Life in the UK was, by my standards, normal.
Employed as a charge-hand at Bibby’s (Cattle feed company), Dad brought home £12/week. Mum, for the most part, was a housewife; later taking employment with Plessy’s. Between them, they didn’t make a lot of money, so, financially speaking, we were far from being, in the literal sense, a ”millionaire’s family.
Our modest home at #28 was part of a row-housing complex which had stood for almost 100 years. While our house was far from luxurious or fancy, it did have all the amenities to provide the necessities a family could ever need or want. Number 28 comprised a kitchen, back kitchen and parlour on the main floor, three bedrooms upstairs, an attic on the third floor and of course a back-yard (where the outhouse stood). As a kid, the house seemed absolutely enormous and there was always lots of room for me to run and play.
Coal and coke was our main source of heat. With the exception of the back kitchen and the attic, all of the rooms at #28 had fireplaces; however, we generally used the old black cast iron fireplace in the kitchen.
Horse-drawn wagons would bring the coal to each of the houses on the street and although we had a back-enog sandwiched in-between the backs of the houses to enable delivery to the coal-shed, it always seemed that the coal man would walk right through the house and out through the back kitchen to the back yard to unload his coal in our shed. I can remember mum going ballistic a couple of times because the bloke would never take his boots off, leaving large, sooty footprints on the floor and/or carpet as he walked through the house!
At one point, the old black cast iron fireplace in the kitchen was removed and a new one was installed boasting a tiled facade and low fire grate. A couple of years later, we really went all out and bought a really modern electric grill fireplace with an imitation coal fire in front. Turning on the power would heat-up a bulb inside the housing, which activated a fan giving a realistic look that the coals were actually burning. The two-tier electric bars caused some excitement when we first got it because when mum and dad were working, we had to light the burners on the stove in the kitchen and being quite safety conscious, mum and dad wouldn’t leave any matches or lighters lying around so us kids came up with an idea of making a paper taper (I used to use the white paper inside ciggy packages). Having this tool would now enable me to turn on the grills, stick the paper in, watch it light and then very carefully get me and the flame into the back-kitchen to light the stove. On one or more occasion, Benno our super intelligent dog, thought this was pretty dangerous and although we didn’t teach him to do this, he knew it was dangerous and felt compelled to pull our hands away from the heated grills.
Comprising a square kitchen table with four chairs, a settee, a yellow cabinet, a sideboard, fireplace and a pulley attached to the ceiling (our clothes dryer), the kitchen certainly wasn’t lavish. While every room had a special memory for me, I think the kitchen was extra special because not only do I remember idiotic, child-like things happening here, I specifically remember the aroma of the toast and jam, or the coals burning in the fireplace, or the combination of both, which made it very homey. It was where we would laugh and cry; where we would be happy and sad, where we would play, eat, share and talk….it would be my life.
Unlike the homes of today, we had a “back kitchen” (adjacent to the kitchen). It was very narrow with a cooker oven at the narrow end, shelves to hold pots, pans and cooking utensils, a stainless steel drain board leading into a sink with only cold running water.
Even though we didn’t have a fancy house, or indoor bathroom, or even hot water coming from the tap, mum never complained. She cooked, cleaned and did everything she could for us kids and of course dad. She loved to bake - and made the best apple pie and did an awesome Chicken curry - she never liked curry, and although she never taste-tested it, would make it just right - you know, just enough to get the sweat beads going! She made us Quaker oats every morning and I remember swirling sugar on the top in concentric circles and then eating it with the oatmeal....maybe that’s where I got my sweet-tooth! As mum and dad were both working and wouldn’t be home to feed us dinner (lunch), they forked over the 5 shillings/week, to have our meals at Chatty - I still remember the old tables and benches, right out of Oliver Twist. Tea (supper) was always interesting; some times it was leftover something, boilies (small boiled potatoes tossed in margarine), chips, egg and peas; chips and beans; tomato soup, or our favourite - scouse! When things got a little tight, apple, sugar or ketchup butties were the order of the day. Going out to restaurants was not an option and it happened only rarely. Of course, there were always the special occasion meals like we had at Easter or Christmas, sometimes mum cooked up a ham or turkey, so lovingly prepared, complete with all the trimmings! I remember great birthday parties mum and dad put on. They were always very special and when a milestone year came around, they pulled out all the stops....I don’t know how, but it just happened. Mum would bake a lovely cake, chocolate-covered jelly rolls and biscuits. We’d have friends over, don party hats and played games.
