Wigton Salvation army band.

James Allison Blair – Part B (CSWig13b)




2017 Cumbria Speaks Oral History Project


Respondent Code: CSWig13b
Respondent: James Allison Blair
Date of birth: 18/02/1926
Date of Interview: 31/05/2018
Interviewer: Trevor Grahamslaw
Interview conducted at Jimmy Blair’s home.

James Allison Blair Part 2

TG       Your wife was Rosalyn Douglas?

JB         That’s right yes the love of my life”

TG       So when did you get married?

JB         It was 1945 I think it was 1945 I think it was November. Think it was bout 12th November and then shortly after that I went to Palestine, I was in Palestine for a year and then they moved es to er Malta, and on Malta there was thousands of German prisoners that had been captured in the desert during the war you know and they used to sing at night and ooh you’ve no idea and they used to quiz me because they knew I had been in Germany because half of them wouldn’t know where their house was when they went home  because there had been that much bombing and that  you know, it was tragedy that I thought and they could make, they could make, if you gave them an old shell they could make cigarette holders lighters marvellous fellas they could do out! Very clever and I never kept one of them and I always intended to, but there’s also erm what do you…and their singing was unbelievable it wasn’t just a rabble it was all er it was like a choir and ooh there was thousands of them they had been on Malta since they were desert captured you see and they put them on Malta.

Malta was erm it was, it had its attractions but on the whole I thought it was a slab of rock in the middle of the Mediterranean you know but you just had to put up with it.

And then I went to Trieste, Trieste it has a border to Yugoslavia and we had an outpost there at a place called Yudini and Mrs Graham lives round the corner came from there, and then the football team Youldanese they call them that was a lovely place, but they were always fighting with one another the Yugoslavs with the Italians what for I don’t know?

We used to have a post just to keep the peace between them lovely place youdini….aye.

Aye, Tommy Grahams wife, she’s still alive she’s 80… she’s older than I am she never comes out, she has a brother called Dennis who was  big man on the council at one time  Dennis Graham, do you know him? Yes, and he had a brother and a sister I don’t know whether they’re alive or not?

He used to live erm you know that road if you’re going to Fletchertown he used to live in that laal spot down there I forgot what you call the damn place I’ve forgot now aye.

TG       When you got married going back to Britain now”?

JB         aye we had no honeymoon we had a cup of tea at her mother’s” you know. Where did you go to live? Well we got that laal house on Market Hill, what was it like what condition was it in? oh well nowadays you wouldn’t describe it as a house but in them days it was haven I used to get away… coz I stayed with her mother and I didn’t like it you never do, do you, we had a bedroom at her house but I wasn’t happy there.

We got this old house and I had a look at it and I thought well it’s not much of a house but anyways we got it sort of titivated up and decorated and all that, and I told you there was no back door and the toilet was down the yard, it used to rain in, it was raining in one night when the two lasses was in the bedroom on their own eh and I could hear this pitter patter, pitter patter, and the rain was coming through the roof  and dropping on the bed so I slung a bucket up somehow or other and the next morning I had to empty it. I had to get up on the roof and alter all the slates to stop it raining in, and the landlady ooh she went mad she said I was trying to get her house destroyed and all such as that. But she had a chimney and there was no cement between the bricks if you touched it, it was gonna fall over ah ah when I think about it now oh happy days, and the rent was only about half a crown.

And we used to go to the pictures, flea pit.

TG       Did you ever go to the pictures in Wigton”? no it was closed when I came here. Aye well, the used to say why don’t you get some decent pictures in and they used to say they don’t like decent pictures they just like cowboys.

JB         So we used to go there twice a week and coming down the street there was a fella called john…. You know where Henry Sharp had his fruit? Yes, there was a fella in there called Johnny Wren he had a market garden round the crofts and he had a … he had fish and chips beautiful! And we used to get fish and chips and that was it, fish and chips was a delicacy till us, great, go home put the fire o aye.

If we used to…Ros used to say we haven’t any coals Jimmy so I used to get on me bike go down pinning’s down station and fetch a bag of coal back.

And in them days if you wanted… when we moved erm down, we lived down Burnside you know if we wanted some taties, I used to carry one down on my back now I can’t lift a carrot!  Aye great, happy days, lad.

TG       You told me when you first moved to that house where Hodgson’s close flats is now that you caught, was it 20 mice? 

JB         Aye first night when we were in it I kept setting a trap you know, it kept going like that, I got rid of them but sometimes when I went rabbiting I would maybe hang a pair of rabbits in cupboard you know and Ros was squealing like hell, coz she went in and touched this rabbit and she didn’t know what the hell it was frightened her to death like! Aaah man happy days.

