Life tales in a post industrial Accrington
1959 - present day.

Welcome to the blog of Ian Donohoe

Nature

Up to no good!

growing up or not?


98 yr old Miss Berry lived two doors away along with her older brother! He was a retired builder and apparently many years ago built our house on Queens Rd in Accrington.
Now at a ripe old age of 102 Mr Berry wasn't’ in the best of health and ailed a thing or two! (Just think... Mr Berry was born in 1866!)
Miss Berry used to come round to our house through the back yard shouting ..”Nurse!.. Nurse!”..

My Mum worked nights at Accrington Victoria hospital and Miss Berry regularly woke mum up!

Her favorite saying was “That's what they all say!”

Well I got a little fed up with this continual disturbance so one day whilst sitting in the bath squirting the light bulb with my water pistol, I hatched a plan!…
" You would get quite a bit of warning of her unwanted visits".Miss Berry Her chants would start as she came out of her own house two dooors away, then along the back ally and into our back yard. So with this in mind, I tied a piece of cord at ankle height to the drainpipes between the washhouse and the coal shed and waited for the inevitable! The back gate burst open …Nurse! Nurse!…I peered expectantly through a small gap in the wash house door. Miss Berry skipped over the lethal hazard like 10yr old and disappeared into our house waking up Mum again!
I could be a little bugger in my younger years, many a time I have got into mischief! Not that my mum & dad knew! In those days you got a good hiding if you got caught. Even the local policeman “PC Dean” would offer to give you a clip around the ear or else he would take you to your parents! We always settled for clip around the ear!
As manufacturing in the area died out, many factories and terraced properties became derelict.
After school we used to go exploring these old houses and if the other kids hadn't beat you to it, would throw stones at the street lights and smash windows. I became very accurate at throwing stones and would have been good at games like cricket!
I not one for team games,. I did however get picked for the junior football team because I could throw the ball furthest!
I didn't’ like football that much, its just that you got to skive out of the last lesson once a week. I just ran around avoiding the ball until a throw in was needed!
Talking about football I was once persuaded by a school friend to go to watch an evening match between Blackburn & Bolton. This involved catching a special train to Bolton. I was 14 at the time and had no idea what was about to happen… It was 1974 and Football hooliganism was rife. It all went well until we reached the ground. The stands were made from cinders and missiles rained down from the opposing fans. I watched a dart, then a half house brick fly past my head. Things got worse when we started the journey back on the train. Word was given out to close all the window blinds and to hide under the seats. “What hide under the seats!” As soon as we left the station you could hear stones being thrown at the train, people were injured, little kids cut by the flying glass. An old man under the next seat to me was bleeding. It was absolutely surreal! Just about every window on the train was smashed, the blinds flung open as missile after missile peppered the carriages. The floor was full of glass and granite stones hurled from the track side. Eventually it stopped and went quite. We swept the glass off the seats with our sleeves and sat down. The train entered Entwisle Railway Tunnel on its way back to Blackburn. I looked through a huge hole in the window and waited to see how long it would take the train to go through. As we emerged I turned away to talk to my friend and in a split second a half house brick was hurled through the hole in the glass right where my head had been moments before! I didn't go to another football match for another 20 yrs!
One evening a couple of us thought it would be clever to walk the full length of the railway viaduct that goes across the town. This was very exciting as trains were quite regular so timing was paramount. It would have been impossible to get away with this prank as few years earlier as there used to be a signal box at one end of the bridge but Dr Beeching had got rid of it, so it was unprotected.

