Friday, October 19, 2012

London Bound

Well it's two & a half hours on one of England's finest carriages. Bloody cramped East Coast train sounds more accurate. Grandad always loved his London trips as a young man. I always questioned him on his ability to direct his little soft top vehicle Southwards & always hit the capital. His reply was always the same, so I've no doubt it was true. He drove to piercebridge a matter of a few miles away, then followed the telegraph poles to London. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for an inner ability to know ones whereabouts & direct oneself on the correct path. But haway man, bloody telegraph poles take some beating.
For the immediate brief time I'm going to look out from my carriage, drink my Stella, & think of good old Joe. My wonderful inspiring Grandfather.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's been too long.

Well the years have flown by, and I can't believe how long ago I wrote that last post. Just shared a few memories of Grandad with a friend, and it's made me think. The years don't seem to have brought much happiness. But one thing's certain, memories of loved ones past can bring so much comfort in dark times.
I can't ever remember Grandad being in a low mood or angry state. Not until Grandma had to leave the marital home due to illness. Then he struggled with depression. But like he always did, he got over it and enjoyed a wonderful. few years with his friends and family.

I'll have to continue with his tales and my recollection of the tales that still bring me happiness and comfort.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Who was Joe ?

Joseph Simpson;
Co Durham,

Passport photo..with hair

Born in 1902 at Evenwood, County Durham, England.

He started life, so mam says, as a rather weak and somewhat sickly baby. Evenwood, being the typical mining village inhabited by strong hard working families had a strong community spirit sometimes lacking today. A new born would be welcomed into the world by neighbours, friends and family rallying round to give support to not only the child and mother, but to the family as a whole.

"she always thought of herself above most others. If she lent out a cup of dripping, by the time the news reached the top of Chapel Street, it was half a pig"

Knowing Joseph as my grandfather, strong in body and stronger in character, it seems rather strange to be told he spent the first few months being walked around Evenwood village green to get the morning dew into his lungs. Not a medically sound remedy now, but in those days the morning dew was thought to build weak lungs and help a sickly child.

I can't imagine modern medical science agreeing to the practice of 'dew walking' today.

The times we were told of the night a young Joseph ran out of the end of Chapel Street to witness St Pauls church across the green in flames.

Held in his fathers arms witnessing a piece of local history in the making.

The day the steeplejacks came to Randolph Colliery must have been nothing out of the ordinary, until they met Joe. During a tea break a conversation arose about fear of heights and the likes. The steeplejacks said that, for all they didn't mind climbing the dizzy heights of chimneys, they wouldn't feel comfortable going underground. The colliery workers present said they didn't mind the going down, but no bloody way would they climb the heights the steeplejacks had to.

Then Joe got involved in the chat.....................

He worked as a trainee cashier at the colliery but had experienced the journey down the pit shaft. Therefore his input to the conversation was that he didn't mind either. He'd been down the pit and didn't mind heights. So like most workplace settings, a dare followed. I can imagine it now, "go on Joe, you show em". They all stepped outside and proceeded to explain the difficulty of the climb up the chimney, but Joe wasn't ruffled at all by the thought of the height. Up he went, to the top of Randolph Colliery main chimney, much to the annoyance of the steeplejacks no doubt, but that was my Grandfather.

We heard the steeplejacks whistling, then a horrific scream. One had come off the chimney, poor soul.

I suppose, knowing my Grandfather, he'd have had a good inspection of his house roof across the green to make sure all was well. After all, why waste a good view. The journey down was suggested to be made on the little piece of wood attached to two ropes, the rather femur contraption that many would look up at and wonder how the hell anyone managed to sit on such a small piece of timber and feel safe. Down he came, but the work collegue stood at the bottom with the rest of the workers felt it a good idea to grab the ropes and give Joe a good swing, just to make the downward journey a little more interesting no doubt .

"When me father worked down the pit"

The fusebox......

