Tag Archives: Acocks green

She died with a fag in her mouth.

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In the early 1900`s my family ran a large greengrocer`s shop in Acocks Green.  Above the shop was a huge, five bedroom flat where I was to be born in 1953.  My grandad Edward would get up at the crack of dawn to take his horse and cart five miles to the market to pick up produce to sell and my nan Polly and Edward`s sister Mary helped him in the busy shop.  Mary was always a heavy smoker, she always had a cigarette dangling from her mouth and in spite of her twenty to thirty a day habit managed to live well into her eighties.  She had been a nurse and brought many grateful soldiers back to full health during the first world war.  I know this because as a child, I was given her autograph book signed by lots of the men she nursed and it was filled with some fascinating drawings and poems which accompanied their thanks to her.  One drunken night in my twenties I gave it away to a woman who really loved it and I have regretted that but hey ho, it was a long time ago.

One night during World War 2 a few years before I was born, there was a heavy bombing raid over Birmingham.  Everyone apart from Aunty Mary fled to the large and damp concrete air raid shelter which had been built in the fields at the back of the house to protect the local community.  Mary was a stoic and she refused, as she put it, “to be made to leave her own home because of  The Hun.”  Referring to German soldiers as The Hun was a highly effective piece of propaganda seized upon by British politicians in WW2 in order to demonise the German troops.  Remember Attila the Hun?

Mary had gone to the loo that night presumably to have a fag and take her mind off the air raid.  She was perched on the throne refusing to be put out by Hitler when a bomb happened to fall right outside the flat, exploding and creating a massive crater in the Warwick Road.  The accompanying vibrations to the building literally blew Mary off the toilet so on that occasion, she must have been somewhat relieved to find herself still in tact.  Actually the night time raid also hit St. Mary`s Church in Acocks Green and did a huge amount of damage to that lovely building but like my Aunty Mary, the church too, survived.

Some years after the war, I had been born and spent a lot of my time with my nanny and Aunty Mary who now shared a house together in Dudley Park Road in Acocks Green.  They had retired and my mother and father were always occupied with shop business not that I especially minded at that time, my nanny was my favourite person in the world.

I used to watch Aunty Mary preparing food in the small, nineteen fifties kitchen.  She and nanny always wore aprons and Mary`s fags and matches would be kept available in the pocket of her apron.  She always smelt a mixture of fags and Rennies, I remember it distinctly.

I have a vivid childhood memory of watching Mary making gravy for Sunday dinner in a large roasting tin, the ever present fag hanging down. I was fascinated and childishly horrified as a good inch of ash which had been perilously close to dropping, finally departed from the cigarette and fell like a humungous grey snowflake, down with a gentle plop into the roasting tin.  Unperturbed Mary simply continued to stir the ash into the gravy.

After my nan died, Mary went to be taken care of by my Uncle Alan who lived in Great Barr and from time to time, we would all go to visit her and say hello to my cousins Stephen and Rita.  Alan`s wife Elsie was a very house proud woman and I remember it was a bit like visiting royalty.  My uncle, also a greengrocer worked very hard and the house reflected that with fine furniture and beautiful carpets throughout.  It must have been all the more galling for him therefore, to cope with the manner in which my Aunty Mary had chosen to die.

That day, she had lit a fag and as in WW1 all those years ago, retired to the toilet for a quiet smoke.  God called her, it was her time and she passed away and let her body slip off the loo and on to the newly laid pale green carpet.   Unfortunately, her body was blocking the door so too late, my Uncle Alan managed to push it open only to find the rascally fag that had fallen from her lips had already singed a large burn into his new carpet.

Aunty Elsie must have had kittens but that recollection of my ancient Aunty Mary, always makes me smile.

This is a Birmingham park in 2014.

