Alabama – part 2

Bugtussle Sheriff

We had a marvellous kitchen with everything, but we hardly needed to use it except for breakfasts. We were invited out for breakfast several times and had pancakes and maple syrup and unlimited coffee. The first evening meal out was to Bugtussle Steakhouse. It was off the beaten track and looked pretty ramshackle inside and out, but they served huge steaks which surpassed any we’d ever had in tenderness and flavour. Our hosts ate all theirs, but we three each took half of ours home in doggy bags, but not for a doggy! It was at Bugtussle we met our first Sheriff and his gun. There is a photo of John being handcuffed but it’s a bit of a blur!

Betty looked after us and arranged our main programme. When Tom heard about all the great stuff John had arranged for them in Newcastle, with transport and many invitations to homes, he rang Betty who sprang into action. Elspeth hung around with Betty’s daughter and her friends, but came with us on most of our outings. Several of the things we three did together stand out. The World Fair was on in Knoxville, Tennessee, that year and we travelled up there on a bus tour and spent two days at the Fair. Elspeth was the guide, she got the plan of the Fair and worked out how we could explore the most Pavilions possible. She did a great job. I still have the red Passport with our picture inside. It was a great experience. On the bus tour we also visited Gatlinburg, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Appalachians).

Another unaccompanied trip was also planned by Elspeth. This time we took the car and John drove us west down to Vicksburg, by the Mississippi, a historic town with ante bellum estates. We visited one, built in 1840, called Cedar Grove Plantation Home. In 1863 it was targeted by Federal gunboats and damaged. Another was McRaven, still lived in as a family home, but also open for visitors. (However, the one I liked best was in Birmingham, Arlington House, built in 1842 and beautifully furnished in period furniture worth a fortune, which I could well believe.) Vicksburg was right by the river and it was a thrill to see the Mississippi calmly flowing along. Some years later we saw it from the air in very different circumstances. After Vicksburg we visited the Natchez Trace Parkway north of Natchez. For a hundred years or more the Old Trail, an Indian Path, was constantly walked on and as a result became a sunken road shaded by trees and Spanish moss which hangs down like pennants from the branches. We saw this moss in many places. The tree roots in the picture show how deeply the path has been worn down. Then we headed towards New Orleans.

We didn’t have to hurry, Elspeth was a great guide and we didn’t get lost. The varied scenery was fascinating although a lot of the journey was on the highways. We had come to think that maybe around four hundred years ago the country was completely forested. Betty and Dan’s ‘back garden’ bore this out as did the Parsonage. (See previous post). We got near to New Orleans just before six pm and suddenly the rain began. It was so heavy we followed the example of other cars and pulled over. It soon stopped and we heard later it happened every evening because Lake Pontchartrain is twenty-four miles across and shallow, so a lot is evaporated by the sun and condenses later in the day. The bridge is the longest in the world.

Our friends in Cahaba Heights weren’t too keen on us going to New Orleans, presumably fearful we might be shocked or corrupted or something! We loved it: it was colourful, cheerful, lively and picturesque and we saw nothing to bring a blush to a maiden’s cheek, even late in the evening. We did the bus tour, the driving and commentary done by a real nice friendly young woman. We sailed in the steamship Natchez a sternwheeler, with a jazz quintet and a calliope organ, great fun! We looked in at Preservation Hall to see the Kid Thomas Band playing real jazz. No liquor or food were served and children were welcome. Just good old jazz! No shock there! There was music all around and the houses and balconies were very attractive. Our only wish was that we could have had more time there.

A relative of Betty worked in State Administration and she took us to the capital, Montgomery, to meet the Governor in his office. Betty had already asked him if he could fix up a visit to the Huntsville Space Centre which was up near the Tennessee border. He arranged for us to have an official car and driver who took us all around and answered all the questions we asked. We saw fragments of the moon kept under glass and the clothes the astronauts wore when they walked on the moon plus the shuttles they travelled in. We experienced the gravity force they had felt. We wondered how they had had the courage to trust themselves to a rocket, leaving their world behind them and knowing there was no turning back. But they got to the moon and they came back and a new era began.

Neil Armstrong was first to step out the shuttle and as he put his foot down on the moon’s surface he said, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Buzz Aldrin followed and they walked around for quite a while gathering samples and information. It was quite weird to watch the little bits of film on TV; believing it was the moon was hard enough to start with, but now we had to worry about them getting back. But they did come home and I doubt if anyone who watched it on TV or in the cinema will have forgotten the relief and pride with which they were greeted. Now ‘spacemen’ are going back and forward to stations high above the Earth and staying for months at a time. Just last week I read in the newspaper that someone has suggested that before this century is near its end this world will have a Colony on Mars as Earth is becoming overcrowded. I find it hard to believe that could happen; but if anyone had told me when I was a girl that, before I was fifty, men would travel to the moon and walk about and send pictures of it, I wouldn’t have believed that either! So who knows what might happen in my granddaughters’ time……

To be concluded….


Alabama – part 1

Our first pastoral exchange with a Methodist Church in the USA was in Birmingham, Alabama. Our partners were Tom and Helen Stevenson and we wrote back and forward fixing dates. We would arrive in Cahaba Heights, a suburb of Birmingham, before they left. John made the travel arrangements and I took care of the packing. Six weeks was a long spell to pack for but we’d have a laundry room so we managed with one large case, plus Elspeth’s. In 1982 you could take a bag onto the plane and we carried John’s books, sermon notes etc. in that, in case our luggage went missing.

Time seemed to fly past. John Platts (who had married Anabel and John and was ‘my’ minister) offered to take us to the airport and see us off and, as we’d have to set off about six am, we were grateful. It meant we didn’t have to leave the minute a taxi arrived, the driver of which may not have come into the house and helped us with our bags as John did. Elspeth was with us as we set off for the big adventure. (We had recently bought a ‘modern washing-machine’, and shortly before we left we got a tumbler-dryer for our visitors’ benefit. When we saw their laundry room we were very thankful we had updated.) The flight to Gatwick was calm and peaceful, we flew over our house, the clouds and the passing scenery were lovely. The journey to Atlanta was the same, although too high up to see the land below. The last flight to Birmingham was just about an hour, or not much more.