As a wee nipper I recall the Saturdays spent in Darlington shopping with Grandad. With Grandma, he would come through to pick myself and mam up and we'd all go and spend the day shopping, or should I say mam and Grandma would shop and I would be at the mercy of Joe. It could be a day around town looking for the best meat at the best price, I can see him now ruttling through the pieces of meat in the indoor market, steaks flung to the left and chops to the right, and me just stood behind doing the bored child routine.

Any child that's stood for hours, well that may be a slight exaggeration. Lets just say it felt like hours, on the street waiting till the flat capped gentleman holding tightly onto your hand stopped talking. I often thought how well known he was, but boy, how boring that could be for me.

I recall the time when he needed some weird and wonderful part for the car, not just any car but his lovely Austin Vanden Plas 1300. He'd parked up in Valley Street, in amongst the throng of car dealers and repair shops, and I was instructed to wait in the car. "I won't be long" I'd heard that a few times before and knew I was in for a long boring wait. The funny thing was there was two wires hanging down from the dashboard wrapped in foil, and his last words were something like "make sure you don't mess with those wires, they mustn't touch". Looking back it's hard to believe what a stupid statement to make to a child, and as soon as he left the car, the temptation to fiddle took over. A poke, a prod and then 'POP' the wires met and something must have fused. It felt like waiting for the jury to return, but as soon as he got back in the car, he knew...He never shouted or was harsh, but gave that "I know everything" look. Oh, the guilt as we drove to pick mam and Grandma up

"Your kindness is crushing, just like your feet"

Look, a helicopter.

An early, but rather dramatic memory was driving home from Barnard Castle in the back of Grandads car. It was a dark horrid night, with driving rain. We approached the Stainton Army camp between 'barny' and staindrop, and Grandad spotted the flashing lights of an army helicopter coming in to land. Me being in the car, all effort was made to enable my little prying eyes to witness such an exciting event, well exciting to me at such an early age.

Pulling into the side of the road I was lifted to a side window and could see the flashing lights through the driving rain. As the chopper came closer I vaguely remember being suddenly startled, and knowing me, probably bursting into tears. The car rear windscreen shattered and covered me and mam in little bits of glass. The shock of witnessing a helicopter come to land and then suddenly being covered in glass must have been rather, er, shocking, for want of a better word. The driving rain had meant a young cyclist had been coming up from behind, but had been cycling with his head down and hood up, resulting in him unceremoniously crashing through the rear windscreen. The poor chap had blood everywhere, and I must be honest, as a child this must have been a fantastic night to tell the kids the next day. But hold on, it got better...

...Whilst mam and Grandad helped the poor injured cyclist, a bloody army convoy came up from behind, yes, a flippin convoy of jeeps lorries and tanks. They stopped to see if any help was needed and recommended we followed the leading jeep into the camp to the army hospital. Well knock me down with a fluffy feather, but this had to be a night a childs dreams are made of. Whilst the doctors tended to the chap, Grandad drove to the boys home to inform his parents of the accident.

Luckily, nothing too serious in injuries, but my tale to tell the next day must have included a face hanging off and as many tanks as was used in the two world wars (exaggeration is my middle name)

and to end this latest recollection of days with Joseph, My Aunt taught the cyclist at school.

Bet he didn't take an apple in for the teacher..

Don't Go Down The Mine Dad.

A miner was leaving his home for his work,

when he heard his little child scream.

He went to his bedside, his little white face,

"Oh, Daddy, I've had such a dream:

I dreamt that I saw the pit all afire,

and men struggled hard for their lives;

The scene it then changed, and the top of the mine

Was surrounded by sweethearts and wives."

"Don't go down the mine, Dad

Dreams very often come true;

Daddy, you know it would break my heart

If anything happened to you;

Just go and tell my dream to your mates,

And as true as the stars that shine,

Something is going to happen today.

Dear Daddy, don't go down the mine!"

