21st April 2022 I have lived in many places in the UK. I started in Barrow, of course, but I don’t really remember the house move from 6B Barque Street to Brighton Street, which remained the family home for the next 50-plus years.
My next move was leaving home at 17 after a terrible row with my mother, and I moved in with my then boyfriend, his mother and his younger sister. It was hardly a big move, just from Brighton Street to Longway, but it was like moving into another world! My future mother-in-law was a wonderful woman, very small and bird-like, who suffered from alopecia and smoked like a chimney but was always incredibly nice to me. She wasn’t the cleverest of people, but she’d had her share of problems and scratched a living working in a factory at the top of Greengate Street, where her son, my future husband, also worked as an overseer on the night shift. Despite her circumstances, she would do anything for anyone and had a huge heart in her tiny frame, and I will always be grateful to her for many reasons.
The next time I moved, was when said boyfriend and I discovered I was pregnant. We got married in the long hot summer of 1976, and managed to get a flat in Egerton Buildings (or Court, as it’s now known) on Barrow Island. At 7 months pregnant, I was in the best health ever, full of energy and we decorated our little one-bedroom flat together. I remember being told off for going up a ladder to paint the living room ceiling while he was at work, but I’ve never ever felt better either before or since, than when I was expecting. We bought everything second hand except for the 3-piece suite from Stollers, but as the saying goes, we were young and in love and nothing could bring us down.
Life was no bed of roses though – we were skint, I couldn’t work because there was no one to look after the baby, so I tried to eke out the £10 a week housekeeping he gave me to feed and clothe us all and pay the rent and the bills. I remember the rent was £2.50 a week, the HP at Stollers was 60p a week, which sounds pitiful now but seemed a lot at the time.
Sadly, things when terribly downhill, and I moved back home to my parents’ house when my marriage broke down, followed by a disastrous tug-of-love court case that resulted in my losing custody of my daughter. Not through any fault of mine, I’m glad to say, but because it took a year to get to back into court after my husband and his new girlfriend took my daughter away from me after I left him. I won’t go into great detail here, and wouldn’t want to bore you with the details – but you can rest assure you’ll learn all about it when and if you read the third volume of Monday is Washing Day – Kathryn’s story.
I next moved in with a couple of girls I worked with at the Theatre Bar – we rented a house in Harrison Street which became party central for our friends who included the crew of HMS Splendid.
But always in the background was the loss of my daughter. I’m not proud of it, but in the end, I had to go, I just couldn’t bear it any longer. If I’d stayed, I’m sure something terrible would have happened, so I just had to get away. I told myself it was for the best. If I’d had my little girl with me, what could I have offered her? A single mum, working in a pub late in the evenings, no money, renting a house with two other young girls (I was only 20 at the time). At least with him and his woman, she would have a family life; they were even expecting a new baby soon, so she would have a little brother or sister to play with. That wasn’t likely to happen with me as I’d sworn never to get involved with anyone again. I felt I couldn’t trust it not to happen again, having my heart ripped out after giving it to someone who I thought truly loved me.
So, my next move came when I left Barrow in 1980. I moved right away, down south to a village called Colnbrook, not far from Slough. Everything I possessed went with me, all packed into a suitcase and three carrier bags. I went to work at the Ostrich Inn, about which I’ve written in previous blogs, and this was one of the happiest periods of my life – at least on the surface. Always, underneath, I carried the grief and guilt at losing my daughter – that never, ever went away, even to this day.
In 1984 I met the man who would become my second husband – and he could not have been more different to the first one! He was placid and easy going, affectionate and attentive, but had one fatal flaw – he was married! I told myself it didn’t matter. After my vow of steering clear of deep relationships, I enjoyed being a mistress, heartless hussy that I am – it was all the fun and none of the responsibility. Or at least at first it was. Eventually, we became a couple – again, I’ll hold back on the details for another time. We moved from Colnbrook to a rented house in Egham, then again after a year to another rental in Slough. During this time, I was working at Customer Service for DHL International, and my sister Mel had come to live with us, also getting a job as a courier for DHL.
