After my initiation into the
mysteries of travelling
between home and
school, I made the
journey on my own. I
always felt very grown up
doing this, but in fact,
everything was made
easy for me.
My parents would see me
on to the Liverpool boat at
Douglas where I would be
handed over to the Figure 1: Douglas quay
stewardess. 'In charge of
the stewardess' was the term used. This has always seemed to me to
be a most peculiar phrase. Surely, to be 'in charge of' means to look
after, but I certainly was not looking after the stewardess! On the
contrary, she was supposed to take care of me.
Actually, of course, I had the run of the ship. The stewardess would
show me where I could lie down if I wished. This was a large cabin with
berths all round and it was solely for ladies. This was where the
stewardess herself reigned supreme. If the crossing was rough - and it
could sometimes be very rough indeed - then she was kept in a constant
I disliked that cabin very much. There were times when I simply had to
stay there because of the weather. I was not a particularly good sailor,
and when the ship reared and plunged and rolled wildly from side to
side, then there was only one remedy for me. I had to be horizontal.
I discovered for myself that in these circumstances, the answer for me
was to lie down and allow myself to go with the movement of the ship,
rather than to tense up and fight against it. In this way I could avoid
actually being sick.
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Nevertheless, on a rough crossing, all around the cabin, women would
be moaning and groaning and making the most disgusting noises. The
moans and the groans would be interspersed with cries for the
stewardess to come and help them. On a crossing like that, the poor
woman would be kept busy from start to finish.
It was a most unpleasant atmosphere. It is hardly surprising therefore
that, weather permitting, I preferred to go elsewhere. There were other
large cabins and sometimes I patronised these. They too, of course,
could at times have the same problems as the ladies' cabin.
The Isle of Man was a very popular holiday resort. During the
Lancashire 'Wakes' there would be an influx of mill workers on their
annual holiday, who would stay in the boarding houses along Douglas
promenade and enjoy themselves tremendously. People from many
other walks of life would patronise other parts of the Island as well as
just the capital. The Island was certainly well geared for tourism even in
There were people who would spend their whole holiday there, whilst
others might come over just for the day. The day trippers would
probably leave Liverpool or Fleetwood by the midnight boat and return
by a late boat the same day. Sometimes there might be some who had
spent the day in the pubs in Douglas and then started another drinking
session on the boat.
I did not encounter the late night return faction of course, because I
always went to Liverpool on the nine o'clock morning boat. Even so,
there were always some who spent even that crossing drinking and/or
I recall one occasion seeing a passenger mounting a companionway,
when another passenger appeared suddenly at the top, leaned forward
involuntarily and vomited straight into the face of the man below. I beat a
We always seemed to be in a rush when I had to catch that morning
boat. It might have been my father's fault. He was a dilatory sort of man
and could quite easily have been reading a book. And of course he
would only have been waiting for us to be ready!
Having had children myself, I fear however,that I was probably the
culprit! We never actually missed the boat though sometimes indeed it
was a near thing. It was inevitably a last minute dash which obviously
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did not allow for contingencies. On one occasion we had a puncture on
the way. My father got out of the car and looked at the wheel... and
looked at the wheel...
We were resigned to missing the boat, for it was obvious he was not in
any hurry to change the wheel. Remember his hands! At that moment
however, along came an acquaintance who stopped to see what was
wrong. My mother and I, together with my luggage, were bundled into
the other car, and I caught the boat.
But my father was like that. He had acquaintances and friends
everywhere. I have no doubt but that someone fixed the wheel for him,
too. With all that, I have to say that he was a very good tempered man
and would not have minded being ribbed about his idiosyncrasies.
Nevertheless he was quite capable of being angry if the occasion
warranted it; but he had tremendous self control. He used to say that
anger was a luxury he could not afford.
He had a great sense of humour and although we probably never knew
to whom he was referring, his stock of anecdotes was always amusing.
There was for instance, the woman who consulted him about her
indigestion. When he questioned her about her eating habits, she
replied: "Ah well Doctor, I'm bad to gollop me food".
There was also a man who unfortunately had contracted VD. When my
father broke the bad news and attempted to console him with talk of
treatment, his only response was: "Oh the bitch! And to think that she
charged me half a crown!"
Daddy was very popular with his patients with whom he had a reputation
for being a good diagnostician. "Trust Doctor Mac to put his finger on it"
was a common remark. He had a great belief in psychology and
insisted that a patient's trust in his doctor was crucial.
For a long time he had been treating Mrs. Harwood, wife of John
Harwood, inventor of the self-wind watch. Harwood patented his
invention and went to Switzerland to have the watch manufactured.
"You shall have the first watch that comes off the assembly line," he
said, and sure enough he came back to the Island and presented it to
my father. I still have it.
I enejoyed travelling with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. If the
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crossing was fine, I liked to go up on deck away from the stuffiness of
the cabin. Fortunately I was not a rash child and never attempted to
climb where I should not or to perform other deeds of derring-do! I was
just happy to be on deck.
On reaching Liverpool, there would be an influx of porters on board, so I
had no trouble with luggage. At the landing stage my Aunt Edie would
meet me and once again I would be with 'family.' I usually had a couple
of days there, which I loved, before boarding the B & I boat for Dublin.
As that was a night crossing, it was essential for a child to be able to go
to bed and sleep, so I always had a cabin to myself. My aunt would be
allowed to come on board and see me to the cabin, directed by the
stewardess. 'In charge of the stewardess' must have been the normal
phrase used by shipping companies, for here again this was my status.
Sleeping on the boat was never difficult for me as I would, in any case,
have been in bed at that time. I simply slept and if the crossing was
rough I knew nothing about it.