We were met by a group of young folk, Tom, Betty Gilmore, church secretary, and Victor the Assistant Parson, all of whom gave us a warm welcome and we liked them from the start. The shock when we stepped out of the air-conditioned airport took our breath away, we had never felt such blistering heat! Betty told us Helen wasn’t quite ready for us and had asked her to bring us the long way home. We had a tour round which included poor estates of both black and white people and gated estates with lovely homes. Victor told us there would be at least two swimming pools and a Club for the residents. Then we arrived at Christopher Court, our home for the next six weeks. Helen was sitting by the table, which was set for a meal, sewing the hems of slacks she said were lent to her by somebody in the church. Talk about laid back, they were leaving next day! Helen showed us our bedrooms which were en suite, and we were glad to freshen up and look forward to a shower later. We were to find that Alabama folk seldom hurried, women ‘sashayed’ elegantly, young people, on the surface at least, were very respectful to their elders and most children were friendly and biddable.

The meal was ready and beside each setting was a small plate of what I took to be dessert, it was green jelly with something in it. However it was actually a ‘congealed salad’ and was eaten with the savoury course. I can’t remember what was in it but I thought it had a horrible name. Their furniture was very much ‘ante bellum’ and most of the houses we visited were similar. I rather wondered what Helen and Tom would think of our place. We later found that everything in the parsonage was provided by the Church and ministers were also paid far in excess of British Methodist Ministers. They would be using our bedroom; we had moved to the guest room which had a small wash basin stuck in a corner and that was it. We were continually struck dumb by how far ahead of us they were in home comforts and how perfect it all seemed to be.

I said the women sashayed, but we quickly learned they accomplished a great deal. The congregation was fully involved. There were over 500 members and each service was well attended. This was the smallest membership of the four churches we served in. There were seven employed staff, Rev Tom, Rev Paul – Minister to Children, Rev Victor the Assistant, Rick – Director of Education and Music, Peggy – Licensed Professional Counsellor, Karen – Preschool Director, and Betty who was Secretary and was the one everybody relied on. Sunday started at 9.45 and finished after 7 p.m. I joined the women’s meeting on Tuesday afternoons and talked about our meetings and what went on and what life was like in the UK in general. There was an adults’ bell ringing class and a children’s one, both good to hear. The pre-school started every weekday at 9.30 as did mothers’ day out. One lot of people kept tag of all the children and another organised classes and outings for the Moms. The kitchen was like nothing I’d ever seen before, everything was stainless steel and spotless. There was a large group of volunteer workers who produced great food. No event ever finished on sandwiches, it was always a real meal. The Church was a car ride from the parsonage and every time we went we passed along Red Mountain Road which had been dug deep and half a mile of it revealed 150,000 years of geological history. A good few folk told us about it and we always noticed it.

There were a couple of days free and we had our first outing on our own to Hurricane Creek Park Canyon, not too long a car ride for a ‘driving on the right’ beginner. There were lots of ‘hazards’ to keep us on the hop including a bridge over the creek which consisted of wooden slats strung on ropes with ropes at either side to hold on to. We had to ‘go easy’ to avoid making it swing. However, Elspeth stood aside to allow John and me to go ahead and when we got to the middle she started swinging the horrible bridge back and forward. If there had been a big drop and deep water we’d have been annoyed but as the water was obviously shallow we clung like limpets to the ropes until we got our equilibrium back. If only she had taken photos. We laughed later! When we were thinking of heading home and just going to go up a long flight of steps, suddenly a torrential shower came on. In seconds we were all totally soaked to the skin having already had a splash or two going down the water chute. It felt good and cooled us down a little. When we got back to the car we were all dry again and just as hot. There was a waterfall, a twilight tunnel and lots of other tricky situations I’ve forgotten. To get out of the Canyon we rode down a steep hill on a rail track sitting in a huge hollowed out log. We enjoyed it all, but were fair worn out with the excitement of all the hazards and the rough ground and the heat.

Next day, John was at the church with the stewards being shown around and meeting the people who would be taking part in the services. Frances Seay asked Elspeth and me out for lunch and to visit some caves. We had a lovely lunch of which the only thing I remember is the side dish. Frances had asked if we’d like one and I said I loved fried onions. When it came it was a huge bowlful enough for three, plus we took some home. My Mum made lovely fried onions but she would have had to agree this lot were even better. They were so crisp and tasty. The caves were full of limestone formations and there were tricky passages and coloured lights. We had a great time. Then when it was nearly time to go the warden said be ready, I’m switching the lights out to let you see what real dark is. It was inky black, not a glimmer. I hoped there were no cockroaches or worse running over my feet. What a relief when the light came on. We were told the Confederate soldiers had used this cave as a hideaway in the War between North and South, presumably with nothing but candles. Hardy souls they must have been.

To be continued….

Back in Newcastle

I can’t remember much about the move to Newcastle, except that we packed most of our china and other small breakables and took them to the new house, the Earl’s having moved out early in the month. We moved mid-August and were more or less organised by the time the Welcome Service came round. There were over 100 Ministers and 25 or more Ministers’ widows in the District. At that time it was probably the largest District in the Connexion and widely spread. The most northerly Church was actually in Scotland at Eyemouth, Haltwhistle was farthest west in Northumberland and south in Co. Durham was Chester-le-Street. John would be doing a lot of travelling, preaching in a different Circuit each week. I went with him to places near enough to get back for lunch. If hospitality was provided I only went if invited, which was quite often. John’s view was that you got to know people best when you met with them in their own homes, and I agreed with him.

