My Story – Part 2

When someone is told ‘you could drop dead any minute!’, it has a profound effect on that person’s life, and also on the lives of their family.  To say that my father was frightened having just been told that by his doctor would be an understatement.

I was only six years old when he came home after that day after consulting his doctor about his severe breathlessness, but I well remember the fear in his eyes.  Here was a man who had survived death daily when he fought in the trenches in France in World War 1, and here was death staring him in the face again.  He was fifty seven years old, which, even in the 1950’s was still too young to die.

Remarkably I remember my mother being calm, and although usually a mild person she immediately took charge of the situation. Appalled that he had been offered no treatment she suggested that he saw her own doctor.  His practice was at the bottom of the hill called Forest Gate, and we lived at the top of the hill.  We had no telephone, so she went down to see him. After she had described my father’s condition to him, and told him what his doctor had said, he immediately said he would come to visit him at home as soon as his surgery was over.

After examining my father Dr Hardman agreed that his heart was in a bad way, but completely disagreed that nothing could be done for him.  He started him on a new drug, a version of digitalis, (commonly known as digoxin), and he also said he would refer him to a heart specialist.

Dr Duncan, the specialist, lived not far from us on North Park Drive, opposite the golf course.  He came round that evening. I remember his visit well.  I was fascinated by some of the equipment he brought with him and  I definitely remember him bringing in some large equipment with which I believe he took Xrays.  As I write this now, I can’t help wondering whether mobile Xrays  were commonplace in those days.  I certainly haven’t heard of them in more recent years, and I would have thought they were highly dangerous.  But unless I am simply dreaming, I have a clear picture in my mind of that  Xray machine in my parents bedroom that evening.

This brings me now to where I began, by saying that the arrival of the NHS had a big impact on our lives.  Because Dr Hardman, excellent doctor that he was, for reasons best known to himself did not join the NHS.  He was one of the very few doctors in the whole country who remained private, and everything had to be paid for.  Every appointment in his surgery, every home visit, (which  was charged at a higher rate), and all medication had to be paid for.  Of course, getting a home visit from a consultant so quickly also had to be paid for.

Dr Duncan asked many questions, and especially asked whether he had suffered form rheumatic fever as a child.  When my father told him he had had diphtheria, Dr Duncan immediately said ‘That’s it!  That’s what has caused so much damage to your heart.’  His diagnosis was mitral valve disease, and myocarditis.  If he had been younger he would have offed my father an operation to replace the faulty valves.  But heart surgery was still very much in its infancy in 1954, and sadly he said my father, at 57, was too old too attempt it.   However he did hold out hope that the condition could be helped with new drugs, and that was correct as he lived for another thirteen years, although he could never work again, remaining breathless on the slightest exertion.

Whilst my father was working finding the money was no problem.  But suddenly he was unable to work.  He had a market garden with many plants needing attention, and which my mother did her best to cope with, spending hours there packing lettuces for the markets.  No further crops were planted, and the business had to be sold.  This proved to be very difficult, and it was a long time before any sale was completed.

Suddenly money became a huge issue.  He was able to claim some sickness benefit, (which he hated having to get but necessity demanded it), but it was nowhere near the amount he had been earning as a market gardener.  In addition to doctor’s bills, Marjorie and I went to the little private school near our home, so there were school fees to pay as well.  My mother had a little money inherited from her father, who died a couple of days after I was born, so that tided us over for a while, but my abiding childhood memory is of constant anxiety over money.

In spite of that, we never went without a meal – we were never hungry.  This is entirely due to my mother’s careful book keeping.  She had an exercise book in which she recorded every penny that she spent.  In fact, not just pennies, but every halfpenny and even farthings, (which I believe were in existence until about 1956.)  Nothing could be spent that had not been strictly budgeted for.  She never had to ask any shop for credit, and never ever borrowed any money at all.

Unfortunately my father had only in the previous twelve months negotiated a business loan.  Such loans were very difficult to get in the 1950’s and bank managers would only allow them to be awarded to their most trusted customers.  This debt was a huge source of worry to my father has he no longer had the income to pay it back.  Eventually the business was sold, but it took nearly three long years before that finally happened.

