A BARROW BOYHOOD
Now years later, even though I can barely remember what I did yesterday, the day I fell into the Red Waters trying to get a closer look at a dead cat, burns as bright as it did when I squelched home through the Barrow streets.
A madeleine dipped in tea might have done the trick for a Frenchman whose name I forget, but hot Ribena and thickly buttered crusts on a winter's afternoon while the wind whips across the Irish Sea does it for me.
In the summer when something as simple and as singularly unromantic as the smell and feel of sun-
Of course the timing of such Proustian moments is unpredictable and entirely arbitrary. Sometimes it's just the way the light is or when I find myself in a part of town and, thankfully there are still many places left despite the huge changes of the last few decades, when the turn of a corner brings a familiar sight.
Memories can rise to the surface when I least expect them such as halfway through an Evening Mail five-
The final of the inter-
Born during the 1950s, mine was a generation growing up free of the intruding video camera recording a child's every moment from the day they are born. Surprisingly by today's standards of 24/7 recording, the only professional photograph from my early years was, ironically taken by an Evening Mail photographer in 1959 at the Grasslands Convent School Catholic Sports Day. Caught forever, the line in sight, a fine striped tee-
Oddly enough the fading black-
It's words more than anything, some last spoken more than 40 years ago that can still be replayed at will. "Christmas next Eric," sighed Mr Butler to my dad, wearily resigned to the fact that the annual spending spree was laying in wait for his wallet a mere eight weeks away. He said this as we turned our soot-
Numbers too. Nowadays I might not be able to remember where I put the car keys five minutes after putting them down, but I can recall our old Co-
Numbers such as the car registrations of vehicles we owned. The black Mayflower was NLX 308, Then there was the second-
If there is one overall memory of my childhood it's one of a life lived outside on the streets of Barrow. Front streets with rainbow-
My childhood Barrow was a time when Back Street Boys meant something slightly different to being a member of a boy band. Specifically, my back street was behind the Greengate end of Park Avenue, a washing-
It was a short-
Brought up as a Roman Catholic I remember Mass on holy days, Mass on Sundays. Lent, confessions, benedictions, endless sermons, itchy green serge suits for Sunday, incense and early morning walks to the Sacred Heart Church to serve as an altar boy at Mass.
It is always dark in these memories and Marsh Street tunnel was the worse bit. It was spooky and what made it worse, across the road lived the strange, smelly man who sold newspapers and comics that he kept stacked in his hall. I think he had had polio and scooted along on his hands and his house stunk so strongly of sweat and fish I can smell it now -
That famous sprinter Peter Leach, sporting the stripy T Shirt, takes the lead at Crosslands Convent Sports Day in 1959
The 'Back Street Boys' c 1960, champion bommie builders. At the back, David Butler; front row, Howard Butler, Eddie Braithwate, Mike Kenny, Peter Leach and Desmond Casey.
Peter Leach today. A photo taken on the roof of his workplace, the North West Evening Mail
I can also clearly remember an incident in the early 60s when Terry, one of my classmates at the Sacred Heart School, fell from the bars in the playground. Now, this was the era of concrete yards, and Terry broke his arm. I don't recall anybody being unduly concerned, apart from Terry of course, who was non too happy. One thing that did not happen, was that his mother did not immediately rush across to see the head and demand an inquiry, or threaten to sue the school. All that happened, was Terry was taken off to North Lonsdale where he had his arm set and put in a plaster cast, which cheered him up no end and made him the envy of the school, particularly as he had a week off school. Meanwhile, things carried on as normal. Terry was mentioned in prayers at the next assembly and the following playtime we went back to playing the games we always played which, apart from swinging from the bars, including such apparently deadly pursuits as British Bulldog -
Sometimes my perspective on childhood memories can be altered by modern-
That was in 1961. He was 66 years old and I was eight. Forty years and half a lifetime away when I lived in a different world to the one in which he had lived. I didn't know that then of course, he was just some grumpy old intolerant git that never smiled. Consequently, I wasn't too bothered at his passing at the time, because I thought him a particularly angry and very scary man. What I didn't know then but know now was the harshness of the life he had led and the times he lived through. To be honest, if I had it wouldn't have made much difference.
