepcar run up the opposite side of the valley.
When Joan worked there the plant was undergoing huge modernization begun in the late 1930s as war loomed and steel production was seen as vital for making weapons and ammunition.
Sheffield steel plants, so vital to the war effort, were targeted by German bombers and even those further out were hit, including Sammy's. Joan's son Martyn remembers children finding unexploded bombs from time to time while playing around Stocksbridge right up to the 1970s.
Stocksbridge produced some of the world's finest stainless steel. After the war they went back to supplying steel for car parts and Gillette razor blades, fine wire for making into springs for clocks and watches and many other specialised products.
Sadly, the boom times have now gone as developing countries such as India and China have produced cheaper products. However, at the time of writing Sammy's was still in business.
Now I was one of those sleepy-eyed workers from Thurgoland who left their homes in the morning for the early shift, 6am to 2pm. Then you would switch to 2pm to 10pm. After that came the night shift but I was too young to do that, thank goodness. It was a long walk in all weathers to get the bus to the steelworks but usually other people were walking along with me so I did not mind. Looking back, it was a rough life in many ways but you just did not think about it.
In the wartime blackout no lights were showing at all, only the thin beams of our torches pointed down in front of us. Shine it up into the sky and you would get a good telling off. Dad was always very protective and, despite the fact that he was working long hours himself, would come to meet me off the bus when he could.
Going through the gates of the steelworks among crowds of other workers, many of them women during the war, was like entering another world. It was completely different to anything I had experienced before. I'd known about Samuel Fox's all my life but nothing could prepare me for the tough conditions inside, very noisy with steel clanking and machines whirring. They put me in a boiler suit and set me to work.
Most of what we made was for the military. At first my duties were fairly light, packing cartridge clips into long tubes. Before the war the large shed in which I found myself had produced the delicate steel frames for umbrellas and now those skills had been transferred to essential items for the armed services. You had to hope that you never lost or broke something like an umbrella because you would never be able to buy a new one. That first job was not so bad. Being on piece work, it was all systems go to boost your wages. At first I was very slow compared to others whose hands seemed to work like lightning.
I don't know how it came about that I moved into the wire department. Working in a pair with a man, I had to bend down to lift a large and heavy coil of cable as it came off the production line to where he was standing ready to chop off the end and carry it away. That was not suitable work for a teenage girl. It was too heavy but I had to do it. Throughout my shift that was what I did, heave up the coils of cable and pass them on. At the end of the day I was worn out. Later I often suffered from pains in my arms and wondered if it went back to those tough conditions in the works.
With most of the young men away in the armed forces, those left behind were older and often had daughters of their own. Sometimes you could see in their eyes that they really needed someone stronger than they had been given and would try to help me and the other younger women. I could tell that the man I worked with got annoyed if I was too slow but he tried not to show it. They felt sorry for us, thinking "I wouldn't like my daughter to do this." But it was wartime and you got on as best you could. When I got home all I wanted to do was go to bed. I can't remember how long I did that but it was too long.
One winter's day I left work to find snow lying thickly on the ground and no sign of any buses. Wrapping myself up in my coat I set off to walk all the way home. I was already exhausted from my shift and in no fit state to make a journey like that but felt I had no choice. I was walking, walking, walking and thought it would never end. Thank goodness, after a couple of miles there appeared the figure of my father who had struggled out to find me. It was such a relief to see him and I do not know what would have happened to me if he had not come along because within a few minutes I found myself nearly passing out with fatigue. He just managed to catch me as I went down. Leaning on him, I managed to get back somehow and I remember the sight of his feet just plodding on and on through the snow. Dad was not very keen on me being at the steelworks but Mum ruled the roost and if the money was coming in that was it.
Break times were very welcome and we'd crowd into the enormous canteen where women stood behind a counter and spooned food on to your plate. There was not much on offer but they did their best and it was quite good. Nobody expected to have a choice, you ate what you were given and we were ready for it. I was so grateful just to sit down for a while. Later I was moved to work in the canteen and that was much better.
By the time I went to Samuel Fox's the worst of the bombing was over and I experienced no raids, thank goodness, while I was working there.
When the war ended in 1945 men returned from the armed forces to their old jobs and the women who had replaced them were told to leave. Some were happy to go, others resented being pushed out and losing a well paid job.
Eric Cooley was born in South Wales but spent most of his working life as a consulting structural and civil engineer based in Scotland. His early work in Glasgow ranged from sorting out damp problems in tenements to designing the blocks of flats which replaced many of them. From bridges to hospitals, Eric never knew what projects would land on his desk next or where they would take him and he worked in the Middle East and Australia.
Now that we have reached the end of writing and publishing my autobiography it is time that I thanked you again most sincerely for all your hard work in producing the book. I was very impressed by your attention to detail through all our meetings and preparation of the various drafts. Nothing was too much trouble to you and I had complete faith in your ability to bring the project to a successful conclusion.
Eric's work had taken him across the world and he had many interesting tales to tell. At the start he wasn't sure how long the book would be or what format it would take so we agreed a budget beyond which I would not go without agreement. As the tales unfolded we had regular updates on the word count, number of photos etc. The result was a beautiful hardback book with dust jacket and colour photos all the way through. Many stories of this kind are never written down. Who knows that at the end of the Festival of Britain in 1951 Eric's temporary concrete bridge was tested to destruction and that it all went wrong? His descriptions of Dubai at the beginning of the mass development which altered it completely give a valuable insight. For a while he held the record for the highest building there – all of 14 storeys. One of my skills is to unpick technical stories and write them so they are enjoyable for the lay person, asking many questions until I am sure I understand them exactly. I particularly love hearing about 1930s childhoods and between us Eric and I were able to paint a picture of a young life in Wales quite different to today.
Those early summers I remember only as sunny and warm and holidays were spent in North Wales close to the family roots in Llangollen. We stayed near my aunt, who looked after my grandfather in their house which was named Cwm Teg, meaning dry valley. In those days the railway company ran a wonderful scheme of camping coaches. Arriving at Cardiff station we looked for the train to North Wales. At the end was our very own coach which had been converted into a caravan on rails with compartments fitted with bunk beds instead of seats and another turned into a kitchen. By removing partitions a fairly large living room had been made. A corridor ran alongside the compartments linking them just the same as in an ordinary carriage of that era. We even had a toilet and washing area.
Climbing aboard, we set off on the three or four hour journey up to North Wales. At Llangollen Station a little shunting engine came to take our coach away to a pleasantly situated siding by open country where it was connected to water and drainage pipes. Llangollen was a short walk away for shopping. Here we would spend a week or a fortnight having a marvellous time. Down the hill from my aunt's house was a canal in which we could swim and also the River Dee. Many happy hours were spent picnicking and messing about by the water or fishing. You can't do that today for barbed wire now keeps out all so-called illegal fishermen.
Barges ran from Llangollen along the canal and for a few pennies you could ride on a horse-drawn barge up to the Horseshoe Falls where the horse would be unhitched and walked to the opposite end ready to tow us home again.
My many aunts, uncles and cousins would often join us, the men perhaps only for the weekend if work was pressing. I remember chattering groups strolling across the bridge over the canal, picnic baskets swinging, the women in sun hats, children skipping along happily, to a place marvellously called World's End, more a small community that a proper village, where we would find a field in which to sprawl on rugs, eat sandwiches, play rounders or just doze in the sunshine.