I am convinced now that most people had no idea how poor we were. We were fortunate in that the house belonged to my mother, because if there had been rent to pay it would have been impossible.  But gradually the interior of the house began to show signs of shabbiness, carpets were thin and threadbare, the thin curtains on the south facing window at the back were in ribbons before any money was found to replace them.  Only one room in the house was heated, which was this south facing room, as that was the warmest room to begin with.  The rest of the house was perishingly cold, for like many other houses in those days there was no double glazing or central heating.

Being the second child I hardly ever had new clothes. Instead all my clothes were those worn previously by my elder sister.  I also got some from the vicar’s wife who had a daughter the age of my sister.  I think she was one person that had an idea that money was scarce, and she passed clothes on to me.  It didn’t worry me. I wasn’t particularly interested in clothes.(In face I have never been, and still not that interested in clothes.)  I certainly never complained about the things I had to wear, but the money problems I was aware of from being six years old did cause me a lot of anxiety.

Coming soon – topics to come in my blog…..

My Story – a brief outline of my life so far…… already begun.

Your Story – and how to write about it in 15 easy steps – already begun.

A Vicar’s wife’s journey through faith, doubt and hope– already begun.

Rosie’s Corner – already begun.

Music in retirement – coming soon

The joy of choirs – coming soon

Celtic Christianity – look out for this in the future

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne – future topic

One man and his dog walk the West Highland Way – coming soon

Being an introvert – look out for this in the future

The Famous Five and other children’s books – look out for this in the future

Gentlemen of the Road, (or tales of unusual visitors at the Vicarage) –  coming soon

Pets I have with whom I have shared my life. – future topic in My Story

Hearing Loss –  look out for this in the near future

Life is not Perfect – look out for this in the future

My Annus Horibilis – – future topic in My Story

No Place Like Home – Look out for this in the future in My Story

Litter! – coming soon

Angels – I’ll soon be telling you how readers can help me with this.

 

Your Story Step 1 – Preserve

Your memories should be preserved!  It is important that you do this because you are a very special person.  There is no-one else in the world quite like you, and there never will be. Think about that for a minute – it’s an awesome thought.  Even if you are an identical twin you are still not exactly like your sibling, in your looks, or your thoughts, or the essential ‘you’, and your story will be different from his/hers.  You are unique, and rare things are always precious.

So I have already given you one very good reason why you should record the story of your life.  Let’s think about some others.

Would you not be thrilled to find an old document written by your own parents or grandparents relating to events of their childhood or early life?  I am sure you would read it with great interest.  For one thing it would be a very good social history record.  Some of your parents and grandparents will have lived through world wars, will remember times when there were very few cars on the roads, even though most small towns had a railway station.  Many will have left school at only twelve years old in order that they might supplement the family income.

Some of you who are reading this will remember such events as seeing a television for the first time, watching the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, ration books which carried on during the austere post war years.  You may remember what you were doing when you heard that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or when Diana, Princess of Wales was tragically killed in a car accident in France.  What about the introduction of decimalisation?  Did you learn the complicated sterling ‘pounds, shillings and pence’ at school, and the jingles that taught you imperial weights and measures?

Was your main family holiday a week on the Golden Mile in Blackpool? At that time people usually had no more than two week annual leave a year. How did they cope?  Life has changed so much in the last fifty years or so, and you have been a first hand observer as history was being made.  Personal accounts such as these provide important insights into how life was lived twenty, forty, sixty or more years ago.

Preserving your memories for future generations can help to give some family stability.  Just think how many children live miles away from their grandparents or other members of their extended family. Yet there comes a time in most peoples’  lives when they are curious to know more about their origins.  The popularity of the BBC television programme ‘Who do you think your are?’ has proved this.  We are all products of our past generations.  We think and act in certain ways because of genetic information handed down to us from our ancestors, and sometimes in reading first hand accounts of their lives we will recognise ourselves.  We will realise that we think and act like them in spite of changing times.  How wonderful then for you to produce something for your own children and grandchildren to treasure.

