Sunday, 8 April 2012

We decide to emigrate

Volume 2 – a new life begins - chapter 7 – a job does not guarantee a good future – part 4 – We decide to emigrate – post 66– taken from chapter 32 – I become a progress chaser - consisting of 10 pages from 64 to 73(420 to 429 ) edited on Saturday, 08 October 2011

It often occurred to me how unreasonable and unfair was the biased view of parents who so often accept the worst possible behaviour from their children. I never compared such attitudes to my own when I turned a blind eye to dishonest and underhand behaviour by my Aunt and Uncle. Several times they had harmed me in different ways, but it never changed my affection for them, nor did it this time when they tried to cheat me by selling things to me at an inflated price. Uncle had bought an old banger for a few pounds and had made it road worthy, but only just. I discovered later, then he came to me and offered it to me as a gift for £60 or £70, he knew I was trying to get my own vehicle at the time, and he wanted to make as much money as he could in readiness for his planned departure. Fortunately I had learned how unreliable he was and had little trust in his word, so I refused his offer which did not please him at all. The next thing they did was try to sell me their modern gas stove for a price that was higher than I would have paid had I purchased a new one from the showrooms. This was another little trap that I avoided; anyway we already had a good gas stove of our own. It was sad really to see how low they had sunk as a result of the hard times they had gone through. That is probably the reason I did not think too badly of them at the time, I knew they were struggling, and no one knew better than I what that felt like. I would have helped them out if I could but I had nothing to give. Not long after these kind offers they made, they departed and I knew little about their going; one day they were there the next they had gone.

There appeared to be so many reasons why we should act on our belief that we would find a better life in New Zealand.

  • · It was a land of opportunity
  • · The people were said to be more welcoming than in other colonies, such as Australia, and Canada.
  • · There were no dangers there, no venomous reptiles; even the natives were said to be friendly.
  • · With the best social system in the world they were leaders with free health, cheap loans from the government with which to buy a house; and a host of other benefits. New Zealand was well on the way to becoming the perfect Britain that we were supposed to have in the United Kingdom. With a bit more work from people like me we could finish the job; then lock the doors to keep out the undesirables. (Naturally I did not see myself as one of the undesirables I have just mentioned.)
  • · With only a small population I imagined the country as being open and free for every man to explore as he wished; I would be able to step over my back fence and go hunting and shooting to my heart’s desire.
  • · The climate was perfect with the sun shining every day; it would be like living in the Mediterranean, somewhere like Spain, or the South of France.
  • · On the other side of the world NZ was just about the safest place to live on the entire planet; with the cold war showing no signs of abating the UK was like a bull’s eye in the middle of a target. In the last few months there had been frightening headlines in the news papers warning that the level of radiation over the Welsh hills had climbed rapidly due to the fallout from Russian atomic tests held in Siberia. We had seen the films showing the effects of radiation; to think that it might happen to us was not a happy thought.

The reasons for making our decision seemed endless, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; I for one could see it clearly. Now looking back I can see that some of the things I expected and hoped for did come true, but most did not, and I was to discover that there were so many facets to the whole question that never even occurred to me. I never gave a thought to my family, my roots, my duty and obligation to my parents and my brothers. When it came to Jacqueline’s parents I even felt a perverse pleasure to be leaving them behind; we were slowly breaking free of their control and their influence, but I could not see us being totally independent unless we move far away from them. I had enjoyed some good times with them and would have probably enjoyed many more, but the thought of that made little impression on our desire to make our own decisions.

Without revealing our plans until we had to, we began the operation by selling everything we owned, discovering immediately that it was not going to be easy. The impression I got was that no one had any money, there seemed to be very little chance of selling a house, or a vehicle. Items of little value went without too much trouble, but the house was on the market with estate agents for some weeks and there was not a single enquiry. I asked around the garages and was told that there was little chance of selling a second hand van. Another difficulty was a lack of births on ships to the Antipodes, there was nothing to be had on British Shipping Companies who were all booked out for the next couple of years. All I could do was put my name down on a waiting list with every shipping line I could find; I might get lucky and be offered a cancellation. For the time being I did not have to worry about slotting the different parts of my plan together, but I wondered which would come first the chicken or the egg. It all looked like mission impossible but the finger of fate has an uncanny way of writing its own script, if it was meant to happen it would, and I soon discovered that it was meant to happen.

