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!


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!

Considering Consett

Last morning in the garden at Newcastle

Last morning in the garden at Newcastle

The Chairman suggested John should consider Consett, a steel town in Co Durham, as his next appointment. Most of the men there worked in the steel works. The day we visited, Consett was wet and miserable and there was a pinkish cloud hanging over it from the works. However, the Church was recently built and lovely, the shopping area had all the shops necessary, and Consett was in the countryside which was definitely a plus. When we went to see the house, though, our uplift plummeted. I’ve nothing against council houses. I remember being envious of sister Annabel’s kitchen and bathroom when she lived in a lovely newly built one in Greenock before they bought their own house. But the front gate was hanging off this one and the garden was pretty well uncared for. The rooms were tiny, which for a good reason dismayed me, and there was a great lumpy patch on the sitting room wall. John wasn’t exactly delighted either. One thing attracted me – a small conservatory at the back which I could visualise full of geraniums and cacti.

When we left after our visit the Steward, Mr Cleasby, said it would be like a little palace by late August. His exact words! On the way home John said that the Church was great and the folk friendly, but the house wasn’t so good and if I couldn’t live in it we’d refuse the offer. I said above I had a good reason for being dismayed at the small rooms. The reason was that it had recently been decreed that from August 1973 ministers would no longer have furnished houses. The stewards would come to an arrangement with them about buying any of the furniture in the house they were in. Well, Mr Marshall knew all our furniture and had said to John it’s all yours to do what you like with. But back to our future. It was obvious that John was drawn to Consett, but with misgivings about the house. We’d take minimum furniture (most of it was too big) and sort the house out gradually was my view. So we said yes to Consett, and never regretted it.

We had five Victorian dining chairs with horse hair stuffing and in very good condition, similar to some my Granny had had but more ornate. There had also been a broken one in the attic lacking some bits which we gave the Boy Scouts for their bonfire when they did their annual trawl. We asked a dealer to look at them and he said there would have been six and did we even have part of a chair? Presumably they would have made one incorporating the surviving piece! We didn’t tell him about the Bonfire. He gave us £30 which Mr Marshall said was ours so we were delighted. We took some of the lovely Victorian bookshelves which were put in the Consett Church vestry when we moved there as the small glass fronted shelves were totally inadequate for John’s Library. Also beds and one bedroom suite which was 20th Century. It had been split between the two manses and Tom and Joan gave us their bit as they were going to buy a new suite. So along with our own bits it was adequate and easier to decorate with less clutter. Another aspect was there would be less time spent with the vacuum!

Moving out

Moving out

We looked ahead to the girls schooling. For Elspeth it was straightforward, she was enrolled at Blackfyne School in Consett. Anabel was still sure she wanted to become either an Archivist or a Librarian and was keen to do O level Latin along with her A Levels which Blackfyne was unable to provide. However, John was acquainted with a Head Teacher in the area and he suggested we tried Hookergate School which was a bus ride from Consett. They were very helpful, and although they didn’t have a Sixth Form Latin class were willing for Anabel to have lunchtime lessons with the teacher and to join the Fifth Form class when the timetable allowed. It was a good solution except that I would rather she and Elspeth had been at the same school.

The last year seemed to rush along, and before we knew where we were it was August and packing time again. This time we had rather more furniture and also a great array of geraniums and cacti to furnish the conservatory. What we found when we got there was rather unexpected!

Still among the Geordies

Mr Richardson, Organist, John and Mr Marshall in the Worship Centre

Mr Richardson, Organist, John and Mr Marshall in the Worship Centre

After the first year John began sounding out the possibility of altering one of the downstairs halls and making it our Worship Centre. He pointed out how expensive it was to heat the Central Hall and the advantage in having a more compact area. Mr Marshall the builder was in agreement and would carry out the work. I can’t remember any being against the idea. In due course we moved downstairs to a bright warm room with comfortable chairs and excellent lighting which would seat around 300. Wilf Marshall and his workers did a great job. The main hall was still there for big events like the Christmas Oratorio etc. We were a more homely group and more of a cluster than we had been in the large auditorium. I remember looking around on a Sunday morning there and wondering why people didn’t ‘bunch up’ a bit instead of being spread out. After some thought I realised it was probably because in the past the auditorium would be well filled but over the many years members would have died or moved away or become frail and those still attending sat in the seat they had always sat in! I’ve heard people say when talking of one who was no longer with us, ‘You remember, she sat beside Mrs —–, over on the left?’ Those who had left the gaps were remembered.

