‘ Ooooh! …Never mind’

My mum in her carefree early years getting away from industrial Lancashire on holiday in Beaumaris, North Wales, this would be in the late 1920s and where she met my dad, who was from there. Her family got there by steamship from Liverpool.

It was an expression my mother would come out with for almost any sort of calamity. So when I failed my A levels , or almost all of them, ( I just got Art ) she’d have used it then. It always made me feel better and it might have been better if she’d been a bit more cheesed off. She was a woman who never seemed to lose her temper, if she was cross, cross was about as cross as she got, and she might excuse it by saying ‘ I’m a bit cross about ( fill in the blank here ) I think she only got more than a bit cross a couple of times and then the blank might be Hitler, The Cuban Crisis of the 1960s, or a politician who had said something ‘silly’. She and my father never seemed to get cross. I’ve spoken often about him but he would not have been the him he was without her. He and I both were generally happy to ‘poddle along’, not bothering too much about ‘getting on’. She made him bother to get on, so it was her drive and ambition for him, that made him do more than ‘poddle along’.

Another phrase she used was ‘If you can’t say anything good about someone then say nothing at all’. I think she’d be in a long period of silence with our present so-called unelected Prime Minister.

Her work was teaching. She taught what was known as the reception class, infants. She would have been the first teacher many children in Lancashire met. She loved it, and I bet she was good at it. I recall her coming home one day and she’d asked young Malcolm what he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied in a thick Lancashire accent ‘Thlone Ranger‘ , that’s the Lone Ranger to you and me, a popular TV Cowboy, nice work if you can get it in the Chorley district. He probably ended up in plumbing with his partner Tonto.

Most years whilst she was at that school, she and other members of staff would take the kids to Blackpool Tower Circus on a bus as a treat. All the kids had to bring was a newspaper each and some sandwiches. They all got over excited and at times some got coach sick. They were all told to sit on their newspapers on the trip and these came in very useful if they were sick. Good plan!

I went a couple of times when I was about ten or eleven to help out, and take the boys to the toilet at the Tower in the intermission, and help with the newspapers on the bus if need be. It was always wise to hang back in the gents as these little tykes liked to aim from some considerable distance away from the porcelain in a competition on who could pee the furthest. It was like a modern day power shower from a collection of small boys. Anyone getting near to the porcelain ( like my father on one helpful trip ) got their trousers damp from the knee down.

It was at this Circus that I saw the even then legendary Charley Cairoli the clown.Read all about him from the link, he performed at Blackpool for years and once in Berlin where Hitler gave him a watch. He threw it into the sea off the Pier at Blackpool when war broke out. He was a brilliant performer and all the kids loved him, they hooted and hollered at his antics, you could say they nearly wet themselves at him, but they saved that for my father.

So what’s got me thinking about my mother? A recent trip to France. A week in St Malo, foot passenger on the ship, and lots of walking and learning local bus routes. Lovely area.

My first ever trip to France was in 1963, I did an exchange with a family in Paris. My mum organised it for me, it was nothing to do with my school, she had contacts at the local girl’s grammar school: Penwortham Girls Grammar School. They were running a trip and she got me tagged onto it. The only boy amongst 30 sixteen year old girls. It was, to say the least, an education. The journey down south was by steam train, and then a Dakota aircraft from somewhere in Kent to somewhere just the other side of the channel and then some time on a bus before we were all divided up between the families in the centre of Paris. I was ostensibly linked with the boy of this family, but he had an older sister. Bonus! He was a nightmare but I steered clear of him, his sister was quite different. I suspect that he became a French gangster.

They lived in a large block of flats, not too far from Denfert Rochereau, and the only reason I recall that is because the Metro station there was where we changed to get to their home station, and it stayed in my brain. The family made me very welcome. As a gift to them my mum had made a big fruit cake to give to them. They were delighted and served it up in slices with hot chocolate sauce for dessert. My mum was appalled at first when I told her, but then she remembered that we often ate cheese with fruit cake, so got used to it.

The mother sent us out each day into Paris armed with a baguette and a bar of chocolate each. I’m not sure exactly what we did, but probably mooched about the Seine and other Paris landmarks before heading back via Denfert, to sample the mother’s cooking and the voyage of discovery that was French food. I loved it and the watered down red wine I was given every night. I think I got well oiled every night and it certainly helped me try to speak. My spoken French was appalling when I arrived but improved by the hour, they spoke not one word of English. All very good for me. I even heard the Beatles for the first time on the trip, “Love me do” blasted forth on their radio, usually followed by Jonny Halliday, the French Elvis who I thought was truly appalling, not a patch on the real thing and certainly light years away from the Beatles.

It was on that trip that I started to learn French a little better and it helped me pass my ‘O’ level with a not bad grade 3. I had a wonderful time there and even helped the mother there change a wheel on her 2cv in the Paris rush hour with her other kids in the back of the car. ‘Bravo Poel’ she exclaimed in congratulatory fashion.

This encouraged me to do it at A level. Not as good idea. For a couple of reasons, my French teacher at school and I did not get on too well and I had the impression he couldn’t be arsed, he more than likely had the same impression of me. The books we had to read were unfathomable. The Plague by cheery French author: Albert Camus was as depressing as it gets. I forget the others and did so too at the time.

I failed of course but they gave me a spare ‘O’ level, a sort of runner up prize.

I’ve been back to France dozens of times, never had fruit cake with chocolate sauce again. France has changed but there are facets of it that stay the same. My eyes were opened to their food back in the sixties. They feed themselves well and it seems that the lunch hour is still ‘safe’ Not many years ago, in a small village in France, I witnessed the four road repair team get out a picnic table, table cloth and set if for lunch together with a bottle of wine. Bravo them. There are even some Tabac and Press places still surviving over there. A sort of gesture of unhealthy independence

As I write this on a ferry to Portsmouth, I reflect that there are still areas of French pronunciation that are beyond us. I have almost never heard an English person pronounce the name of the French town Royan right. Conversely we give the French a lot of problems with Portsmouth. Even the Brittany Ferries announcer who must say it every day, still says Poursmooof. Poor things. Personally though I’m very proud of being able to pronounce Denfert Rochereau almost like a Parisian, but then at sixteen finding my way to where I was to sleep and eat depended on it.

The journey back to England in the sixties was uneventful, over excited sixteen year old girls surrounded me as on the journey, all wittering away about their experiences. A British customs officer asked why I had 200 cigarettes and told me they were not ‘allowed’. I explained that they were a present for my dad, as the girls gathered round me twittering and wondering what sort of trouble I was in he took one look at them and said “ Just you with this lot? “ I nodded, he gave me back the cigarettes and waved me through with a sigh…

My mum and my grandfather met me off the train at Preston Station, my grandfather giving me a hug and asking if I’d had a good time “Oui Oui, Bien sur” I responded, something had gone in.

Did we enjoy our recent trip? Our. Bien sur.

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