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U3A Writing: Picking Winkles With My Da

Raymond Philliskirk tells of the happy days when he went down to the beach with his father to gather whillicks.

My father was a miner, or a pitman as they were called in the Northeast, and like all miners come the week-end he liked to get out into the fresh air. In 1933 –34 when I was a small lad, he would take me with him to get me out from under my mother’s feet.

One of my favourite things to do was to go down to the beach and onto the rocks when the tide was out and pick whillicks, or to give them their proper name, winkles.

When we got on the beach I was sat down and my father would remove my boots and socks. My socks would be stuffed inside my boots, the laces tied together and hung round my neck.

After my Da had done the same with his and rolled up his trouser legs, we would paddle (plodge) along the beach to the rocks and begin to pick winkles (after I was told to only pick the big ones.)

My Da had a special bag which my mother had made. It was like a small kitbag, about eight inches in diameter and twelve inches tall with a flap that fitted across the top and a drawstring to close it when it was full.

We took sandwiches with us, and we would have a picnic either on the beach or sitting on the rocks because it took quite a while to fill the bag. Generally we followed the tide out, and when the tide turned we picked on the way back off the rocks on to the beach where we dried our feet and replaced our boots and socks.

From where we lived to the beach was about two-and-a-half to three miles, and for a little lad coming back after clambering about rocks and in the pools for a few house, it seemed to be a very long way.

When we got about halfway back and my legs were getting tired, my Da would put me on his shoulders and carry me for a while to give me a rest before he put me down and I would have to start walking.

To help me he always seemed to find something interesting to show me. He was one of those men who seemed to know something about most things. That’s why I was always keen to go with him wherever it was, on the beach or in the country. It was always a bit of an adventure.

When we had been picking winkles and we got back home and my mother had boiled them, there was always a bag of willicks to look forward to.

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