In the Manse, the breakfast room next to the kitchen had a very large range the make of which I have forgotten. It heated the room and had two ovens. The top was always hot so the kettle was ever ready for a cup of something. Most of our cooking was done on it. It was pretty old and unfortunately after a while some part of it gave up and couldn’t be replaced so we were for a time without hot water while Mr M. tried to find someone to mend it. Alas, it was too old to be mended! Once again the Mitchell’s stiff upper lip was called on! Wilf Marshall decided to put in a gas fire with a back-burner to heat the water. I was sad because it meant I’d have to use the electric cooker all the time and I didn’t like it much, having been used to gas cookers. So it all had to be removed which meant a lot of dust but the day came when the gas fire was put in and Wilf asked me where the gas pipe was. Daft question! He had renovated the kitchen before I had time to get familiar with it. I did vaguely remember noticing a bump on the floor of the larder they joined to the kitchen just after we arrived. It had, of course, been covered over with concrete to make it level with the kitchen! They had to get a new pipe brought in by the gas company which delayed things a bit, but thankfully not for long. It was certainly easier than shovelling coke, and the fire heated the room well. We still had coal fires but we liked the breakfast room because it looked out on the garden and the Moor and was warm. The dining room was the Study and the sitting room was large; it was impractical to have more than two coal fires on. And expensive! We had a kitchen table and chairs, a wee settee and it suited us fine. The main room at the front was for the summer and for visitors.

Sister Mavis was a lovely cheery lass and worked hard. The staff (and wives) were a friendly bunch and met together often. I think it was 1970 Mavis left and married. Her husband had a shoe business and they did well. Sister Hannah was appointed to fill the gap. She was less out-going than Mavis and more senior. She was with us at Westgate Hall for two years. Earlier that year, our Church had been visited by a Commission from Methodist Headquarters in London. John was aware when he accepted the charge that it was a real challenge. Although the congregation was quite large most of the people were scattered over the area and only a small number nearby. Costs were rising; we had few young people to pick up the baton from the ageing membership. It was decided that Westgate Hall should close at the end of that Methodist year, August 1972, which was a shock. However in conversation with one of the Commission John was asked about his family and when he said Anabel would be doing her O-level Exams in the next school year, the visitors gave it some thought and decided we should keep going until 1973 but without having a deaconess. We regretted losing Sister Hannah but it was a tremendous relief, not only for Anabel’s schooling but it would give more time for John to get all the members linked with other congregations to join. You might have thought it would be rather a sad year but in fact it turned out to be a happy year in many ways. All the members had known that the Westgate Hall’s days were numbered and accepted that it was inevitable.

Mum, Dad and the girls in the garden at Newcastle

Mum, Dad and the girls in the garden at Newcastle

My mother had a stroke in January ’73 and I went up to Greenock for a few days. The weather was very wet and I had no umbrella so my Dad bought me one! I still have it, although now I use a stick I’m not likely to be using an umbrella again. Mum wasn’t making a lot of progress. My two Aunts came to every visiting time so I had only one brief ‘private’ time with my mother when Jim took me up on the morning I left. She was sleepy but the last thing I said to her was that I loved her and she said she loved me, too. As it turned out I was very thankful to have had that short time with her.

When I got home I heard about John and the girls having chips for tea. Apparently John wouldn’t let them get the chip pan fat really hot for safety reasons so the chips took ages to cook and were the worst ever. The kitchen was never John’s forte! He was great with the vacuum though, and when we had a wee Hoover washing machine with a mangle attached he always turned the handle when he was around. Anabel was always keen to deprive him of that job as soon as she got the hang of it. Also, no family ever had cleaner shoes thanks to him.

I was all set to go to see Mum a few weeks later but, a couple of days before, Annabel rang to tell us she had died in her sleep. That was 23rd February. It was a blow indeed, she was only 73. So we all went for the funeral. Annabel and Jim made all the arrangements and it was well done. It was good to see cousins and others we hadn’t seen for years. Such a pity it takes a funeral to get families together. Our US friends will travel hundreds of miles for their regular family get-togethers. I have never forgotten the comfort and sympathy we had from the Westgate folk.

