The dreaded yearly summer visit to my grandparents’ house in Ashington, Northumberland UK (coal mining country) was something I loathed and hated so much that even today I tell my mam off for sending me there. I would cry to them to not leave me there. My grandparents lived in a bleak, rainy, grey, mining village that always smelled of burning coal dust. The only bearable enjoyment was watching TV, or as we called it telly. My grandparents could never afford to own their own telly, so lucky for them there was a company called Radio Rentals they would actually rent one to you. However, you couldn’t always watch, because it only worked if you put coins in the slot. We would all be huddled around the telly, almost near the end of a film, and all of a sudden, the blasted thing would turn off. There would be a mad scramble to look for more coins, even borrowing from the neighbors. Then once a week someone from Radio Rentals would come by and empty the coins out of the telly.
Don’t get me wrong I loved my grandparents, and when they would visit us at our house it was great. I have said before in my other blogs, we grew up poor, but compared to my grandparents we lived like the Rockefellers! We had a car! (well an old, questionably safe van) and even a telephone. At my grandparent’s house if I wanted to speak to my mam or dad, or they wanted to talk to me, we would have to use the phone of the one neighbor who was fancy enough to own one, and you would leave her a few coins for the pleasure. One of the real, traumatizing horrors for me was the outside toilet or Lavvy as it was called, no sissy, soft two ply toilet paper in there only squares of cut up old newspaper hanging on a nail. Sitting your bare bum on ice cold porcelain would literally take your breath away. My grandma once locked me in the lavvy for being cheeky to her, I was told I wasn’t getting out till I said sorry. I stayed in there for hours, refusing to apologize. She eventually let me out, but only because someone needed to use the Lavvy. She loves that story and at 94 years old still likes to tell it. Not to get side tracked (I always do though) but my great grandma didn’t even have her own outside toilet. She lived on a street of terraced houses, about 40 or so and they would all share about eight communal toilets that were across the street.
Looking back, I realize that it was the only break that my mam and dad ever got from what was a brutal, hard life, they were so young, just kids themselves, married when my mam was 17 and my dad was 19 and then right away they had kids. The strains on them must have been enormous, completely broke with two little kids, my dad working the night shift as a fabric weaver and washing windows during the day. My mam worked at Carrs Biscuit Factory (famous for their table water crackers) during the day, they had a shift specifically for women with kids, they dropped off the kids at school and started work at 8.30am then finished at 3pm, in time to pick them up. Pretty forward thinking for a company back in the early 70s.
I can’t write a blog without mentioning food and the most memorable delicacy that comes to mind is ‘The Dripping Sandwich’. The butchers would roast beef which they would sell by the pound, then they would make sandwiches from the juices. A big white roll would be drenched and dragged through the drippings from the beef and then sold. It was like essence of beef, just a whisper of meat, all the taste none of the chew. Sandwiches were plentiful as they were cheap, and they could be made with anything, like crisps (potato chips), bananas, jam and the ever-disgusting sandwich paste, made by a company called Princes which has been around since 1880. I have a feeling their recipes haven’t changed much since then either, Bloater (fish) Paste was one, there was also ham, salmon, mackerel and my all time favorite sardine and tomato, these pastes have stood the test of time and are still selling well today in all the big grocery stores.
Great news, NOT coming to a US store anytime soon, thank God.