We bought a house in Derbyshire; my husband’s father was in his 70s and not very well, and it was also closer to where his daughter and the rest of his family lived, so it made sense. We eventually married in 1990, after six years together, but sadly, circumstances dictated that my husband could no longer work as a shopfitter, so we embarked on a joint career as pub managers for a holding company. It was in the time of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission’s decision that the big breweries had too much power in the hospitality industry, and these large conglomerates began offloading many of their pubs that weren’t doing as well as they could be. It was our job to keep these pubs open so they could be sold as going concerns; the pay was ridiculous; £140 per week between us! – but in those hard times at least it was a job of sorts.
Our first pub was the White Horse at Soudley, a small village near Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. We hadn’t experienced the ‘Deaners’ before – they are certainly an interesting breed of people. The couple we took over from warned us that they’d had a bad time; the village folk didn’t take kindly to ‘incomers’ but I think that’s true of many villages all over the country. When a small number of families have lived in the same place for generations, they’re bound to be suspicious of new people moving in. But we both had the same philosophy, that we should treat people the way we’d like to be treated, and never had any bother. We had so many good times in that pub! Perhaps it should be given a blog to itself! (Noted!)
From rural Gloucestershire, we moved right across the country to Norfolk, to a pub called The Bell, in a village called Wortwell, just near the Suffolk border between Diss and Bungay. Again, village life beckoned, a new set of locals to get to know. The location was close enough to Essex and London to have a few commuters living in the village, but the main attraction was the Waveney Valley fishing lakes, popular with many anglers fishing for giant pike. One of the highlights for some of them, if I say so myself, was my famous ‘breakfast bun’. Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say, but I had these ‘buns’ specially baked – they were the size of a dinner plate and about three inches thick. I would slice them in two then set out a full English breakfast as if the bottom half was a plate – bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, fried eggs and baked beans all piled on and covered with the top half! And the best part was that they were available from the kitchen door from 7am onwards, so the anglers got a good start to their day! I expect they would have enjoyed a pint to take away too, but licensing hours did not permit in those days.
After the Bell, we moved back across country into foreign climes – the Ship Aground at Talsarnau, Gwynedd in North Wales. This time it was a Free House and we were working directly for the owner, instead of just keeping the place ticking over. I know I’ve mentioned the Ship Aground before too, but it was the start of eight years in the village, and I still have very fond memories of the place and the people. Being in the heart of Welsh nationalism (a favourite joke of the locals was ‘red sky at night, English holiday home on fire’!) we wondered if we would find it difficult, not speaking a word of Welsh. But we had no problem – in fact I couldn’t praise the Welsh locals more highly! In a place where the children don’t learn to speak English until they go to school – we found that if we were working, they all spoke to each other in their mother tongue, naturally enough. However, if one of us was on the other side of the bar, socialising, they all made the effort to hold their conversations in English so that we wouldn’t be left out, which I thought very decent of them.
I could rattle on for pages about all the different experiences we had while running pubs, but again, I think that is probably a blog all of its own too. (Note to self, next time I can’t think of what to write about – that will be it!)
Eventually, my husband decided that we weren’t making a decent enough living so he went back into shopfitting. At first, I tried to keep the Ship going by myself, with the aid of a few staff, but it was just too much work for one person, and so we gave our notice. We moved to a cottage at the other end of the village, and I went to work for the owners of the other pub on the main street, the Bron Trefor Arms. That really didn’t work for us either though – my husband worked away and only came home every other weekend, but I had to work weekends in the pub, so we barely saw each other. So, I decided I needed to get an office job so that I could have weekends off. This was the time when computers were becoming more user friendly; Bill Gates’ dream of every desk and every home owning a PC. I could already type; I’d been taught at school, but I now needed to learn about computers, if I was ever going to find a suitable job.