On other days we might head along the canal to a pretty little country church, then it was another mile through fields to the village of Llantysilio and a pub called The Conquering Hero for a big lunch. You had to make up your own games in those days and on the green outside the pub we played a form of cricket but, lacking a bat and ball, improvised with a stout branch of a tree and a fat twig. In the unlikely event of a catch, the whole side was out. Kick the Can was like hide and seek. Someone threw the can as far as possible and the person who was 'it' had to retrieve it while the others ran to hide. It was a great game which could last for hours, with complicated rules of capture and escape, all based around the can. It was great fun. I had a very happy childhood.
When war broke out in 1939 Richard Schadla Hall thought he was a 19-year-old Englishman. The authorities weren't so sure. Born in America to an English mother and a German father, he grew up as a little German boy near Berlin until the family moved to England in 1928 where he swiftly changed into an English boy. No wonder that when Richard volunteered to fight for his country he was sidelined into the Pioneer Corps with 'the King's most loyal enemy aliens' where he found himself among German and Austrian Jewish refugees, Italian-born Glaswegians and the Latvian-born Coco the Clown.
After being cleared to move to the Tank Corps he became an officer, later serving in the Military Police in peacetime France where once more he rubbed shoulders with some colourful characters. Returning to England with his wife Gwen, he joined the East Riding Police Force, rising to become Chief Superintendent.
Thank you for the delivery of my story in its final format of a book. A look at all the random and very strange things which happen to all of us on this short and perilous journey through life and how we coped should certainly be recorded and the way you have done it for me is very good.
Being half German myself, I understood immediately Richard's feeling of not quite fitting in, despite the fact that we are both English by culture and language. It is not something either of us talks about much. Many of my clients born in the 1920s were swept up by world events and their lives changed for ever by war. Often only the stories of the famous are written down yet Richard's account of serving with the British Military Police in post-war Paris put a new perspective on the death of a well-known traitor. By contrast, Richard's tales of being a young policeman in peacetime Yorkshire often had us both roaring with laughter. Contrary to popular opinion, we half-Germans do have a good sense of humour!
In about September 1940 I found myself posted to Westward Ho! a curiously named seaside village near Bideford on the north coast of Devon where presumably it was thought that we could do no harm. My name, Pioneer Schadla Hall, fitted in well. The camp buzzed with the sound of foreign accents for many were enemy aliens who had been interned on the Isle of Man then released after interrogation. On arrival I applied for transfer immediately but this took some time.
Meanwhile I settled down amid a cosmopolitan mix of recruits in a benign, gently anarchic regime where the sandy beaches and the fact that we were based in an old holiday camp with little wooden chalets added to the surreal atmosphere. One very fat Jewish tailor was so big they couldn't find a uniform to fit him and instead of saluting when he saw an officer his lifted his bowler hat. It was a very strange sort of place all round. I was one of the few who spoke fluent English. The mess room was run by the former head waiter of the glamorous Trocadero restaurant in London, a German, so the food was very good. It was all rather civilized and while our comrades in other branches of the Army shuffled past steaming pots carrying metal mess tins into which dollops food were piled, often one on top of another, we sat at tables eating off china plates brought by waiters.
We were a rather funny lot, kept in order by various captains whose backgrounds were more clear-cut British. I shared a billet with four others - two ex-musicians, the corporal in charge of transport and a Jewish lorry driver. One of the musicians was Cecil Aronovitz, a South African from a family of German Jews who had fled Germany to escape Hitler. Cecil then chose to leave the safety of South Africa to fight on the side of the Allies. A viola player, he later worked with the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin. So many excellent musicians found themselves in the corps that we had a professional standard orchestra. Coco the Clown was there, a Latvian Jew whose real name was Nicolai Poliakoff. He was the most famous clown of them all and had been working in Britain for many years before the war.
The delighted locals suddenly found themselves invited to shows featuring famous names. It really didn't feel like the Army but more of a side show. Each week a new intake would arrive from the internment camps. At one time a lot of Italians arrived, all of whom spoke with strong Scottish accents, having been rounded up from their homes simply because they had been born in Italy. One of my most dangerous roles in the war was to referee a football match between the Scottish Italian contingent and a team of Germans and Austrians. I wasn't terribly familiar with the rules. The Mediterraneans were losing and got upset, hence my problems.
Being a driver I went into the transport section. One of the other drivers was a German Jew, Von something or other which indicated he had come from a high ranking family, and he had been a racing driver. Another was called Heinz. Coming low in priority for vehicles, we spent our time behind the wheels of two American Fordson trucks, an Albion lorry and one or two staff cars including a tiny two-seater Austin. One day I had to take a senior officer, a very large man, to Bristol in the Austin. Returning across the Somerset hills, his great bulk squashed in beside me, I had a hell of a job getting up the steep slopes, crawling along in bottom gear. I was tempted to ask him to get out and push. But I didn't.
Other duties included a twice-weekly drive to Bideford to get the rations and night duty guarding the coast where it was extremely unlikely any enemy would land. The Fordson trucks had powerful engines which went like the clappers and the German racing driver and I would race each other along the narrow, winding lanes at over 60mph. Luckily very little traffic was around. Later the Transport Section was moved to Ilfracombe about 25 miles away where I was billeted in a hotel. I made friends with a local family who loved golden syrup and I managed to divert a tin to them from my delivery.
Meanwhile things were changing at home. After being released from internment, I think my father moved in with his secretary, I'm not quite sure. He died in 1941. Despite the air raids, my mother moved to a small mews flat which she rented in Notting Hill, West London. The London blitz began in September 1940 and was raging when I arrived on leave at Christmas to visit my mother at her flat.
My fellow Pioneer Norman Eckhart had asked me to drop in on his mother who lived in Islington so I called in dutifully. Before me sat a very fat Jewish lady yawning her head off.
"I am very sorry," she said in a strong German accent, "but I have been on fire watch at St Paul's Cathedral all night."
My mother had become a secretary with the Salvation Army in Holborn who were working flat out to help blitz victims. She was a feisty woman, a more forceful character than my father who was a gentle sort of a bloke, and was 'doing her bit' for the war effort. When the air raid siren went during my visits to her, which it did almost every night, we headed for the cellar as the bombs began dropping. No raids were made on Westward Ho! and my mother was in far greater danger than I was. An invasion by the Nazis was expected but certainly not there.
Had they come I would probably have been shot as a traitor, being a German lad serving with the British Army, but I didn't think about that too much at the time. My life in the safety of the West Country was rather privileged compared to a lot of others. I couldn't wait for it to change.
Eric Hall was born during the tough economic times of the 1930s in one of the most poverty-stricken villages in Yorkshire, North Newbald near Hull. Life was dictated by the landed estate which owned it. Lessons he learned there helped him on his path to success in a large public company, Farnell.
Eric Hall says:
Writing my book with Caroline has been a very enjoyable experience. I had put this off for many years. I had so much to say and found myself plunged into the task of looking through the vast amount of material I had collected in my career and personal life. The past nine months have passed so quickly as the work mountain was scaled easily with Caroline’s guidance, help and gentle pressure. I looked forward to each of our meetings.
