Every week we went on picnics in the summertime. Kids around would come and say, “Are you going to the picnic?” “Yes.” And you either got a bottle of lemonade or water, whatever, and took that with you. And sandwiches, you know, and things like that. And go off through the, what we used to call the meadows, they call them fields now, and go to different places. Neddy’s well, there was a place called Neddy’s well. At Neddy’s well there was a natural spring. And the natural spring, my dad used to go there and you could get watercress. And then he used to go across the bridge and down into the field, across from our house, and pick mushrooms. But now from what I can gather its all built up with houses. Well along that what they called the cinder path that’s the way I used to go to school. Over the bridge, down the cinder path and up to the railway station. Over the railway bridge and the school was there on the right hand side. It was what was called a Church of England endowed school. That meant that the church paid for the school where the church never paid for the Catholic school, the Catholic people had to look after their own. And they used to go round their parishioners tocollect money off them to look after their church, the Catholics did. I mean we used to collect money but we didn’t collect it like they did, you know go around the houses. I used to deliver the church magazine at one time. In one of the magazines, but I don’t think I have one, its got my name in. It says about people who delivered the magazines and its got my name in.
“I’d run up the street when the mill was about to close and stand outside waiting for my mother. And people coming out and saying, “Hello there, your mam won’t be long”. And then maybe one would come out another different night and, “oh, your mam’s going to be a long time cause she’s had a smash.”
“And what you call a smash was the shuttle had come out of the reeds and broken all the cotton. And they used to have to bring all them through the reeds again and tie them. And if it was too bad a smash they would change it and start again, if it was too bad. But if it wasn’t too bad they’d mend it and then comb it. But that part when the cloth was taken off the loom itself it was cut out. ”
Today I took my little mam to the pictures. She loves going to the pictures. Normally it is a scary movie we go to watch. Today was no different. She loves scary movies, although she often complains that they are not scary enough. Time is running out, she’s 88, well 87 actually. Her birthday is in 3 weeks time and then she’ll officially be 88. We got there at one pm, the film was due to start at quarter past. They hadn’t even opened up. I don’t know how these places make any money. Oh yes I do. Nearly 20 pounds it cost, for an adult and senior citizen ticket, one small diet coke and a cuppa. Yes that’s how they make their money. I remember the days when……….. well you get my drift.
My mam walks with a stick so I have to get her seated and then go back for the refreshments. She hates climbing the stairs to get to a seat but she doesn’t like to sit too close to the screen so up we go, my little mam hanging onto my arm and using her stick to help her up. She chooses where we sit even though our tickets said we were to sit elsewhere. I told the man when he asked which seats we wanted that we’d sit wherever my little mam decided to sit regardless. He laughed. Not sure I like this new practice of asking people where they want to sit. The film seemed to take ages to start and then eventually we were off. The sound is so intense sometimes but why of why does my mam insist on talking loudly during the quiet scenes. Yes its embarrassing, but haven’t our parents embarrassed us all out lives. When the film finished we waited until everyone had gone and then slowly made our way down from the gods, back to terra firma. And we followed the same routine, stopping off at pizza hut on the way back to the car so my mam can take a pizza home for her tea. Its little things like this that I will remember with fondness, and maybe shed a tear or two, when the inevitable happens. My mam doesn’t understand why I want to take photos of her. But I do, she’s my mam, and these are my memories.
I work shifts, 12 hour shifts. That’s three days a week. Which means I have spare time during the week to do stuff I enjoy. On most of my days off I go to visit my mam. She lives with three dogs. In a house we moved into in 1970, when I was 6. She’ll never leave it, except when the inevitable happens. She’s 88 so that time is creeping closer. It scares me because then I will be parentless. What will I do? I’m not sure I will cope very well. I dread it. I can’t even bear to think about it. What will I do with her house? I grew up in it. It holds so many memories. My dog, Rebel, which I got when I was 13 (alot happens when you’re 13 I’ve decided) is buried there. As are 3 other dogs, all of which I knew. There’s also a piglet, Betsy, buried in the garden (that’s another story) and a hamster and I think some gold fish. How do you let go of that?