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013 The pictures you see here are of a Birmingham park in 2014….. In 2006 I visited southern India.  It was a most magical and wonderful place as anyone who has back packed across India, will tell you.  One of the areas I visited was the state of Tamil Nadu where there is a large city called Madurai which sits on the banks of the river Vaigai.  It was here that I realised how shockingly filthy India`s waterways can be and I stopped to photograph a part of the river where a lot of rubbish had been allowed to gather and pollute the water. I am attaching here, some more pictures that I took today.  Not of southern India but of Fox Hollies Park near where I live.  The water running through it is a (mostly underground) culvert called Westley Brook.  The brook is a feeder to the river Cole and runs all the way up to Bacons End , next door to Chelmsley Wood.  It shocks and saddens me to see how filthy the brook has become and it reminded me of my visit to India. 016 In the sixteen hundreds the land where the park sits was owned by the Holley family and much later by the Fox family who farmed there until until 1869 so the site was a former country estate acquired by Birmingham city council in 1929.  Fox Hollies Hall was a manor house situated in Acocks Green and belonged to the Walker family.  The hall stood until it was demolished to make way for several large housing estates at Gospel, Edenbridge and Pool Farm.  The remains of the great gates are still to be seen on Fox Hollies Road. Westley Brook runs through the middle of the landscape and Broomhall Mill was built here where corn was milled until sadly, the building was demolished in 1890. There is a Bronze Age burnt mound to see in the park as well as a deep pool which I think must have been the mill pond.   Ancient carp swim lazily around there, some of them must be forty or fifty years old. In 1989, 3,000 new trees were planted to enhance the land so it is particularly sad to see the brook and the parkland in such a sorry state when once it was so grand. 017 You can see for yourself the amount of litter that now strews the ground and the amount of stuff that kids and grown ups regularly chuck into the brook.  A burnt out motor bike is the latest addition, it isn`t uncommon to find motorbike wrecks in this park.  Kids steal them to have burn ups where they race up and down churning up the grass and terrorising people like me out walking their dogs.  You won`t find families picnicking here in the summer, it just isn`t safe.   God alone knows what infection a child or a much loved family pet would wind up with if they fell into that toxic water, the thought alarms and concerns me every time I walk there. 019 Well…….  I`ve had enough and I feel it is high time for ACTION!  The local elections are coming up in May.  I intend e-mailing this blog to all of the councillors who represent my ward and asking them, “What do you intend to do to clean up this park and make it once more a safe and beautiful place to visit?  If you read this on Face Book, please do me a favour and share it.  I know there are many people in Birmingham, Fox Hollies and Acocks Green who agree with me and who maybe might join the protest. Thank you!

My mother and World War Two.

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My mother Bess was always a bit of a floozy.  She met my dad around 1921 when they were each ten years old and flirted with him even at that tender age.  They attended Acocks Green Junior School where after only a few days of knowing one another my dad wrote on a piece of orange peel in black ink, `I love you` and threw it over the school wall into the girls` playground where my mother picked it up.  With the exception of the war years, theirs was to be a life time`s commitment but it wasn`t always a happy union.

When they were young, they had a fabulous time together.  They were both sporty and enjoyed cycling, my dad loved to swim especially in the sea and they were both very good tennis players.  Dad did a little amateur boxing too and won a number of medals for his sport.  Sometimes they would get on their bikes and cycle all the way to Stratford and stop at what was then The Bird in Hand and have their lunch and a pint of cold beer.  My mum loved beer and would think nothing of drinking four or five pints to keep up with the lads.  Ma told me that in their day, the popular drug at the tennis club was opium although I don’t think either of them ever indulged, drugs were not their style but alcohol certainly was.

Mum and dad were engaged for twelve years until my mother reached her mid-thirties.  Then she must have put her foot down and stated, `Jack it`s now or never.`  So they were married, I believe at St. Mary`s church in Acocks Green, I shall have to ask my dad`s sister Val.  It has just struck me, I don`t actually recall ever being told about the wedding, I certainly don`t have any photographs.  I do recall my mother telling me that my dad`s best mate Charlie came to join them for some of their honeymoon, sparking speculation that my dad was a closet homosexual.  He may well have been for I do know that intimacy between my parents became sparser and sparser until by their late forties, they were pretty much in a celibate relationship.  So I`m lucky to be here!

