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!


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