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Mouldy oldies

Silver sixpence.

In the process of recovering from the boat sinking in 2017, I have come across lots of 'treasures' in odd places. One of these was this 'silver sixpence' mounted on a hand turned plinth and as I was also casting round for something to provide a turn buckle to retain my weigh scales, decided that this would combine utility and nostalgia in equal measures.

'silver sixpence' mounted on a hand turned plinth

Mum and dad always used to have a bet on the outcome of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. They had a standard wager between them each year of six pence [2.5 pence]. Mum always supported Cambridge and dad Oxford. Now this caused a particular problem to them when we went decimal in 1971 as sixpenny bits were no longer available. To solve this problem, dad turned the little base and glued an old sixpence onto it. I think he had to pay 5p [1 shilling] for the sixpence.

Now you note that I refer to this item as a 'silver sixpence' and this is indeed how our family always used to refer to them after a memorable village 'do' when Sylvia Smith, a very nice and proper lady of the village, organised a party for the village children. Sylvia introduced a sort of dancing game where partners were exchanged when the music stopped and a 'silver sixpence' introduced at the start, was also secretly passed on when the partners were exchanged. This went on for some time and the idea was that at the end of the game whoever was holding the 'silver sixpence' would get to keep it.

The game duly came to an end and the 'silver sixpence' holder was asked to identify thereself. Much to Sylvia's consternation not one but two people stood up clutching 'silver sixpences' and declared themselves as the winners.

Sylvia rose magnificently to the occasion announcing the winners and declaring that 'Someone has secretly circulated another silver sixpence so we have two winners'

  Turn buckle.


Whooping cough.

I came across this little piece the other day on a favourite website, Beachcombing's bizarre history blog. The entry about whooping cough amused me and reminded me of the time when sister Ann and I went down with the disease together. Of course in those days, the 1950s, you were expected to get better or die and not much was done to expedite either outcome. Our whooping coughs just wouldn't clear up and mother was beside herself with both children in such a state. So I sent this little recollection to Beach which he has included in his blog.

When i was little, probably about 7 years old, in 1950, my sister and i caught whooping cough. We were brought up in what was then a very small, rural and remote village in Cheshire. [UK]

A recurring pleasure to me as a small boy would be the regular visit to the village of road mending gangs with their steam roller and tar spreading machines. When we caught the whooping cough, my mother was beside herself having two heaving and wheezing children on her hands with no cure in sight. Somewhere she had learned that the smell of coal tar could alleviate the coughing so we were dully marched outside and made to follow the road gang, inhaling the hot road tar as we walked.

I can't remember whether this produced the desired effect, but I do remember a pleasant afternoon spent following the roller and road gang, inhaling the tar, the steam from the engine and the sooty smoke from its boiler.

Of course that memory triggered lots of other ones too.

After the experience of the road tar, she decided that what we needed was a good breath of fresh air along the river bank. So off she set with Ann in her pushchair and me walking alongside. The only problem was that the river Weaver was a good 3 miles away at Newbridge. However, the weather was good, warm even and the walk would do us all good. When we arrived, a little hot and bothered, at Newbridge, mother took a deep breath and set off resolutely along the towpath in the direction of Vale Royal. We had only gone a short distance before we were accosted by a man on a bike who said that we could not carry on with our walk. Apparently, this was the only day in the year when the Weaver Navigation closed the towpath to assert its control over it to prove it was not a public footpath. We could only turn round and head back for home.

Ann and I around this time

I wanted to find a suitable pic for this post so went through my rather mouldy collection of photographs and found the one above. I have absolutely no recollection of where this was taken though we are clearly on holiday as I am holding a crab line in my hand. I wonder whether it might be Porlock, on the lock gate there, where I do remember catching crabs. Neither of us look very happy about it.

My haircut reminds me though that our neighbours, the Tomlinson's, had acquired the very latest in innovation in the shape of manual hair clippers which they lent to my mother. Its easy they said, just put a pudding basin on his head and cut round the bits that are left sticking out. I don't remember it cutting so much as forcibly plucking clipper widths of hair from my head with each squeeze of its handles.