To me it looked as though a number of minor miracles happened in quick succession, it was all very much unexpected but very thrilling. First we received a letter from the Nederland’s Shipping Line which offered us a cancelled birth on their ship the Johann Van Oldenbarnavelt which would be sailing for New Zealand from Southampton in July 1962. It was one of their older ships which had been re-fitted to carry 1200 passengers, some tourists but most emigrants travelling from Holland. The cancelled birth was an inboard cabin for two with no porthole, which was in the less attractive part of the ship towards the stern. They could also offer us an additional birth for one on a better deck in the centre of the ship close to the purser’s office; this would be in a four bed cabin which would be shared by four male passengers. Our luck was in and I wrote back right away accepting their offer, though the sailing date was still several months away.

The next miracle came a few nights later when there was a knock on our front door, when I answered it I found a middle aged lady standing on the door step who had come to enquire about the house. She had recently met Ethel Grant who had told her about our intention to sell our house and it so happened that she was looking for that very thing. She and I went to the lounge and negotiated very politely with both of us obviously very eager to come to an agreement. The traditional procedure took place with the buyer asking for a reduction in the price, and with me responding by asking her to offer a little more. Since we had purchased the house property values had risen as they always appeared to do, so I had asked for £2,575; I ended up getting £2,450 though the figures are a little hazy now.

It was all happening and quite fast, so I now tendered my resignation at work, with the news travelling like wild fire around the work force. With work hard to come by in North Wales my employers would have no trouble replacing me, so they showed little interest in my impending departure; apart from the fact that the plans for the concert at the quarry would not be possible. The interesting thing for me was only two people spoke to me about my plans, and both of them were negative about it. One of the two interested parties was the foreman off the shift I had worked on, his name was George Kettle a name that suited him; he was a large rotund man with a brassy sort of character. He was a bossy sort of fellow, but then I suppose he had to be to be a good foreman; he was not one who tried to make friends, but he knew his job and always kept a firm grip on his crew. When we met on this particular day he asked me about the news he had heard that I was going to emigrate, which I confirmed. “You won’t stay, you will end up coming back, and where will you be then?” I gave no reply but felt determined that I would prove him wrong.

A more interesting reaction I received from a Mrs Jones who was one of the clerks in the Production Control Office. She was a woman about 40 years old with a thin unfriendly looking face, who also showed some hostility to my departure. I had approached her to get some details about one of the orders I was chasing, when she mentioned my intention to emigrate. “You are leaving us in the lurch with no thought for anyone but yourself. You are nothing but a rat deserting the sinking ship.” There was little I could say in reply, though I felt somewhat taken aback at her hostile attitude, to me it was excessive I thought. Later I discovered there was an explanation for her behaviour, when I found out about it I felt less badly about what she had said. The story was that Mrs Jones had a sister with whom she had never got on; her sister was married to a man that had landed a very good job in South Africa, and they had emigrated. She was constantly writing letters in which she boasted about the wonderful life she was having in SA, the marvellous weather, the retinue of servants she had, the big swimming pool in the garden, and so on. In comparison with that Mrs Jones was finding it hard to make ends meet, which meant that she had to go out to work for a low wage. There must have been other circumstances that added to her feelings about it, but the end result was that she had strong and bitter views about people who had a chance to improve their lives while she was trapped in an inferior position.

clip_image002Ethel with her grandson at her house at Ronaldsway in Rhyl; she was a charming lady but emotionally unstable and used to getting her own way.

We try to steer our course on the seas of life, but so often we are taken by the mysterious and unseen currents that set our course for us. To leave our lives in Rhyl had looked like an impossible task, yet it was happening with apparent ease; the only other obstacle remaining was what we to do with our little blue van. I had a great affection for my transport which had served us so well; it performed well and had given no trouble at all. I cleaned and polished it with great pride; it was like one of the family. This was the only thing I felt some regret about, parting with my favourite possession, which is why I wanted to keep it with me until the last possible moment. It was quite a shock therefore when one evening there came a knock on the back door, and when I answered there stood an elderly man I had never seen before. He was a typical little Welshman with a polite manner and shrewd brown eyes; he lived at St Asaph and had come about the vehicle I wanted to sell. He would have had a good look at it before he knocked on the door, noting its good condition and well cared for appearance, though it did live in the open as I had no garage.