In our last year at Newcastle

In our last year at Newcastle

I had taken over from Hannah at the women’s meetings and enjoyed being more involved. John did indeed direct every person to another Methodist church, some to the Clarence Street church of the Circuit and most to the Methodist Church nearest their home. It was sad, but the Central Halls had had their day and few are left now. Through that year all the usual events happened and were well attended. I made lots of apple and ginger jelly for the last time and had tea parties on the lawn. I wasn’t a great baker but I was good at what we called ‘wee buns’. Fairy cakes with icing in various colours or made into butterfly cakes! Plus scones, I wasn’t bad at them. ‘Auntie Annie’s Tea Loaf’ was easy to make and all were well received. Many of the people thought as John and I did that although there was no ‘happy ending’ for Westgate Hall, the final months were not a dirge but a celebration of all that the people of Westgate Hall had done for the community for so many years.

More about Newcastle

John began his Ministry in Findochty, a fishing community on the Moray Firth, Haltwhistle was a small country town, and Sunderland was a seaside resort. Now we lived in a city. Newcastle-upon-Tyne has many green spaces, lovely buildings, a theatre where we enjoyed some great shows, excellent shops and friendly folk. The Geordie accent is music to the ears! The city centre is compact and you can cover a lot of the shops in a day if you are so minded.

The Newcastle Mission Circuit had Westgate Hall, which was John’s responsibility, and Clarence Street. Their Minister, Arthur Wade, his wife Olive and their two children moved on the next year and were followed by Tom Duerdon, Joan and their two boys. John and Tom had a good rapport and worked together well. We also had a Deaconess, Sister Mabel, and later Sister Hannah. We soon got to know each other and become friends.

Olive was a nurse and I phoned her for advice one morning when I had a severe pain in my left arm. She said sit down and I’ll come round. They lived around the corner so she arrived in minutes and found it was a wasp sting! The poor thing must have landed on my side and when I put my arm down (I was hanging washing) it got trapped and didn’t like that. I was none the worse, although it stayed painful and swollen for a bit. A hornet stung me when I was a girl and it was painful too. But the third and last was the worst. It happened high up on a Swiss mountain when we were having coffee on the terrace of a café. John and I were standing looking at the view when I was bitten above my right eye by something and it swelled up and discoloured and was very sore. My eye was out of action! One of the staff gave me some ice in a bag, which was helpful, but when I eventually looked in a mirror I was appalled. It certainly made people notice me and was quite embarrassing. It was a few days before it got back to normal. I hoped people didn’t think John and I had had an altercation!

The people who lived near us were friendly. The elderly couple on one side had recently lost the last of three Bull Mastiffs and were not going to replace him, so they were rather sad. Having known the same sorrow several times I sympathised with them. He went to a nearby farm every week for eggs, so kindly offered to buy some for us. It was good to have fresh eggs and sometimes pullets’ eggs straight from the farm. On our other side was a couple who owned an optician’s business so we all had our eye tests fixed up. They had three daughters, two around our girls’ ages. They were in and out of our manse for a while probably from curiosity! However they went to the Convent School so the friendships didn’t become firm. They had a friend across the road whose father was George House who, with another chap called Mike Neville, read the news on Tyne-Tees Television. It was a pleasure to watch them – their news reading was excellent, but also they were like comedians some times and were very popular. I know it was kind of them but I was quite dismayed to get an invitation to a cocktail party at lunch time on a Sunday, from our optician. However we went straight from morning church and had a small sherry, feeling like fish out of water. Their lives were so different and their conversation about things we knew nothing of. Part of my trouble was I couldn’t envisage asking them to our place in return. Anyway we thanked them for inviting us and remained neighbourly acquaintances and customers.

Some of our congregation were elderly people of pension age, others were working people, comfortable but not rich. There was a small Sunday School. We soon got to know everybody. We did have one couple who were able to be very generous in many ways. They were Alderman John G. and Mrs Ellen Nixon. They had provided funding to build a Hospital in Segbwema, Sierra Leone, and helped to maintain it. It was destroyed in the Rebel War but rebuilt later. It is now a one hundred bed hospital serving a rural community of around 30,000. When I last read about it, it had one resident Doctor, six nurses and two midwives. Compared to that, and with all its shortcomings, we should be glad of our NHS. Mr. Nixon died many years ago and his wife sometime after. They contributed a lot to the annual fund-raising weekend and each Christmas staff members were given a monetary gift and a turkey. I cannot remember how much, but we were very grateful and appreciative.