Because of the late start, my mother didn`t have her first child, my sister Susan until 1947 after my father had returned from the war.  So she didn`t have me until she was forty two, very nearly forty three and consequently when she died aged eighty one I felt bereft, it was far too soon, I felt orphaned so it`s a good job my sister took over where mum left off.

When dad went away to the war he was in his late twenties and was stationed initially in North Africa, most noteably Cairo and later in Famagusta in Cyprus.  Brought up in England, he was placed with the Scottish Regiment and when he left our shores was an incredibly handsome man, tall, slim, with a shock of wavy dark brown hair and flashing white teeth he was really striking. It must have been devastating for everyone to lose their loved ones to they knew not what fate.

During the six years my father was away, he wrote many loving letters to his large family of four sisters and two brothers and of course to my mum who he affectionately called Bodie. It was obvious he missed her greatly and thought of her often.

My mother on the other hand was a different kettle of fish and having been with one man since she was ten, while my father was away she decided to have herself a ball.  She had a number of men friends right through the war, trading kisses for extra rations from the local butcher she never went without meat and butter which she would save until she had enough to slather generously onto hot toast.  My mum told me that during the war she had affairs with both father and son of an army family called Major. Major Major was aware of her relationship with his son who was a sergeant and he would discreetly slip out of the back door when his son visited while sergeant Major, completely unaware would enter via the front.  This may all be urban myth of course for my mother was a great story teller.  One thing I do know to be true though is that of her love affair with a well- known local funeral director.  He would often call and pick up my mother for a day out.  Arriving at her house in his hearse, he would have a picnic basket in the back filled with good things to eat, a fur rug for them to (ahem) sit on, a couple of bottles of wine and a wind up gramophone.  They would drive out to somewhere in the country and have a lovely time.  He was married too but I believe my mum fell in love with him and it was all the more poignant that upon her death many years later, it was his grandson who made the arrangements for my mother`s funeral.

I don`t think dad was ever aware of it, it would have gutted him, although I find it hard to conceive that my father spent six years away and never slept with another woman or in my dad`s case possibly another man. I shall never know!

When dad returned from the war he spoke with a broad Scottish accent.  He had lost all of his teeth through being kicked in the mouth in a match of rugby.  He weighed about eighteen stone and was almost completely bald my mum said it was like a stranger had walked into the house and got into bed with her.  Her affairs with Major Major and his son if indeed they really happened must have long since ceased but it was ending the relationship with the funeral director that must have hit her the hardest.

As we grew older and she recollected these stories we all of us used to say,  `Mum why didn`t you leave the marriage?`  We loved them both but neither of them were ever properly happy together especially towards the end of their lives.  My mother always replied, `Because you didn`t do that in those days, you didn`t do a `Dear John` on the men who were fighting so bravely for us all.`  I can`t help wondering from time to time how things might have been had she taken a different path.  Well I wouldn`t be here for one thing! Hah!

My mum celebrated the end of the war along with millions of others across Europe by drinking solidly for three days and then sleeping it off for a further two.  There were changes ahead and it would take her a long time to acclimatise herself to them.

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Monks, golf and climbing chestnut trees.

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At the back of mum and dad`s shop were open fields and a private school for boys which was called Wellesbourne School.  Wellesbourne had an outside swimming pool which years later when the school had closed and was derelict, our neighbours` dog fell into.  The poor thing was there all night until my brother Martin and I sourced the barking, climbed over the wall and hauled him dripping, out of the murky water.

Wellesbourne school was next to a friary which used to exist in Acocks Green and was part of Sacred Hearts and Holy Souls Catholic Church community.  The monks would often go out onto Wellesbourne`s playing fields and practice golf, their brown cassocks flowing around their ankles.  Martin and I would gather up the golf balls and return them and the monks would bless us and make us feel very pious.

We had a lot of friends round about in Acocks Green and we would all meet up and play Acky One Two Three together until dusk and go home sweaty, filthy, happy kids. Children can`t do that very easily these days, play out on their own all day and have adventures which is a pity.  There was a concrete air raid bunker at the back of the flat which had a sloping roof and we would all climb up on there, me, my big brother Al`, Martin, the Slater sisters, Pamela and Gail and sometimes Tishca (Patricia) and Terry Price would join us and Terry would flirt with my sister Sue.

