The Summer of 1963

January 25, 2009
In the summer of 1963 I watched seabirds in V-formation, from my mother’s bed.
The County Durham summer had only occasional hot days, with a latent chill always.
I was obliged to measure subsequent summers by this: Eight years old and who I was formed.
What changed most obviously then were two-fold. Trunk roads and playing outdoors, the clear conflict of these two, road accidents, and radical physical change in the space around me.
On Sundays Boldon Colliery, a pit village across the railway, was the destination via slag heaps to artificial lakes which were allegedly linked to flooded mines.
A travelling fair visited the colliery town yearly. The pit closed. Evidence of railway lines and mining disappeared. Steam trains were replaced by diesel trains on the steep railway embankment, and the railway embankment portal to the countryside was removed to take the trunk road.
My own childhood was petrified at once.
In the 1963 winter snowdrifts miles long were seen at night by me outside the front window.
Beyond Down Hill, Sunderland housing estates now surrounded Lumley castle:
Coal and the spiritulty entwined here since the thirteenth centuary, the monks of Finchale Abbey owned Lumley mine.
By which time it was 1964. The two cities of Newcastle and Sunderland collided under this hill.
The trunk road was now built. Simultaneously, a boy falls down a manhole, his mother doing the bingo in the Neon Social Club.
At about December 1997, in Steglitz, Berlin, I entered the raised garden of Begoniaplatz. 1600 miles and 35 years later, I wondered if I would ever go home.
From the flat window I watched the leaves fall off the trees till the very last one.
Back then in Jarrow, our house was no longer at the town edge. A school had been built which obscured the view to Boldon.
It was somewhere to play football. Police in Hillman Imps cleared us off, occasionally.
South Shields, a resort was freezing the day my two brothers from Ushaw college wearing loin cloth-like costumes swam in the cold North Sea, so bracing, there was talk of heating it with under water gas fires.
The heaving swell unhinged the pier. One of my brothers would later leap off HMS Hermes as a diver, and later remember ship’s now mothballed in Portsmouth harbour. Beyond the boat lake Jimmy Saville was compering a TV games show.
Sylvia was about to kill herself in Primrose Hill but I had no idea.
On Saturday morning a van delivers pastel clothes for girls at No 17. Up on Perth Green, Durham colliery bands were marching, and there were even side show whippet races underway. This was the Neon Social Club Leek Show. The committee members seemed far too wealthy. The man at No 17 was on the committee.
My mother meanwhile kept us fed by sewing and my father worked in a factory.
Although Jarrow had only one blackman, a whole community from Yemen lived in Reckendyke. Jarrow was Irish, South Shields maritime. We were socially Irish in an English field. Things changed though when my eldest brother married a girl from the docks and rented the only cottage in Calf Close for £1 a week, a pylon in the backfield next to the railway. They worked for themselves, not an abstract community.
For two years my transition from child to youth was on horseback. What happened next is beyond the scope of this story.
Historically Jarrow was linked by the worlds oldest coal railway line, into the heart of Durham via Sunnyside but that was already gone but occasionally there was still a 40 shilling cast iron trespass warning.
The arches at Tyne Dock were demolished. Newcastle stone was cleaned up and all trams sidelined.
My father retired. Decline frightened me. I would go off to Polytechnic and perhaps escape.
Uncle Pat, the Jarra Lad who played for Newcastle and comedian at the Robin Hood died.
Vince Rea’s gallery opened and closed. My father dumped me at White Mare Pool again, and by nightfall I would be at Kings Cross.

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