We would get our first “real” washing machine in the early 60’s - a Thor, a top-loading washer which would now fill the gap left between the shelves and the drain board. Prior to this purchase though, mum would go through a very cumbersome, labour-intensive and time-consuming process using a gas-powered hot water boiler and an electric “agitator (See Wash Day pdf)
As we didn’t have a fridge, it was very handy to have a milkman deliver our milk - “1 full milk and 1 sterry please”. Every morning, we would find our delivery standing on the front step. You knew it would be a good day if the bottles were upright and the cap head still in tact because it meant that the local cat hadn’t gotten to it first! We would buy our meat and other perishable items on a daily or on an as-needed basis.
As coal was expensive, we would splurge once in a while and light up the fire in the Parlour but only for very special occasions, like opening-up our presents on Christmas morning or doing birthdays.
The back yard was small, housed the coal shed, the outside toilet, the bin (perched on a opening to the back-enog); the mangle, a washing line and our “bath tub”. In the winter months, we would bring the bath tub inside the kitchen, fill it with hot water (cooked in the boiler) and then soak right in front of the fire place. I remember on a couple of occasions mum sending me with a towel and some soap to the Baths at the top of the street (right beside the Wash House). The women would have a special “key” to open up the faucet, fill the tub and then come back after you were done to clean up.
Having an outhouse in the back yard really wasn’t all that bad. When you gotta go, you gotta go regardless of the weather and it was always very comforting to open-up the door and see the cistern chain swinging because you knew the seat would be warm from the person who had previously occupied it
Using the mangle fully opened (with the rollers on top) formed an integral part of the wash-day process. However, when a “fridge” was needed, mum would drop the rollers down inside the housing and pop up the table-top. So, when a special treat was in order (jelly or blancmange (jelly set with milk), she’d whip it up, put it in a bowl and set the bowl atop the mangle. It sometimes took a couple of hours to set, but it worked.
Unless we splurged and went to the Picture Playhouse to see a movie, we couldn’t afford to go out, so staying at home and watching TV was our entertainment of choice. Over the years, we had a couple, maybe three TV sets and they were all second hand. As a kid, I always believed that the occasional banging on the front door was the tax/license man on the prowl in the neighborhood and we would feverishly turn off the TV and try to cool down the back of it so we would fool the agent into believing we hadn’t been watching it. I later find out that this was total fantasy. There were of course the so called "Detector Vans" that occasionally drove around the city reportedly equipped with sensitive grid-dip meters. They were supposed to be able to detect unlicensed TV sets in operation which of course was nonsense. Sometime in the late 60's or early 70's they were pulled off the road as people became aware that these vans could not detect a bloody thing; but were just sent out to scare people into actually purchasing a TV license. You still require a license to operate a TV in the UK even today.
We would sometimes walk and/or drive down to Sefton Park and watched the swans, fed the ducks, walked through the Hot House, just do a picnic thing, or listen to the bands playing in the “shelter”. Going down to the Fairy Glen where there were caves was really exciting, and we had many a posed picture taken at the Peter Pan statue. It was a beautiful green space for us to let our dog Benno run and meet other canines.
