This weekend is what most now call the late Spring Bank Holiday. When I was young and even now many of my generation call it the Whit Bank Holiday weekend. It’s when Christians celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But I knew little about the Holy Spirit when I was growing up in Liverpool and what I remember about Whit was it was one of those rare occasions when my sister and I were bought new frocks. I can recall one frock in particular being made of a waffle material in pale turquoise with a stand up collar and a V opening at the neck. It had a fitted waist and a flared skirt and I wore it with white ankle socks and white cross bar pumps (plimsolls). My sister, Irene’s frock was of a different design and colour.
At that time, although, I was only 18 months older than her, I had shot up during the previous months and was at least four inches taller than her. My dad took a photograph of us standing on the kerb at the bottom of our small front garden. I wish I had that photograph now.
Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, I also remember Mam taking us girls to the corner of Boaler Street and Sheil Road to watch the Orange Lodge process to Newsham Park on a Whit Monday where they would picnic and play games. At least that’s what I presumed they did because we would just watch them march past and then go home. My Uncle Jim was a member of the Orange Lodge and played the flute and we also went to watch some of the family who lived across the street to us, the girls dressed up in satin frocks and their widowed mother with a sash across her ample bosom.
The sound of the drum and then the flutes when the procession was still in the distance stirred something inside me and a marching band still does. I remember snatches of a song from those days and know now that I muddled up the words because I’ve just found it online. But us kids used to sing: Sons of the sea, and we’re all British boys, bobbing up and down like this. Sailing the ocean, laughing folks to scorn. They may build their ships by night and think they know the game but they can’t beat the boys of the bulldog breed, that made old England great! Bobbing up and down like this.
This past week I read in the Radio Times about a programme concerning polio and what a scourge it was years ago. In 1955 I fell off a wall while at school and fractured my spine and skull and was transferred from Myrtle Street Hospital, Liverpool, to the Agnes Hunt orthopaedic ward in Heswall Hospital on the Wirral. I was to lay flat on my back for six weeks and fortunately after that period the vertebra that had been cracked in my spine knitted and I was able to walk again. But in that ward there was a girl who’d had polio and her means of getting around was to leap from bed to bed.
When I began to think about what I would do when I left school, I considered being a nurse and one of my teachers arranged for me to visit Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The only memory I have of that visit was of seeing an iron lung which had a dummy in it and the noise of the machine that helped some polio sufferers to breathe. I knew then that I wasn’t made of the stuff that those angels in starched uniforms and caps that tended me in the Agnes Hunt Ward were, as well as others caring for the sick and suffering worldwide. My strengths lay somewhere else, although like many a mother, daughter and wife, I’ve acted the role of ministering angel to members of my family many times.
I never knew who Agnes Hunt was in those days but interesting when reading a book called “Liverpool’s Own” by Christine Dawe about famous Liverpudlians and those born elsewhere but who came to Liverpool and performed outstanding acts to improve people’s lives, I came across her name in a chapter about Sir Robert Jones, an eminent surgeon, who in 1899 was working at the Royal Southern Hospital. One of his patient was to be Agnes Hunt, a nurse from Shropshire, who’d had osteomyelitis as a child. A painful hip was what had brought her to Liverpool. They hit it off and he was to visit her Home for Crippled Children back in Shropshire. Later they were to create the first children’s orthopaedic hospital in the world and they were to open many more. In 1926 Agnes was made a Dame of the British Empire. She died in 1946 at the age of sixty. I am indebted to Christine for learning about a wonderful woman who did so much for crippled children.
The book I am working on at the moment is set between the end of 1956-1958. It was a period when a vaccination for polio was on the horizon. When I hear people on the telly giving the impression that the fifties in Britain was drab, it never seemed like that to me and I only have to think of the music and all the changes in Liverpool going on, as well as the strides that were made in the field of medicine. This was also a time when there was a mass X ray programme for TB and I remember being vaccinated in school. Within years that scourge was to be pretty well eradicated from the western world, as was polio. By the time my three sons were born they were being given the vaccine for polio on a spoon and then a sugar lump.
I was reminded also this week about how different it was in the fifties when it came to travelling to America and Canada. My cousin, Maureen, went with her husband Pete, by liner to Canada in the late fifties. The voyage would have taken about five days. They were later to travel down to New Jersey where they lived for a while before returning to Liverpool several years later. They’ve been of a great help to me when doing research for a chapter in my latest book. A couple of days ago I had lunch with another cousin, Lee, her husband, Jerry, and daughter, Erin, who had flown over from Canada. The journey altogether from New Brunswick took less than a day. Erin and I know a little about what the other is doing, both of us being on Face-book.
The wonders of technology!
The wonders of technology!
This week I have been invited to have afternoon tea with one of my readers from Santa Monica, California, at Liverpool’s Maritime Museum. Her mother was from Liverpool but she has never been here before and will be staying with a cousin. I’ve met readers before but never one, outside family, who have come so far. I’m looking forward to it. Now this wouldn’t have happened to the girl that was me in the fifties that's for sure. I never dreamed then that one day I would become a novelist!