I can’t remember Mam and Dad ever having a holiday, but they gave us every opportunity that arose. Most families in the town could not afford the luxury of a holiday. The Middlesbrough and Gateshead Councils combined to send the secondary school third year children on a two-week holiday to a camp school near Hexham in Northumberland. Tommy, Coral and I were all lucky enough to go.

Dukehouse Wood Camp School was situated a short distance from Hexham, close to Hadrian’s Wall. The camp was built along military lines, with a row of cedar dormitories on either side of a grassed square. At one end of the square was the mess hall and adjacent to that a large assembly hall. Each morning the huts were inspected. Blankets had to be set in a neat square at the end of each bunk and clothes folded in an open locker, military style. It was a disciplined environment, but the students loved it.

Especially popular were the closely monitored social dances with the girls from Gateshead. Girls and boys were strictly segregated, but they managed to mix on the top field. The social dances were a big deal. The boys and girls lined up on opposite sides of the room and the boys had to cross the floor and ask a girl to dance. The girls were not allowed to refuse. Most of the dances were pretty basic with the Barn Dance being the most popular. One tune I remember well from these dances was ‘It Had To Be You’. Very apt!

Coral recalled the camp social night:

‘The girls from Gateshead had their social night with the boys from Middlesbrough and the girls from Middlesbrough with the boys from Gateshead. The Gateshead girls came from a poor mining area and had few appropriate clothes for the special occasion, so we all rallied around and lent them our full colourful petticoats for the evening.’

The tuck shop at the school camp had two hatches and was located at the end of the drill hall. The boys lined up on the left and the girls on the right. The boys glanced furtively at the girls and the girls whispered and giggled in response. I had my eye on a few of the Gateshead lasses, but realized I had no chance against the smooth talkers like Archie Pettit.

One of the girls who was walking out after being served threw a packet of sweets in my direction. I had danced with her at the social the night before. I saw the packet sliding towards me across the polished floor and to my horror it came to rest inches from my feet. Panic set in and a red glow quickly engulfed my whole face. Was the packet meant for me or was it just a bad misdirected shot?

Harry Connick Jr – ‘It Had to be You’
I wandered around
And finally found
That somebody who
Could make me be true
Could make me feel blue
And even be glad just to be sad
Thinking of you

I glanced at the boys on either side. Both were just as reluctant as me to claim the prize. No-one spoke or acknowledged the existence of the offering. After all, it seemed that I was the person the package had claimed. Mercifully, the line started to advance and I moved further from the packet. I wanted it to disappear, to evaporate or be kicked away, but it remained forlornly where it had come to rest. After what seemed like an eternity I arrived at the counter, got served and hurried out into the fresh air, having no idea what I had bought. Instead of a feeling of relief, all I felt was an overwhelming sad feeling of guilt. The young girl had pinned her heart on her sleeve and was rewarded with rejection.

Lots of the kids paired off. My girlfriend from Gateshead was Madeline. Madeline was a sweet innocent looking lass, but boy could she kiss! We corresponded for a while, but Gateshead and North Ormesby were a world apart, so we never met again and the letters petered out. A group of lads made the train journey to Gateshead to see the girls. Mam would have given me the money for the fare but I didn’t even ask.

The only other real holiday I remember as a kid was a week at Uncle Ronnie’s sister’s home. Marjory was married to a sergeant in the Royal Tank Regiment and they lived in the garrison town of Catterick, not far from Richmond.

Auntie Freda put five children on the bus to be met at the town square at Richmond. Our three cousins, Coral and me. Pauline and me were aged twelve, Marie eleven, and Coral and Janice aged nine.

On the way, Coral was sick. This set up a chain reaction and two of the other little ones joined in. I’m sure everyone on the bus was relieved to arrive at our destination.

Marjory was quite relaxed and along with her two  children we ran wild throughout the complex. We even scoured the rifle range and pocketed an assortment of cartridges and spent bullets. When Marjory’s husband came home one night, he lined us up in formation and marched us around before bedtime.


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