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!

Holidays

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!

~oOo~

Postscript

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 …

Consett – country town

In spite of the difficulties in getting settled in, we did get the house all sorted out and if not quite a ‘little palace’ it became ‘home’ and I looked forward to organising the wee conservatory. We had been happy at Roker and Newcastle but Haltwhistle, and eventually Consett, were the places we would have liked to stay for ever.

At that time underlying everything was thoughts of my mother, it was hard to believe she was gone. Annabel said Dad seemed to be coping. She and Jim were near and eventually managed to persuade him to have a home help. It was arranged I would go up beforehand to do a sort of spring clean, Annabel being back at the Bank full-time by then. Auntie Annie lent us her fold up bed which was very comfortable. The first morning when I opened the kitchen door and switched on the light there was a scurry of some mice heading for behind the fridge! I hauled out the fridge and found a wee hole in the plaster so stuffed it with wet newspaper. Jim brought some mouse traps and some white emulsion.

After the cleaning was finished I painted the kitchen walls. I’m not great at that but it wasn’t too bad. Dad was pleased anyway. But there is another story! When he came for his first visit to Consett he told us all about the home help – she always brought two scones or cakes with her and they had tea before she worked. And, said Dad, she cleaned the whole house, went down on her knees and washed all the skirtings and painted the kitchen! Ah, well, I thought, looks like I’m going to take second place to the home help from now on! It was quite funny and I don’t know how many times I’ve told the story. Also the one about the cushions on the two armchairs. The covers were ancient and could do with a change. I asked Dad if Mum had had any pieces of cloth so he had a search and produced what seemed to have been a curtain. So I chopped a bit off and made two nice cushion covers which looked more cheerful. I stripped the bed before leaving on Saturday and folded the bed. Annabel and Jim came to take me to the Station. Annabel said there’s a cover for the bed and guess what, it was the ‘piece of cloth’ I’d vandalised to make cushion covers. We laughed! We were awful! I don’t know if Auntie Annie ever knew but she never mentioned it or fell out with me! Dad’s home help stayed for a good long time until she won a large sum in the Lottery and gave up the job. I have a vague recollection she came sometimes to share cakes and tea with him. I used to wonder how he could bear life without Mum but he coped well and Annabel and Jim were always there for him. I know now that, in spite of the pain and sorrow, strength can be found to appreciate a different but still worth living life.

The Crescent was a compact wee area and we soon got to know most of the people round about. Some were our Church people – Emmeline, Emerson and Jackie next door, Bob and Addie and daughter Pamela round the corner, Len and Dorothy a short walk away in Medomsley Road. Teddy Pearson lived about five minutes away in Villa Real estate, along with her sister Marion. Marion’s husband, Alan, had MS and the house was adapted to suit his needs. He had to stop teaching eventually. They often asked us along for afternoon tea which was always a happy occasion. Teddy introduced me to the local Gramophone Society which I really enjoyed. It was held at the School and we all sat in the desks, some more easily than others! It was a time of utter quiet while the records played, very restful. Another friend whose name evades me invited me to the Guiders’ Association Meetings on the basis that I’d been a Patrol Leader in the Brownies! It was more social than meeting and was good.

Teddy also took me to a concert which spurred John and me on to get out together now and again to similar events which were not ‘Church’! Anabel was 17 and Elspeth 14, both sensible enough be alone for an evening. Amongst others, we enjoyed Ian Wallace and I was pleased to be able to meet him afterwards and talk about Kilmacolm. He had often been in the Bank and remembered me vaguely! His Grandfather lived in the Hydro for some years during the War, as did Mr Thorburn the Bank Agent and they were friends. The Grandad would occasionally run out of cash and phone and request a delivery. So I would be sent off with the money and get the cheque in exchange. There were several people who had such deliveries. We always tried to please, unlike the local Bank I use. I asked for £100 in £5 notes (mainly for taxi fares) and was told she didn’t have any! No suggestion of asking the other cashiers. I was so astounded I just tamely walked away. But afterwards I thought, I’ve heard everything now, a bank with no £5 notes!! Anyway I told Ian W. about his Grandad’s special delivery and he was amused. He told me the ‘old chap’ had put on a bit of weight and the Doctor advised him to cut back a bit. He was to be weighed weekly. So the first time he carried some heavy stones in his pockets which allowed him a bit of leeway for the next few ‘weighs’!

