I was the youngest of three children, born on the 20th April 1930. My brother Eric came first and was six years older than me. My sister Hilda followed him three years later, and I was a further three years after that.
Eric was great as an older brother. When he was old enough, he used to look after me on Saturdays while mum and dad went to hospital to visit Hilda, who got tuberculosis of the hip at the age of two. TB was terrible. It caused massive public concern in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was considered a disease of the urban poor. It got so bad that campaigns were started to stop people from spitting in public places, and the infected poor people were encouraged to enter the local sanatorium. But these places were much more like prisons than the convalescent homes richer people could afford and, in going in, you were at least as likely to die there as come out again.
When you get TB in the hip, as Hilda did, the bone gets progressively worse until it is completely destroyed. In those days, the doctors’ first aim was to simply save the hip, and treatment included drug therapy, traction, and supervising mobility.
Hilda remained in hospital for years and I only got to meet her when I was seven. I never went to the hospital, it was too dangerous with the risk of infection too high, but when she came out she had one leg that was two inches shorter than the other because she had been in plaster for so many years.
When she first came out of hospital, she couldn’t walk very well, so we pushed her around in a kind of pram-cum-wheelchair because it took a long time for her to be able to walk under her own steam. She had a special boot made for her and ultimately the TB did not have much of an impact on her life. Hilda still got married and had children of her own, so everything turned out ok for her.
But with Hilda in hospital, dad said mum insisted on another child. It was the pressure of Hilda in hospital and me coming along which was too much for her, and that was the likely cause of my mother’s postnatal depression which affected her for the rest of her life. For years, while our parents visited Hilda, Eric and I would usually have chores to do, scrubbing the lino, cleaning the bedrooms and that sort of thing.
My first home was in Gorton, Manchester. It was, at the time, a new house and dad loved it. But things changed quickly because the doctors suggested that, because of mum’s postnatal depression, we should move to Salford so that she would be surrounded by more familiar things which, they hoped, would help her.
It didn’t of course, but it led to our moving to Tolson Street, just near to the old Manchester Race Course and the greyhound track, both of which were situated in a great bend in the River Irwell. Dad was very proud of his new home and decorated the whole house, but once he was so tired when he was decorating one of the bedrooms that he nodded off and actually fell off the ladder.
The race course and dog track have gone now, replaced by houses in an area called the Cliff. It was quite a nice area, really, and close to where many of my family are buried up at St Paul’s on Kersal Moor. During and after the war my dad and I would walk or get the bus up there to tend to the grave of my grandfather. Afterwards we would head down to Agecroft to get the number 13 bus back to Lower Broughton, or we would walk down and I would stand outside a pub with a packet of crisps and a lemonade while he would go in and have a pint. In those days children were not allowed in pubs, so I just stood outside waiting for him.
We would also visit my uncle Charlie and aunty Annie up in Prestwich, again either getting the number 13 or walking. When I was a bit older I would walk there on my own and play under the railway bridge, the 13 arches as we called it. It’s still there now.
I went to the local primary school on Grecian Street. I didn’t have a lot of friends in my earlier years because I had a speech impediment, so I didn’t talk that much. I couldn’t pronounce words properly, I would trip over them as if I was tongue tied. Maybe I was a little bit. It used to upset me, but in hindsight I think it could have been because my mum never really spoke to me all that much during my childhood, because of her depression. She did, however, take me for elocution lessons and speech therapy at Salford Royal Hospital, when I was seven or eight, pretty much as she herself had done as a child. I often had my leg pulled by the other lads because of my speech, but I did have some good mates. Ronnie Size was one, a little fat kid. Our little gang used to buy a penny dart each and go down to Albert Park where trees lined the pathways. They were about ten yards apart and we would each take a turn to throw our dart so if it stuck in the next tree, you could move forward to that tree.
At weekends I was always out with my mates, riding pushbikes or racing bogeys, going to the swings or walking up to the 13 arches. For a while there was an old house we used to explore in Lower Broughton which had a punch bag in one of its rooms. It was fastened to the ceiling and the floor and was elasticated, so we would go in there and bash it. It was probably somebody’s house, but we could get in through a window.
The house also had gooseberry bushes and on occasion I took some of the fruit. They were really sour, but one day I was eating some as I walked along the road when a three wheeler truck from the railway came by. Without thinking I just threw a gooseberry at it, but the window was open and it hit the driver on the head. He stopped the truck and started chasing me. I ran up the street and into Albert Park – I knew this driver wanted to plant one on me. I dived into some bushes and looked to see if he was still following. He had stopped, but started walking again. Has he seen me? I thought. He has seen me! so I started running again. I was petrified, but I was in the cubs at the time and we held our meetings in the nearby St John’s Church, so I knew exactly where I was and where I was running. I went the long way home, but that guy was going to floor me if he caught me. Fortunately he didn’t. They were hard those gooseberries.I got into lots of little scrapes like that, and my dad had a lot to contend with. He would chase me about the house and try to bash me about the head when I was up to no good. Mum would tell him to leave me alone, but dad would come over anyway. “I want you back here for nine o’clock not ten o’clock, by god”, he used to say. You can see it in the old school photographs – I am always right at the front where they can keep an eye on me.
Life's what you make it.
Michael was very sensitive to John’s condition and also very sensitive to his wishes that the book was written in his voice and did not contain too much elaboration or exaggeration. I now have a wonderful memory of my husband’s life, to share with my children and grandchildren. I would not have this without Michael’s help.
Have your book written for you, edited and proofed.