Category Archives: Childhood

Memory Post – Decimalisation

On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a new decimal system based on pounds and new pence.

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Memory Post – The Wonder of Woolies

When I was a boy the Rugby store at 30 High Street was one of my favourite shops in town.  It was big, it was bright, it was cheap and gaudy and it was like an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure.

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A to Z of Windows – O is for Ovar in Portugal

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

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Christmas Tales

As for most people Christmas was best when I was young and still believed in Santa Claus.  In those days we used to alternate between a Christmas at home one year and then at the grandparents the year after.  I can remember two of these quite clearly.

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The Days Before Christmas

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all thirty feet tall.” Larry Wilde

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Aysgarth Falls, Middleham Castle and Leyburn

The next morning we planned to drive a route along Wensleydale as far as Hawes in the west and set off early and stopped first at Aysgarth Falls about half way along the route.

Aysgarth Falls is a natural beauty spot where thousands of gallons of water in the River Ure tumble, leap and cascade over a series of boulders and broad limestone steps.  Sometimes passive, sometimes aggressive and sometimes playful like today.

It was featured as the location for the fight between Robin Hood and Little John in the film ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ and in 2005 it was included in a BBC television list of seven best natural places in Northern England.  The other six were The Lake District, River Wear, Whin Sill, River Tees, Holy Island and Morecambe Bay.

I had visited Aysgarth Falls before, around about twenty-five years ago with my children…

And five years ago I visited with my grandchildren…

Middleham describes itself as a township; smaller than a town but bigger than a village and it is a very fine place. Less frantic than other towns in Wensleydale but blessed with history and a magnificent castle, almost as big as the town itself. We parked the car (free parking) and found a pub for lunch inevitably called ‘Richard III’.

Richard was the last Plantagenet and House of York King of England, the last King of England killed in combat, at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, and succeeded by the victorious Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster.  Before he became King in 1482 he lived for a while in the castle here in Middleham.

After lunch we walked to the castle.  Between us there were mixed opinions about paying the entrance fee but with my new castle enthusiast pal, William, eager to climb the battlements everyone finally gave in and we went inside.

It was once a massive castle, one of the biggest in Northern England built on a site previously garrisoned by both the Romans and the Normans and deep within the labyrinth or towers and walls is a statue of Richard III and for those who say he was evil he looked arm less enough to me!

Next we drove to the town of Leyburn which was horribly busy and after we had secured a much prized parking place I gave in to the demands of the others and visited the shops.  Actually, I rather liked the shops in Leyburn  and the reason for that was that there were none that I recognised.

Usually in England every town has the same shops, there is practically no individuality in the town centres.  Every shop that I can expect to find in my home town can be found anywhere else.

These are not shops that interest me a great deal in Grimsby where I live so it was completely unlikely that they would do so elsewhere.  To make it worse, in a typical English town there is an over-supply of banks, building societies and pay-day loan money lenders and the trouble with financial service providers is that they simply cannot make their window displays interesting and except for a different logo all they can display is a list of lending and savings rates most of which are exactly the same anyway.

This, I am happy to report was not the case in Leyburn where there were an abundance of traditional shops owned and run by local traders and I rather enjoyed an hour or so looking around.  Please don’t spread that around too much, it might get back to Kim.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Memory Post – Heating The House in Winter

We have just had a cold snap, not much of a cold snap, it only lasted for two days and the temperature barely dipped below zero’

Nevertheless newspapers were full of sob stories about fuel poverty, how some people can barely afford to heat their homes and calls for the Government to make emergency benefit payments. In the Yorkshire post this week one woman claimed that she was so unable to pay fuel bills that she was using a hair dryer in place of central heating.

To be clear I am not being judgemental here, just making a social observation.

When I was a boy houses were cold in  Winter, very cold indeed and it was just an inconvenience that was part of 1960s home life.

On the 29th to 30th December 1962 a blizzard roared across England and Wales and continuous freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740 and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5thMarch 1963.

This would have been quite an ordeal I’m certain because like most people in 1962 we lived in a house without central heating and this was in the days long before double glazing and thermal insulation.  I don’t think we even had a fitted carpet!  The house had an open fire in the lounge and a coke boiler in the kitchen to heat the water and that was it.  Sitting around the fire was quite cosy of course but when it came to bed time this was a real ordeal.

Having a bath was a nightmare. Bathrooms were ice boxes – ours seemed to have an unfair share of outside walls. Hot water was limited and the tank (heated by the coke boiler) ran out long before there was enough in the bath for a proper soak.

I know that we had some electric fan heaters somewhere but Dad was reluctant to use these because he lived in fear of the quarterly electricity bill and we were only allowed to use them when temperatures got below well below freezing.

We certainly didn’t have anything such as this…

The bedrooms weren’t heated in any way and the sheets were freezing cold and we certainly didn’t go to bed without a hot water bottle and thick flannelette pyjamas and without modern duvets, as it got colder, we had to rely on increasing numbers of blankets piled so high that you could barely move because of the weight.

When the house ran out of spare blankets overcoats were used instead.  During the night the temperature inside the house would drop to only a degree or two higher than outside and in the morning there was frost and ice on the inside of the windows that had to be chipped off with a knife before you could see outside.  Our school clothes were stiff with cold.

