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.

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