I can recommend her approach to the work which involved her dealing with a busy old man. Thank you Caroline for all your care, patience and friendship during our time working together. The whole family send their good wishes.
The book is an excellent presentation, with well set out pictures, of a hectic working life travelling the world.
Eric’s family commissioned me to produce a book to mark his 80th birthday. This turned out to be a long but highly enjoyable project starting with the story of Eric’s parents and grandparents. Like many clients he wanted his grandchildren to know about the world he grew up in where material things were few but wild adventures were many. His story of village life stretching back through family memories to World War I is an important little piece of East Yorkshire history and his photos capture their tough life.
Unpicking this story, sorting out all the characters and prompting Eric to give full details of his early life took time but was well worth it. The story of the village joiner fitting a farmer and his wife for their new double seat to go over the earth closet will always be a favourite of mine. (See extract).
After this came the story of a complex but fascinating rise to success in a large company. As a professional interviewer and writer, I turned a long cv into a proper story which captured Eric’s personality and highlighted the huge influence of his early years on his professional life.
Just before his 60th birthday, Eric was fired in a controversial sacking which drew national publicity and hundreds of letters of support. It was an emotional moment during our interviews, not the first in my work and it won’t be the last. Telling a difficult part of the story to someone not offering judgement can be a very positive experience. We then discussed, as I always do in these circumstances, exactly how the subject would be handled. Eric and his two sons went on to develop their own highly successful company and he remains, as he says, a very busy man.
I often use direct quotes from a client’s husband or wife where relevant and Mary Hall’s contribution was very useful even if Eric didn’t always think so.
Books don’t usually take this long but Eric wanted his story told fully. I kept in touch with his family at each stage. Eric’s testimonial mentions “gentle pressure” which means I don’t allow people to go on more than necessary just to make more money for myself. I want my books to be a good read. There will always be more to say and it’s important to draw a line at some point.
You can always have a second edition!
Our homes on the village green had no running water or proper drainage and my father’s first job of the day was to walk 500 yards to a spring to fill two covered enamel buckets with drinking water. These were suspended from his shoulders by a yoke and as little kids we’d run alongside trying to take some of the weight. Most houses had a drain outside the back door into which slops were poured. The pig sty would also usually have a drain. These pipes led to the beck which ran nearby and, even before people understood the effects of bacteria, the water was known to be a source of sickness. Towards the end of the 19th century new powers had been given to local government and the council had installed an iron pump on the green to provide what it hoped would be cleaner water to halt the high death rate, particularly among children. The result was the opposite because polluted beck water seeped into the pipe which was eventually sliced in two to cut off this poisonous supply.
Rather than walk to the spring, some people still insisted on taking their water from the polluted beck which looked so pretty bubbling past their doors but was in fact pretty awful. In 1935 pumping stations were built to divert some of our beck water to a new air base at Holme-on-Spalding Moor, as Britain contemplated the awful prospect of another war, but nothing was done to improve our own water supply until mains were installed in 1939.
Under the County Act a new school had been built into which were placed two rows of washbasins to teach children basic hygiene because they turned up with grubby hands after feeding calves, pigs and doing other mucky chores. The basins were still in use when I was there. Even in my childhood, skin diseases were still rife and from time to time epidemics of diphtheria and other serious illnesses would sweep through the village and carry off some of the children. I can vaguely remember little friends who seemed to just disappear.
My mother paid sixpence a week (2.5p) into a scheme to ensure the presence of the local nurse during childbirth. When a new arrival was imminent, I was usually sent out by the nurse to buy her some Craven A cigarettes, even though I was only a very little lad. In the packet were 10 cigarettes plus four free ones marked, “Four for your friend”. My young uncles, knowing the routine, lay in wait for me, insisting, “We’re the nurse’s friends! Those four cigarettes are for us.” I could do nothing to stop them.
With no NHS, people dreaded anything serious which would bring a doctor’s bill and used the local nurse if possible who cost less. There was no well-equipped GP surgery, no free ambulance service whisking you to hospital, no 999 and no phone anyway. When a growth appeared on my ankle the nurse was summoned to perform an operation on our kitchen table. No anaesthetic was given, just the family pinning me down as I screamed my head off. During World War II, my Aunt Nellie (the wife of my mother’s oldest brother) was appointed first aid nurse for the village to treat injuries caused by air-raids. Being in the countryside, she hadn’t much to do and offered to help with more everyday problems. My mother and her sisters would have died rather than go to Nellie and preferred their own home-made remedies.
One of their mysterious ingredients was something called Spanish Black (a kind of liquorish) which came in a dark block and was sliced off for mixing into various beneficial concoctions. Another cure-all was ginger beer which my parents made by mixing ginger and water then feeding it with sugar. They called it, “growing ginger beer”. Chesty coughs were usually treated with peppermint cordial mixed in hot water. Any child who started sneezing was fed a hot drink of lemon and sugar. Otherwise it was a five-mile cycle ride to the chemist in South Cave who mixed his own medicines and pills. Being outdoors so much and living in a mostly self-contained community, we hardly ever seemed to catch colds. In Beverley Market was a little wooden hut containing a chair where a man would pull out a bad tooth for a few shillings. Fillings and so on by a proper dentist were only for the better off. It was there for years and as a teenager I was only too glad to use his services after being struck down by toothache.
Closets, as our toilets were called, were in small brick buildings at the ends of our gardens, white-washed frequently and scrubbed clean every day. No water and sewerage system was available so a wooden plank with a hole was placed above a large bucket which had two handles. Some families had a longer plank with two large holes for adults and a small one for children, so visiting the lavatory could be quite a sociable event. Usually cold ashes from the fire would be sprinkled into the bucket to keep the smells down. The Daily Express newspaper cut into squares would hang on a nail to be used as toilet paper. Once a week at four o’ clock in the morning my father would dig a hole among the raspberry canes and, when I was only seven, my younger brother and I had to carry the bucket to the hole before we left for school and tip it in. It was the custom to make this perilous journey at unsocial hours to avoid the stigma of being seen, even though everyone else was doing the same. Unpleasant though it was, this was a very environmentally friendly way of disposing of waste, contained no chemicals and always ensured a fantastic crop of raspberries. Every year, my father would dig up two rows of canes and plant two new ones. One good thing about being in a village was that nearly everyone had a bit of land on which they could grow food. We had half an acre at one point.
A mischievous trick for young boys like me was to slip out in the dark armed with a thin bit of pipe, creep up to the closet in which sat some unsuspecting child - the victims were nearly always girls - put the pipe through a hole in the wood and blow out the candle inside. This was swiftly followed by running footsteps back to the house and cries of, “They’ve blown my candle out!” Another prank was to tie nettles on to a stick and prod that through.
One of my favourite memories is of Billy Moore, the village joiner, fitting a new closet seat for a very elderly farmer and his wife, Mr and Mrs Beaulieu (which we pronounced Bewler). He had a solemn sense of humour for kids.
