Maternal Memories – The Prequel

Yesterday my 2,500th blog was written to include partly fictional memories (based on fact) of my recently deceased mother Maggie. These unreliable, tongue-in-cheek recollections embellished with large swathes of silliness to bolster the jocularity of the plot lines.

Finding a revisit of these literary vignettes cathartic during this emotionally draining time, I’ve decided to share a few more of these absurd creations. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading these paragraphs as much as I did after not clapping eyes on them for over two years.

This piece was created and posted on 3rd March 2019, titled Dorchester Gardens Street Party……..

June 1977 – Two months before Elvis passed, Red Rum had just won the Grand National for the third time, Star Wars was breaking all box-office records and the UK’s populous held street parties celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee.

One such street party took place in Dorchester Gardens, Low Fell. The south Gateshead cul-de-sac of twenty six houses where I spent my childhood and early immature adult years. A suburban outpost of three-bedroomed semi-detached houses, built in the 1960’s by Leech Homes. Residences with that era’s typical design of a box room as the third bed chamber, along with separate toilet and bathroom.

As a young boy I always assumed the term box room originated due to a paucity of space, rendering them the size of a shoe box. However, after starting to play club cricket as a teenager I concluded the name may’ve come from the lower abdomen protector I wore when batting…… They certainly smelt similar!!!

Having a separate toilet and bath had pros and cons. On the plus side if you were chilling in the bath, there was no worrying you’d have to jump out of the water to let a family member attend to the call of nature. On the negative side, though, the lack of a toilet bowl in the bathroom meant peeing in my bath water more times than I’d have liked.

Anyhow, back to the Dorchester Gardens street party celebrating our monarch’s 25 year reign.

I’ll be honest and say I’ve only vague recollections of the event. I remember the kids were encouraged to dress in fancy dress, although as a 14 year old pubescent schoolboy I misguidedly deemed joining in would breach boundaries of teenage cool…… Not that I was cool at that juncture of the ageing process I hasten to add.

My younger brother Ian suggested the two of us dress up as Red Rum in a pantomime horse suit. However, our kid was never going to remove my indifference to dressing-up by telling me I’d spend three hours sweating in a fancy dress outfit with my head in close proximity to his flatulent backside.

As I write this I’m not even sure if our Ian (who’d just turned 12) actually donned a fancy dress costume on that day. Like many of the kids from Dorchester Gardens and nearby streets, my 4 year old sister Helen took part. She wore a St Ivel’s cheese triangle, while next door neighbour Judith (aged 12) donned a St Ivel’s cheese triangle packet. Both costumes, if memory serves me correct, created by my old man.

I do recall our Ian for some reason decided to bring an egg whisk along to the party, but don’t recollect who actually organised the event. I’d imagine it’d have been the cul-de-sac’s women who ‘project managed’ the event. People like my mum Margaret Strachan, Moira Galloway, Ena Cowell, Geraldine Holliday, Ronnie Stoddart, Pat Forsyth, Audrey, Hazel, Doris, Mrs’ Dixon/Williamson, Enid Mitchell et al.

From memory we ate buffet food laid out on trellis tables outside the Stoddart and Cowell’s abodes in the middle of the street at the bottom of it’s incline. We probably dined on sausage rolls, crisps, a selection of sandwiches, pork pies and the like. With desserts of jelly. Angel Delight and ice cream.

There were a clutch of street games organised including ‘Pin the Tail on Jimmy Galloway’, which had to be postponed because he’d gone to the Jolly Miller for an early evening pint with my dad, Ken Cowell, Brian Holliday and a host of the other Dorchester Gardens’ patriarchs.

There was also an impromptu game of ‘Help Ian Strachan Find his Whisk’ after our kid mislaid his beloved kitchen utensil. It was later found in my pocket…. God knows how it got there (cough, cough) or indeed how the bloody hell I managed to fit an egg whisk in my jeans pocket!!

Sadly, my epiphany of a street game where we got to eat as many of the Jacob’s Clubs in Ken Cowell’s garage as was humanly possible wasn’t sanctioned by the party’s organising committee…… And possibly Ken (who worked in sales for Jacobs).

After the food and games it was time to judge the winner of the Fancy Dress competition. Despite some fantastic efforts by the street’s kids, including our Helen, Judith, Lindsey Holliday (milkmaid), Aileen Galloway (a robin…. that’s the bird incidentally, not political commentator Robin Day), the winner was an adult.

The victor, George Forsyth, whose policeman’s outfit was chosen by judge Nan Mansfield, from nearby Portland Gardens, for “costume authenticity”. Nan was asked to undertake the role of judge as she didn’t know Dorchester Gardens residents too well, so was identified as a suitable choice from an impartiality basis.