As a Church Leader, John now worked alongside the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, the RC Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Moderator, Northern Province United Reform Church, the Superintendent of the North East Area Baptist Union, the District Commander, Northern Division, Salvation Army and the Bishop of Durham. They all got on well together, and for some years visited various areas of the North East to meet folk of all faiths and none. One might have expected some solemnity in such a group, but when they came to our house I found they were a jolly gathering. Very often we had large groups, e.g. when Presidents came, and then we had a buffet meal using cardboard plates which were tossed in a bin bag. There was lots of food set out in the kitchen and hall and everybody got a chance to meet the guest and enjoy their supper on a chair, if lucky, with the younger folk sitting on the stairs! Other times were ‘round the table’. Fortunately we had two tables, one a drop-leaf, so we were able to have ten seated or, with our table-trolley, twelve. It was a busy life for us both. My cooking skills improved a lot in these years, but sometimes it was a relief to have just one or two couples and cater from M&S!

After the first year I became a more regular attender at West Avenue Methodist Church and enjoyed being part of one of the Coffee Groups which met in each other’s homes monthly. I was also able to go to the Guild at West Avenue, and gave a talk of some sort when asked. By then it wasn’t the ordeal it once was! Every Tuesday, I was at Brunswick Church in the town, helping overseas students’ wives of many nationalities to improve or begin to learn English. It was something I treasured very much. I had several Japanese women for some years, they were the wives of men in the car industry, not students. They liked being in the UK because, compared to Japan, their husbands worked fewer hours, spent more time with their families and the wives had more freedom. I hoped the women would be strong when they went home and manage to keep their ‘freedom’! They knew more about English grammar than I did, having forgotten most of it. However, their aim was to speak like the British did. I think I did pretty well with that and we had some very happy ‘lessons’. I think they liked the opportunity to meet with us and be friendly. The most remote area I had a ‘pupil’ from was Mongolia, she had come with her husband and had never travelled before. I had a lot of cookery books and usually asked young women if they had an English cookery book and, if not, gave them one. This led to various discussions about ingredients, meals they made at home, shopping, what they liked and disliked in food, etc., and got us going. We talked about their homes, the differences in their terrain from ours and everything we could think of. Some questioned me about my life and family, and asked why I spoke differently from the other teachers! Just by talking together, their English-speaking became more ‘free’ and it was a real pleasure for me to see them speak out with more confidence.

With Elspeth in Birmingham

Near the end of 1981 John had a phone call one morning, and came to tell me it had been the minister who arranged Pastoral Exchanges with Methodist Churches in the USA. He had asked if John would like to do an exchange at Tallahassee, state capital of Florida. ‘What did you say?’ I asked. ‘I said no’, replied John. ‘Without even asking me?’ said I. So we talked about it and thought, might as well get the details. The US Minister was also called Mitchell and had applied late. We decided to accept it after conferring with our Stewards who were all in favour, provided John arranged it all and provided cover for his absence for six weeks.

So – big adventure coming up! John started arranged preaching appointments in various parts of the District with hospitality and other outings. David MacDonald agreed to become Deputy Chairman for the period. Then we had a phone call from the exchange arranger to tell us Mr. Mitchell had looked at the map and found Newcastle was too far away from London. He had withdrawn from the arrangement! However, there was another had become vacant at Cahaba Heights, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, if we still wanted to go. Talk about working out for the best! It was the best of our four exchanges. Anabel, John and Elspeth planned to come for some of the time, but Anabel and John bought a house so decided not to. Elspeth came with us and stayed the whole time which was great. There were several girls a bit younger than she was with whom she went around, but found little in common with them partly because of the age gap. John and I were very taken aback to be addressed as sir and ma’am, by some of the young folk! They were all nice people but different! So once again I’ll veer off track and write about Alabama next time – after a summer blogging break.

More about holidays

Altenfeld, Hochsauerland

We still visited Greenock while any of our parents were still there, and later stayed with Annabel and Jim. They brought my Dad to stay with us when they were going on holiday.  We had several holidays in Scarborough with the girls and later on our own. One of John’s colleagues had a flat in Seascale in Cumbria which he let us have one summer. We enjoyed a leisurely week there walking along the beach every day where I picked up interesting looking stones (one of my idiosyncrasies) which I took home and put on the flower tubs. Someone commented on them and I said where I’d found them, to be asked, ‘Might they not be radio-active coming from so near the nuclear place?’ What a thought! So I dug a trench along the edge of the lawn and planted them all. Unless the garden has been remodelled they are probably still there.

Joe, Jean and Joy

We had left Consett, regretfully in my case, in 1980 and now lived in the Newcastle District Chairman’s Manse. From there we had other breaks and memorable holidays – particularly memorable in 1985 not only because of where we went, but also because Anabel and John had actually asked us to go on holiday with them, which we thought was marvellous! John had married a couple in Consett some years earlier – Joy was a Consett lass and Hans-Jürgen was a German friend of her family. Anabel had translated the marriage ceremony into German so that his family could follow the service and John and I were at the wedding which was a great day. They went off to Altenfeld in the Sauerland of Germany and in time Joy learned his language. Eventually they started a Guest House and Anabel’s suggestion was that we all went there in our car, which was a bit bigger and more comfortable than theirs at that time. Well who could refuse an offer like that?

North Sea Ferry 1985

We sailed via the North Sea Ferry to Rotterdam. The whole journey was great and it was an ideal holiday. Haus Renate was lovely and we were made to feel part of the family. By then, Joy’s parents, Jean and Joe, had moved to Germany and they were great fun. We were there for a fortnight and were sorry to leave. The food was marvellous including vegetarian options for Anabel. There were lovely little villages full of flowers, and John and I were content to see the other two off in the car while we strolled to the next village and had  coffee and cake, and walked round the little cemeteries so beautifully looked after with flowers everywhere.

Other days we all went off in the car. We went to Schmallenberg to ‘Fort Fun’, where there were carousels and all sorts of things to do such as sliding down an 853 yard long chute on mats and a rotating cylinder in which the g-force pinned you to the wall so that you couldn’t move a finger! We enjoyed the torrent system that whooshed down into a lake and gave us all a soaking. We were all exhausted by teatime!