One Saturday morning I sat watching him cut two rough holes in the plank. Then he called Mrs Beaulieu for a fitting. “Could you just have a seat, Mrs Beaulieu,” he said and, as she did so, he drew a pencil mark around her bottom (fully clothed, I might add). “Thank you, Mrs Beaulieu,” he said, very politely, and off she went back into her kitchen. Getting out something called a spoke shaver, so named because it was used to shave wheel spokes into shape, he honed the hole to the correct size. “Right,” he said, easing himself up again, “we’re ready for another fitting” and along would come Mrs Beaulieu again until the size was right. Then it was Mr Beaulieu’s turn to be measured for his closet seat. Finally a smaller one was placed in the middle and each one finished by sandpapering.
Castleford was a working pit town when Brian Kent was born there in the 1930s. When he was nine his father, a miner, died of lung disease. The family’s fuel allowance was stopped and Brian went scratting around on the muck stacks for any waste coal which might burn on the kitchen fire.
After National Service in The Army he married Maureen Kelly from Surrey. Tempted by new opportunities offered in Australia, they took advantage of a government emigration scheme and sailed off among thousands of other ‘£10 Poms’. Later they returned to Castleford, a round trip of 26,000 miles, and Brian embarked on a new set of adventures as a postman.
I saw Caroline’s advert in the Dalesman magazine and had wanted to do a story about my life, so I contacted her. After talking on the phone, she came to see me and I was very impressed by what she said she could do. The first visit was to set things out and the ensuing ones were to get all the information that she needed.
The atmosphere of our meetings was relaxed and the story unfolded with no pressure. Caroline has an easy, relaxed manner and a thoroughly professional way. She also consulted my wife, Maureen.
Caroline kept me informed by telephone as to how things were going and if something was not quite right she corrected it. She also helped me to select some nice photographs for the book and incorporated them into the story very well.
Her skills really shine through. If anyone wants to have their story written, without doubt I would recommend Caroline Brannigan as she would do justice to any life story.
All my relatives and friends have been very impressed by the book and say how brilliant it is, well set out and a riveting read. I am surprised how many people have taken to it.
Thank you, Caroline for an excellent job well done, from one very grateful client.
Castleford in West Yorkshire has changed dramatically since Brian Kent was a young boy in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a busy and, for a lad, an exciting place to be with coal mines, furnaces and trains. With his father in a sanatorium and his mother working long hours to keep the family, Brian often had to fend for himself. I think it was only when he told me his story that he realized how much he had had to rely on his own resources.
As a boy he saw it all as an adventure, having a great time with his mates. However, after 1945 when his father died, Brian watched with envy other boys with their dads. It was very moving to hear. Yet Brian has a great sense of humour and a determination to enjoy life, whatever it throws at him. In his thirties he was diagnosed with a serious illness from which he nearly died yet Brian was still cracking jokes from his hospital bed.
The story of how he and his wife Maureen set off for Australia was a fascinating piece of social history which I’m glad to have recorded and many copies of the book have gone Down Under.
I was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire in the mid 1930s. The road is still there but the house has been swept away. Standing on the new green next to a sign saying No Ball Games – a rule I would have ignored as a lad - places me right in the middle of our old front room.
Dad was a miner at Briggs’s Colliery and because the owners didn’t care how much dust miners breathed in, he became one of the many who died from lung disease, in his case TB silicosis. I have faint memories of him playing with me when I was about four. After that he was taken to a sanatorium in the fresh air of Ilkley and I hardly ever saw him again. The 30-mile journey would mean nothing today but with no car and little money, it was hard enough even for my mother to get there. For a while he did get better and came home again but later had to return to the sanatorium. In 1945 came the news that he had died.
Our two-up, two-down house in the Cutsyke area was next-door to the working men’s club and typical of thousands built in the town for people who crowded in during the 19th century in search of jobs. Most swapped a gruelling life on the land for a better paid but dark and dangerous existence down one of Castleford’s five pits. With a canal, the railway and many factories, including a big glass works, it was a busy and in many ways exciting place to grow up in. Lighter industries such as tailoring and rug making employed thousands of women. My mother worked at the rug mill, L.R. Davis, which I can still see from my home today. She was one of the first six workers there when it opened.
The most important of our few rooms was the kitchen with its stone floor, a couple of cupboards, a table and chairs in the middle and a deep stone sink like a trough with a single cold tap. Under the staircase was a pantry for storing food. Fridges were a luxury we saw only in American kitchens in films. My mother cooked on a couple of gas rings. By the time I was about nine, my brother was out at work and so was my mother, because she was now the main breadwinner, so I soon had to learn to rustle up something in a frying pan if I was hungry. During the war fresh eggs were in short supply and I became a dab hand at mixing powdered egg to scramble. Like many hard-up families at that time, we ate an awful lot of bread and jam because it was cheap and filling. I can’t touch it now. What I remember most about childhood meals is that there wasn’t much food at all, a combination of rationing and not having much money.
Light came from gas jets on the walls covered by fragile glass mantles. Returning home from school on winter evenings I had to turn on the gas and light it quickly, then replace the mantle without breaking it. This was a tricky thing to do and one day the mantle slipped from my fingers and shattered. I was in big trouble. Evenings in our small, cosy kitchen were accompanied by the hissing of the gas lights and the crackle of the coal range which had a fire in the middle, an oven on one side and a boiler, our only source of hot water, on the other.
A room at the front had the refinement of wooden floorboards but we rarely went in there because furnishing it was beyond our means. Bikes and other bits and pieces found a home there instead. Like most of the people we knew, we had no bathroom and once a week the tin bath was brought from its peg on the yard wall into the kitchen and filled laboriously with hot water.
Our back yard, which was just dirt, was shared with four other houses and had a block of toilets in which each family had their own. In between were shared wash houses with big stone troughs and mangles where the washing was done. I don’t think there was anywhere to heat water so my mother must have filled a bucket in the kitchen and hauled it outside. A wall separated us from the other yards and houses backing on to us and it was easy for me to scramble over to see my pals. That and the street outside with its barber shop and general store was our little domain.
The narrow stone staircase was very dark even in the daytime and at night was lit by a small gas jet at the top. Upstairs were two bedrooms. My parents slept in the front but most of my memories are of my mother alone. She had a bed and a walk-in cupboard, so she was alright and had somewhere to hang her clothes. The back room contained a double bed which I had to share with my brother. It was very common for children to share and some bigger families were eight to a bed. Our room contained nothing else, apart from a blind at the window, had bare floorboards and was very sparse but we managed. Everyone around us was in more or less the same boat so we didn’t feel hard done by, even though we had a bit less because my mother was a widow.
While my father was alive, our coal store was kept filled by the mining company but when he died, that stopped, just when we needed it most. In the harsh winter after his death, I would be sent with a bucket to ask neighbours for coal and they always gave it if they could for ours was a close-knit community where people looked after each other. There was very little state help for anyone sick, unemployed or widowed.
The muck stacks stood round the pits like mini mountains and were always dotted with kids and adults alike scratting about for anything good enough to burn. It could take all day to fill a sack, then I’d hang it across what we called the stack bike, an old bicycle with no tyres, and push it home, my face, hands and knees grimy with coal dust. Sometimes this waste had sulphur in it which would explode with a bang on the fire but it gave heat so we put up with it. Kids with dads working in the pits who had plenty of coal at home would sell their stack pickings but I needed ours for the range. We weren’t supposed to be there but only half-hearted attempts were made to stop us. Better coal was to be found scattered around the railway trucks waiting to leave but that meant dodging patrols, usually under cover of darkness. Sometimes we’d get chased but could run faster and got away with it. We needed the fuel so I had to do it. Despite all the industry around us, the countryside was never far away and Aketon Woods were another source of free fuel. Today the M62 sweeps right across where I once foraged for sticks and played hide and seek among the trees.
