My love of the Isle of Man started when I was a teenager. I can’t remember the actual age but I was quite young. In those days teenagers were more immature than those around today, most of them full of confidence and joie de vivre.
My first job helped to broaden my mind, taking me away from school and home where I was under the thumbs of mother and teachers. In fact I felt brave enough to take my first holiday with three workmates. It took some convincing at home that I was old enough to be trusted and not in the least worried about breaking the umbilical cord that had tied me to mother’s apron strings for so long. I guess I’d learned the art of persuasion.
Mary, Margaret, Debbie and I spent our lunch hours planning the holiday. We chose the Isle of Man because it was outside the British Isles and to get there involved going on a boat. We had such romantic ideas about sunshine and sailors.
Eventually the time came to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. We sailed to Douglas and laughed and giggled our way to the guesthouse which was to be our base for two weeks. From there we hit the town, three teenagers on the loose. Now don’t misunderstand me, we did nothing wrong; we simply enjoyed ourselves. I’m not going to dwell on it because my story concerns something more serious. Suffice to say that the three of us did the same again the following year, staying at the same guesthouse, enjoying the same pleasures.
Back at home, I was once again embroiled in the turmoil of life with an unstable mother. I wasn’t grown up enough to avoid or deal with the frequent rages but I reckoned I was mature enough to leave home. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone I was going, that would have incurred more fury and possible confinement under lock and key.
Being locked up had happened before when my dad was away and mom ‘entertained’ one of her admirers. Clearly she didn’t want me barging in on her little love trysts. The trouble was, Dad worked away too often so I had no-one to turn to. One lock-up session came when girl friend Beryl and I were in my room ploughing through some reference books. We heard the click at the door.
‘What’s that,’ she says.
‘It’s only mom locking the door.’
‘We can’t get out,’ she cried, as she tried the door.
‘We will when the man’s gone,’ I said.
The final straw came one lunch time. Living within walking distance of my job it was my practice to go home for an hour’s break from the office. Usually I spent the time alone with my dog but this one day mom was there before me. We sat eating sandwiches at the kitchen table and I watched while she wrote a letter and then sealed it in an envelope. She took her purse from her bag, began hunting through it for a postage stamp. I didn’t take much notice until she reached across the table, punched me hard in the face and accused me of stealing stamps from her purse. That did it for me; it was one punch and one nosebleed too many. I vowed to get away from there as soon as I could. And I do mean get away.
Skipping ahead, leaving shocking events behind:
Having decided to run away I planned the escape in great detail. I decided that the Isle of Man was probably far enough away to be traced. At least it would be familiar.
After checking the route and the travel times I started my plan of action. First I sold various possessions to raise money, cancelled engagements and appointments, including a Singer Sewing class, and handed in a week’s notice at work. I purchased tickets for the ship and train and ordered a taxi. Then I wrote a goodbye note which I intended to leave on the kitchen table.
The getaway commenced but not without nerve-racking setbacks. With the boat sailing from Liverpool in the small hours of the morning it meant I had to get an overnight train. No buses ran at such a late hour which was why I ordered the taxi.
I tried to act normally although I remember my stomach churning at a high rate of knots. For once Dad was home which made it more difficult for me, emotionally. I went to bed at the normal time, fully dressed under my night clothes, a headscarf ready to hide the curlers. I had planned to stay awake so that I would hear the taxi when it arrived. Yes, you’ve guessed it … I fell asleep.
I’m sure you’re all agog now!
The hammering on the front door woke me. I was woozy with sleep and unable to comprehend. It must have been a good half minute before realisation dawned that the taxi had arrived. When it did I was galvanised into action.
I sprang out of bed and out of the room just as Dad appeared, shoving his arms in his dressing gown, prepared to answer the door. It was a long way; the route to the door was via a long corridor, a flight of stairs, another long corridor, through two rooms, and a vestibule. Don’t ask me how but I beat him to it.
I rushed to the door and whispered hoarse instructions to the cab driver to wait further up the road. Dad was still on the stairs. Saying something about a taxi driver calling at the wrong house I went back to my room, slipped off the nightwear, shrugged into a coat, threw the scarf over the curlers, and waited until the house was quiet before sneaking out. The farewell note was left in my room for someone to find. Fortunately I had left my suitcase in the front garden. Grabbing it, I ran hell for leather along the road to the waiting cab.
The train was practically empty, not many people used the night service except maybe runaways like me. Since I had a carriage to myself I was able to remove the curlers and pull a comb through my hair. Just in time, too, because a man boarded the train at the next station and chose to share my carriage. He was okay, talked about this and that, and when he learned I was going on a ship told me what to do when I arrived in Liverpool. Looking back, I’m appalled at the risks I took. That guy could have been a rapist or a murderer! Thankfully he wasn’t either but I was a bit bothered by the roughnecks who offered to carry my case at the other end!!! As luck would have it, I reached the ship in one unscathed piece.
The sea was quite calm and I arrived in Douglas none the worse for wear. It was on the way back that I suffered, but that bit of the tale comes later.
Since I was inexperienced at planning life outside the parental home I had completely forgotten to find somewhere to live before I left the English shores. On the off chance, I headed towards the guesthouse where I’d stayed on aforementioned holidays. Being out of season the place was devoid of holidaymakers and the owner, Ann, took me in. She asked no questions but I suspect she guessed that I’d run away from home. Anyway, she looked after me like a mother hen, in fact, more than my own mom did.
It was a bit of a shock to realise that the seaside is vastly different in winter. For one thing, it’s deserted. I mooched about wondering what I was going to do there. For a start, I’d have to get a job. Ann and I scanned the papers and it was Ann who spotted the advertisement for a ‘helping hand’ in the big ballroom.
I could dance, I’d had lessons, so the next day I went to apply for the job. Oh take pity the naïve teenager! The job entailed helping in the kitchen, another thing I was qualified to do after all the jobs I did at home, but what a let-down to the romantic dancing idea.
It was around eight weeks before I started to tire of living on a pittance, the rough weather and sheer emptiness of the place and when Ann asked me to write home and get my ration book (I must have been feeding on the family’s rations) I thought perhaps it was time to go home.
I couldn’t have picked a worse time to sail. The heavens opened and an enormous storm rocked the ship. At one time a heavy iron bench was wrenched from the deck whereupon it crashed through the side railing and into the heaving waves. Sailors had to secure the broken railing with rods of iron. I watched all this from the window, a silly thing to do because the rocking and rolling turned my stomach. At one time, I remember looking giddily round the lounge area and seeing a picture hanging straight from the wall as the ship completely turned on its side! Oh boy, was I sick. I thought I was going to die. But die I didn’t, but my legs were very wobbly when I arrived at the Liverpool shore.
So I arrived home to find a relieved father and a hard hearted mother waiting for me. I had earlier sent a message to say when I would be home. Dad hugged me as if he would never let me go, while mom presented me with a bill for the missed rent on my bedroom. It took me ages to clear the debt.
Still unhappy I stayed put. Yes, I searched for somewhere else to go but found nothing that I could afford. I found work that I loved and a few years later met the boy I was to marry. It didn’t work. Although I didn’t realise it at the time it was really just an excuse to leave home.
Now don’t y’all take pity on me … I ended up being the luckiest woman in the world with a son and a good man who still dotes on me.