Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A radical decision

Volume 2 – Chapter 3 –part 2 - post 48

The host of uneducated and unskilled people in the country were all in the same position as I was; there were no prospects, no chance of a career or any opportunity to improve one’s quality of life. Even when a promising job did appear there always seemed to be fifty or sixty good people with better qualifications ahead of you in the scramble to secure it. It also appeared that the lucky person who succeeded was nearly always someone who knew the right people; it was a case of who you knew not what you knew. I could see no way of improving my future, no way of breaking the impasse I was facing; it is hardly surprising that I was to come to a radical decision eventually.

Maybe the way out of my dilemma was to leave the country and look for opportunities elsewhere; others had done it in the past, why should I not join them in chasing those hopes and dreams of a better future? It would not be possible if I revealed my true circumstances but I had decided to be dishonest and hide the truth. I shall describe some of the various and complicated reasons that influenced my thinking and resulted in me coming to this momentous decision; such as my father’s praise of New Zealanders he had met during the war who were members of the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group) and were men my father admired. I had met friends of my Aunt and Uncle, a family who had emigrated some months before, and one of their children had written to me describing their new life in glowing terms. Then my Aunt and Uncle had followed their friends to New Zealand and I could go to stay with them while I got established. Other influences that affected my thinking more than anything were such things as my disillusionment with the way of life my homeland offered in return for the total loyalty and service it expected from its citizens. I had been taught that it was an honour to be born an Englishman, that there was no better way of life anywhere, but it simply wasn’t true.

The only option left was to go and start again as those who had any grit had done in the past; our way of life could be the best, all we had to do was escape the class system that was preventing change, and create a new and better England somewhere else. This was the sort of fuzzy logic that led me to my decision to book a passage to New Zealand; and there was some sense in it of course, but many facets of the overall problem escaped me at the time. I was attracted by Australia and Canada but New Zealand offered a better chance it seemed. I was thinking of myself exclusively giving no thought to the needs of my family and relatives, it was only some years after I had made my decision that I realised the importance of these other factors. I gave no thought  to my roots, which was another important ingredient in the mix but an aspect that I did not take into account at the time.. My lack of awareness was to some degree understandable, I was one of those who came from a background which was not bound by the usual ties. I had never lived in the same street all my life, I did not expect to die in the place where I was born, I had been told to stand on my own two feet, and that is exactly what I was trying to do. So I took this major step and applied for a passage to a new life where others were making a better England, a place that was fit for heroes, fit for honest decent people who deserved better.

I smile now when I think back to the way my youthful and immature mind worked at the time, I saw myself as honest and deserving yet the first thing I did was set out to deceive and behave unlawfully.
Passages to New Zealand were in short supply; most of the shipping lines in the UK were committed to carrying the large numbers who had applied to travel under the free emigration scheme. I could not apply under that scheme of course because it entailed a strict medical examination, and a need for work skills and qualifications. The only way for me was to pay my own passage, and even then I had to tell lies by declaring that I had never had a contagious disease. With everything in order it was still necessary to wait for a year or two for a berth on a ship, though that was improved if you were willing to travel on a foreign vessel, and when I found that the travel rules were less stringent with foreign shipping lines, I decided to put my name down for a passage with the Nederland’s Shipping Company. It still meant a wait of about a year but that was the best I could do.

In the meantime my father decided that he would buy a house, for the first time in their lives my parents would have a home of their own. Yet again I had no involvement in the future course of events that were to change our lives, I have no idea what moved my father to commit himself to this financial investment, but then I knew nothing of his financial situation what so ever. It was 1955 when we moved from Blurton to Hanley a move that was not only a step up the social ladder, but was an improvement in location as well. The house my father had chosen was a small brick built house at 69 The Parkway which was opposite one of the rear entrances to Hanley Park. It was a quality built house that had been erected by the builder himself for his own occupation, with a number of features which were not common in most houses at the time. It had two toilets, one being outside in the back yard, the other in the upstairs bathroom which was beautifully tiled in its entirety. It had a French window looking out from the dining room into the back yard, and heavy oak fittings throughout the house; on the other hand it had only two bedrooms. The private houses built around the park had once belonged to the elite and the wealthy who had considered this location by the park as a suitable one for their sort of people. That may have been in Victorian times but now it was changing, many of the larger houses had been converted into flats, and gradually the class of person living in the area began to drop. Eventually it became a popular location for Indians and other new arrivals that flooded into the country in wave after wave, though for the moment it was still considered a desirable location.