Before the fund-raising weekend came round, John wrote many letters to people and organisations who might be moved to send a gift. It wasn’t something he enjoyed doing but it was what Central Halls did, not only to get funding but to make known the great need there was in the area. There was unemployment, there were folk who couldn’t manage the small amount of cash they had never having learned to cook or mend. For many children Christmas would have been just another day had not our church folk collected, cleaned, repaired, wrapped and categorized toys and other gifts by ages. I was a helper for that. Boxes of food were given to families based on the observations of Sister Mabel. I think of this when the Food Bank my local Church supports is mentioned and wonder that more than 45 years later it is still needed! The Mission also had a clothing store and provided warm clothing to many who lacked it. At the Christmas party there were many elderly folk who would enjoy the warmth and a lavish dinner with entertainment to follow. On one occasion, two of the men found items of clothing missing! Obviously one of the other guests had taken a better coat and hat than the ones he had arrived in. The two refused to go till they had a hat and coat. The upshot was that John came dashing into our house where the children and I were waiting to have our Christmas meal. He went off with his second best Trilby and his ex-police overcoat which had served him well for years but was in excellent condition. It was quite a sacrifice, he loved that overcoat! It had its funny side as well, as we used to see the coat now and again when the wearer appeared at jumble sales and John would feast his eyes on it. It certainly was a Christmas not forgotten!

Taking home with us – again

Strange as it seems I cannot remember the farewell meeting when we left Sunderland North Circuit in 1968. However I do recall the wonderful gifts John was given. Thomson Memorial Hall gave him a slide projector and he also received a camera for slides from the Hood Street Church. It was brilliant! We ended up with loads of slides from which we had a lot of pleasure and not a few illustrated talks for meetings. We had the projector for years, and made good use of it, until we were able to upgrade it to one which could be loaded with a tray of 50 slides. I still have lots of family slides and a selection of holiday ones, and from now on looking at them for pictures to scan for the blog will be part of my routine. The Bible Class women gave me a cheque for £20, a substantial gift in those days. With it we bought a swing for the girls in the new garden and some records of singers I enjoyed, e.g. Deanna Durbin, Ian Wallace and others. Listening to them again has been on my things to do list for a while.

Newcastle manse in winter

Newcastle manse in winter

Although we were again going to a furnished house, we had more ‘home’ to pack as we had acquired curtains, small rugs and other odds and ends – as you do! The house was larger. There was lovely plaster work above each door in the main rooms and round the ceiling. The front bedroom upstairs also had this ornate touch and we thought it had once been the drawing-room. The girls shared it at first. There were three more bedrooms and when they were ready to go solo they had two smaller rooms to choose from. There was no central heating except one small radiator in the dining-room /study which was the overflow from the boiler through the wall in the breakfast room. However, Elspeth’s room was over that room and there were gaps in the floorboards which let heat from the boiler there to waft up through! We were a hardy lot in these days.

John and Mr Marshall

John and Mr Marshall

From the hall there was a corridor lined with shelves and cupboards, which was fortunate as the kitchen was going to be altered by Mr Wilf Marshall, the Circuit Steward, who had a building business. So once again we drew the short straw! However it was to our advantage so we looked on the bright side. The larder was to be incorporated into the kitchen so that was a wall to come down. How on earth would I be able to make meals? Mr Marshall solved that problem by knocking a hole in the wall and bringing the (vintage) electric cooker into the breakfast room. I was able to fill the kettle when the workers had their breaks. So we managed. Another hole in the wall came when the electrician was putting a new socket in and accidentally came right through, but all was put right in the end. Mrs Marshall was getting a new modern fridge so they kindly donated their old one to our manse. It was large and roomy and was just wonderful! No freezer, of course, but it meant I didn’t have to shop so often and gave me more time for the vacuuming and dusting!

Now we could get back to a more regular routine, for a time, anyway. When Harvest Festival, came we all went to the evening event and came home in the dark. I was into the breakfast room first and switched on the light to see a flash of movement in the grate. It was lots of wee insects running away under the boiler – absolutely horrible! John phoned Mr Marshall on the Monday and he said they were silverfish. We had never seen or heard of them and I wasn’t happy to have them there! He recommended a chemical called DDT which in later years was banned as unsafe! However after a time it did the trick, but I kept a wary eye when I switched on the light at night.

Ready for a new school

Ready for a new school

Anabel was 11 shortly before we moved and Elspeth was 8 and went to Wingrove School. Her first friend lived along the road from us and was called Nicola. Anabel attended Rutherford School as part of the second comprehensive intake to a former grammar school. Both were good schools and not too far from home. Anabel’s best friend was Valerie and the two of them still meet for a weekend together with their husbands every spring.

Crab apple picking

Crab apple picking

We had a long, wide garden at the back with two huge poplars and an ancient apple tree which was only moderately fruitful. There were also two crab-apple trees which flowered beautifully and each year had a bumper crop of bright red fruit after lovely flowers. Each year I made loads of apple and ginger jelly which sold well at Sales and our annual Garden Tea Party for Church funds. John and Elspeth were the champion apple pickers assisted by Anabel sometimes. John would give the tree a good shake and they’d gather the crab-apples that came down. After that it was turnabout on the ladder. We were visited by some of the lads of the area who climbed up on the next door stone wall and walked along it to the trees when they would fill their tucked in jumpers with apples no matter how often I told them they were sour and would give them stomach-ache!

Mandy in the back garden

Mandy in the back garden

Before long Elspeth started campaigning for a puppy since we had a big garden and the expanse of Nun’s Moor behind the garden fence. And it would be company for Mummy when they were all out! Anabel liked the idea and I had been used to caring for dogs since I was about 9 or 10. John could see the down side and to be honest, so did I. Then a Basset Hound bitch pup was advertised in the Newcastle Chronicle, 16 weeks old, house trained. So we drove to The Fossway to see the pup. Needless to say we were sunk as soon as we saw Mandy and her mother. Both dogs were friendly and absolutely beautiful! Mandy had already been sold to an elderly man who bought her for his wife. They found they couldn’t manage the boisterous pup and brought her back. We took her home that day and she was our faithful companion for over 10 years.

I had hoped to get one litter from her, and phoned around, but the only basset breeder in reasonable distance was the owner of Mandy’s sire so I gave up the idea and we had her spayed. As you might expect, before long Mum was the carer and did the bathing when she rolled in cowpats or on a dead hedgehog, yuk! But we still loved her. She was wilful but very clever and loved being on the moor with the other dogs we got to know (and their owners). She was often deaf when called but if you walked away she soon caught up. If a cat came into the garden she chased it. The words ‘pussycat in the garden’ sent her to the back door in a frenzy! She liked her people to stay together e.g., when we were at Whitley Bay for a walk along the seafront she wasn’t happy when the girls ran ahead; she would run back and forward between us trying to get us together again! She wasn’t allowed to be on beds or furniture but she learned how to slowly work her way from one paw on my chair to leaning on my lap. If I took no notice she would get the other feet up and end up lying diagonally across me with her head on my shoulder! That was lovely on a cold evening but she was eventually about 3 stone in weight so it wasn’t allowed very often.

Mandy and her handmaidens

Mandy and her handmaidens

For quite a long time Mandy’s mother would come to see us along with Mrs Ridley, her owner, unannounced. What an exciting time that was, though I used to feel a wee bit jealous of the way Mandy rushed to welcome them. She never forgot them. But she didn’t try to go away with them which made us happy. After about two years or thereabouts there were no more visits, so Mrs. R. must have been satisfied that Mandy was in a happy home. The only thing Mandy didn’t like was an umbrella! If one came into view on a wet day she would try to get us to cross over. She must have had a frightening experience before she came to us. We took her to Greenock always when we stayed with our parents and she and John’s Dad’s lovely whippet were a sight to behold, so different but such great friends. She was friendly with everyone but she loved her family and wasn’t happy unless at least one of us was with her.

It wasn’t my intention to say so much about Mandy. She played such a big part in our life for ten years and, as the girls said, she was company for me when they were at school! So thoughtful! She followed me around unless she was asleep from exhaustion after one of our three times a day round the Moor for an hour or so. I made friends and she made friends and we both enjoyed ourselves. It may sound like I was a lady of leisure but far from it! Fortunately I was fit and healthy and had loads of energy, then.

Mandy Basset

She had long, velvety ears and limpid brown eyes.

She had a jaunty tail and feet that were tea-plate size!

She had a loving heart and ingratiating ways.

She was our pet and our friend in our younger days.

She was so clever she could almost talk

And her greatest joy was to take us out for walks.

She stayed with us for so very short a time,

Because it is our Maker’s great design,

That Man is given years, three score and ten,

And Dog is given only few of them!


The blog will now be taking a break until the New Year. Happy Christmas!

More than half-way

Sidecliff Road, Sunderland, c2008

Sidecliff Road, Sunderland, c. 2008

It was a bit of a bind to have to move mid-way. However, to look on the bright side the new house was only a short walk away in Sidecliff Road and we now had a car. The day the former owners left, the lady of the house came to our door and offered me a £1 note to pay to have the house cleaned. That sounds ludicrous in the light of today’s currency but then would have covered four hours or more’s work. I was embarrassed and, remembering how we had been doing extra in the house we were leaving, assumed they would do the same and politely refused. Wrong decision! Once we were able to get in the house we found it needed a lot of dusting and vacuuming.