TG       Because you got a job at British new wrap after that?

JB         I did, I did. You were there for 32 years, ye and I worked my way up to a foreman worst thing ever I did, aye the foreman’s job it wasn’t worth it, coz you get more back slaps. There was a fella called James Fell do you remember him? Jimmy Fell, yes.

Well now then, well they had me up, I went till a tribunal you know there was a police…a policeman, summat, and they found me not guilty whatever I was accused of? Because Coulthard’s you know, he had this big scarf on and I said “you can’t wear that coz if it gets catched in a machine you’ll… he said I tried to choke him with….aaahhh it was a put up job like anyhow, Jimmy Fell, he was a friend of mine when I was a boy, I said “if you’re a friend of mine I’m the bloody devil”!

I didn’t like him, anyhow I used to call him ginger Tom, he died shortly after that I don’t know.

JB         But you were cleared of what (aye) and you left and went to at school.

TG       They were supposed to start me back but my missus wouldn’t have it. “You’re not going back there” she said, “if we live on bloody scraps because they will just put on you”, which I would have went back, but that’s when you find out how many friends you have.  I had a few decent friends that stood up for me because that was a put up job like, take it from me it was a put up job Coulthard’s, anyway, there’s one thing you touch on your very keen, you had great hobbies, you had terriers, aye I had terriers, I had Borders and West Ireland White’s, and of all the dogs I had Borders were the best dogs I had in my life.  I had a champion as well I had one called Jaqueline’s girl, you know you give it a kennel name I forget what they called this dog eugh, it was hard it was a killer it was hard. It was a real hard dog it slept outside on the ground, only time it went in was when it rained otherwise it was just in a hole in the ground. Red hot tough as out he was tough dog. But you’d gone ferreting since you were a boy? Aye I once got catched in a place called lodge quarry it belonged to Joss little at intack it was a farm up there and he appeared from nowhere and he said “what are you doing”? Me and another lad called Wilfred Clarke and I said “what do you think I’m doing” well he says where’s the ferret at and I said well It’s still in, well leave it in he says, well he picked the rabbits up and no them’s mine he said and he wanted some more, no I said I just picked the ferret…he said I’ll show you a way out this is Lord Lechtensfield’s ground he said I said you don’t need to show me a way out I know more ways out than you know (laugh)

TG       And Rugby League as well?

JB         Oh Rugby League I used to follow Workington town in the 50’s when they were a hell of a team, you could get to… you could go to the station and go to the match for ten bob in them days its Derwent park they play but they used to play at Borough Park where the football team used to play, the football then they used to swap you alternately you know what I mean and many a time you couldn’t get in the spot was packed when Workington town had a good team eugh aye!

Aye pigeons was my life then, we had a boys club there was myself, Eric Head, Sidney Stamper and George Stoddart and a few lads and we just used to take them up the road and let them off then back on the first one maybe for a sixpence or a shilling or summat like that that’s how it started great, and then eventually I got my own loft and I flew fairly well I used to do well over the channel I had one particular race, Nance I had the only bird on the day one bird after 500 mile off at 6 o clock of the morning I was sitting after 9 o clock at night starving ready to go home. I nearly collapsed when I saw it I was that shocked, you know, that excited, oh I did fairly well with pigeons.

But it was always for fun with me you know, I keep a few now but I haven’t got the pigeons I used to have it’s a bit of a burden to me but I still go over I still have a few.      

And I like to see them … there’s nothing more thrilling to me when you see a bird that has maybe  flown 500 miles come like a bullet and right through yer door it’s a sight, maybe isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but it is mine aye…

And then there was a place called Neort it was 600 mile now I bred a winner that scored, I gave it to a friend of mine it scored from nought for him, 600 mile and its rather queer I had nothing away that week and I was sitting at my loft and this pigeon came and it landed, and a fella said, “What’s that” and I said “I know what that is” so I….. He was living at erm just outside of Waverton there what do you call it? I chased it up you see and it wouldn’t race 600 mile and it was only a yearling. Which is, a young pigeon you know in pigeon terms, you know oh aye it was great I used to like pigeons.

And when you used to fly the channe,l you know, you were maybe sitting at black dark and there wasn’t a feather, so you had to get up in the morning first then and run over to….. oh it was endless on the channel races it was a bit of an ordeal you know and as you get older you can’t be bothered with it. Now there’s a channel race this weekend and I’ve sent 2 and some of the fellas have sent 8 and what have you. And there’s a spot you call Karronten I’ve never heard of that before so they’ll be released weather permitting Saturday morning.