My visitor explained that he provided board and lodging for a young man that worked at Pilkington’s and his lodger had told him about me and my van. I asked about the lodger and found to my surprise that it was the son of the autocratic manager Mr Anderson, his name was Peter and I knew him quite well, a likeable young man who I had imagined lived with his father. When I realised that he was in lodgings it made sense that he did so, considering what sort of man his father was. Considering that I was not popular with the father, who must have said a few unflattering things about me, it surprised me that Peter had taken the trouble to put in a good word on my behalf with his landlord. With the details being open and known to my visitor he quickly expressed complete confidence in both me and the vehicle, saying that he needed no further details or even an examination of the van. He would have known that I had to sell and was not likely to quibble about the price, so he revealed that he had cash in his pocket and would offer me £300 if I thought that acceptable. This was an excellent offer because up to that moment I couldn’t give it away, and the best price I had expected to get was in the region of £200, so I accepted his offer there and then and we shook hands on it. True to his word the man pulled out a roll of bank notes and placed it on the table, suggesting that I confirm the amount, which I refused to do. He was clearly a man of honour and I was going to show that I knew it by not counting his money. I also insisted that in addition to the vehicle documents I would write out a bill of sale for him and endorse it paid in full.


Ethel’s father was Jewish, which made her half Jewish and her daughter Jacqueline quarter Jewish. Mark also would come into this equation as well I suppose.

There was one further detail to the sale of the vehicle that I have always remembered with some amusement. When the negotiations were over and the buyer was ready to depart, he turned to me with a somewhat embarrassed look on his face and asked me for a favour. Could you drive me home in the van because I cannot drive he said, I must have looked askance at him when he made this request, but I did not ask for details and agreed without hesitation. I still had my bicycle so I put it in the van and off we went; I never did find out who was going to drive the van for its new owner.

With the last of the major problems resolved there was only a few days remaining before we had to move on, taking the first step on our journey to a new life. My parents had agreed that we could go and live with them until the date of our departure, which was to be in just over three month’s time. With only a two bedroom house it was going to be a tight squeeze, but with no other alternative we had no choice in the matter; I was just grateful that the traditions of my family included the belief that their home was our home. Even my Aunt and Uncle recognised this family rule, no matter how difficult their circumstances they never refused to help us when we need a roof over our heads. They may not have been the most trustworthy of people in other respects, but in this regard they always did what we all believed was the right and proper thing. I have always held to this belief that we have a duty and an obligation to others in the family, and on a number of occasions I have responded to that self same responsibility. I would have thought that all families would have a similar belief that they should support each other in their hour of need, so it has always been hard for me to understand why my in-laws did not recognise this same commitment.

Ethel had a love for Mark as she did for her daughter but she never felt strongly enough to put herself out for us as a family. There may have been reasons that I do not know why this would be so, but even though Len sometimes talked to me over a drink, he never really revealed the extent of his problems with Ethel. I believe that for a long time beginning before I arrived on the scene, Ethel had not shared a bed with her husband, and though she was very feminine and liked to flirt she would not allow any man near her from an emotional or emotive perspective. These feelings might explain why she was unable to welcome us as part of her family regardless of her obvious love for her daughter and grandson.

From the time Jacqueline and I married we had to struggle, which meant that a number of times we were in great need of family support. With a three bedroom bungalow the Grants were in a good position to have helped us, but they never did, and it is natural that I have wondered why. Until now I have given it little thought, at the time I accepted their inability to help us without question, assuming that they would not have stood by and watched us in difficulties without a good reason. I never knew what Jackie’s thoughts were on this matter because we never talked about it, and thinking of that now I realise that it was strange that we never did; perhaps we did not like the conclusion we might have come to if we had talked about it? The fact that my in-laws refused to help us certainly made life difficult for us, but I never let it colour my view of them. Thinking of these things now with the benefit of some years of experience and a better understanding of life, I realise that they were probably not happy that I was taking their only child far away from them, and of course their grandchild as well. I can also see in retrospect that their attitude and behaviour had much to do with the reason this was happening; If they had helped us find our feet and establish ourselves we would never have been forced to look for a better life, we would never have had to fend for ourselves to find our own way unsupported.

Perhaps others would not agree with the view I am expressing, but be it right or wrong the fact is that the Grants were instrumental in creating how we felt and how we acted. Decisions I made, no, I should have said we made; (Jackie was part of the decision making process, and if anyone could have stopped it or changed our course of action it was her.) were the direct result of the feeling that no one was going to pull us into a lifeboat. It we were to survive we had to find another lifeboat somewhere else. I suppose if I am going to carry this allegory to its conclusion I should add that if a lifeboat had come to our rescue we would never have learned to swim.

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