There are times when my childhood memories would have me believe that they took place in a dark, perpetual winter.
Not of the soul but of atmosphere.
Winter arrived no earlier in Burnley than in any other Lancashire town but in the late 1940’s I didn’t know any other Lancashire towns except those within a Corporation bus ride. It may be that towards the end of the decade, our family had begun to take train excursions to Blackpool, Morecambe and Southport. But my life, for the most part, centred around Burnley’s cobbled streets and their “dark, satanic mills.”
Cotton was still, just about, King there and the town could claim to be one of the word’s biggest weavers of cotton cloth. Calico that was simply known as, “Burnley Printer’s.”
Surrounded by the Pennines, the town, on a rare clear day, could be seen lying at the foot of a forest of factory chimneys. For most of the year the townsfolk went about their lives under a pall of smoke and it was only when the mills closed down for the holidays and shut down their furnaces for cleaning, that the gloom lifted.
The town, at that time, had both feet stuck in a Victorian past.
Many houses were lit by hissing gas mantles. Coal gas was still in use and its potentially lethal nature was used not only for light but for heat and cooking. It’s use, unlit, as a method of suicide by the simple expediency of putting one’s head in the gas oven made the town one of Britain’s suicide capitals.
Resting ones head on a cushion in an open oven and turning the gas on was deemed preferable to drowning ones self in the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
In his teens, a friend of mine became concerned that his early sexual encounters might mean that he’d caught “something.” He didn’t quite know what, nor had he but he somehow managed to broach the subject with his mother in a most general way whilst waiting for a bus.
His mother replied, “If you get anything like that you might as well put your head in the gas oven.”