The miner, a man with a heart good and kind,

Sat by the side of his son:

He said "It's my living, I can't stay away,

For duty, my lad, must be done."

The little one look'd up, and sadly he said:

"Oh, please stay today with me, Dad!"

But as the brave miner went forth to his work,

He heard his little lad cry!


Whilst waiting his turn with his mates to descend

He could not banish his fears;

He'd return'd home again to his wife and his child,

These words seem'd to ring through his ears,

And ere the day ended, the pit was on fire,

When a score of brave men lost their lives;

He thanked God above for the dream his child had,

As once more the little one cried -


Brakes, What Brakes

One tale told as a youngster, was the time Grandad made one of his regular journeys to Bishop Auckland. What he went for could be anyone's guess. Sausages or a joint of meat could be a good guess. A few slices of ham or a loaf of bread could be another good guess, but either way he must have come back rather less chirpy than he left.

On his return, Grandma said he walked in and chucked the shopping onto the kitchen table in rather an uncharacteristically stroppy fashion. "I've bumped the car". The kettle must have been placed straight onto the single gas ring in the corner of the room. It seems any drama had to be followed with a nice hot cuppa.

"A cuppa could stop a world war, surely"

It seems his beloved car had developed a slight problem with its brakes....Due to a personal pride as big as a lions, and maybe a slight fear of gossip, any problem attached to Joes cars wouldn't be his fault....and if it was, there would be a non-existent chance of him admitting it. It seems Copeland Road, the only hill to descend on the route to Auckland had been the convenient point for the brakes to fail. Not being one for panic, a solution was promptly found, the local coal waggon. Yes, in the distance was a coal waggon heading into West Auckland, and surely they wouldn't mind a little 'Vanden Plas' up the rear end. A manouver worthy of any Bond movie resulted in Joe using the coal waggon to slow his car down......after all, what's the point of a coal waggon, if not to run into.

If your late.......walk.

When Grandad worked at the colliery he was a trusted friend and collegue. This was one of the reasons he was asked to organise trips away for the men. Another reason was Joe was a non drinker, a teetotal man all his life, apart from the odd drink at xmas and the likes.

Seems in those days Blackpool was as popular as it is today, but I imagine a lot cleaner then. He learnt to drive with a local bus company owner and friend, and when one Blackpool trip was organised, Grandad was allowed to take the men in one of the coaches. The thought of someone just taking a coach and popping off to Blackpool seems a little far fetched, but in those days these things happened.

Anyway off they trot across the country and on arrival to Blackpool Grandad laid down the rules. Now this is where I can imagine everyone just rushing off the bus like excited schoolkids, but knowing Joe I think this is where they went wrong. The coach owner told him to make sure he set a time for all to return to the coach for the journey home, and so this is exactly what he did. The fact that nobody really must have taken the instructions given very seriously, wouldn't have bothered Grandad at all. He was an honest man and straight to the point, but not a man to be made a fool of.

The day would have gone well, as trips in those days were quite a luxury. A hard working life down the mine and the lack of spare cash, meant the year of saving was going to end in a well earned day of fun and excitement. However this day was to end with Grandad having the last laugh. He got back to the coach early and prepared for the return drive. When the allotted time came, nobody had returned to the coach. Like I said Joe wasn't a walkover, but at the same time he gave the trippers more time than he wanted to. Nobody had arrived back at the coach so without any delay he set off home. Arriving back at the coach garage with an empty coach must have been the talk of the village, "where's the passengers Joe ?" I can just imagine the women all waiting for their husbands, to be told "If they'd got back at the time they were told they'd be no problem". I can see him now, just making his way back home without a guily hair on his head.

How the men got home and when, was never really mentioned when he told the tale to us. But to be honest I don't think he was bothered. He did say they always listened to his instructions on every trip since.