The girls and Malinda at Sidecliff Rd

With Anabel’s friend Malinda at Sidecliff Road

Before the removal day we had most of our small stuff such as china, ornaments, bedding and other linen packed in boxes and taken along in the car and more or less put in the rooms where they would belong. Some of the furniture was too large for the new rooms, and I was sorry to leave it behind, but we had fewer and smaller bedrooms anyway. The curtains were fine, but my Auntie Annie had given me some lovely regency stripe curtains in a lovely shade of yellow and they were ideal for a change. She had bought them at a sale-room and we were delighted with them. She liked going round sale rooms at one time. She also had a lovely colourful garden, and most of it had started off from little cuttings she had surreptitiously taken from stately homes’ gardens and others she had visited. She was very enterprising! This move turned out to be really easy. I was sorry to leave the lilac and laburnum trees at the front of old house. I passed by and saw them quite often, but many years later when we revisited Roker both trees were gone. The front garden in the new house had roses round a small lawn and the back had a flower garden. John again had the dining room for his study and we soon settled down.

John had his hands full with the Dock Street / TMH amalgamation. Dock Street had been the Super’s church, but because it was so near TMH, and most of the people, lived nearby it was decided the two would become one in John’s charge. All seemed to be going smoothly when there was a hitch. The two churches each had a Women’s Meeting and neither of the Presidents was willing to stand down both having been in office for a lot of years. So they got together with Sister and decided they should keep the two meetings going separately! The committee in charge held a meeting and this idea was put forward. They were quite taken aback when John said he thought it was not a good idea. He said that a union is a gathering together of people getting to know one another and working together and keeping the two groups apart wasn’t in the spirit of union. He asked them to re-consider and decide which would keep office or nominate another person. There would be plenty candidates from both meetings it was thought. I was horrified to find I was the sole nominee, I suppose because I was considered to be neutral. When I thought about it, I concluded that whoever had taken office would be unpopular with the meeting she hadn’t belonged to but I could be unpopular with all of them. It was a bit like giving two dogs the same bone! However it all settled down and before long the two groups merged into one and we all became friends. It was the largest weekly women’s meeting I ever belonged to, and it was quite daunting looking at so many faces, but I got used to it. Sister was a wee bit aloof for a bit, but she came round eventually.

When Anabel was seven she joined the Brownie Pack at Roker Methodist Church along the road from us. I had been a Brownie and Patrol Leader of the Pixies so I knew the drill. Before long I was asked to be a helper along with Anabel’s friend’s Mum as Brown Owl had been left with no Tawny Owl to help her. Elspeth joined when she became seven and did the same things. On the Brownie night we all three set off together and had a fun evening! They practised for badges and learned stuff but always finished with games. That was usually noisy and exuberant and all went home tired, especially the helpers! It was interesting that in spite of the interval of about thirty years the Brownie meetings were little changed from when I was the wee Brownie. Unfortunately there were no Brownie or Guide Packs near us when we moved from Sunderland in 1968 so their Brownie/Guide ‘career’ was ended.

The time came when Chairmen of Districts started looking for new places for some of their Ministers and for replacements for those leaving. John was asked if he would go to the Newcastle Mission Circuit as Super which was a surprise as it was generally after 20 years you were promoted. It would be another different kind of appointment. The main Church which was in the Super’s charge was Westgate Hall in the West side of the City where social work was part of the Mission. That appealed greatly to John. We had a day out in Newcastle which we didn’t know all that well. John met with the stewards, and we toured round Westgate Hall which was huge. It was on a corner almost next to Newcastle United Football Ground (which must have been a point in its favour!) and was a beautiful stone building. We saw the house also, which was in Fenham on what had at one time been referred to as Millionaires Row but had changed a bit! It was in a good area with shops nearby and backed on to Nuns Moor, a large open grassy space. In earlier times the whole area had been moor belonging to the citizens of the Newcastle, I was told. When roads and houses were built on any part the Local Authority had to replace it somewhere else. In our time, a lot of people lost their allotments which were taken to replace some of the Moor that had been built on. One of the dog owners I walked with took us all over to where the allotments had been to gather armfuls of rhubarb which was still flourishing although no longer being looked after.

We enjoyed our day in Newcastle and set off home to ponder what we had seen because, of course, theoretically I had a say in the matter. In reality I just followed where John led because if he had the urge to take the appointment it was obviously the right place for us. And so it was, our next Circuit and home were arranged. Much too early, but since then the system has changed for the better. As before we put it to the back of our minds and concentrated on the present.