TG       And where’s your pigeon loft now?

JB         It’s on the old sand quarry Longthwaite you know down that lonning there’s allotments down there,

TG       Near the former tip.

JB         that’s right aye, and it used to be alive with rats! But they’ve been cleaning them out and I’ve never seen a rat for ages if I’m honest. I set a trap for a rat, because I used to catch rats you see horrible things is rats, well I used to drown them.

Well I set this trap and you would never believe this, I’ve caught a blackbird in it which I let out I caught a magpie, and a hedgehog, a hedgehog! I had seck a job to get it out, a hedgehog, you never see many hedgehogs now you know.

So with all those hobbies pigeons, rugby league and dogs, oh I loved rugby league Gus Rismond was the captain and he came from Salford and he made… and there was a few Australians Mudge, Paskins, they were Australians brilliant team we had. I went to Wembley and they beat Featherstone Rovers. And then the next match, the top 4 teams there was a play off, the top used to play the bottom and that was another competition that just went you know. And erm they used to get some queer crowds at Workington let me tell you. I could go from Wigton station, I had an uncle that used to go in the car you see he gave me a ride, but you could go from Wigton station and to the match for ten bob, ten shilling but that’s in the 50’s like.

“I’m just thinking here in 92 what’s your memories here what did you think about in Wigton you like living here”? well I don’t dislike it once we had the chance when we were younger and our 2 friends a married couple, and we had a chance to go to Australia for £10 in them days, and they would take you and find you a little job, and I was all keen for that and my Mrs wouldn’t move so there you are.

And I couldn’t force her, she wasn’t gonna leave this little sceptered isle you know, I couldn’t get her in a plane if I had shot her! No I’m on terra firmer she said, we went on a Rhine cruise once over you know which was a marvellous holiday, she was all right on a boat like but she wouldn’t go on a plane I said “there’s lots of places we could go lass” “No” if you want to go you go I’m not going.

So she wouldn’t go on a plane and she would emigrate? No, no she wouldn’t emigrate well I don’t know wether……. I had a friend called John Wallace from Wigton and he went to Australia, and another lad called Allan Graham his father was, they used to live at Brackenlands and erm John Wallace was here on holiday and I never saw him and he had been looking for me and I never saw him, because him and me used to go round the farms catching pigeons in the farm yard you know, we used to go in the barn up the ladder as soon as there was electric knock it off knock it on pigeon was bewildered. There was an old fella called Dixon what do they call him Rod Dixon he had a farm was alive with them and he wanted rid of them so we used to catch them.

And there’s a chip shop there used to be a fella called Phillip Moronna it’s a Chinese now eh and he had a big building behind there and it was full of stray pigeons and we used to go through that yard and up on the roof aye and Phillip could speak pigeon, “are breaka thy bloody neck” he used to shout ha ha oh dear we had some fun in them days.

Aye and in them days we used to have an old bicycle wheel with no tyre on and guide it with a stick, and whips and tops, and there was a top you called… you hit it it  the rocket was well named but the trouble was it used to rocket to the wrong place, maybe go through a window! Oh dear oh dear.

And marbles we used to play marbles, like I said to a fella at the bowling club I said to him we used to call them oversized marbles when I was a boy, but I like bowls you know. I think there’s a lot of skill in bowl do you? “Ye” “so overall” I loved Wigton to be honest with you aye well it’s just where your born isn’t it? I like Aspatria as well but I didn’t know Aspatria like I know Wigton.

Tickles lane can you remember tickles lane? “I remember tickles lane yes” well you couldn’t believe it, well there was another place at Water Street they called it a rabbit warren because all you could see was people sticking their heads out like rabbits the place was over crowded man you couldn’t believe it.

Aye and Salvation Army used to sing on Water street corner there “Come and join us” with the old melodeon and there was an old fella called Jack McGee and he’s house was adjacent to the bus stop on the main road and the door was wide open great big roaring fire about 16 cats and he’s sitting in the corner and nobody ever thought anything about it!  You know it’s just part of life and it tickles me oh my god what a spot!

But people was happy I can’t understand it now? I was happy in that little old house we hadn’t you see, when things move on and you buy things eh it all costs, you didn’t spend a lot of money on furniture because there wasn’t room for it aye you know. I used to go and get a bag of call I used to go and get it on my bike and fetch it back aye… good days? “oh absolutely” the more I think about it since I missed my wife, I miss my wife like you wouldn’t believe but never mind we won’t go into that that’s another chapter. “are you married”? I don’t know I wonder….. I was that bloody low, “do you want to finish” aye knock that off!