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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school meals in 1940 for impoverished children nearly all children were on free school meals. Many lied saying that their parents paid for theirs.


There was a lot of stigma concerning school meals but it was a place where you got a good nutritious meal.

Many children had rickets with poor diet and lack of vitamins essential for bone growth. Every Thursday afternoon a nurse would come into school and every child had to be checked for signs of malnutrition. It was time consuming but vital; eyes, teeth, skin, many had dermatitis with filthy conditions at home. Head lice were rife and “Nitty Nora” the dickey explorer would go through your hair with a stainless steel comb in a solution to kill them off. The kidney shaped bowls would be full of dead head lice. As every child came forward to be checked; those that had lice, which were nearly everyone because nits could be transferred from head to head if you sat with someone who had dickies.   

It was comical to see as kids started scratching their nut’s as the head lice moved about. They looked like Chimpanzee’s as boys would grab one then squash it on some scrap paper. Then there were the other contagious diseases like measles, chicken pox,

Mumps and worse still whooping cough raged among the classes.

Mothers were spending at least seven shillings and six pence a week on remedies to prevent their children from getting some bug or other.

After school the kids would go home on Friday and before bed their heads were scrutinised again for head lice by their mothers who raked their heads as if they were ploughing a farmer’s field. They held out a piece of news paper as their mother went over and over their head with a Dickie comb.

Then if that wasn’t bad enough then the search with finger and thumb went through each section of hair looking for the little buggers.

Your brother or sister had the job of telling your mother if one dropped onto the paper where they were squashed.

Fleas were the next thing that mothers had to combat. If they got into your bed then the mattress had to be dowsed with flea powder to kill them off. All bedding had to be scrubbed clean then hung out to dry. It was a constant battleground in the war against disease.


Ralph called in at Terry Lanes house on Saturday morning; he was still receiving physiotherapy for his injuries but was now walking with the aid of crutches. His mother made him go out even if it was for a short walk with his friend to Duncan’s or the news agents.

The first dusting of snow had landed overnight and more was forecast later that day. Ralph pulled Terry along on his sled as they went to get the latest edition of the Beano and Topper that Mickey the newsagent kept for them each week. Ralph had his hat, scarf, and woollen gloves on that his mother had knitted for him on. Ralph had asked his mother to make some for his friend so that he could give him them for a Christmas present.

Ralph went on to tell his friend about how they had sneaked into the church last week. They climbed the long fight of stairs into the belfry and climbed up the wooden ladder to the top where inside there must have been over a hundred pigeons nesting. They collected as many eggs as they could and brought them down to eat. They were no way as big as a hen’s egg but twenty of them mixed in a bowl with some mushrooms and a little bacon made a nice omelette.

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