Collated as tributes to my mum who passed twelve days ago, over the previous few days my daily blogs’ve been an amalgam of essays written about unreliable memories relating to the matriarch. As highlighted in a prologue to those pieces, these are partly fictional tales based on fact, were the names of the innocent were very much not withheld to protect the innocent.
Anyhow, today I’ve decided to continue with this format and present a trio of tongue in cheek narratives plundered from GJ Strachan’s 2019 literary back catalogue……..
This first blog was written and published on 9th August 2019:-
“Just give me the money next time you’re in.”
A quote I’ve been in receipt of twice in the last fortnight. The amiable utterances bestowed by owners of two local businesses when I’d no alternative means of payment after experiencing card payment issues.
On both occasions the sums were only around £5, yet to my mind the acts benevolence is indicative of why these small local shops must be preserved. After all, procuring goods from these small businessmen ordinarily rewards customers with higher quality products, delivered with a personal touch and trust.
Yeah, they might cost a bit more than megastores who’re able to fulfil the most niche of patrons requirements. However, on reflection, is the personal trust bequeathed to me (a known regular customer) twice in two weeks not worth the supplementary few bob?
Of course it’s everyones own choice. Personally, though, I’d suggest receipt of excellent customer service is (if finances allow) well worth the ancillary cost. Especially when the calibre of the fare procured is top notch.
In middle-age, I fondly remember out of town shopping of the later 1960’s/early 1970’s. This ordinarily a decent walk from my family home on Chowdene estate, along the length of Low Fell’s Durham Road.
A challenging walk for my siblings and me during fledgling years. The toughest bit the initial climb up the unforgiving southern part of Cromer Avenue. A street whose steep incline I oft pondered was a suitable training venue for British mountaineer Chris Bonnington prior to Everest expeditions.
However, scaling Cromer Avenue wasn’t the most daunting element of the shopping experiences for my siblings and me. That played out as we were about to leave our Dorchester Gardens home when mum’d lick her hanky to clean our faces when falling below her strict cleanliness edicts.
These unwanted face-wash episodes generally undertaken with it’s victim’s forearm in mater’s vicelike grip. This restraint employed to prevent my brother Ian, sister Helen and my escape. Although a slender woman, mater’s grip in those days was a force of nature. Strength borne from childhood alligator ‘games’ in Roundhay Park, Leeds, rendering any hope her young offspring had from escaping her clutches futile.
When the sojourn along Low Fell eventually reached Durham Road, we’d wander past the Low Fell library, cross the top of Chowdene Bank, and ordinarily stop first at the Post Office. Here mater would cash her family allowance in preparation for the upcoming purchase of comestibles.
Next stop was Bert’s Pie shop, twenty yards north of the Post Office, on Durham Road. My memories are a little vague as to the exact product Mrs Strachan (Maggie) would habitual buy at this south Gateshead establishment. However, I’d venture it’d have been aa pie of some sort!…… Unless it was a pasty……. Or a sausage roll……. Or……. well, I’m sure you get my point!
Next stop, might be a wander over Durham Road where Maggie would demand one of James Thows barbers furnish our Ian and me with the arbitrary “Give their hair a right good cut!” This instruction of good by the Leeds lass meaning to cut lots of hair off, not a demand he avoided cutting her offsprings hair poorly!….. I think, anyhow!!
If it wasn’t haircut week we’d stay on the same side of Durham Road, where mum would allow us to stare at the jars of loose boiled sweets in the window of Reeds confectioners. If we were really good, she also allowed us to witness other Low Fell kids eat the sweets they’d just bought in Reeds.
After growing tired of responding “No you can’t!” in response to several minutes of her children asking “Can we half a quarter of Bon Bons, mum?”, she’d lead us with the aforementioned vicelike grip northward along Low Fell.
Next stop a weekly filling at Mr Davidson’s dentists, who resided above a shop next to the footbridge across Durham Road. Maggie figured that having a dental restoration every seven days, whether we needed one or not, was character building. This sadism going on to inspire author William Goldman to write the book Marathon Man, in 1974.