The scenery and the architecture were spectacular. Winterberg was the nearest town and had lots of interest. It was bilberry harvesting time in the country roundabout. The nearest small village was Bödefeld which John and I walked to several times. The Wassertretstelle (a sort of paddling pool) at Altenfeld was amusing – but cold! People were friendly and always called a greeting. Another walk was down the zigzag path through the forest to Siedlinghausen where we had lunch, sat in the sun with our books and got back for dinner. All very relaxing. Days out with Anabel and John were to Nordenau in the rain, then to Oberkirchen and Attendorn where there were weird and wonderful limestone caves to see. We also visited a lead mine. Another day was to Paderborn which has a 13th century cathedral and many lovely black and white houses. At Meschede we sailed on the Hennesee Dam and lunched on board. Fredeburg was a day out, as was Bonn where we visited Beethoven’s house, and so on. We had a good day in Cologne and spent time in the Cathedral. There were so many lovely churches and cathedrals we didn’t have time to do them all justice.

Going back to the ‘digs’ in the evening was a pleasure, always a superb meal and each one a happy occasion. In particular there was one when Joe waited on us wearing a very saucy apron! I haven’t really done justice to this holiday but it was one of the best holidays we ever had. I doubt John and I would never have been so adventurous as to make such a journey on our own. We were happy to wander around the little villages while the other two were more adventurous with the car. And just as happy to join them on some of the ‘touring’. It worked well for us all.

Sadly, Joe died some years ago but Jean and I still email each other now and again and keep up to date with the state of our health and other things!


In conversation with Anabel the other week she mentioned that I had never said much about holidays. So I thought I’d veer off and give them a mention! Our first holiday was a few days at my parents in Greenock just after Christmas 1956. There were so many Christmas events and services in Haltwhistle we couldn’t have been away then, much as we would like to have been. It was great to see everybody. We were able to tell both families that I was about 10 weeks pregnant which was well received! Anabel was born on 16th July, and I went to Greenock in late August with the pram loaded with the luggage and carrying the baby. John came to Carlisle with me and saw me on the train and my Dad met me at Glasgow. John followed in a few days and we came home together after about 10 days. We stayed with my parents or John’s each year. We always enjoyed trips on the steamers to Dunoon, Rothesay etc. and always seemed to get good weather!

We had holidays in Scarborough and enjoyed all the theatres; also in Grange-over-Sands where we rented a flat which was intended for use by ministers and families who had been ill and needed rest. When not required, we were able to have it a couple of times. Anabel did a school exchange with Susanne in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, but we never went abroad as a family.

One of John’s College tea club got us a week in the caravan at the family farm at Culgaith in the Lake District. It was a lovely area and we had some great trips including a memorable one when the rain came down in torrents and we had to stop and wait till it went off as the wipers couldn’t cope. The girls thought it was great fun! On each of our stays in the flat at Grange we had more great fun. It was our first car, a Ford Anglia, second or more hand and quite elderly! Anabel and Elspeth would be about 8 and 5. Half way up a very steep hill the engine stopped. We all got out. There was a steep grassy bank and I sent the girls up to the top away from the road, then found stones to put behind the wheels being convinced it would run away downhill! Then I climbed up beside the children. After a bit, a car stopped and a nice Japanese couple took John on to the nearest garage. The deserted females played I Spy etc., and again it was good fun! The next time was the same, the car just wouldn’t go. This time, a man who stopped found he was going to the same place as we were so he towed us. When we arrived at the flat he untied us and said to John “Just try the engine” – which he did and it came to life straight away! It really was funny and we all had to laugh. I don’t remember it ever happening again.


After the Anglia we had a Morris Traveller (seen here with Anabel coming back from school camp). Then a fellow minister told John about a Methodist garage owner in Yorkshire who found reliable older cars for clergy and arranged for us to go there. To our amazement, he had a Vauxhall Cavalier for us if we would like it. It was so spacious and comfortable. He told us the price and what he would knock off for the Anglia and suggested we went off and had some lunch and think about it. We decided to go for it and so began a succession of Cavaliers. Later, when we lived in Consett, he appeared at our door one day and said it was time we had a change. Fortunately our ‘car fund’ was able to pay the price and off he went with the old car. Ministers were given a travel allowance and we always just put it in the car fund towards the next car.

When we retired we came to Paisley with a Cavalier but wanted a smaller car. The local dealer sold us a great Vauxhall Astra. We tried the Corsa, but the passenger seat wasn’t comfortable and we liked the slightly bigger car better. We got a great deal and for the first time ever had a new car that wasn’t second hand! It had been the manager’s car but had been little used. It was a trouble free car, and when John gave up driving Anabel bought it and it is still in good order. I don’t think we ever got over the thrill of actually having a car and enjoying all the great outings and holidays we had with it!

Mixed feelings

Chairman’s manse

Life was full at Consett and our time there brought changes in our lives. However we seemed settled for a good few years to come. One day, John and Mark Earl were meeting at the Chairman’s Manse to discuss District business. (John was Synod Secretary.) Edna asked me to come along (which gave us the chance to do some shopping in Newcastle in the afternoon). She and I were sitting in the garden with our coffee when she asked me if I liked this Manse. I said it seemed very nice and she went on to say Mark thought John might be his successor as Chairman. Talk about a bombshell! My first reaction was horror. But it was another occasion when I couldn’t say ‘No’ to the idea. John had been in several District offices and was an excellent Synod Secretary. If people in the District thought he’d be a worthy successor to Mark Earl I should be pleased.

There were several candidates, at least one senior to John, and it was a slow process of committees etc. One day the phone rang and John came to tell me he had been nominated, so if Conference agreed he would become Chairman of Newcastle District in September 1980. I learned later that if he had not been chosen he would have been put on the list for Chairman of the Scotland District. When I had afternoon tea with Teddy Pearson I tried to work myself up to tell her but it was only as I was on the doorstep leaving I managed to voice it with tears streaming down my cheeks. She thought it was wonderful and John would be an excellent Chairman. All I could say was that we’d have to leave Consett! I was glad for John but had mixed feelings about it. However we had always ‘taken what we were given’ at each move. John was never voted against, he knew when it was time to leave and we trusted providence to put us in the right situation, which always seemed to fit is well.