DURHAM MINERS GALA – 'The Big Meeting'

The morn is wor Big meetin’ day,
The grandest day of all.
The banner lifts at 8 o’clock
Ootside the Miners’ Hall.
Wor lass and bairns’ll all be there
And Granny in her shaal.
We’ll march through Durhams coggly streets
To music from wor band,
Wi’ croods in front and croods ahint
And croods on eether hand.
And on wor backs’ll be the bairns,
The bonniest in the land.
The speakin’ starts at 12 o’clock;
We’ll hear Clem Attlee’s patter,
He’ll talk aboot the Government
Or some such vital matter.
And if he disn’t please us, why
We’ll hoy him in the wattor.
And when the speechifyin’s done,
And all the Nobs have went,
We’ll find a seat and hev wor bait,
In the aad Esh Winnin’ Tent,
Then join the folks around the Shows
That’s all on pleasure bent.
Back on the toon we’ll tak a drink
And flirt wi’ all the lasses,
And spare a word for all we meet,
All kinds, all creeds, all classes.
But canny on, me bonny lads,
And divent smash the glasses!
And as the darkness comes to end
The best of all good neets,
We’ll climb the hill and leave behind
The friendly, homely streets,
And though we’re tired and footsore, why
At least we’ve had wor reets!

Etherley Dean Colliery...

At the top of Escomb Road in Bishop Auckland, the pit yard had come on the market for sale. Grandad and a colleague obviously had contacts in the coal business, either suppliers or customers, and so came up with an idea of their own company.
The yard was purchased along with some of the wagons and most of the fixtures and fittings in the offices. The first hurdle to overcome was the fact that everything they bought, and he did emphasise everything, had E.D.C either printed on, painted on or stamped on. The yard was Etherley Dean Colliery, and so E.D.C seems appropriate. But I don't think the Coal Board would have been too pleased with the name being used by others. Thinking flat caps on, and they came up with the not so original but nevertheless effective title of Economic Delivery of Coal. When you think of it, it wasn’t too bad an idea, even the stationary had E.D.C printed on it.
I’ve still got a brass miners tag on my key ring with Etherley Dean Colliery stamped into it.
The business rolled along for a few years, and ran deliveries of coal to local companies around Bishop Auckland and Darlington.
I remember a new bar opening in Darlington in the 80’s. It being the new so called ‘trendy’ bar, we had to try it out. Days later I was visiting Grandad at Evenwood and mentioned the pub and it’s name Blacketts. He laughed and said he’d been in. Well I had to correct him and explained it had just opened. “NO“, he said, “I used to lead coal in after the war” He then explained that the building used to be called Blacketts when it was a factory of some sorts. He used to take the coal through the arch at the front and drop it off at the rear.
.......Another example of realising you couldn’t tell him anything new.
Every week they had to go round and collect payment from everyone, either company customers or private homes. Mam knew one of the customers on the round and recollects the time this customer remembered about the Christmas collection.
Joe and his partner started the round after work and as was the normal practice at the time, took a Christmas gift at each customer. The gift was usually either Christmas cake and a drink of something alcoholic or the just the drink. Now let’s make it clear, Joe wasn’t a drinker at all. In fact Grandma was told by her mother as a young girl, never to marry a drinker. So she picked him, lovely man but more importantly a non drinker. Well you can imagine the number of customers on the round, and most offering drink.
I bet the modern day drink drive law courts would have been busy.
But mam was told that at the end of the round Grandad had taken over the driving because his business partner, who liked a drink, was blotto. Seems even alcohol couldn’t beat Grandad.
The best part was though, years later when Grandad told me the tale, he said that his mate got that fed up of all the cake, he used to slip it in his pockets at the last few homes and then put it in the lorry. On the way up Ramshaw bank into Evenwood he opened the window, threw the cake over the wall into Evenwood cemetery and shouted “here, help yourself”..............

...I have visions of the movie ‘Dawn of the Dead’..... what’s that the zombies are eating ???

I can always smile at the memory of Alison, my lovely cousin, returning from the weekly Simpson shopping trip. She came into the kitchen at Grandads, to quickly tell us what had her tickled about the trip. Speed was of essence to get the words out before Grandad came through the door and started his rant about the price of potted meat or sugar. Why, we'll never know, but he had this thing about the price of sugar. I can remember when one of the first cheap freezer shops opened in Shildon. He drove across to the shop to save pennies on each bag of sugar, and only bought a small quantity. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the petrol used cancel out any saving on the sugar. Nobody dared mention it though. He just thought he'd got one over on someone.
Oh sorry, to get back on track. Now Grandad was no lover of speed whilst driving, but at the same time had this inbuilt hatred of anyone overtaking him. He had an awful habit of putting his foot down if anybody dared try to pass him.
Don't we call them Sunday drivers these days ?.
Seems Alison had to endure one of our Grandads more relaxed drives, I feel she would be rather horrified at the thought of anyone she knew seeing her. Going through to Bishop Auckland, she said she was looking out of the passenger window when a dog ran passed the car. Not in the opposite direction, but overtook them. A West Auckland dog had the nerve to overtake Joe. She wouldn't know whether to laugh, cry or just slowly slide down the seat and try to hide.
But would Joe be embarrassed ? way, embarrassment wasn't in his vocabulary.

Two teacakes, one tea and a pop......Please.

Saturdays weren't always the tedious chore of standing on corners, and the desperate pulling of Grandads hand to try and escape the continuous stream of conversation passing between himself and some friend or colleague he always seemed to meet. Looking back he seemed to have a knack of getting the correct balance between his interests, and the interests of the freckly kid he always had dangling from the end of his arm...ME.
As mentioned earlier, Grandad’s interests seemed to either revolve around seeking that elusive bargain, whether it be an unbelievable offer on jam, or a never to be repeated price on a bag of sugar. Or it was a hunt for some weird looking spare part for maybe the Hoover, the car or even the good old outside toilet down the yard.
I recall following him into many shop for tins of ‘Fussels Creamed Rice’. I think the memory of Fussels is permanently etched in my mind. If only the maths lessons at school were as clear as bargain hunting for Fussels rice.
Some Saturdays involved a toasted teacake and glass of pop. Now this treat was as much for him as it was for me, but he could make it sound as though it was me who wanted the teacake, but to be honest it was a joint decision. We both got to savour a toasted teacake, I got my pop and he got his cup of it was satisfaction all round.

Before the monstrosity of the Cornmill shopping centre in Darlington was built, the CO-OP had a large department store on the site. Half way down Tubwell Row, and backing onto Preistgate. The store had a large restaurant upstairs, well to me it was large, but maybe time has exaggerated the dimensions. But it was here that we would make our way upstairs and Grandad would purchase two teacakes lightly buttered, one tea and whatever glass of pop I fancied. Fizzy blackcurrant was popular, but left a purple moustache that had the threat of a wipe from Joes handkerchief. Another early Saturday memory was the excitement of my first train journey. Bag of crisp puffs in hand, I remember feeling that the journey would maybe terminate at London, or even in a City I hadn't heard of. Somewhere that I could brag about to mates around the neighbourhood. But no, years later mam explained he took me to Thornaby. Bloody Thornaby, it's only a few miles down the line. But I still have a vague memory of my first train journey. Thanks again, to Grandad.

