It is fifty years since my mom and dad, Olwyne and Ernie, got married. Fifty years. Looking back from five decades and a new century on it is hard to imagine what life was like back in 1963. And, so I want to refresh your memories and take you back on a journey, back in history to 1963 and to share some personal memories from the last half a century or so.
The year began with the worst winter since 1947 and the coldest recorded since 1659. The so-called Big Freeze began on the 29th December 1962, following the last great smog in London, with blizzards blanketing the country. Everything ground to a halt. Thankfully, the first thaw began on the 6th March and so the snow was well out of the way before the Big Day, the wedding.
Other things were also much the same back in the day. Unfortunately. Birmingham City were struggling even then, with Gill Merrick’s team finishing 20th in the old First Division, avoiding relegation by just 2 points, despite a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa at St Andrews.
An average house cost just £3,160, while you could snap up a Ford Cortina for just £675.
News stories were dominated by the defection of the spy, Kim Philby, Charles de Gaulle’s veto of the UK’s entry into the EEC, Belching’s report into the railways, the Profumo Affair, the Great Train Robbery, a missing school boy called John Kilbride and, of course, the assassination of President JF Kennedy.
Plus ca change…..
Cleopatra and Summer Holidays were the big box-office hits of the year, while children everywhere hid behind the sofa for the first ever episode of Doctor Who on TV. This was the year when Puff the Magic Dragon – the soundtrack to our family car journeys for many a year – was playing on our wireless, and, the Beatles released their first ever hit – Please, Please Me – although my dad was still listening to James Last and dancing the waltz.
Apart from Doctor Who, there was nothing much on the telly in those days and so, just seventeen months after the wedding, my big sister, Jenny, was born, with yours truly arriving just eighteen months after that. And, we both share some very happy childhood memories. Mostly.
They never beat us. Well, they rarely beat us. And, when they did beat us they were always careful not to leave any visible marks. I am joking of course. They didn’t beat us. Mostly.
But, to be honest, they could have been forgiven for doing so. They had a lot to put up with, what with the shoplifting, the truancy, the booze, the fighting, the trips to casualty, the police being called, the sex, and the drugs. But thankfully, Jenny grew out of all that and has been transformed into the respectable nearly fifty-year-old lady you see before you today (that’ll teach you to nominate your baby brother for speech-making duty……).
Mom and dad have both worked hard throughout these fifty years. My dad had been an apprentice jeweller, a mechanic and a milkman. Indeed, my dad was Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West, before becoming the company chauffeur at Fort Dunlop, where he worked for some 40 years. He had, though, always wanted to be a carpenter and it makes me smile to think of him working on his wheelbarrows and other creations in the woodwork room at the Village today.
Mom often held down two jobs at a time to help make ends meet. She worked the night shift in a factory, making Valour gas fires, so that she would always be at home when my sister and myself came in from school. Mom worked as a barmaid, and she managed an off-license, for ease of access but she is trying to stay away from the booze at the moment. Mostly.
She worked as an auxiliary nurse and finally qualified as a building inspector in the housing department before retirement. Retirement? I think she is busier now than she has ever been.
They both worked hard and saved long for all that we had. And, Jenny and I had a happy childhood. Mostly. A childhood when two things were constant no matter how hard times were – Sunday lunch and an annual holiday. Mom and dad scrimped and saved and did without all year to give us all two weeks away together in the summer, and to ensure that we always ate a Sunday roast.
And, do you remember how different food was back in the 1970s and 80s? This was a time when only the French ate horse. This was a time when the slow cooker, pressure cooker, the coffee percolator and the Breville sandwich toaster were the cutting edge of modern kitchen technology. When you bought your greens from the greengrocer, your bread from the baker, your dried goods from the grocer, your meat from the butcher, your fish from the fish monger, mom’s booze from an off-license, and your frozen peas from Kwik Save, and the only take-away options were fish ‘n chips or a Chinese – and neither of those would deliver. We ate out, at a Beefeater restaurant, only on very special occasions, feasting on prawn cocktail, well-done steak, and black forest gateau, which mom would wash down with an Irish coffee, or two.