The only problem I had was in remembering to take away with me
everything I had brought on board! I nearly always managed to leave
something behind me. A toothbrush, a nightdress, a comb. It could be
anything. Poor Grannie used to worry about this and she made me a
little bag which fastened like a drawstring toilet bag. This I had to wear
round my neck and keep things like money and my return ticket inside it.
Early the next morning the stewardess would call me in good time for
me to be up and dressed when we docked. Grannie or Auntie Flo would
meet me at the North Wall and take me home in a taxi. They would
make a tremendous fuss of me and sit over me while I ate an enormous
breakfast. They always used the same taxi - Devlin's - and after I had
made the journey a few times, they gave up coming to meet me and left
it to Mr. Devlin and his taxi. He and I used to greet each other almost
like long lost friends.
The same Mr. Devlin with his taxi was always booked to take me from
Grannie's back to school and, at the end of term, from school to
Grannie's again. At that point, the system worked the same way, but in
reverse, as when I travelled from the Isle of Man to Dublin.
At first Auntie Flo would come with me in the taxi to the North Wall and
see me on to the boat and into my cabin. But after a time when I knew
the ropes well enough, Mr. Devlin would call for me, see I had a porter
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and leave me with him. I was never in the slightest way frightened of
managing on my own. I think I took it for granted that this was the
natural thing to do.
At the Liverpool end, again I would be met from the boat by my Aunt
Edie and taken home with her. And again, after a time I managed this
on my own as well.
Staying with the Walkers was always a pleasure for me. They had three
daughters, Renie, Audrey and Dorothy, and in age I came in between
Audrey and Dorothy. They were more like sisters to me than cousins
and we all got on extremely well together.
My cousin Renie was named Irene after my mother. Both of them were
known to the family and friends as Renie, but my cousin Renie always
called my mother Win, Winifred being Mother's second name. My
maternal grandparents' home had been in Wales, so Winifred was
perhaps a natural choice.
Young Renie used the word 'aunt' to my mother only when she was very
young. Until we were quite grown-up, her two sisters, Audrey and
Dorothy, and my brother Desmond and I, invariably dignified our
relatives with the title 'uncle' or 'aunt'. But although cousin Renie was
only four years older then myself, somehow the two Renies always
seemed to be on naturally different terms from the rest of us.
Cousin Renie was very lively and full of fun, a pretty girl with fair,
naturally curly hair. She thought nothing of it but to me it was beautiful.
Mine was straight and oh, how I wished it was curly and pretty like hers.
Aunt Edie kept a drawer in her sideboard full of odds and ends which I
found fascinating. She called it her rummage drawer and allowed any
child to explore it. I can no longer recall the things that found a home
there, but I know that my explorations always seemed to result in the
most exciting discoveries.
Whenever I was on my way home for Christmas, Aunt Edie would take
me to various 'grottos' at stores in Liverpool. To me this was something
even more intensely exciting. I was a country child and knew nothing of
cities. In Dublin, my world consisted of Grannie's house and the
convent. In the taxi I saw hardly anything of Dublin. Certainly not shops
as we did not go through that part. In fact what I was far more likely to
see there was a herd of cattle being taken to market.
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For me Liverpool was another matter altogether. At Christmas time the
shops and stores would be seasonably decorated and lit attractively.
And I never found it odd that yesterday I met Father Christmas in one
store and here he was to-day in another one.
Aunt Edie's husband, my Uncle Billy, had green fingers. The garden
was not large but he loved it, and whatever he decided to grow was a
success. His crysanthemums were superb, I remember, and the front
garden was bordered by a hedge of Australian Holly. He spent most of
his leisure time in the garden, but he would happily chat away to me if I
joined him. He was always kind to me. He teased me, but only in a
pleasant fashion. As a result I played up to his teasing and enjoyed it.
My aunt did no gardening but she did have one garden interest. This
was the birds. Never a day passed without her feeding them. And if the
weather was bad or she had to be away, she worried about them.
Furthermore, it was not a matter of throwing out the odd crust on the
back lawn. Oh no! She had her 'back birds' and her 'front birds' and
they all had to be looked after.
Concerning animals, my aunt was just like my mother. She hated to see
stray cats with no homes of their own and whenever there was one in
the neighbourhood, would see that it was fed. It was quite usual to find
a bed for the current stray, in a box in the back porch.
Her outlook in this respect was one that appealed naturally to me and
reinforced the attitude that prevailed in my own home. I was always
happy when I stayed with the Walkers. They were a happy family. The
pace of life was relaxed and easygoing and the family never failed to
make me feel welcome.
When it was time for me to go home, again my aunt would take me to
the boat and again I would be 'in charge of the stewardess.' As it was a
daytime crossing, leaving at nine am, I always hoped the weather would
be fine. In that event I could stay on deck.
I particularly liked to be on deck when we were going down the Mersey.
Once on the way from Pier Head and the landing stage, one could wave
goodbye to the Liver Building. There were docks, cranes, tugs, other
ships, other places. And then we were crossing the Bar at the mouth of
the Mersey and the water changed colour. I found it fascinating.
The crossing took about four hours so by eleven o'clock I would feel in
need of sustenance. My favourite hot drink then was a large cup of
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Bovril with a couple of cream crackers which I took great pleasure in
As the time passed I became more and more exhilirated. Indeed, when
the Island came in sight, the excitement was almost more than I could
bear. I could hardly wait to get off the ship when we docked. My
parents would meet me and I was home again for another holiday -
Christmas, Easter or the long, Irish summer break.
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