Of course, I was never too old to play with dolls and not unlike many other little girls, I too had my favourites. One year, Santa Claus brought me a miniature Royal Pedigree Pram and it was the most incredible pram; and plenty big enough for a real baby! On one particular day, we were at Otterspool and Bob and I started “acting the goat” to see if we could push the pram up a steep embankment. It didn’t take long for a concerned passer-by to scream at us for basically endangering the life of a baby
At an early age, Bob was enrolled in the sea cadets and I was enrolled me in The Brownies where I got to wear a nice little brown uniform and wear a beret! When I got a bit older, I used to go swimming at the baths on Lodge Lane. It was there I met Mr. Jones, and unbeknownst to me, a coach for the Toxteth Swimming Club. After observing me swimming (for fun), he wanted to meet mum and dad to talk about swimming lessons. So, I was signed up and would go Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and again on Sunday mornings (right before church). My best efforts were in Breast stroke and was successful in winning most if not all of my certifications for swimming, lifesaving and everything in-between. About a year after being coached by Mr. Jones for several years, he came over to the house again, sat mum and dad down and said that if they could afford to pull the money together for the pre-Olympic trials in New York City, he’d take me. Mum and dad said no.
Back in the kitchen, I got into a few things that I’m not proud of and one incident comes to mind when Bob and I would have a little free time before heading off to school and we’d get into a jam fight! It never ceased to amaze me how far you could fling jam when you had a really flexible knife! We pretty much managed to get it all over the kitchen and before we knew it, there was jam on the ceiling and walls; splattered on the windows and on the yellow cabinet. Thinking it would be a good idea to clean-up the unsightly mess before we went to school and well before mum and dad got home, we set to the task and I recall picking-up the mop and attempted to get the jam off the ceiling. Given the small space not to mention my lack of coordination in maneuvering things, I ended-up pushing the end of the handle right through the glass windows at the top of the cabinet. Not good!
Another time, our Bob was scaring me into believing he was a Darlek (from the Dr. Who TV series) and came at me. Before I knew it, I was on the other side of the kitchen door and because I was so scared and wanted him to stop, I kicked the door, putting my shoe right through it, clear to the other side. Now really scared of what mum and dad would say, and/or do, we went through the trouble of taking the door off its hinges and flipping it upside down so the hole would be on the other side of the door. It would have worked except we didn’t figure on the hole now being at eye-level to mum or dad entering from the other side – DUHHH!!!
Although some families on our street had to rely on the local transit, we had the luxury of owning Betsy, a burgundy Hillman Minx, Lulu, a big black Woolsey and a little Ford Prefect (unnamed because we couldn’t find a name appropriate). So, while we didn’t wallow in the lap of luxury by owning a fridge or a ‘phone, we had a roof over our heads and transportation which was more than most. Memorable trips in each of the three vehicles included trips to local areas, such as Otterspool, and farther away places (mostly on vacation) to Cornwall, Wales, Alton Towers, Chester and the Lake District.
When we weren’t flinging jam around the kitchen or me being scared out of me knickers, our Bob did his thing and I found plenty of games and activities to amuse myself. Taking a rope, latching it over the street lamp post and swinging on it was always a favourite pastime.
If I couldn’t amuse myself with games, I often found myself at the Lodge Lane Library, just across the street from River Avon Street. There was always plenty to read and sometimes I would lose myself and often forget what time it was. That issue was quickly resolved when I received a watch for one of my birthdays!