I can remember the mornings well, first I’d hear Dad get up and after he had checked for frozen pipes and put the kettle on I would hear him making up the fire and raking the coke boiler ready for ignition.  He always did this job in his maroon and white check work shirt.  After fifteen to twenty minutes or so it would be time to leave the comfort of the warm bed and go and see what sort of a job he was making of it.

On a good day the fire would be well established and roaring away and the temperature in the house would be limping up towards freezing but on a bad day he would be fighting to get it going and would be struggling with a newspaper stretched across the grate trying to ‘draw’ the fire into life and the house would still be at the temperature of the average arctic igloo.

This was drawing the fire but it obviously isn’t my dad…

I can only imagine that this was quite a dangerous procedure which required maximum concentration if you weren’t to burn the house door and get it a whole lot warmer than it really needed to be.

The house would still be cold by the time we had had our porridge and gone to school or to work and then it would be mum’s job to keep it going all day so that by tea time when we all came home it was nice and warm again.

Only the living room of course so playing in our bedrooms was out of the question and the family spent the evening together around that comforting fire.

An interesting newspaper advert from 1958…

That seems like a good deal to me – a real bargain, a three bedroom house loft insulated for £5 5 shillings.  Dad’s salary in 1960 was £815 a year so I am certain that he could afford it.

I might be wrong here but I think Silver Stormax is sold today as Thinsulex Silver Multifoil and still seems fairly reasonable at £103.99 for a roll 1.2 x 10 metres.

Town Twinning, The Town Hall and The Saracen’s Head

In a previous post I recalled my memories of going every week to the Saturday morning pictures at the Granada Cinema in North Street in Rugby, the town where I lived.

As I  thought more about the location of this once important part of the town I began to remember other buildings and places all around it in this part of the town and what they meant to me.

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Carrickfergus Castle and Halloween

I have mentioned before what seems to be my exceptional good luck with the weather in Ireland. Except for a whole day washout in Galway in 2017 and the ten minute squall at the Gobbins Coastal Walk this year I have always enjoyed good weather.

Today was no exception so after an excellent full Irish breakfast (in a stack) we left the Titanic Quarter, crossed the river and made our way to the railway station because today we were visiting nearby Carrickfergus (what a great Irish name that is) to see its mighty castle.

On the way we passed the Belfast Big Fish. There is a sign saying no climbing but William missed that and clambered onto its back regardless. William is good at jumping and climbing.

The train journey alongside the western shore of Belfast Lough took just about twenty minutes and we arrived at about midday in a curiously subdued (for a Saturday morning in a fair sizes market town) Carrickfergus town centre. With nothing to distract us such as a market for example we made our way directly to the harbour and the castle.

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle, the oldest , biggest and best preserved medieval building in all of Northern Ireland built on the north shore of the Lough to manage and protect the entrance to the emerging port of Belfast and the navigable River Lagan.

It was here that King William III landed in 1690 on his way to the Battle of the Boyne, a decisive battle in the struggle for supremacy in Ireland in which William was victorious and secured Protestant domination in Ireland for over a subsequent two hundred years. Carrickfergus remains even to this day a staunch Unionist/Protestant town.

There is a statue of King Billy with his massive hat close to the harbour.

We were looking forward to visiting the castle but the door was firmly closed. I told William to go and knock and he pounded so hard that anyone inside might have imagined it was under siege. A young man emerged and told us that the castle was closed today on account of this being Halloween weekend and an unofficial public holiday. This seemed odd to me, why would you close a tourist attraction on a bank holiday when you might expect higher than normal visitor numbers.

The man said ‘come back on Monday’, I said ‘We are going home tomorrow (Sunday)’ and he helpfully suggested ‘Come back next time you are in Northern Ireland’.

I was intrigued by this but it seems that Halloween is rather important in Ireland and people here tell you that Halloween traditions were begun and influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, the beginning of Winter, the dark months, which are believed to have pagan roots. Some go further and suggest that Samhain may have been Christianized as All Hallow’s Day, along with its eve, by the early Christian Church.

Anyway, whatever, The Irish claim ownership of the Halloween tradition. Apparently they used to carve turnips and light a candle inside to represent the souls of the recently and dearly departed. Carving a woody turnip I can only imagine to be extremely hard work so the Irish must have been glad to find that when the emigrated to America that there were no turnips and pumpkins were abundant and much easier to work with.

We all know what happened next, over the years the USA hijacked the Halloween tradition and turned it into a commercial bonanza which has spread across the World. In the process the historical and cultural significance has sadly been swept away in a tsunami of tacky consumerism, much like Christmas and Easter.

We all do it…

In the UK I personally lament the fact that Halloween has completely eclipsed Bonfire Night and the ‘Penny for the Guy’ tradition but I suppose the environmentalists will applaud the fact that we no longer light thousands of polluting bonfires on November 5th.

With the castle closed and nothing to detain us longer in Carrickfergus we took the train directly back to Belfast.

Where we did some more sightseeing…

Halloween- Spooky Cloud Faces