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A Shout From The Attic: Rites of Passage And Dragon Slaying

...Sundays were different days. Morning broke with no sound in the streets and little stirring in the house. On weekdays and Saturdays my granddad woke before the whole household and went down to scrape the grate out, lay the fire and get it going. He would then turn on the oven to warm up the lodgers’ breakfasts. On Sunday, everything took place later. The aroma of Sunday was bacon and eggs cooking. The smell travelled through the house. Even today, bacon and eggs only seem right on Sundays. In many ways, I continue to be locked into my childhood...

Ronnie Bray looks back on his adolescent days.

Woolworth’s was an absolute treasure-trove. Then it was possible to find all sorts of things in Woolworth’s who advertised their wares as “Nothing over sixpence.” War memorabilia, such as surplus webbing gaiters, smelling of powerful disinfectant or de-lousing agent, were to be found on the large mahogany counters. Young giggly girls, who were paid attention by callow youths with sports jackets, slim-Jim ties, and Brylcreem-plastered hair, staffed the counters. At such times, it could be difficult to get anyone to take your threepenny bit for something tooth-rotting and fattening. The experience encouraged patience in the young.

A real treat was a visit to the Beast Market at the bottom end of town. There were two fish and chip shops that had tables downstairs and upstairs where one could take a tray with fish and chips, bread and butter, and a pot of tea, sit, and eat a meal. It was almost too grown up for words. It was in one of these fish cafes that I met and overcame my fear of tripe.

Known only by reputation in our house I made a determined effort, bought a plateful of best honeycomb, sprinkled it liberally with vinegar, salt and pepper and got to work with my fork. It did not look very appetising, but its “outer semblance did belie its soul’s immensity” and I found it to be delicious. Although it is now on my index expurgatus for its richness in cholesterol, I occasionally sneak a quarter of a pound and eat it with my shoes on my feet, my staff in my hand and my cloak on lest any find me out in my sin.

Another childhood dragon that I slew was mycophobia. Mushrooms were another item never found in 121. Naturally, I heard about them and since everyone spoke so highly of them, I decided I ought at least to try them. That way whenever the conversation drifted towards edible fungus I felt I would be able to make a positive contribution. I always feel that I have nothing to offer in a serious discussion. It is a throwback to childhood and no doubt explains my surprise when I was awarded a degree.

The Picture Drome, which we called the Ranch House for the number of westerns it hosted, eventually changed its name to the Curzon Cinema, got a new sign and put up its prices. Shortly afterwards a very dapper gent with an unspeakably beautiful daughter, greying, distinguished hair and a moustache to match opened the American Curzon Coffee Bar next door to the cinema. It was all coloured plastic and chrome and American offering some strange brew of coffee that came as a surprise to one whose experience of coffee had been restricted to Camp liquid, mostly consumed straight from the bottle at Scout camp.

The menu boasted mushroom soup. I ordered a quantity, paid my shilling, tried not to look as out of place as I felt and the tawny gloop was duly deposited in front of me with a degree of deference to which I was totally unaccustomed. Taking a deep breath - never a good thing to do when attempting to eat - I ingested my first spoonful of mushroom soup with real mushrooms floating therein. Slurp, gulp, swallow, delicious! I was hooked. Mushrooms had found a place in the Bray Hall of Fame alongside tripe. Growing up could be fun!

Chinny’s, down what was East Parade, was an important part of growing up in Huddersfield. It has been long demolished to make way for the Queensway ring road, was a dance hall operated by Charles Frost. In earlier days, it had somehow achieved the name of Chinny’s probably after a previous owner. It was a magnet for young folks eager to learn the fox trot, quickstep, waltz, tango and meet persons of opposite gender, but not necessarily in that order. It was a nice warm place with a revolving mirrored globe hanging from the ceiling and good music played on a record player. A record player was electrically driven and amplified and was thus one step ahead of the acoustic gramophone.

Hundreds of young people would meet there and enjoy themselves. There was no bar, few smoked cigarettes, no one used drugs, and I never saw the remotest signs of trouble. I am not one to bemoan what young folk are like nowadays, but the world has changed, and young people will always reflect the world in which they have to settle down and grow up.

At Chinny’s, I learned the rudiments of the basic steps of the quickstep and the waltz. That specific definition should not be wasted on the discerning reader. My technique in these two dances was matured when I started going to MIA after I became a latter-day saint, but that was still a year or so off my Chinny’s experience. I also learned some of the social graces but was too shy to practise them. Dance halls were where most of what was happening was happening. The cinemas were full of people looking for friends but the audience at a cinema was not very mobile and there was little opportunity to mix and meet.

As part of the summer ‘Holidays at Home’ run by the corporation, a marquee was erected at the south side of the large meadow. Dance bands were hired to play in them, admission charge was about a shilling, and it was the place to be. The floor was a temporary wooden one and it bounced up and down as the dancers went through their paces. I went a couple of times. Once with some plastic sunshades that had slats and no lens. They were like fashionable Venetian blinds. As usual, I was a spectator aching to participate but lacking the self-confidence. It seemed that no matter where I went I was still in the attic.

Sundays were different days. Morning broke with no sound in the streets and little stirring in the house. On weekdays and Saturdays my granddad woke before the whole household and went down to scrape the grate out, lay the fire and get it going. He would then turn on the oven to warm up the lodgers’ breakfasts. On Sunday, everything took place later. The aroma of Sunday was bacon and eggs cooking. The smell travelled through the house. Even today, bacon and eggs only seem right on Sundays. In many ways, I continue to be locked into my childhood.

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