But what if you have no children or grandchildren, or even no family to speak of, should you still write your life story?  The answer is definitely ‘yes’!  In some ways it is even more important to celebrate your life with a written record of it, and to share it with your friends and neighbours.

Here are some reasons people give for not preserving their memories:

‘Autobiographies are all right for film stars or royalty, but not for me.  I’m just an ordinary person.  Who would want to read about me?’

Well, you may be surprised at just how many people would find reading about your life very fascinating.  Every one of us has had to deal with life’s ups and downs, and how we coped in times of difficulty can be inspirational to others.  It’s not just the events of your life, but the decisions you took, the mistakes you made, the joys and sorrows that came your way.  All these things build up into the rich tapestry of your life.  They deserve to be recorded.

‘Isn’t it rather big-headed for someone like me to consider writing about my life?’

The very fact that you are asking this question means that it is extremely unlikely that you are big-headed.  Rather you will be seen as  thoughtful and considerate in writing about yourself, and your finished work will be treasured by your family and friends.

‘I would love to write about my life, but I’m hopeless at grammar and spelling.’

Don’t let this put you off.  Lots of people say they are no good at writing but I’m sure that if you can read this you can write a letter, and in doing so, maybe writing to a friend, you will hardly think about grammar and spelling.  If you can use a computer it will correct spelling for you, or you may want to get your finished work professionally typed.  A good typist will discreetly correct the most obvious mistakes for you, although I am rather in favour of leaving most of it as it is written.

In the days when I ran my typing service I well remember one man coming to me because his family had pressed him to write about his experiences during the second world war.  This man’s reading or writing skills were almost non existent so he recorded his story onto audio tapes and I typed it straight from these.  His language was extremely colourful and I was in two minds whether to edit out some of the oaths.  In the end I decided not to, and I was later glad that I had come to that decision.  Sadly the man died before his work was completed but the parts that were written were printed and given to his family.  They were delighted with it!  To them it was just like hearing him speak and the real character they had loved seemed to jump out of every page.

So the rule for the most part is for this type of project write as you speak. You are not trying to write a best selling novel which requires a different technique.  You are just recording your precious memories and creating a unique account of your life, telling it the way it was.

‘I’d love to write my life story, but I just don’t have the time.’

This is a very common problem.  However we all have the same number of hours in the day and we can almost always find time to do the things we really want to do.  Sometimes it’s just a case of reorganising the day, or even giving up something for a while to make time.

Writing your life story is indeed a huge task, but you’ve got to learn to become like a woodpecker.  In other words, chip away at it, a little bit at a time.  Even just a few minutes every day, or an hour or so each week, perhaps broken down into twenty or thirty minute sessions for a few months, will be enough to see you making progress.  Write just one small paragraph at a time, and eventually it will build up into a full size book.

You may not be able to face it if you think in terms of writing a book, but break it down into manageable  bite-size pieces and it won’t seem anything like as daunting.

‘I’m too young/old to write my life story’

Neither of these reasons holds water. If you are still very young it’s a good idea to get into the habit of keeping a journal, and then maybe once a year you could condense it into a chapter of your life story.  Anyone who did this would have a remarkable record of their life one day.

Then again, there are many young people who have already done some exceptional things in their short lives, or who have lived, and survived, through all sorts of difficult situations.  Some have conquered serious illness, been refugees, lived through wars, raised amazing amounts of money for a good cause dear to their hearts.  The list goes on.  Don’t wait any longer before you begin to get it down on paper, or at least safely stored on computer software that you can keep and reproduce at a later date.

If you are an elderly person reading this you must have such a treasure store of memories and stories to tell.  If you really don’t feel you could write it out by yourself consider asking a family member or friend to do the writing for you.  Whatever you decide, be sure to share your memories with someone.

I find a lot of people think about writing the story of their lives when they reach their fifth or sixth decade.  This is a time of life when it is natural to take stock of what you’ve done with your life so far, and your hopes and dreams for the future.  If you are at this stage you will enjoy writing your life story.  Be sure to think about adding further chapters later on in your life.  You are after all living history.

Look out for ‘Step 2 –  Purpose’  –  coming soon.

