Jennie was always kind to me but she used to fly into rages, go very red in the face, and as the elder sister I think she tended to dominate my mother. The second time I was there I found a woman’s old fashioned black leather purse on the platform at Sunderland station. I passed it to her expecting that she would hand it in. She opened it, removed a 10 shilling note, which was all it contained, and gave me two shillings, presumably to shut me up. I was rather horrified. Also that second time she was building a row of terrace houses close to Knitsley Station. We used to go and look at the work in progress in the evening when the workmen had gone. She complained that by building closer she could have got another house in but the council wouldn’t let her.
Kind yet avaricious. Mabs told me recently that she hated her! One other anecdote about my maternal grandfather. At some time he attended a conference in Mumbles in South Wales. For years he said that was the only place where you could see the Sound and hear the sea. I saw not very much of him but what I saw I liked. I forgot to mention that Jennie’s husband Ernie was a sweet man and I liked him very much. He was also a wheelwright and did some excellent work with wrought iron.
Going back to Kent. At first I had difficulty making out what the other boys were saying because of their dialect. I didn’t think I had a particularly pronounced Durham accent but they also had trouble making out what I said. They also fell about when I used North Country words like champion and I soon dropped them. The variety of accents in England was amazing but more of that if I ever get as far as 1940.
A general point at this point for those dumb enough to be still reading. Although I’m giving copies to all four of you I really think that it might be of most interest to Zak’s children or grandchildren to get some firsthand accounts of life in the remote past. I hope at least one copy will survive that long.
Before leaving Strood I should mention that it was there that I saw my first two talking pictures. This must have been while Dad was at sea and we had a bit more cash in the kitty. I’d seen some silent films at a cinema in Newcastle. This was a very upmarket place with a small orchestra. They served trays of afternoon teas to patrons. Of course silent films were never really silent. Most cinemas had music accompaniment of some kind even if only a piano. The studios would send out musical suggestions with the films – here a few bars of William Tell during a chase, some violins for the love scenes etc. I never experienced it personally but I’ve read that some cinemas employed a person behind the screen doing sound effects. They desperately needed words and usually supplied them in the form of title cards. These frequently supplied snatches of dialogue to explain the action. Superior filmmakers liked D.W. Griffith tried to do something literary. I think one of the titles from The Birth of a Nation was “Night brought no relief from the day.” The snag about them was that they had to be left on the screen long enough for slower readers. If you read quickly you read each card two or three times whilst waiting for the film to resume.
At first talking pictures were shown in cinemas that hadn’t been modified in any way accoustically. The first cinema I went to had a bare wooden floor and that didn’t help the primitive recording techniques and loudspeakers. In addition to that it was the first time I’d heard an American accent. Suddenly we had to adjust to squawky voices, over amplified in a strange dialect. Because in the early days of talkies cameras couldn’t move we saw for the first time extreme close ups. I can visualise a woman’s face filling the entire screen and enormous tear drops rolling down. In spite of all that it was exciting to be seeing state of the art technology. The development of talking pictures was held up for a long time because there was no way of amplifying sound sufficiently to fill a public space. When this came along the rest was inevitable.
Another tiny detail. One day at Strood a circus came to town. I listened to the circus band on the back of a lorry with somebody singing “Happy Days are Here Again.” I understood that to mean that the Depression was ending. Actually it was just somebody from Tin Pan Alley cashing in but I was not to know that. It may have been about the time Dad got a job and that would have reinforced it. In actual fact although things improved the massive unemployment only disappeared in Britain and America with the start of World War 2 which provided jobs in the forces, factories etc.
Something else I forgot about the General Strike of 1926. Everything shut down including newspapers. The government published its own newspaper which I think was called The British Gazette. We had a copy but I don’t remember ever reading it. From memory it was a 4-page tabloid-sized publication and was undoubtedly full of one-eyed propaganda. next