1930s: The Great Depression & Teenage Years
Tim was born in June 1934. His father, William, was a senior clerk with the local council. Martha, Tim’s mum, worked part time cleaning & cooking at the Village Manor, whilst at the same time looking after 7 children.
William & Martha had lived locally all their lives; childhood sweethearts, they married in their local Catholic church in their late teens. Home was a three-bedroom terraced house, one of thirty houses located on each side of a long and narrow cobbled street. William’s eight brothers and sisters, along with a similar number of Martha’s family, all lived within five miles of each other; a very close-knit community environment.
One may say Tim’s arrival was an accident, with his youngest sister at the time, Mavis, being 12, and his four other siblings aged 14 to 22; two sisters and three brothers in total. Birth control was virtually non-existent and abortion never an option … never permitted to even be discussed. When Tim was seven, a baby sister was born.
Leaving School and Meeting Expectations
Once one reached the age of 14 schooling ended, and one was expected to find work or join the Army, Navy or Airforce in order to contribute to family finances. Hence, during Tim’s younger years he did not see much of his brothers and sisters apart from Mavis, twelve years older than Tim. Tim’s eldest brother, Walter, was in the Air Force, stationed in what was then known as Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Harold, the next eldest brother, was a sailor serving on board the destroyer HMS Howe.
Tim recalls his early years comprised of spending a considerable amount of time with Mavis, joining in her games; playing with her dollhouse and dressing her dolls with brightly coloured clothes and materials. As time would tell, later in life, this early introduction to dressing up/being creative & ‘arty’ influenced Tim’s future activities, both at work and for pleasure.
The long street resulted in many children also playing in the street. Innovation and technology had only extended to the occasional household owning a small wireless (radio), and no child had the joy of watching television nor using modern technology. This resulted in creating their own games and pastimes from their own ingenuity and a sense of curiosity, creating endless hours of enjoyment for virtually no cost.
Little Contact with Dad & Brothers
Tim saw very little of his father. On Saturdays Tim’s father would go to the local football/cricket match, along with, when possible, two of Tim’s older brothers who, like their father, loved all sports; it was a big part of their life. Walter, the eldest brother, who like Tim was not sporty, would be working down the pit. The local coal mines, being a large employer in the area, also employed three of Tim’s uncles. That was until WW2 broke out, when any male 18 and over was enlisted.
Sunday lunch time, Tim’s father would join Tim’s five uncles at the Hare & Hounds for their customary pre-Sunday-lunch drinks. One of Tim’s uncles was captain of the Hare & Hounds dart team. The team’s practice and dart matches typically consumed three, if not four nights a week for Tim’s father & uncles. On top of this, Tim’s father and uncles would spend time attending boxing matches, watching his brothers compete, and going to the horse & dog races.
Throughout the family the subject of sport was laboured, particularly on his father’s side: boxers and footballers, some of them of note. All his uncles had been involved in it, as far as history told.
Seeing very little of his father, Tim was very close to his mum. This continued to be the case for the remainder of Tim’s school years.
Academically, Tim was always in the top ten of his year; however, he had just a few friends at school.
Not Being Part of the Team
Tim had never been a sportsman, or indeed, a lover of any sport in general. He would do anything to avoid the one subject he disliked most – as time would prove!
Like lots of boys his age, Tim didn’t quite understand that to be a boy, he had to “be on the team,” so to speak. When it came to PE lessons the teacher encouraged competition and would create four teams. Each team had a team leader, and they would take it in turns to choose which boys would be in their teams. One could not describe Tim as being large-built, but he certainly was not the thinnest or fittest, and not being sports-minded, was always nearly the last, if not the last, to be asked to join a team. This sense of rejection continued to play on Tim’s mind and made him feel different, or even abnormal.
Tim also found himself on the receiving end of schoolboy bullying. One particular boy, in the next year above Tim, would make him share whatever Tim’s mum had packed for lunch. Tim had learnt that failure to comply would result in receiving a beating.
Overall, Tim’s self-confidence was not his strength and, again, played on Tim’s mind.