Another great concert was Marietta Midgely and her brother Vernon who were lovely to look at and brilliant singers. Their mother was their accompanist and their father had been a noted tenor singer. They sang solo and duet. When Marietta sang the aria, ‘O, Moon’, I almost wept at the absolute perfection of her voice. I wouldn’t have wanted to change a minute of my life pre-Consett but it was good to have ‘dates’ with John where we were just us and not the Minister and his wife!

The last time we visited Emmeline we found she was house bound, living with the wee Pomeranian who did not like us at all. He ran around growling and lifting his leg on the furniture. I always like dogs and they usually liked me but this one disliked both of us and we weren’t too fond of him either! He was looking after Emmeline in the only way he knew, I suppose.

Addie and Bob had a well-kept garden and I remember walking past with Mandy on our way to the park in mid-winter and stopping to look at a wee shrub covered in small bluish flowers. Consett was 800 feet above sea level and was very cold so I was quite surprised to see the blossoms. It was a lovely sight and Addie told me it was called Daphne. I’d never heard of it. Their daughter Pamela was a friendly open-hearted girl and I became very fond of her.

Dorothy Atkinson worked in Bainbridge’s Handbag Department in Newcastle and I still have the blue leather bag I bought in a Sale assisted by Dorothy, after we moved to Newcastle to live in 1980. Bainbridge’s is my all-time favourite store. In about 1983 I started doing counted Cross Stitch and must have spent hours browsing in their Haberdashery Department which was an Aladdin’s Cave for stitchers, knitters and other crafters. Happy days! They closed the Department years later which seemed to me to be a mistaken decision by someone.

There were a good number of weddings, more than in any other church we’d been involved with. One of the earliest was that of Pamela and Tommy. When it was known that we would be leaving Consett in 1980 they said to John they hoped he would baptise their first baby, which he would have been very pleased to do. However, the birth didn’t happen till after we had gone. Protocol says ministers should not return to the circuit for at least a year which is long enough to let their successor get ‘in with the bricks’. It was disappointing but we have kept in touch and their two children have so far added three lovely grandchildren to the family. We follow their progress from the photos Pamela sends each Christmas, but now the grandchildren are the focus.

This has been one of these times when my mind has wandered off the path and met people. However, the ‘church’ is not only meetings, buildings and ritual, important as they are. We meet in buildings, enjoy services and events but we, the people, are the Church. Probably I’ll still be meandering among them next time!

Disappointment

Moving in

Moving in

We left Newcastle after seeing off the removal van and the very helpful men. We had labelled all the furniture so that it would end up where we would like it to be, which turned out to be as wee bit optimistic! Mandy was a bit confused with all the packing and the empty house and needed a lot of pats and cuddles. We had to keep her on the leash all the time which she didn’t much like. We did the final tidy up and arrived in Consett just after the van. We saw that the gate was now mended. However we got a premonition when the ‘boss’ removal man asked John if we were just being put in this house temporarily, obviously comparing it to the one we had left! The front garden had a large pile of weeds etc. and the back wasn’t too tidy either. The sitting room still had a big bump on the wall, caused, a neighbour told us later by children doing cricket practice! When we had a look upstairs we asked the removers not to put anything into the main bedroom. The carpet was damp, stained and far from clean. So much for the ‘little palace’ we’d been promised!

The removers had been top-notch, and once they were finished we had refreshments then saw them off with gratitude and a suitable gratuity. Then we got the beds made and unpacked the necessities. Next day we phoned the Steward and he came round, had a look and condemned the carpet. I wondered if he’d ever seen the house since the day we visited. He phoned his fellow steward who came, and between them and John they got the carpet bundled up and thrown out the window. There was a small wardrobe left in the room and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw that a piece had been cut out of the carpet to accommodate the wardrobe. We had a good laugh and it cheered us up a bit. The wardrobe was disposed of as well!

The Crescent, Consett

The Crescent, Consett

The next day was Sunday and we couldn’t unpack any more until the new carpet was laid, the furniture placed and some cleaning done. The floor boards in that bedroom creaked such a lot John thought he’d knock a few nails in to try and quieten it. All was going nicely till Elspeth came racing upstairs calling, ‘Dad, Dad, there’s water dripping off the light bulb!’ We found out later that the water pipes were not very far under the boards and he had pierced one with a nail. We had to call the Steward again, but Sunday wasn’t the best day for finding a plumber! Meantime I had put my plastic bacon box under the leak which stopped the water travelling down. Eventually he came along with a retired (Methodist) plumber who was able to patch it while muttering to the Stewards something like, ‘What’s he at doing this on Sunday, think he’d have something better to do!’

