ife in Coventry, where I lived from 1929 until November 1940, obviously stands out in my mind. Some memories are particularly vivid, such as backing my father's car, a big Morris, out of the garage, and then driving it forwards for about 100 yards.
On the subject of cars, the first car that I can remember us owning was a French Darraque. The previous one that I can't remember had been an Essex; both of them very large cars for those days, when few families possessed automobiles. So much so that if bad weather necessitated my father driving me to school, I always begged him to stop the car around the corner, as I was too embarrassed to let it be known that we owned one. If I was seen, I remember telling inquisitive children that the car belonged to a neighbour who had kindly brought me to school. How times have changed! I didn't dare admit to having a telephone in the house either, or to my family having live-in help, a maid. That for me would have been total embarrassment.
I went to a council or state school in Coventry, and the families in our area were very respectable, church-going, God-fearing, working-class people, with little money. When a forthcoming occasion of an exciting school outing to Windsor Castle (another one was to the London Zoo) was announced weeks in advance, the cost being 2 shillings and sixpence, most pupils had to pay even this small amount in instalments. I had to beg my father to allow me to do the same, as to have arrived at school one day with the full amount would have been too embarrassing. Always being a very nosey and inquisitive child I had overheard teachers comparing notes as to how many pupils they would personally need to subsidise, as there were some whose parents could not find even that small amount of money.
Thinking way back, it was an utter disgrace to demolish Butcher Row and Ironmonger Row. I well remember being with my Mother in Butcher Row for the final Saturday night closing-down sales. Those streets were something out of Dickens, about 8/9ft. wide as I recall - two handcarts could just about pass, although traders put their wares outside, which on the narrow, cobbled, busy streets made movement very difficult. There was a book shop and stationers which we went into. I wandered from little room to little room, all beamed, wood floors and dark. On the top floor I found some Venus pencils; HB/HH and so on. I persuaded my Mum to give me twopence and I was told by the owner to take as many pencils as I liked, as he had no use for them. Very tempting but I didn't take many. A friend of my father managed a furniture shop very nearby, and I remember him saying that he did not know what he was going to to for a job. Redundacy was not known of in those days. Two day later the face of Coventry started to lose its charm; what were the town planners thinking of?
I well remember Owen Owen opening. Birmingham had Lewis's, London had Selfridge, but Coventry!! Owen Owen (from Liverpool) was a nine day wonder. Coventry had its own LARGE store. WOW! The store attracted a lot of attention, due in no small measure to a LIVE ROBOT MAN who I would follow around from department to department, hoping to catch him blink, but never did so. My Father assured me that he had spoken to him and that he was a real human being, but I was never convinced.
In 1939 I started work in the family business in Bishop Street, and my first job. At exactly 10:45 a.m., when my father would go daily into Broadgate to the bank, and then to on to Lyons for his morning coffee, it was my job to go to a little bakers in Silver Street. It wasn't a shop, it was a cave in the old city wall, BUT I went there for Cheese Batches. The prices were; medium, one penny or large three ha'pence. They were beautifully hot breads rolls, cut open, a large pat of butter put in which immediately melted, and then an enormous lump of Cheddar cheese put on top of the butter. I then ran back to the shop fast so that we all enjoyed them piping hot with cups of tea. Why everyone was not fat I still wonder. Incidentally a great treat was to join my father for coffee. Lyons served a coffee-dash, which was a glass of hot milk with a 'dash' of coffee, that together with a Buzz biscuit was a great treat. If I recall, it cost twopence.
bout this time I was sent to Matterson, Huxley and Watson, Coventry's biggest ironmongers, at the wholesale department in West Orchard, for a chopper for home, and bought one the shape of a cleaver. It cost the enormous sum of two and threepence, and was assured that it was the best. Fortunately my father did not complain at the exhorbitant price, but believe it or not... I still have it and use it sometimes.
Our shop at 13 Bishop Street had been the Bishop's residence, and had an underground tunnel to the Cathedral. I once managed to open the ancient door to the cellar, but the sight of two enormous rats made me shut the door quickly never to open it again. We once killed a rat which was absolutely huge. I wonder if the fires in the Blitz got rid of them? Our shop fire burned for four days, I well remember. Apparently 13 Bishop Street had the dubious reputation of being the 4th largest fire in Coventry.
The premises had a "priest hole" where about the 1600s priests sheltered when they were in peril of their lives. This bolt hole was about 8ft. square, very well hidden, and I came across it by accident. Sadly it perished in the Blitz.
Our summer holidays were organised meticulously, I am sure that the explorers who discovered Africa and the Tombs of the Pharaohs set out on their travels with less preparation than were made by my mother. Our family at this time consisted of my parents, three children and Vi, a living-in maid who came from Wales. My Mother and Vi worked for days prior to the day of departure, washing, ironing and then organising the food. The reason being that every year we would book rooms, bedrooms, a sitting room, bathroom and a kitchen at a seaside resort, either Blackpool, Weston-Super-Mare or Bournemouth. We took all our food and cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery with us because we kept a kosher home. This was known as a self-catering holiday, which was not uncommon in those days. When the great day arrived for this marathon operation, a Mr. Moxon would arrive early in the morning, with his enormous taxi, which was big enough for a large banquet to have been held in the back. He and Vi would load up everything and she was in charge of my brother and me. My parents and my sister would travel in the family car and somewhere along the way, we all stopped off for what I remember as being an eight-course picnic before eventually arriving at the seaside. My father would drive back to Coventry on the Monday and join us again at the weekends.
I have mostly very happy memories of those holidays but there is one particular one that, in retrospect, seems very funny, but was certainly not so at the time. My sister Freida, 6 years my senior and very seriously grown-up, had taken her latest hobby of making figures using wire and beads along with her as a holiday pastime. She was very skilful at this and used to make complicated figures of butterflies, birds and animals, that is, until I was the cause of a catastrophe. She was sitting in a deckchair against the wall, which divided the beach from the road and promenade, so that as you walked along the prom you looked down about ten feet onto the sands. I was on my way back to join the family on the beach after going to buy some sweets, my favourite hobby, when I saw my sister down below. To go all the way round meant a walk of some 200 to 300 yards, so I decided to take a short cut and jumped from the wall. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very good jump, on landing I lost my balance and fell onto my sister's deckchair, upsetting the large biscuit tin which contained the many hundreds of different sizes, shapes and colours of beads that my sister had assiduously collected over a very long period of time. No matter how sorry I said I was, or how hard I searched the sands to find the sandy beads and replace them in the tin, I was never forgiven. I recounted this story to one of my grand-daughters recently, and her reply was, "I would have killed you!"
Readers might also be interested in Norman's full published memoirs, available from this local authors page.
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