31 May 2018

Characters

Leven is in the very heart of The East Riding of Yorkshire. That is where I was born and where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. My first cries were heard in the front bedroom of  the village's Victorian school house as Dr Baker helped to deliver me. I weighed 10lb 7oz - the heaviest of all my mother's babies.

At that time Leven's population was a steady 350, hardly varying from year to year until the mid-sixties when three housing estates were developed  - Westlands Way, Barley Gate and Mill Drive. Within a couple of years the population had doubled.

But back in the original village of my childhood, I knew everybody. As the years have passed my memories of those people have become dimmer and some of the names now escape me. They were like characters in a very lengthy play - "The Early Life of Yorkshire Pudding".

For some reason I have clear memories of a little fellow called Joe Grubham. He was the village's road sweeper and lived in a tiny cottage down West Street. Wiry like a weasel, there was always an old flat cap on his head. I picture him on his ancient black bicycle with bike clips protecting his flapping trouser bottoms from the oily chain. And I picture him with his extra wide sweeping brush, quietly sweeping along - gathering the dust and agricultural debris with a battered old shovel.

Even though the village was quite small it had two pubs, a cafe and six shops. Leven is now home to 2500 souls but nowadays it only has one shop. Go figure.

Mr Peers in his brown shop coat ran a grocery store on South Street. It was right next to Nat Lofthouse's butcher's shop. Across the road was the post office run by Mrs Rosling and a few doors away was Mrs Austwick's sweet shop. That was my favourite one.

Mr Austwick was Welsh. A bell went when you entered the shop through its little dark wooden porch and Mrs Austwick would leave what ever she was doing in the living quarters to attend to her customers. There were big jars of sweets - nut brittle, lemon sherbets, aniseed balls, Everton mints, Milkmaid  toffees, pineapple chunks and below the counter was a window on a wonderful world of penny chews, gobstoppers, black jacks, fruit salads, shrimps, white chocolate mice and Anglo bubblegum.

This pocket money confectionery was moved out in mid-October every year so that Mrs Austwick could display her fireworks stock ahead of Bonfire Night and the annual incineration of Guy Fawkes. In those days there were no age restrictions surrounding the purchase of fireworks. Even from the age of six or seven, I remember buying individual fireworks from Mrs Austwick and adding them to the cache that I kept in a tin under my bed. Penny bangers were a particular favourite.

Leven Canal struck east for three miles from The River Hull. Once it had been a useful artery for the transport of coal and agricultural produce but its usefulness came to an end before World War II. By the fifties it was a back water for wild fowl and anglers.
Image result for leven canal east yorkshire
Ship Ahoy! Robin, Paul and I on Leven Canal circa 1959
Village boys saw it as an aquatic playground but there was a fly in our pleasurable ointment - the canal warden who lived in an isolated house near Sandholme Bridge. She was the fearsome Old Ma Fairlow - like an evil witch in a fairy story. She had a personal vendetta against lads like me and was especially averse to us rowing boats on her private waterway. Many's the time she'd be there on the canalside in her floral nylon housecoat, frothing at the mouth and yelling hateful epithets at us as we rowed to the opposite bank. It would be easy to have nightmare about Old Ma Fairlow.

P.C.Geoff Pepys, a gentle uniformed giant of a man, lived in the police house on High Stile with his wife and two daughters - Diane and Vicky. The building included a little courtroom where presumably, in times gone by, magistrates made judgements about local infringements of the law. It was nice to play in there and sometimes we had mock trials. Old Ma Fairlow was regularly given the death penalty.

Mrs Jordan lived in a farmhouse on West Street. Mike Swann and Michael Keenan lived on Trinity Close. Fanny Williamson lived in the shop down East Street and once performed a striptease in the hayloft to an exclusive male audience with eyeballs on sticks. Alf Assert was the school caretaker with a smoky black pipe that he clenched expertly between his teeth and portly Irene Buckley and Nelly Brocklebank were the seemingly permanent school cooks easing generous portions of mashed potato or treacle sponge on to our plates with matronly affection.