Rocket Rolf

I taught for a short while at Bingley Grammar School. I get quite a few requests for copies of the staff photograph of 1981 and I'm putting a copy of it here to make it easier for surfers to find.

In those days, I had a full beard and I used to commute to school on a motor bike, hence my nickname of 'Rocket Rolf'.

Fortunately, the place has changed rather a lot since 1981 but see if you can find 'Rocket Rolf' in this staff photograph. [Wearing a blue tie with a Harris Tweed jacket.]


Bingley Grammar School staff 1981. Click for higher resolution image

At the school, I worked with Frank A. Ford [FAF] in the physics department and also helped out with various tasks of a [slightly] scientific nature. Managing the school's outdoor swimming pool had somehow devolved to Frank and as his amanuensis I was soon delegated to take on the role of checking its chlorine level. Daily in the summer term I would measure the chlorine level in the water and adjust it by adding hypochlorite. The preferred way to do this was from the underground pool control room, where the hypochlorite was injected into the circulating water where it diffused quickly through the body of the water. If a quick fix was needed, it could be tipped directly into the pool but this method led to local high concentrations.

The school held a swimming gala at the end of the summer term, with lots of pupils swimming and competing in the pool. This put a heavy load on the sterilisation plant but I had prepared and had upped the chlorine levels overnight in anticipation of the big day. Sure enough once the competition started, the chlorine levels dropped dramatically and I made the big mistake of telling this to Frank over lunch. Immediately, [he worked in immediate mode] he rushed out to the pool with a large drum of hypochlorite which he emptied into the water. I expect that this settled the germs alright but the poor kids all had red eyes for weeks and I suspect that their regulation school swim wear may have turned a lighter shade of pale.

I enjoyed the swimming pool though for another reason, in the winter it froze solid so I used to bring in my ice skates and have a good whiz round after school.

The physics department also had a dark room and some of my A level students developed and printed their own photographs. This is how I come to have these pics of another of my sporting extra curricula activities.

The school bought a new set of enamelled steel rugby posts. The verticals, came in two parts which slotted together. Holes were dug at the ends of the rugby pitch and the posts were set in concrete and the crossbar put in place. Then it was realised that the top bits were missing and no-one had a clue as to how they could be slotted into place. This was particularly galling as the hallowed first team rugby pitch now had all the appearance of a soccer pitch, anathema to the rugby players.

This dilemma occupied several staff meetings and multiple solutions were proposed and it seemed as though the only way to fix the tops in place would be by hiring an expensive crane. [They should of course have been fitted before the posts were erected] Now as it happened, I had a scaffolding tower, AND I had modified it to reach to even greater heights by incorporating four lengths of straight pole between the usual risers. AND I had my physics class who could benefit from some applied mechanics AND take a few photographs as well.

Holding the extra section - fully risk assessed

Practical physics


In November 2007, I went to the 'Creative Clusters' reception at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This was an event to celebrate several initiatives taken by the College and partners in developing the fashion and textiles sector in London.

Zandra Rhodes gave the address and much networking and wine flowing took place. Models, many trained by the College accompanied by their clothes designers took to the stage and then circulated amongst the throng to promote their wares. [or wears even]


I got talking to two people from the Equal Partnership, a European funded project and they scuttled off to bring me a copy of their project dissemination document.


It was called the 'La Credenza Equal Partnership' and of course I wanted to know just what that meant. It turned out that they had chosen the name because it sounded nice, a bit like 'cellar door', but don't get me started on that one!

They also said that it means a sort of cupboard. Now as it happens, I well knew what it meant as I have 'fond' memories of just such an item.

When I was very little, my grandmother had this ghastly sideboard thingy with two curved glass fronted display cabinets on either side of a wider cupboard.


One day when I was visiting she asked if I would like a marshmallow teacake as a treat. Well of course I would like one having become a chocolate addict now that sugar rationing had ended. A marshmallow teacake by the way was a circular cardboard disk about 3cm in diameter with a hemispherical blob of marshmallow on top, the whole covered in sickly milk chocolate.

