It is one of the most intriguing notions when we research a house history to imagine what went on behind the front door. In this guest post, we are delighted to be able to give you a glimpse of life behind the door of one such house on Westfield Avenue.
Ian Lennox was brought up in the “leafy suburb of Gosforth” and is the author of several books including The Sixties Man and Bare Knuckle, based around Newcastle. Marley’s Weapon his latest novel is now available on Kindle.
It’s the Sixties and newspapers are still enjoying a boom. Young reporters still knock on doors and dream of careers on the Nationals.
Noel Marley isn’t one of them. He seems content to be one of life’s losers and endures the sneers and sniggers of his ambitious colleagues.
Then one day, John Drury, one of the alpha males, humiliates him gratuitously in front of the whole office and Marley decides to fight back.
His choice of weapon is a clattering old typewriter that sounds like a machine gun. Marley’s Weapon doesn’t use bullets, just words.
Drury writes reviews and features. Marley writes letters to the paper attacking them. He knows he’s winning the battle. But can he win the war and launch a new career?
We are sure like us you are eager to read more, so here is the link!
Please read on and enjoy the colourful memories Ian has of teenage life and early adulthood in Gosforth.
The Magistrates Court
I was eighteen years old when I was sent to cover my first magistrates court at North Shields. The youth in the dock was charged with burglary and I stared at him and thought, ‘Hmmm, so this is what a criminal looks like.’
A few months later I was pursued outside the same court by three ladies of the night who shouted ‘Just because you’re big don’t think you’re tough. We’ll get the dockers on to you.’
Not surprisingly, I suppose, they objected to free publicity in the evening paper about their activities.
I mention these two anecdotes to emphasise the hapless state I found myself in after my upbringing in the leafy suburb of Gosforth. There was a world going on outside which no one had told me about.
Gosforth wasn’t entirely an island of innocence. I seem to remember one lady about whom there were whispers, that spread to even my virginal ears. Indeed, her reputation for being a bit of a goer was sharply enhanced when by chance we were passengers in a car which was driven past a past a building site.
‘Good God! That man’s got a TORSO,’ she exclaimed. I followed her gaze to a large shirtless workman shovelling cement. Hmmm!
I lived in Westfield Avenue, in a fourteen roomed terraced house in which each door had its own sound shutting. The front door was never locked. We never felt the need. In any case my father, a former England University rugby player, was worth about three pit bulls as evidenced one night when some youthful party goer foolishly threw an orange through his bedroom window. I, who had been fully clothed, emerged first into a silent empty street. My father who had had to dress and smash his way through three doors and a hat stand, followed five seconds later ready to fight anyone or even a lamppost if there was nothing else.
‘Search the gardens,’ he roared.
Seconds later, a trembling young man emerged with his hands above his head. He offered to repair the window that afternoon in exchange for his life. He kept his word and my father later declared he ‘was quite a nice chap, actually.’
Occasionally my father gave me a glimpse of his rugby playing days. It seemed to involve lots of fighting on the pitch and lots of friendship and drinking off it.
One time, the local sports reporter got so drunk he couldn’t write his copy. He asked my dad to send in a report. ‘So I did,’ dad told me. He paused. ‘Mind you, I had a hell of a game.’
Cars were far between in the fifties and we played in the street. At the bottom of our road, Westfield stretched down to Oaklands creating part of the crossroads on which there was wasteland on each corner. Grass and nettles grew three feet or more and this is where we played as happy as posh pagans. Just William wasn’t in it.
Large concrete anti-tank blocks stretched along one plot. Across the adjacent Dukes Moor, the blocks stretched right up the Grandstand Road. We used to leap from one to another. I had no knowledge of tactics for tank warfare, but as far as I could judge, the blocks seemed designed to send invading Panzers up the Grandstand Road and far away from my house.
It was on the Dukes Moor that I was stricken hopelessly with my first and most potent romance. For weeks I’d adored a girl at school but was too shy to approach her ethereal presence. I was seventeen and one Saturday I went to watch a gymkhana on the moor despite feeling vaguely threatened by horses who seemed to have large teeth and larger feet. Suddenly the girl appeared from the Grandstand Road end with her two sisters. She spotted me from 100 yards and waved a vigorous welcome. We sat side by side chatting all afternoon and I remember the elder sister, who must have been in her early twenties smiling in approval. I had an innocent, angelic face and she must have estimated that I was at least a year away from being a moral threat to her pretty sister.
She was correct. I think we lasted one chaotic date, but hell, the journey was more important than the destination and the surge of joy when she waved to me that afternoon sustained me through many a future ephemeral relationship.
My mother’s parents were wealthy and they lived in a huge house in Osbaldeston Gardens. They had three children and a grand piano (and other things, obviously!) My mum was a brilliant pianist, as was her brother James Gibb who went on to play at the proms and become a professor at the Guildhall School of Music in London. My mum inherited the piano and during the war it served as a bomb shelter for yours truly at our home in Sanderson Road, Jesmond. That was the only use I had for it, unfortunately. My mother, whose heart, obviously ruled her head and all other critical faculties, decided that I had ‘pianist’s hands.’ I was sent for lessons at my prep school where my uncle Jimmy had formerly been a pupil. I believe the poor woman who taught me knew of my pedigree and must have dreamed of great things as the ‘prodigy’ strode in for his first lesson. If I was writing the incident as fiction, I would have her sobbing quietly after ten minutes, and writing my end-of-term report with the words, ‘quite good at rugby.’
Dedication to Louisa
As Fiona mentioned in a prelim post I have just finished my seventh novel. It’s called Marley’s Weapon and is set in a newspaper office in the Sixties. One of the important characters is an old lady called Nan. When writing fiction, sometimes you base characters on real people without realising it. Nan is more than an echo of Louisa who came from an impoverished background before starting work as a maid for my grandmother. She and mum became the closest friends and Louisa was the sweetest kindest, most generous soul I met in my life. Her fiancé was killed in the Great War. I think I was the son she never had. When I was about fifteen, I rode home from school each lunch time. One day she took a picture of me and I one of her. These are they.
I am 77 now and Louisa died fifty years ago. I and my sisters visit her grave every year. The family told me that there is a picture of me buried with her. Did I mind? NO!
Marley’s Weapon is probably my last novel and I have dedicated it to Louisa in the opening pages. It seems a good beginning and a good end.
Copyright Ian Lennox