Days of Coal and Flowers


My Mother and Me, June 1960

My Mother with me, June 1960

Today is June 1st, so the photograph above seems like an appropriate flashback selection. This is probably one of the earliest surviving photographs of me, in the arms of my mother, in June 1960.

My mother is sitting on an ancient bench in the back garden of our house in Scalby Road, Scarborough. Behind her is part of our large and verdant garden, on which my father lavished tremendous amounts of time and effort. In the greenhouse that’s visible in the picture, he grew geraniums and tomatoes.

My memories of that garden led me to want something similar of my own when I grew up, and I pushed for that, until I actually got one, and realized just how much work it is! Nowadays, although I still appreciate gardens, I must admit that Mary does much more work in the garden than I do!

All Our Bunkers

Also visible at the far left of the picture above is our coke bunker. In those days, we had both coal fires and coke furnaces in the house, so we had regular deliveries of both. There were large coal bunkers in a yard at the side of the house, but my parents added this extra bunker for coke at the back.

The problem was that it was important not to mix up coal and coke, because one would not burn properly in fires designed for the other. Having the coke bunker in a completely separate location reduced the risk that the delivery person would make a mistake.

During the 1960s, Airfix made a scale model kit of a bungalow that included a coal bunker of this design, among other period features such as a VHF television antenna! The same model is still available now, from Dapol.

With the arrival of North Sea Gas later in the 1960s, my parents took the opportunity to replace all our coal fires with gas, which made life much simpler and cleaner for us. Nonetheless, we still had a coke-burning furnace in the kitchen, which also supplied all our hot water. I can remember my father cleaning out the ashes onto a newspaper every night, then bringing in a scuttle of coke, ready to relight the furnace the following morning.

The Calm before the Storm

The photo above depicts an idyllic moment, perhaps giving the false impression that all was perfect in our lives. In reality, storm clouds were already gathering for our family.

My father had his first stroke within two years of my birth, which meant that he was never again able to maintain the garden to his own high standards.

Concerns about the family’s future income led us to move out of that house in 1970, when my parents bought a guest house on the other side of town (the exterior of which is shown in this article).

The photo below, taken thirteen years later in June 1973, in the much more modest back garden of the guest house, shows (from left to right) my mother, our West Highland terrier Meg, my brother, and me.

Tea in the Garden, West Street, Scarborough, June 1973

Tea in the Garden, West Street, Scarborough, June 1973

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