Outings and Holidays

When we used to live in Lowther Street, when I would think I would be about nine, motorbikes came out with sidecars on and we were were one of the first people to have one. It was called a Quadrant. My Uncle Edgar had one the same, and his next-door neighbour, Ernie Tayler – who was the leading portrait photographer in Coventry then – had one, and we all used to go out blackberrying and so on, all together. We never went on our own; we were always together.

In those days my uncle used to work six till two, two till ten, or ten till six – shift work, a week about – and sometimes in the summer when he was on the ten till six he used to go to bed and when we came home from school they used to pick us up, and my Auntie Jenny and Uncle Edgar would pick theirs up, and we would all meet and we used to go blackberrying. Not too far afield – Brinklow Woods, places like that. And we used to go out for the day on Sundays.

At first, when we first had it, I went all the way to Skegness on a cushion – and in those days there were no motorways; it took us all day to get to Skegness. My poor bottom when we got there! We hadn’t got a proper pillion, because we’d just got it and that was as much as you could afford. Afterwards I had a proper seat with a backrest on it and I used to have a helmet with fur round it and ear flaps.

We had an ordinary sidecar in those days, and then Betty came along and we had a double sidecar, with two seats, back and front. Betty used to be on her mum’s lap, and our Herb in the front.

My Uncle Edgar had a double sidecar as well. Eddie used to go on the back, and Alec used to go in the sidecar with his mum. Then when Dorothy came along she went in the sidecar. She was ten or twelve years younger than Alec and Eddie. She wasn’t quite in so much. Eddie and I were her godparents.

Uncle Edgar’s motorbike was an AJS and my uncle’s was a New Imperial. Then just before we left Lowther Street my uncle had a Triumph.

We used to go off on weekends. Once we went to Matlock for the day – all of us – and I was on the pillion at the back, and Eddie was on the other pillion. They were behind us. My uncle always led the way. I was perched on my seat leaning back with my helmet on and the front turned up and we were going round these S-bends in Derbyshire, just outside Matlock – there were some very very winding things. I was busy looking round, because we used to wave to each other. My uncle was chuntering along, with my auntie in the sidecar, and all of a sudden we swept round this corner and I leaned over and looked behind and they were coming, and all of a sudden I saw the motorbike go into the ditch and our Eddie shoot up into the air and over the hedge.

I yelled into my uncle’s ear, ‘My Uncle Edgar’s in the ditch and Eddie’s gone over the hedge.’ So he puts the brakes on quick, and we all get out and dash back. As it happened the motorbike hadn’t turned over and Eddie was all right, though the motorbike had broken some of the hedge down. And of course Ernie Tayler was behind us with his two sons and his wife and he had to stop.

We were all standing there when someone came along – I think it was one of the farmers – and he said, ‘Well, look,’ he said, ‘this is a very dangerous spot here. They’re always having people go in the hedge; it’s always causing accidents. But be fair to the farmer,’ he said. ‘Just go and have a word with him and tell him. I think it’s only fair that you should.’ So we said, ‘Oh yes, we will.’ So of course the three men set off, and this fellow goes off, and as soon as he goes off they come back and we all get on the motorbikes and off we go again!

Hear Chris describe making off after the motorbike accident:

And then we were walking up Matlock Hill and all of a sudden Auntie Jenny’s heel came off her shoe and she was walking all lopsided – because she always used to wear heels like this – and she was trying to find a good heavy brick or something to knock this heel back on. It was quite a laugh this day.

We went to Matlock and then we went to the petrifying caves, where they have water that turns things to stone. It was marvellous. There were all what looked liked icicles hanging down, and top hats – people had taken hats there that had all turned to stone over the years. It was quite an experience, because we were young and it was the first time we’d been there. We had quite a day there.

We used to take our sandwiches with us, and my uncle used to have a Primus stove and we used to go up to a farm sometimes if we were out of milk and take a jug and get a pint of milk and some more water. Sometimes we used to find a egg that a chicken had laid in a ditch and would cook that. And we used to have some laughs when we needed to spend a penny. Because we used to be in the sidecars for hours. As my uncle said, ‘Women!’

Uncle Edgar was famous for carrying everything but the kitchen sink with him – chewing-gum for fixing any leaks, bowls and water for mending punctures, spare inner tubes, tow ropes, screws, washers. The first thing he would say when he got off his bike would be ‘Just feel this engine, Bert! You could fry an egg on this. It’s time to stop for a bit.’

We went to Skegness most holidays – Whitsun and August – and we went to Weston once, and sometimes we went to Bournemouth, but we were older when we went to Bournemouth. We only used to go places that were flat!

When we used to go to Skegness we used to go to the same place. The landlady was called Mrs Green. It was a pretty big house, and in those days we used to pay for the room and buy our own food and she used to cook it. We went there for years, and used to meet the same people year after year. It was very good.

