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Oh, Happy Days

She was dressed all in black, quite frightening to us, but it never put us off buying her toffee.


Byker, dear old Byker, where I was born and spent most of my childhood. My brother and I got tuppence-ha’penny a week pocket money, and it had to last all week. If we wanted any money later in the week it was refused, and you got into trouble for daring to ask. My money was spent on going to the local cinema on a Saturday afternoon along with hundreds other kids. Before the picture started the manager would ask the assembled audience for volunteers to come up onto the stage and “Do a Turn” which would mean could you sing or dance? There was no shortage of volunteers.

Before we went into the cinema we would stand in a queue to get two-penny worth of toffee. The woman who made it lived in a downstairs flat, the scruffiest place I have ever seen, she looked like a witch with long scraggy hair with no teeth in. She was dressed all in black, quite frightening to us, but it never put us off buying her toffee. She also made very tasty cakes – everything she made tasted delicious.

My Father was a member of the local Working Men’s Club and in the run up to Christmas my Dad would get tickets for my brothers and I to go to special children’s party on Christmas morning. We each got a bag of cakes, an apple and an orange and two new pennies. We thought it was our birthday and never missed going whatever the weather.

In those days teachers were very strict, some of them shouted and screeched at us and even rap us on the knuckles with a wooden ruler, or bang your head on the blackboard. They also had a leather strap and used it quite often. We had play centres in the school held at nights and most children went there. Some of the older boys at the school had it in for the teacher and one day they waited for him coming out of school and they hustled him, he managed to get away and ran into a shop and locked himself in. The shopkeeper rang the police so they got into real trouble from the school, the police and their parents.

People were very friendly in those days, most people having babies had them delivered at home, and the neighbours would look after them and their children even taking the washing away to wash and iron. When they made bread or homemade broth there was always some given to the needy neighbours. There was very little money about in those days as most were unemployed. The weather was hotter then and the nights were lighter as we had double summertime. Once, I remember people sitting outside until the early hours as it was too hot to go to bed. Sometimes, someone would come out with an old battered accordion and couples would come out and dance in the street, and most people would join in.

In the summer months they had bus trips to the seaside and every child was pushed onto the bus, whether their parents could afford it or not. The kiddies loved it as there were not many people who could afford to have a holiday those days. As I got older my friends and I used to go to the cheap dances held in Scout huts or halls. I couldn’t dance when I first started to go, so I watched for the best male dancers available, and when there was a ‘buss off’ dance would butt in, much to the dismay of my partner. He would remark “it’s like pulling a carthorse around”. It didn’t deter me though as I was determined to dance. My determination finally paid off because in the end it was the boys that asked me to dance with them as I became quite professional at it. I was even asked if I would like to turn professional.

On Sunday nights I think of all the teenagers in Byker gathered on Shields Road which is still the main road. The boys walked on one side of the road and the girls on the other, there was a lot of whistling and banter between the two sides, and the boys would run halfway across the road saying, “we’re coming to get you.” The girls would take to their heels and run. We all ended up at the ice-cream parlour, called Mark Tony’s, at the end of Byker Bridge.

It was not unusual to see crowds of people waiting outside the pawnshops on a Monday morning to pawn what they had for money. If they pawned their best clothes they would retrieve them on Fridays ready for the weekends and back in they would go on a Monday morning.

Children played in the streets most of the time, sometimes swinging on lamp posts tied at the top with a length of rope. Other times chalking arrows on the pavement made by the leader, the remainder of the kids had to follow the arrows to find the leader. There were not many burglaries in those days as most people didn’t have anything valuable in their homes, in fact most people didn’t even bother to lock their doors even at night. I remember walking into a house one day after mistaking it for my Grandmothers and there sitting reading a newspaper was a man in his long johns. I don’t know who got the bigger fright him, or me. People were more friendly in those days as they were not having to keep up with the Jones’s, so to speak.

Believe me, on the whole they seemed a lot happier.

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