Since I started this blog in February, I’ve had more than 8200 views, an average of almost 30 per day; these come from 127 countries, with only 15% of these representing a single view.
I’ve now published 87 stories. It’s interesting to see which ones have attracted most attention. The stories about potatoes and Norman Borlaug are up there, and early on, my post about Fred Astaire had many hits. In terms of searches, one of the most commonly searched terms concerns attending an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Before my investiture in February I had also ‘agonized’ over what to wear. It seems there are quite a few folks out there having the same worries.
I have my blog set up such that spam comments are automatically blocked by the site, and I can review them, but all legitimate comments are not posted until I’ve had chance to review and approve them. I haven’t had that many comments added to my posts, but there was one recently (at the end of October) that certainly caught my attention – but not in relation to the actual post to which it was linked (about running the IRRI genebank). It came from someone who I have not seen for over 50 years, and who had been directed to my blog while researching her family history.
Earlier this year I posted a story about skiffle music, and how a photograph of my elder brother Ed and me had been used in The Beatles Story in Liverpool Here’s my great-nephew Sammy standing in front of the exhibit.
Watching in that photo are my mother (she must have been about 50 or so when the photo was taken in the late 50s; she passed away in 1992), and beside her is my best friend at that time, Geoff Sharratt. Sitting on my Mum’s knee is Geoff’s sister Susan, who must have been about three or four. And it was Susan who commented on my rice genebank post!
Well, I was – to say the least – quite gob-smacked. Imagine, after more than 50 years. I contacted Sue by email, and through her I have now been in contact with Geoff, and we have been able to exchange quite a few memories and photographs of growing up in Leek during the 1950s. Geoff and Susan’s parents, Geoff Snr. and Rene, were the licensees of the Quiet Woman pub in St Edward Street, just a few doors down from No 65 where my father had opened a photographic retail business in April 1956 when we moved from Congleton, a small Cheshire town just over 10 miles northwest of Leek.
However, Geoff was not the first person of my age I met when we moved in. That was Philip Porter and his sister Jill who lived next to us – their father was a tailor. But quickly I got to know Geoff and Sue, and with Philip, and young David Philips who lived across the street, we formed ‘the Army Gang’, and often went out on manoeuvres to the local Brough Park, where we’d play all day long – weather permitting – especially in a large clump of rhododendron bushes that made an excellent hideout.
And if the weather wasn’t so good, we always had access to the lofts and other rooms at the pub, especially those used by the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) – the Buffs – a ‘fraternal organization’ (I guess a bit like the Free Masons). Well, these rooms were magic – lots of chairs and high benches to play around, and hide in. Geoff had an attic bedroom that had a door leading into a loft, and he recently reminded me of some of the mischief we got up to – like melting lead soldiers to make new ones, playing with mercury, testing the ‘courage’ of his sister who wanted to join our gang, so we apparently tied a rope round her waist and lowered her from a first floor window!
On one occasion, my brother Ed, Geoff and me went trap bottle fishing (today kids use old plastic Coke bottles; we used a wine bottle with the bottom ‘dimple’ opened) in the River Churnet where it crossed the Newcastle Road in Leek at the bottom of Ladderedge, just over a mile from home. Well, silly me, I leaned over too far to retrieve one of my traps, and tumbled into the water, base over apex – and at that time (it must have been 1958 or 1959) I couldn’t swim. And although beside the bank, I was certainly out of my depth. Geoff raised the alarm to Ed (so it was reported in the local newspaper, the Leek Post & Times), and he came running along the bank and dived in after me. Meanwhile, as the drama unfolded, the golfers at Westwood Golf Club on the opposite bank stood and watched. But one kindly gentleman did come to our aid, and soaking wet, drove us home. Both Ed and I remember that our mother (who I recall was not well at that time, and in bed) was not best pleased when she saw a couple of rather bedraggled urchins dripping water all over her kitchen floor.
In 1960 I moved on to a Catholic grammar school in Stoke-on-Trent, a 12 mile or so daily journey. Geoff attended school in Leek, and gradually our paths diverged. I hadn’t realized until he told me recently that his parents left the Quiet Woman in 1960, and by 1963 had moved to Rocester, about 17 miles away (and quite close to the area of Staffordshire-Derbyshire where my Jackson-Bull ancestors come from) to manage another pub. By 1963, we had also moved away from St Edward Street into Leek’s Market Place where my father bought a property and transferred his photographic business there until his retirement in 1976.
And until that comment on my blog from Susan a month ago, I’d had no contact with her or Geoff since about 1961 – and I’d often wondered what had happened to them. And what a pleasure it is to be in contact with them once again. Ah, the power of the Internet!
And here’s the difference that 50+ years make.
As for the other members of ‘the Army Gang’, neither Geoff nor I know anything about Philip Porter’s whereabouts. But I am in contact now and again with David Philips through Facebook – he now lives part of each year in Florida and the rest of the year in Leek. His father Jimmy was a painter and decorator whose parents were the licensees of The Wilkes Head pub at the very top of St Edward Street. David’s mother Gwen was a ladies’ hairdresser and did my Mum’s hair every week.