The next day I started washing the kitchen walls which were painted, not emulsioned or papered. They were fairly clean for about five feet up then you could see where the cleaner had stopped. I wanted it clean all the way up so got the step-ladder and got stuck in. While I was busy we had a visitor and it was one of the two women who had done this ‘cleaning’. However she did say they had only washed as far as they could reach. Quite funny really!

We thought the bathroom was pretty dingy, and so did the Steward. Before long Joe Pattison was round painting it in a nice shade of blue. Joe was a jovial, friendly chap and we all liked him a lot. His wife Jean and I have kept in touch for all these years since. More about them later. At that point the bathroom was the best looking room in the house!

Cutting what could be a long story short we had time some free before John was officially welcomed as Superintendent Minister of the Consett Circuit. We used some for exploring the area and the rest for getting the house organised. We got to like our wee house. We had lovely neighbours too. We didn’t know what to do with the small front garden, until one day one of the two brothers next door met John and said he could lay flags for us. We were amazed and delighted at the kind offer. The flags arrived and he came with his tools and made the front look very nice. An oblong bed was left so that we could have some colour. Our neighbour had obviously enjoyed the work and we certainly were grateful. The Stewards got the materials and paid our neighbour. He said he didn’t need paying but they insisted. It was a well done job.

Soon after, we had a visitor who introduced herself as Teddy Pearson and she brought us a lot of cuttings of aubrietia in various shades of blue and white. I planted them all round the edge of the plot and the next spring put bedding plants in the centre making a lovely show of colour. Teddy was a newly retired teacher and became a real friend. We had quite a few people calling before we were ‘official’ but only one who came to the back door before we had breakfast, the day after we arrived! We had had a strenuous day and all agreed to have a longer lie in the morning. Elsie was the organist and an excellent one. I think perhaps she was quite scandalised to find us in our dressing gowns at 9 a.m. and the girls still in bed. I know we felt quite guilty like naughty children! Even though we were still on holiday! I discovered that almost everyone in Consett used their back doors but I never took to the idea.

With Emmeline and Dad

With Emmeline and Dad

At our other side lived two brothers and a sister. Emerson, the elder brother, worked in the steelworks. Jackie was a semi-invalid as a result of a chest ailment. Emmeline was their sister and kept house. The love of their lives was a little Pomeranian dog. He was one of a succession all from the same breeder. I love dogs, and we had Mandy, but I didn’t much like the Pomeranian! It wasn’t friendly to anyone but his owners. The first time my Dad came to stay with us I took him next door to introduce him and the dog bit his heel. Fortunately his teeth weren’t long enough to get through Dad’s socks and trousers! It was greatly loved, particularly by Emerson who often carried it around the garden. Their back garden was beautiful. Emerson’s other passion was chrysanthemums and he grew magnificent blooms. They were fenced round and sheltered and when the buds came he would be among them every evening taking off the low buds as they came and eventually one large blossom would result. When the season was over he took cuttings and put them in the greenhouse ready for the next year.

Tomato plants

Tomato plants

Emerson also grew tomatoes in the greenhouse, and in 1974 he gave us some plants raised from seed. We got two growbags and put them on the shelf round the conservatory. Emmeline instructed me about pulling off unneeded shoots etc. and they thrived with lots of buds. The day came when a tiny tomato became red and John got first taste. They were much better than shop ones. Well, we thought so anyway! We grew them every year till we left Consett.

Emmeline’s favourite bit of their garden was her pansy patch which was a joy to behold. We planted pansies in our back garden, but they never grew and multiplied like hers. Years later I saw a bit on TV about the steel industry. It showed men who were obviously sweltering shovelling coal into the huge furnaces then the molten steel travelling along to the place where it is put in ingots. The heat must have been dreadful. Emerson was in charge of the pouring I was told, when losing control for a second or two could cause dreadful havoc. It made me realise that perhaps his times in the garden with his wee dog and tending his flowers offset the heat and stress of his working life. Every minus needs a plus!