We even stopped briefly mid way across to drop stones into the river Hyndburn, or “river stink as it was know”. “The river stink is clean now and if you look carefully will spot brown trout swimming amongst the Asda trolleys and Mcdonald’s cartons!” Anyway on reaching the other side we got another clip around the ear as we had been spotted by the cops! I hate that feeling the moment the police step out from their hiding places and nab you!
Queens Rd is in a nice part of the town and next door we had some “Posh neighbours”, who by the way were very nice people, but you could not help but get the impression that we were a little looked down upon. For example they had a cat named Nacita and their son was called “Dave-hood” (not “David” as we would say it ) no, Dave-hood!! My Dad was an engineer in a local factory and Mum a nurse. We however were surrounded by Doctors, Solicitors and Teachers! Well It was one fine summer’s day when our idle hands set about redressing this social imbalance!! Our lovely neighbours were enjoying afternoon drinks & snacks whilst sunbathing in the corner of their back Garden. Our back yard was too small for this activity so my older Sister Barbara hatched a plan and orchestrated the proceedings from the upstairs bedroom window!
Within a few minutes involuntary screams could be heard along the back alley as I threw freezing cold water over the wall onto them. My sister disappeared from view the moment the water left my hand!! Then as quickly as is humanly or (inhumanly as the case may be!) possible, took my retreat. They must have known straight away it was us as we tried unsuccessfully to keep the sniggers below an audible level!
At the end of our back street was a big Hawthorn tree next to some garages. I used to sit and hide in this tree whenever I was in trouble or just needed a little time to gather my thoughts.
Accrington Baths…
I used to love swimming and spent a lot of time going to Accy swimming baths. They wouldn't’t let you in if your neck didn't reach the height of the reception counter. It was 3ft 6″ high, the same depth of the shallow end. So just to make sure I used to walk in on my tip toes! It was there where I had my first ever cup of hot chocolate out of a vending machine and outside was a brilliant little chip shop that sold flippers, swimming hats & goggles! After we had scoffed our 6p worth of chips and fish scraps it was down to the market hall for a bag of broken biscuits then home for tea!
We used to sit under the hot communal shower for half an hour at a time, sometimes blocking up the drain hole with a bar of soap and watch if fill up to paddling pool depth. Then we used to have a cold shower and then jump into what seemed to be a hot swimming pool!
I used to swim in the school galas. The sides were packed with parents willing their offspring on. The master of ceremonies was always “Leslie Dean” a teacher from Hyndburn park school. He had a trade mark way of starting a race. He would say ” On your marks… ….. … … …GOW! ” Some participants used to fall into the pool prematurely with this long pause. It was quite funny!! I used to love the galas and always did well. One year I even became the best diver in the town.
Old Accrington swimming baths did have its dangers however by means of two powerful jets of water that blew in from the shallow end. These jets would quickly push unsuspecting non swimmers out of their depth! My wife tells me of the time when she too got into difficulty because of this and was too frightened ever to return! Its a good job no harm came of her as we hadn't met yet!. To me those perilous water jets were a great way to carry me out into the pool while holding my breath!

One day I saw someone just hanging motionless in the water, his hair just on the surface. I thought ” Is he pretending or is he drowning?” I watched for a few more seconds then jumped in to see and find out. I grabbed hold of the lad who immediately latched on and tried to clamber on top of me.. I was pulled under with him.. He was bigger than me and was definitely…drowning!! I managed to break free but knew by the length of time he had been like this, had little time left. I came back to him in desperation and gave him a push… He instinctively reached out again and I grabbed his wrist pulling him another vital few more inches… by now he was calming down and at the very edge of unconsciousness… Again I came in with another push and then swam around him, grabbing the side of the pool and at full arms length I reached out and finally pulled him in. There was nothing for 30 seconds or so, I kept his head above water whist looking for assistance. My shouts went unheard amongst the busy echoing pool. He took a breath and moments later opened his eyes ..Phew! I climbed out,reached down and pulled him up and over the edge. A few moments later and he was away without a word. I told mum when I got home and the next day we both went down to the baths to report the near tragedy. The lifeguard on duty was summoned. He stood there before us and said yes he had witnessed the whole thing! There was a pause we all looked at one another for a few moments and went on our way! Strange but very true!
Many years later I was having a few drinks with a friend I had met up with through fishing. Later that evening this story somehow came up in conversation. He said “I remember that it Was Me!” What a fantastic moment that was! Truly wonderful.

 

There was another time a few years ago when I was riding out of Sabden on my way home before starting work on the afternoon shift. A gentleman (John a male Nurse from Burnley) had fallen over hitting his chin on the edge of an aluminum road sign. The sign was positioned about knee high by the side of a small wall next to the Pavement. It was actually right outside the Sabden Police House! There was blood everywhere. He didn't’t look too well and was pretty dazed as he sat on the Garden wall regaining his senses. I could see his injury and reached for the steri strips from my first aid kit. It was quite nasty, the whole bottom of his chin was gaping wide open. I could see the underneath of his tongue! I was doing my bit with the patent, ” you know, reassure, talk to him, calm him down” that sort of thing.
Well John couldn't’t see the wound and after a couple minutes, perked up a little and started chatting away to me. I meanwhile had made good progress in clearing and drying the area ready for my adhesive strips. I was going to attempt to join the wound together. Anyway, I had just got to the difficult bit and the largest section of the wound. John was happily nattering away. I said “Just a minute can you just keep you mouth still for a few moments while I tuck it all back in”. His eyes glazed over, and in an instant he fainted, falling backwards taking me with him into the Garden!. Oh shit, me and my big mouth, and It was all going so well!
Well the neighbours were out by now, and an Ambulance was summoned. I waited with John until he was on his way.
Later that afternoon I was telling the tale to my works Manager. I told him about the steri strips, he said where did you get the strips? I replied, ” I was given them whilst I was on the my first aid course”. He went mad, accusing me of stealing company equipment!
I couldn't’t believe my ears.. I said to him in a rage, “This morning I was helping the wounded in Sabden, and this afternoon I am nothing but a common thief”!

