BELIEVE IN ME
It was Thursday August 21st 1963. Number 19 North Terrace, Esh Winning
Magdalene stood with mouth open and with furrowed brow as she looked at the house she would soon be living in. The toilet was outside next to the back door and she dreaded to think what it would be like inside the house. She was 4 months pregnant and the thoughts of delivering her baby in this hovel caused her to burst into tears.
"Oh my God" She cried out, "We can't live here Alan, it's as bad if not worse than all the other houses we have seen, we can't have our baby born here."
Alan held her hand even more tightly, he himself felt downhearted to say the least but this was the last house of the four houses they had visited over the past few weeks. It had to be better than the other three which were in small ex-mining villages with no access to shops, busses or doctors. The mine workers association had been slowly getting rid of their free housing as the maintenance costs were outweighing their housing costs and according to the colliery management where Alan worked, this is the very last house on their list.
The street seemed to be fully occupied as he could see people busy cleaning windows and browning the stone step at their doors.
Alan placed his arm around Magdalene's shoulder and pulled her into his arms.
"Let's get inside Sweetheart, it might not be as bad inside as it looks outside."
The large mortise key slid into the mortise lock and clicked the lock open. It was dark inside as the last occupants had left heavy thick curtains hanging closed from the only window in the room. There was a musty smell that emanated throughout the very large room. "It just needs a good airing Sweetheart" Alan said with little hope in his heart. There was a small pantry just inside on the left of the door, but there was no kitchen or sink. Alan tore down the curtains and forced the window upward and open to let some fresh air into the room.
The black cast iron fireplace looked in good condition but would need some work to bring it back into full operation for heating and cooking. The bare wooden staircase creaked noisily as they climbed the stairs to the single bedroom. There was a fireplace on one wall circled with what looked like soot from a fire that must have been used to heat the room. It also could have been from the fireplace downstairs or from the chimney that was most likely shared by their neighbours.
Magdalene's tears flowed down her cheeks as she was so disheartened leaving sooty tram lines on her beautiful face and Alan wrapped her in his arms and brushed away her tears.
"This looks really bad sweetheart, but I promise you I will make it good for you and our baby. I have a weeks holiday next week and I will come here every day to clean the place up, put new wallpaper on the walls, polish the fireplace, install a sink in the pantry and get rid of the smell. Just you leave everything to me and don't you worry yourself, you will never believe me when I say I will make this place into a home fit for the birth of our baby.
Magdalene stayed at her father's house the following week and Alan got to work inside the house.
Sid, a neighbour who became very friendly with Alan arrived with his wife Betty complete with cleaning materials, buckets and a large pile of old newspapers on the Saturday morning. They introduced themselves and they lived along the street at number 21, North Terrace.
"Once the wallpaper has been removed newspapers will be needed to be pasted onto all the walls before we do the papering" said Sid. "Betty and me are here to help you, we saw the state your wife was in and we went through the same disillusionment when we moved here so, we know what it's like to be downhearted. If we don't use the newspapers first, the wallpaper will fall off within a couple of weeks so, we need to do that first and we are here to help you as much as possible."
Within four days new wallpaper had been installed with the expert assistance of Sid. Betty had cleaned and polished the fireplace and it looked magnificent in its new black coat. Alan painted the ceiling, doors and window frame white, he installed a sink in the pantry he bought second hand and blocked off the fireplace in the bedroom as Betty said she remembered the last occupants complained of smoke in the bedroom.
Alan had arranged for underlay and a carpet that wasn't too expensive and it was installed after newspapers were once again used to cover the floor before the underlay was installed. There was no way on this earth could Alan thank Sid and Betty for all their advice and help as the room looked really homely and nice, all that was needed now was furniture.
Alan had a motorcycle combination and on Monday morning he sped off into Durham City to the assembly rooms and the weekly auction of unwanted furniture. He had almost 45 pounds in his pocket he had saved from his part time window cleaning, tidying up people's gardens and repairing cars and motorcycles over the past year. He bought a settee, a comfy rocking chair for Magdalene, a double bed, a TV with doors on the front, cups and saucers, pans, bedding and new sheets and pillows, a small table, pots and pans, a kettle and a cot for the baby.