John as Chairman

I got used to the idea with a lot of misgiving as to how I would cope. Edna had been very prominent in the District but I couldn’t live up to that! I carried on as always looking after the household and John, but also becoming his Secretary and Social Organiser. No easy task: we had many dinner parties and larger gatherings. We had every Minister and his partner to dinner except one who was a bachelor and was also anti-Chairmen! All the Presidents of Conference stayed with us, and some of the Vice-Presidents. Instead of being the ‘Minister’s wife’ I was the ‘Chairman’s wife’ and felt like a loose thread at first. However I became a member at West Avenue Methodist Church and was immediately invited to one of the regular coffee groups. We had a lovely farewell evening at Consett; Anabel and Elspeth were both there and my mixed feelings ran riot! But as always, we settled down and became accustomed to the new way of things. John threw himself into the job like a duck to water. My first ‘ordeal’ was having Rev Kenneth Greet and his wife stay with us the first year. He was Secretary of the Conference and was President in 1980/81. He was the top Officer in the Church and I was quite overcome at the thought of having him stay with us. John had a programme of services and visits for them and I was included to accompany Mary. How on earth would I get time to cook meals? I needn’t have worried, they turned out to be just normal friendly folk and we had a lovely few days with them which I expressed in one of my poems. We had another 12 or 13 Presidents to stay and none of them were haughty or condescending.

Wednesday morning

My goodness, what a time we had

Dusting and polishing and tidying away,

Full of trepidation,

Making preparation,

For the President of the Conference

And his wife to come and stay!

What a busy weekend it was,

Four, five or six engagements every day,

Wonderful occasions,

Full of inspiration,

When the President of Conference

And Mary came to stay!

After an early breakfast,

We drove them to the station and saw them on their way.

Now we’ve come back

A little bit flat,

Because Kenneth and Mary,

Our friends, have gone away!



On the April 10th episode I had meant to say a word about two of the pictures. One echoed the previous picture of my Dad sitting beside the walled weedy ground at The Crescent where there had once been a greenhouse. By our second year we had laid some turf and planted marigolds, one of my favourite flowers, and other colourful flowers and shrub as we had done in front of the conservatory. It was a fine wee sheltered corner to sit and read or just sit! John is pictured there with Mandy in 1974. The other picture shows John and Mandy outside our Villa Real Road house some years later and the difference in Mandy is very obvious.

Consett weather

John and the Missioner

Before we arrived in Consett we had been warned by a number of people that we would be snowed in every winter. They were right – we did have snow probably every winter, and it was very cold and windy as well. The only year I remember being cut off was the year we had a Special Event and it was in mid/late March, Spring supposedly! The United Methodist Church in America (UMC) in the mid-1970s sent a number of Missioners to Britain: the details escape me now. John was asked to have one of them at Consett. He duly arrived a few days before and stayed with us. He was from Oregon so had had a long journey. We were surprised he had come without some warm clothes and it became a problem when, the day before the Mission began, Consett had the heaviest snowfall of our years there. The town was cut off completely for several days. Our back lane, where the garage was, was completely blocked with snow and it was perishing! No use trying to clear it as there was nowhere to put the snow without blocking other houses back gates. It all looked so lovely, with drifts all round.

John had a warm car coat which fitted the visitor pretty well, and a hat and scarf. I think it was Bessie along the road who provided Wellington boots with woollen socks, John’s being too big. He was kept warm anyway. We didn’t relish walking to the Church but Jimmy, who was a painter, got his large van on the road and came and picked us up. He was such a helpful chap. I haven’t a clue how many meetings and rallies and coffee parties there were, but we were proud of the Consett Methodists and others who turned out in spite of the weather and grateful to those who were able to provide transport once the ploughs had made a path in the roads. Everybody mucked in and what could have been a washout was a good week of meeting in friendly, cheerful groups and enjoying the fellowship and lots of tea and coffee. The Missioner’s accent was easier for the folk to understand than theirs was for him! He went off home knowing that his time with us had been appreciated and that we had enjoyed having him among us. The snow lingered on for a short time but the snow ploughs had cleared the roads well and there was no traffic problem. And still plenty snow for the children to enjoy! Spring came back and winter was a memory.

Anabel graduating from Sheffield

Anabel returned to Sheffield University in 1979 and got her MA in Librarianship. She lived in student accommodation that year and in a flat above was a young man called John Marsh. They first met on one of the occasions when he abseiled past her window! They became friends and the friendship blossomed into a life-long partnership – of which more later.

John and I got used to being the sole tenants. We looked forward to weekends with either or both the girls and to the summer vacations. I mentioned Anabel’s summer jobs in a previous post, and Elspeth worked in Fenwick’s in Newcastle. Consett is well situated – we could do day trips west towards the Lake District, north into Northumberland and east to the coast. Hexham, Newcastle and Durham were not too far away. After a few John years was told he could stay as long as he liked. We couldn’t disagree with that. We had a lovely Church, a good-sized congregation, lots of friends and a great wee town. The pink cloud rising from the steelworks and the pinkish pavements were a source of wonderment to our visitors. Mandy’s feet were often quite pink instead of white and had to be washed when we’d been walking on the pavements!

The Chairman of the Newcastle District then was Rev. Mark Wesley Earl and he made it known early in 1978 or 79 that he would be retiring in 1980. There is an interesting story about him. I’ve already mentioned that ministers were not allowed to marry until they were ordained. In 1937 after College, he chose to work Overseas and was sent to Tientsin in China, which is south of Peking (both names are different now). In 1939 a letter was sent to the Methodist Missionary Society in London requesting permission for Mark to marry and for arrangements to be made for Edna to travel to China. The letter also said Mark Earl had served in Northern China for three years and was doing ‘excellent work’. No reply was ever sent. In any event, Edna went to China and they married in May 1940. They were interned by the Japanese for some time and returned to the U.K. in 1946 with their wee girl. Fifty years later that letter reached the Missionary Society on Thursday 21st December 1989 and was reported in The Guardian (click on the image to enlarge and read). A Post Office official said mail travelling to U.K. across Europe was probably intercepted by the German Army. It was held in Stuttgart until seized and transported to the U.S. This letter was among a boxful which was returned to the German Federal Archives and they sent it to the British P.O. Mark and Edna were highly amused that it turned up just before the year when they would celebrate their Golden Wedding. It certainly caused a lot of interest in Methodist circles and the Earls had lots of letters as a result. They lived in Ulverston after retiring and he preached all around the area. In ‘Church News’ in a local paper, on one occasion there was quite a stir when they announced next Sunday the morning service would be conducted by Rev. Mark Wesley, Earl of Ulverston. What a difference a comma can make!