My mam is from a certain generation. She likes to speak her mind. She’s also very loud (probably because she’s as deaf as a post) It can be embarrassing, especially when out. She’ll talk about people who are no more then a foot away, not polite comments either, and you just want a hole to swallow you up. It used to annoy me but now, even though I cringe inside, I just let her get on with it. Last time I spoke to her about it she stopped speaking to me for the rest of the day. She’s from that generation, isn’t she, not afraid to speak their mind. She’s stubborn too. Even though I’m quite happy to help around the house so often refuses to let me do anything for her. I get away with the gardening mind. That she struggles with. Its the getting up and down you see, not good for old bones. Sometimes I tell her I’m off to the toilet and then I sneak off to do the washing up, or the hoovering, or dusting. I get caught out of course because she wonders why I’m taking so long and she comes to find me. Can never get away with anything me.
My dad was born in the next village up from Blackhall. His dad was from Sunderland. I know little about my grandfather (he was knocked down and killed in Blackhall long before I was born) but in them days, men, and their families, moved around from pit to pit, going where the work was. And there was plenty work to be had in Blackhall. So when my dad was a young boy they loaded all their meagre possessions onto a cart and headed off down the road to Blackhall.
My grandfather worked in the pit whilst my dad, and his siblings, went off to the ‘school with the tin roof’. Like many people back then they were very poor. My grandfather was a Quaker and I remember my Auntie Margaret telling me that one Christmas when they had nothing a hamper was delivered to them courtesy of the Quaker Society. When I didn’t get what I expected for Christmas I was often regaled with tales of how I should be grateful, that back in the day kids only got an orange or a few nuts or, if they were really lucky, a comic in their stocking.
In the summer they were give a butty with either jam on, although many a time they could only afford to put a bit of butter on it. And then they were gone, off out to play, never seen for the rest of the day, finding simple fun in building dens or climbing
trees, or as my Auntie Margaret told me once, putting a pin on the railway tracks to see what would happen when the train ran over it.
My dad was quiet and studious and he was offered a place at grammar school but, like many boys of that age, he chose to leave and go work at the pit. For young boys, and girls, fetching money home was more important than education. And with the exception of a stint in the army at the tail end of the second world war he remained working at the pit until an accident put paid to his working life . It was a Sunday and he shouldn’t really have been working. He’d swapped a shift to help out a mate. One of the wagons had cut loose. He managed to jump out of the way but his foot got caught and the wheel sliced through it. What was left of his boot was the only thing holding his foot together and if it wasn’t for the insistence of the pit doctor to keep it on he would have lost his foot altogether. He was kept in hospital for a while. He got gangrene and had to have numerous skin grafts but, eventually, he was discharged home, complete with a limp and a walking stick. But that didn’t stop him wanting to return to work. He felt he was quite capable of working on the surface if only they’d let him but he was refused, pensioned off, and that was the end of his working career at the age of 57.
Trying to write a narrative to accompany this project is, for me, so difficult.
The Road to Blackhall
For many years Blackhall was no more than a village to pass through, very rarely stopping, only maybe to visit the Co-op for bread, or milk, things you run out of or have forgotten to buy at the large supermarket in the neighbouring town. I never noticed the inhabitants, never wondered who they were or what their lives were like in this ex-pit village. But I have a history that connects me to this place. It is filled with memories of my dad, Albert Anson. He lived here, he worked here, he is buried here.
I wanted to reconnect with him, with my history. I wanted to rediscover lost memories, create new ones. I have a large collection of black and white photos, some taken when we were kids, happily laughing as we played on the beach, in the garden, or sat on the back doorstep. Amongst them are photos of relatives and people I do not know, all long gone. But in these photos I find a connection with my dad. I find a connection with my past.
And now I can add to that collection of photographs. These photos that I have taken are the now of Blackhall, the people and their lives. They help me to rediscover my dad and his past, and they reconnect me to him in such a way that I could never imagine happening.
Blackhall is a survivor. Once it had a pit but now it is long gone. Once the people had employment on their doorsteps but now that is gone too. My dad was born in a neighbouring village. His dad was from Sunderland. I know little about my grandfather (he was knocked down and killed in Blackhall long before I was born) In them days men, and their families, moved around from pit to pit, going where the work was.
Thank you so much to Carol who runs Blackhall Library for allowing me to show some of the photographs that I have taken in Blackhall. It was such an honour and a pleasure. And the best bit about it was having some of the people that I’d taken photographs of come along. It was so nice to see them and that made my day. It was a bit of a whirlwind getting them ready for exhibition as I only had two weeks but I got there in the end. And even thought it was for just one night I am hoping to have them on display again soon so that more people can see them. It was a very proud moment and I hope that if my Dad was looking down he’d feel proud of me.