A vicar’s wife’s journey through faith, doubt and hope. Part 1.

Faith, for me, has truly been a journey, and as the title suggests, full of doubts and hope.  But surely a vicar’s wife has got it all sorted hasn’t she?  Her faith must be firm as a rock, set on a sure foundation, never wavering about what she truly thinks or believes.

Well, maybe not.  So as I come ever closer to the Biblical three score years and ten I have decided to give an honest account of my journey in the hope that it may be an encouragement to at least some who read it.  Because I rather suspect that there others who, like me, struggle to get to grips with the mystery of life.  Religion, and religion, does not always give us the answers we search for, much as we would want it to.  So those who like me struggle to believe certain things they have been told to believe, I hope that my musings may be of some comfort to you, even if the things that you wrestle with are different from mine.

Each of us is very much a part of or ancestry (nature) and our upbringing (nurture).  Our early years especially have a very profound effect on the person we eventually become, and it’s often difficult for an adult to shake off some of the things that happened to us, or things that we have been told in childhood which may no longer be relevant in today’s world.  My experiences may resonate with some people, and they may be able to identify with the place I am coming from.  Others I suspect may struggle to understand what I am talking about as their childhood will have been entirely different from mine.

I was brought up in a Christian family, although in the early 1950’s small children were not taken to church, so parents had a few year of not attending as they stayed at home to look after their children.  At least, I can only report on the way things were at the church to which my family were attached.

This was Christ Church Blackpool, which was situated in the town centre opposite the public library. It was a huge, austere building with balconies around three sides of the interior. Before my time it had been used to very large congregations, and visiting preachers would fill the church to capacity.  However by the time I was on the scene the surrounding ‘parish’ had been overtaken by shops, hotels and boarding houses, and subsequently a huge drop in regular worshippers.

It was an Anglican church, but I never heard that word until I was past eleven years old. Christ Church called itself a Bible believing Church of England, and it sat very lightly with the Blackburn diocese as the feeling was that Bishops and many other clergy ‘were not quite sound’.  The interior of the church had a lot of wood panelling, the panels on the east wall bearing the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer in gilt lettering. The Lord’s Table (you were not allowed to call in an Altar) was covered simply with a white cloth.  There were not coloured altar frontals, no cross to be seen anywhere in the church, and definitely no candles, as they were regarded as being ‘popish’.  This description makes it seem rather dull, and I think it was.

But before I went in the church I was taken to Sunday School on a Sunday afternoon.  I was four years old and the walk there of just over a mile seemed such a  long way to me, but if possible people avoided using public transport on a Sunday.  The Sunday School took place in what was known as Christ Church Memorial Hall, situated a short distance from the church.  The hall had once been a day school.  Build in the Victorian years it was typical of schools built in that era having very high windows which impossible to see through. The thinking must have been that children would have been distracted if they were able to see through the windows.  By the time I was going the building was really very dilapidated, although it was still used as the church hall well beyond my teenage years.  Both the church and the hall have since been demolished.

The Kindergarten Sunday School was run by an elderly lady called Miss Griffin.  Her favourite hymn seemed to be ‘Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin’.  If you have ever read the book or seen the film ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’, (Jeanette Winterson) you may remember that this same hymn seemed to be a favourite in Accrington at the church where she grew up.  The hymn goes on to say ‘Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue, Look ever to Jesus, He’ll carry you through.’  As I recall this now, as clear as yesterday, I do wonder what dark passions Miss Griffin thought four year old children had!

A year of so later we were moved up into the big Sunday School, but I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it.  And within a short time my parents sometimes attended morning service, which meant that I went to morning Sunday School as well!  This was run by an old gentleman, and every single Sunday morning, without fail, we sang just two choruses.  Taken from the CSSM chorus book these were 135 ‘Oh the love that drew salvation’s plan’ and 252 ‘God has blotted them out’.  There it is again – sin.  I wonder now whether it really was the most important thing to teach children in Sunday School, that they were sinners.  I now believe that teaching children that they are loved by God, and are unique and special gives a healthier beginning. There was a lot of negativity in those days – don’t do this and don’t do that.  Things like knitting or gardening were forbidden on a Sunday, and dancing was considered to be the work of the devil.  But times and thinking change with the years.  And those old people, (and they were old people, not just seeming that way to a child)  who ran that Sunday School were very committed people, and sincerely doing their best as they saw it.