If Mrs Mansfield had’ve been more familiar with the characters in NE9 6UY she’d have known George was actually a policeman and wasn’t even in the fancy dress competition. He’d just returned from work and was watching proceedings, troughing a ham sandwich he’d taken from the buffet, when the event commenced. Mr Forsyth was delighted, although somewhat surprised, with his victory. Promising faithfully to strive for world peace, undertake humanitarian work and to never again utilise the word chaffinch in the wrong context.

All that remained after the announcement of the winner was the presentation of the trophy……. Well, our Ian’s whisk!


This piece was written and posted on 1st March 2019, titled Maternal Edicts……..

Last week I wrote a narrative (Barbershop Strop) during which I spoke of childhood visits to James Thow’s barbershop on Low Fell, Gateshead. During which I broached the topic of my mum’s obsession with her offspring’s locks being well kempt. Well, to be more specific, insist it didn’t lay longer than collar length.

My prose about 1970’s sojourns to the Geordie Vidal Sassoon touching upon how the maternal instructions to the barber pre-cut were always “His hair needs a right good cut!” A habitual catchphrase unwaveringly delivered in my mother’s no-nonsense Yorkshire dialect.


That being said, it wasn’t just the 1970’s when her OCD for tidy crops manifested itself. For as long as I can remember, the sight of a messy mullet, unkempt curtain hair, a poorly presented bouffant or a tousled chignon have been a bugbear of the Leeds lass. Even now one sight of neglectful male grooming ordinarily leads her to opining the culprit looks a “Right scruffy bleeder.”

Deeming man is defined by first impressions, the necessity for tidy hair wasn’t just  drummed into my brother and me. In the late 1980’s/early 1990’s a tidy trim also became an essential requirement for our sister Helen’s boyfriends.

Should our youngest sibling bring home a “Right nice lad” with freshly shorn locks, newly shined shoes and a gift of M&S vouchers it was always looked on favourably by Mrs S. Ingratiating behaviour resulting in mater wanting to hurriedly book a wedding service at the local church; not to mention order the flowers and arrange for the banns to be read.

If my sister’s new suitors hair was a mess, and/or shoes were dirty our Helen had a real job on her hands talking mum (Maggie) around to accepting her choice of beau. If he’d forgotten the M&S vouchers my sister sent him packing, resigning herself to the fact the poor lad had burnt his bridges with the household matriarch. His securing of maternal acceptance sunken without trace.

As mentioned in Barbershop Strop, Ian and I were never allowed long hair when it was fashionable in the 1970’s. As soon as it reached collar length we were dragged for a trim at the Thow’s barbershop on Low Fell, Gateshead.

Thow’s a diminutive shop that somehow found space to house four barber’s chairs, along with a clutch of chairs designated for waiting customers. The patient few who sat awaiting a trim accompanied by the sound of Radio One, muffled barber/client chatter and the snipping of scissors.

Once I took the barber’s chair, mater would bark her catchphrase “His hair needs a right good cut!” at the young long haired barber. Thankfully she spared Ian and my blushes by not adding “And here’s 50p to get yourself one, you untidy bugger!”…… A putdown unspoken; however there’s little doubt she was itching to convey the sentiments to the man with the scissors.

In the 1970’s having your haircut shorter than the most of the other lads was frustrating for our kid and me. It’s not that we didn’t fit in, we mixed well with lots of our peers , but our Ian and I couldn’t help ponder why Nidgy, Dinky, Stew, Rusty, Hannah et al were allowed flowing locks while we weren’t.

That being said, though, they were merely gripes of that time. Not something which’s scarred me for life. Unlike the bloody wall outside the Ravensworth pub on which in 1972 I fell and cut my chin open. An injury that’s left a scar on my jawline that as a hirsute 50+ man looks like moths have been devouring my beard.

Me and our kid
“Never mind these rubbish haircuts, Gaz…… Sammy Stork’s just rung and asked if he can have his legs back!!”


This piece was written and posted on 6th January 2017, titled Is that David Attenborough, Gaz?……..

According to my chums at Facebook, twelve months ago today I penned a narrative about my childhood Alpine pop man being a doppelganger of TV naturalist David Attenborough.

Before I go further, I want to clarify that it’s a young David Attenborough I’m talking about here. Our soda pop deliveries weren’t undertaken by a man in his nineties.

A rise in litigation has rendered current Health & Safety procedures to be increasingly stringent these days. However, I suspect employing a nonagenarian man to lug around crates of glass bottles would have been similarly frowned upon even in the laxer 1970’s.

Like the vast majority of blogs I write, I rarely read them after I’ve published them on . The simple reason being that if I did I’d pick them to pieces. In an ideal scenario I’d like a proof reader to review the work before I send. However, as my work isn’t monetised, paying someone to undertake that isn’t currently an option.