Which took me to a year-long course at Coleg Harlech – an adult education college a couple of miles from Talsarnau, in the tourist town of Harlech. This was an eye-opener for me. For so many years I’d worked in pubs and kitchens, it was amazing to discover that I still had a brain! I took to learning again like a sponge, soaking up everything that I could. At the beginning of the course, we’d been advised to fill in our applications for places at university, since the Diploma we earned on this course would give us access to a BA or BSc degree course. I didn’t bother – after all, I only wanted to learn how to work in an office, university was not in my purview.
However, my Course tutor advised me to fill in an application anyway. As he said, if at the end I didn’t want to go, I didn’t have to, but suppose I changed my mind? It would mean I would have to wait another year to apply. Seeing the sense of this, I fill in the form, applying to Bangor and to Lancaster. The rest of the course was a delight – aside from the learning, I made a load of new friends and a social life away from the village with like-minded people. Unfortunately, this didn’t go down well with my husband. He decided he didn’t like my new friends, didn’t like us going to the college bar. All he wanted to do when he came home was to stay at home, which I could understand. It must be difficult being away all the time, and wanting to chill in your own home whenever you can. But more than that, he became clingy too – not only did he want to stay in, but I had to stay in too. For those 48 hours every two weeks it was like being joined at the hip, and I didn’t like it.
Thus, we grew apart. When I told him I had won places at both my applications but I wanted to go to Lancaster, to be closer to my family (for a change) he announced, “If you persist with this stupid idea of going to university at your age, (I was 42!), then we’re finished.”
If he was trying to call my bluff, he was sadly mistaken, for I replied, “I guess we’re finished then.” And that was the end of another marriage!
I moved to Lancaster, and so did several of my college friends, some of us doing the same course. I shared a house with a good friend, John, and we had a ball – for a while. Then I realised that I was struggling. Two years into my course, I hadn’t the technical abilities to write programs in Java, or a lot of the other stuff. In hindsight I’d have done better choosing History or Literature, and I have no idea why I didn’t! But it was too late. In addition to struggling with the work, I was working part time to make ends meet in an insurance call centre in Morecambe, but even this left me broke.
I eventually dropped out of Lancaster; I had become so depressed and miserable that I didn’t see the point, so I got a few more hours at the call centre and spent my leisure time online in the old MSN chatrooms that no longer exist, sadly. I used to use MSN Grapevine 40s and made a lot of online friends, chatting away each evening, and even going to some of the get-togethers the admins arranged. Then one evening, a new person signed into the chat room and as was my wont, I checked out his profile before sending a message of welcome. His photo looked just like Patrick Stewart, the actor, and stupidly asked if he’d ever been told that. Naturally, he had, but we started chatting anyway, then went to private chat within the room, and then directly onto MSN Messenger.
We talked, and talked, and talked about anything and everything, for hours and hours, every evening. We had so much in common, but were also very different and it was so lovely to talk to someone who actually had something more to say than A/S/L. (That’s chatspeak for Age/Sex/Location to the uninitiated.)
I guess the rest is history. I moved in with Glyn Hughes, for this was he, and never looked back. He was and is still my soulmate and I miss him beyond words, even though it’s almost eleven years since he was taken, far too early, by non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma. Next year it will be 20 years since that fateful chat and here I am still in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, albeit not in Glyn’s house. Sadly, that became too impractical to stay, and needed a fortune spending on it to bring it up to scratch. I still miss our house too – it was a lovely old cottage on four levels, all wooden floors and quirkiness with a beautiful view of the Ryburn Valley across Fiddle Wood.
So, I think the move here, to my current abode will probably be my last – unless my numbers come up on the Lottery, that is. I’m quite content here in my little flat with my cat, and good neighbours and good friends. And at 64 years old now, after moving 14 times, I think I’ve probably moved house enough – don’t you?