It would be wrong of me to give the impression that it was all bad.  Christ Church Sunday School, followed by organisations like Campaigners, Covenanters, Pathfinders, and also when I was a teenager the Youth Fellowship, all gave me a grounding in the Christian faith and the Bible, and I was not unhappy most of the time.  It’s just that there has, over the years, inevitably been quite a lot of weeding out along the way.  But maybe that happens to lots of people as they grow older.  As a child I saw everything in black and white, but later in life I see so many shades of grey.

In fact the doubts started to creep in when I went to secondary school.  I went to a Church of England secondary school in Blackpool, and it was connected to St. Paul’s Church Marton.  How different this was from Christ Church Blackpool!  It was known as a ‘high church’, whereas Christ Church was very, very ‘low church, evangelical’. The then vicar of Christ Church was strongly against this high Anglican church, which he considered to be, as he put it ‘half way to Rome’!  This was the early 1960’s, and in Blackpool there were still very strong feelings of suspicion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.  I am so glad that nowadays these feelings have all but disappeared, and mostly, we are now just ‘Christians’.  It’s so much better, and we can work together on many events, such as Good Friday processions, and Christian Aid week.

I remember very clearly my first day at Elmslie school.  At the morning service, (yes, every day started with morning service) we sang a hymn which I had never heard before.   It was ‘Thy hand O God has guided’ to the tune ‘Thornbury’.  I loved it then, and have done so ever since.  It’s a great hymn of unity, and I am thankful that there does seem to be more unity today than there was then.

In Blackpool in those days there was a group of four Church of England churches which were all ‘low church evangelical’ and they worked together alongside some of the nonconformist churches.  They considered churches like St.Paul’s Marton to be ‘not quite sound’, and they doubted that people who went there were true Christians. It was partly this attitude that got me thinking seriously about what it really meant to be a Christian.  Who could I believe? Who was telling me the truth?  Suppose I’d been brought up at St.Paul’s, Marton instead of Christ Church Blackpool, would I not be a Christian now?

After a couple of years a couple of girls who were from India joined the school.  This was very unusual indeed in the Blackpool of the 1960’s, but my ‘suppose’ questionings became extended to ‘suppose I’d been born into a Muslim family… … …?  Would I now be a Muslim, and therefore, if I accepted all I’d been taught at Christ Church, would I now be on my way to hell?’

I kept all these troublesome doubts to myself.   At 14 years old I was much too unsure of myself to question openly.  To be honest, I was scared.  I wanted to be a Christian.  I certainly hope I was one.  But if I was, surely I should have the certainty that others seemed to have.   Or was it just possible that some of them, like me, were also keeping  up a pretence?

To add to my fears, in those days I dreaded Advent.  Yes, really dreaded it!  The teaching was solely about the second coming of Christ, and about being ready, all the time, any time of day or night, and it frightened the life out of me.  For a start, I loved life, and I loved living.  I didn’t want my life on earth to be cut short. Yet we often sang that song on Sunday after church Yourh Fellowship:  ‘This  world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.’   So I felt I must be a terrible sinner to love life here on earth.  You can see how confused I was.

In those evangelical churches in those days the preaching was all about sin, how sinful we were, and Bible texts such as ‘I am a worm and no man’  and ‘All your righteousness is as filthy rags.’  were frequently quoted.  Perhaps I was too sensitive and took it all to heart too much, but I feel now it would have been much better to teach children how much God loves the world, and how each and every one of us is unique and very special to Him.  I read recently that if we could see ourselves as God sees us we would smile a lot more.  I like that, and I wish I had been told that when I was growing up.

Looking back, the evangelical preaching in those days was very much what I now would call heaven and hell preaching.  Which side of the fence were you on, because you were either in or out, ie either going to heaven or going to hell.  Because everyone is a sinner, and it didn’t matter whether you had done terrible things like Hitler, or you were just an ordinary person who had gone a little astray like everyone else had, unless you ‘turned to Christ’, you were out!  You would go to hell.  You were so near and yet so far.