With her offspring’s mouths swollen and weeping saliva, mum would then lead us across the aforementioned footbridge to the butchers, whose name escapes me, to purchase the main course for evening dinner. This generally turned out to be sausages, mince or bacon….. If we were lucky Ian, Helen and me were even allowed some for tea that evening.
To be honest, though, with my mum’s cooking and serving techniques the luck was probably not being allowed a visit to the Strachan evening smorgasbord. Maggie’s the only person I’ve every met who fries soup, which when brown she serves to the table in a basket.
After leaving the butchers, we’d head south along Durham Road. The return journey habitually including my mum idiosyncratically curtseying outside of the Wesleyian church, buying herself a quarter of Bon Bons, prior to a regimented march back to our Dorchester Gardens home.
Ah!!….. The good old days!!
Footnote – My mum’s behaviour was the very antithesis of the cruelness portrayed in this parody blog. She was kind, loving and very supportive of her children
This narrative was penned on 7th November 2019………
A few days back I relayed recollections from my young childhood. While I mulled over a topic for today’s prose my mother (whose house I currently reside) suggested me journalling further memories from the same era……….. Only funny ones this time.
To be honest, what she really said “Was it you who ate that last Kit Kat, Gary?”. However, deeming there wasn’t much mileage in a narrative about Kit Kats I took the less challenging route of lying she’d said that to pen further childhood recollections anyway.
With this in mind, today’s literary offering surrounds a boyhood introduction to swearing:-
Scene – In a quite suburb of south Gateshead in the early 1970’s, a grey sky bares witness to my brother Ian and me playing football in the front street. Like a hungover father watching his son in pouring rain, the grey sky wasn’t overly bothered about watching us exhibit our footballing skills, but Saturday morning TV was pretty rubbish back then so begrudgingly made the effort to turn up..
In our game on the hallowed concrete road of Dorchester Gardens, in Low Fell, I pretended to be my then footballing hero, Leeds United striker, Allan Clarke. Whilst our Ian chose to be Peter Lorimer, his rocket-shotted childhood idol.
As I liked making my impersonation of the Willenhall born striker forensically accurate, like Clarke I’d pull my sleeves over my hands while running with the ball. Additionally, I mimicked his goal celebrations along with adorning number 8 sock tags akin to the slim Willenhall-born striker.
Everything was going swimmingly until a kid nicknamed Curly, who lived at the end of our street, wandered over towards Ian and yours truly to enquire if he could join our game. He imaginatively got the name Curly as he had curly hair. As you can probably guess, we didn’t waste much time thinking up nicknames in Dorchester Gardens…… We didn’t have time, when we weren’t at school there was far too much footy and cricket to play.
I’m not sure why, as I wasn’t a spiteful kid, (not until the angst of puberty, anyhow) but I responded at Curly with a new word I’d overheard used earlier in the week by an older kid at my alma mater Oakfield Junior School. Promptly advising him to “F*** Off!”
When I used this word for the first time, little did I know it’s inappropriateness and as a young child shouldn’t be using it. Well, that was until my mum raced out of the house, dragged me in and immediately grounded me for the day.
Stood in the front room of our modest semi-detached home, I was in a bit of a shock at the rollocking I was getting. My mum, who’d heard me inadvertently swear through the open front window, told me never to use that word again (which, of course, I haven’t until today… cough, cough) and sent me to my room.
Consequently, yours truly forlornly wandered upstairs to my bedroom with the sleeves of my white Leeds top still pulled over my hands. Once in my bed chamber, GJ Strachan slumped on his single bed where he reflected on the unfairness of my punishment.
Tearing off my sock tags in irk, I frustratedly concluded that Clarkey wouldn’t have become a top level footballer he had if his mother had similarly hauled him indoors by his mum (as a kid) when he was one on one with the keeper.
Looking back I think her anger was exacerbated by the fact my grandad Charlie had come up from Leeds for the weekend and had overheard me cursing. I recall grandad fighting back the laughter at my innocent use of the F word. However, he couldn’t be seen to undermine his daughter’s disciplining of me, so fought to suppress any overt laughter.
As a young lad, I was never good at realising which new words were inappropriate, or at the very least not to be uttered in front of your mum and dad. In the mid 70’s I got caught out again during a game cricket with our Ian.
It was a warm summers day, the chaffinches were chirping merrily. Meanwhile, a solitary wood pigeon sat overlooking play in the back garden of our grandma and grandad’s holiday bungalow at Reighton Gap, East Yorkshire.
When our kid and me played cricket on holiday we used to record each ball/run in a miniature score book, mimicking a Test Match format. This meant whoever bowled first would have to get the other one out 10 times before they got to bat. Bearing in mind there were no fielders to take catches and that we were recording every ball delivered in our score book, these innings could take quite some time.
On this particular occasion I was England and bowled first at our Ian (who was Australia). He’d batted for hours and racked up a mammoth score. Not unlike the superiority shown by Aussie teams during 1990’s Ashes series.
Eventually, perspiring and arm aching from hours of bowling along with filling in the scorebook with all the chuffing runs our kid was racking up, I took Ian’s final wicket. Unlike a real Test match where, back then, Geoff Boycott and Dennis Amiss would pad up ready to bat for England after a ten minute break, Ian and I ordinarily just swapped around. After all, we’d no need to pad up as we were playing with a tennis ball.
Tired and sweaty after hours of bowling I picked up the little Eland bat we had and took guard expecting to face Dennis Lillee (our Ian) for the first ball of my innings.
Instead I saw him wandering towards the bungalow door with the parting shot of “I’m off inside, I’m bored with this!”.
After giving my all bowling at the Australians for hours on a flat batting track, I was now looking forward to making hay on it myself. Consequently, I wasn’t happy with our Ian’s response and, in a huff, stormed into the house. Once inside disenchantedly plumped myself into an armchair with the vigour I’d shown when I launched myself onto the bed during the earlier Allan Clarke yarn. As my backside hit the chair cushion in frustration I tutted and sighed in dysphoria.
My mum and dad and baby sister Helen were in the living room of the bungalow. I’m unsure where Ian had gone at this juncture. Sensing all was not right with his eldest son, my dad questioned “What’s wrong, Gary?”.
Red of face from a mixture of the sun, tiredness and anger I retorted “I’ve just bowled at our Ian for three hours and now it’s my turn to bat he doesn’t want to play anymore!”
I think if I’d have left it at that, the rest of my day mightn’t have been so bad. However, I made the mistake of deciding to utilise another word I’d recently picked up at junior school, adding “What a tw*t!!!”.
Again my naivety about the inappropriateness of words had got the better of me and I was sent straight to my room for the rest of the day ………. Meanwhile, the Aussie (our Ian) was now back outside kicking a ball around in the East Yorkshire sun.
I learnt the hard way, but that day I took a big lesson from the rollicking I got for swearing…….. That being, if you play cricket with our Ian make sure you f***ing bat first!
A piece written and published on my website strachan.blog on 25th February 2019…….
In the 1970’s, the shops halfway along Low Fell’s Dartmouth Avenue were an almost daily destination of the young Gary Strachan. This mini retail outlet for Chowdenians***, consisting of a group of four convenience stores which over the years included the likes of a Spar supermarket, an Off-licence, a hairdressers and a newsagent.
*** – I’ve absolutely no idea if the correct collective term for people from the Chowdene estate is Chowdenians; however in the absence of motivation to google it I’m gonna leave it in the narrative.
Standing proudly at the bottom of Torquay Garden, this retail edifice stood proudly looking westward overlooking the numerous factories and offices of the Team Valley Trading Estate. Adjacent to the sights of De La Rues, the NCB offices, Armstrongs et al were the more aesthetically pleasing views of the villages of Lamsley and Kibblesworth. With this landscape mirroring views from the front of my family home on Dorchester Gardens, they were sights of which I was well acquainted.