Much has changed since then. My town has been struggling to find a new identity since the pits closed but has various new exciting attractions. The sculptor Henry Moore was born here in 1898 and we’re not far from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. On the site of one of the muck stacks stands Europe’s biggest indoor real-snow slope and people come from all over to ski and snowboard with equipment we never dreamed of. But I was there first! In winter the black gloom of the stacks was transformed by sparkling snow and I’d tie cardboard to my feet, find two sticks and go skiing down the sides, falling in a heap with all my mates.
The air was smoky from the chimneys of the glassworks and the huge ovens where coal was burned to create another kind of fuel called coke, the red glow of the fires clearly visible. Every now and again the town would rock to a crashing sound which I believe was the contents of the furnaces toppling down inside as they burned, like an avalanche. The walk to school skirted round a mine where coal wagons were being shunted around the rail yard with a clanging and a screeching which was thrilling for a small boy.
Denise McCool was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire during World War II, just before the city suffered its biggest air-raid. As the emergency services put out fires and pulled the dead and living from bomb-blasted ruins, Denise slept in her cot in the hospital basement where nurses had taken their patients for safety.
Childhood illnesses caused speaking to come late to Denise but memories of the care she received left her with an ambition to help others and in the 1950s she joined Jimmy’s - St James’s Hospital, Leeds - as a nurse. Not many years before, her parents had struggled to pay doctors’ bills and Denise saw the amazed relief of patients who now had the NHS to look after them. It could also offer a miracle cure, the antibiotic.
Growing up in a remarkable time of change, she remembers the thrill of hearing ‘Rock Around the Clock’ for the first time. After marrying and having four sons, Denise saw the passing of equality laws which allowed her to become one of Leeds’ first full-time postwomen.
Thank you so much for helping me to tell my story. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but had no idea there would be someone out there to help.
Denise’s story shows how many dramatic changes happened during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The NHS and provision of better housing made a huge difference to millions. Sadly for Denise, she just missed out on the wider educational opportunities taken for granted today. She remembers the thrill of hearing Rock Around The Clock for the first time, a mix of excitement and fear, for nothing was every quite the same for teenagers after that. We often had a good laugh doing this book. Denise told me about wearing a hoop under her 1950s skirt to achieve a fashionable wide look, only to sit down and find the hoop, skirt and petticoats flung up to nose level. On a more serious note, to record how much discrimination women faced before laws were changed is an important part of social history.
Stiletto heels had just started to come in with very pointed toes and looked wonderful. We told customers all kinds of awful things like, a pointed toe was actually better for their foot than a comfortable wide one and they were all too happy to believe us. They had only to look at my own feet, clad in low-heeled, well fitting shoes, to see that it wasn’t true. We were on our feet all day apart from breaks so stilettos would have been crippling. The thin stiletto heel had a metal tip which would catch in gratings and drain covers and you’d see women trapped until they could wiggle themselves free.
Naturally I was desperate to have a pair and the first day I put mine on, I felt different. I was no longer a child, I was a young woman. Above the stilettos we wore wonderful dresses with huge full skirts in bright patterns and colours. They were so pretty, their skirts puffed out with layer upon layer of petticoat so they swung as you walked. We soaked the petticoats in sugar to stiffen them up and make them stick out even further. Some women even used a hoop suspended from the waist. I borrowed one from a friend to wear to a party and had never worn one before, nor have I since. Clicking along in my stilettos, my huge skirt swinging and my hair in a long pony tail, I was out to impress. At the party I got a drink, sat down and, whoosh! Up flew the hoop taking my skirt with it up to nose level. The drink went all over me and I did feel a fool.
This was the time when teenagers were first invented. Before then, the generations mostly listened to the same music, did the same dances, watched the same films and listened to the same shows on the radio. In 1955 Bill Haley burst on to the scene with Rock Around The Clock and suddenly we had our own music, rock ’n’ roll. I remember vividly the first time I heard it. I was about 14 and went to the cinema with my cousin where they played it on one of the news reels. The effect on young people in the audience was electrifying. They jumped up, dancing around and some even started ripping out the seats! Part of me was terrified but it was thrilling because the beat really got to you. We’d never heard anything like it before and nothing in the music world was ever the same again. All the old people were condemning it as Satan’s music but we knew it was ours.
Despite being thrilled by the beat, I was never much good at the new dances but had to go because that was one of the only places for someone like me to meet boys. I could shuffle round when needed. There was never any alcohol, just coffee and orange juice. It was always a live band, playing a mixture of old and new numbers, and I loved to see them in their smart, matching coats. I was disappointed when records took over from live performances. You still had to know the old style dances but I was better at the new ones because you could just shake around without worrying about hanging on to a man and stepping on his toes. At the beginning, all the girls lined up against the wall on one side, hoping to be asked to dance by one of the boys lined up opposite. You’d see someone walk towards you and were just about to say how pleased you would be to dance when he’d go up to the girl next to you. Some were in the flamboyant Teddy Boy outfits with long, colourful coats, shoelace tie, black drainpipe trousers and gigantic crepe-soled shoes. If you were 4feet 6inches you’d be 5feet 6inches. All had elaborate DA hairstyles, the hair slicked over at the back with Brylcreem into what people then were too polite to tell me was a “duck’s arse” shape. They were always busy combing. For the older citizens of Leeds it was all too much and even I was a bit nervous seeing them hanging about on street corners but you had to admit they were very smart and clean. I never saw a scruffy one.
In the early 1930s, Thomas Barker kept a couple of cows on his Yorkshire farm to provide milk for the family. His wife Hannah made butter by hand, packed it into her basket and took the bus to market in the nearby town of Northallerton. The farm had no electricity or mains water and power came from horses. As soon as he was old enough to help, their son George learned to milk by hand. By the time he retired from his own dairy farm in 2005, George had reared a pedigree herd of 250 cattle with computers monitoring every stage of the 1.5 million litres of milk produced a year.
Thomas Barker had a saying, “Bad times don’t last for ever, neither do good” - something his son would often recall during the roller-coaster ride of farming.
In this book, George also details the Barker family history, going back to the 17th century, a name often seen around Northallerton today, including the town’s well-known department store.
Don't wait until you are too old, do it now. To make it easier, use a professional writer such as Caroline Brannigan who has the expertise to ask the right questions and bring out your forgotten memories. You owe it to your descendants so they will know what you did with your life. It might encourage them to do the same for their children and grandchildren.
It is astonishing that in one man’s lifetime, his experiences of dairy farming can go from the doldrums of the 1930s to the hi-tech environment of the 21st century. Not only was this a personal memoir, it was a piece of social history. Many of my books contain fascinating stories of farming life which would otherwise never have been told. There were also many wartime anecdotes including the prank theft by Canadian air crew of the golden lion statue from outside Northallerton’s inn of the same name. Tucked away in George’s archive were pre-war farming photos which can now be enjoyed by a wider audience.
