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Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
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Kaye McGann
Features Writer
10:13 AM 25th June 2021
fiction

Grandad, Grandma, and Friends

When Grandad was a boy, and not doing well at school (probably because of dyslexia), he was busy learning other things which would stand him in good stead the rest of his life. Perhaps the most important of these was how to keep poultry.

One of his exploits involved Christmas birds, in the days when eating chicken was a luxury. Grandad had reared a lot of hens, and, as usual, was supplying a local poulterer-cum-greengrocer. This was in the late Forties. Just before Christmas, he called in at the shop, to see how the sales were going, only to be told they were not going well. Hardly anyone was buying.

So Grandad hatched a plan. He went into the shop as though he was a customer. There was always a queue for greengrocery, so he could be sure of a good audience.

“Those birds of yours in the window look very good,” he said. “Are they from the same supplier as last year’s?”

“Er, yes,” the bemused shop-keeper replied.

“Right, I’ll have one,” Grandad said, holding out some money. Then he turned to the waiting queue.

“That bird we had last year was the best we’d ever tasted. If you’ve not got yours yet for Christmas, you want to get one of these, before they’re all gone.”

He picked up his ‘purchase’, and walked out – straight round to the back of the shop, and when the shopkeeper came into the backroom Grandad handed it over, and got his money back.

“Have all those folk gone now?” Grandad asked.

“Yes, and I sold three to them, and a couple more said they’d be back.”

“Right. I’ll do the same again till you’ve sold the lot.”

Thus the shopkeeper was happy; Grandad was happy; and there were lots of satisfied customers who enjoyed the best Christmas bird they’d ever had!

One anecdote I was told by Grandma concerned when she and Grandad were first married, and he decided they’d take up cycling. This was in its early days, and it was considered quite shocking for females to ride bicycles. Grandad thought that was ridiculous. If Grandma wanted to ride a bike, he’d make sure she did. He bought a pair of cycles, and after a lot of practice, they both learned to ride.

It was much more difficult for Grandma, impeded by her floor-length dress and numerous petticoats. It would have been very easy to catch her foot in the hem, and then fall off. Still, she was going to have a go. Her best friend, Polly Bonney, had joined the Suffragettes, and both Grandma and Grandad considered women to be the equal of men. (Grandad told me he thought women were superior: as he said, “They’ve more to put up with.”) It took a lot of manoeuvring, but when Grandma thought she’d got the hang of it, she and Grandad went out for a day’s cycling.

All went well until they were on their way home. They were living on Greenbank Road in Rochdale at the time, and it isn’t called Rochdale for nothing. Every road from its centre goes uphill. Grandad and Grandma were only half-a-mile-or-so from home when they reached the bottom of John Street. Grandad set off up the steep hill with a will, and Grandma attempted to follow, but she found the going too hard, and had to dismount. She pushed the bike to the top of the hill, and tried to get back on again. Normally, Grandad would hold the bike upright, and she would lift her skirts whilst she mounted. With no-one to hold the bike for her, she was stuck. Women in those days had weights stitched into the hems of their skirts, to stop them blowing up, and showing their ankles. This made it doubly difficult for Grandma. Feeling very cross with Grandad for not noticing what had happened, she plodded homeward with her heavy bicycle.

Grandad, quite oblivious, had cycled on, and reached home. He got a shock when he dismounted and looked round for his wife. Panic set in. he jumped back on his bike, and set off back, where he met an increasingly irate Grandma.

“You know I can’t get on unless you hold the bike for me!” she said. “And I’ll tell you this for nothing, it’s the last time I’m going on a bicycle ever again!”

So although theoretically women could do what men did, some things were weighted against them………

Not long after this, Grandad had another of his ‘brainwaves’. He and Grandma would make and sell ice cream. It would be a real cottage industry. Neither of them had any experience of selling – or, indeed, of making - ice cream. Minor details like these would not hamper Grandad, though. Little ever daunted him.

