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Sunday 30 June 2019

Review - Stan Barstow: A Kind of Loving

Stan Barstow
A Kind of Loving (4*)

Continuing to catch up on books I wish I’d read at twenty, A Kind of Loving captures the young northern working-class generation around ten or fifteen years older than me, aged twenty in the late nineteen-fifties. I think of my uncle getting washed at my grandma’s kitchen sink (the only water in the house), putting on a clean shirt and brushing back his thick dark hair, all spruced up, ready to catch the bus for a Saturday night out on the town in Goole.

"I hope you’re not running after women,” my dad once teased him. “I don’t have to,” he answered back, “they run after me.”

Vic Brown is twenty and a bright lad. He is a draughtsman with a local engineering firm in a Yorkshire mining town. He also works on Saturdays in a record and electrical shop just as the consumer boom is taking off, and subsequently, with the promise of a partnership, moves there full-time. He goes to dance halls, pubs and cinemas. He takes pride in his appearance, wearing sharp suits and ties and visiting the barbers every two weeks: virtues that were scoffed at just a few years later.

Vic desperately fancies Ingrid Rothwell, a classy typist with the same firm, and gets off with her, except things are not right. He is grammar-school working-class with sophisticated tastes. She is not as well educated but lower-middle-class with popular tastes. She irritates him with her lowbrow gossip. When Ingrid becomes pregnant they have to get married. They go to live with Ingrid’s dragon-mother who constantly criticises Vic. The story accelerates to a soap-opera-ish conclusion involving a miscarriage and an almighty row after which Vic and Ingrid work out a way to move forward together: a kind of loving.

Vic tells his story in a monologue in the present historic tense (e.g. I’m walking down the High Street when I see someone coming towards me) that runs all the way through the book, immersing you in an immediacy and realism that keeps the pages turning. The contextual detail is wonderful. It is also of its time (first published 1960): mildly sexist and even racist, but that is how things were. It put me right back in the West Yorkshire manufacturing firms and other businesses we audited at the end of the sixties, still much the same. One of them was an Ossett engineering company very like the one where the author Stan Barstow worked in the drawing office after leaving school. He was writing about a world he knew and doing it well.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

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Wednesday 19 June 2019

Great Yarmouth, June 1960

Early nights, top entertainment and lots of healthy fresh air: that’s what you got with seaside holidays in the nineteen-fifties.

As it’s the holiday season (so I might go quiet for a while), here is a posthumous post from a guest contributor – my dad – written shortly after a week’s holiday exactly fifty-nine years ago in a boarding house at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

We were taken by car on the Sunday morning (he would have been working on the Saturday) and returned by train the following Saturday. Below, I am t–, my mother is M– and my brother who was then aged 4 is mj.
Great Yarmouth circa 1960

Notes On a Seaside Holiday.
YARMOUTH June 19th to June 25th 1960

Sunday: Mr. Mapplebeck of Rawcliffe took us by car. We were away from the front door by 7.55 a.m., a pleasant but fast ride; mj was sick twice on the journey. We were ready for lunch in the digs when the dinner gong went at 1 p.m. Beach in the afternoon, then a walk round a fun fair in the evening. Bed 8 o’clock.

Monday morning; lovely walk and bus to town, sea trip from the River Yare. Beach in the afternoon, show (Charlie Drake) in the evening. Later drink by myself in the pub, reflected on the atmosphere of seaside pubs.

Great Yarmouth: Norwich Belle 1960
mj, dad, M- and t- on board the Norwich Belle at Great Yarmouth.
Date and time on the back: Monday 20th June 1960, 10.15 a.m. 

Tuesday: all down to the station for details of the return journey, followed by lovely Broads cruise to Reedham. Afternoon on beach, evening shopgazing with M– and boys. Reflected we do not often have an opportunity for a family loiter. Returned 8 p.m. continued reading Richard Church’s “Golden Sovereign”, bed 10 p.m.

Wednesday: mj slept while 10 a.m. t– rowing by himself on the boating pool, I enjoying reading the Daily Telegraph, later t–, mj and I sea trip in Filey type cobble. Beach in the afternoon, open air type theatre entertainment in the evening very mediocre, took mj back to digs and he was ready for bed before the finish, all in bed by 10 p.m.

Great Yarmouth boating lake

Thursday: t– on the rowing pool, mj in a pedal car, then all into town for a little present shopping. Once again I thought how privileged we were being able to stroll about together. Beach in the afternoon, in the evening M– took t– to the Charlie Chester show. I strolled mj round the front, he had an ice cream cornet, we walked round the pin table alleys and I considered the tastes of the contemporary world, but then everybody can’t go abroad. Then mj had another ride in a pedal car, mj a little boy of 4 years old going round and round, I’ll keep that memory, they soon grow from one stage to another. The different phases are very short. We went back to the boarding house and I put mj to bed.