When the bomb dropped at Evenwood Gate, he ran in the pub looking like Al Johnson

UFOs over Evenwood

The home in Evenwood was a simple end terrace stone built house, back yard and outside toilet. Seems with three girls, Grandad wanted a little more space. The idea of a bathroom built out from the kitchen was one copied throughout mining villages across the country. No chance of building up, so they tended to put a door into the kitchen wall facing the yard, and build out. Narrowing the yard wasn't really a problem, the main need for outdoor space was for doing the washing chores. The washing itself however, used to be hung out in the back street, not very practical when the kids ran from the top of the street down to the bottom, through all the hanging washing. The local coal dust from the colliery wouldn't have helped the whites get whiter than white either.
Rather than just build a bathroom, Grandad built the full length of the yard, and so creating an extra room on the end, a washhouse. This would end up later as Joe's personal workshop, or should I say junk room. Everything seemed to be stored in the washroom, from tools and wood, right down to my fishing net. A net that I can proudly say caught many a monster stickleback down at the mill.
Years later the bathrooms outside wall became damp, and a problem whenever it needed wallpapering. The washhouse seemed to be getting wet down the back wall too. Seems the tiles had slipped in places and needed taking off and cleaning, ready to be replaced properly, and so came the saga of re-tiling the roof.
Grandads eyesight was getting worse, and his reluctance to pay a roofer was getting greater. He asked if I would help him re-tile the extension roof., and to be honest he was a master at asking for assistance knowing that the way he asked you just couldn't say no. I seem to remember it was a dull morning when I got up on the roof, and rather cold. Never having done roof work before it was literally, the 'nearly blind leading the useless'
As I removed the tiles I had to pass them down to Grandad in the yard to be cleaned. The fact that he couldn't see well enough to be on the roof to do the job himself would have annoyed him somewhat. He did sometimes get a little sharp with people he had to have help. But to be honest, a man so independent as he was all his life, it must have been awful when his eyes went.
With all the tiles down in the yard, I can recollect looking down from the ladder and getting a birds eye view of a flat cap, bobbing around the yard, as he wire brushed the last few slates. Grandma always seemed to think I needed a cup of tea every few minutes, just to keep the chill off. Like I said earlier, bloody tea cured all ills.
When it came to replacing the tiles back onto the roof the weather closed in. I can't remember what time of year it was, but I seem to remember it was going to be dark, either as we finished, or before we finished. Grandad came from the washhouse with his jar of slate nails. Not nice, clean ,new and straight nails, but the usual second hand nails he seemed to have an unlimited supply of. If you ever needed a nail screw or pin, you could guarantee Joe had them, just you might have to straighten them first. A few lines of tiles on the roof and I felt a little happier, this wasn't too hard, and Grandad seemed pleased with what we'd done. The fact that he couldn't see what we'd done might have helped.
A car appeared at Bank Top across the green, turned into the side road and approached the house. Usually they drove past and up Chapel Street, but not this one. Pulling in and parking up from the gable end I realised it was Uncle Keith, I couldn't have been happier, someone to help get the job done before dark. Keith came up the ladder to help, and with that special skill he had and still has of making a joke of everything , he changed the tedious chore into a job full of laughter. We put another few rows on the roof and whenever Grandad started up the ladder Keith always had a way of keeping him at the bottom. Either by asking him to pass something or by saying things like, "Is that the kids at the gate Joe" Grandad didn't like to miss anything, and was torn between overseeing the roofing job and catching people who passed the house for a chat.
With the last line of tiles going on before the ridge tiles had to be cemented on, we sort of looked at each other. The tiles we had left seemed to be a greater quantity than the spaces we had left to put them in. "Don't say anything," was Keith's answer to my questioning of the problem in front of us, "is that it then ?" was Joe's question, as he started up the ladder to inspect his beloved washhouse roof. "Bloody hell, he's coming up", with that Uncle Keith pointed to the green over the road, and with that look that sort of said follow me, he started chucking the remaining tiles across into the tall grass. No reports of square UFOs were ever made to my knowledge. Grandad couldn't understand what we were giggling at, but with his inspection over he made his way back down into the yard and proceeded to sort out some cement for the ridge tiles.
The job was completed, and passed the Simpson inspection, and to this day it looks as though the roof is the same one that we so, er, cough cough, skilfully repaired.
We had to laugh later, when Keith said that in a few days time Grandad would come home with some tiles he’d find on the green., and say to Grandma, how some people throw away such useful things.