I was just a kid but now, thanks to my uncle, I do know and it makes a difference.
Sam was an infantryman in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme and was shot. When he returned home, he worked in the Barrow Steelworks where, my granma told me, he would often go to work on a Friday and not return until Sunday. He was known throughout the mill as a hard man, a very hard man. The First World War and the subsequent hardship of his life are way beyond the grasp of most of us in this cosseted society. But it shaped him and, made him into the man that appeared constantly angry to a young lad.
Beyond all this and other memories though, I remember as a kid always waiting for someone to come out to play. I was always up early; something that stays with me today and I can't understand anybody who wants to stay in bed after 7am, unless they have overindulged in the fine wines. Consequently I was always waiting for my mates to get up. They did in the end of course but I'd usually lost interest by then and the horizons that had seemed boundless but a few hours earlier had narrowed to the width of the walled back street.
Still there was always Bommie Night that was the real highlight of the year, even if Mr Butler did see it merely as a stepping stone on the way to the excesses of Christmas. Weeks of preparation began during the long summer holidays with widespread collecting ranging far and wide was already under way. Door-
If we were lucky we'd get an old leather horsehair stuffed settee with casters, thrown out in the post-
Looking back, our bonfire collecting bordered on fanaticism. A need to constantly be the biggest with our archenemies the gangs from the streets surrounding the cooling tower across the railway line. Well before the time when councils banned them, ours was always on the field at the back of Park Ave. When I say field, it's only in the loosest sense of the word. Really it was just one of those grassy patches of common land still in existence for the 20 or so years after the Second World War. Sadly the developer's eye fell on it years ago and now garages are the headstones marking where Indians once fell to our cowboys' guns and where we built fire brigade-
What days they were! Exciting, adventurous times when, it has to be said some things ran us foul of the law and we would have been done more often if we hadn't been quite so fleet of foot and foolish enough to evade the chasing bobbies with a dash across the railway lines. When we were caught it was a clip round the ear and a warning; "I've got my eye on you lad," which was more than enough.
Then there were the banana slides in Barrow Park, polished mirror smooth with bread bags. Speed was the thing and travel beyond the slide measured. Distances compared. If NASA scientists had our ideas on lubrication and gravity defying leaps, Neil Armstrong would have landed on the moon five years earlier.
Two words that were never used together when I was a lad were designer and clothing unless you count gabardine. The main weapon against the winter months wasn't some fancy fleece jacket emblazoned with the name of a native New Yorker; it was a woollen balaclava, like pulling a Brillo pad over your head. In the post-
There are many good things about being able to make a living in the town where I was born, not least when the air and the light are just so, I get a glimpse, even a taste of something most of us misplace along the way -
Or sometimes it's just a cloud on a summer's day, ice on a winter's pond or conkers in autumn, a time of year when I still collect a handful just to keep the tradition going.
So, after all these years I'm reasonably content. Winning the Lottery would settle my debts of course but it wouldn't change much else other than I wouldn't have to work and my fiscal shackles could be loosed once and for all.
No, it's a contentedness probably stemming from when I was a lad when all I wanted to be was a footballer or an astronaut until I found out I wasn't good enough for the former and in the wrong country for the latter. You see I like living and working here among the red bricks, and I know that I am lucky to have a job that lets me get by.
From a window near the desk where I work I can see the roof of the house where I grew up. From another I see the cemetery but I don't look out of that one too much. With age, moments, when I can turn my head and welcome a familiar sight or sound, increasingly make me smile. Anyway enough of this indulgence. Suffice to say, like Bill and his Hawke Street home I am not ashamed of my past or the future that will hopefully keep me here for a good few years yet to come.
On my bookshelf is a copy of "Barrow's Boys." It's a biography of Ulverston-
"No love not in that sense," I replied smiling, "But in another way, yes I am, and I'm glad”.
A northern working class childhood is clearly not as romantic as one spent in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or with the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop but it was for me, as it was Bill Rollinson, the place we were both proud to call home.
The offices of the North-
So, that said, what follows are some recollections and reflections of a Barrow boyhood -