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a blog by Chris Barrow

A family day out

Christmas letters #6

This, I’m guessing, is Trentham Gardens, near Stoke-on-Trent and I’ve got the date around the very early 60’s.

What is unusual about the photograph is the both of my grandmothers appear together, a very rare sight as they had zero in common.

From the right of the photo as you see it:

  1. there is lovely little me in the front, clearly thinking up some mischief;

  2. behind my, my Dad’s sister Ethel (one of 5 siblings);

  3. Ethel’s oldest daughter Jean;

  4. at the back, my Dad Charlie Barrow;

  5. in front of him, his mother May Barrow;

  6. beside her, my maternal grandmother Ellen Mellor;

  7. My Mum Norma Barrow;

  8. behind her, Ethel’s younger daughter Audrey

The differences in clothing between the older and younger women indicates the transition from post-War working class austerity to a more modern outlook – and, of course, the growing influence of American TV as my Mum tries her best to look like Manchester’s answer to Gina Lollobrigida.

I’m not at all sure where all the men-folk are in this picture, let alone my Dad’s 3 other siblings and the many cousins I spent my youth with.

At Easter every year, there would be a day’s expedition by car to a nearby beauty spot – in these days before motorways were open, Manchester to Stoke (30 miles) was quite enough and it was normal for a convoy to set off from Joshua and May Barrow’s house in Wythenshawe, with plenty of food and drink on board to last the whole day.

As I mentioned, unusual for the two Grans to be out together, which makes me wonder if this trip included Ellen Mellor following the demise of my grandfather Albert, or whether there is some simpler explanation.

Albert and Ellen were strict tea-totalers, he a Methodist and she a devout Catholic who had wed against the tide of opinion in the 20’s but lived a very quiet and sober life in a small terraced house in Gorton, East Manchester.

The Barrows, however, were known carousers (hmm……) and the whole family would gather regularly on a Saturday night to play cribbage, smoke and drink until the early hours.

My cousins and I would have the run of the rest of the house, plenty of lemonade and crisps and imagine ourselves into numerous adventures as the grown-ups laughed, sang and sometimes danced downstairs.

As an only child (violins out) I was very solitary and had few friends at school or in our neighbourhood (Whalley Range). My father by this time was a serving police officer and kept himself very much to himself in the locality – so the cousins were my social life and, as one of the youngest, I was always looked after well.

As well as trying to look like a starlet, my Mum’s behaviour matched that of problem celebrity when she had “had a few” – her ability to get drunk quickly and cause chaos was legendary and many were the nights when she would end her evening with outrageous acts of attention-seeking, including throwing her wedding ring down the street (cue car headlights in the fog), flirting with every man in the room and, usually, collapsing unconscious (to the relief of all), to be dumped in a spare bedroom until going home time.

For all that, my parents both treated me well and with love – I had a privileged childhood, given our relatively poor economics and they both tried their level best to give me a good upbringing and education.

My solitary existence at home gave rise to an early love of reading that has paid me back a thousand-fold over the years.

When she was sober (which was the majority of the time) my mother also taught me to debate – of which more later.

However, as this photograph is taken, there are darkening clouds on the horizon – Norma has been to see her GP to ask for the new “slimming pills” that young mothers are taking to keep their trim figures – and she is slowly and inexorably becoming addicted to barbiturates – the consequences of which will reverberate around our household and the family.

For now though – a happy and simple day in the Spring sunshine.

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