One time Martin decided to dig a tunnel, he dug into an earth bank with a spade he got from dad`s shed.  He dug in quite a way and then the whole thing collapsed on him, it`s lucky we were all there to dig him out again or he might have suffocated.  Martin was always getting into scrapes, mum sometimes used to call him the black sheep of the family which was untrue, he was just an inquisitive, brave boy. I loved him then and I still do.

I felt a sort of awe for my brother Alan all through my childhood and teens, I have never worked out why that was except that he was enigmatic and therefore very cool and interesting to me.  Al` suffered from terrible inner ear infections as a child which would leave him delerious with pain.  Mum and I used to sit by his bed and hold his hand through the night and he would weep, it was awful and wouldn`t happen these days.  Very unfortunately these childhood infections have left my darling bro` with tinnitus which has nearly driven him insane over the years and almost entirely deaf now, which is a great shame as my brother is a very gifted saxophonist and blues harmonica player.

As a child I loathed my sister Sue.  She was six years older than me and incredibly bossy and wouldn`t let me join in with her and her friends and wouldn`t allow me to go to her birthday parties and so on.  She got to stay up much later than me and had a grown up relationship with mum and dad which I was very envious of.  I remember saying the f word when I was about four, I suppose I`d heard one of my brothers saying it and Sue slapped my face hard telling me never to utter the word again.  I carried on loathing her until I was about fourteen and then I fell madly in love with her and remained so until her much too early demise, nearly five years ago.  I miss you every day my dearest sis.

At the back of the flat on the bit of land we used to call The Black Patch (which was really just the Midland Bank car park,) grew a magnificent Horse Chestnut tree.  It is huge, it`s still there and is a protected tree because it is so old.  When I was four I decided to climb up into it`s vast heights and then of course, I couldn`t figure out how to climb down again.  I`m laughing now at the recollection but I remember my father`s face, he was furious with me and had to get the long ladders and climb up to get me down.

My parents never smacked us to discipline us, they had both been `strapped` as children by their fathers` leather belts and I think they must have made a joint decision never to dish out that kind of punishment.  I believe I was sent to bed after the tree incident, without my tea!

Hi-yo, Silver! Away!

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My brother Martin and I were extremely close as children in fact you could say we were joined at the hip as we went everywhere together.  We loved to play super hero games and tying a bath towel around our necks which magically transformed into a cape, we would zoom around the large flat we lived in, he as Superman and me of course as Supergirl. Martin was a terrible tease and couldn`t let me walk past him without doing something to me.  He would trip me or pinch my arm or anything annoying so that I would retaliate.  Then we`d have a full blown wrestling match on the hall floor which generally ended up with me shouting “Submit! Submit!”, when my bro` got me into a figure four.

Martin took me roof hopping as a child which involved us climbing up fire escapes and drainpipes to breathtaking heights on top of Woolworth`s roof.  From there we would jump across a humungous gap to land on the roof of the bingo hall next door and so on until we couldn`t get any further and then we`d have to go all the way back.  I can only imagine my parents were busy in their greengrocer shop, their hearts would have stopped if they`d had any idea what we were up to!  We loved to hang around the back of the bingo hall on a hot summers day because they would leave the doors open to let in some air and Martin and I would shout out random numbers as loudly as we could up to the hall to try and confuse the players.

When Martin was quite small, about 5 or 6, he loved to dress up as a cowboy, he would play cowboys and Indians for hours with me in the fields at the back of the shop.  Dressed in pretend leather chaps, his silver plastic gun slung around his hips in a black plastic holster, a red `kerchief tied around his neck, his cowboy hat upon his head he would become the Lone Ranger and I was his Tonto.