My mum is growing old and it is painful to watch. When did this happen, when did I suddenly stop being the little girl and grow into this adult that watches with sadness as she grows weary.
She is 87 and lives alone, refuses to move having lived in her house since 1970. She is lonely, my dad died nearly 20 years ago, and in between working I try and do as much as I can, spending my days off keeping her company. I take her shopping and we have occasional trips to the cinema. She clings to my arm as we take it slowly and she has to stop now and then to catch her breath. But the guilt that I’m not doing enough for her haunts me. And I am scared, very scared, of having to deal with the day that she is gone forever.
She fell recently, couldn’t get up. Thankfully she managed to pull the phone off the table and call me. And then it was a mad dash to get over there and get her off the floor. She was scared, scared that she was going to have to lie there all night. But we made her laugh and then we tucked her up in bed and kissed her goodnight. So now if she doesn’t answer the phone I worry, thinking she might have fallen again.
So I am now riddled with this overbearing guilt and a fear of losing her. And some days I wish that I could be that little girl again, that both my parents were around and I didn’t have a care in the world. And I wonder how it all suddenly changed, when did I become grown up and when did I stop relying on my mum and she instead started to rely on me.
Where once there were dreams in my head there is now just memories. And that’s what we cling to, the memories of when we were young and happy and nothing could touch us.
We all have wounds. Sometimes they heal, that’s if we let them. Sometimes they leave scars that stay with us forever, a reminder that we can’t move on. Our past dominates our future, but is that a good thing. We are who we are because of our past, we embrace our heritage, our upbringing, and we celebrate it. But what about the wounds, the memories that hurt. Do they make us who we are?
Do we get caught up in a never ending circle of blaming ourselves or regretting what we have done or said.
I hate that moment when you are breezing through life and something comes along to pull the rug from under you. I had a moment like that recently. Something that feels like I’m about to lose a part of my life that has happy memories for me and gives me a connection to my parents and childhood. It has made me think about how I would cope if I lost my mum. Badly is the conclusion I have come to.
Our lives are forever changed, moulded, or destroyed by loss. We can never go back, never be the person we were. But we do learn to smile again, laugh at jokes, have fun. That I do know, because when my dad died I never thought I’d be able to do any of those things. And we still do little things in memory of. The tributes may fade and disappear but the memory is still there.
This was my second visit to the Blackhall Navy Club. The first was many years back when I went there with my Uncle Tom (whom I have now found out was called The Guvnor) my cousins Kathleen and Mark, and my hubby Ed.
We went from there to The Hardwick and then to the RAFA club. This time I was only accompanied by a camera. I went to the Navy Club by chance to find the owner of the Hardwick. I was told he spent afternoons there before heading around 4.30 pm to the Hardwick. He wasn’t at the Navy Club but I fell in with these guys who were holding, a quiz which I never got to establish if it was weekly or daily. Well to be exact they asked me if I was brainy to which I replied of course. They then told me to take a seat and help with the quiz. They were friendly and welcoming and even offered me drink and cigarettes, both of which I declined. Only because I was driving and I hadn’t touched a cigarette since I was around seventeen years old.
I had a fabulous time. Laughed quite a lot. At the jokes, at the language, at some of the quiz answers. Some of them were ex-miners, the mere mention of Margaret Thatcher brought them out in a sweat, such was their animosity towards her. But who can blame them. She destroyed an industry, a way of life, communities, people, of course they should hate her.
Even though I am of a certain age now and probably not far behind these guys I felt like a young girl again and I felt as though my dad was around. I could picture him doing just this on a cold, miserable afternoon. Doing a quiz, sharing a joke or too, having a pint, no smoking mind, he gave that up a long time ago. And I think he would probably have got more questions right then my measly one.
Some test shots from the Blackhall Tea Dance held every Friday afternoon at the Blackhall Community Centre. These lovely people welcomed me with open arms and kindly let me take photos of then. I promised I would go back and back I will go. I may even give the dancing a go too. It was such a lovely afternoon.
Brought back memories too of my mam and dad dancing around the living room. My dad would let me stand on his feet when I was a little girl and he’d waltz me around the room. I loved it and would get him to do it again and again.