Was this good news?  Well, (to misquote the Labour party’s recent slogan), I suppose it was good news, but ‘for the few, not for the many’.  Looking at it like that, it didn’t seem to be very good news to me at all, but I was meant to say it was, and publicly I did say that.  But inwardly I was very afraid.

I now think this teaching was wrong.  I think Bible texts were taken out of context, instead of understood in the way people of the times in which they were written would have understood them.  Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.’    Recently I have wondered whether it is possible to be on the Way, and not know it.  I believe it is, and in my next blog I will explain more about how I have arrived at this understanding.  So all you conservative evangelicals out there who are reading this – don’t write me off yet!  Read the next episode to understand how I have arrived at this conclusion.

 

My Story Part 1 – In the beginning

I was born in 1948, so as I write this in 2018 it doesn’t take any great numeracy skills to work out how old I am now.  I mention the year of my birth at the beginning of this blog because it is the same year that our National Health Service was born, and this was to have a profound effect on my early years, but not in the way that you are probably thinking right now.

My maiden name is Werry.   Throughout my unmarried life the name was constantly mispronounced, and I would get called Weary  or Wary, to which would often be added the question, ‘And are you?’, (meaning are you weary or wary)  Now I accept that many people were just trying to be funny in asking those questions, but believe me, the joke wore very thin after a time.   I even occasionally got called Vary, usually by someone with German connections.  The name was also confused with the Norfolk Wherry, which I believe is a type of boat used on the canals, but no, I had nothing to do with boats of any kind.  I swore that if I didn’t get married I would change my name by deed poll.  I was certainly not going to put up with it for the rest of my life.

I was born in Blackpool, three years after World War II ended, and before I started school I caught whooping cough.  It would have been in the January just after I had turned four, and I can remember the doctor calling at our house and giving me some white liquid medicine which I believe was an early form of penicillin.  He also advised that I should be taken to the end of Central Pier every day.  This stretched out quite some way into the sea, and my mother took me there faithfully every day until I was cured.  I well remember the biting cold of the January wind, and the rough seas which swirled beneath us.  People had great faith in the healing properties of the sea air in those days, though the penicillin was viewed with some suspicion.

My parents were not badly off in those days.  In fact there had been some wealth in my mother’s family.  Her grandparents had made their money in the cotton mills in Blackburn, and her grandfather was a man of property.  He was also the first occupant of the house, built in 1912, at the top of the hill called Forest Gate in Blackpool.  This was a fairly large, three bedroomed semi, which in those days suggested  some considerable affluence. The adjoining house was bought by John Hartley, the only son of Sir William Hartley who was the founder of Hartley’s Jam, which completes the picture of a fairly wealthy family.  It was my mother who, by the time she got married, had become the sole owner of the Forest Gate house, as it had been left to her in a will.

My father on the other hand was not at all well off.  He was a market gardener, and during the war he had done very well selling Blackpool tomatoes on the black market, something he didn’t like doing, and which he obviously had to keep quiet about.  He had a desk at our house and I remember being told that the top drawer of the desk was full of paper money during the war years, but of course, he couldn’t declare it.  He found it hard to say no when neighbours asked him for some of his vegetables, and then it snowballed as friends of the neighbours, and friends of their friends also came to him, because the things he grew were severely rationed during the war.

He was fifty one years old when I was born, and had fought in the trenches in France during the first World War.  Born in October 1897 and keen to leave his father’s trade of butchering in Ulverston he lied about his age and was quick to join up.  I don’t think too many questions were asked, so urgent was the need to recruit as many young soldiers as possible, so on 9th May 1913 when he was still only sixteen years old he was enlisted into the Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment.   By some miracle he survived four years and  two hundred and seventy one days of service, finally being discharged in November 1918, and he ended up in Blackpool looking for work.  Unemployment was a huge problem for ex soldiers in 1918, but he was determined not to return to the family butchers, and instead opened up a grocer’s shop near the bottom of the hill of Forest Gate, and it was here he met my mother who was a regular customer when she visited her aunt, who by this time lived alone in the Forest Gate house.  Money, or I should say lack of it, was a constant problem for him as he just didn’t have the capital to keep the shop well stocked, and when he became engaged to my mother and his future father-in-law offered him the takeover of his market garden on Marton Moss,  he jumped at the chance.