Being Close to Mum – Consequences
Tim also recalls, upon reflection, the verbal bullying in his early years. The saying “tied to his mother’s apron strings” was common in those days; boys who behaved in that way were referred to as “loners.” At the time Tim did not know any different. Tim had his hobbies and occasionally went out and about with his few friends; he wasn’t an unhappy child.
Like all children from big families, Tim was used to family squabbles, perhaps more so, as his two older brothers had been in the armed forces and abroad for so many of his growing years. The family disputes were usually late at night, for whatever reason. Walter, Tim’s eldest brother, more than 20 years older, had obviously seen more of life and its experiences than Tim.
Whatever the reason for the latest argument, Tim’s eldest brother was obviously aware of the closeness between his mother and his younger brother.
Tim’s memories often took him back to the hours when the two of them had left the family home mid-argument and walked the streets, whatever the weather, until things had quietened down. They would wait in the outside toilet until everyone had gone to bed.
Tim had one outstanding memory of all these times, but he never understood it. That memory was of Walter pointing at Tim holding onto his mother, shouting, “He’s queer!” “Look at him, queer!” Looking back now, it is easy to realise why the subject was never discussed.
The two brothers really never got on, there was always friction, but many years later things might have changed as life itself changed.
It is strange to think that as life became more normal to Tim and he met so many guys like himself, guys from different backgrounds, occupations, etc., it was difficult to realise these were the times of the illegality for them all, irrespective of who they were. Knowing so many people who would introduce Tim to “my twin brother,” “my younger brother,” or sometimes older, in a genuine loving way; perhaps this is why Tim could not understand his own situation.
Displaying Artistic Skills
It is a known fact that many homosexuals are, to a great extent, part of the “arty world,” and Tim has many memories of his involvement with that side of life.
Brothers who would have shared a life in the theatre world – not necessarily on stage but, in one case, one of them was in the orchestra, a brilliant pianist, and the other the musical director. Both were super guys in their own right, but very respectable and discreet. It may be remembered that one so-called ‘star of stage and screen’ sought to discover why he was gay and yet not his brother; consequent programs gave reasons, but were they undeniably correct or was it hope? It has to be remembered that although this was many years ago, before the 1967 changes in the sexuality act being passed, it was also not too distant from the Second World War, and all children had come through an experience they didn’t understand.
“Wartime” Childhood and Schooling
Children were either rough and ready, due to the times, or delicate; both self-explanatory. It is easy to understand that they were rough and ready, not in presentation, but because of the shortages and rationing. Family standards had, perhaps reluctantly, suffered, and the children behaved as best as they knew: well behaved, polite, and well cared-for, but all around them the ruins of buildings and houses they were familiar with, still standing derelict, awaiting demolition or some other such fate, changing all around them.
Of course, those referred to as delicate were the children who, apart from sharing all of that, needed the closeness of parents, family etc. So many had been torn away from such safety into being evacuees, taken at a minute’s notice from all that was familiar to be placed in unusual circumstances – frightening, to say the least. It wasn’t necessarily health conditions that made those boys and girls delicate; it was what was going on around them that made them clingy. No, it did not make them homosexual, as is sometimes suggested; they were genuinely more sensitive than others in many ways. One mentions this simply because, after a night like Tim had spent – and by no means was he alone in this – the children then had to face a day of schooling, although it can be said that that in itself was not as gruelling as we may think today’s education program is. The formalities were different. There was always the morning milk to look forward to, not to mention the track home to lunch and back again. But we needed to learn, and we did so in the simplest of forms.
There was no school bus, no uniform regulations, but in the conditions of the day we were taught well.
Often through shortages of teachers and equipment, children of the era were brought up totally different to the modern generation, which is to be expected. There was no technology, for instance. Our play time was all self-initiated, with the simplest of items to turn into playthings, and sex education lessons, as such, were not discussed.
Maybe this simple lifestyle gave us a good foundation to life itself, for this generation of prospective gays turned out to be respectable citizens of society and the lack of is easy to see in this modern free-for-all world.
Tim’s family was an ordinary working-class family. Mum had brought up the family, just as all mothers did in the days of his youth. There were none of what we would call luxuries: washing machines, fridges, etc. Radios were called ‘wireless’ and the probable luxury was having, in the latter part of his growing up, a radiogram on which vinyl records could be played to provide a little light entertainment.