With tongue very much in cheek, I was going to whimsically quip the quaternary of shops formed a retail utopia where all Low Fellians*** dreams came true. A statement that would’ve been a clearly ridiculous notion….. Unless of course you dreams incorporate the purchasing a 1/4lb weight of cola cube sweets, Spar branded tins of cheese, the receipt of a ‘blue rinse’ bouffant, or purchasing a can of Barrs Shandy.
*** – I’ve absolutely no idea if the correct collective term for people from Low Fell is Low Fellians. however, akin to the word Chowdenians, in the absence of the motivation to google it I’m also gonna leave that in my narrative.
As well as supplying the Chowdene estate residents with their provisions and bouffant adjustments, the shops were regularly the evening rendezvous place of Low Fell’s younger ‘chattering classes’. Teenagers who sought to put the world to rights with debates of Gore Vidal-like erudition, while scoffing a bag of Spar scampi fries.
People like Macca Mackerson, Tufty Chesterfield and Bernie ‘I Don’t Need a Brief’ Chockley. Three lads in their mid-teens who’d gather to formulate hair-brained schemes like ram raiding the offie on push bike. Strategies doomed to hopeless failure, not to mention astronomical bike repair bills.
It was Chockley who, on a balmy July evening in 1976, famously claimed to have seen the ghost of T-Rex singer Marc Bolan buying a tin of Spam in the Dartmouth Avenue Spar. A ludicrous anecdote on so many levels, the main one being Bolan didn’t die until September 1977.
Chockley, though, wasn’t the only Walter Mitty amongst the group of scallywags who’d congregate around the Chowdene estates stores on an evening. There was also a lad really called Walter Mitty from Frome Gardens, whose parents cruelly felt the need to christen his sister Kitty Mitty.
Of the quartet of shops it was the newsagents I was most familiar with. Not just from almost daily visits as a customer, but also from spending a year or so delivering newspapers for its owners (whose names currently escape me). I was around 14 years old when I started undertaking the role, finishing around a year later…… Now that’s what you call a bloody long paper round!
Seriously, though, my evening delivery route took me down Dartmouth Avenue, up Chowdene Bank, through the dene behind Oakfield Junior School and onto the affluent Earlswood Avenue area, where my final Evening Chronicles were distributed to domestic staff as they fed me crumbs from the gentry’s table.
Earlswood Avenue was particularly lucrative for Christmas tips. At old Mrs Coughdrop’s house this being the case even in May. The pensioner suffering from some a sort of calendar dyslexia that led to her celebrating New Year in August; not to mention confused claims her birthdate was 125th of April.
At Christmas in 1977 one of Earlswood Avenues residents gave me a £2 tip (a decent amount in 1977) to split with the lad who carried out the same route on a morning. As I’d no idea who undertook the morning role, I asked the paper shop owner if he’d pass it on, to which he responded “It’s ok, just keep the lot, Gary!”….. Advice I didn’t need re-iterating….. Me heading home with the untold wealth.
I’ll admit, though, on leaving the newsagent shop that evening with 200 penny chews, I felt a pang of guilt at not passing on the morning lad’s share. After all, the poor kid had to get up during the unforgivingly cold north east winter morns. Consequently, I should’ve made more effort to pay him his cut.
Anyhow, if you’re reading this and worked as a paper boy for the Dartmouth Avenue newsagent in 1977, delivering morning papers to Earlswood Gardens, I owe you a quid…… Although, if it’s any consolation, you maybe pleased to hear all those bloody penny chews I troughed pulled out my fillings. Subsequently, resulting in me having to undergo the agony of having them replaced.
I undertook my evening paper round on pushbike. Bereft of gears, riding this low spec bicycle was hard work. In particular when pedalling up the steeper elements of Chowdene Bank and my return climb up Dartmouth Avenue.
Ultimately, though, I was fairly philosophical about the physical strain of my delivery round bike ride. After all, I mused, my task maybe tough without a gearing system, but at least the bike’s fit for purpose, unlike Mackerson, Chesterfield and Chockley who’s futile ram raiding habit frequently rendered their pushbikes unroadworthy.
Ah, happy days!!