A Good Turn, A Parting Gift, and Back on the Bumpers.
It was Christmas Eve, my pal Lennie and I, were spending this last afternoon before the big night, up the fair, on Brick kiln patch.
We hadn’t any money for the rides, but just to be around the fairground, with the calls of the Showmen, the noise of the traction engines, music and the lights from the side shows. It was a mesmerising spectacle for two kids of eight years old in the bleak mid winter of 1945.
I had been up the fair previously with my father, when it was all covered over by canvas during the war years, and that first experience was heaven to me, and whenever Pat Collins came to town I wanted to be there.
Of the many attractions at the fair, our favourite was the bumping cars. Len and I would just stand and wait to see if we could get a free go with anyone riding alone.
The ride cost you a shilling whether or not there was a passenger; so if you asked the lone rider politely he/she, might let you share the car with them. This is what we did until we decided to make our way back home, around 4.30p.m.
Our usual route home to the north side of St Peters, took by way of School Street and Skinner Street. Then on our way up Townwell Fold we decided to have one last look at the Christmas Grotto in James Beatties which for the past three weeks had been in the basement there.
We went through the doors, down the stairs, and looking toward the grotto we could see it was closed and staff were already dismantling the effects. So, reluctantly, we left – climbing the stairs back up in the fold.
As we were approaching the top of the stairs, a lady, followed closely by a gentleman, stumbled on a higher flight, dropping some of her parcels as she slipped, we stooped to pick them up for her, and the gentleman, who already had his hands full, asked us to help carry more packages to their car, which we did.
In conversation that followed, the gentleman asked us were we had been. We told him we had been down to have a look at the grotto. He then said “Come with me”; and took us back down the down the stairs and into the basement, where he had a quick word with one of the storemen, before thanking us for our kindly deed and then he left.
The storeman led us towards a wonderfully decorated four foot Christmas tree standing by the door. He picked it up by the tub whilst exclaiming “Mr Beattie say’s you should have this”, and gave us the tree.
Crossing Darlington Street, we were so thrilled , it never entered our mind how we were going to share this gift, but as it happened this problem would never arise, for as we crossed the top of the market patch, we placed the tree down and stopped for a rest.
Within a couple of minutes, after explaining how we had come by the tree to a market trader a friend of my fathers’ we were offered five shillings for it.
I don’t think len or myself had ever actually been in possession of five bob before; and this proved to be an offer we couldn’t refuse. So, clutching half-a-crown each; without a thought for anyone or anything else, we raced back down to Brickkiln patch, to Pat Collins fair, and another five bob’s worth of joy on the bumping cars.