The Man and the Blancmange
By Bill Hatton
Having been born in 1941, I was classed as a war baby. I spent my early days being carried down to the nearby air raid shelter when the sirens went off and trying to get some sleep with the thud of German bombs, the pounding of anti-aircraft guns and the clamour of fire engines and ambulances, with bells clanging away, roaring from emergency to dire emergency.
We were living in a tenement block at the time of the German blitzkrieg but moved to a ‘two-up two-down’ house a short distance away in Dingle.
The house was in a typical Liverpool terrace with an outside toilet at the end of the backyard next to the slot in the wall that housed the waste bin. A kitchen had been built onto the rear of the house, which gave us a little more space in the living room. When I say living room I mean it! Everything happened there.
The place was heated by a coal-burning, cast iron Lancashire stove, with no back boiler. All the water for washing and the Saturday night bath in front of the fire was heated up in kettles and pans.
The stove also produced our native dish of ‘scouse’ and beautiful Lancashire hotpots. In the wintertime it dried our washing, which was hung on a ceiling rack close to the fire. The rest of the time our knickers and voluminous white underpants were hung on a washing line in the back yard.
There was a gas supply to the kitchen where we eventually installed a gas cooker – now there’s a posh for you! The lighting was also gas with a bracket in the ceiling that housed the mantle, which in turn was controlled by a valve that made the lighting dim or dimmer. Many years later, electricity came along and everything brightened up…specially the lights!
Sadly, there was still no bathroom in the house. So, being a tad too old to sit in a tin bath surrounded by the family listening to the radio, I used to go to the public baths on a Saturday morning for my weekly ‘sing-along-soak’ with the local lads.
Anyway, back to the Forties. Our family consisted of my father, mother and sister, who was named Ada after our most formidable aunt, who you will read about later. Since we were at war with the mighty Hun, most of my uncles were abroad in the armed forces fighting for King and country whilst the others who were too old for the services worked in the docks, the merchant navy and even the police.
A bonus was having my maternal grandmother, ‘Nanny’ Humphreys, living a few doors down the street. Nanny was the exact opposite to the other grandmother, who was a right nark, and her house was a haven where my sister and I could escape any totally unwarranted punishment that my parents might be thinking of meting out on us.
We were always safe in the protection of ‘Nanny’s pinnie’ and she was only a short scamper away on our little legs. Our new house gave us shelter and sustenance during the war years and beyond but the house next door to it sowed the seeds of my interest in music.
Our next door neighbours were the Stokes family and one of the sons was a merchant seaman called Albert. He brought home a few guitars from his trips to the United States and both he and his younger brother, Joey, played them in the pub and at home when there was a ‘jars out party’ at their house.
I always looked forward to the Saturday nights, after closing time, when I would have my ear pressed against my bedroom wall so I could listen to the music, the singing and the laughter that went with it, vibrating through the old brickwork. I decided there and then that I wanted those things in my life. My greatest wish as a little lad was not for the usual train set or a model aeroplane but a guitar of my very own.
How I got my first guitar, learned to play and formed my first group is told in the second chapter of the book I am currently writing. So, I think a sneak preview is called for…I hope you like it!
Are You Sitting Comfortably?
An eleven year old little boy peered with wide eyes through the rain-streaked window of a cluttered second-hand shop. His gaze was fixed upon the object that he had found amongst the bric-a-brac, the one which he had been longing to own since he first saw it. It rested against the dusty wall with its very own ‘for sale’ sign slotted between its strings.
‘Spanish style guitar, real wood, good player – no case provided.’