Growing up

Woolworths was the magnet for any kid who had a spare copper in his pockets

Ayton's little shop near the bottom house pictures was also a favourite stopping off place for a halfpenny prick.
You were given a paper covered board and the idea was for a halfpenny you pricked the paper and uncovered a colour.  Depending on what colour it was decided  the  prize you got, like a stick of liquorice,  a gob stopper or a packet of sherbet .

Favourite meeting places on a sunday were Peel's and Renaldi's icecream parlours.
Our little town boasted 3 picture houses commonly known as the top, middle and  bottom houses the picture
queue was the place to be on a weekend. 
That's where the lads planned the seating arrangements as if it were a military operation just to get close to the girls without paying for their seats of course
Where we still stood for the national anthem, remember the packets of crisps with the little blue packet of salt inside  (luverly)
Visit to the fish and chip shop afterwards for a  bag of scrapings, which one was your favourite
 Moscardini’s, Reeds, Hillary's , Simpson's, March's,  did I miss your's  let me know.

Going to the Saturday matinee with every other kid in town the noise was deafening and watching film stars like, Hopalong Cassidy, Buster Crabbe and Buck Jones and films like Zorro and Tarzan, that's if you could earn the money to go, not much free pocket money in those days.  On my way home from school I'd walk up my back street to see if anyone had just had a load of coals delivered.  Sometimes they would let me shovel the coals into the coal house for a tanner but it was hard work for a kid as I had to throw the coals through a small door in the wall that was higher than my head.  Other ways to earn some pennies was running errands for the neighbours, taking pop bottles back to the local shop and getting the deposit on them.  I think the statute of limitation has expired on the pop bottle caper, but  once in awhile myself and others who shall remain nameless would remove the returned pop bottles from the rear of the premises and take them to the front and return them again. I was easily led astray in those days.

I used to earn some pocket money by selling kindling to the neighbours.  Once a week I would ride my bike up to the sawmill up West Road and get a free sack of junk wood that they would otherwise burn.  I would balance the bag of wood on my bike and push it all of the way home.  Next I would chop up the wood into small sticks and  bundle them together.    I charged a penny a bundle and  sold out every week.

In those days everyone used a coal fire to heat a boiler in the back of the fireplace that circulated the hot water to a cistern.  This cistern was a large copper cylindrical tank that stored the hot water and provided a place to dry out clothes etc. that couldn't dry outside.   When the fire went out at night there was no other way to heat water so in the morning the only way to get  hot water was to light the fire again and boil a kettle.  

The war created a greater demand for coal so it became harder to get and more expensive.  If you had a pitman in the family you were guaranteed so many bags of coal. I'm not sure if they were free or at a reduced price but if you wanted more you had to pay more for them.   A bag of muck or dirt as we called it was the  cheapest but it was a fine dusty coal not good for burning by itself but was better when mixed with the more expensive coal we called roundies.  Some  families  would bank up their fires at night with this mixture of coals so that they would burn slowly all night long and still be burning in the morning. This would keep the the water hot during the night.

One of my chores was to always have sticks, newspapers and coal ready on the hearth so that my mother could start the fire each morning, didn't always happen though.  In the mornings when my sisters and I came down stairs for breakfast the fire would always be going.

In the winter time if it was very cold my mother would give me  small glass bottle of  ginger wine to sip on the way to school. It was homemade from a recipe that had been in the family for generations.  I remember it was very hot and spicy.

Sitting around at night listening to the wireless before I was packed off to bed.  My favourite program was Monday night at Eight, I can still remember the man  on the radio saying in a deep voice  "This is your story teller , Valentine Dyall, the man in black". They were always creepy stories, with names like The Monkey's Paw and The Beast with Five Fingers".   Other programs I listened to were Dick Barton , Special Agent,  Itma, Much binding in the Marsh and many more.

For just nice music you couldn't beat Radio Luxembourg at 208 on the short wave dial, I remember my  sister's kicking back the rugs  and dancing to the music on many a weekend. I guess that is where I first got my love for ballroom dancing and why the Elite Ballroom became my favourite place to go.

The Elite was a mecca for young people who enjoyed dancing , it attracted lads and lasses from all of the nearby towns like Willington, Tow Law, Bishop Auckland , Witton Park and some from as far away as Coundon and Brandon.   Many a lad had the long walk back home from one of those towns after escorting a young lady home.  The busses usually stopped running around 10.

Many of the kids growing up in those days left school at the age of 14, I was one of them

In those days  of big families and many mouths to feed the kids grew up fast and no time was lost in finding a job. 

Many of the girls leaving school were able to find jobs working at Ramar’s dress factory.  The factory employed girls and women from Crook and lot’s of the neighbouring towns and villages.

The coal mines in the area supplied most of the unskilled jobs for the men and lots of lads got a rude awakening when they reported to work for the first time.

The rough working conditions were tempered somewhat due to the friendships that had been forged in school and were now further cemented in the pits.  Many of those friendships survive today even though the  coal dust, dampness  and dangerous working conditions in the mines have thinned out the ranks.