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U3A Writing: Distress in Blackpool

Francis Barton tells of her distress as a child on an historic day.

Every year the mills of Bury closed down whilst maintenance work on the machines was carried out. The 24-hour work system was wearing on the weaving and spinning machines, and Bury like all the mill towns of Lancashire had a Wakes Week, which in effect was of two weeks duration without the mills belching their smoke into the sky. Inevitably Bury got the wet weeks in August.

True to our usual pattern, my family, consisting of my mother, an aunt, my older sister Brenda and I, took a week in Blackpool where the sands are of the very best castle-making consistency I had ever played with. And at age eight I was an expert.

Half of Bury was on the beaches in the afternoons as our town decamped to this our nearest resort.

My memory of one incident is still vivid in my mind, which reflects the deep distress that I alone suffered that summer's day.

It is evening, and dark. We are riding on the tram back to the bed-and-breakfast rooms down the darkening prom. No lights, the tower a dark shadow reaching up into the dusky sky. We are staying at South Shore and passing Manchester Square which, surprisingly, is gaudily lit with hosts of people milling round.

I am beach-tired and pay no heed as only a young child can do. Voices cry out and raucous singing echoes round the square. I am vaguely interested in the streetlights, which I have never seen before, when the tram comes to an abrupt halt.

A soldier is lying on the tracks of the tram. Instantly I am awake. Is he dead? Has a tram hit him? My fears bring on a rush of adrenalin. I am terrified and begin crying.

"No, no," my mother laughs. Too loudly. "He's alive. Nobody has hurt him."

This is even worse. I try to be a good girl. I hate being in trouble and here is a grown-up, lying on the tram tracks for no reason. Surely he will be in the most dreadful trouble. The tram driver must challenge him, maybe even run over him. I hide my head in my mother's clothes. I don't want to see what happens next. I know all about being shouted at for being naughty, but never have I been as naughty as this man.

Up ahead the tram driver is roaring with laughter. Such unrestrained shouts of laughter. Crowds are gathering, delighted with the entertainment.

“Oos drunk!"

"’E's 'ad a skin full, 'e 'as."

I experience deep distress. I cannot make sense of any of it. It is all too much for me to grasp. He is drunk. Then why is everybody so glad? It is against everything my mother has instilled in me, yet she, too, is being loud and boisterous.

It is quite a while before the depth of my distress is recognised by my mother. As the onlookers drag the drunken soldier off the tracks and give the tram driver a cheery wave, they form a conga dance round the brightly lit square.

"Shush, shush," Mother laughs, still bubbling in the general hilarity. "He's a soldier and it is the end of the war. He needn't go back to the front. Today is VJ day. We are at peace."

It was August 15, 1945. Japan had finally surrendered.

I cried on.

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