My first visit to the cinema, so my Dad told me, was at about seven or eight weeks old. He said Mum would fill me up with milk, do the back patting bit, and put an extra nappy on! Then when they were ready for the road I’d be well wrapped in the big shawl and off we’d go. This was before sound films began so perhaps it was the faint sound of the piano playing heard through all my swaddling that put me back to sleep on the few times I wakened. The first film I actually remember, but only vaguely and years later, was a Shirley Temple one. Later Mum took me to all of her films as they came out and I thought Shirley was wonderful. Anabel’s first sight of Shirley was at about three. Someone was nasty to Shirley and she cried so much I was afraid we’d have to go out but Mum took her up and comforted her. She later had a lovely Shirley Temple frock and a Shirley Doll and became a fan. We loved Roy Rogers and his horse (especially the horse), Black Beauty with Elizabeth Taylor and lots more.
Mum bought our weekly comics: the first were Chick’s Own and Tiny Tots. We graduated to Rainbow, Tiger Tim, Beano, Girls’ Own Paper, Children’s Newspaper, and so on. One of my friends had a wet day pastime – from when we were eight or nine she would gather her comics, put on her raincoat and wellies and go round on a comic exchange. She usually had some boys’ comics like Hotspur and Rover, which I liked for the big adventures girls’ comics didn’t have. Rena would spend time with us, then on to the next exchange. It was a great idea. Dad also had Picture Post for the short time it was published, plus Illustrated Weekly and John Bull’s Weekly. It had a competition called Bullets and I won 10 shillings in it when I was seventeen. They gave a list of phrases and you added a few words to make something of it. It was towards the end of the War. The phrase I chose was ‘Knew something’ and I added ‘Man who lost memory’. I was delighted with the 10 shillings.
Mum and Dad liked the theatre and we went to Saturday matinées in Glasgow now and then. Twice we went to the pantomime at The Alhambra. One was Cinderella with Will Fyffe and Harry Gordon as the Ugly Sisters. The costumes were amazing, and the finale with the whole cast on the stage was breath-taking. Will Fyffe made the song I belong to Glasgow world-famous. It was said that Harry Lauder turned down the song as he wasn’t fond of strong drink. The stars were the same in the second panto, which I think was Aladdin but I’m not sure. There were variety acts in most theatres then – always a major act plus dancers, a singer, acrobats, perhaps an animal act and so on. Amongst others, we saw Laurel and Hardy, Winifred Atwell, Arthur Askey, Frankie Vaughan and Wilson, Keppel and Betty, (Sand Dancers). I liked them a lot. It was exciting sitting waiting for the lights to go down and the curtains to swish open. But first the orchestra would assemble and be greeted. There would be some tuning of instruments then the conductor, with his bow tie and baton, would enter to an ovation! We seldom see a show now, but when we do I still feel the buzz when the curtains part. The first ‘real’ singer we heard in a theatre was called Rise Stevens. She was very beautiful and had a truly magnificent voice.
Our Mum and Dad were good parents. Mum knitted and sewed for us and cooked us good, plain food. They provided lots of books, including Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, ten volumes and a fount of knowledge. Annabel and I both read Angela Brazil’s books, mostly about boarding school girls. The stories were good but I felt sorry for girls who didn’t have their parents handy! We wouldn’t have enjoyed that. The first classics I remember were abridged versions of Jane Eyre and David Copperfield. My friend Mattie gave me Sense and Sensibility for Christmas in 1942, and I was hooked on Jane Austen. I can’t remember how many times since then that I’ve read all of Austen. Uncle Bill gave us a complete set of Dickens and I read most of them. My daughter has them now. I was a bookworm from the start. My favourite reading positions were face down on the floor, or bed or grass, or kneeling on a chair leaning on the table. We had Libraries within walking distance when we lived in Greenock, and I joined a ‘Shop’ Library where you paid a penny a night to borrow. There I found D.E. Stevenson and Georgette Heyer and eventually bought all their books and still have them. Every now and again I reread some of them.
We listened to the wireless a lot, especially in wartime, for the news. I.T.M.A. (It’s that man again) was a funny programme and Tommy Handley was the star. Enoch, Ramsbottom and Me was funny too. Listening to plays and other broadcasts awakened the imagination. We only heard voices and noises (cars, buses, trains, animals, screams) and so each had their own idea of what the people and their surroundings were like. Another programme we all liked was In Town Tonight – the music was lively and people were interviewed. Children learned to sit quietly, especially when the grown-ups were engrossed!
Mum and Dad were affectionate parents and always there. We had a happy home life and we had the Toll and all the family who came and went. We weren’t showered with expensive gifts from any of them, but someone was always handy if we fell and skinned our knee and needed it to be kissed better! Or if we were hungry and wanted a jeely piece! Or any number of needs we might have. We were secure in our place. However, in 1938, when I was 11 and Annabel was coming up to 5, we got a lovely surprise which really put the icing on the cake. Mum and Dad bought us each a bicycle. Mine was a Raleigh 26” and Anabel’s a Fairy Cycle. We were flabbergasted and delighted. They were mega presents! It didn’t take long for Dad to get us riding the bikes in the lane that ran along the side of our building. He took each of us round to the lane at different times. He held me up at first then held the back of the saddle and I cycled up and down. When I got to the end of the lane and found I was on my own and Dad was waving to me from a distance I could hardly believe it. It was a great feeling. Anabel and I had years of pleasure and exercise with our bikes.