At Skegness

Skegness, c.1932/3: (L to R, back) Uncle Bert, unknown, Dorothy, unknown, unknown, unknown, Uncle Edgar, unknown, Auntie Jenny, Auntie Fanny; (front) unknown, Chris, Betty, unknown, Alec

And then when we were older we used to go to Bournemouth, and then we used to go to boarding-houses more. But we used to go just bed and breakfast and we used to have one of these beach huts on the front and keep all the deckchairs there, and we had a Primus stove there so we could make our own sandwiches and that, because there was a lot of us. It was real fun. We used to keep our rings there to go in the sea and that, and we really enjoyed it. We used to spend all day in there. We used to have an odd ice-cream, but never used to spend any money. But when we got older Eddie, Herb and I – there was only a few years between us – used to go off on our own.

Chris and Herb

Chris and Herb at Bournemouth, c.1936

Eddie and Chris

Eddie and Chris at Bournemouth, c.1936

We used to go on these holidays right up to when I was seventeen or eighteen – always the two families. In those days you always went away with your parents until you were quite old. Because there were families – it wasn’t like just your mum and dad and just one of you going. We had some marvellous holidays, really we did. Nobody else had got a motorbike and sidecar round by us. I don’t say we had a lot of money, but we were never without.

The last holiday our two families went on altogether was to Bournemouth. Then, I think it was the year after we’d been to Bournemouth, one of the girls I worked with had been to Lynmouth for a holiday and she was saying how lovely it was, and I told my auntie and uncle about it. Our Les was courting then, and we decided to go to Lynmouth together – that was just our family, with Herb, Betty and me, and Win and Les came. I can’t remember whether we went by bus or train: we couldn’t all go on the bike, though our Herb had got his own motorbike by then.

On holiday at Lynmouth

Lynmouth: (L to R) Chris, Uncle Bert, Win, Les and Herb

Chris, Betty and Win

Chris, Betty and Win at Lynmouth

After that I started going with the girls at work. I went with them for a couple of years, and then I was in with Bob.

At Hastings

At Hastings with two girls from work, 1937

They were good days, really. We were very close, all of us. We did everything together. Christmases were all together. Holiday times were always together. But at school times you had your school pals.

We always used to go to Auntie Jenny and Uncle Edgar’s house on Christmas Day. We used to have our own Christmas dinner at home but we always went to Terry Road after dinner, and we kids used to stay there overnight and my auntie and uncle went home. And then on Boxing Day they always used to come to our house at Lowther Street and the kids stayed at our house that night.

My Auntie Jenny and Uncle Edgar loved parties. We used to play hunt the thimble and pass the parcel. They used to give all their time to us until about nine or ten o’clock at night, and then we used to have to go to bed – when I got to fourteen I used to stop up, but the others had to go to bed – and then they used to have the grown-ups’ party.

I remember our Herb saying they had a big wooden tooth made with great big fangs on, painted red halfway up, and they used to have a curtain across the dining-room and it used to be dark and there’d just be a light the other side of this curtain and my two uncles would be behind there. One would be sitting in a chair howling, and the other would yank this tooth out in silhouette on the curtain.

Another thing they used to do – this was when we got a bit older – if you had to do a forfeit you used to be blindfolded and you had to go behind the screen and you had to kiss something. They used to say, ‘Kiss this.’ The man next door (not Ernie Tayler: the other side) used to come in, and he was a big man and he used to roll his sleeves up and you used to kiss the thick part of his arm. And then they’d say, ‘You can take the blindfold off now,’ and just when you took the blindfold off he’d make believe he was pulling his trousers up.

Another forfeit was you used to be blindfolded and you had to put your hand in this jerry – you had to hold it and put your hand in – and it was all like sausages, and you used to wonder what it was. And when you pulled it out it used to be a string of real sausages. But that was really for the grown-ups, when they used to have the neighbours in at night. And they used to play the piano and sing.

As I got older I used to walk home, when Bob would come with me before we were married. Before that, when I got a bit older, about thirteen, I wasn’t allowed in with the lads. We were innocent. We didn’t know the facts of life at that age. I didn’t until I started work, actually.

It was Auntie Jenny who used to tell me about things – my auntie was always a bit embarrassed about talking about things, but my Auntie Jenny used to tell me, because I was the only girl. She was very good, Auntie Jenny. She never made any difference between Betty and Herb and me – never. I had everything the same as they had at Christmas and everything. She really looked on me as a real niece – we were all together. We were all like just one family.

I think the war changed all that. And of course it’s only natural. Herb and Eddie, and Alec when he was old enough, they all went in the services, they saw horrible things, and they came back different people. Because they were out there for five years. They were about twenty when they went, but when they came back they were grown-up. They’d got married in the meantime and got responsibilities, a home of their own, so they all started up on their own. Bob and I came to Coundon and started up on our own, and they started up on their own.

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