Taken from:
History World

Now this was long before the days of sell-by dates, E numbers or ingredient lists and grey haired old grannies would give out such treats without a thought for the future gastronomic welfare of their grandchildren. The truth is that that munchmallow had been in the cupboard for rather a long time, probably since before the war, and when I bit into it, the luscious marshmallow had decayed into a musty dust and I swear that about 6 spiders escaped triumphant from their chocolaty lair.

Needless to say, I have been more careful of little old ladies ever since.

None of us liked that sideboard, one of the glass panels was cracked and it was encrusted with gold ormolu and was far too fancy for our rustic tastes. When my grandmother died, we all resisted having the thing but once my father had replaced the broken glass with a nice piece of Darvic, we knew that further resistance was futile and it came to our house.

Eventually, mum and dad decided to build a new bungalow and my mother in a master stroke of genius declared that if she was to have a new house, she would have new furniture to go with it. At last the way was clear for us to part with the thing. Valuers were appointed and it was sent off to auction. It raised somewhat more than any of us could imagine and we also discovered its real name....... was a CREDENZA!

If you would like one of your own, this was available not so long ago:
Stunning mid 19th Century Victorian figured walnut Credenza with cross moulded top trimmed with good ormulou beading over pair of glazed doors flanked by glazed bow ends. All decorated in the finest ormulou work and banded in tulip wood. Retains original sage velvet shelved interior. Measures 68" wide x 42" x 14.5" deep. Circa: C.1860 Price: £4950 Link to antique shop

Why my name is Apricot.

I was born at my grandparents' house in Hartford. As this was during the war, my mother had moved up from the bombing belt around Southend-on-sea to stay with her in-laws in the relative safety of Cheshire. My father was away from home in Canada doing his pilot training, and also staying in the house was my great grandmother. By all accounts, she was a formidable old lady in her 90s and confined to what was then called a Bath chair. She was also as deaf as a post and used a speaking trumpet to augment her hearing. I have one recollection of her when I think we went to visit her in Matlock about 3 years later when my sister was born.

Apparently, before I was born, there was much debate about what I should be called. You can be sure that the old ladies had strong opinions about this and so did my mother. She was convinced that I would be a girl and in that case I would be called 'Cherry'. My great grandmother was just as convinced that I would be a boy and that I should be called 'John' after her late husband. I imagine that this debate enlivened the dark evenings before Christmas in those pre-television days.

When I was duly delivered, my mother announced that my name would be 'Christopher'. This did not go down well with great grandmother who kept enquiring as to the baby's name. Somehow she had grasped that I would be named after some sort of fruit and querulously demanded of my mother 'What are you going to call him, Apricot?' At this point, to settle any further debate my mother made a large sign on which she wrote 'The baby's name is CHRISTOPHER'.

grand and great grand parents
and here he is!

Taking photographs in war-time Britain was very difficult as film was not available. This did not apply in Canada and my father was desperate to see a photograph of his new born son. What could be more natural than him sending unexposed film to his family in England. The trouble was that all post was subject to scrutiny and film was a forbidden commodity. Dad got round this by hollowing out the contents of toothpaste tubes and replacing their contents with film. As result, we have several baby pictures which would not have been possible otherwise. It was a further 18 months before he got to meet me.

My poor father was a victim of another war-time measure which my mother never let him forget. When he got news of my birth he sent her a telegram of congratulation. The snag was that all wireless traffic was restricted and to save bandwidth, only pre-formatted messages could be sent which were identified by a message number. Also the message originator had to be fully identified with full name, rank and number. Father chose what seemed like a good message at his end and the telegraph was duly sent. This was reconstituted at the receiving end and the message relayed to my mother.

What it said was:


I think my mother thought that the amount of effort she had gone through deserved something rather more than just 'best felicitations' and the use of his full name and not just Geoffrey gave the impression that hers might not be the only baby of his being welcomed into the world.

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