Tuesday, 14 March 2017

where did all the time go?

Last time I blogged was four months ago: I can scarcely believe it. Pre-Christmas and I was having some time off from actual writing but doing a lot of thinking about what the next book was going to be about. For a while I had been considering writing about my ancestry, only to come to the decision that most likely it wouldn't be interesting or exciting enough for those who read my novels. Perhaps I should write a faction book - a mixture of fact and fiction - the truth is that I still want to write about my ancestors' story as it really happened but I don't have the whole story - just snippets - that I could set against historical Liverpool during the period they lived and the places they came from. I made a start only to set it aside because I've been convinced for a goodly while that there was a novel worth writing based on my mother-in-law's early life. She passed away a few years ago but I've never forgotten the tales she used to tell me when my husband brought her to visit on Sunday afternoons.

The difficulty was where to begin and what names to give the people involved because I've always said at talks when asked that I never write about real people because I don't want to be accused of libel or is it slander, and should I change the era when events took place and what should I keep of her story and what should I miss out and what should I add to it? I began the actual writing at the beginning of January and I am 37000 words in and enjoying the challenge. But I have done little writing the last week, not because spring is in the air and the sun is shining and the garden needs work on it but because I've done something to my shoulder which is making typing painful.
So I've been doing a fair amount of reading Golden Age Detective Fiction. Now we are in Lent I am also attending weekly Lenten meeting as well as thinking about and preparing for the publication of my books that are due out at the end of this month, March 2017.
MERSEY GIRL paperback reissue of the former Going Home to Liverpool, also out for the first time in Ebook format by Ebury.
Also my latest hardback WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS published by Severn House.
MANY A TEAR HAS TO FALL is also out in trade paperback by Severn House.
 In April STEP BY STEP and A DREAM TO SHARE will be published in ebook format for the first time by Canelo. These books are the first two in my Chester/Liverpool series.
EVENT: Liverpool will be having a Litfest in Autumn and I will be a guest speaker 2pm on October 3rd in Penny Lane Community centre - do keep alert for more information about this event . I will also feature as visiting author on the Chicklit Chat website during the week before the publication of MERSEY GIRL  23rd March.

Monday, 21 November 2016

One of the things about getting out and about is meeting people

I've just returned from a week in Keswick, Lake District and no, it didn't rain all the time. Hopefully there won't be the floods there were last year. There is still a bridge not in place from last year.  The trees were still ablaze with colour and Derwentwater was not as high and on my birthday was calm and shimmered in the sunlight. People strolled about enjoying the fresh air and scenery, pausing to converse with complete strangers now and again. There were a few moments when we enjoyed watching some children attempting to feed some geese, not the common or garden Canadian kind but those my son, Iain, thought were called Graylings. I was a bit concerned for the smallest child because I remembered staying with my aunt Agnes, uncle Jack and my cousin Patsy in the Old Roan which was country to me living in the back streets of Liverpool. My uncle took us for a drive to a farm where there were geese and one pecked me. It hurt! Which is what happened to the little lad when a goose took bread from his hand.

One of my most enjoyable conversations was when Iain and I went into a small art gallery. The young man behind the reception desk was painting and so we took a peek and asked him about his work and what was his name. He told us that it was Chris Nelson and that interested me because my maiden name is Nelson. I knew there were painting in the gallery by an artist by the name of Nelson and Chris said he was his father. Their styles were very different. I told Chris that my great-grandfather was a Norwegian mariner who had sailed into Liverpool and married a local girl. He told me that he had visited Norway three times and that one of his favourite places is Bergen. One of my ambitions is to visit Norway myself but I don't want to go on a fjords cruise but to stay in Norway and one of the places I'd like to visit is Arundel as I believe it possible that my great-grandfather's ship sailed from there in Victorian times. I also mentioned that my brothers and father and two of my sons were artistic and had done a fair amount of drawing and painting pictures as a hobby.
     Naturally I bought one of Chris's paintings which he kindly reduced the price of as it was my birthday. I can't say that I'm much of a painter but I did treat myself to a colouring book for adults at one of the shops as well as buying a jigsaw from a Dr Barnardo's charity shop and chattered to the women in both places.

I've found most walkers are prepared to pass the time of day for a short time and on one of our walks along the old railway trail a couple stopped to talk to us. My husband had gone on ahead of me and Iain and Tim as the latter had set up his tripod and was taking some photos. The river Greta was roaring over some rocks and worth a shot or two. Anyway, the couple remembered meeting us all earlier and  told us they had seen a man in a red jacket further on where a bridge was closed due to a landslide but they had not seen him on the way back and he had mentioned not waiting for us any longer. We said we hadn't seen him so we were all puzzled to where he was but I then reckoned he had managed to get the other side of the river and was walking through the woods on the other side and gone back to the house but he was not there when we got back but arrived shortly after and said he hadn't crossed the river but found a track that took him to the road and had come back that way.

When in Liverpool I'm always falling into conversation with people on the street or in the cathedral but it's good to know that it's not only us Scousers who enjoy a gab.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Memories that Time and Distance can Never Destroy

A few days ago I had a visitor from New Jersey. It was great to see my cousin Irene who I hadn't seen for several years. It's true that these days we can keep in touch via email or on facebook but it isn't the same as actually seeing someone in the flesh and chatting and giving each other a hug. Interesting, her middle sister lives miles away on the west coast of America in California, New Jersey is on the east coast. Two scousers who have chosen to live near the sea when they emigrated. It's in the blood. My mother was fond of saying that Liverpudlians have salt water in their veins. Their eldest sister lives in Liverpool. My eldest brother, Ron, when he went south, ending up living in Westcliff -on- Sea, on the outskirts of Southend in Essex. my other brother, Don, went to sea, following in the footsteps of our maternal grandfather.

When we were kids we used to go camping to Towyn, nr Rhyl, N. Wales. Our mothers being sisters meant we were all very close and those camping holidays remain strong in our memories and we remind each other of those happy days whenever we meet up.
This time my cousin said to me, 'You were always singing when we were on holiday.'
I thought 'Always!'  I know I love music and have been in various choirs in my time and never miss 'Songs of Praise' and singing along if I can but I'd soon be sat on if I never shut up by my menfolk. Then my cousin reminded me of the times when we had a choice of catching the bus from Rhyl to the campsite or walking and having a bag of chips. More often than not we chose to have the chips. On the walk I would start singing 'Take me back to the Black Hills, the beautiful hills of Wales,' to the tune of the Doris Day hit, 'Take me back to the Black Hills of Dakota,' from 'Calamity Jane'.
She had been reminded of that the other year when my cousin who lived in California and her husband decided to go on a road trip and asked her along. When looking at a map they spotted Dakota and immediately my cousin recalled those days in Wales and us singing and eating chips as we walked home to the campsite from which we could clearly see the hills of Wales dark against the sky, so straightaway, Dakota was one of the places they had to visit.

It was my brother, Don, who reminded us of visits to the outdoor swimming pool of Rhos-on-Sea, nr Abergele, and how we dared each other into climbing higher and higher until we stood on the uttermost highest diving board. I do still remember jumping from it but no way would I have dared to dive. Another place we liked to go during the evening was to the penny slots arcade near the beach at Towyn. We never had much money to become addicted to gambling and some of our money went into the juke box. One of the hits of the time was 'A White Sports coat and a Pink carnation'.  He and my elder cousin Maureen recalled outings to the Pivvie after Christmases to see a pantomime when part of the entertainment was a sing-a-long to words on a sheet dropped in front of the stage.

At times as we remembered those days so long ago for a while we forgot our health problems, the hip replacement, the new knee, high blood pressure and stroke and were
back together as children and the Atlantic ocean that separates us can never take that away.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Queues have their upsides; Part 71

A few days ago I was in Manchester airport having landed from a flight from Rhodes in the Greek isles where we had left a chaotic airport only to find a different kind of chaos here in the good ol' UK. The queues to get through passport control were unbelievable long and John and I had visions of being stuck there for hours, knowing son Tim was waiting for us in Arrivals. I imagined that the cost for the car parking would be outrageous, just as the cost for 3kilos of baggage over the limit had been in Rhodes (54 euros) I think the carpark charges were around £9. At least there were no terrorists. Thank God!

Anyway, as one does in queues, we got talking and the woman I was speaking to said that she was from Blackpool. I mentioned that I had been born in Blackpool because Mam had been evacuated doing the war to have me as the local maternity hospital had been bombed. The woman asked where in Blackpool had I been born and I told her in a hotel on the front. This surprised her. But in those days, of course, no doubt the hospitals in the resort had run out of beds and hence my being born in what in those days had been a guesthouse but is now a hotel. I found a photo of it when doing my ancestry. And no - there isn't a blue plaque on the wall saying June Francis born here. I have no idea what I looked like as a baby because Dad wasn't around to take photos even if he'd had the lolly to afford a camera. Mam did tell me that I was dainty and had curly blonde hair.

We discussed our holidays and I said that I'd had enough of going abroad. I'm not that keen on the heat and flying and airports, although John loves the heat. She said that I should take my holidays in Blackpool. I said we were going to the Lakes in November for my birthday. Besides I know that I'll never get John to Blackpool as he has to have mountains or hills to climb and we like to get out of towns. The other suggestion I've had for holidays is to go on a cruise which is another no, no. as no hills to run up for John. For me it would be a nightmare trapped at sea with hundreds of people.

I couldn't help thinking back to those days when cruising from Liverpool was popular, even if it was only a trip to Llandudno or an evening trip along the Mersey on the Royal Iris. Of course, if you had money you could go further afield. In researching my books I even discovered that there used to be gambling cruises, where ships would go out as far as necessary to where people were safe from the law to have a flutter.

Also I was remembering those years after the war when British housewives were still having to queue up at the shops. My outstanding memory is queuing up with Mam at the fish shop on a Friday in Breck Road. The shop was called Charles' and there was a padded bench alongside one wall for us to rest our weary legs and backs. The shop not only sold lots of different kinds of fish, included salted fish for Dad's Sunday breakfast but also rabbits with their fur on. Mam loved a bit of skate and hake. I remember skate was sticky and hake was delicious white fish. I loved kippers. Perhaps  that's the Manx in me. I remember our Don working on the I.O.M boats bringing home kippers. My only trip to I.O.M was when John used to skindive and Liverpool subaqua club went there for a weekend of diving at Port Erin. I wish I'd known then I had Manx blood I'd have found it a whole lot more interesting. Anyway, I'll have to get to work on John to visit there again. As it is we've had several holidays in Anglesey before I knew I had ancestry from there as well as the Lakes where some of my maternal forebears come from.
  As for Blackpool when I worked as a cash clerk for Littlewoods, we had a works outing there every year, so I know the resort reasonable well and have never forgotten screaming my head off on the Big Dipper.  The one and only time I have been on one and I won't be queuing up to go on ever again.


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Skinny-me-link - Those were the days; part 70

