G’night G’bless

Tommy and I slept in the box room single bed ‘top and toe’. When Coral was too big to share Mam and Dad’s bed, Tommy went around to Gran’s and Coral moved into the single bed with me. I eventually joined Tommy in the double bed in the back room at Gran’s when I was about nine.

In the evening at bed time, whatever the weather, on went hats and jackets, and Tommy and I headed off to sleep at our Gran’s house at 34 Harrison Street. Gran’s was a little larger than Hymers Street and although it still only had two bedrooms, both were large and both contained double beds.

Usually, sitting on the blackened cast iron hob in the fireplace, a huge pan of soup bubbled away. In front of the fire lay Gran’s tortoiseshell cat, Tishy. From the light cord hung a sticky ‘fly catcher’ strip which was bought in cylindrical form similar to a film roll. Granddad had his own chair beside the fire. He didn’t smoke like everyone else, but chewed on a wad of tobacco. Periodically, a loud hiss and sizzle would erupt in the fire as he spat out the ‘baccy’ juice. If we were hungry for a treat, he sometimes made us a sandwich of thick condensed milk before bed.

Being a wharf labourer, Granddad was a staunch socialist and he always bought the Daily Herald. He lectured us boys on “That war-monger Churchill” and how he sent the troops in to sort out the striking miners. He also explained to us the significance of the logo of a crusader in chains on the front page of the Daily. The chains appeared on the soldier when the ‘Tory toe rags’ censored the paper’s editorial.

The Parish church clock was visible from Gran’s back bedroom window, so no clock was needed in the house. The pattern each school day was the same. We were up by 8:00am and in winter, it was still dark. We dressed swiftly. My wet nightshirt was whipped off and singlet put on. Then I donned my shirt, short pants (no underpants) and braces. Long socks and studded leather boots, courtesy of granddad and his cobbler’s last, completed the operation.

Then we were out the door, along Trinity Terrace, over Pennyman Street and on to home, letting ourselves in at home by twenty past eight. Mam was usually still in bed, so us three children were left to use our own initiative to get off to school.

Tommy recollects one particular day:

‘My brother and I didn’t sleep at home. We shared a double bed in the back bedroom at Gran’s. Ray woke up straight away and was out of bed before me – he was happy he hadn’t wet the bed. I was happy too – I didn’t have a wet vest to go to school with! We got dressed and as it was my turn to go and get Grandad’s morning Herald from the paper shop, I was scheming how I could get Ray to go instead. Most times when I tried hard enough, he would submit to my persuasive bullying pleas, but this time he was off home and I had to go in my precious morning time’

The only heating in the house was the coal fire in the fireplace downstairs. The bedroom windows were quite often covered with a coating of ice on the inside due to the condensation during the night. The small fireplace in Mam and Dad’s bedroom was only utilised on rare occasions if someone (usually Dad) was very sick. Downstairs was slightly warmer but the fire would not be lit until Mam got up later. During summer it was a different story. The fireplace remained clean and it stayed light until 10:00pm.

Breakfast was a jam sandwich and a cup of tea. At the weekend we were treated to a breakfast of Weetabix. Only one pint of milk was bought each day for the whole family, so tea was added to the cereal to supplement the meagre milk quota. After breakfast, jumpers, jackets and balaclava in winter were donned, then out the door.

Frank Sinatra – ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’  1953
Three coins in the fountain
Each one seeking happiness
Thrown by three hopeful lovers
Which one will the fountain bless?

The school bell rang on the dot of 4:00pm. The classmates exited the building and turned west up Cargo Fleet Lane. Low cloud had developed during the afternoon and the street gas lights were being lit earlier than usual. Over towards South Bank and Grangetown, the sky periodically lit up blood red, as coke ovens doors were opened or molten slag was poured down the slopes of the slag heaps near the Trunk Road.

The fog that drifted upstream from the South Gare became trapped between the Tees Valley floor and the cloud mass above Eston Hills to the South, preventing any escape. The toxic gases from Cochran’s and Saddlers tar works began mixing with the fog. Often by the time I had progressed to James Street, visibility was reduced to a few yards. Our eyes watered and throats stung with each breath.

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