He mentions “forgotten memories” in his comments above. That’s one of my strengths. I know a great deal about 20th century social history and can ask people how outside events affected them. For example, I mentioned the terrifying events of the early 1960s when East and West threatened to wipe each other out in a nuclear war. George recalled harvesting potatoes, wondering if anyone would be left alive to eat them, a long forgotten moment. It was fascinating to hear all these stories and to produce a book which will be widely enjoyed.
It is hard to believe that in only one man’s lifetime we have gone from hand milking into unsterilized buckets to the fast, efficient and hygienic methods of today. Some older people say pasteurized doesn’t have the delicious flavour of the untreated milk of the past but neither does it have the dangers.
Every day of the year, night and morning, my father and our farm lad had to do the milking, with me and my dog helping to get the cows in from the fields in the afternoons, if it was summer. Once my father could sell milk to the Milk Marketing Board, he began to keep a few more cows. By the time I was ten I was given one cow to milk before leaving for school and again on my return. By the time we got a milking machine, there were about ten to twelve cows milking. Do you know how many squirts there are in a pint of milk (about half a litre)? Depending on the cow, whether it’s a good milker or hard-drawn, there are about 400. Cows weren’t giving big yields in those days, when getting a gallon at night and upwards of two in the morning was considered good. But that was still an awful lot of squirts for a little boy’s hands. At first my fingers ached but gradually the muscles grew stronger.
Milking took place in the cow shed where I’d sit on a three-legged wooden stool, my forehead laid against the rough, warm flank of the cow and the bucket standing precariously on the straw beneath. My father held his between his knees but I couldn’t manage that and sometimes the cow would kick the bucket over, especially if there were flies about and she got fidgety. Many years later I got kicked in the mouth and lost part of a front tooth. The dentist had to take the other one out as well and so I had false teeth from very early on in my life.
Full buckets were poured into 10-gallon churns where they were then taken two at a time, first on a wheelbarrow and then when we got more than two on a wooden trolley to the milk stand at the road end. They were covered with wet sacking on hot days until it was collected. The lorry was open-topped and rattled along the lanes from farm to farm with up to 50 churns secured by a chain for delivery to the dried milk factory in Northallerton. Our record was six churns in a day. Sometimes a churn would be returned the next day as being sour. It depended on who sniffed it. They used to have someone at the dairy called a ‘sniffer’ and if he didn’t like the smell, it was sent back and you didn’t get paid. One day my father got mad about this and put the same milk back on the stand with a different label and it didn’t come back.
In spring my father and Stan would pen the sheep then clip the wool by hand, sharpening the sheers on a stone between clipping each sheep, then my mother and I would roll up the fleeces ready for sale. Every now and again we would herd the flock to my grandfather’s dipping trough. We had a new tup every year and a new bull every three years. At lambing time a cardboard box always stood by the fire in the kitchen holding a frail one which, if it survived, would be fed on cow’s milk from a bottle. We often had pet lambs. Pig killing day was an important event when a relative, a butcher, came up to do the deed. He’d say to me, “You keep back and get ready. I want you to catch the pig’s squeak!” An old tooth off a binder was adapted and with a sharp point the pig was hit with it between the eyes using a hammer and the pig dropped dead instantly. It didn’t have much time to get scared.
Pig killing was always done on a Saturday. On Sunday, the carcass would be cut up and my father would lay the pieces in a shallow, lead bath filled with salt and salt petre and leave them to cure into ham or bacon. In the kitchen my mother and Mary were busy rendering down the fat in a huge pan and pouring it into jars. The blood was mixed with oatmeal to make black pudding. The liver, kidneys and other offal were shared around the community because we couldn’t eat it all at once and with no fridges or freezer, it wouldn’t keep.
It is only since I have been collecting my ideas for this story that I have realized what hard work life was in those days! Harvest saw my father and his workers striding to a corn field with their scythes to clear a path round the edges along which the horses could pull the binder without trampling on any of the crop.
With a clear path cut, the horses would be hitched to the binder, an unwieldy-looking contraption with a long sharp blade to cut the stems which then passed on to great swirling sails, as they were called, which rotated rather like a windmill to scoop up the cut crop and drop it on to canvas collection sheets. They were then pushed into another section to be tied with string and the sheaf dropped to the side. The sheaves had to be picked up by hand and stacked in stooks to dry before the laborious job of building a stack in which the grain would stay safe and dry until winter provided enough time for thrashing. Once a year the canvases of the binder had to be dismantled and sent to the saddler to have their leather straps repaired.
Harvest time and hay time meant everyone helping and I would come home with the sticky tops of barley horns stuck to my clothes. I soon learned to cover my arms to avoid a thousand tiny cuts and to protect my clothes with an old sack. Once the wind and sun had done their job, out we went again on the cart to collect the crop before the rains could ruin them. My hands became filthy with bird muck, for crows loved sitting on the stooks and had left their mark on them. Young lads were always put on top to load the cart and I had to know what I was doing, putting the heads to the middle while keeping a close eye on the weather. The sides of the cart were low but above rose the open shelvings, which had been added on to make the area bigger. With a man on one side forking up sheaves and sending them sailing up to the top of the cart for me to catch, I was kept very busy, often dusty and hot. By the time I had risen eight feet or so up from the cart, it was time to clamber down, fasten ropes to hold it in place and start filling the next one which had come back from the stack yard and stood ready and waiting.
Hay time was much earlier, usually around late June, the grass cut and left to dry much as it is today. A machine with twirling legs like a huge spider was pulled by a horse along the rows to turn it, someone following with a fork to shake out any big lumps. Once it had dried off, it was raked up into long swathes and was stacked up loosely into haycocks to finish the process. I can remember it taking ages in a wet season between showers to dry out enough to be stacked, my father frowning as he watched it deteriorate and turn brown. June is not always a kind month for hay making. Suddenly one day my father would give the order to collect the hay with everyone heading to the fields with rakes and forks to load the carts. Sometimes a horse-drawn hay sweep was used to pull the haycocks along the ground back to the stack yard. Hay was our most valuable crop because it was a good feed, so it was built into square stacks under the protection of the pointed roof of our Dutch barn. Stack building was a skill now almost lost but vital then if crops were to be preserved from the weather. A haystack began with a layer of straw to keep the hay off the damp soil. A forkful of hay was forked up to a picker, then on to a stacker who placed it carefully making sure to keep straight sides within the Dutch barn. Sometimes the close-packed hay started to warm up and move, so a wooden prop was added. Wheat was better able to shed rain off the ends of the straw and it was often stacked outside, the pointed tops thatched with straw to keep the rain off. It was an extraordinary amount of manual labour to produce relatively little.
Farmers didn’t have the technology to both cut the crop and remove the grain at the same time, as combine harvesters do now. Getting the grain off the stems is called thrashing by farmers, though the boffins think it’s called threshing. This mainly took place in winter. Thrashing days were an exciting time for a small boy. Early in the morning, a great hissing and clunking could be heard from the lane as the steam traction engine trundled along, hauling the thrashing machine. My first memory goes back to 1939 and I watched this heavy monster rolling across our field towards the stack yard and then sinking down hopelessly into the mud. My father had to get planks of wood to help it escape. Farmers had to provide the coal and someone had to go to Ainderby Station to collect a load. The cart would be weighed empty, then led beneath a large hopper from which the coal would cascade, then weighed again for the bill.
