Carnivals

Oh happy, happy days, when everyone made their own entertainment.

In the days when there was no TV and very little radio (if you could afford one), I can remember my dad with a lump of crystal ore and two wires trying to get music on it. He did manage it, but very occasionally and very amateurish. Consequently everyone had to make their own amusement. Men could only afford to drink maybe once a week and usually made a good night of it. Women sometimes nipped into the ‘snug’ for a stout and a gossip.
A favourite amusement during the summer was a Miners Picnic, from different collieries and on different dates, but each at the weekend. The Picnic consisted of a carnival through the village with jazz bands in which the men played various instruments; trumpets, piccolos, penny whistles and lots of kazoos. Kazoos consisted of a pipe with a hole in it with a membrane over it which vibrated and caused a buzzing sound when the player hummed into it. There were also the kettle drums and the big bass drum. From these bands originated the excellent colliery brass bands of today, but even these are now disappearing.

In those 1930’s days they were fun. Every band had a mascot which consisted of one or two of the families’ children. My dad was in a band called the ‘Milburn Toffs’ because we originated from Milburn Place, which was part of North Shields. I was picked as a mascot and dressed as a bride with a boy dressed in top hat and tails as the groom. The men were also dressed in top hats and, as near as possible, tails.

People decorated various carts and dressed up as witches. Some dressed as wizards singly and ran around the street. There were Mexicans, Eskimos and ladies of the times, maybe slightly shaky ones with long cigarette holders and showing a little bit of one of their lovely legs.

My clearest memory was of a young man dressed as a cannibal in a tiger skin and a great big animal bone – collected from the slaughter house as it was still a little bloody. He had a tin for collecting coppers for the deprived orphans and children of sick miners, as there were no benefits in those days or very little help. He made so much noise shaking this bone that he collected quite a bit. I know I was afraid of him.

The colours of everything were great. Garlands and paper flowers were made by all, and at the end of the parade everyone was judged and prizes given. I remember my groom and I won a couple of times, once a toy aeroplane which we had to share for six months each. I hung it in my bedroom. Sandwiches, tea, home-made ginger beer etc. were brought and we consumed it all. After all it was a ‘picnic’. It was great fun as we went around the villages; Bedlington, Ashington, Shiremoor and places where there was a pit village.

When I was about thirteen, in my first teens before the war, I was in a concert party run by the Merrow family, Eddie, Tommy, and Cissie. They were all good entertainers and we played at a couple of theatres. One was at South Shields where I had two solos, as I had a very good soprano voice, but usually I was in the chorus.

I remember once playing at the Tyne Picture House in Milburn Place. We were wearing halter-neck dresses held behind the neck with a press stud. One girl’s dress snapped, so we all danced in front of her whilst she danced off the stage holding it up. The seats in most halls cost 1d or 2d on forms.

Oh happy, happy days, when everyone made their own entertainment, sometimes in each other homes. There was not much booze but much hilarity and very little thuggery. There wasn’t much money but we made the best of it.

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