Anyway, I broke with the status quo this morning, revisiting a rambling tale titled ‘David Attenborough Was Our Pop Man’. As I haven’t a great deal of free time today and I laughed quite a bit reading it back, I’m going to lazily pad out the remainder of the piece with an edited version of that creative offering. Here goes……

‘Brotherhood can mean different things to different individuals. They include the bond between siblings, fellowship of kindred spirits or a fraternal/trade organisation.

If I’ve not mentioned it before, I’m brother to two younger siblings, Ian (2 years my junior) and Helen (10 years younger than me)……… Even if I have mentioned it before, I’m still brother to two younger siblings, Ian (2 years my junior) and Helen (10 years younger than me).

Helen inherited mum’s selflessness, resilience, strength and warmth. Like mater, she also hasn’t got a bad bone in her body. Her life presents her with great challenges, many of which would break some people. However, she greets them with stoicism, dignity and incredible spirit.

Not that she’d be bothered, but I don’t mention her in my blogs as much as our Ian. Not through any snub, moreover the family childhood stuff I write about took place before she was born, or as a mere babe in arms.

It goes without saying, though,  I love her equally as much as Ian and am very proud to be her brother. That being said, though, she better not get to mum and dad’s china tea set before me when we put them in a home next month.

Anyway, back to the subject of brotherhood.

The reason I broach the subject is today the prose will be a reverential piece regarding two brothers whose thought provoking back catalogue of work has given so much entertainment, education, wonderment, tension and admiration.

Incidentally, at this juncture I want to clarify I’m referring to Sir David Attenborough and his late brother Lord (Richard) Attenborough, not Jedwood or indeed Ian and me,

Their legacy in the spheres of cinema, TV, science and charitable causes ensures a place of legend within their respective fields  (that’s the Attenborough brother’s still!).

I first recall watching Sir David Attenborough at my parents modest semi-detached home on Low Fell, Gateshead in the 1970’s.

On that day, when mum asked my brother and I “Do you want to watch David Attenborough’s nature programme on the telly?”, there was a moment of silence and an exchange of glances between my brother and me. Following a synchronised shrugging of shoulders, we responded unenthusiastically “I suppose so.”

While sitting down on the settee our Ian whispered to me “Who the heck is David Attenborough, Gary?” I shrugged again, before responding “I’ve no idea! I thought you must know after you said yes to mum.”

“Is he that bloke who brings the bottles of Alpine pop on a Friday afternoon?” my younger brother inquired.

“Why the heck would our pop man be presenting a nature programme on the telly?!” I quizzed my sibling, blonde of hair, blue of eye and diminutive of height.

“He looks like him” our Ian countered.

“Well it’s not him! Our pop man would cack himself if confronted by a lion!” I advised with the knowing authority of an elder brother.

“How do you know Gaz? Have you ever asked him if he’s scared of lions?!” Ian questioned further.

“Why would I? ……I don’t randomly ask tradesman if they fear a lion attack! …… Anyway, it’s flipping unlikely to happen in Gateshead!” I retorted, as the discussion got ever more bizarre!

“Bernie the butcher on Low Fell is scared of lions!” Ian advised me knowingly. “I asked him last week!”

“I would imagine anyone confronted with that question would say they are scared of lions. But the chances of coming face to face with them in the north east of England are pretty remote!” I proffered with growing irritation, not broaching why our kid would inquire that topic to the butcher.

At that point, the random discussion of a 10 year old boy and his 8 year old sibling ended. Instead, they settled down with a glass of Alpine lemonade, as they watched in awe at the elephant and lion behaviour on the family’s grainy 21 inch black and white television screen.

These groundbreaking wildlife pictures (for the time) were accompanied by the erudite commentary of a consummate broadcaster whose assured delivery enhanced the trust in what was being relayed.

It had been a rare chance for two northern lads to see wildlife. The only other time we got to see animals was on Johnny Morris’ show Animal Magic. This was a documentary type programme set in a zoo where the animals gave you a running commentary into their lives in captivity.

To be clear, they weren’t really talking, it was the voice of presenter Johnny Morris dubbing over animal mouth movement………. When Johnny Morris was on camera his voice was dubbed by Frank the giraffe!

Anyway, back to Low Fell in the mid 1970’s!

The next afternoon the doorbell rang! With the inquisitiveness of youth, Ian and I followed mum to the door. She opened it to reveal the David Attenborough doppelganger! He was stood there bold as brass in his Alpine uniform with a bottle of pop in each hand!

“Here you are Margaret! One bottle of Alpine lemonade and one of Dandelion & Burdock, as usual!” the Alpine man told our mum, as he handed her the thick glass bottles.

She paid him, wished him well and advised that we’d see him next week.

“No one won’t!” came the voice of the man in the Alpine uniform.

“Why, are you on holiday?!”

“No, they’ve just opened that lion park along the road at Lambton and I’m absolutely shit scared of lions……… I’m moving to Cleckheaton in West Yorkshire!”

Image result for lambton lion park

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