WHO AM I?

One hundred years ago is not much more than one lifetime, in fact my lifetime.  I confess my own memories do not go back a hundred years, my research into family history and the relationship I had with both sets of grandparents convinces me that I can understand something of the childhoods of my mother and father. My mother was in 1917 6 months old, my father was 2 years and 2 months old, they were born a few streets from each other, in the same town, Sunderland. My father was the first child of a young couple. When just a few months old he went to live with his grandmother, she had a second family a few years older, his uncle became his closest friend. He returned to his parents when he was old enough to go to school.

His parents were tenants occupying a couple of rooms in a shared house, George, my grandfather worked in the shipyards which stretched out on both banks of the river. He was a labourer, the skilled men jealously guarded  their status, apprenticeships were for their own sons.

    The River Wear had for most of the previous century become the focus of industrial activity. The extremely valuable mineral coal had been discovered, for the most part close to the surface 10 miles upstream at Chester-le-Street. The best way to transport this material was in flat bottomed  keels, to the port. The coal was then loaded on to larger ships and carried to the Midlands and the south east to fuel the mechanisation of the developing  industries and heat the homes of the wealthy manufacturers and traders. The establishment of the railways in the mid nineteenth century both transported the coal to other industries and used a great deal of it to power the increasingly efficient steam engines. Glass, lime and pottery also developed and of course Sunderland overtook Newcastle as the biggest ship-building town in the world, in addition mast and rope-making would in time become the town’s greatest industries. During the nineteenth century thousands of young people were attracted to the town with the promise of regular work, mainly from rural areas in northern England, Scotland and Ireland.

MY FAMILY.

I have been able to trace the arrival of my great, great grandfather, Thomas Taylor Pickering in the 1840s.  He was born in Whitby, a shipbuilding, coal transporting and whaling port in 1824.  The huge wealth created by  coal meant it was often referred to as ‘black diamonds’ . Sunderland’s development as a port owed much to the plentiful supply of coal in Durham.   Thomas started working on the colliers as a boy. Work was hard and dangerous. In his later teens he made his home in the port of Sunderland, at the age of twenty, he married a Sunderland  girl, Mary Thornton. They brought up their large family in the town. My great grandfather William was one of his sons, my grandfather George was William’s youngest child, born in 1893. George’s mother died in 1906 when he was just twelve years old, his father and three of his brothers were then looked after by one of his married sisters, as recorded in the 1911 Census.

On the 1st February 1913, at the age of twenty  George married his girl friend Katherine Johnson at Sunderland Registry Office . I have never seen any pictures of the wedding, I assume that none were taken. The first picture I have is of my grandmother holding my father, George William when he was a few months old in 1915. My father  was born on the 30th December 1914.  My dear father did once actually have a number, he was called up to serve in the Royal Artillery in 1942.  My family, mother and two little girls were extremely fortunate that he came back to us. He caught rheumatic fever during his service and it was some considerable time before he was well enough to go back to work.

My family are not the sort of family you usually find written about in history books.  No Prime Ministers, Members of Parliament, Captains of Industry, in fact no-one of any importance at all. We feature only in the aggregate numbers section  for example workers or more explicitly the working class. Decisions were made for us; in 1870 the law said every child had to go to school, so in the 1890s my grand-parents went to school.  No man or woman without property could vote, working men received the vote in 1918 , women did not receive the vote on the same terms until 1928. Democracy had to be struggled for,  it is a modern development.

People like us did not occupy a house, couples rented two or three rooms and maybe two or three others families lived in the rest of the house.  Sometimes it was the extended family, when I was three years old it was two rooms on the ground floor of a house in Hendon, upstairs lived my grandparents with their six younger children  and in the basement a widow woman. There was one toilet at the bottom of the yard and no bathroom anywhere in the house. The really big changes came after the 2nd World War, in 1945 a Labour government was elected with the power and the determination to establish a Welfare State.  Some attempts had been made in 1911 by the Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George, he introduced Old Age Pensions to be paid out when the worker reached seventy.  At that time that was a small minority of people.