It may seem that I didn’t do much apart from looking after John and the children. But In fact I was involved in many events, often being ‘up front’ or in the kitchen. I was very pleased when I was asked to become a Class Leader. All the folk on my list were elderly people and at least every three months I visited them at the same time delivering the Church magazine and their ‘Class Ticket’. These visits took a lot of time and very often cups of tea were on the go. Some had few visitors and loved to talk and I enjoyed hearing about their lives. It was something I really valued doing. Class Leaders then would tell the minister if anyone was unwell or had some difficulty they had trouble coping with. In John Wesley’s day, classes met in one of their homes but that went by the way many years ago and now cards and magazines are often handed over in Church. The pace of life has changed and people are not so housebound at such early ages as in the past. There are now Lay Workers part of whose pastoral work can be visiting the elderly, the housebound and the sick.

In April 1966 it was TMH’s sixtieth Anniversary as I noticed on a copy of the Church Monthly Magazine of April 1966 which I recently found in a file. It was also Elspeth’s sixth anniversary but she didn’t get a mention in the Magazine! However Anabel, who was eight, did and that was the reason I had kept it. Her Sunday School class had been asked to write something about Easter and her poem was printed in the For Further Thought column.


Jesus sadly nailed to the Cross.

Some are weeping at their great loss.

Some are laughing at those who weep,

Weeping just to look at His feet.

But, Hallelujah, we’re not sad,

For Jesus rose to make us glad.

I was also reminded that on Palm Sunday the cantata Olivet to Calvary would be performed by the Choir with three soloists including Glenys Henderson whose Gran was supplier of mince pies to the Carollers. Glenys was gifted with a lovely voice. This was an annual event with different cantata and soloists each year, and was always crowded out. There were many such events and lots of musical talent in the Church.

Time rolled on and before we knew where we were it was 1968 and time to get in touch with a removal company then, after Easter, start a major spring clean. John did the wall dusting round all the ceilings and so on, and I got on with polishing furniture and washing curtains and packing those that were our own and hanging the original ones up. When we finally packed we always kept the vacuum back and literally walked down the Hall vacuuming as we left the house having already done all the carpets once the rooms were emptied! Sounds daft but we were determined always to leave our houses ready for the new tenant to unpack in as our first one had been for us. Harry and Emily’s car enabled us to do it at Haltwhistle and we had our own car from then on. As always we were sad to leave, not just ‘The Church’, but the people who had drawn us into their fellowship and are still fondly remembered.

On being 90

Chris Mitchell 90thOn the 21st October 2016 I became a nonagenarian. When I was a wee girl I was very proud to have been born on Trafalgar Day, which in these far-off times was celebrated widely. I was also exactly six months younger than Princess Elizabeth of York, which pleased me when I was old enough to know. When I began to feel I might make it to ninety I had a trawl through the internet to see who, apart from Nessie and Nancy, Paisley Methodist friends, might be sharing the occasion. There were quite a lot, most of whom I’d never heard of, but two appealed to me.

John and I were tremendous fans of the first and had a great admiration for him. He is now regarded as a National Treasure, not surprisingly. He opened our eyes to the wonderful wildlife in many places in the world which few of us will ever see. He was quite likely to be seen dangling hundreds of feet above ground on an unsafe looking contraption, talking animatedly about the creatures he was watching in the rainforest. Or perhaps sitting nonchalantly in a jungle among a family of gorillas and being climbed over by the baby of the family! Until that happened it had been thought gorillas were ferocious creatures, but he showed that they were family folk very like us. You will have guessed that he is Sir David Attenborough. I’m looking forward to watching recordings of the latest wild-life programmes with Sir David commenting.

The second was Michael Bond who, when shopping late on Christmas Eve 1956, saw a lone little bear on a shelf and felt sorry for it. He bought it as a present for his wife Brenda and, as they lived near Paddington Station, Paddington Bear came into being. Mr Bond, more for fun than publication, wrote some stories about the bear and how he arrived from Peru and found a home. Eventually he had a written so many that he sent it to his agent, who found a publisher, who set an illustrator to work, and the rest is history! Paddington has given numberless children and grown-ups a great deal of pleasure over the years. He is getting on for 60 years old, still going strong and looking not a day older! His arrival was a work of genius by Michael Bond, CBE. The illustrator, Peggy Fortnum, deserves great acclaim too. Paddington also made us aware of a far-away country called Peru of which I’ve seen mention in holiday adverts in the newspaper recently. No doubt he will out-live us all! Mr Bond is still writing and long may he continue.

