"Some people laugh out loud in public while others prefer a silent smirk. If you happen to be one of those who loke to smirk, all I can say is to enjoy it while you can, as they've already banned smoking and smacking and you're next! There is no doubt about it; over the past seventy years, life has changed so much. Whether for the better or the worse is, of course, a matter of opinion, but I know where I stand!
Those of us who were born in the 1940s, 50s or 60s lived in times that are so different to those that our children and grandchildren will ever experience today. Whether then or now, the process of conditioning remains the same: we experience, we hold a view that informs, and we attach our feelings of pleasure or pain, disappointment or satisfaction to our memory bank. Whether one grew up as a child of the 1950s or a New Millennium child, the very nature of our childhood years shape our attitudes, values and expectations, and form the outline of our characters for the future. I am not saying that those prominent aspects of the average child character who lived through the 50s and 60s are better than those of the young of today; but simply different. What I am saying is that the children of both times are worlds apart in experience and expectation!
When the six-weeks school holidays came around in the summer months of my youth, many families on Windybank Estate where I grew up, had to make different choices to the choices made by the vast majority of modern-day families. When the schools are out in the summer months, family choices were never 'Where are we holidaying this year?', but instead, 'What are we going to do as a family unit to earn some extra money for the household this summer?'
For two weeks of every year, children would work alongside their parents, harvesting crops for the local farmer, making hay, topping carrots or picking potatoes! The extra money earned by families across the land doing these extra jobs would provide a few luxuries for the family's table or put shoes-with-soles on the feet of a child that made their walk to school less stony. I have often worn footwear as a growing child that every poor child in the land today; even beggars who live rough, would throw away in disgust before being seen walking in them.
I recall at the age of seven years rejoicing that I was making my First Holy Communion; not because I was receiving a sacrament that would bring me closer to my God, but because it would put new clothes on my back and decent shoes on my feet! However poor or lowly a Catholic family was, even if they went into additional debt for another two years, they would never have their child walk the church aisle to the altar railings in public view as the made their 'First Communion', not looking clean and smart! Have no doubt, it wasn't religion at play; rather self-respect.
When I was 15-years-old, there was no such thing as not working 'overtime', be you, father or son. In fact, 'overtime' and 'ordinary time at work' were invariably one and the same! I worked in the mill five days a week, and my 'overtime' comprised of doing errands for neighbours, having a paper round Monday to Friday which started two hours before I went to school, plus one hour when I arrived home after school. I also had a weekly firewood round and worked in a grocer's shop weighing and bagging spuds every Saturday morning. If either my friend Tony or I was ever ill or under the weather and couldn't perform our morning rounds before school, rather than risk losing our jobs, my friend Tony would cover my paper round or I would help on his milk round.Tony's milk round involved a 4.30 am start!
Just to make sure that his firstborn didn't have time to daydream, on a Saturday afternoon me and dad would go to a disused mining tip and collect lumps of shale and inferior coal waste to burn on the fire; never stopping until a cwt sack had been filled and slung across the handlebars of dad's bicycle to push back home. To round off the year and get ready for Christmas, from the first week in December annually, being the oldest in a large family, I would go from house to house carol singing between 7.00 pm and 9.30 pm every night. The money earned would help towards my six younger siblings Christmas presents.
But here's the thing; I was glad it was so! I was brought up to believe that having a full-time job and four part-time jobs were far better than having no job at all! I never stopped believing in a Santa Claus, because I knew that from the first week in December every year that I'd perform the role of Father Christmas through the efforts of my carol singing. How did my parents know when I was ready to perform this role, I hear you ask? Easy: when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, my parents knew I was then old enough to become Father Christmas to my younger brothers and sisters!
If i had to pick out one lesson from my father that I bitterly resented him for at the time, it involved us collecting shale for our fire from the disused mine at Hartshead. Whatever the weather, every Saturday afternoon, we would both spend two or three hours filling a sack. Although the work was hard and often performed in cold weather, I would nevertheless be happy knowing that my efforts would help to keep the home fires burning a little longer. I performed this shale collecting from the slag tip between the ages of 9-11 years and 15-16 years old. I was allowed three years off between the ages of 12-15 years old when after being run over by a lorry and almost killed, I spent almost one year in hospital and was unable to walk for three years.
I was 16 years old when I started to grow up. On the day in question, my dad and I had performed our two hours sorting and bagging shale from the slag tip. After we arrived back home, I noticed that my father hadn't emptied the cwt sack we'd spent the afternoon filling. I saw him push it down the avenue on his bike, so I followed him at a safe distance, like an Indian scout trailing an enemy. When he arrived at the fields of Green Lane (just off the estate), to my utter horror he removed the bag of shale from the crossbar of his bicycle and emptied it in a farmers field! I ran back home in tears. When he learned I'd discovered his ploy, he gave me the only apology I ever knew him to issue in his entire life. Dad had always followed the misguided John Wayne code of masculinity; believing that it was a sign of weakness for a man to ever apologise, so I knew that he'd genuinely held misgivings for having deceived me.
My dad told me that during earlier years, we indeed did burn all the shale and coal waste product we collected, but as the tip became over-picked and the only remaining shale on the slag heap was too poor to give off heat, he had started to dump it during my final year of helping him (15-16 years old). When pressed to provide an explanation why he had carried on this charade for an extra year, while I cannot recall his precise words they were to the effect:
(!) To teach me the value of hard work.
(2) To teach me to work for the family; and that as their firstborn, I had a duty to look after my younger brothers and sisters and never see them go without when my parents could not provide. I was also informed that such family duty remained morally contractual until the day I died.
(3) Having had a three-year rest from duties (being in the hospital and unable to walk for three years), my dad thought it would help me to get back on your feet again a bit sooner if I did a bit of work on uneven ground.
I consider all of my experiences through the 40s, 50s and 60s from childhood to manhood to have been a good learning ground for any hard years ahead of me, which thankfully they weren't many. And if you think my experiences as a growing child during those years were rare, let me assure you that they weren't. Every working-class family of the time was in the same boat and did whatever was required to keep it from sinking! Indeed, I'm willing to wager that the overwhelming number of respondents to comment on this post who were children of the 40s, 50s and 60s, did no more or less than I did; especially where they happened to be the oldest child in the family.
I am so sorry when I think of the comparable experiences of the young today: unemployment, £50,000 loans for those who go to university: lifelong debt: no chance of moving out of mum and dad's house and living independently until one's early thirties!
Also; here's hoping that you don't get run over by a lorry today like I did in 1953; because if you do, when you eventually get to hospital for life-saving treatment, you might have to wait inside a parked ambulance for three hours before being put on a hospital trolley in a draughty corridor overnight, before a bed can be found to put your dead body into while the morgue attendants arrive, the next day!
What would we do without our memories to fall back on, especially regarding the most romantic memories of all, where love, conduct and expectation seemed so simple to understand and follow, instead of the complicated and unrealistic expectations of couples today! As one of my favourite singers (whom I once shared a cup of coffee with during early morning hours in a Toronto hotel where I then worked) said in song, 'Memories are made of this'. To see my memories about the part that Dean Martin played in my life, the start of my short singing career in Montreal, and my meeting with Dean, please follow my website account by accessing: http://www.fordefables.co.uk/sweet-serendipity.html
Given a choice; I'd rather pick potatoes alongside my family any day, than pick the life of the young today." William Forde: February 12th, 2018.