The Labour government of 1945 under the Prime Minister Clement Attlee had a vision of improving life for the majority of the people, this was called the Welfare State. The biggest change was the setting up of the National Health Service, the man who brought this about was Aneurin  Bevan, a Welsh politician. The National Health Service would be paid for out of general taxation and free at the point of need, every person would receive health care by virtue of being born in this country. Today in the United States President Donald Trump wishes to abolish Obama-care which reaches out to those who cannot afford Health Insurance. This is because the extremely rich imagine they are paying for people who won’t work. This is a total misunderstanding of economics.  The taxes which pay for Health Care are an economic investment on behalf of the whole nation.  Well educated and trained doctors, nurses, specialists; the whole nationwide professionals are there with the right equipment , in centres all over the country to care for and treat everyone including the very, very rich. Its an investment stupid!

There would also be child allowances, free primary, secondary and university education for those who passed the appropriate examinations plus grants for living expenses for poorer students. The first examination to apply to all primary school children following the passing of the 1944 Education Act was called the 11+. This Act made a big difference to me because in 1949 I passed the 11+ and was awarded a free place at grammar school. The Local Education Authority awarded my parents a small grant to pay for the uniform. I was thrilled and somewhat nervous, in my new blazer with my satchel on my back, I caught the tram, then a bus to begin my new adventure.  The  Second World War had brought about many changes, every person whether rich or poor was  expected to play   their part in the war effort, in the munitions factories, the armed services and of course in producing the food we depended upon. Married women went back to work.

 

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A BIG SMILE TODAY.

This morning the sun was shining and I was expecting a visitor.  My friend was coming to do my hair, she arrived at 10 o’clock like a breath of fresh air.  My friend can comb and brush and curl my hair in a way that is quite beyond me.  Yes, I know the fashion is for long straight hair, but when I grew up the mark of a mature woman was the neat, precise shape of the curls on her head. Such a woman was well turned out, ready to tackle the complicated business of living. It seem that a woman today has to look like a teenager without a care in the world, casual to the point of carelessness.

    Pat enquires how I am and I bring her up to date on the small happenings in my life, although at present there is something very big happening.  My brother is very ill in a hospice, I mention that he is sixty-nine years old. I was the firstborn child in my family, I was nine years old when he was born.  Pat stops her careful combing: No you are not seventy-eight!  There is astonishment and disbelief in her face.  She stands in front of me: I can’t believe it!  I have a great big grin, this is the best compliment I have been paid in a long time.  Her surprise seems genuine.  For the rest of the day I am smiling, an old woman like me, but at present I don’t feel old, I feel much, much younger.

‘TO HELL IN A HANDCART.’

I’m angry, just as I get myself together the world falls apart. I will not mention a certain American, in this country we have an entirely British stupidity. The entirely erroneous idea that the Welfare State costs us money is accepted by our politicians and those multi-millionaires who stand behind them.  The truth is  the W. S. preserves our peace and security, it supports a fairer, more equitable society: we have less need for prisons which are extremely expensive places ; we have a more peaceful and secure society where the anxiety of just managing on a day to day basis has no place. Everyone feels that they have a place in society and they will not be left to sleep on the streets or die of hunger.

Alas this is not the society we have today, the reluctance that politicians have to increase taxation, their multi-millionaire friends would rather bury their millions in a hole in the ground in Switzerland or on an island in the middle of the Atlantic  ocean with the mistaken believe that this keeps them save.  Do they ponder for a moment the temptations put in front of  their children and grandchildren, by the unscrupulous and the greedy. Do they consider that all doctors, nurses, radiographers and the vast range of medical specialists whose training is paid for by the taxpayer; the hospitals, the buildings and equipment maintained for the most part by taxpayers working in shops and offices, schools, colleges, repairing the roads, driving the buses and many other routine ordinary jobs.

Most of us grumble a bit  about paying our taxes every week, but we pay them.  We know they pay for the roads we drive on, the schools our children go to, the hospitals which we hope will be there when we need them and our pensions. We none of us know what the future holds: unemployment, sickness, marriage breakdown, old age and loneliness. But  we hope that as members of society there will be collective support there should we ever need it.  Some countries are much better at understanding these facts, countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and France and Germany. These countries remember what happened in the 1930s and 1940s. In Britain it seems we have wiped clean our memories and in the USA their media tells them a Fairy Story and looks for an east target to blame as is happening at the present time.

 

 

THE RELATIVITY OF TIME.

The odd thing is time does not pass in a uniform way.  Even in the face of those hours measured out in sixty minutes on every clock face.  In the morning when I ride downstairs to my breakfast, the hour hand on the clock is racing away.  Breakfast, washing and dressing, sorting out the most pressing matters of the day and suddenly its noon.  The morning is over and so little progress made.  Early afternoon is slower, a quiet, even nap time.  New energy, time to be creative.  The computer  is an amazing machine but it is oh so easy to be side-tracked; do you want to know a secret about this famous face?  My finger presses the button and I find an advert, fooled again.  How many times am I going to fall for this old trick?  Not a moment to waste, time to gird the loins and plunge in.

   What has happened in this crazy world?  No I’m not going to mention Trump, its absolutely too horrible for words.  A disciplined mind, OMG if only I had one.  It has occurred to me recently that a hundred years is the lifetime of one person.    Our  Queen herself is ninety.  I am astonished that she walks and talks and stands so straight.  Myself I cannot claim to have lived a hundred years but my mother was born a hundred and one years ago and my father a hundred and three years ago.  I lost them both more years ago than I care to remember.  They did not talk to me about the past, they were much too busy sorting out the difficulties and problems of each day as it passed.  I knew both sets of grandparents and the houses they lived in, they owned no property and had no savings in the bank.  Like many other people I have done some family research and have not found a single ancestor who was rich or who was famous in their own time or indeed who managed to squeeze into a single history book. The  truth must be faced, I come from a long of the anonymous masses.  No famous person has any connection to me at all,  ‘Who do You Think You Are?’  would consider my story much too common place to have any interest for anyone.  There are days when I feel that way myself .  Tomorrow more meanderings.

BLESSINGS ON THE NHS.

In recent weeks my family has cause to be very grateful to the NHS.  We both form part of the group considered by some politicians to be expensive, pensioners which the government regards as an unaffordable luxury.  I find their reasoning very curious, by far the majority of pensioners are spending their money in the UK economy; income tax, council tax, food bills, rent, gas and electricity, clothes and entertainment.  Most of us have no millions to put in an off-shore tax haven, our pensions go directly into paying for the goods and services in this country.  Many of the older generation are also carers, caring for partners, adult children, grandchildren and volunteering in the wider community.  Yes we have a free bus pass, where would the bus companies be if we stopped using the buses?

Medication and treatment for ageing bodies are free at the point of need, as they are for every citizen, as the great reformer  Nye Bevan  founder of the NHS said:

” Illness is neither an indulgence for which people should have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.”

But this is only part of the story.  Adult Social Care must be cut back, it must feel the harsh wind of austerity; no cups of tea, no help in getting dressed, no trips to the toilet, no hot meal during the day.  This frail old person who would like to leave hospital and spend what precious days are left in the familiarity of home.  This cannot  be, no family member is left, no neighbours have time, no carer can be paid out of the limited social services budget.  So a hospital bed becomes a prison with only one release possible.  and another individual goes on in pain at home.

 A very few have a secret hoard of money buried deep in a dark place where no revenue man can catch a glimpse of it.  It buys power, not health, not affection, not regard and not peace of mind.  A society where everyone has a decent house, a good school for their children, a job and a regular income and a just legal system; is a stable, peaceful society.  A society where everyone, including the super-rich, pays their taxes is a society which benefits EVERYONE.  A well established health care system FREE AT THE POINT OF NEED provides sufficient health care professionals, hospital beds, continuing care at home for all those who need it.  The paradox is we none of us know when that will be, it may be tomorrow or 50 years hence.  Are we going to follow the USA example that health care is only for the very rich?  At the moment it looks as if that is the road we are on.