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by Christine McCherry

I have just passed my seventieth birthday and it’s got me thinking how far we have come in my lifetime. My children bought me a holiday to the U.S.A. for my birthday. I come home to a comfortable bungalow by the sea. I have a bathroom, instant hot water, inside toilet, food in my belly, saving’s in the bank.

I take these things for granted today.

I was born in a tiny, two-up, two-down terraced house in Rishton. There was no hot water, no bathroom and no electricity. The toilet was outside in the yard. It was a ‘tippler’ which meant that all the waste was caught in a wooden V shaped basket until the weight made it tipple and deposit everything into the sewers below. Later on, we moved to Blackburn to a house near the canal. Our toilet was in the cellar. I had to carry a candle and could hear the rats scurrying from the light. We were often hungry, cold and desperate for money.

Even among all this poverty there was pride.

Housewives dolly stoned their front steps once a week, kneeling on a home- made pad as they rubbed the soft yellow stone over the grey surface to make a pattern on the step. The windows had to be cleaned and the net curtains soaked in Dolly Blue to keep them white. The flagstones at the front of the house were regularly scrubbed to remove the dirt and soot. Most of the houses had open fires burning anything from coal or coke, old linoleum, or even car battery cases bought from the scrap yard . In the winter, the air was filled with choking fumes belching from the chimneys. The Summer would see the occupants spilling out of the houses desperate to escape the heat and the smells. The kids played hopscotch on the pavement or tied rope to the arms of the gas lamps to make a swing, raggedy britches and dirty faces, pushing and running and laughing, unworried by the occasional car trundling past them along the narrow street.

There was old Fred, who lost his legs and was gassed in the First World War who sat outside his house wearing his medals proudly on his waistcoat. Rain or shine, he rested in a dilapidated bath chair on the pavement, watching the world go by. Men offered him a cigarette when his pipe gave out. The neighbours always had time to stop and chat with him.

Luigi Bogianni, the ice cream man, had been a prisoner in England during the Second World War. He clattered over the cobbles with his immaculately groomed horse which pulled a highly polished wooden cart, singing opera at the top of his voice and ringing a brass bell. He gave free ice cream cornets to the poor children in the street. 

The pop man delivered his wares on the back of a flat cart. The pop came in brown stone jars that had to be returned or he charged you an extra shilling. They had Ginger Beer and Dandelion and Burdock and sweet lemonade.

A cheerful little fellow wearing a leather apron and a flat cap would appear every now and again offering to sharpen knives and mend pots and pans. He whistled tunelessly as he pedalled on his machine to make the wheels fly round. The kids gathered to watch, mesmerised, as sparks flew from the madly whirling grindstone.

The rag and bone man paid much needed coppers for empty jam jars or piles of rags. Sometimes, when things were really desperate, my mother gathered up the bedding to pawn. The half a crown she got for them fed the family over the weekend. Old army greatcoats kept them warm until she could redeem the sheets and blankets later.

There was a fish and chip shop on the hill near the canal which sold bits of batter left over from the days cooking for a penny a bag.  Sometimes, if there was a lot left over, the lady behind the counter gave it away. It was a welcome meal for hungry mouths

Rationing wasn’t totally phased out until nineteen fifty four. I bought rainbow crystals with my coupons. You got a lot for your money. They were sold in a flimsy conical shaped paper bag.  I wet my finger and dipped it into the bag until it was covered in sherbet.  After a while the bag became soggy and fell apart. It was a race to empty the bag before the sweet sherbet was lost.

The Roxy cinema was just round the corner on the main road. I often sneaked in during the interval, avoiding the eagle eye of the smartly dressed commissionaire with his red and blue uniform and peaked cap. The local grocery store did deliveries on a Friday. A young lad wearing a white apron and cloth cap carried the cardboard box containing their order into the house and placed it on the big pine table before pedalling off back to the shop to pick up his next delivery. My brothers and I would wait expectantly, while mother peeled a huge juicy orange and gave us a segment each.

The coal man emptied a heavy sack of coal down into the cellar once a fortnight. The postman came at least twice a day. There were window cleaners and milkmen. There was even the gas lamp lighter and the knocker upper who would come early in the morning and tap on the bedroom window with a long pole to wake you up in time for work.  Further up the hill on the main road was the scrap yard, where they could weigh in bits of lead piping or copper wire collected over time from the spare land near the house.

Each Sunday I would go to the Blackburn Ragged School and be taught  scriptures. Only I never listened. I was only there to get a ticket to the Christmas breakfast party where I was given a pork pie, a cup of orange juice and a piece of fruit. Before I returned home I was given an old toy donated by the posh folk of the parish.

They swept us all away in the late fifties.  We were given a council house on the edge of Blackburn. There was a garden, and cleaner fresher air. There was a bathroom, electricity, an inside toilet. Something was missing though.

There were no shops, no delivery men, no old Fred, no Ragged school or singing ice cream man to colour the darker days. The support network that had been built up over years of struggle had been taken from us.

We were on our own. The heart had been ripped out of the community the day the houses were emptied and the bulldozers moved in.

Now, we are better off in so many ways. Yet there is stress, unhappiness and lack of pride in our town, in our country.

Why is that, I wonder?

Are our expectations too great?

We took our pleasures in small things.  A bag of sherbet, a picnic,  playing in the park, helping a neighbour.

Whatever the reasons, I could never go back to those desperate, far off days.

Perhaps, though, we can learn lessons from the past that would help us enjoy our future more.




Windmill, LythamWhalley AbbeyWelcome Home, FleetwoodBlackpool TowerDownham VillageDarwen TowerSt. Anne's PierEric Morecambe Statue, Morecambe


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