It was my last year in primary school. I was entered for the 11-plus exam and I passed, but instead of going to Southend High School, I went to the Collegiate School in Blackpool. In those days going North was like going to another country. I moved from paradise to somewhere I did not want to be.
The journey by train up to Blackpool seemed to last forever. All I remember about it is the noise of the train and the clouds of steam at every station, with their outlandish names like Crewe and Warrington. Father met us at Blackpool North Station. I remember how pleased I was to see him and he us.
We went straight to his digs and stayed overnight there. The next day we went to our new house where the van was waiting to unload. I was reminded of London, but without the beautiful trees in the streets. There was no sign of nature. Everywhere there were rows of ugly brick houses of the late Edwardian type. There was a very small garden. We had enough room.
Why did we have two front doors? I soon knew why. The climate was very different. The frequent storms were ferocious. Gales would whip up the sea and huge waves would force their way over the protective sea-walls and crash into the houses and hotels on the promenade. Huge glass windows had been known to smash into pieces once this fierce weather got under way. I have never seen so much rain in my life.
The first time this happened when I was returning from school it was as much as I could do to get the front door open. Once inside there was another battle to get it closed. Only then could we open the inner door and shut it again or else the demon wind would hurl itself through the house and cause havoc.
Coming from the South of England where people kept themselves to themselves it was a cultural shock to arrive in the North where everyone seemed to be interested in everyone else. The first intimation of this was the next morning when the milkman walked straight into the house without knocking. Mother, who always dressed downstairs in front of the fire, let out a cry that brought us running as she hastily tried to make herself what she called ‘decent’
“Just come to say welcome to your new home. How much milk do you want?” Mother recovered quickly and responded with one of her ‘Lady-of-the-Manor’ smiles.
“First pint to new customers free” he replied, thus endearing him to her forever. Neighbours followed suit and came to see us with cries of “You there love?” Mother had never been called love before. Where we came from the most daring of bus-conductors and shop-keepers might use the term “ducks” but “madam” was customary.
The natives had trouble understanding us. How odd! We were the ones who spoke “proper English” or so we thought. They didn’t agree. They called it “cockney”
Mary and I were at first not allowed to take part in school plays because of the way we spoke. However all that died away when Blackpool was overwhelmed by more evacuees and British and foreign members of the armed forces who soon began to pour in for their training.