In numerous previous literary offerings I’ve written whimsically of northern English summers past. In particular the mid to late 1970’s, years when meteorological gods bequeathed us Brits almost unbroken sunshine during the warm season.

Helius and Zeus working in conjunction with Karma to recompense the UK proletariat for 1974’s power cuts and 1976’s Great Spangle shortage. Events contributing towards such discontent amongst the electorate a General Election was called – A ballot resulting in the further confusion of a hung parliament.

Despite achieving the majority vote (buoyed by his more generous Spangle rationing quotas), Ted Heath’s Conservative party failed to secure coalition support to form a government. Subsequently allowing the minority Labour Party of Harold Wilson, who were able to form a coalition, to take the reigns.

During the mid-1970’s, those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer were a time where I enjoyed my first experience of dining alfresco. In the Strachan household, an experience commencing with the kitchen table’s haphazard shifting outside to the back garden. Ending with an equally slapdash return of the table into our Gateshead residence.

If my younger brother Ian and me were press-ganged into the role of table shifters it ordinarily resulted with our dad redecorating the scrapes where we’d collided with the wooden doorframe on exit. If by some miracle we managed to avoid scraping the frame with the table, you could guarantee we wouldn’t miss with one of it’s accompanying chairs.

Unintentionally, the table was generally located within the eyeline of my Breckenbeds Form Tutor Mrs Holmes, who overlooked the back of our family home. Giving her full access to the questionable table manners of the Great Spotted Strachan and his brood.

That being said, even in the unlikely event she engaged in food voyeurism, Mrs H was too nice to mention during class “I see you had frozen pizza again for tea, Gary.”, or “Does your Ian always pick his nose during dinner?”

Outdoor barbeque grills in the UK were a rarity back then, consequently domestic outdoor cooking was almost unheard of. However, that didn’t negate against the opportunity of the alfresco consumption of indoor cooked fish fingers, chicken Kiev or Findus Crispy Pancakes.

crispy pancakes

Anyway I digress….. Today’s intended narrative topic was my mum’s (Maggie’s) obsession with her offspring’s sartorial elegance during their Low Fell upbringing.

My preconceived badinage including the existential childhood angst experienced at being forced to wear a balaclava for walks along Durham Road to Bert’s Pie Shop, the Chowdene Post Office or King’s newsagents.***

*** – My brother and me were made to wear balaclavas when visiting other shops, however I’m not inclined to included every store on Low Fell within the narrative….. Even if I could recollect them all, which I can’t. 

In my blogs I’ve often attributed Maggie with comments relating to scruffy attire and haircuts during my fledgling years. An example of which is Neil Fraser’s Cricket Boots.

In that particular narrative I relay the tongue-in-cheek jibes of a lady portraying the caricature of the miserable Yorkshire housewife. Expressing words scripted into her self-parody role as the Les Dawsonesque gossip, airing neighbourhood tittle-tattle while airing their laundry.

Despite experiencing many dreadful existential intruders, which she’s stoically confronted since her mum’s passing from cancer when Mags was only 20, she remarkably bears not one ounce of bitterness. Frowning upon negativity as a wasted emotion serving no tangible purpose for the perpetrator.

Our Ian, sister Helen and I were immaculately turned out as kids. Our wardrobes including more wool than a shepherd’s barn, courtesy of the multitude of sweaters Maggie had knit her offspring. The click of knitting needles a regular sound in the lounge/diner of chez Strachan; along with mum’s sporadic muttering of “Knit one, purl one.” and her counting of stitches.

Every so often, we’d be startled by the sound of mum exclaiming across the living room “Bloody hell, I’ve miscounted the stitches on this line!….. I’ll have to flaming unpick it all!”

Ordinarily, this the consequence of a rare error following the pattern. The result of a seemingly sporadic tick causing concentration loss when counting her stitches. A foible that ruled mater out of ever becoming a surgeon……. Well, that and the fact she’s no medical training.

The woollen end products weren’t always gratefully received by my siblings and me……. Although that’s probably being unfair on our Helen, who I can’t ever recall whingeing about mum’s handiwork with needle and wool.

In our defence, though, Ian and I didn’t wish to be ungrateful about the results of mum’s woollen ‘artwork’. However, unlike Helen who didn’t have the ignominy of wear the damned things, the balaclavas she knit back then weren’t received well by either of us. Not only did they look ridiculous, but they were so tightly fitting that removing them required assistance from the Low Fell tug of war team.

When we finally gained our liberty from the balaclavas the damage done to our ears during removal meant our kid and me spent the next hour with impaired hearing.

Looking back, I don’t recall many things more embarrassing in childhood than wearing a balaclava. Well, apart from perhaps running into someone you knew while wearing a balaclava.