Everything would be delivered at his new home the following day. Once Alan had reckoned up on his money he had exactly six pounds left in his pocket, enough to buy food ready for his wife when she returned on Sunday from her father's house.
Tuesday was a vey busy day, all the things he had bought at the sales were delivered and the delivery men carried everything into his house.
Sid set up the TV as he had spare cables and electrical plugs, luckily there was still a TV Ariel on the roof and Betty advised on the furniture arrangements. The double bed was placed in the wide corner alcove beneath the staircase and Betty made up the bed with the new sheets and pillows.
On Saturday morning Alan worked on the outside toilet. He scrubbed the wooden walls and then gave them a new coat of white paint. Sid gave Alan a spare toilet roll holder he had and a wooden toilet seat. All in all the place looked like it could be lived in now compared to what it was like just a week ago. It was now a reasonable home for his wife and forthcoming baby.
The colliery had delivered a load of coal for the fire at the coalhouse which was on the other side of the road. Alan bought a shovel and shovelled the coal into the coal house, then he bought a couple of pails and filled them with coal and ready to use inside the house. This would save his wife from having to go across the road to the coalhouse to collect coal for the fire.
Sunday afternoon Magdalene arrived with her father in his car. Alan could see on the face of her father that this was somewhere he did not want his daughter to live. Once they entered the house her father's face had a smile on it and Magdalene's face lit up with a broad happy smile.
"How on earth have you managed to transform this place into a home" she cried. "It was nothing but a pigsty a week ago and I have no idea how you have made it so beautiful. It's a real home now Alan, fit for our baby to be born into and I am so proud of what you have achieved."
Magdalene's father still had that frown on his face but then he must have realised that Alan was a good young man, a sincere strong minded man who would take care of his daughter no matter what. He had brought with him a bag full of food that would last them for weeks to come. Alan guess her father was quite proud of what he had done in just one week, with the expert help of Sid and Betty of course.
Betty had a bath tub and she also had hot water in her house. When Magdalene needed a bath Alan borrowed Betty's bath tub and then carried hot water in pails from her house and filled the bathtub so Magdalene could take a bath.
Our baby girl was born one cold snowy morning at 5:42am. Alan had to walk for almost half a mile to carry the Midwifes equipment, the gas and air and other requirements she may need up the steep bank to Alan's home, but it was all worth the trouble. Betty assisted the nurse all through the long morning, she had five boys of her own and two were born just along the street at number 21.
Baby Shirley had a head full of blond hair and bright sparkling blue eyes, she was the most beautiful baby in the whole wide world and the only time she cried was when she took her first breath of air into her lungs.
Later that morning when Alan and Magdalene were on their own with baby Shirley, Magdalene said, "I always believed in you Alan, I knew you would do your utmost to make us comfortable and happy and you have done just that. I have no idea how you managed to do it but I am so proud of you. Even my dad said he was no longer worried about me as you had proved to him that you were a man of your word."
Within five months Alan was out of his Apprenticeship and was now allowed to work on his own underground. This meant his salary had increased to almost double that of previous as he was given his own coal face with all the machinery to look after. Alan worked overtime at weekends and saved the weekend money to buy a new Silver Cross pram for baby Shirley.
A year later a house became available in the street at number10 with running hot water, a bathroom, an inside toilet along with a front room, two bedrooms, a fully fitted kitchen with a cooker and it was spotlessly clean. There was no need to buy anything new, just transfer what they had into the new house again with the aid of Sid and Betty of course. Alan bought more furniture as there was a nice sitting room with a large window with a lovely view and a fireplace, the bed was moved upstairs into one of the bedrooms and there was no smoke present in the room.
Another baby was born a while later, a boy named after me his father and the same nurse delivered our baby. We were happy in those days, it was a different kind of happiness than we have nowadays as our four children are married and live their own lives and their own children.
Believe me when I say that all this happened to me. I have never ever regretted anything I have done in my life and I have always done my very best for my family. Things have changed in this world of ours, would a neighbour do what Sid and Betty did for us nowadays. Looking back I think that lots of things were better in the old days than they are in this world today.