Men would pick apart the stacks, forking the sheaves onto the top of the thrasher where the binder twine was cut and passed to someone who fed the sheaves down on to the huge, speeding revolving drum, shaking the grain out to fall through several sieves of different sizes, so the bigger and best grains were diverted into sacks. Smaller grains (seconds) went into other sacks. Bags of wheat weighing 18 stone (114kg) were loaded onto backs and carried up granary steps and tipped on to the floor or left stored in sacks. By the time I was 18, I was carrying these huge sacks myself. Barley was in 16 stone bags. It wouldn’t be allowed today.
Our farm had several thrashing days each winter and they were good ratting days, with Punch in a frenzy as the rats fled the diminishing stacks. People stood about with sticks to attack the animals which threatened the food on their table. Many of our neighbours came to help as we would help them. My father would take samples of his wheat down to Northallerton, laying the grains out in his hand. Buyers would bite a grain and if it pleased them would say, “How many quarters of this do you have, Mr Barker?” Wheat was always sold in quarters. A quarter was 560 lbs or a fourth of a ton in weight.
When autumn arrived animals were housed inside and Stan our horseman took a sharp, V-shaped hay spade to cut a large square chunk out of the stack for the horses and my father cut the hay for the cattle. During the long months indoors, our cows stood eight in one byre, twelve in the other, plus the bull, poky little places you can’t imagine keeping cattle in today.
Terry Baker was born in 1936 near the harbour in Scarborough, known as the Bottom End of town, and lived there with his family until a wartime parachute mine blew the roof off their home, with them inside.
As far as young Terry was concerned, that was just another adventure in a life full of mischief and mishap - sledging down a snowy street on a stolen ladder, hanging on to a rope as his brother went over a cliff edge to take seagulls' eggs and dodging bullets from an enemy plane.
As a high-spirited little boy, he led his parents and teachers a merry dance. Today, Terry and his wife Kath are keen ballroom dancers.
At 17, he joined the Army and began a life-long love of wildlife as he found himself first in Kenya, then Malaya.
Terry also tells the story of the ups and downs of his steel construction business, including his dramatic years in The Falkland Islands just after the war with Argentina, and his eventual move to running a 1,000-acre game shoot on the outskirts of his home town.
I didn't listen much when I was at school. It was all a bit boring. Only when I left did I wish I'd paid more attention and since then I've learned a lot, running my own business and handling big contracts. But I still have a hang-up about my writing, so Caroline's service was ideal. I thought she was going to be a stern, teacher-like figure wearing a big hat and telling me off. She wasn't a bit like that and we ended up having a good laugh. The photographs she took for the cover are excellent. I'd like to thank her for the many miles travelled and the hours spent in compiling this book. I held a launch party for my book in a hotel, attended by about 40 relatives and friends. It was a good night.
I'd like to thank Terry for saving my life - or at least my dignity - when, taking the photograph for his book cover, I was about to back into a large ditch. Terry has had several different careers and travelled extensively. I worked with him at the beginning to create a 'map' of where we were going so that the end structure would be right. This is one of the most difficult problems faced by those wanting to write their own stories. Like most clients, Terry kept thinking of more things as we went along and we had to work hard on getting the dates and chronology right. Some of his stories are very funny, others unprintable, on which I gave sensible advice, having had a good laugh over them first.
When I joined The Army aged 17 in January 1954, I left Scarborough for the first time. I'd never been on a train before. The furthest I'd been on a bus was a few miles for Sunday school outings. I'd never seen a city and Mr Crosby, who wasn't pleased that I was leaving his farm, warned me grimly, "You'll regret the day you get down to see the big city" but I took not a bit of notice because I wanted to see for myself.
Because I'd signed up blindly for the Rifle Brigade, I wasn't in a Yorkshire regiment but was sent to a training camp at Winchester. As the train set off from Scarborough, I could see my mother and everyone else standing by the fence beside the Mere waving me off. I was very excited as the train picked up speed. I couldn't believe that after years of seeing them coming and going, I was on one at last. I had never travelled at such a speed and couldn't wait to see what the difference was between a town and a city.
The little train from Scarborough pulled under the vast canopy of York railway station where I had to find the London express. Hundreds of people were milling around and trains, puffing steam and smoke into the air, were coming and going from all different places. It all felt very strange.
So inexperienced was I that I didn't know what a platform was. I asked a porter where the London train was and he replied, "You want to be down there on that platform." So I asked, innocently, "What's a platform?" In my mind it was a wooden stage that you stood on. He came back a bit sharpish, "Don't you know what a platform is? Are y' a bit thick." And so I said, "I must be else I wouldn't be here!"
Somehow I found the right place and stood with my single suitcase by my feet as the biggest locomotive I'd ever seen came chugging into the station spraying soot everywhere and hauling more coaches than I could see the end of. There was a garbled announcement over the loud speaker but I just managed to catch the word London and off we went.
At King's Cross I had to find my way to Waterloo so I went to a desk and was directed down some steps to buy a ticket on the Underground. Everyone else seemed to know exactly where they were going as fast as they possibly could but I didn't even know what the Underground was.
Few had the time of day for a young lad from Scarborough. To the annoyance of those behind me, I was completely taken aback by the sight of escalators rumbling their way down into the depths but took a deep breath and stepped out. Tunnels weaved left and right I must have asked a dozen people along the way for directions.
Their London accents, some posh like on the radio and some not, were a shock to my ear. The Tube maps on the walls were a complete mystery to me and I wondered if perhaps I should have paid more attention at school for my reading wasn't very good. When you can't read what you're looking for, you start to wonder, "What the hell am I doing here?"
I was a busy mother with two young children when one day I bent down to put the washing on and felt a searing pain shoot through my head. Doctors thought at first it was a virus which would go away. It didn’t. Later my family were given the devastating news that I had suffered an aneurism - a bleed on the brain - and that I had a less than one per cent chance of survival.
Most made their final goodbyes but not my husband Simon. He decided this was a chance, however small, and that his wife would take it. And I did. Simon was my general, he went into battle for me, but it was a long and rocky road back to good health. Having astounded my medical team, I now want to share the story of what happened to us, of how my Christian faith comforted and inspired me and how I am at last winning a life-long battle against my weight.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my story would make such an amazing book. Caroline has done an incredible job in a wonderfully sympathetic way. Thank you Caroline, I shall forever be indebted to you. My book is my future.
Working with Sally-Anne and her husband Simon was a mixture of laughter and tears. Our greatest challenge was the structure, sorting out what happened and when. This was an intensely personal story about tough times. Sally-Anne showed great courage and I’m proud she felt I helped her to tell the story with empathy, gently guiding and advising along a road with many potential pitfalls. One of Sally-Anne’s friends said after reading the book, “I was worried she wouldn’t get you, but she has, absolutely” which is what I like to hear. Sally-Anne was a hugely inspiring person to work with and I’m proud to have written this book for her.