My sister and I went to a strange little private school at the bottom of Forest Gate, (more about this in a later blog), and for some reason I remember the fees being twelve shillings and sixpence per term.  (One of those odd memories that the mind stores for some unknown reason!)  My parents had no problem paying those fees in those early years, but soon all was to change.

Blackpool tomatoes were very highly thought of in the 1950’s, something to do with the rich soil of the Moss giving them a distinctive fragrance and taste.  So tomatoes were the main crop, but my father also grew lettuces, celery, rhubarb, and some flowers for the markets, especially gladioli and chrysanthemums.  He had three greenhouses as well as some outdoor land.  As a small child the greenhouses seemed absolutely enormous, and he did indeed work very hard.  He used to say that there was really too much work for one person but not enough for two, and it was very hard to get part time help in those days.  So he had to make the three mile journey from the home in Forest Gate to the market garden on Highfield Road every single day of his life, including Christmas Day, because in winter the oil fired heating had to be attended to, or as he described it, it needed nursing.

On New Year’s day 1955 we had been invited as a family to tea at some friends who lived a couple of miles away in Bispham. We were to go on the bus, which ran infrequently on bank holidays.  My father of course had gone as usual in the morning to the market garden, and when the time for us catching the bus to Bispham drew closer my mother became anxious because he had not arrived home.  Very few people had telephones in those days so he was unable to let us know that he had sustained an accident.  He had been cutting string with a sharp knife while at the same time keeping an eye on some sparrows which had got into the greenhouse and were after his tomato seedlings.  The knife slipped and cut deeply into a main artery in his wrist, although at first he was unaware he had done so much damage.

Unable to stem the flow of blood he at last made the journey home, just in time to catch the bus with the rest of the family. But blood was still pumping out of his wound, seeping through the towels that he had wrapped around it.  He decided the only thing he could do was to leave the bus at the stop near the Victoria Hospital and seek professional help. The wound was stitched up there, and he was eventually able to join us in Bispham.  However he had lost so much blood that he really needed a blood transfusion, though this was never suggested.

What he didn’t know at this stage, although he was soon to find out, was that he had a damaged heart caused by contracting Diphtheria as a child.  One of his sisters died in this same outbreak, and really, he should never have been allowed in the army to fight in the trenches.  But losing so much blood on the day of his accident meant that his already damaged heart could no longer cope.

He became very breathless on the slightest exertion, and knew he needed to see a doctor.  This brings me to where I began, with the birth of the NHS.  His doctor had transferred to the NHS in 1948, along with the vast majority of doctors in the country, and many people were truly amazed at the free treatment that was now provided.  Others though grumbled at long waiting times at the surgery, and not being given enough time to speak to a doctor properly.  It is perhaps unsurprising that once people no longer had to pay for treatment they consulted a doctor for things they would have dealt with alone before, and doctors became very busy indeed.

The doctor who saw my father saw that day took out his stethoscope, and immediately exclaimed, ‘My goodness, your heart is dicky!  You could drop dead any minute!’  This was no joke, the doctor was deadly serious.  My father appeared to be a hopeless case, beyond any treatment he could offer.  End of consultation, just go home to die.

It seems almost unbelievable in the light of modern advances in medicine that any patient should be spoken to like that, but I report exactly what happened.  What did my father do next, and have I more to say about the NHS?  Yes to both questions, and if you are not already completely bored with all this and are interested to know what happened look out for my next blog, which will be coming soon.

Why should I start a Blog? – ‘My Story’ – and why you should write ‘Your Story’.

After many months – well, I admit it, years really – I have decided to take the plunge and start a blog.

Ok, so I know I’ve just been procrastinating all this time, but that seems so judgemental.  After all, once you’ve retired you’re just so busy aren’t you?  And everyone knows for a fact that time goes faster and faster, the older you get.