One afternoon a very angry man entered mum and dad`s shop, in fact angry would be an understatement he was apoplectic.  The stranger`s beautiful and very expensive open top sports car, which had been parked at the top of the shop drive was now buckled and bent having rolled down the slope of the drive and into the Warwick Road .  It had come to a stop leaning against a lamp post.  My father was confused, why did it have anything to do with him he wondered?  The angry man was shaking something in his hand which upon closer examination proved to be Martin`s toy gun which he had obligingly left on the passenger seat of the car when he climbed out, after taking the handbrake off……….

Whoops!  The angry man said that Martin had legged it when he had spotted him.   Alarmed, my parents rushed to see where Martin was.  He was strolling nonchalantly down the garden path at the back of the flat, his empty holster still buckled around his hips just as though he hadn`t got a care in the world.

Growing up in the nineteen fifties.

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I was born the year the Queen came to the throne, 1953.  My mum was 43 when I came into this world, she told me she had “wept buckets” into the Belfast sink when she found out she was pregnant with me.  Not a great start.  She went to see Dr Hernan to see if he could do anything about it but he was Catholic and sent her away.  Thanks doc, I owe you one.

Like so many of us in the fifties, I was born at home.  My aunty Mary helped deliver me, my older sister Sue was brought to see me at two thirty in the afternoon.  Gazing sniffily at me in the blue Moses basket she said,  “Nanny made me eat cabbage for my dinner,” before wandering downstairs again.

My grandfather on my dad`s side was called Edward.  I never met him; he died some weeks before I was born.  He was a greengrocer and ran a high class, double fronted green grocer shop on the Warwick Road in Acocks Green called E.Pitt and sons.  My dad ran it when he came back from Cyprus after World War 2.  One side of the shop sold fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, the other side sold corn seed, sacks of spuds and animal foods.  It was great living in the huge flat above the shop.  The Midland Bank was next door providing occasional excitement when people tried to break in and steal money.  This happened twice in my childhood and I remember the police at night with dogs all over our back garden, shining torches at the terrified faces of the young, would be thieves, telling them to come down off the bank roof or they would send the dogs up.

In the flat`s kitchen we had an iron range.  Mum would bathe me in the big old ceramic sink before bed.  She still used to do the weekly wash with a dolly and put the clothes through the mangle outside.  In winter the shirts would freeze like stills in a photograph, all along the washing line.  My brother Martin used to like to try and mangle my fingers when I was a child.  As I grew up mum had a helper, Nelly Stone who used to walk me to the infants school when I was four.  I didn`t like the smell of her hands, I think it was probably carbolic soap, that florid pink stuff do you remember?  Uncle Albert used to help out in the shop, he would gather me up in his arms and bear hug me after school and pretend to punch me, I guess he must have loved me.

I hardly saw my mother and father when I was little, mostly we were looked after by our Nan as mum and dad were busy in the shop all the time.  In the early mornings dad would be off in his lorry at five thirty to the market in Birmingham for fresh vegetables.  At the back of the shop were the stables where my grandfather kept his horses, he used to go to market in a cart.  As kids we used the barn space upstairs as our own private roller skating rink.  We had those silver adjustable skates you could buy from Woollies with the pretend red leather straps.  We could lean through the upstairs stables windows and pluck pears from the trees that grew in the bank garden.

On Sunday evenings we were allowed to stay up late to watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium on the black and white TV.  We used to go down the stairs from our sitting room into the shop and help ourselves to peanuts, all sorts of exotic fruit like bananas and lychees which most people hadn`t even heard of in those days.  Dad would peel the lychees and pop them into our mouths telling us they were sheep`s eyeballs, we never believed him but would giggle a lot, every time.  I also had a penchant for dog biscuits and munched my way through many a Bonio as a child.  I still have great teeth and I`m nearly sixty.  Sometimes dad would hang hare and pheasant up for sale at the front of the shop and he was bitten twice on the hand by banana spiders who had hitched a lift over here in the crates, all the way from Africa.  My dad`s hand swelled up like a football.

At four in the afternoon schoolkids would pop their heads in through the shop door and shout out to mum and dad,  “Got any spec`s mister?”  and dad would toss them all a bruised apple or a tangerine.

Happy, happy days.