30 January 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Hostel Again

After College sometimes I walked back to the hostel in Westoe, at other times I would catch a trolley bus back to Westoe. It all depended on the state of my finances and the state of the weather. According to a cost of living index I consulted my 10 shillings pocket money per week in 1950 would be multiplied by 20, in 2000 terms equivalent to 10 pounds per week.

The Westmorland Education Department's suggested 10 shilling a week pocket money was to cover bus fares, sundries like toothpaste and soap, leisure activities, snacks, dry cleaning and a myriad other odds and ends. Mum used to send a ten-shilling note by post each week planning it to reach me by Friday.

Like breakfast the evening meal at the hostel was filling to even the hungriest student. The hostel manager and his wife were pleasant people and seemed well used to managing a crowd of boys. The manager had been a ships bosun (short for boatswain) who managed the deck crew on merchant ships; this would be the equivalent of a foreman on land. They kept a strict eye on us and made sure all rules were obeyed. The strictest rule was curfew, the door was locked and lights out at 10.30 p.m. sharp. Most of the students did not stir far during the week nights by the time dinner was over, some study completed and maybe a short walk 9 o’clock supper came round and with it a big mug of cocoa. Yes, we ate well.

Of our meals tinned bacon at breakfast took a bit of getting used to. It came in large commercial catering tins and pickled in brine and the colour of the bacon was very pale. The first thing I noticed unlike normally cured bacon, it easily dropped to bits, particularly the fat portion and the rind. The taste was different too but one got used to it after a while. It had one advantage, I had never liked the fat on bacon and I had always cut the fat away. With tinned bacon this was easy. When I was young I was often chastised for not eating the fat of the bacon but much later we all learnt the fat was harmful to us. All in all tinned bacon was not such a bad deal, it was just the peculiar taste and it was always wet from the grease and brine... and it did drop to pieces.

The hostel boys were in the main a pleasant lot. I remember only 2 names Catchpole and Leeming but no others at the moment, maybe the names registered only as neither was of very pleasant character.

A number of us seemed formed a loose group who went out together. At weekends we would often go along the cliff tops between Westoe and Marsden Point then catch a bus back to Westoe. At high tide the sea rollers would come in and smash along the base of the cliffs. Sometimes we would go along the bottom of the cliffs if the tide was out or at half tide jumping from rock to rock to clear the pools and timing the jumps to miss the incoming swell in the channels. A dangerous practise really especially at half tide as demonstrated when I the last across one swirling channel missed my footing and dropped into the cutting. Dripping wet from head to toe I had no recourse but to back track and go back to the hostel. Who would let me on to the bus when we got to Marsden Point? Besides I was shivering cold, luckily we were not far into the walk.

Sometimes we would visit downtown and go up to the market square on a Saturday morning and watch the fast talking salesmen with swift patter giving away dinner sets at a ridiculously low price to the first buyer and discounting to the additional buyers to start sales rolling. Then we might go a little further along down to Mill Dam and watch the shipping come and go to and from the various docks and wharves and wonder if and when we would go to sea and where we would go. The River Tyne was a busy place in the 1940s and 50s.

Especially in the evenings we would at times walk down to the bottom of Ocean Road where a permanently sited fun fair was located with a cafe and large American jukebox with its flashing neon lights and latest pop music records. Jazz was still popular in the 40s and into the 50s eras and the jukebox was always busy playing the latest tunes. This was a popular area both with locals and students as well as holiday people in the summer for South Shields was a popular holiday destination with its close proximity to Newcastle and heavily populated surrounding areas. South Shields popularity for holidays was its large expanse of sandy beaches and its pleasant town atmosphere then in the 1950s.

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