Neil Wright was neither a boy nor a girl. Physically I guess that nowadays he would be called transgender. It was all a mystery and I have no idea what happened to him.

A lady from Northern Ireland lived next door. Mrs Varley was very good on the piano and a stalwart of the congregation at Holy Trinity Church. She was very fond of our Paul and even left him an ancient set of The Encyclopaedia Britannica in her will. In the autumn, she would leave baskets of fallen eating apples at her gate for passing schoolchildren.
Leven today courtesy of Google Streetview
Mrs Austwick's shop was in the house on the left
And I remember Amy Spicer. My brothers and I sometimes referred to her as Auntie Amy though she was not related to us. She came to our house once a week to polish brasses and clean out the fireplaces. She was small and a gentle spinster with her steel-coloured hair tied up in a bun. Sometimes she would babysit for us and she would read stories too but she got old and started accidentally breaking things till my mother had to say "no more" and let her go.

The pubs were called "The Hare and Hounds" and "The New Inn". The landlord and landlady of the first named pub were Trevor and Madge Ward. One cold New Year's Eve they were walking home by the main road  after carousing in "The New Inn". I don't recall the details of the accident but a car ploughed into Trevor and killed him outright. That was probably at the very start of 1960 - not a nice way to start a new year. Afterwards, Madge ran "The Hare and Hounds" for many years as the sole licensee.

Around the village there were several farms where you could work or play and I spent a lot of time at the Watsons' farm at Hall Garth near to where the medieval village church used to stand - St Faith's. Once we cornered a rat with pitch forks and we were devils at pulling bales out of the haystacks to make caves and dens. I remember kissing Gillian Hartley's ruby lips deep in one of them though she was nine and I was eleven. It seemed as though we were locked together.

Though many years have passed, I remember a lot about my early years. In lots of ways it was an idyllic, safe and happy childhood - a time of discovery and innocence. No computer games or smartphones and television was so amateurish and black and white. No one was addicted to it. What mattered was the people around you and what the weather would be like the next day. You made the most of things and carried on without much thought about what the future might bring.

32 comments:

  1. I lament those days when most kids had 50 honery aunts and uncles

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    1. I wonder if any Trelawnyd youngsters refer to you as Uncle John or to The Prof as Uncle Chris. Perhaps only Cameron the Teenage Boffin does this.

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  2. What a great post. I can relate to so much of it. Collecting fireworks in tins, we did this. It would be frowned upon now of course with the health and safety police, lol
    Lots of Aunties all down the road and knowing by name who lived behind each front door.
    I hardly know my neighbours now. We've lived in this house since 1965 and once new everyone, such a shame.
    Oh well, I now have to go and find a shop to buy some shrimps, who says I succumb to the power of suggestion.
    Briony
    x

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    1. Back then children could consume as many sugary sweets as they wanted and no one thought about obesity or dental cavities. Who would give a child a gobstopper now? Mind you, I bet Tom would like to give you a gobstopper from time to time Briony!

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    2. I hope you are implying that I talk too much in which case you are correct. but I think he has learnt to say yes and no in the right places after all these years. lol

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    3. Yes! That is exactly what I was implying Briony!

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  3. Thank you for this affectionate glimpse into your own past. I repeat what I said the other day: You should write another book (you know I am right!).
    What intrigues me is how you knew of the striptease. I do not assume you were part of the audience.

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    1. I was indeed a member of the audience. Fanny Williamson was a would-be actress or diva and she had planned the whole thing. There was even music and curtains. I viewed it as an artistic experience!

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  4. Wonderful memories of a simpler time, Neil. I agree with Meike....you could (and probably should) write a book someday. Of course you could include some of your wonderful photography, too.

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    1. Be careful what you wish for Jennifer. I might write a story about a school administrator from South Carolina and her psychotic parrot. You can imagine what happens!

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  5. Someday your great grandchildren will be thankful that you wrote this down.

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    1. To reach that point there would need to grandchildren and I don't see such gestation happening any time soon.

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  6. Great photo of you in the boat, and great memories too.

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    1. Old Ma Fairlow's rooftop can be seen to the right of the canal picture. Any time now she will be landing on her broomstick.