Mom is a very good cook but back then every main meal would feature potatoes – roasted, new, boiled or mashed, or, more typically, chipped. For a long time I thought we might be Irish. The chip pan was a family heirloom passed down through the ages and with the oil rarely changed across the generations. Every meal featured bread. Sliced white with butter (or dripping). I can still see my grandma sitting on the sofa and roaring at the wrestling on World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon while the butter softened on the hearth next to the gas fire in the lounge. Saturday teas sometimes consisted entirely of jam sandwiches – my dad’s favourite.
Sunday lunchtime meant the family around the table with roast meat on a bone, roast potatoes and parsnips, two veg, home-made gravy, mint sauce for lamb, horseradish or mustard for beef, apple sauce for pork, stuffing and cranberry for poultry, all washed down with a glass of lager and lime, home-brewed by my dad in a big yellow plastic bucket under the stairs, or, in the latter years, a bottle of Blue Nun or Black Tower. Or two. We were very sophisticated. Sunday lunches would be completed by a pie or a crumble with Bird’s custard. The Sunday roast used to last for days – cold meat with bubble-and-squeak on Monday, and a cottage or shepherd’s pie on Tuesday.
Holidays. Now, we didn’t go far and we were often “persistent” – four years on the trot at Whitecliff Bay in the Isle of Wight, three years at Ogwen Bank in Snowdonia, the Lake District, the Peak District, and the occasional foray to that far off, foreign land which is Scotland.
Our accommodation got better as the 70s and 80s progressed. The decades began with a “family tent” – a huge construction of canvas and inter-connecting poles that took eight adults to assemble correctly, with reference to a two-volume instruction manual. The decades progressed through a trailer tent, to our pride-and-joy, a four-berth caravan. Four berth if you were a family of Pygmies, which we were not. Mostly. Compact and bijou, it was a masterpiece of British engineering. It was full of cleverly maximised storage compartments, tables that deconstructed to form beds, levers for pumping water, and a much needed vent in the roof. We had an awning which provided an outside room in which we could spread out in the many times when the weather was too bad for venturing out. And, we had our own portaloo. Luxury.
Our holidays were bacon and eggs, tinned veg and mincemeat, Calor-gas, Pakamacs and wellies, badminton, swingball, card games and icecream. And midges. Our holidays were mom and dad, me and my sister, grandma and grandad, Nan, aunties, uncles and cousins. Family. Our holidays were bliss. Mostly.
We have always been a close family. Mostly. For many years we lived in Holly Lane in Erdington, in the same street as my Nan, Aunty May and Uncle Phil who lived in the house where dad had been born, and my mom’s sister, Aunty Joan, who had married my dad’s best friend and childhood neighbour, John, and my cousins. Every other weekend we would drive up to see my grandma and grandad in Warrington, until they too moved to Birmingham. And, every other weekend we would spend Saturday evenings with Aunty Lily, Uncle Les and a Bacardi and coke.
Mom, dad, Joan and John were an inseparable foursome throughout their middle age and travelled the world together in the back of a Winnebego.
Mom and dad have welcomed our partners, Robin and Cathy, into the busom of the family and have been the perfect grandparents to Christopher and Thomas. And it is great to see mom and dad still spending so much of their time with their sisters and Uncle Phil, and with all of their new family and friends at the Village.
But life has not been without its difficulties and there has been a problem or two along the way. Too many family and friends have come and gone and the rest of us have all got older, and some wiser. Mostly.
But throughout the last fifty years I have always known that my dad loved my mom, and my mom loved him back. They have worked hard and done their best as husband and wife, as parents, grandparents, as son and daughter, brother and sister, aunt and uncle, and as friends. But, more importantly, they have done it all together.
I love them both very much nd would ask you all to join me in saying thank you, and in wishing them both a happy 50th anniversary, good health and many, many more years together to come. Mom and dad. Olwyne and Ernie.