We should think about the comparisons of wages, then and now. Tim has noticed in these declining years that people, some anyhow, are always eager to compare life then with what are called modern times.
Community Spirit – Yes, It Did Exist
There was an air of everyone making an effort, to help themselves and each other. Of course, there were people who were a little better off than their neighbours, but they never made a show of it.
Perhaps the couple next door had one child, a nice home that suited their needs, but neighbours were not envious of each other. It was more likely they would go out of their way to help each other.
It wasn’t unknown, especially in area such as where Tim lived, that one family of several children would help another in the same bracket by handing down clothes if there were children of a similar age. Bear in mind there were no such things as charity shops.
One might imagine these children being the butt of jokes, but that wasn’t the case. A shirt, a jumper, whatever could be dyed and represented next day without shame, ironed, pressed … who knew? Today, it’s probably a case of “what’s a dye?”
They were not the dark days, as so often referred to; the simplest of tasks were shared, tasks that cost little or no money.
The scrubbing of doorsteps, a weekly job for most, sweeping outside the front of one’s home … Do your own, do the neighbours too, whilst you’re on your hands and knees! Out would come the bucket of water scrubbing brush, the carbolic soap and the white powder that made the step look as though it had never been trodden on!
One can almost hear the words of a modern generation … “I would have let them do their own!” Yes! Because that’s how times have changed, changed in the simplest of ways, not always for the better.
However, Tim was happy living at home with his brothers &
sisters, and this may sound contradictory to Tim’s previous references to his older brother, but one by one, they did marry and leave home.
No Mod-Cons, Just Elbow Grease and Long Hours
Tim recalls that when he was growing up household chores were all manual and using the “equipment” of the day, that was fashionable; a dolly tub, a hand driven wringer, and washday was made a little easier. If you were extremely lucky a vacuum cleaner (hoover) was an asset, but mostly the housework was done on a routine basis, with all hands to the pumps, so to speak. Everyone helped, and it was not unusual for mum to also go out to work, for a myriad of reasons. Although it was very necessary, they did not all find secretarial work. Mums were known to have had to work the strangest of hours, not always suitable when trying to raise a family, but it was a case of just having to in order to ensure there was food on the table and clothes for the children to wear. For example, bus and tram conductors and post women, who had replaced the local postman as all males were called to war, would find their working days would start at two or three in the morning and continue until the late delivery at 17:00. All this so they could try to afford the “extras” needed at home.
Young men being called up for service often meant a change in finances to families, so it was important, no, essential the woman, in addition to being housewife and mother, also go out to work, more often than not juggling more than one job.
Financial Prudence Learnt at an Early Age
For Tim, like his parents and grandparents, it had always been a point of pride to declare, “If you can’t afford it, don’t have it.” However, the impact of bringing up a family whilst Dad, brother, uncles and nephews were ‘serving their country’, meant it was often the only way that what were considered ‘luxuries’, but in reality necessities, could be obtained.
Hire purchase was the only way some could afford the things they needed. There was no such thing as credit cards; strict enquiries were made as to the capability of being able to pay and, as Tim found out many years later when working in a furniture store, it was always important to protect the customer and the trader.
It’s true people were afraid to enter into such agreements, but it was not easy as today. Tim remembers, all too well, the embarrassment of having to tell a customer they could not make a purchase as they still owed £1 on the last item they had bought … How times have changed, both in terms of the attitude towards buying on credit and the readily available range of credit cards that are so freely pushed by banks/financial institutions in today’s accepted culture of “buy now – pay later.”
War Time – Evacuation
Like many other children, Tim was evacuated for a while during the war years; he was lucky in as much as he had his two sisters and a brother with him.
To live in the country and go to school there was a way of life he could never have imagined, but he was, or rather they were, unfortunate in that the folk they lived with were not as kind as perhaps they could, or should, have been. However, it was only two hours from home, so their parents could visit by bus, often bringing with them toys and goodies they were deprived of. Still, it was nice when the time came to return home to parents and familiarity. His two older brothers had been called for military service, as was the law of the time.