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 …

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