My memory is still rather muddled after the move to the acute stroke ward in York in November. I had to learn to do things all over again – walking, talking properly, dressing, washing, making a sandwich. My occupational therapist Lois and I clicked immediately and that was a major factor in my recovery.
At first I couldn’t eat and was on a drip. The first days were full of tests on my voice, my swallowing and all kinds of other things. They forced me to sit for a long time in a chair when I’d much rather have lain in bed but it was the first step in strengthening my muscles. I hated it, I felt so tired. “Is it time yet?” I’d be hollering every five minutes. I was a pain. The nurses were fantastic, patient and kind but firm about the things they knew were essential.
When Simon wasn’t there, I was desperately anxious and felt lost without a phone to link me to the outside world which seemed such a remote place now but they wouldn’t let me have one at that stage.
Every now and again a strange but kindly face would appear at my bedside, one of the religious people who visit hospitals offering comfort, prayers and texts to anyone wanting them. From one lovely lady I bought a wooden cross and from then on hugged it to me for comfort. Above the bed hung a washing line of photographs of the children, of me, of Simon, letters and cards. In a little black clutch bag I kept by me were some architectural drawings of Headlands, the house we wanted to build, which I’d look at and think, “I hope that happens.”
Thanks to Simon’s rota, which now could have a lot more names on it, I had a visitor every lunchtime and every evening until I came out. By now the prolonged stress was taking its toll on my husband. Every time he sat down at home he fell fast asleep but never missed visiting time. Christmas was speeding towards us and he had hundreds of geese to prepare for the table, spending two days up to his neck in feathers. I surprised him by remembering an order from months before about which he’d forgotten completely. It was a reassuring clue that my memory was still intact.
We had many happy memories of past Christmas Days. My favourite meal of the year is Christmas lunch with one of our own geese. Simon cooks it like nobody else and he was determined that this Christmas would be as good as it possibly could. After leaving my bedside on Christmas Eve, he stayed up for hours making preparations and didn’t get to bed until after 2am. Then he was up again at 6.30am as the children attacked their stockings and because he had a goose to cook.
Christmas was brought to York District Hospital and it was brought big-style. Our wonderful friend Wendy had been out and bought the children presents, wrapped them and put them in sacks because Santa was making a special extra delivery to the hospital. It makes my cry to think about it.
At lunchtime Simon appeared in the ward carrying my best oval serving dish on which sat a goose cooked to perfection, surrounded by roast potatoes and all the trimmings. The hospital kitchen provided the vegetables and all the nurses were really excited. “We’ve never had goose before!” they said. We sat round the table and ate this wonderful feast.
After leaving me about 3.30pm, Simon went to his parents and then on to mine so both sets of grandparents could see the children. Afterwards he took them home and shot back to York for evening visiting. I just don’t know how he did it.
Christmas was a bright spot in a gruelling time for all of us. With the help of Gareth, my physiotherapist, I had to learn to walk again. From the ward I would be wheeled in my chair into the physiotherapy room where two parallel bars stood on which I had to balance myself and try to move my reluctant feet. It was such hard work. I felt pathetic.
But I wasn’t going to give up and one day, with Simon, the children and some friends there for the occasion, I walked the entire length of these bars, about three metres, and I felt euphoric, as if I’d completed a marathon. They were all clapping and cheering and Simon says I had a big grin on my face.
Washing progressed from bed baths to showers in a wheelchair and then on my feet. My co-ordination was all to pot and when they tried to teach me to blow-dry my hair, I couldn’t manage it. From early on Simon had contacted a friend of mine who was a hairdresser and said, “Can you come in and sort Sally-Anne out? She looks a mess” and it boosted my self esteem to look presentable. It was a step toward the normal, the ordinary.
Peter Pybus was born in Hendon, Sunderland, in 1936. “Oh my God, that’s the backside of the town!” people told him later. Well, maybe it is, but there’s good people in every town, he says. You can’t help where you’re born.
Peter went on to set up his own business selling seed all over the North East from his base in the Yorkshire Dales, somehow also fitting in working as a Special Constable and secretary of the North Yorkshire County Show. A huge fan of Scottish dancing, Peter picked the title of his book, saying, “Everyone will know that’s me!”
He survived bombing by the Nazis and, as a founder member of the Federation of Small Businesses, continues to wage war on red tape and people sadly lacking those two vital senses: common sense and a sense of humour.
Why write a book? Many of my friends and customers said that I should but I gave up the idea long ago. However, by accident or good fortune, I met Caroline Brannigan. Over a cup of tea she explained all the requirements and has written this book for me in a very professional manner.
It took five or six sessions of two hours each session talking to Caroline, who recorded our conversations on tape. From these recordings, she has produced a first class book.
I can highly recommend her to anyone who might think it is impossible to put their memories into words. Don’t delay, start today!
Working with Peter G. Pybus was a highly entertaining experience. Though his life has not been a laugh every minute, far from it, he showed a sense of humour and strength of character which I admired. I can’t say too much more or he’ll accuse me of “flannel”. He was a classic example of the kind of person for whom I set up this business, someone with interesting stories to tell who would never have the time or inclination to write them down himself. I am also glad to have put down his memories of the Sunderland blitz to remind future generations that it wasn’t just London that suffered.
When I was chairman of the Parish Council, three bins for dog waste were provided by the district council. Later I had a call from a woman at the town hall to ask how things were going. I told her, “They’re wonderful. There’s only one little fault, my Jack Russell can’t reach them.”
Common sense went out of the window. She started to tell me how to use a doggie bin and I could not believe what I was hearing. There was me, chairman of the Parish Council, being told how to collect dog dirt.
(and from a later part of the book)
In early 2010 I got an invitation to go to 10 Downing Street, and I thought, “I wonder who lives there?” Anyway, I went down and it was amazing what a huge complex there is behind that small façade. The Prime Minster was missing, in Brussels, no doubt signing off another bit of red tape with which to strangle small businesses.
There was a big crowd in of about 150 from all kinds of groups including the Institute of Directors and the CBI. Alan Sugar was there and wormy Mandelson, both of whom I can’t stand. Much too smooth, both of them. They can turn any negative into a positive. They don’t look you in the eye but anywhere else. Beware anybody who can’t look you in the face, that’s what I’ve always thought. I felt like saying, “Oi! I’m over here!” They were the only two dignitaries who were circulating and both got an awful lot of stick.
Sugar had come out with a statement saying that Government couldn’t be expected to support businesses that were going under if it was their own fault. I overheard a dairy farmer getting at him, “I’m getting 16p a litre for my bloody milk and it costs me 26p to produce it. Is that my fault?” Sugar’s answer was, “Sell your cows.” I thought that farmer was going to explode. “Who the hell’s going to buy them?” he asked. But of course there were never any answers.
I also heard this farmer say, “The trouble with you lot is you get into London and there’s a skin round you. You haven’t any idea what’s happening outside.” He was furious, and the language, well, Downing Street or not he expressed himself plainly.
Mandelson was worming his way round and you could hear him repeating himself, “It’s a worldwide recession, a worldwide recession …. ” like a cracked record, till we were sick of it. The Labour Party had had nothing to do with it. He was getting heckled relentlessly but I have no doubt that our visit there made no difference whatsoever. Then they were voted out anyway.