Special events

Anabel off to Sheffield

Some events were in some ways life-changing for us as a family. Anabel and Elspeth both did well at school and we had good reason to be proud of them. They worked hard and passed all exams with good marks – which isn’t to say we’d have been less proud if the marks had been lower! As teenagers they were a bit obstreperous at times, but I don’t remember anything that worried us much. We always said that as long as they did their best that was all we asked. Anabel’s A-levels allowed her a choice of universities and she chose Sheffield to study History. In September 1975 the day came when she left home. The car was loaded and we set off from The Crescent. Elspeth stayed at home with Mandy. It was a bit like the day Anabel started school except that she wouldn’t come home for tea. Everything was changed for us all and would never be quite the same again. That was the downside, the upside was that she was a capable young woman looking forward to the future and able to survive without her Mum and Dad! (We hoped.) The question was, how would we survive without her?! With difficulty, but in time we got used to being only three.

Elspeth must have found the house quiet but as she was in her O-level year she had plenty to keep her busy. Anabel kept in touch and came home for the vacs and the occasional weekend. Mandy suffered most I think, she moped around at first, whining now and again and just staring at us much as to say “where is Anabel?”. Of course when Anabel came home Mandy was ecstatic!

Elspeth off to Leeds

Because our income was small, both our daughters got the full grant that was available then and managed well on it. I suppose being reared in a Methodist Manse had been a good grounding for spending carefully! Anabel had a summer job in a local factory making paint tins, and says she could still attach the handles with her eyes shut. A couple of years she also worked as a postal delivery person at Christmas. Joy Wilkinson found the paint factory job and Joe Pattison helped her get the PO job. They boosted her income nicely and we were grateful to Joy and Joe for their help. Three years later in 1978 she had her degree and came home for the summer, at which time Elspeth had also had good A-levels and would be going off to Leeds University to study English in September.

Anabel now had to have a year’s work experience with Hampshire Libraries, so was going to be in three places – Southampton, Winchester and Farnborough – which would be followed by a year back at Sheffield getting an MA in librarianship. We had a holiday down there, and I think we stayed in Winchester and visited Southampton – or vice versa, neither of us can remember! We saw the Round Table and just about everything else. Being in our late youth, around 50, we had plenty energy for daily trekking! It is a lovely part of England but Northumberland, Durham and Tyneside are still the favourites, although I am not likely to be there again. Plenty memories though.

By the time Elspeth set off for Leeds we had moved from The Crescent and were living in Villa Real Road in a bigger terrace house, which was ironic because most of the time John and I would be alone in it. We drove Elspeth to Leeds with all the boxes and cases. I can’t remember whether Anabel was at home still, but I think she must have been as Mandy was getting too frail for the journey and the walking involved. We came home feeling miserable. When Anabel went off we’d be down to two! Mandy hobbled around searching for Elspeth, whining and unhappy. We knew how she felt!

We hadn’t told the girls, but we had taken Mandy for a check-up by the vet. She was losing the power in her back legs and sometimes could hardly walk, and she certainly couldn’t climb stairs any more. The vet said that although she could treat her there was little she could do. She was an elderly dog and perhaps we should think carefully about whether invasive treatment would be kind to her or not. We watched her carefully, and it was obvious she was becoming less able to move around comfortably. She just wanted to lie beside whichever feet were handy and doze. We waited till Elspeth was settled at Leeds and Anabel was down South before finally admitting it would be kinder to have her put to sleep. John took a day off and we spent an hour or so talking to Mandy and stroking her like a pair of nitwits! Then we went up to the vets who were out in the country. It was the same vet and she was very kind. She couldn’t find the vein in the front leg at first and said “you’d think she knows what I’m doing”. It shows how strung up I was that I thought she meant it for a minute and nearly panicked. Next try worked. She left us alone and we just stroked Mandy and told her she was a clever girl and other daft things. Her head gradually drooped and she fell asleep so peacefully. We felt like murderers. We paid £5 for the dreadful deed and could hardly bear to walk away and leave her. We sat in the car for half-an-hour or more crying then went home to the empty house.

Mandy in happier days

In some ways, we missed Mandy more that the girls. She was always there, following us around the house, sitting at our feet, gazing at us adoringly, trying to climb on our laps. The girls were out a lot with their friends and weren’t inclined to do any of the things Mandy did. Not after they grew up a bit anyway! Folk said we should get another dog right away, but we couldn’t see any dog replacing her. Perhaps this was because she had been a ‘family’ dog, so loved by the four of us, and so much part of our lives. We had so many happy days at the coast and countryside and the parks around us with the girls chasing about with Mandy. She tried to keep us all together and looked for us if we were out of sight. It would have been different having a dog with just John and me. Well, I did say we were nitwits didn’t I? The house felt even more empty and quiet. After a few days we told Anabel and Elspeth.

This all happened about 38 years ago. Recently, Anabel took me over to Erskine Garden Centre to get some bedding plants for the garden tubs. We had our lunch there and were discussing my blog. I mentioned writing about Mandy and told her how John and I had had to sit in the car to recover from the ordeal! Anabel said she and John were the same with one of the cats they had to have put to sleep. Next thing we were both all weepy! What a pair. Animals certainly know how to capture your heart …

More canny folk

More about the canny folk of Consett.

