A selection of Life Stories produced on the Agbrigg Writers Life Writing Course held during the Summer of 2022 and supported by Wakefield Council Culture Grants
Imagine Wakefield on a scorching summer’s day in 1970
Weighing in at just short of 10lbs with a shock of black curly hair, my dad’s words of “born with a satchel ready for school”, come to mind. Apparently, I was a content baby, placid toddler and a quiet happy little girl. My quietness was often mistaken for having no confidence.
It was a shock to the family when my unwanted guest appeared for the first time. Adolescence is tricky, but this went beyond raging hormones and associated teenage moodiness. I had lost my sparkle and was no longer happy and content.
The unexpected guest stayed with me and my incredibly understanding parents for two years. I grappled with my tormented soul and with a limited vocabulary due to a lack of life experience, tried to articulate what was happening inside my mind. Fearful of being mistaken for mad, I only confided in my parents, my darkest fears being allayed as ‘non-events.
My quiet determination won through and my unwelcome guest packed up and went. Determined that this set back in my development would not define me, I got on with my life.
The same visitor brought its bags back again when I was in my mid-thirties. It had been loitering around like stalker for months. This time I was a much braver, articulate adult. A true Cancerian, I retreated into my shell, took stock, was kind to myself and waved it off throwing its baggage behind it.
If you receive a thump on the door from this unwanted visitor, invite it in, don’t wallow in its company, don’t let it get comfy, but do learn about yourself from it.
Imagine Wakefield on a scorching summer’s day in 2022, when I can say I am content with being me.
Still on the right lines?
“Christopher, fasten your own coat-buttons, you know you can. Aunt Kath made them really big so you could do it. I’m doing your brother’s so I can put him in the pushchair”. “Can you see the tram? Which way’s it going? Middleton or City Square?” Just as the biggest red electric tram grinds to a halt. My four-year-old legs scramble up the ringing circular staircase above the driver. To kneel up on the best leather seats to see out of the front. The King sat here in 1931. Not the tip up seats that trapped your fingers, never those. It had to be these leathered rounded seats next to the huge oak destination box with its’ shiny turned-brass handles. Handles that swapped Adel for Wellington Street and 1 for 28. Handles so the world outside knew just where we were going … even if we didn’t from inside. To sit and view the city from the best seats there could be. Tuppence to the terminus. Any terminus. Every terminus. Education started on those trams. By the time I was seven I knew what every street, every park, factory, every shop and school looked like and where it was. Just in time perhaps, because by 1960 tarmac closed over clanking tram rails for what seemed then would be forever. And green two-toned buses ruled the roads Seventy years pass. I see new plans for silent trams to run again the city’s streets. “Can we afford them?” echoes down the years. Others ask “how can we not?” … to save us all from roasting heat and deadly fumes. “Were we right,” I ask, “to let them slip through our fingers to the breaker’s yards of long ago?” The truth? I really still don’t know …
The Roller Coaster that is Wakefield Trinity
We weren’t always Wakefield trinity fans. I was offered free tickets by the mascot Daddy Cool and my husband said he would take our two children to a game. My daughter loved it and someone scored a length of the field try and she was hooked. They went to a second game and we decided to buy them season tickets and shirts. After about three seasons, my husband bought a season ticket too. I would listen to the matches on the radio and would gauge when to get the Sunday dinner ready for when they came home. I went to a couple of games and really enjoyed them. There was an offer for a half-season ticket and I followed that with a full season ticket. Now our lives are scheduled around games. We are Platinum Season Ticket holders and we go to all away games (with the exception of France.) During games I am very vocal: “Tackle him, get him down,” “Forward” and “Come on Wakefield!” I am no longer allowed to shout, “Wakefield, Wakefield” with accompanying arm punches. This is because during the pandemic, I was watching a game on tv and when the video ref awarded a try, I got so excited that I punched the air and dislocated my shoulder. I spent the rest of the evening in A+E and didn’t know the final score until one of the nurses found out for me. (We just lost.) This is something we do: Mick, Erin and me. My son stopped going a few years ago. My daughter dances with the cheerleaders and I get real enjoyment from the pre-match entertainment. We have made some good friends and experienced a lot of highs and lows following Mighty Trin. Rugby League is addictive.
I came early. Oxford was not ready for me and neither was my mother. You would think that she would know stuff having already delivered two sons but I suppose there is no accounting for girls. I worked it out that I was probably conceived in the week that we bombed Dresden in 1945. That beautiful town and many of its people was reduced to rubble with 3,900 tons of bombs and incendiary devices. I hope that I was born apologising. I gave mum toxaemia. I suppose I should apologise for that too. We were blue lighted to the Radcliffe Hospital where I made a forced entry. I didn’t remember of course but I do have a small memento from my birth – my first finger on my left hand has a damaged nail that grows wonky because one of the nurses was a touch clumsy hawling me out. My father had a car. He learnt to drive when Mum and he went off on their honeymoon to Devon. No, he did not have to pass a driving test then. I can imagine how scary that must have felt with a new wife on board too. So, I must have come home in style to Norreys Road where we lived until I was eight. I grew under the sky of my brothers in that house. It was full of the sounds of the menfolk: sportsmen all. My mum climbed the greasy pole of social approval by making cricket teas every week – ‘make them cucumber sandwiches – give the other team indigestion’ She also made tea in a giant enamel pot with a chip out of the side. And, as it is now in our home, the radio was always on. I still know the words to ‘There once was an ugly duckling’ which Uncle Mac seemed to play every other Saturday. And there are soft memories of the closing tune of Listen with Mother – I now know as a snatch of Faure’s Dolly Suite but then it meant that Mum was about to shout ‘time to go’ Coat, hat and shoes on, and holding on tight to the black metal seat on the back of her bike ‘Keep your feet away from the wheels’ thrown over her shoulder as we pedalled fast down Cumnor Hill to Pooks. It would be called a nursery school now, but it had aspirations to be more than that, and so did my Mum. Food was plentiful, unusual in that time when rationing was still in operation. My father had purchased an acre of land which had been planted as an orchard and also had a grove of Kentish cobnut trees. Eventually, he was to build a house there but in the meanwhile he followed the Ministry of Agriculture’s advice of ‘Dig for Victory’, even though the war was well over. Every six months we would buy a box of day-old chicks from Garsington. Balls of golden fluff with shar peaks tweeting all the way home on my lap. Quite a lot of them survived so long as they managed to push their way to the centre of the heat lamp that was installed in our garage. The resulting pullets were moved systematically around the orchard to clear the ground – except for the nettles. They did not like those. Then Dad would turn the scratched clean, manured land with a rotovator and planted everything that we could eat. The hens occasionally featured too. But most of all I remember the apples ranging from Bramley cookers right through to Worcester Permain and Comice pears.