The Skin Shop

The story which is semi autobiographical tells the story of Ralph Mason Growing up in Collingwood Terrace in North Shields in 1948. it is a story of Hardship, poverty, love, and friendship just after the Second World War. Some names have been changed and I have used some poetic licence to bring the story to back to life as some of the places talked about in this story are no longer with us. "The Skin Shop is one boys journey into manhood.


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Tucker took a shorter run up and tried to spin the ball but because it was soft not a proper cricket ball it just bounced and Ralph was able to smack it again.

“Run Jan said Ralphie as he made towards the bin then was on his way back before Jan had made one side. The ball was thrown amid screams from Tony Santos. Manny made ready and threw the ball which hit the dustbin.

“You’re out said Tony to Jan as she walked away and sat down on the step of her mother’s back door. Most of the houses here were the same. They had a yard which there was an outside toilet with a pull chain and torn up newspapers tied on a piece of string; a candle to light when it was dark or to leave on to stop the toilet cistern from freezing up in the cold of the winter. There was a coal house and a shed in which people kept there tools and bicycles for work.

 Hanging on every wall near the back door was a galvanised bath tub which every kid hated on a Sunday night because if you weren’t the oldest you got to go in after several of your brothers and sisters. The water was then reheated for the older members of the family on the large stove in a huge pan used to make pans of broth which was not only filling but good for you as well. Mothers would tell their kids if they ate their broth up God would look after them. Many children in those days had polio or rickets due to poor diet. They had to wear callipers on their legs to try and correct the twisted limbs.

Under the back window were a bucket and a mangle. The mangle was two rollers that squeezed out excess water from your clothes before hanging them up.

Sometimes their mother’s would send their kids down the lane to the Northumbrian Ship laundry with some of their Fatha’s shirts or just the collars. It was a penny to wash the collars or tuppence for the whole shirt. Life was really hard in those days and women made sure every penny counted. They managed to make meals out of virtually nothing. They were made from things they could either scrounge from the butcher or from the fish quay. Nearly everyone had an allotment garden and it was utilised to the full. If your father kept pigeons then the one’s that were no longer good fliers all went into a pan of stew.

In came a scruffy lookin’ kid they called Mattheed to bat because his hair was that caked with mud that it stood on end like bog brush. His real name was Jimmy Bell but everyone called him by his nick name. He and his father helped in Short’s scrap yard. His father had a pony and trap which they kept in the back yard they would go out on it every day collecting anything made of metal that they could sell. When times were hard, the odd storm drain or manhole cover went onto the cart to be weighed in.

Unsuspecting people going to work would invariably fall into to the storm drains or uncovered manholes in the dark; breaking a leg in the process. Desperate means called for desperate measures in those days so when food had to be put on the table this is what they did. Mattheed went to hit the ball and missed completely as “Alan Tucker Young bowled his last ball. Richard Knight took his place and in his first ball he put Mattheed out. He protested saying that the ball was a “grassy”; meaning the ball was delivered along the ground but all the others backed Richard up and Mattheed had to walk.

In came Allie Walker; her father like many others on Howdon Road, Lawson Street, Trinity Street, Thrift Street and Coach Lane  worked down in Smiths Dock. If they were lucky enough to be educated they learned a trade which paid them a better living wage. If not, you were a labourer forced to stand in line as the Gaffer’s picked out a certain number of men who they either knew or those prepared to slip him a few bob to ensure that they got work. Men worked long hours to put food on the table and the simple pleasures in life sustained them and their families.

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