He bought a pony and cart. He turned one of the buildings on his smallholding into a makeshift stable, and got all the paraphernalia needed to look after the animal. Grandma, meanwhile, practised making ice cream on a large scale.

When they were ready, Grandma made a big batch, and Grandad took it out to sell. On the side of his cart, in bold letters, was painted, ‘LORDS NOTED ICES’ - this despite it being the very first day of selling.

The business became so successful that they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Grandma decided she’d had enough, and said so. Grandad missed weaving, and the noise and camaraderie of the weaving shed, so was happy to stop. ‘Lords Noted ices’ became a footnote in their lives. They didn’t go into business again.

Grandad and Grandma had a large circle of friends and often hosted social evenings at their house. At that time, ‘parlour games’ were very popular, and Grandad liked to devise new ones. One of these involved mind-reading – supposedly.

Grandad would take a small object, usually a handkerchief, and hand it to one of his guests, with instructions it was to be given to someone who’d conceal it once Grandad was out of the room. Next, Grandad would come back in, and walk round the circle of people, ostensibly tuned in to another dimension which was sending him messages through the ether. He would circle the group twice, and then unerringly go to the one who had the handkerchief, to the amazement of everyone.

Everyone except Grandma, of course. This is how they did it. She would do a slight throat-clearing, but not when Grandad was by the person with the handkerchief, but two people further along. Grandad would continue, and go round again, before going up to the relevant person, and lo and behold! There was the handkerchief! Others then tried to achieve the same result, but no-one ever did. Grandad retained his aura of mystery unchallenged.

Grandad also entertained by composing alternative words to popular tunes, which he’d then sing. I’ll give you a couple of examples. A popular song at the time was ‘Show me the way to go home.’ These are the real words:-

‘Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed.

I had a little drink about an hour ago, and it’s gone right to my head.

Wherever I may roam, on land or sea of foam,

You will always hear me singing this song, Show me the way to go home.’

Grandad’s version consisted of lines of various popular songs, and made no sense whatsoever:

‘Show me the way to go home. I love my chilly bom-bom.

In the eyes of the world you belong to me, California here I come.

Oh why did I kiss that girl? Oh darling, do say yes.

For it ain’t going to rain no more no more, out in the Golden West.’

Nonsensical, yes, but very clever.

Then there was Dr. Crippen, a cause celebre in its day. Dr. Crippen had murdered his wife, and fled to America with his mistress, who was in disguise. They were apprehended on arrival – the first use of Trans-Atlantic radio was their undoing.

So, to the tune of ‘All the nice girls love a sailor’, Grandad’s version went like this:

‘Have you heard of Dr. Crippen, and his sweetheart Miss le Neve,

How they caught them on the ‘Montrose’, on the dark and briny seas ?

Bright and breezy, they caught them easy, Miss le Neve dressed as a boy;

And his face went black and blue, when he saw Inspector Drew,

Ship ahoy! Naughty Boy!’

What is there to do, once you’ve tired of parlour games and silly songs? Grandad decided he wanted to see a bit more of the world, so he did the obvious thing for any Northern mill-worker: he went to Paris. Grandma, meanwhile, stayed at home with their two little girls, aged four and two.

I don’t know if Grandad went to see Notre Dame or the Louvre, but do know he went to the Moulin Rouge to see the Can-Can danced. This will not surprise you. He sent a postcard home to Grandma, on which he’d written, ‘Good luck! J.Lord’. His family was not really forgotten, though as he brought back two magnificent Parisian dolls, one for each of his daughters.

He didn’t go travelling again, except to Ireland with Grandma, to stay with Cousin Rhoda at Anner House. (See ‘The Watson Connection’). After all, where is there to go, after you’ve seen ‘Paree’?

Both Grandad and Grandma enjoyed the Music Hall, though they went only occasionally. When my mother began ‘courting’ with Jack Mc Gann, Grandma was quite shocked, because, as everyone local knew, the Mc Ganns were related to the famous – or infamous – Nellie Wallace. She had been one of the North’s brightest Music Hall stars in her day, and had been prosecuted for obscenity, but managed to be acquitted. Grandma told my mother about the time she and Grandad had gone to see Nellie on stage, and Grandma had walked out in disgust. She described what had happened.

Nellie, a diminutive woman, put two one-foot square boxes on the stage, with a one-foot gap between them. She put her right foot on one, and her left foot on the other. She pointed to one foot and said, “This is Manchester.” Then she pointed to the other, and said, ”And this is Liverpool.” She hitched up her skirt a good few inches, and shouted, “How’d yer like to be at Warrington, boys?”

Grandma said the theatre erupted, with men stamping and cheering, and throwing their hats in the air. Grandma got up and walked out, and so did a good few other ‘respectable’ women who knew their geography. Grandad trailed behind - though I doubt he’d have left had he been alone.

Grandma considered the Mc Ganns not quite ‘respectable’, with their theatrical connections. The Mc Ganns, meanwhile, looked down on the Lords, because Grandad was a weaver, and therefore it followed he was ‘working class’, ignoring completely Grandma’s Watson antecedents. (When my parents got engaged, Dad’s father, my Grandpa, said to him, “Do you realise you’ll be exchanging a good address for a back street?”)

Needless to say, I was not thought to be old enough to hear about Nellie Wallace until I was about fifty!

This series is not just about Grandad, but also about his and Grandma’s friends and family, and also about the times in which they lived. Grandma’s best friend was Polly Bonney, and her story is one which should be told.

I must have seen Polly many times, but only really registered her as a person when I was nine, and Grandma took me to Polly’s house at Bamford Village, on the outskirts of Rochdale; at least, it was then. Now, it’s big suburb. This visit has always stuck in my mind because Polly talked to me, and told me about her time as a Suffragette. I knew about voting, because I always went with my parents to the Polling Station when they voted, and had watched them put their crosses on the paper they were given. It was a shock to me when Polly said that not that long before, only men could vote, and women weren’t considered sensible enough to do so. Most of the women I knew had a lot more sense than many of the men!

Anyway, Polly had joined the Suffragettes, and had been a supporter of civil disobedience. She had thrown stones, and chained herself to the railings of municipal buildings, and generally did whatever she could to draw attention to the injustices women suffered. She had been arrested and put in prison, where she had gone on hunger strike, and then been force-fed, like a goose being got ready to make foie gras, with a tube shoved down its throat, and food shoved in. After a short time, she was set free – and then re-arrested. The process then repeated itself. All this was endorsed by Parliament, and was known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act.’ As with many of the women, her health was broken by this.

It was not until 1928 that universal suffrage included all women over twenty-one.

In 1952, Polly was still passionate about women’s emancipation, and asked me to promise always to vote, as the right to do so had been so hard won. I have voted at each and every election since – and much good it has done me. With the present system, I and hundreds of thousands of others are marginalised. Perhaps we should be protesting about electoral injustice today!

Grandma and Grandad each had their own friends, but they had other friends as a couple. The closest of these were Sam and Alice Webster, known to my mother and her sister as Uncle Sam and Auntie Alice. Sam and Alice were childless, and loved the two little girls. Sam used to make up silly rhymes to amuse them, usually with meaningless words. One of these remained a favourite with my mother all her life, and she used to sing it to me. I can’t reproduce the tune here, but I can tell you the words – just a jumble of names, really:

Jonathan Joseph Jeremiah, Timothy Titus Obadiah,

William Henry Walter Sim, Reuben Rufus Solomon Jim,

Nathaniel Daniel Abraham,

Roderick Frederick Peter Sam!

Uncle Sam claimed this was his full quota of Christian names, and my mother believed him.

I have another tale to tell about one of Grandad’s friends, but I’m going to save it for another day.