Chris Mitchell 90thThe Methodist Church had a celebration ‘Street Party’ on the Queen’s Birthday Saturday in June which was very enjoyable and was also hard work for the organisers who did a great job. Nancy, Nessie and I got a mention from the local newspaper who sent a photographer (who came from Peru I was told!) and allotted almost a page which was good publicity for our Church. After the morning service next day there was a luncheon for the Birthday Girls. None had actually reached their birthday but we kept our fingers crossed! It was another lovely occasion which we appreciated very much. I was the last to reach the milestone.

My daughters, Anabel and Elspeth, arranged a great weekend to celebrate. Elspeth came from Harrow on Thursday 20th then on Friday 21st, the day itself, Anabel and John came over and we opened my presents. I’m happy to say that all were useful, practical and pleasurable. Chocolates were involved, of course, but they are a treat to mete out and enjoy over a period and flowers also were much appreciated.

After lunch, John drove the four of us to New Galloway where we stayed overnight at the Ken Bridge Hotel, close to the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. It was a very pleasant place: the beds were comfortable, the food was good and the staff were friendly. We dined early and once it was really dark we set off for the Forest. It was amazing once we walked into the darkness, assisted by John’s powerful torch. Without it, Anabel and I would have been in the ditch a few times! We were arm and arm but I couldn’t see any of the pitfalls. We saw some people in a clearing having a barbecue, and could hear voices passing, but unless you looked upwards it was black. There was patchy cloud which meant we didn’t see the Milky Way as hoped, but it was quite breath-taking to see the brilliance of the stars and planet Mars compared with when you look up from a street-light area. As the clouds moved, we saw more stars and it was hard to tear ourselves away. We began to feel very cold and our necks were stiff! So we regretfully retraced our steps to the car and back to the warmth of the Hotel Bar for a warming drink. It was a really special day with another to follow.

Next morning John drove us to Kirkcudbright where we had a walk around looking at all the nice wee shops and houses and having coffee.

At mid-day we presented ourselves at Broughton House, a Scottish National Trust property. It was formerly the home of Edward A. Hornel (1864-1933). He was one of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ group of painters. The house contains a number of his paintings and is beautifully furnished. I enjoyed all of it but the Studio was the most memorable. He died so young and left many unfinished paintings which are on view. They give quite an insight into his style which basically seemed to be to have an outline then put blobs of paint all over the place in what appeared to be a very haphazard manner. However the finished paintings showed that his method worked extremely well! The gardens are also beautiful.

We went from there to the Tollbooth Art Centre where we were able to see some videos about Hornel and others. The coffee shop had a very amiable lady in charge. We had coffee and cake and the amiable lady came along with the coffee pot and poured out second cups for us all. That doesn’t happen very often! By then my legs were beginning to feel they needed a rest and it was time for John to start driving again. The girls did the planning and John made it all possible by driving us in his comfortable car. And it wasn’t finished yet because there was another day of celebration to look forward to.

On Sunday, Anabel and John came for Elspeth and me and we met up with Annabel and her family for a 2.15pm lunch in Glasgow’s famous Ubiquitous Chip. The meal was lovely and after it we all went back to Anabel and John’s home which is not far from where we dined. They had a lovely chocolate birthday cake on the coffee table. I got down on my knees and blew all the candles out with one puff! Cue for Happy Birthday to You from all. After a few words of thanks to all, I cut the cake and we enjoyed it greatly. There were more presents to open and photos taken. It was a happy few hours before the Greenock folk went off and Elspeth and I were driven back to Paisley. Elspeth stayed till Tuesday. Anabel came that morning and we went to Erskine Garden Centre for lunch. Anabel took Elspeth to the Airport just after 5pm and it was all over! It was a memorable weekend and not least because three of my nearest and dearest cared enough to plan it for me and got it just right.

On reaching 90

Now that I have reached so great an age

And cannot count the years too far ahead,

I must be rooted in the present time

And savour each new day like vintage wine.


With more behind me than is yet to come

It’s now that memory comes into play –

So many hours of sorrow, joy and pleasure,

Days of fruitful work and happy leisure.


I love the life I live and all the people

Who cross my path, or walk alongside me,

Are valued more than status, wealth and power,

For what is life if love is not the key?


My loved ones know I’d never choose to leave them,

But some day the Lord will call me from on high.

I’ll go in faith and hope to ‘see them later’,

When we all meet in Heaven by-and-by.