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Two Rooms And A View: 38 - A Trip To The Midlands

...They used to go cycling every weekend and in August 1947, I joined them. We visited such places as Stratford-on-Avon, Evesham and Worcester. On one of these exciting days out, we took a camera with us and Dennis took a number of snaps of Addie and me. After getting nothing more than a natural frown out of me, I recall Addie taking me aside and trying to teach me to smile. With my serious disposition, she had quite a job!..

Robert Owen recalls a happy holiday with his aunt and uncle in the Midlands when he was 12-years-old.

For earlier chapters of Robert's richly-remembered life story click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

I shall never forget the school holidays of 1947. First I went on a Boy's Brigade camp during Race Week and then in August, Addie and her husband Dennis invited me to spend some time with them in Birmingham. This was the first of three wonderful holidays with a style of living to which I was totally unaccustomed. Getting there and back at minimum cost was the first problem and an inventive, if illegal, solution was developed.

There was a daily bus service run by Hall Brothers from South Shields to Coventry, about twenty miles from Birmingham but the fare was still expensive for our circumstances. Coincidentally, my other sister's husband, Leslie, worked as a driver for this firm. He often had to travel to Nottingham with an empty bus and return the same day as part of the scheduled service. He suggested that the next time he did this, I should just join him. I could then hitch-hike the last part of the journey. After a few days as expected, Leslie came in one night and said, "I am going empty to Nottingham tomorrow at 6 a.m. Are you coming?" I jumped at the chance.

The next morning, equipped with an attache case, travel instructions and a small amount of money, Leslie and I were on our way by 6 a.m. I had never been up so early in my life. A few hours later, when the post office opened, a telegram was to be sent from one sister to another saying, "Robert arriving tonight." In the meantime, I was the only passenger in a forty-seater coach, heading south on the old Al road. I recall the excitement of passing places like Durham and Darlington and stopping at a transport cafe at Catterick for breakfast. In my innocence, and in an attempt to save money, I had opted to try hitch-hiking the last part of the journey to Coventry. Therefore, at about 11 a.m., I was dropped off on the Nottingham ring road. It is incredible to think that nobody in the family had attempted to stop me hitch-hiking at such a vulnerable age. Standing at the side of the road, I must have looked like someone who had run away from home a tall, thin twelve-year-old with a case in hand trying to thumb a lift from passing traffic.

I soon found that hitch-hiking was not as easy as it looked. After half-an-hour with no one stopping, I was re-thinking my strategy when a car suddenly pulled up alongside me. The only problem was that it was a police car. The uniformed policeman viewed me suspiciously and asked my name, address and where I was going. I must have convinced him I was genuine because he then proceeded to warn me about the dangers of hitch-hiking. He confirmed that I had sufficient money for the bus to Coventry and said he would take me to the nearest bus stop in the police car. So I continued my eventful journey via the hospitality of the Nottingham Constabulary and then the Midland Red Bus Company.

At Coventry bus station, I had been instructed to get a bus to Birmingham and get off at the Swan Hotel, Yardley. This I did without any difficulty. I then had to get the No 11 Outer Circle bus to Stechford. Again this was not a problem until I asked for a single to Stechford. In his best Birmingham accent, the conductor replied, "You are going the wrong way mate. Get off, cross the road, and get another No 11 going the other way!" Nobody had told me that the No 11 Outer Circle goes both ways around Birmingham! Exhausted and starving after a twelve-hour, two hundred mile journey, I eventually arrived at Stechford , much to the relief of all concerned.

My sister's house was a modern three-bedroomed semidetached and sheer luxury compared to our Reed Street flat. It also had a large garden at the back that included a lawn and fruit trees. I was in another world. In the age before everyone had a car, Addie and Dennis owned a tandem and an ordinary bike. They used to go cycling every weekend and in August 1947, I joined them. We visited such places as Stratford-on-Avon, Evesham and Worcester. On one of these exciting days out, we took a camera with us and Dennis took a number of snaps of Addie and me. After getting nothing more than a natural frown out of me, I recall Addie taking me aside and trying to teach me to smile. With my serious disposition, she had quite a job!

Dennis was also a keen golfer and introduced me to his favourite game at Marston Green Golf Course. Despite my brother-in-law's tuition, I soon discovered that I had neither the skill nor the patience for this, then, upmarket game. Many years later however, Dennis's coaching was rewarded when his son and my name-sake completed a hole-in-one at thirteen years of age.

During the long hot summer of 1947, while the Middlesex cricket twins Dennis Compton and Bill Edrich broke batting records by scoring 7,355 runs and 30 centuries between them, I saw my first County Championship cricket match. It was at Edgebaston and I remember being amazed at the size of the ground and the speed of a fast bowler called Pritchard. I also visited Villa Park to see a pre-season friendly football match and had a day at Birmingham races. Those three weeks in August were undoubtedly the most exciting and happiest of my life. They provided memories I will never forget.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and I was extremely depressed when I had to return home at the end of the month, after such a wonderful holiday.

Settling down again in our small and crowded flat, after enjoying the luxury of a modern semi-detached house and the comradeship of my first Boys' Brigade camp, was an unpleasant anti-climax. I became very unhappy and grossly dissatisfied with the cards I had been dealt in life. I missed the freedom of my own bedroom, indoor sanitation and the friendship of people my own age. It took a very long time for me to adjust and it was only the prospect of doing the same next year that kept me going!

I did the same twice in 1948, once in the summer and then again with my mother when we were invited to spend Christmas with Addie and Dennis. I easily recall the later occasion because, for the first time in my life, I experienced a formal, family Yuletide. Dennis's mother and father were also there and we all sat down to a traditional Christmas dinner, with a pile of presents beside our plates. Afterwards, we opened the presents, listened to the King's speech on the wireless, played cards and Dennis showed me how to play chess. It was a Christmas I shall never forget.

I remember my 1949 holiday in Birmingham for two reasons. First, I had to curtail my stay due to a pre-arranged cricket coaching session at South Shields cricket ground. Second, for the first time in my life, I took a friend back 'home' for tea after an evening out. The friend was John Taylor, an older colleague from the church I attended in Talbot Road, South Shields. John had attended the Boys' Brigade camp with us the previous year and I got to know him quite well. Since then, his work had taken him to Birmingham and now he was in lodgings at nearby Acock's Green. We met and enjoyed an evening of tennis together and afterwards he came back to my sister's house for a light supper.

Addie was expecting her first baby in September 1949, so soon after I returned home my mother travelled to Birmingham to help with the birth. My niece Marian was born on 10th September and my mother returned home a week or so later.

A few months after returning, she complained about tiredness, excessive thirst and losing weight. One of her rare visits to the doctor confirmed that she was suffering from diabetes. This meant a life-time of a strict diet and daily insulin injections. She was not pleased and was not a good patient. Her illness also stopped her working in the hotels during the summer. Instead, with the aid of her old friend Ethel Halliday, she got a part-time job, as what used to be known as a Home Help. Ethel was one of the first home helps to be appointed when the service was started after the war, and she recommended her former school friend to Miss Mycock, the Supervisor. Working in this capacity, they visited and helped the sick, infirm and elderly people in their own homes. Unfortunately, my mother was not suited for this type of work. She was far too sensitive and used to get too involved in their needs, often visiting them again the in the evening and doing a lot of unpaid overtime.


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