What happened next

The Birketts

Emily and Harry Birkett, second and third left, with Mum and Dad, John and his Dad and our daughters (c1963)

New things were happening all the time, of course, but after a couple of weeks we realised that when we walked down the road or went into shops people addressed us by name. It was as if a bush telegraph had gone round and we found it very heartening. Every time I was called ‘Mrs Mitchell’ I thought of John’s mother! It seemed odd particularly, when coming from really elderly people. However, Ernie Carrick always called me what I thought at first was Honey but was actually Hinny, a sort of affectionate name for younger people. I was happy with that! As far as I know, nobody really disliked us but there are various degrees of liking. From the start we had a mutual regard for Ernie, his wife Annie, her sister Emily and her husband Harry Birkett, which in time became friendship. They were around the age of our parents and treated us accordingly. John’s ‘Boss’, Mr Thynne, and his wife Olive were of similar age and we valued their guidance and friendship. It was a sad day for us when they moved on, but their daughter, Irene, was still around and we saw her quite often.

The first walk we had was with the Thynne family and I can’t remember the route except that we went under a bridge onto the main road and came back past the station so it was a circular tour. Harry and Emily took us out early on for a car run when we visited Lanercost Priory near Durham. It was a lovely autumn day. We walked for some time in the country and I was amazed at the variety of grasses in the verges. I ended up with a bouquet of flowering and seeding grass to take home, which looked really good in our lovely wedding present glass vase.

I think it was near the end of September that our doorbell rang one Saturday. I answered the door and there were two people standing there. Incredible as it sounds, I was so taken aback I couldn’t think who they were. I shut the door, leaving them on the doormat and shouted on John to come quickly which he did. I told him the tale and he opened the door. Guess what, it was Annabel and Jim paying us a surprise visit! My only excuse was that the last people I would expect to see at our door in Haltwhistle would be somebody from Greenock. Once I got over the shock we had a good laugh, or fit of hysteria perhaps! We didn’t have telephones at that time so it was great to see them and catch up with all their news. It was a very happy couple of days and a momentous occasion as they were the first people to stay with us. It was sad to see them go, but we knew we would be with them again right after Christmas when John had a few days off to spend in Greenock. As you can see, our guests spent their time in different ways!

The main What Happened Next event became evident when I began to suspect that I might be ‘expecting’. That really was exciting! We were both delighted at the possibility. It seems strange that then childbirth over 30 was given extra care. I sat in the waiting room at the surgery among what seemed quite a social gathering exchanging symptoms. Fortunately nobody asked me why I was there. Doctors Adamson and Taylor worked together and I saw Dr Taylor that day. He was very helpful and, indeed, both doctors were just great as far as I was concerned. He gave me forms to allow me free orange juice and cod liver oil, if my memory serves me right, and that was that. I was a fully qualified expectant mother and had the orange juice to prove it! What I only found out from another of the same was that I could get a Maternity Allowance, so by the time I applied I missed out on several weeks. Unfortunately I suffered from nausea and sickness for weeks and had very little appetite. Some frozen foods were making an appearance and I bought some chopped spinach for the novelty of it and became addicted! It was very tasty topped with a poached egg. So along with tea biscuits and toast and butter that was more or less my diet until things settled down.

Before long, a few of the older ladies were asking me if I was keeping well in a significant sort of way. We had told no one but our families. I thought of my visit to Dr Taylor and wondered if this had been broadcast with conjectures! I met Mrs Maughan one day, who had talked the Stewards into getting us a new mattress and bedroom suite, and it was obvious she knew fine so I asked how she knew. Apparently in the early days women get a sort of drawn look on their face and old hands can read the signs! Anyway, people were happy for us and, as there hadn’t been a new-born baby in the Manse for many years, it would be a big event.

We had a scare not long before Christmas when I made an alarming discovery one Monday morning. John was at the Super’s Manse helping to make the Preaching Plan for the next Quarter. We had only just been given a telephone so I was able to phone and speak to him. Mrs Thynne came hurrying over and she was a tower of strength. I was afraid but she calmed me down, made some tea and advised me to lie down till John came home, and see the doctor at the evening surgery. It was Dr Taylor again and he was quite reassuring and said women often miscarried early on, often without being aware of it. I was to rest for a bit and more or less hope for the best. It was quite upsetting but I did what he said. There were no scanners then, so no way of being definite, however all was well. One of John’s close family had had twins, so I thought perhaps I had lost one of two. After that everything went by the book except that I put on far too much weight and was ashamed every time I was weighed at the Clinic.

Haltwhistle was well equipped for taking care of mothers and children. There was a small Maternity Hospital and a separate Clinic both with great staff. I hope I’m not giving the impression Haltwhistle was a bit like Paradise! But all the staff in both were just right, friendly and helpful, you couldn’t help but like them. I don’t remember all their names but the two I remember with gratitude are Sister Cuthbert and Nurse Ridley. Sister was in charge and was quite a martinet by reputation, but in fact was kindness itself as was Nurse Ridley.

By the time we went to Greenock after we had been to all the Christmas ‘do’s’ in the churches (we particularly enjoyed the Sunday School parties!) we were ready for a break and time to spend with our nearest and dearest relations.

Writing the last few words reminded me of some verses I wrote years ago when Annabel’s and my last Auntie died ………

Relative values

Having a lot of relations can bring both pain and pleasure,

Joining in family gatherings gives one many moments to treasure.

BUT – Having a lot of relations sometimes causes a bit of stress,

When family relationships get into a right old mess!

THEN – Having a lot of relations isn’t always total bliss,

When troubles become too serious to be made better with a kiss!

HOWEVER – Having a lot of relations makes many a life worth living,

For the good times outweigh the bad times and the taking’s surpassed by the giving.

SO – Treasure your Grans and your Aunties, your nieces and cousins and sons,

And remember those who are ‘onlys’ and come, not in crowds, but in ones.


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