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U3A Writing: Being Ten Years Old

…We had grown up in a post-war world of austerity, rationing and, everywhere on Merseyside, bomb sites. People obsessed by today’s ideas of beauty and celebrity can hardly imagine how fabulous we thought the young Queen was, with her handsome, dashing, sailor husband. And there was the golden coach, and the crowds and the processions…

Elizabeth Robison remembers Coronation Day – a day which for her was the beginning of a steep learning curve.

My tenth birthday was on June 3rd 1953, the day after the Queen’s coronation. Today it is hard for younger people to realise the glamour and excitement that surrounded the events leading up to that day, and the day itself.

We had grown up in a post-war world of austerity, rationing and, everywhere on Merseyside, bomb sites. People obsessed by today’s ideas of beauty and celebrity can hardly imagine how fabulous we thought the young Queen was, with her handsome, dashing, sailor husband. And there was the golden coach, and the crowds and the processions. Not to mention the Queen of Tonga who ‘came to Britain on Coronation Day……….and stole our hearts away,’ according to the popular song of the time.

My grandfather told me that he and I could go to Mr Makin’s house to see the ceremony on television, and as I had never seen TV before, it felt exciting to squash into a small room with about fifteen others and watch events unfold in black and white on the flickering nine-inch screen in the corner of the pitch-dark room. I felt a mixture of excitement and embarrassment when the commentator said that the Archbishop of Canterbury was going to anoint the Queen’s breast with oil. Fortunately it was all done away from prying eyes under a tasteful canopy.

Many people had street parties to celebrate the occasion, but my mother declared that street parties were ‘common.’

I expect that the mothers of many people of my sort of age had similar notions. It was common to eat in the street, to wear your slippers to go to the corner shop, to wear curlers in the street, to apply make-up in public, and to have the milk bottle on the table.

My mother did concede, however, that I could have a small birthday party in the back yard, so the day before the Coronation I was dispatched to the local grocer’s shop and was returning with bottles of pop and packets of crisps (then a huge novelty), when I met Mrs Mahon.

Now you have to know a bit about the sectarian history of Merseyside to appreciate this, but Mrs Mahon was persona non grata by virtue of being Irish Roman Catholic to my Welsh Non-conformist mother. In those days there were still streets where the kids would demand to know whether you were Chips (Catholic) or Peas (Protestant) before they let you pass.

Seeing what I was carrying, Mrs Mahon exclaimed: ‘Ooooh! They’re ’avin’ their street party today!’ In the way that only an innocent ten-year old could, I replied: ‘We are not having a street party. My mum thinks they are common.’

Quick as a flash, Mrs Mahon was poking her finger at my chest and saying vehemently: ‘You tell your mother that common people are the salt of the earth.’

For me, the beginning of June 1953 was what we now call a steep learning curve.

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