Yvonne and Joy were friends – and friendly. Yvonne’s husband died after we left at far too young an age. Joy’s life has been difficult for some years, as Billy her husband is being looked after in a Care Home. She goes there every day and helps in various ways with his care. I wrote to her recently, not having heard from her for some time. She was, and no doubt still is, a marvellous cook. I remember an amazing meal she gave us once when Anabel and her husband were visiting. Both our girls became vegetarians in their twenties, Elspeth first then Anabel. The first Christmas nearly drove me up the wall, no vegetarian turkeys! I could have done with Joy on hand. The interesting and tasty veggie meal she did was lovely to look at, delightful to eat. Joy was also instrumental for getting Anabel her first holiday job – in a factory making paint tins. Her role was to attach the handles which she says she could still do in her sleep.

While we lived in Consett, my sister Annabel’s younger girl, Tracy, stayed with us several times for part of the summer holiday when her Mum and Dad were touring in their car. John and I loved having her and so did our girls when they were with us. Tracy was always eager to help with anything at all, and is still the same today. However to get back to Yvonne: she and Chris had a daughter, Jane, about the same age as Tracy so she came round and they liked each other and became friends. Jane came with us on days out. Elspeth was at home and she ‘played’ with them! My Dad had come along with Tracy the summer he was supposed to have given up smoking because of bronchitis. Well, Tracy and Elspeth made it their mission to track him wherever he went. Their aim was to catch him with a cigarette. Right horrors they were! The first time they caught him he shoved the cig into his pocket and burned a hole in the lining. The next time they said he had put it right in his mouth! Poor Dad was probably worn out with these two popping up everywhere he went.

When I first met Mrs. Hepplewhite I immediately thought – furniture—I’ll remember that. However, next time I met her I was in a group trying hard to decide who was who and I called her Mrs. Sheraton! She kindly said I wasn’t the first to call her that. The names all pop up: Mrs Hill and Mrs Borthwick were always together, friends of years; Mr and Mrs Joe Birch were both small people, I felt quite tall when I was with them. He gradually became frail and Mrs Birch cared for him so well. Eventually he sat on the settee, not able to walk much but always immaculate. It was indeed a labour of love for her.

Mrs Greig was mother of Yvonne and Granny of Jane. She had four daughters, but only Yvonne lived in Consett. When the Crescent house was sold and we were moved to Villa Real Road, we had no dining room furniture. We had our blue Formica topped kitchen table and four chairs with blue seats and didn’t feel at all deprived but Mrs Greig gave us a lovely drop-leaf table which had been painted with some new kind of varnish so it never needed to be polished. The mother of Mr Cleasby, our Steward, had recently died and he offered us the four dining chairs from her house which he was clearing out, also a nice chair with arms which dated from the war period and is a ‘utility’ chair.

At the moment, the utility chair is there in my bedroom, and has been well used over the years. The other four we gave to our neighbour’s daughter when we retired, because she was just setting up home. We had ‘kept an eye on’ Jean, a near neighbour, at the request of her brother who lived in Atlanta, after her husband died suddenly. Jean had a stroke soon after retiring from teaching. We called most days and she enjoyed visits from my Dad when he came to stay with us. I used to wonder what they found to talk about, but Dad knew more about Jean than we did and she know his life story as well. It was good for both of them. Eventually she was unable to cope without nursing so her brother came over and found a Care Home for her. John and I visited her soon afterwards, and were dismayed to find she was in a very small room upstairs, sat with her back to a window from which there was nothing of interest to see. But I have run ahead of myself here!

At Villa Real road across from us was a large field where children played football and I walked Mandy sedately round the edge as she was elderly now. Directly across was a nice wee house with a large garden. Mr Norman Campbell lived there. When we had got to know him when we came to Consett he said I reminded him of his late wife whose name was Christine. He drove me home from Church occasionally, which was a mixed pleasure as he liked to chat and would turn and look away from the road which sometimes was quite alarming! He asked if we’d keep an eye on the house when he was away occasionally and said I should pick the raspberries etc. and use them, which good of him. John would go over in the evening and look round the premises.

Methodist memorabilia

One day Mrs Whitfield asked me if I would like to have a little brass statue of John Wesley in preaching stance. I said if she was willing to part with it I’d be pleased to have it. We already had a number of mementoes of Methodism: a bust of one of the Wesley brothers – I think John but one cannot be sure – and three white ‘loving cups’ as used in communion services in early days of Methodism. These were all found on a shelf in the garage at Consett which, like the room in the attic at Sunderland, was loaded with junk. I can’t live with that at all! So we tackled it when we got time. We duly showed these items to the stewards and were told to do as we pleased with them so we treasured them for years. Recently, I gave two of the loving cups to a minister who collects Methodist memorabilia. However, sometime after I was given the wee Wesley another member of the same family gave a similar one to John! Both had been tarnished and obviously not displayed. Ours are on view and kept nice and shiny.

When I was out feeding the birds the other day I noticed the concrete frog we use to keep the shed door open, and the person who gave it to us sprung to mind. It was Mrs Bath who lived three doors away from us. She made the frogs for Sales of Work and they were beautifully painted. It has been so useful all these years but, alas, the paint has been washed away. We always meant to get small tins of lacquer and repaint it but that day never came. It still fulfils its purpose and stops the shed door swinging. Mrs Bath will be long gone but her gift is a reminder of her.

I could continue, but I finish with Elizabeth Goudie. She was a little older than both of us and she became a good friend. She had given up teaching to look after her mother, whose son and daughter had been born in her 40s. Elizabeth asked me to come and visit them which I did. Their bungalow looked on to the same field and it was quiet. I was sat in front of the longcase clock which had a mellow, quite slow, tick and was very peaceful. Mrs Goudie was a nice little woman and the hour passed pleasantly. I drank a good few cups of coffee there and enjoyed the ticking of the clock. I had thought Elizabeth to be a rather severe person but found she wasn’t that at all, but had a sense of humour! Later on she said she had liked me because I made her laugh. I wasn’t sure whether to be delighted or dismayed! She and John often had theological discussions and got on well. When we left Consett the friendship continued. Later, when we retired to Scotland and got settled into our new abode, we asked Elizabeth to come for a few days which she did. We were all National Trust members, our Scottish memberships being a gift from Anabel and John to mark our first Christmas in Scotland, and we visited places that were new to her. Later we returned the visit. These were always happy times and we did laugh a lot! It was good to get news of Consett folk every now and then. Her nephew wrote with news of her death early in 2011 which was the end of a most enjoyable friendship, but the memories remain.

