Lincolnshire interlude - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Lincolnshire interlude

Peter Ferrer became a particular friend of mine solely because of our mutual interest in music - he was one year ahead of me. We often went to Hallé concerts together at various locations in and around Manchester. On one occasion the concert was at Belle Vue on Hyde Road in a hall that was more usually used for boxing and wrestling tournaments. Ida Haendal played Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. It was the first time I had heard it and I was amazed because it sounded so terrifyingly difficult but so beautiful. The final work in the concert was Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra which I later wrote up in my diary as "awful". However, since that, my first hearing, it has become one of my 10 all-time favourites and I listen to it regularly with the score on my lap.

On another occasion Peter and I went to a Hallé concert in a church hall somewhere in central Manchester. We had a very poor seat off to the right hand side of the stage and below the level of the orchestra; all we could see of the players was the backs of the second violins. The main work was Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. The two soloists were the Leader of the orchestra and the Leader of the viola section but I didn't record their names. The conductor was the recently-knighted Sir John Barbirolli who made a lengthy speech at the end of the concert which seemed, to me at least, to be aimed personally at the Guardian music critic who was somewhere in the audience.

Peter Ferrer was quite a good pianist and from time to time he gave me a piano lesson and I gave him a violin lesson in return. Our parents seemed to get on well together and in August 1951, during the long school holiday, the Ferrers invited me to go with Peter for a week's stay with his uncle and aunt who had a farmhouse in Lincolnshire. It was the first time I had been away from home without my parents. The journey in the Ferrer's car to the farmhouse in beautiful Louth took six hours - no M62/M18 in those days, of course. I remember we went over the Pennines via the Snake Pass and saw the Ladybower Reservoir near Sheffield, one of the locations the Lancasters of 617 Squadron had used when practising for the famous 1943 Dam Busters Raid. We stopped off on the way for a short refreshment break in Gainsborough.

When we arrived at the farmhouse, Peter's aunt was slaving away over a huge coal stove in a steaming hot kitchen preparing lunch (yes, lunch not dinner). I still remember vividly that she brusquely told Peter and me to keep out the way until lunch was ready otherwise "…the Yorkshire puddings will spoil - and we don't want that, do we?" Peter and I fled. After a magnificent, typical Yorkshire Sunday roast, although it was a Monday, Peter's parents returned to Salford.

Above: My diary shows that we didn't think Boston was much of a place but at least we left a tip for the waitress in the café.

Peter's uncle was the Manager of the adjacent United Canners factory which was surrounded by many fields of fruits and vegetables. During our stay Peter and I went around the fields and factory several times. The fruit and vegetables were delivered, on the stalk when they had stalks, at one end of the factory direct from the fields, rapidly washed, sorted, weighed, and finally sealed into cans by some clever automatic machines. The factory's advertisement slogan for their peas could justifiably claim, "Our peas are never touched by hand".

Rows of young, cheerful girls standing at conveyor belts supervised the processing and made eyes at Peter and me as we wandered around the factory floor. "Don't you two be mixing with them lasses," said one of the male supervisors sternly to Peter and me in his broad Lincolnshire accent, "they'll be no good for you, because you're a cut above them." It was the first time anyone had implied that I was in a better class than anyone else. In any case, I would quite like to have mixed with some of 'them lasses'. Class and regional accents were more important in the 1950s than they are today, but even more important were the yearnings of two teenage boys - well, mine anyway.

One afternoon Peter and I went wandering around Hubbard's Hills, a beautiful park on the outskirts of Louth. We came across a couple of teenage girls giggling at us as they perched provocatively on a low stone bridge over the narrow, slow-moving River Lud. I wanted to stop and talk but Peter urged me on saying, "Don't look back - they'll be trouble." I was just about old enough to start wondering about Peter, but since I was his guest and he was a year older and quite a bit bigger than me, I said nothing.

Peter and I went to Boston on the train one day and, of course, we just had to climb to the top of the famous Boston Stump. My diary records that the return ticket from Louth to Boston cost us 9s 4d each - that's about 45p in today's money, but it seemed like a fortune to me. The train was very full because it was en route to London, but we did manage to get a seat. I started worrying that the small amount of pocket money I had brought with me to last the whole week was not going to last more than a couple of days. That evening I noted down, and underlined, in my holiday notebook that, "Money does not go far".

The next day the two of us went off again, this time by bus to Lincoln; it went a long way round calling at all the tiny villages, but the fare was a lot less than the train. We did the usual tourist things in Lincoln, including climbing the 372 steps to the very top of the Cathedral tower. In the evening we were joined by Peter's aunt and uncle and we all went to a sports meeting and saw E McDonald Bailey, whom I had never heard of. I must have guessed at the time that he was someone important otherwise I wouldn't have mentioned him in my diary. Recently, I looked E McDonald Bailey up on the Internet. He was a British sprinter who, almost exactly 12 months after we watched him in action in Lincoln, won the 100m Bronze medal at the 1952 Helsinki Athletics. However, the reason we had all gone to that sports meeting had not been to watch him but to watch Peter's cousin Lionel compete. Sadly, I can't now remember anything at all about Lionel.

Above: I have had a lifelong dislike for mayonnaise ever since this experience!

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