Abbot and Costello, Bluebird, Buster Keaton, California, Charlie Chaplin, Chelsea Flower Show, Crufts Dog Show, FA Cup, Grand Prix, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, My Fair Lady 1964, Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, Royal Ascot, Stirling moss, The Grand National
Being the youngest of six I had a lot of stimulation. My siblings were articulate and like my parents read voraciously, haunted the library, listened avidly to BBC radio and Saturday night was the ‘flicks’ with Pathé News and Feature Films as well as the latest releases, I was taken along as a babe in arms. This was before every home had a TV.
Talkies came in, from 1927 but in post war Britain still struggling from the aftermath of war, right into the early fifties, they still showed Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello and Charlie Chaplin black and white, silent films along-side of Pathé News and the talking pictures. I clearly remember Chaplin’s 1952 film Limelight which, was the first film to evoke in me an emotional response other than laughter.
What brought on this train of thought was watching a brief glimpse of Royal Ascot: Her Majesty, the carriage drive, the hats, Mrs Shilling, the frocks, the parade ring, the sound of hooves, the colour. ‘My Fair Lady’ captures it all. I was there! In my childhood my year was punctuated by such events, shared experiences, with my family.
Starting with pancake day (Shrove Tuesday), in February, and in my day in town and village across Britain, a pancake race: pinnied housewives running along tossing pancakes as they ran, which we saw locally, on Pathé News or in pictures in the newspapers. There were also brave snowdrops, crocus and the first blossom on the plum trees.
Maundy Thursday the Queen again distributing the small silver coins symbolizing Christ humbling himself to wash his disciples feet. Good Friday and Easter Sunday. All dressed in our best for Church and always even Easter bonnet competitions. Of course there were Easter eggs or Pasche eggs not the ubiquitous chocolate eggs, that flood the market today just after Christmas, but duck or chicken eggs, marbled, dyed or hand painted with even the chance of an egg rolling race down a local hill. And there was always daffodils and narcissus and the first buds bringing a haze of green to bare boughs.
March through to summer brought us Crufts Dog Show the elegance of the Borzoi and the exuberance of the English cocker spaniel -Tracy Witch of Ware, Best in show twice! The Grand National Steeplechase, Fred Winter on Sundew my eyes tight shut hoping no horse would fall at Becher’s Brook. The Boat Race – Oxford verses Cambridge, Putney Bridge to Chiswick, they only showed the boys in those days, such fun especially when they sank. Monaco Grand Prix, real glamour, the yachts, the villas, the sun always shining, sparkling on the waves and with always the hope that a British car would take the checkered flag, possibly patriotic but never envious. The TT races, BSA, Norton, Triumph, Royal Enfield huge motorbikes at top speed tearing round the narrow lanes of the beautiful Isle of Mann. The return from Africa of the Swallows and Swifts. Whitsuntide – Resurrection – Pentecost, church, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and abiding memories of the first Summer wild flowers, Bluebells, Buttercups, Daisies and Cowslips and fancy-dress competitions. FA Cup, Manchester City lifting high that coveted trophy. Chelsea Flower Show, that bun fight on the last day to bag a bargain and taking them home on the ‘Tube’. I always wondered if any ever grew to maturity? May Day, a village fair on the green and boys and girls dancing round the Maypole and a brass band, these simple things cemented community. Trooping the Colour, glorious pageantry in the Capital wondering if a soldier would faint from the heat? It always seemed to be bathed in sunshine.
With the warmer weather came the flat racing, The 2000 Guineas, The Oaks, The Derby, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, horse racing at its finest. Always reminding me of some medieval tournament. Tennis at Queens and Wimbledon, spawned tennis in the street, school playing field or local park, who could afford the tennis courts. Beating the Bounds, an old church tradition dating back to the Norman conquest when the boundaries are walked and prayers said for blessings on the community (it also ensured that no one had moved the boundary stones) and the scent of wild roses in the lanes. The English Grand Prix at Silverstone, Sterling Moss was one of my childhood heroes, ‘the greatest driver never to win the world championship’. The Ashes, ‘the voice of cricket’ Richie Benaud, I remember in a lull in play at the Oval him describing some birds on the pitch, a truly English game. The Great Yorkshire Show, it’s history dates back 160 years, truly impressive a feast of rural and farming life. Britain’s farming industry the life-blood of the nation. The sound of the wind rustling the leaves of the Common English Lime trees. The Royal Tournament at Earls Court, the Edinburgh Tattoo in the shadow of the castle, showcasing the armed forces, put through their paces at what always seemed like breakneck speed. Harvest Festival, ‘all is safely gathered in’, marrows the size of Zeppelins.
Autumn continues with The Proms, Sir Malcolm Sargent, he felt like family, we had heard him on the radio and followed him to TV. The St Ledger, another classic event the climax of thoroughbred racing for the year moving swiftly on to the National Hunt Season. Green leaves turning red, yellow and gold. The Horse of the Year Show, Olympia and Sir Harry Llewellyn’s horse Foxhunter. Bonfire night, potatoes baked in the ashes, treacle toffee and Yorkshire Parkin, delicious. The Admirals Cup, Cowes Week, white sails on the Solent. Poppy Day, wearing our poppy with pride, Remembrance Sunday, standing silently, heads bowed at the cenotaph.
Christmas, Carol Singers (The Huddersfield Choral Society going village to village), Handel’s Messiah, a nativity at school, the red berries of holly, the smell of the tree and The Queen’s speech, the continuity and stability that our head of state brings.
All these national events had their corresponding local events which, whilst not as significant were equally enriching and enjoyable.
These were the constants of my young life. In some respects they still are today although some have faded from existence, or the media don’t consider them newsworthy enough. This was the daily salt and pepper of conversation, these were the childhood games I played with sisters and friends. Cowslips, Dandelions, Buttercups, and Foxgloves in jam jars were our flower show, or we could all pretend to be Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire or Donald Campbell driving Blue Bird. The long sunny days of summer it always snowed in winter. We had a Television from 1953. As a family we didn’t all support Oxford or Cambridge we were finely divided.
These were the back-ground tapestry of my childhood and even in maturity they are still the constants of my year. They were the foundations and sign-posts of my year, not dull days, but things that added colour and were to look forward to.
And in the warp and weft, year by year, there would be other significant events that brought light and shade to my palette.
Polio 1952, Iron Lung 1952, The Coronation, 1953, Hillary and Tenzing climb Everest 1953, Rosa Parks, courageously keeping her bus seat 1955, Suez Crisis 1956, Sputnik 1957, Thalidomide 1957, Munich Air Crash 1958, Mardale – an Atlantis village reappears 1960, Cuban Crisis 1962, Flyingdale –‘We are watching’ 1963, Churchill’s funeral 1965.
And so many, many more: The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Wonderful Life, The African Queen, The Greatest Story Ever told, North by North West the 10 Commandments. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bill Hayley, Elvis Presley, The Beatles.
What are the constants that will echo across the years for the children of the 21st century?
You may wonder why the Sport of King’s looms so large in my constants? My father, the bread winner, worked with horses from a young boy eventfully becoming a National Hunt Licensee. One wage and six children meant there were no extras. But despite our poverty I never felt poor or deprived my life was rich and colourful and still is.
Finally, and at long last my novel, ‘Charlotte Deanfield – of a finer ruth’, has been published as an ebook on Kindle but also as a paper back on Amazon Books ISBN: 9781983172977 I had to change the title because no one, who reviewed it, knew what it meant until they had read it, my titles can be a bit obscure, “ ‘ruth’ a noun a feeling of pity, compassion, sympathy, understanding.”