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  7. After reading this colourful post I conclude that people in General seem slightly more bland than they used to. Maybe because we don't interact as much as we used to.
    My aunt, who died last year aged 90 was a real character, as mad as a box of frogs and most definitely eccentric!
    I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you.

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    1. You're welcome Christina. Back then people did not really know what "normal" was meant to be like. The media hadn't wormed its way into people's skulls, raising self-doubts nd self-consciousness.

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  8. Your reminiscing caused me to do some reminiscing of my own, Yorkie.

    After I left Hinchinbrook Island I headed further north to Cairns...I lived at the Northern Beaches area of the city. First, in Varley Street, Yorkys Knob.....the site below will give you the history of the area.

    The name...Yorkeys Knob was named after a gentleman from Yorkshire..

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorkeys_Knob,_Queensland

    "Yorkeys Knob got its name from George Lawson, a Yorkshire-born, Cairns-based beche-de-mer fisherman. On 10 June 1886 Yorkey Lawson reported the loss of a man and his wife from Green Island. They had left to visit the wreck of the Upolu, intending to return the same day. Lawson made a search for them, but was unable to find any trace of them, not even an accident. The pilot cutter was sent to search for the couple.

    Yorkeys Knob is coastal suburb with predominantly low-lying land (less than 10 metres above sea level) with the exception of the hill (known as Yorkeys Knob) rising to 60 metres on the coast at Yorkeys Point. The northern part of the suburb near the coast is residential, but the majority of the land use is rural...principally the growing of sugarcane."

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    1. Thank you for this Lee. I had already heard of Yorkey's Knob but you have coloured in some detail. Yorkey's Knob is a great name for a settlement. We have some great place names in England too such as Pratt's Bottom. Cockintake, Faggot, Sandy Balls and Shitterton. There's also a town called Lee-on-Solent but I have no idea who Mr Solent was.

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    2. Oh...he was just a "one-nighter", Yorkie.

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  9. You have a wonderful memory! You write very well and I agree with Meike and Jennifer that you shouks write a book. Your writing is easy to read for someone like myself who's is foreign (does that make sense?)
    Some sweet's names I'm not familiar with like: Gobstoppers, lemon sherbets, black jacks, so I Googled. Interesting.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. You probably had Italian equivalents in your own confectionery shops.

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  10. I definitely did not have a childhood such as yours. So many things I would rather forget. But the kindness of some adults that were near me at times and my trips to my grandmother's brownstone apartment on Moffat Street in Brooklyn are memories that I vividly recall. With pleasure and love.

    Meike and I are going to get together and meet you somewhere and make you write a book!!! You can write and Meike will handle the editing of the manuscript for you and I will do the cooking and cleaning and the making you feel safe and unstressed until you get the book done. But you better start writing ahead of the time we get there because we can't stay long. We do have our own lives to lead, you know. So...get cracking!!!

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    1. Ha-ha! Are you bullying me Mama Thyme? Summertime may not be the best time for starting on a novel. Besides I think I need a topic or an idea to inspire me. Maybe I shoulfd return to the half-finished novel I shelved a couple of years back.

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  11. Like Vivian said, please do save this for your future grandchildren. Imagine if you had something like this from a grandparent or even a great-grand. These are the kinds of memories to pass down and you write them well.

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    1. You are so lovely and so supportive Bonnie. Thank you once more.

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  12. Like the above comments, it's important to write your memories down so that younger people will have some idea of how you lived.

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    1. There are some things I would not wish to tell them Red!

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    2. Some of those things you'd rather not tell have a habit of becoming less of a problem when time goes buy as it has in your story.

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  13. It sounds so idyllic. I worry about the way many children grow up now, submerged in their digital worlds and getting no exercise! I love the name Nelly Brocklebank.

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    1. We used to have a silly little chant about our two dinner ladies...
      Nrs Buck and Mrs Brock
      Are always washing up

      But I don't remember the rest of it.

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  14. It somewhat amuses me that the asian community call adults uncle or auntie when they are friends of their parents . Its odd the things like that stick isnt it .

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.