I was speaking with my younger brother yesterday and we were comparing notes from our childhood memories. He confirms that the Anglia was the first car after the Ford Prefect and he even remembered the number plate, AUG277C. How’s that for memory? I was impressed, particularly as he could not have been very old when it was replaced by the blue Cortina. He also remembered the names of some of the elderly folk that were invited to our Christmas parties by our mother. One was Mr. Rawlins who lived further down Gipton Wood Crescent. He would come to our parties for a number of years and he always seemed to enjoy them and the company. Christmas must be very lonely for those on their own.
I suppose I should explain more about our family, Mum and Dad Cameron had three boys, Andrew, the oldest, Stuart, the youngest, and I was in the middle. I don’t think that there was anything remarkable about our family. We were the usual mixture of ambitions, tension, love and compromise and our experiences would have been similar to so many others living in Leeds at these times. During the year there were certain occasions when the wider family came together and the pressures became more intense. For my mother it was Christmas and her fabled parties. They always went well and everyone enjoyed them, apart from my mother who was wracked with anxiety and pressure. Her sister’s family and our grandparents on her side came together and I feel she wanted everything to be a success. Every year her chicken, or turkey was always ‘overcooked’ or ‘undercooked’, as far as she was concerned, but no one else noticed and we always enjoyed it. I must say though that the ‘Kitchenette’, as my Scottish father called it, was tiny and it was remarkable that she managed to prepare anything in such a small space and especially with three hyper-active boys milling around excitedly. My Dad always seemed to take the brunt of her stress and ‘us boys’ knew to keep out of her way as much as possible. My father would retreat to vacuuming the carpets, and he did this with a thoroughness that was remarkable. He must have knocked years off the Axminster. Family dynamics are always complex, rivalries between siblings make gatherings interesting, but boy did we all enjoy the Christmas parties! I don’t think anyone felt that all the hard work to make it happen was not worth it in the end. We would sit around in our crowded front room. The air was full of smoke, from the men, and occasionally one or two of the women, having a cigarette. The weapon of choice was Players Navy Cut. There were no filters and my father received numbers of large boxes of them as part of gifts from work, Cattons, and from other companies they did business with. In these times no one ever thought of going outside to smoke. It would be rude to light up and not offer them around to every adult that was there. In such an atmosphere we boys would observe grown-up behaviour and yearn to become adults in our own right. As we got a little older, we were even allowed a small Babycham of our own, or maybe a glass of cider. My father and Uncle Ernest seemed to hit the whisky, another of the gifts he received, and in a short time everyone was jollier, noisier and relaxed, and the tensions dissipated. Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry or Cockburn’s Port were offered to guests and family and my father would bring out the annual joke, “Another Madeira, My’deara?”
For the children the stress came when we were asked to perform. Any musical talent, recorder, guitar, singing, became an opportunity for children to entertain the adults and also provided a little inter-family rivalry. My cousin would play the guitar and sing, and she had quite a talent, which pleased my Auntie, but worried my mum. Within a year or two she was performing on the violin and bashing out a decent tune, whereas I had refused to go into the violin lessons and hung on the rail outside after suffering trauma of the first lesson. My older brother Andrew attended more, but his talent was clearly not to be found with the fiddle. My mother looked for new avenues for her offspring to shine at, and she wrote narrative verse with parts and soon her children were showing their skill through this avenue. I am sure this brought great relief to any music lovers present. Andrew was not to be deterred though, and at one time appeared with an autoharp, but I don’t think it lasted long.
The other major sources of family stress were the summer holidays. Money was tight in the late 1950s and 1960s and so we didn’t usually stay in guest houses or hotels. My parents would rent a cottage and clearly from the photograph above, a caravan, and it was usually somewhere on the Yorkshire coast. Bridlington, Filey, Hornsea, Scarborough and Whitby were our usual haunts and they were only a relatively short distance from Leeds. Roads were not up to modern standards and minor roads would congest at certain points on the journey, even if alternative routes were tried. York, Tadcaster, Selby and others produced bottlenecks that stopped the traffic and made the journey much longer than it should have done. Packing the car before leaving was a major stress and Dad would begin to get his holiday mood on. I suppose it took him a while to wind down from work and the stress of getting us all to our destination didn’t help. Cars were more primitive and required more driving, destinations had to be found and required good map work, queasy children and the boredom of the journey had to be overcome and the noise of a car full of young boys must have added to the pressure.
Mum packed as much as she could for our stay so that costs could be kept as low as possible. As youngsters we weren’t too concerned, as any trip away was an exciting proposition and a chance for adventure. For those not aware of the Yorkshire coast and the North Sea, the weather is often grey, wet and blowing a gale. Even when you get a hot sunny day as you approach the resort you are visiting, it is not unusual for the town to be shrouded in a sea fret: cold, wet, thick fog. We didn’t care as there were other things to do other than just lie on the beach, and even on the hottest of days, about 70 degrees (21 degrees Celsius), the water temperature was so cold that even a paddle up to the ankles was excruciating and turned our feet blue with cold in a matter of seconds. Many were the times we never actually made it onto the beach and just sat in the car, rain and gales striking the windscreen and rocking the car, whilst the windows steamed up as we tried to glimpse the sea. Eventually we would eat our fish and chips from out of newspapers, trying to remain cheerful. I don’t suppose that this added less to the parental stress, as three young energetic boys sat restless in an overcrowded car. Finally we would give up on the coast and head inland in search of some historical monuments to explore. Over the years we discovered all sorts of ancient sites in the Yorkshire countryside. Regularly, we would traipse through farm fields along footpaths being offered tantalizing clues of what the walk would yield, only to arrive and find a low hill, a few broken bits of wall or a single standing stone. As we got older and learnt more we appreciated what we discovered more and more. The country is literally full of signs and remains of its ancient past. Names of places share some of the ancient history, with Viking names, Roman, Celtic and more. Who could not be intrigued by the village of Wet Wang, or the mysterious Danes Dyke?
When we finally located our home for the holiday, and we had helped with the unloading, we had the opportunity to explore. Our cottages were usually in villages on the coast and a short walk would often lead to cliff edges, tracks down to the beach or other secrets. It was all rather Famous Five-ish. The Yorkshire coast has some stunning areas of limestone cliffs, sea stacks and arches, but also areas of mud cliffs where the sea is eating away the coastline. What we loved about these was that it was wonderful to explore and search for fossils. Three young lads found this much more of an adventure and we would explore rock pools, search for shells and fossils and always keep a watch on the incoming tide. When the tide was out the rocky floor (wave-cut platform) allowed access into some caves that our imagination led us to be believe would have been the lairs of smugglers, places pirates would have hidden their treasure, or the homes of mermaids. Our parents must have been delighted to get us out of their hair and for them to have time to relax. Dad took at least two, if not three, days to relax and to begin to enjoy the break. At first he would walk either in front or behind the rest of us, with his top lip straight. A smile never crossed it despite our attempts to coax one, but after the first few days out would come the usual dad’s jokes. I remember one week when we stayed near Sewerby Hall, near Bridlington, where the weather was so bad that we had to return home a day or two early as they had spent-up on trips to the cinema and other things that provided indoor entertainment. I know there was just enough money for fish and chips and then we set off back.
My parents, and I am sure many others, tried to provide the best times for their children. It is never easy and, when I look back at how we did the same things for our own children, I appreciate my mum and dad more and more. I feel there is something intrinsically sad and yet beautiful about family life. There is no guide book in life, apart from the examples our parents gave us. I can only hope that my children will remember their childhoods with the same fondness that I do of my own, and theirs.