Daily life for me and you is governed by the large events of history; peace or war, employment or unemployment, prosperity or poverty. In my youth I was taught that my future prosperity and happiness were entirely dependent on me, if I worked hard and used such talents as I have I could expect a happy, comfortable life. This is more of a myth or perhaps a fairy story. The really important questions are: where was I born, when and who my parents were. Clearly I had no control over any of this, irrespective of these facts I believed, as I was meant to, that my success or failure would be entirely my responsibility. Factors such as good luck or indeed the political orthodoxy were scarcely mentioned. Studying hard, passing the exams, presenting myself in the approved docile and courteous manner, these were the characteristics which were encouraged.
Sadly docility and even good exam results are not the passport to a furiously changing world. You will not believe the years which had to pass before I developed a more accurate understanding of what is really important in this fractious and always changing world. Youth had long since fled, middle age had gone beyond recall, two words rushed towards me with the speed of light O– A–. I can scarcely believe it, except my body reminds me that this is indeed the case. Time becomes a very precious thing, speeding away like a jet engine, and the other precious thing is energy, so quickly spent, so hard to renew. I am very lucky in the 1940s my family survived the bombing and just when I needed it the Welfare State arrived and gave me a free secondary education followed by full employment. Did I work hard?Well sometimes yes and sometimes no . Fortune favours the brave they say or possibly I was in the right place at the right time.
Some things I remember, some I have researched and the remainder I link together creatively. You will not find my family in the history books, they have never been wealthy or important, those words so often go together. We are only referred to as part of a much bigger group; the working class, the workers or the ordinary mass of humanity. We didn’t invent anything or discover some amazing truth, so perhaps the best word is ordinary.
I have been in interested in history for as long as I can remember, the wonder that things were not always as they are today. Of course in my seven decades I have seen many things change; television did not exist in my childhood, the roads were mostly empty of cars, transport was by tram car for trips into town or bus if the journey was longer than five miles. Many other aspects of daily life have improved immeasurably; most homes are warm even in the coldest winter, clean hot and cold water are readily available and almost every home has a private bathroom and toilet. When I was a young child there was no bathroom in the house, the toilet was at the bottom of the yard, my parents had three young children in five years and we all lived in two rooms. Tragically today we are returning to a position where many families do not have a decent home to live in.
In my search for my ancestors I’ve been able to discover my great, great grandparents Thomas was born on the 4th May 1824 in Whitby and Mary was born in 1823 in Sunderland. Thomas began his working life when still a boy and it is unlikely that he ever went to school. He probably worked with his father on one of the sailing ships that sailed out of Whitby harbour, probably fishing but a lucrative trade was developing in coal. Many ships sailed up the north-east coast to the mouth of the River Wear to pick up a shipment of coal to sell to the industries and homes in the south-east. Coal was mined along the banks of the Wear and loaded onto flat bottomed keels and brought down to the port where it was transferred to larger sea-going vessels. Trade was increasing every year.
Sunderland had many pits along the river bank, many where the coal was near the surface, but in the nineteeth century the deepest coal mine in England was developed, coal was mined in County Durham for eight hundred years. News spread quickly to rural areas and to Ireland, people keen to work in the new industry, left rural poverty and flocked to the town. Wearmouth pit opened in 1835 and was soon employing hundreds of men and boys.
Thomas did not come to work underground, he was a sailor working on the colliers. He made the town his base in the early 1840s, in 1845 he married his sweetheart Mary Thornton, he was twenty-one and Mary was twenty. They had eleven children and raised nine of them. One of his sons called William was born in 1852, he was my great-grandfather. William worked in the busy shipyards and brought up a large family, his youngest child was my grandfather George. George did go to school, in the 1890s school was compulsory and free. As soon as he left school he looked for work, most of his elder brothers worked in the ship-yards so George began there. By the early twentieth century most ship-yards had slack periods from time to time so George was not able to sign on for an apprenticeship.
George and his sweetheart Catherine married on the First February 1913 in the Register Office, they were both twenty years old. Life for a shipyard worker could be and frequently was dangerous. Most working people married as soon as the man had a regular income. They moved into a couple rooms often in the same street as their parents and brothers and sisters. George volunteered for the First World War in 1914, he was in service for a few weeks. His records make no record beyond the fact that within a few weeks he was sent home. I would guess that height and fitness were not acceptable for a front line soldier. My family are round about the five foot mark, including me. I never volunteered for the army.
THE GREAT BRITISH EMPIRE.
My grandparents were born in the last decade of the nineteenth century, that is in the days of the powerful British Empire. The power and wealth of the Empire had little impact on their lives, there was no trickle down effect. They were able to drink tea with two spoonfuls of sugar in it and they were able to put food on the table. But the conditions of their daily lives are really beyond our imagining. A teenage son of thirteen shared his bed with several brothers, he had no personal items; iPhone, computer , books. the only things that belonged to him were his clothes, and they had probably belonged to an older relative before they were handed down to him. He got up early and went out to the local shops to find out if there was any fetching and carrying, or helping with deliveries he could do. My maternal grandfather Joseph learned how to look after the delivery horses, how to feed them and clean out the stables. In time he got to be in charge of the horse and cart, the most important thing was he was earning money all of which he handed over to his mother. Joseph was proud that he was doing a man’s work and gratefully accepted the pocket money he was given, just like his Dad did.
Joseph had been to school as schooling was now free, he could read and write, add up and subtract. When he reached the age of twelve Joseph decided that it was time to go to work. His parents were proud of him, it was time to start work there were younger sisters to look after. His father’s wage wasn’t enough to take care of the whole family.
Thursday 1st June according to the weather forecasters the first day of summer. Blue skies, sunshine, gentle breezes, yes summer has arrived. I ventured out to taste this beautiful day, husband was with me so all was right with the world. The bus came at the expected time, we climbed aboard, a free trip! The shopping centre is nearby, more shops every time I go. Went to my favourite shop, yes M& S, such a delightful display of summer tops, I was tempted. I turned resolutely away and marched to the Food Store.
More temptation, meals already prepared packed neatly in clear boxes. Is anything more delicious than a meal you pop into the micro-wave for five minutes? Fruit so ripe and ready, I think there is a psychological trick being played. What is going to appeal to a busy woman who is busy in the office all day and then goes home to prepare the family’s meal? Women are so busy, just looking forward to the time they can put their feet up and switch on the television. when my dish-washer was working, I simply packed it and pressed the button. Now I have a man and he does the dishes. Now where did I put the Radio Times?
Another beautiful stay at the School in Alhao Portugal – http://www.artinthealgarve.com. One week of sketching and writing on my own and a second week of tutoring a lovely group.
The group numbered fifteen and represented several different countries, UK, Canada, Cyprus, France and Ireland.
Here we are about to enjoy one of Margarida’s wonderful freshly cooked meals. I have written several blogs about the School and how conducive it is to the creative process. David Clarke, founder of the School clearly understood what was needed. He was a man of vision, and I for one will always be grateful for his gift to artists.
Three of the group working in one of the internal courtyards. Somewhat like the Tardis the outside doesn’t give away its many different levels, rooms, studio, and courtyards.
There is much to observe within the boundaries of the…
Frequently television amazes with its panoramic views of the beautiful world that we live in: the fields and hedges, rivers and coastline, beautiful buildings photographed from a helicopter by a cameraman with a precisian made camera. I find these precise and vividly coloured moving pictures both familiar and unfamiliar, I can see more of this beautiful England than I would be able to see if I were standing on my own two feet on a pathway leading through green fields and walking towards magnificent trees stretching up into the blue sky so high above me.
To be strictly accurate I don’t walk very far nowadays, my bones are arthritic and my joints telling me its time to be motorised. I want to imagine that I’m still part of this awesome, amazing world. It would probably be true to say I’m a slow learner, in earlier years I experienced life through books, looked at rationally this would seem to be to be the wrong way round. I should have been out experiencing life face to face, but a book was much more under my control, I could shut it whenever I felt like it.
On Saturday night it gave me a thrill of recognition to see my own district featured in a television programme. The programme was called Saints and Sinners: Britain’s Millennium of Monasteries, Dr Janina Ramirez linked the stories of the first Roman monasteries in England. In the North-east in the seventh century Egfrid, King of Northumbria gave land to set up monasteries based on the Roman traditions separate from the Celtic traditions of Lindisfarne. The first monastery was established at St. Peter’s, Monkwearmouth on the north bank of the River Wear in 674 by Benedict Biscop. This was so successful that in 682 a second monastery, St Paul’s was established on the river Tyne at Jarrow. Benedict made clear that the two sites should function as one monastery in two places. The most striking remains are in the name of the parish and in St Peter’s church which is one of the oldest churches in Great Britain. In Jarrow the ruins of the monastery is marked out with stone slabs, the Saxon chancel survives with the oldest stained glass window in the world.
Benedict created a great library in the monastery and made it the cradle of not only English art but also of English literature. A great bible was written in the monastery by a monk encouraged by Abbot Ceolfrith, his name was Bede. Bede established himself as England’s leading scriptural and historical authority. Bede’s writings, most importantly his “Historia-ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum” became so popular in the 8th century, not only assured the reputation of the monastery, but influenced the development of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow’s distinctive insular minuscule script, developed to increase the speed of book production.
Monkwearmouth- Jarrow was attacked by the Vikings at the end of the 8th century and was destroyed by the Danes in about 860 and finally abandoned in the late 9th century.
Some institutions; churches, schools, shops and offices have always been there. In the place where I live, a very imposing, grand, stone building, a church called because of its importance a cathedral, has been there for nine hundred years. Around Palace Green are some buildings which have been there one to two hundred years, the university began two hundred and fourteen years ago. The houses and shops are much more recent. A small medieval city has become a busy metropolis, limited only by the meandering river and the surrounding hills.
Every day some buildings are torn down and others quickly built. Roads are packed with cars, buses and lorries. Today the hospital car park was overflowing with cars, I walked in and thankfully walked out again a little later. The thing that unsettles me the most is the BBC is changing by the hour. The BBC has always been part of my life, in the early years it was entirely the radio. If I remember rightly it was the Home Service and the Light Programme, voices enunciating clearly and authoritatively informed me what was interesting, what I should think and brought me my favourite programme, Children’s Hour. The voices were very different from anything I heard around me, they spoke properly whereas I spoke quite differently- wrongly. The people around me spoke what I later discovered was a north-eastern dialect , not Geordie but Wear- side. It was the language of comedians, doesn’t this sound funny? The strange thing was in my head I sounded exactly like Jean Metcalfe absolutely correct BBC English. Today in fact I still have the same illusion.
But my BBC has changed, no more the voice of authority, now all kinds of dialects are heard. More scarily now they ask me to send in my news, I’ve thought about it, going to Sainsbury’s hardly sounds like News. I can email or text or phone and they will read out my words. I’m tempted, I really am but who wants to know we’re having bacon and beans for tea? Of course if they wanted my views on the election I would have plenty to say. Who can I rely on now?
Then of course there are reams and reams of television stations taking up several pages of the Radio Times, the television day begins at 6.0 am and ends in the early hours of the following day. It is a continuous miscellany of flickering images, some which date back almost 50 years and they are the comedy programmes! Do I watch television, of course I do, the world brought into my living room, sometimes I switch it off. For awhile I enjoy a blissfully quiet room, sometimes I even pick up a book but a printed book is so last century, my kindle contains a whole library of books. Yes, its not possible to riffle through the pages and the printing is very small but its digital technology, very twenty-first century as my doctor said when I told him I have an email address. My mind still functions, well some of the time!