I was watching Trust Me I'm a Doctor last evening and of course, Obesity, exercise and diet was on their menu for discussion. This morning as John and I were having or early morning walk I was thinking about the programme and remembered being called Skinny-me-link when I was a young girl. Despite being an avid reader and spending time curled up in a chair in our parlour, I still got plenty of exercise daily without thinking about.
     At the moment I've going through my agents' comments on my latest book WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS and one of the comments she made was to do with some children playing out in the evening towards the end of winter. Surely they wouldn't be playing out in the dark? she had typed. This is the very early sixties and in my opinion children still played out with their friends. Television hadn't a strong grip on their minds as there were few TVs around, neither were there that many cars. I know I was a child of the forties and fifties but it wasn't until later in the sixties that so many things began to change and the lives of many working class children didn't change that much.
       I look back to times when children and teenagers often remained outside playing or just hanging around beneath a lamp post and talking because it was preferable to going indoors where our parents would be listening to the wireless, so we'd have to be quiet. It was much more fun and exciting outside with friends and we could get the fidgets out of our legs after a day spent sitting at a desk. On the whole we were fearless. We avoided going up back entries because our mothers warned us against doing so, having told us girls that there were men who weren't very nice, so never to go with those who offered us sweets. During the long summer holidays we would go in a group together to the park or play street games whilst our mothers gossiped as  they brushed or washed the front step.
     There is much that is good and enjoyable about today but years ago we didn't seem to need advice on doing what should come naturally, exercise and eat sensibly.
     I didn't lose my Skinny-me-link nickname until puberty when I started to get curves and had a sedentary job in an  office, watched telly evenings or went to the pictures which also meant eating a bag of sweets during the films or having a romantic meal for two at a restaurant in town. I did walk there and back to the cinema like most of those who went. Unlike today when we go in the car to one of the multi cinemas on the outskirts of the city.   Reason enough for me these days to have that early morning walk and to visit Total Fitness for a swim three times a week.
     As for children playing in the street at any time these days it is a rarity, except at Halloween and that's not playing, unless one calls dressing up play and knocking on doors and asking Trick or Treat?

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Here's wishing you good health!

Last week I visited Fazakerley hospital's Stroke outpatient's clinic where I was signed off. The specialist being very satisfied with my recovery from my stroke eleven months ago. These days we regard hospitals very much as places where we can be cured of disease and sent home to get on with our lives.

This week I have been working on my faction book which is a mixture of fact and fiction and is about my ancestors of whom I know certain facts but naturally not all so I have been filling in the gaps in my knowledge by researching with the help of my researcher son Iain the times in which they lived. I am planning on writing three books but this first one begins in 1832 when cholera broke out in Liverpool. At that time the medical profession did not have a definite idea of what caused cholera but from their experience of dealing with this terrifying disease they considered it could be caused by three things and could only guess at how it spread. Something called Miasma from the Greek for pollution was popular and some thought it was spread by touch. They were keen to get sufferers into the cholera hospital as soon as possible so they could be nursed properly under suitable surroundings and had met with some encouraging results.

The drawback to this was the families of the suffering poor had it fixed in their heads that the medical profession had ulterior motives for wanting to take the sick members of their families into hospital. This was only about four years after the scandal of  body-snatchers and murderers, Burke and Hare, had been detected selling the bodies to doctors in Edinburgh and had shocked the nation. So poor people had little or no faith in hospitals as a place of healing and instead believed that their sick would never come out of hospital cured. In fact there were riots and protests outside the hospital against doctors who were nicknamed Burkers.

The newspapers of the day and those who genuinely wanted to help the underprivileged and poor set about doing what they could to improve the situation.
If nothing else the shocking conditions under which the poor lived was brought to the attention of more people of influence. The Church and other well-meaning people were already aware of the overcrowding and filthy conditions the poor lived in and so began the struggle to alter things. It was to take a long time because over the next few years more people flooded into Liverpool, mainly Irish escaping the potato famine in their own country. Most had little or no money and has there was not enough housing, they ended up crowding into unhealthy court and cellar dwelling which meant that when the cholera visited Liverpool again in the hot summer of 1846 the number of victims was high and so was the mortality rate in these areas. Some of the Irish victims had been suffering from typhoid when they fled Ireland which meant those that survived were already in a weakened condition so not able to fight cholera.  We know now that cholera is a water-borne disease but it was only guessed at during the time of the outbreak and at a time when people were thirsty due to the heat, so some were not fussy about where their drinking water came from.
       Two names stand out during those terrible times Dr William Duncan, Liverpool's first Medical Officer of Health. Of Scottish descent, he was born in Seel Street, Liverpool, but gained his medical degree at Edinburgh University but returned to the city of his birth. It is known that he had two practices. one in Rodney Street, the Harley street of Liverpool, and another in the North Dispensary in Vauxhall Road, one of the worse slum areas in the city.
       He was 19 years younger than Kitty Wilson, who was famed for her actions being the instigator behind the Corporation's introduction of public washhouses a few years later. During the epidemic she had one of the few boilers in her area and washed the bedding and clothing of those families struck down. Dr Duncan was outspoken in his condemnation of the Corporation's apathy towards hygiene and housing. He campaigned with his colleague, Dr David Baird, for slum clearance, re-housing and a radical approach to hygiene. This did not make him popular with the hierarchy but eventually conditions for the poor began to improve with the help of Liverpool's first Borough Engineer James Newland.

It is to these people and their successors that Liverpool owes its improved health services, its hospitals, medical centres and university research departments. Thank God for them, I say.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Crabs, flowers and music;

The other day my son, Tim, arrived home sunburnt and happy, having spend hours on New Brighton beach which was something he had never done before, unlike myself for whom that destination was a regular place to go as a child with my parents and siblings but it is a place that my husband and I did not take our boys as children. Most likely that is due to them growing up here in Litherland on the northern skirts of Liverpool which meant visiting Crosby beach or Formby generally. Whereas I grew up in the city itself so like thousands of other Scousers it was a trip on the ferry across the Mersey to New Brighton where not only did I paddle in the sea and dug in the sand, I also went crabbing because there were plenty of rocks and rock pools to explore, something which Formby lacks and there's not many worth mentioning in Crosby. When I said to Tim that I was sorry he'd missed out on crabbing. Immediately he waxed lyrically about caravan holidays in Anglesey where there were lots of rock pools with eels, sea anemones and kewins.

It was Tim who again reminded me of the old days when he mentioned the orange flowers that had just appeared in our back garden. We had planted nasturtiums seeds, something we hadn't done for years but having seen some seed packets in Lidl I was reminded of my mum planting them in the window boxes in the back yard of our terraced house in Liverpool and how colourful they had been. She used to plant Virginia stock and night scented stock in our very small front garden and I remember her having a single peony in the centre of that garden and when at the beginning of the Seventies when the corporation in its foolishness decided to demolish more of Liverpool than was sensible and erect flats which have since in their turn been demolished, she dug up the peony and transplanted it to my garden.

Today Tim is going with a friend to a music festival in Sefton Park. When I was courting, my future husband and I used to visit Newsham Park and listen to a band play there some weekends or even the odd evening in summer. A love of music is international. Liverpool has gained world fame as a city of music and not only because of the Beetles.
     Yesterday evening I was in the small ballroom of the Liverpool town hall with my husband and no 1 son, Iain, listening to a concert given by the Ten Strings Duo, Davide Sciacca on guitar and Marianatella Ruscica on violin. Sicillian, they played Italian classical musical as well as a touch of French and Brazilian before paying homage to the Beatles with their rendering of Yesterday and Let it Be. It was a magical evening and I almost had to pinch myself to see if it was real as I gazed up at one of the fabulous chandelier as I let the music wash over me. The light danced on the crystal droplets so that different colours twinkled from them. Thanks go to Tony Higginson, erstwhile proprietor of Formby Books and who afterwards was party to the move to the WriteBlend Bookshop and Coffee shop on South Road, Crosby for arranging the event.
     We were all invited to have a drink with the deputy Lord  Mayor, Malcolm  Kennedy, and one of the staff offered to run off a brief history of the town hall when I mentioned being a writer and how at Crosby Writers Club, one of our members mentioned his Irish grandfather had been a Fenian. I had remembered a Fenian plot to destroy the town hall but could not remember the date. Hence her kind gesture and I can give you the date now. It was 1881 and the attempt failed. The first town hall was build in 1515 and presented by the Rev John Crosse but by 1673 it was decided it needed replacing but that building did not last long due to inadequate foundations  and so in 1748 John Wood, a famous architect from Bath, designed a new Town Hall which was opened I'm 1754.
     In 1795 fire broke out and destroyed much of the building but almost immediately plans were set in motion for restoration and a London architect, James Wyatt supervised the rebuilding and expansion on Wood's design. The result is basically the town hall as it is today.
   Edward V11 compared the Town Hall's magnificent suite of rooms with the Czar's Winter Palace in St Petersburg as  being 'the best proportioned in all Europe'.