I’ve finally decided it has got to be now or never.  So, where do I start?

For the last few years I’ve been digging around into a bit of family history and this has raised more questions than it answered.  There are so many things I wished I’d asked my parents when they were still alive.  Why was I not more curious then about their past lives?  Why have I got so many photographs with absolutely no hint of what, or where, or who they are of, and why did they never write things down, so that I could simply enjoy reading all about them?

That prompted me to think about my own children.  Will there ever be a time when they ask some questions about me, and I won’t be around to answer them?  Maybe I should write down my own story for them, the ups and downs of my own life, the joys, the hard times, the mistakes made along the way, so many decisions made for better or for worse. What made me choose this way instead of that way?

No more thinking about it!  For their sakes I decided to do it.  I made a record of the story of my life, and now I’ve started a blog which will include some excerpts from it.  Not all of it you’ll be glad to know, for it’s only right that some things are kept for family only. So that’s My Story.

How about you?  Would you like to share your story with your family and friends?  Maybe you’ve already done it, or maybe you started it, but gave up when it became too overwhelming a task.  I know that happens to some people, so I am inviting you to learn from my writing blog, because with each episode that I share of my own story I will also give you ideas on how to go about the task yourself.  I will show you in fifteen easy steps, from start to completion, how to tell Your Story.

 

 

 

Your Story – Introduction

Hello, and welcome!  You are interested in writing the story life, and these posts are designed to show you how to go about it in 15 easy steps.

Autobiography writing has become very popular in recent years.  I have done a lot of research in preparation for writing my own life story, and there is a wealth of information on the subject, books and courses both online and offline.  My aim here is to produce  simple instructions and guidance for ordinary people who have a desire to record their own life story, but do not want to spend a great deal of time and money in doing so.

So the information I am giving you is concise.  Where I have included examples of other people’s work I have kept them as short as possible, and you can just skim through these if you wish.  None of them is essential to following the main text, but everything you need to know to write out your own story will be give in this blog over the next few weeks.

I am not a professional writer.  In fact my background is in nursing and health visiting, but when my children were small I stayed at home to look after them.  As money was tight I ran a typing service from home.  I had been a typist for a few years before I started nursing at the age of 25, so I thought I would brush up on this skill and put it to good use.

I typed quite a few manuscripts for people who were writing their life story and I found everyone of them fascinating reading.  In this way I learnt a great deal about how people tackled this rather daunting project.  Many years later I encountered a lady with a particularly inspiring story to tell, and I encouraged and helped her to get it written down successfully, drawing on methods I had seen other people use, and she found the whole experience very enriching.

I eventually gave up the typing service and returned to a health visiting career which I did until I retired, but I have remained very interested in peoples’ memories.  Some years later when my mother died I and my sister found, when going through some of her personal belongings, a collection of letters and photographs that we had known nothing about.  They concerned a relationship that had obviously meant a great deal to her, so who was the gentleman who had written to her so eloquently?  Sadly we will never know.

If only she had written down the story of her life.  How fascinating it would have been!

This course that I present to you is laid out in 15 steps.  These have been prepared in a logical order to help you think around the task ahead of you and to arrive at your goal – a completed record of your life – in the easiest and quickest way.

Inevitably some steps are longer than others, and some weeks I will post two of them together.  Some steps will take you longer to complete than others, but once you get started there is nothing to stop you working on more than one section at a time because it can all be gathered together and put in the correct order when you are nearing completion.

Here is a list of the 15 steps that I will be showing you over the next few weeks:

Step 1   –   Preserve

Step 2   –   Purpose

Step 3   –   Paraphernalia

Step 4   –   Plan

Step 5   –   Prepare your Portfolio

Step 6  –   Pedigree

Step 7    –   Proceed

Step 8   –   Persevere

Step 9   –   Problems

Step 10   –   Prune it!

Step 11   –   Photographs, Papers and Poetry

Step 12   –   Personalise it.

Step 13  –   Prologue and Postscript

Step 14   –    Print and Publish

Step 15   –   Present it with Pride