The road skirting the park was quiet with little traffic, which was a boon to anyone living in a large city, the only time it became noisy was when the Wakes Fair came to town. Behind our house was a large area of open ground which was where the fair set up its stalls and entertainments each August, for a few days it became all noise and coloured lights with a constant crowd of people streaming in an out all day and well into the night. The locals enjoyed this visit with all the fun of the fair, especially the children who found it very exciting; it was not too much of a bother for us either because we had a high brick wall around our back yard, which kept out intruders and most of the noise. We enjoyed the fair with even my mother making a brief visit; she even won a prize when the man who charged sixpence to guess your weight found himself way off target with my mother, who had what she described as big bones, a family characteristic.

My father also attended one day though he was only escorting my two brothers and I, on this occasion there was a little excitement. We had paused to watch the riders on a large roundabout when we observed a man who was collecting the money as the machine went round, steal a girl’s purse and slip it into his pocket. The moment the ride came to a halt my father stepped forward and holding the young man by his arm, asked the girl to check for her purse, when she discovered it was missing Dad turned to the man and ordered him to produce it. The fellow had no choice but to comply with my father’s iron grip on him, maybe he thought that would be the end of it if he showed no resistance, but he was to find he was sadly mistaken. Having decided that the thief should face punishment for his dishonesty, my father instructed the young lady to accompany him to the police station and of he went frog-marching the thief in front of him. It was not the first time I had seen my father do this sort of thing, and I have to confess that I admired him for it and my respect for him increased when I saw his fearlessness and honesty in action.

In spite of the fairground visits our locality was a quiet one and remained so for some time to come, though eventually it changed, something I observed when returning for visits from Rhyl which were a regular thing until I left the country in 1962. One thing that changed the environment greatly was the building of several high rise blocks of flats which the town council instigated over a number of years. The first one which was the nearest to our house was only about 200 yards away, and the several hundred people who moved into it spread their depressing way of life around them like a miasma of foulness which tainted the whole area. With the building of the later blocks of flats the overall effects became even greater and spread further, but by this time my family had also moved on; it was a sad thing so see this slow deterioration in a community and the breaking down of its social structure.

This picture shows my brothers Paul and Douglas on holiday at the Butlins Camp at Skegness.

My description looks ahead of events, at least for now the location of our new address was an improvement; we were only a few minutes’ walk to the shopping centre which was one of the best in the Midlands. In the other direction it was about 15 or 20 minutes walk to the new offices on the outskirts of Fenton where my father worked. After nearly ten years Dad had become a section manager in the accounts office of the MEB (Midland Electricity Board) and their new office complex was a home from home to him. It included a social club and nearby there were sports facilities which were in constant use. By this time my father had turned fifty years old but he was still fit, and enjoyed his walk to work each day; he was also still playing tennis and in the next couple of years won tennis tournaments held at the Butlins Holiday Camps where he took the family, though I was not longer at home to share in this family pleasure.

When I was very young I had been on holiday with my parents to Blackpool, but I have no memory of those times. Since then we had never had family holidays until an improvement in the family income allowed holidays to be included in the scheme of things. Maybe when I moved on things got easier for the family, it certainly made life easier when I left home from the accommodation point of view. It never occurred to me at the time, but Dad may have had that thought in mind when he decided to buy a two bedroom house. Some of these thoughts come to me now, but at the time I never once thought about it, nor did I ever feel unwanted at home; knowing that I had a home was always a comfort to me no matter where I went or what I did.

In the usual tradition I decided to take my summer holidays during the last two weeks of August 1955 and as usual I would go and stay with Aunt Nin and Uncle Bill in their semi-detached house in Weaver Avenue. I was in effect marking time waiting for that elusive passage to New Zealand, which I hoped would give me a new start. I was trying hard to save what little money came my way, so my holiday was little more than a change of scene; I never imagined just how exciting this holiday would become.

No comments: