Sunday 25 May 2014


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!

    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!  




Saturday 3 May 2014


This week I’ve been doing two writerly things: filling in a questionnaire for Ebury Books in connection with my forthcoming release in August of A MOTHER’S DUTY and also I’ve been working on the second draft of my latest book in progress LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. I enjoy this stage of writing because I’ve a good chunk of the story written and it is a matter of putting in more emotion, action and description but there are also gaps to fill in.

On Friday I was writing a new scene. Irene Miller, who has featured in some of my other books, is now a trainer nursery nurse in the late fifties. I’ve done some research on the subject but it’s not always easy setting up a scene when you don’t have that much information. But having read that part of the toddlers’ routine was having a ramble or walk in the morning online, I placed Irene with another nursery nurse and some children on a walk to the beach in Blundell Sands.

An idea struck me that I could have them chanting nursery rhymes on the way. This meant my scene would hopefully contain some realistic dialogue. Inexplicably the nursery rhyme that came into my head was Georgie Porgie, Pudding and Pies. The second line is kissed the girls and made them cry. Immediately I had a name for one of the little boys and the words to put in his mouth.  (There’s a lovely site on the internet that tells you where this nursery rhyme and others originated from.)
   Thinking of nursery rhymes took me back, not to the days when I was learning them myself but when I bought this enormous book of Nursery Rhymes to read to my own children. It had amusing illustrations and more rhymes than I had ever heard of and can remember now but it’s surprising what does come to mind.

My mind seldom stops working and I was reminded last Sunday whilst watching “Country File” of several days I spent on retreat near Whitby in Yorkshire because that’s where part of the programme was set. Mention was made of jet which can only be found in that area. It is fossilised monkey puzzle tree and jet was made into jewellery and was extremely popular with widows in Victorian times. In my book IT’S NOW OR NEVER I have a character who never actually appears but gets a mention as does Whitby and jet jewellery. Then on “Flog It” the other day Fireweed was mentioned as growing on bombed sites in London. And I was reminded that was another name given to Rosebay willow herb which also grew on what we called bombed hollas in Liverpool after the war. One of those snippets of information I remembered from childhood and put in a couple of my books set in 40s Merseyside.
Earlier this morning whilst walking and thinking of my writing, Maggie Thatcher popped into my mind and the rhyme, Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher. When was this? In 1971 when she was Education Secretary and wanted to pass an act through parliament which meant children over 7 would no longer get free milk at school.
 Milk for secondary school children had been stopped in 1968 by Harold Wilson’s Labour government. It was the former Labour government leader, Clement Atlee who had introduced free milk for school children under 18 in 1946. 

I well remember as a child drinking my third of a pint through a straw along with the other 51 children in my class. I’m sure many other war babies like me and post-war ones, too, do. Which mean I can have my nursery infants in the 1950s drinking their free milk on their return from their walk. A true glimpse from the past.