Retro: Sheffielder remembers tough times in childhood memoir

Starting to Frame author Roger Gordon with his granddad with Cleethorpes
Starting to Frame author Roger Gordon with his granddad with Cleethorpes
Have your say

Sheffield-born author Roger Gordon has written a memoir about growing up during the 1940s to 1960s and becoming caught in a drama in which his once close-knit family begins to fragment.

When his parents’ marriage implodes, Roger is forced to confront stigmas of the day, including divorce, marital infidelity and mental illness.

Starting to Frame author Roger Gordon

Starting to Frame author Roger Gordon

Roger said: “These excerpts from the first chapter of my book portray the close-knit family life that my brother and I enjoyed in the late 1940s, living with our parents in a downstairs room of an old house on Talbot Place in the Park district of Sheffield. Our grandparents lived in the same house.”

These are excerpts from the first chapter of the book:

A twelve by twelve room with hard, cracked linoleum flooring, a peephole-sized sash window that looked into the back yard, and barely any furniture.

A drop-leaf table, four rickety table chairs, two easy chairs that had springs and stuffing protruding out of them, and a small table that may euphemistically be referred to as an ‘occasional’ one, realistically described as thrift-store variety.

However, on that table, sat the pièce de résistance of the furniture ensemble — a Sobell radio, or wireless as we called it back then.

…Even the mice provided comic relief from our bare bones existence. One night, Dad came home with a neighbour’s cat, one that had a reputation as a good mouser.

We all stayed downstairs into the early hours of the morning, listening to him pounce on mouse after mouse, pissing in his litter tray in between catches, and Dad delivering the coup de grâce to each trembling little perisher that had become Mr Moggie’s play toy.

“They’re comin’ from t’chimney,” exclaimed Dad.

Eventually, the three of us left the ammonia-impregnated room to Dad and the cat and trooped upstairs to bed. In the morning, Dad proudly gave us the score — one that was in the double digits.

Considered rationally, that room did not have a lot going for it. It offered cramped, impoverished conditions, with rodents thrown in for good measure. To us, though, it was home.

…Once a year, during the last week of July, there was a fair. The four of us would march along together, a fifteen-minute walk from Talbot Place to the tent city that had sprung up on a piece of land known as the Farm Grounds, near the bottom of Granville Road.

Coconut stands, games of chance, carousels, bumper cars, a haunted house, a miniature railway, pony rides, rides designed to turn your stomach inside out — perfect entertainment for young families such as ours.

There was a boxing ring where those who thought they could strut their stuff could try their luck against the fair champion.

On the milder side, there were dancing displays put on by Sheffield’s dancing schools, as well as tents that contained a fat man, a fat woman, a woman with a beard, and a man with breasts.

Ice cream, candyfloss, toffee apples, and a smell of burning sugar permeated the air. Courting couples walked arm-in-arm, many of the men in military uniform as national service was still in effect. One year, an aerial fly-by of spitfires was featured.

The hawkers were always in full throttle, as we would amble by the various concessions.

“Eyup luv. Best coconut shy tha’ll ever see. Would tha like ter see me coconuts? Tha can ’ave a go at ’em if tha likes. Thrupence a try. Oh, I got a luvely bunch er coconuts. There they are all sittin’…”

“Now then mister. Would tha like ter tek thee missis in t’aunted ’ouse? No tellin’ what goes on in there. I can see a twinkle in ’er eye.

What’s tha say? Tha’t too old for owt like that? Come ’ere me luv, I’ll tek thee in misen.”

“Look at all these lasses ’oldin’ prizes, Pat,” Mum would say. “Big teddy bears, dolls, stuffed animals, balloons on ribbons. ’Ow come tha never wins me owt?”

Poor Dad, who was always referred to as Pat, after his middle name, Patrick, would try his best, but he had the worst luck. He’d always get the consolation prize for those who failed to knock over a coconut, pierce a playing card with a dart, or shoot down a cardboard duck with a pellet gun.

A plastic ring like you’d find in a Christmas cracker, a colouring pencil, a paper hat, and a horn with a bulb on the end of it that made a honking noise when it was squeezed.

n Starting To Frame is available from The Star Shop at £12.95