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Escape from Glasgow
Blackpool or Bust!
It was the sixties and pop music was my life. I hated every day I went to work in the shoe department of a large store in Glasgow, and the misery was compounded when I came home to an unhappy domestic state. My father had brought us to Glasgow, then left us for his secretary and my mother was never to recover from it. I listened, alone, to Radio Luxembourg every night, wishing to be part of the pop scene with Elvis, Cliff and all the other pop stars of the day. I was a teenager for goodness sake, but the scene was somewhere else – the magical ‘Down South’ was where it was ALL HAPPENING!
I don’t remember where I saw the advert for a general help in a boarding house in Blackpool but I knew that’s where I needed to be, because all the ‘Stars’ appeared in the theatres on the piers in the summer, some for the whole season and some for just a week, but it didn’t matter, I could be there and be a part of it all. I didn’t tell anyone, waited until my mother was at a woodwork class, (yes really, her triumph was to make a jardinière which held three plant pots and sat in the lounge of whichever house she lived in until a leg got woodworm and fell off, so it was consigned, reluctantly, to the compost heap.)
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I telephoned the number given and a female voice with a strong Yorkshire accent answered. At that time, I was the untidiest person in the world and never cleaned or lifted a finger in the house, except to do dishes if I couldn’t bribe my brothers to do it. However, I told this woman I was well acquainted with a mop and bucket and was not afraid of hard work. A major lie - I was terrified of hard work, but that obviously didn’t come across, or more likely, I was the only candidate, because I got the job.
I tried not to be too gleeful when handing in my notice, but it wouldn’t have mattered because my bosses were delighted to get rid of me. I was not the kind of employee they nurtured, not subservient enough to the great family who owned the store and I lacked drive they said, so it was with mutual happiness lurking under the surface, that we parted company, and I faced telling my mother.
She was damning and would raise many objections. ‘Who are these people? You cleaning? (hollow laugh). Going to Blackpool on your own at your age? Are they Catholics?’ Her friends were very upset for her. At that time, the feeling was that I should be there to support my mother and to bring in extra money, because my father kept her very short. That’s what I had to escape from. Expectations for girls were overwhelming and claustrophobic.
Within a few days I had packed a case and left home, on the train to Blackpool, changing at Manchester. I found the unwelcoming red brick house, looking like all the others in the street, all of them boarding houses, and all of them with a sign in the window, ‘Vacancies’. It was May and I didn’t know it then, but all these houses would be more or less full from now until September.
I rang the doorbell and after some time a hatchet-faced woman arrived.
“You’ve come to’t front then?”
“I know who you are, Luv, you’ll use back door, round’t side.”
I followed the line of her finger, turned back and said, “Now?” but she’d already shut the door on me. I lugged the case back down the steps and made my way to a half-basement, past a peculiar big metal machine, which I later discovered was a bulk potato peeler, essential when you have forty-three guests for lunch each day. Made a lovely rumbling sound but I was never allowed to operate it, only the man of the house was allowed to do that.
Steps led down to the kitchen with a range and and a hot water boiler. My over-riding memory of that kitchen was that it was grey and dingy, and needed the light on all day. Mrs Braddock was there, waiting with the family on high alert, they were grey too. At the table sat a wizened old lady.
“This is me mother, she ‘elps wi’ cookin’ and platin’ up.” I never knew the mother’s name, nor understood anything she said, (which wasn’t much), in the six months I was there. It didn’t help that she had no visible teeth.
“This is me daughter, Gillian. She waits on, she’s nineteen and she’s engaged. She’s done all the jobs you’re going to do so she will supervise you when I can’t.” The girl looked me up and down, decided a was a lower form of life and went back to her copy of Woman’s Own. Very grownup I thought, my mother reads that, while I get the NME every week. Perhaps I’ll be into agony aunts and knitting patterns when I’m nineteen.
“This is Mr Braddock. ‘E does the Cash & Carry and the ‘eavy liftin’. You’ll not see much of ‘im.”
Mr Braddock lifted his head briefly out of his newspaper and asked, “’Ow do?” which, I was to discover, was the most he ever said at one time. After an accompanying nod, he went back behind his newspaper.
“Now, our Gillian will show you the bedroom and then I’ll take you round the ‘ouse, show you what’s to do.”
“Could I have a glass of water, do you think, please? I haven’t had a drink since Carlisle.”
The request seemed to fluster her and caused a little ripple among the others. “I suppose so. You’ll get your tea later; we can’t go makin’ tea special-like at odd hours of the day.”
“Water’s fine thanks Mrs Braddock.”
Gillian reluctantly placed her magazine on the table and sighed. “Through ‘ere.”
I followed her with the case into a large bedroom with two double beds. “We share,” said Gillian.
“So which bed’s mine? I asked.
“I said, we share,” she said impatiently.
“What, the bed?” I was horrified.