Great Yarmouth 1950s tourism video
One of several 1950/60s Yarmouth videos on YouTube - click to play

Friday, we all went for a walk in the morning, children went in the fun fair cars. I was a little apprehensive the cash was getting a bit short by now. Beach in the afternoon, both the boys playing and digging well, I bought a packet of paper flags. In the evening M– took the children for a walk, I gave them 4/6d. to spend while I went to the pictures.

Saturday. The taxi picked us up as arranged, we left Yarmouth at 10.10 a.m. a little disconcerted to find there was no restaurant or buffet car on the train. M– dashed off the train at March station and procured three sandwiches, two small packets of biscuits and a couple of cartons of orange juice for the noble sum of 8/-. Anyhow after that mj fell asleep, we had to awaken him to change trains at Doncaster, we arrived in Goole about 4.45 p.m. and were fortunate in getting a taxi home. Lovely. We had a very good week for weather and the following week it broke, so we were very lucky.

Thursday afternoon July 7th 1960

Norwich Belle, Great Yarmouth, around 1960
The Norwich Belle sailed out of Great Yarmouth until around 1981

The above images are so widespread on the internet one can only assume they are now free of copyright restrictions.

Thursday 13 June 2019

Rather a studious kind of boy

A few years ago I contributed to a book about the firm where my father used to work. Recounting people and incidents over the phone I was told: “I remember you as being rather a studious kind of boy”.

I suppose that’s right. I was too timid to join football, rugby or cricket teams and rarely participated in any other sports. I read a lot, played and listed to music and spent possibly too much time on my own.

It occurs to me that, as they age, those sporty people who played highly physical team games can no longer do so. Some manage to keep up club and racquet games for a while, and others take up the likes of bowls and walking football, etc., but eventually even these can become too much. Readers, writers, musicians and creative people, on the other hand, can keep going until they lose their marbles, or even longer.

I’m glad to have been rather a studious kind of boy.

Saturday 8 June 2019

Gram Motherem (reposted by Smorgasbord Blog Magazine)

I responded a few weeks ago to an invitation from Sally Cronin who runs the wonderful Smorgasbord Blog Magazine allowing her to look through my archives and select four posts to share.

I am delighted to see the first she has selected is Gram Motherem from November 2015.

The original invitation is here

The Smorgasbord repost is here

Gram Motherem: how early are our earliest memories?

“I’ve made up a new game to play,” I told Peter Abson in the school playground. “It’s called Gram Motherem.”

It was a bit like tig. If you were ‘it’ you had to chase others and catch them. When you caught someone you hugged them tight and rubbed the front of your body firmly up and down against them while repeating the words “Gram Motherem, Gram Motherem” over and over again. I showed him but he didn’t seem too keen on the idea. Wendy Godley wouldn’t let me show her at all. In fact, she hardly ever spoke to me again after I tried.

I tell you this at risk of being branded some kind of rampant six year-old pervert because I believe it tells us something about our earliest memories.

Read original post (~1850 words)

Monday 3 June 2019

Review - Keith Waterhouse: Mondays, Thursdays

Keith Waterhouse: Mondays, Thursdays
Keith Waterhouse
Mondays, Thursdays. (2*)

I didn’t like this. I got it on the back of the thoroughly enjoyable Billy Liar (see review) because Waterhouse fans say it is just as good, but gave up dissatisfied about three-quarters of the way through.

Mondays, Thursdays is a collection of over a hundred of Keith Waterhouse’s Daily Mirror columns from the first half of the nineteen-seventies. In length they range from half to two book pages and could easily today be imagined as a blog. He writes about the same kinds of nostalgia as me, such as toys, cigarette cards and being converted to natural gas. Much of it remembers his Yorkshire childhood. The pieces are full of the wit and inventiveness you would expect from someone once described as one of Britain’s funniest writers. And yet, I didn’t like it.

Perhaps the problem is in the style: too chatty, too light-hearted, too much about the author with too many ‘I’s on the page. There is a sense of always looking for the humour rather than genuinely caring about the topics he writes about. He didn’t make me care about them either.

There are exceptions. A wonderful piece tells of the author’s ninety-five year-old granddad who lived alone in a remote village and liked to send and receive letters even though he could neither read nor write. In order to keep in touch, Waterhouse’s mother posted him an envelope every Monday containing nothing but another stamped-addressed envelope for a reply. Grandad always opened it immediately and popped the empty reply straight back in the letter box, usually to arrive on Wednesday. They then knew he was safe and well. One week there was no reply. Waterhouse’s mother caught the bus to where he’d lived, and buried him.

As an unfinished book it should get only one star, but the odd pearl raises it to 2.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews