I didn't know that we had Booker prize entrant
Unbeknownst to many of us, our social secretary, Tony, has actually had a book published (something tells me that he might have financed the publication himself). Be that as it may, he has offered us the chance to read of his mis-doings and I must admit that it makes for good reading. I am not too sure whether he should enter it for the Booker, the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize or the Walter Scott Prize. Have a read and let us know what you think.
So here is episode 1 (keep a look out for the next episode:)
Chapter 1 – Sandgrown
On the north-west coast of England overlooking the Irish Sea lies the holiday resort of Blackpool, famed for its seven golden miles of beach, 3 piers and the Blackpool Tower. In 1879, it became the world’s first municipality to install electric street lighting and in 1885 opened its famous tramway which still runs on 11 miles of track from South Shore (Starr Gate) to Fleetwood.
Among its other attractions are the Pleasure Beach, the Sandcastle indoor water park, (at the time of writing, the largest in the U.K.) and, of course, the world famous Blackpool Illuminations. As far as I am aware, there is only one Blackpool in the world (other than Blackpool Sands in south Devon) although Dublin, (Dubh Linn), just across the Irish Sea, is derived from the Irish for black pool.
Being born in Blackpool qualifies for the soubriquet “Sandgrown”: Frank Swift, England goalkeeper who died in the Munich air disaster, George Carman Q.C., TV presenter Zoe Ball, journalist Alistair Cooke, Graham Nash from The Hollies, Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop boys and the politician, Chris Patten are all “Sandgrown” and somewhat lower down the celebrity scale, well, not actually registering at all … so am I!
On the 20th February, 1950, my mother was taken from Glenroyd Maternity Hospital, Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, to Victoria Hospital where I was delivered by caesarean section before we were both returned to Glenroyd.
A week later I was taken home to 41, Fir Grove, Blackpool, about 1 mile from the hospital and in March that year I was christened James Anthony Crane at St. John Vianney Church where my parents James William Crane and Audrey Beryl Moffatt had been married in 1949.
Fir Grove, a small terraced property about 3 miles from Blackpool town centre was shared with my paternal grandparents, James & Doris Crane (shown below on their wedding day in 1926), as well as Dads younger brother, Tom, so things must have been pretty cramped when I arrived. I was known as Anthony as three James’ in the house would have proved too confusing.
My earliest recollection is of being held in my grandfather’s arms in a small rear bedroom with deep red curtains which, when the sun was shining, filled the room with a rosy glow. My Grandad was wearing a green & white striped dressing gown and “shushing” me to sleep.
People tell me that I couldn’t possibly remember this as he died in 1951 but I know what I know, and I vividly remember the scene.
I also remember crawling under the bed in my infancy and discovering an accordion although I don’t know who it belonged to and don’t recall it ever being played.
I vaguely recall though, trapping my fingers in it and, according to my mother, “screaming the house down”.
Dad rode in a Cycle Speedway team whose cinder racetrack was on wasteland just off Waterloo Road. He also played football for St. John Vianney Church Team on a Saturday afternoon and in winter my Mum would get the tin bath from the outhouse, place it in front of the fire and fill it with steaming water for when he arrived home still in his football kit and covered in mud.
I was allowed to play in the bath once he had finished with it, (probably ending up dirtier than when I got in) and then Mum would make his evening meal which, on Saturdays, was always egg, bacon and fried bread accompanied by a mug of steaming tea as they listened to Sports Report at 5:00 pm with its distinctive opening music, (still played today by the way) for the football results read by Raymond Glendenning.
I remember climbing into bed with my Grandma in the mornings whilst negotiating the obstacle that was the “chamber pot”. She would turn the “wireless” on and we would listen to the BBC Light Programme. My favourite tune was “I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside” played by Reginald Dixon on the massive Wurlitzer organ from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and Grandma would sing along to it.
Behind Fir Grove on Dover Road was Seddons Ice Cream factory and I soon learned that if I sat on the kerb next to the factory doors, I would be given an ice cream cone by the friendly workers taking a cigarette break in the sunshine.
Other suppliers of treats for my consumption were provided by next door neighbours, Etty Liversidge, (sounds like a character from a Les Dawson sketch doesn’t it?) at number 39 and Mr & Mrs Way at number 43. In the days before instant coffee, Mrs Way would make it in a pan on the stove using milk and “Camp Coffee” which, if I remember correctly was chicory essence and she was still using it when I called in to see her one day in my early teens.
Whilst my Uncle Tom was doing National Service, (Dad had already done his stint in the Fleet Air Arm, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland), Grandma found his precious record collection of 78’s hidden under his bed featuring artistes such as Johnnie Ray, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. She then proceeded to put them in the oven until they were pliable and fashion them into plant pots to sell at jumble sales. (Those of you old enough may remember them).
She didn’t even have to drill a drain hole in them as they already had one right in the middle! Fortunately, I don’t recall his reaction when he arrived home on leave!
My brother, Andrew arrived in April 1951 and on my second birthday, Mum and Dad bought me a small red and yellow “Triang” tricycle which I immediately “bent” by riding down the alley between the houses and straight into a brick wall This was mainly due to the fact that my Dad neglected to tell me how to use the brakes!
Mum would often take me by bus to visit my Nan at Layton and I would spend hours standing on the footbridge at Layton Station as the trains passed underneath enveloping me in a cloud of steam from their funnels.
In 1953, my parents took me on holiday leaving Andrew with Grandma while we went to Middleton Towers Holiday Camp near Morecambe for a week. Mum and I travelled in the sidecar of his 1000cc Vincent motorbike and I remember a wasp entering its confined space as we drove over a bridge at Garstang en route and my Mum trying to grab Dad’s attention to tell him to pull over.
Sadly, my Dad couldn’t hear a thing through his crash helmet and blithely carried on regardless. The wasp ended up splattered against the window of the sidecar after a deft blow from Mum with a rolled up newspaper.
My only memory of the holiday itself was of me cutting my leg open on a slide and having iodine and plasters applied.
In that same year, my Uncle Tom took me to nearby Spen Corner at Marton, and sitting on his shoulders, we cheered the victorious Blackpool football team who, that weekend, had beaten Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in that memorable ’53 Cup Final, with Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen holding aloft the F.A. Cup as they passed down Waterloo Road in an open top bus.
As well as the F.A. Cup, my sister, Judith also arrived in 1953 and shortly after, we left Fir Grove for a council house on the newly built Mereside Estate on the outskirts of Blackpool.