Mrs Braddock was behind us. “Not a problem ‘ere is there?”
“Well, …” I began.
“Only we’ve never had a complaint before, Lass. It’s a big bed, plenty of room for both of you.”
“Couldn’t I have the other one?” I asked.
“Then where would me mother sleep?” said Mrs Braddock, “Oh no, that wouldn’t do at all. Right, now leave’t case there and come wi’ me.”
I followed her up four flights of stairs and onto a half landing, all the time feeling sick that I was going to have to share not just a room but a bed with strangers, and hardly took in what the woman was saying. I wanted out, but where would I go? I would just have to put up with this situation until I could find something better. Couldn’t go home that’s for sure. I had made my escape from Glasgow, I WAS NOT GOING BACK.
🚈. 🛏️ 🚈. 🛏️ 🚈. 🛏️ 🚈. 🛏️ 🚈. 🛏️ 🚈. 🛏️ 🚈. 🛏️ 🚈
This book will stay with me long after the pages have turned yellow. (Hmmm, I read it on a Kindle). It’s a glorious story of love, loss, community and family, set mainly in Florence, one of my favourite places in Italy. I loved it and am going to read it again with map of Florence by my side. it was so vivid - I didn’t want it to end.
I started to listen to this book on Audible, but it wasn’t very good so I transferred to reading it and that was much more satisfying. It’s a great story about the little known role of women apothecaries in the 18th century. It’s told by three women, two in the 18C and one modern-day who is American. On Audible the American is read in an English accent, except for direct speech, which was very confusing. I kept forgetting she was American until she spoke. I enjoyed it more when I read it and then there was no danger of me forgetting who the character was.
The Light in the Hall - 6 part Channel 4 drama about a mother’s loss of a daughter who was murdered 15 years previously, but the body never found. Set in Wales, the story just about hung together and the performances were very good. What fascinated me was that the project was filmed in both Welsh and English, scenes back to back, and I wondered all the way through how that changed the nuances of each scene. However I don’t speak Welsh so i’ll probably never know …
Happy Valley - BBC One. Sally Wainwright, the writer, has excelled herself again. The writing and plotting is so tight, it keeps you (me) on the edge of our seats. I think I hold my breath for the whole 60 minutes, and the sub-plots are beautifully woven in. No spoilers from me. Next time I write it will have finished and I can say more.
Film Watching (via Netflix as I’m nowhere near a cinema)
The Wonder - Netflix. One of my favourite writers, Emma Donoghue (Room) co-wrote the screenplay and was also an executive producer on this film and it shows. A claustrophobic atmosphere is maintained throughout and the story, set in 19th century rural Ireland, has a ring of truth to it. A young girl stops eating but remains well, tourists and pilgrims flock to see her, and an English nurse, beautifully played by Florence Pugh is sent to observe.
All Quiet on the Western Front - Netflix. I watched this under duress, partly because it’s been nominated for so many BAFTAs I wanted to see what the fuss was about, and partly because my husband had read the book and seen the original film. I start from the premise that I hate war films - they either bore me or I have to look away for most of the screen time. AQOTWF was a bit of both, everything we know, that war is very gory, very muddy, extremely pointless and a terrible waste of young life on all sides. It was a well-made film, conveying the hope of youth turning to desolation in the course of the 2:23 hours screen time. It hasn’t changed my view of war films in any sense, but I suppose if young people get a sense of the futility of war through this film, it will have served a purpose. I couldn’t help wondering this is what war in Ukraine is like …
I am addicted to terrible old detective serials on R4Extra first thing in the morning and love BBC Sounds because I can listen at any time to anything wherever in the world I am. This week i’ve been listening to ‘Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion’ written by Michelle Dean and covering Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kale and Nora Ephron who were all united by their ‘sharpness’, their precision of thought and wit.
R4 ‘Front Row’ last Tuesday 17th Jan, had a piece on the increasing popularity of books on witches and witchcraft and authors Emilia Hart, Kirsty Logan and Anya Bergman, explain why this subject matter provided such a rich source of inspiration.
Before I sound too po-faced, I want to big up ‘The News Quiz’ on Friday nights and repeated Saturday lunchtime. Makes me laugh out loud and cheer at the cleverness of the participants.
And finally dear readers, i’ve tried your patience for too long but can’t resist to tell you about an abridged book being read on R4 in 15 minute chunks at 22:45 on week nights. It’s ‘Act of Oblivion’ by Robert Harris, and I confess i’ve never read Harris before but this is riveting stuff. It’s 1660, Oliver Cromwell’s dead and Charles II is on the throne. An Act of Oblivion is granted giving amnesty to almost all the plotters for their parts in the Civil War. However it did not apply to those who actually signed Charles I death warrant, who were hunted down. This is their story.
Thanks for reading and look out next month for part 2 of my Blackpool idyll!
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