When games required more than just me, I would go see if other neighbours, Abdul, Ahmed, Tommy, Glenys Hughes or Norma Webster could come and play; however, one of my favourite play mates was our next door neighbour, Harold. When I was with Harold, we would talk for hours on the old step at the bommee on Magdala Street. Here, three garages built postwar provided an excellent backdrop for playing ball or kick the can! I recall once I whacked the ball right across the street into the neighbours’ back yard. The rule was whoever got it in there, had to get it out! So, in true fashion, I booted across the street, climbed up on the adjoining little wall and managed to get my fingers on top of the 1000 lb limestone block atop the back door. Once over the wall, I would grab the ball, hoof it back over the wall and the game would continue - NOT!!! While my intentions were good, my common sense wasn’t. Harold had seen me finger my way across the top of the slab and saw the 100 year old mortar holding the slab in place start to crumble, disintegrate and fall away. He immediately lurched up, grabbed me by the waist, threw me to the ground away from the doorway and covered my body with his. It all felt like slow motion but I’m sure it happened within the blink of an eye and within seconds I heard this thunderous crash and opened-up my eyes to see the limestone smashed into a hundred or more pieces. I was safe and Harold had saved my life
Not having a lot of money, we were brought-up to re-cycle and re-use which meant if you wanted some paper to write or draw on, the chances of getting some clean paper was hard to come by. Mum had us write on both sides so as not to waste it. (A habit I still employ to this day). So, back in the day, there was a picture playhouse which was later converted to a bingo hall. While I could never figure out why, there was a 3 x 6 rod iron fence around the north side of the building which protected nothing except the bricks. Once bingo was over, patrons used to throw away their stapled bingo cards, sometimes 6 deep in the left-hand corner, right into this fenced in area. Even though it never occurred to me that used paper is one of the dirtiest products to come in contact with, it quickly became apparent that the backsides of these cards were blank and that I could use them as writing pads. As I was able to reach through the bars and gather what I could, the ones located in the middle back of the wall behind the railing proved a little more difficult. Being a good foot taller than me is where Harold came in. Just like a trooper he was, he climbed over the fence, grabbed what paper pads he could and passed them through the bars. After a few handfuls, I had them all and was in my glory because I had enough writing pads to last me for a week or more. Then, as I watched Harold climb back over the railing, my stomach turned inside out. As he was approaching the top, his hands slipped, causing his neck and subsequently his throat to land on top of the pointed arrow-shaped metal head impaling him. All I could do was scream. When my screaming didn’t attract any attention, I ran all the way home to get help. The next part is a total blur and I don’t remember much. The medical services had to have been called because he was rescued from his perch and lived to tell about it.
On really warm days, much to mum’s chagrin, I enjoyed squashing bubbles of tar in the street. I remember more than once coming into the house and mum stripping me down to my knickers, putting me in the back sink, plastering me with margarine trying to get the tar off my skin. If chalk was available, I used to play hopscotch on the squares of sidewalk outside our house.
In my bedroom, balancing an old door atop my bed and my scroll desk provided an excellent counter top - add a cash register and mum’s old Salter scale, newspapers and a bucket full of gravel from the local bommee and I had all the makings of a little grocery shop! I would play for hours serving my imaginary customers.
Mum’s health was getting worse and she made a doctor’s appointment, and very shortly after that, was sent to the hospital for a routine hysterectomy. She would be in the hospital for a couple of weeks. It would be a challenge for Dad to work, cook, clean and look after us kids and think it took it’s toll. When mum came out of the hospital, she wasn’t to do any heavy lifting or manual labour. I remembered helping dad bring down the bed from upstairs and putting it in the parlour so mum wouldn’t have to walk up and down stairs. Of course, you couldn’t hold her down for long and regardless of what the doctors had said, she frequently did some cleaning around the house. I also think this is when we bought the Thor washing machine.
Yes, life was good - we had a roof over our head, and we had a washing machine! We never owned a telephone and were forced to physically go our and visit friends and relatives - a novel idea. As a loving, caring family, we forged relationships with neighbours, friends and even had most if not all of our relatives living literally across the street. We had a future - or did we?
Between 1960 and 1963, mum’s health was really starting to deteriorate. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and had developed phlebitis, a major swelling of the legs and thrombosis. It was difficult for her to get around but she managed. It was during this time, at the recommendation of Dr. Shief (sp) that he thought it best if we looked at moving to a better, more healthier climate. We made several attempts to move but finally took the plunge and emigrated to Canada in 1966.
About 3 days before we left, Abdul invited me to a ”farewell dinner”. Together we walked to the Newstead Road bommee. I watched as he carefully counted several bricks down and across on the brick wall. He pulled out a loose brick and took out 2/6. This was his safety deposit box, his bank, his world savings and here he was going to spend it on me and dinner! We walked back up to River Avon Street and down Danube Street, crossed over Smithdown Road to the restaurant with glass bricks on the outside, complete with bullet holes - the best Indian Restaurant in the area! We ordered curry and chips and ate them with our fingers while walking back home. I can’t exactly recall what we talked about but I do remember Abdul telling me he would miss me.
My adventures with Harold have brought me ever closer to him. In hindsight, I often think about what would have become of our relationship had we not emigrated.
Click on one of the pictures below for a larger image.