Canny folk

Consett Day Club

North of the border to say someone is ‘canny’ is taken to mean they are careful with their money but in the North East, south of the border, the phrase, ‘Aye, she’s a canny lass’, is a compliment to someone well liked. We met many canny lasses and lads of all ages in the 38 years we spent there. I’ve already written randomly about some.

Quite early on in Consett the idea of a Day Club for elderly people was suggested. John made inquiries and found that if we co-operated with the Social Services and allowed them to send elderly folk who would benefit from the company and the meal we would get a grant. So it was all arranged. Bessie Parker, whom we later lived near, was the prime mover. Nora Lonsdale and I were the other two original helpers but there were others. Bessie knew where to get everything – we went to Newcastle and ordered large trays for cooking enough mince, steak or whatever, and baking trays to serve up to 40 people. The first day was a fraught day for us. A good number were our elderly members and about half were guests. They were mainly women but there were a few ‘canny lads’ among them. They came about 10am when tea and biscuits were served. A therapist came bringing wire frames and plastic ‘ribbon’ in bright colours, and those who wanted to were shown how to do the weaving to make fruit baskets and various other shapes. They were easy to make and were useful, and it was good exercise for hands. Some played dominoes and other games. There was plenty of chatter and they all mixed in well. At some point the games would stop, music would be played and the therapist led them in gentle sitting down exercises. Meantime the cookery team were slaving in the kitchen!

It was one of the happiest things I ever took part in. The helpers all gelled, the visitors obviously enjoyed the day and made new friends. It was a full three course lunch, with generous servings, and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining. After lunch, they would have a quiet sit followed by a sing-song which we enjoyed from the kitchen. I was appointed scone maker. They always turned out well for which I was truly thankful. It was a gas oven and I’ve never made such good scones in my electric oven here. Coffee and scones were served about 3.30 and all our guests left happy and tired. After clearing up, all the helpers staggered off home exhausted after that first time. But it was well worth all our efforts. It continued for many years after we had moved on. We visited it, and there is a photograph with some of the guests and helpers above.

I can’t remember if I mentioned that Emmeline next door was keen on crochet. Over the years she gave me a good number of wee white mats in lovely patterns and I still use them. One larger one, done in ecru cotton in the ‘wheatsheaf’ pattern, is permanently on top of the nest of tables and is as good as the day it was made, in the early 90s. The only crochet work I have ever attempted was in Consett. Elsie Surtees had everybody making squares to sew together for knee blankets for the Hospital and Care Homes. She instructed me and it was quite easy really, but that was my limit!

On our first Sunday in Consett I sat in the second back row next to an elderly woman. She was Mrs Marshall who had tried to give me a biscuit tin full of left over sandwiches, cakes etc. after the Welcome for us. With a little bit of diplomacy I managed to avert that! I was then coming up to 48 and my singing voice was getting lower making it difficult to get the higher notes. Mrs Marshall was singing alto, so I gradually learned from her. She was quite pleased about it. There were a number of the Marshall family and we got to know them all in time.

I was always glad to find a good butcher and had no difficulty in Consett. Jimmy Trotter and his shop were across the road from the Church and he was a member too, with a nice wife called Jean. The meat he sold was always good and he was cheerful and friendly. We always seemed to be lucky with butchers! All the shop people were friendly and as in Haltwhistle there were always familiar faces when we shopped.

Teddy Pearson asked me if I’d like to go with her to visit a couple who lived near Durham. Mr Ramsden Williams and his wife Sarah lived in a large house called Sniperley Hall. Teddy said he had a chest of drawers he liked to show people. She was their Class Leader and visited them several times a year. The unfortunate and ridiculous thing is, I know the chest was a disguised desk in some way but I cannot remember how, except that it was quite surprising! However we had a pleasant visit and afternoon tea and I enjoyed meeting them. I looked up Sniperley Hall recently and it is now a hotel.

It was always nice to be invited to share a meal with people. Nora and Leonard were among the first to invite us. Their house was lovely and in the sitting room was a grand piano which was good to look at but what really thrilled me was the enormous Christmas cactus on top. It was just beautiful. We asked them back, and so enjoyed a number of happy occasions with them. Leonard was head of the Technical College. Later on, John conducted the wedding of their daughter Catherine who became Mrs O’Hanlon. She came to John’s funeral, which touched me greatly.

Jim and Millie Porter lived in Villa Real Estate next door to her sister Marjorie and husband Robson Fewster. Carol Porter was married to Leslie Bowater and I was trusted to be their occasional baby sitter, which was a real pleasure. Helen and Rebecca were lovely wee girls and I had some very happy evenings with them. Nicholas came along later.

Our colleagues Keith and Norma had their two children in Consett and I was chief sitter for the first-born, Stuart. He was such a dear wee lad and John and I were very fond of him and his sister Lorna. He was happy with us and we certainly loved having him around. A few years later, when they had moved to Conisborough, we stayed with them when Conference was at Sheffield. Anabel was married by then and living nearby in Doncaster, and Elspeth was at Leeds Uni, so they were able to come for a visit. Stuart hadn’t forgotten us (photos above).

Norma and I were strolling round Sheffield centre looking in shop windows when I saw an attractive dinner set in the Sale at one of the big stores. It was Royal Doulton which I thought of as very posh! If Norma hadn’t been with me I wouldn’t have bought it, but she said, ‘Do you like it, do you need it and will you use it?’ It was yes all the way and it was a bargain! It saw plenty of use and is still complete and used occasionally. I always think of Norma when I use it. She made us so welcome that week.

The memories keep coming – to be continued …