Here’s a little tale for you lot who don’t wear crash helmets YET!
One day whilst descending into Sabden from the summit of the Nick O Pendle, I had a nasty fall. I was flying down the road towards the Cattle grid, about a third of the way down with a friend. Now – just after, and to the left of the grid was a nice little twisty footpath, and if no one is about was great fun to hit it at high speed. Well this particular day I got it badly wrong…
There are two things to remember here, and Number one is “Never alter course on a Cattle grid as you can’t steer on shiny Metal”! the other is “That you don’t need a cycle helmet until its too late!” Thankfully I was wearing a helmet. The bike collapsed underneath me and I slid down the road banging my head at full speed hard on the tarmac. Clothes were shredded and skin was burnt off my shoulders, elbow and thighs. As I sat up assessing the damage, I really thought I had lost my right ear as the pain was intense. But No wait a minute, all was intact – just a little blood. I unclipped my helmet and it fell in half!
There is a couple of post scrips to this story, the first one is… As I was sitting there by the side of the road among-st the wreckage, I noticed a white van slowly go by, I knew just by looking at the occupants that they were only after one thing – My Bike. They thought that I was going to hide it behind a wall and was to pick it up later. I got the feeling that they would be waiting further down the road. This turned out to be correct as I free wheeled past them 10 mins later. I’m pretty good at mending bikes you know. “Don’t forget, I carry spares!”
The second post script is that, when I got home I wrote a letter to the well known Helmet company (MET) with this story and they very kindly replaced it free of charge!

My first experience at competitive riding happened on the Coppice in Accrington, It was back it was 1998 when I found myself sat on the start line near the Bowling green. BANG! the starting gun sounded and the MTB race was under way. Seconds later I looked up only to see everyone disappear up the hill out of sight. mmm “a little out of my depth I thought!” I finished second last after someone dropped out with a puncture! I must say right here that I’m not a born athlete, I only got picked for the junior school football team because I could throw the ball furthest!! I did take part in a few Hamleden Hill fell races, but found my little legs couldn't’t keep up with all but the fun runners and were not really designed for this type of activity!
But put me on a bike and this disadvantage disappears to an extent. After my early abysmal exploit, the next biking event was the 42 mile Rossendale MTB Challenge.

(“these events were not supposed to be races, more of a day out on the moors”) But the competitive nature in most of us came out and it was most definitely a race! Now this type of event is more suitable to me, I do have lots of stamina, this together with local knowledge saw me finish in the top quarter of the field on the first attempt. It was also the day it started pouring down midway through the race. It was a truly horrible day. Many competitors got lost in poor visibility on the moors, I was just glad I knew the route and thankful to get back to the car. One year saw me finish 8th overall out of around 200 which is my best ever result in any cycling event. Oh yes I’m no born athlete but every dog has its day!
Sadly they stopped running the Rossendale challenge some years ago and the attention of the organizers turned to the newly open Mary Towneley Loop. Now this baby is 47 miles long, 59 clocking it from Accrington. If you can get the distance and the route in your legs a couple times before race day, then you will do very well indeed! Take 11 energy gels (one before each climb) also put some salt in your drink, then you will be ok! I sometimes take some leftover roast potatoes caked in salt in one of my jersey pockets. This alleviates the monotony of consuming all those sweet gooey gels! If you get any of this wrong you are going to die on the last Rooley Moor rd climb. This climb goes on forever… 20 odd minutes of anguish before you crest the top. But even then its not all over as there’s one last tarmac climb to the finish. This will have your legs howling if preparation is lacking.





 

Ian Donohoe

1966 and a photographer managed to persuade me to pose with these balloons. "Never trusted anything in the media ever since!"