By Brian Hall
Wednesday 14 Sep 2011 17:38:00
Browse all Brian Hall articles






Margaret, my Mam, or Pearl rather, as she was always called. She was funny, quirky, tough, and rather popular, to say the least.

She was a social worker in the Shiney Row area of old County Durham - an unofficial one, that is. The young, middle-aged, and old, would always confide in her. Her company, quite simply, was not asked for - it was demanded!


Such demand was not simply for her listening skills. They all wanted her talking ones as well. And part of that deal came with her ability to make people laugh, in bad times and good. She normally caused laughter - better than tablets by the way in terms of making many feel better - on purpose. Occasionally, she would provoke smiles and chuckles without intention, just via one of her phrases or comments.


The sheer numbers of characters who knew her, asked after her, and all the way to her end, still visited her, confirmed that her crack was still very much in demand. When her offspring visited her, for example, me - somebody would be sitting talking to her, somebody would be knocking at her sheltered housing door, and 2 others were probably jammed in her cupboard. At times, her tiny flat seemed more crowded than the Gallowgate on a Saturday afternoon. 


By that stage, Pearl was hitting 80 onwards. We would all ring her and ask how she was. Canny....would be the reply. A joyful proncunciation of Canny meant she was....canny. A low tone when she said Canny meant she was not that grand. The latter often meant a follow up. Nee visitors over the last few days. This would lead to uncomfortable questions for her - and she would say, weh...apart from Nancy, Norah, Old Tommy, various grandchildren, and a bus trip from some remore part of County Durham!!


Our Pearlie had had an ORDINARY Durham life, just like that of so many of her generation for sure.


As a bairn, she went through the pre-war Depression years, faced huge poverty, miners' strikes and lock outs. Most of her life. and that of her community, was in fact dominated by the Black Diamond, King Coal. Then came War Number Two for them all. Pearl's brothers took off on their travels, off to fight the Nazis, to create Another Land Fit for Heroes, as he often ironically put it in her later years.


All through her long life, Pearl had a reputation for kindness. We all used to laugh, in her remaining years, when she would suddenly find pocket money for her increasing tribe of grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. Did she deal in counterfeit, or having a hidden cash printing machine in her little cupboard, we joked. She was inevitably tough, and could be harsh with it at times, but she was usually a very caring soul in so many ways.                      


She was also a very clever and astute Durham lass. There is no record of anybody ever putting one over on her, or getting past her. She would have eaten Peter Mandelson for breakfast!!  Huge numbers of witnesses would testify to that. To call her sharp would be a gross understatement.


As a bairn though, like so many of her time, she simply could not  stay on at school. A Durham family needed income. She got on her bike at 13, and pedalled across to  a toffee factory in Chester-le-Street to begin her first job. Her next job, aged 16, took her to the Washington Chemical Works. Her career later moved on, into years of part-time bar work across her area - my Uncle ran one, and used to laugh. If asked where the Manager was, he would say Pearl is not in at the minute!


She loved her music, and the advent of the stereo - bought by Our Mick - led to sounds of various Irish ballads. She took this a stage further, and set up a band to raise money for charity - it toured the local clubs, singing and dancing to songs of the Green. A noble exercise for sure, but try telling that to one young lad - me - who had to listen to them all practicing in the bloody sitting room once a week! Her musical taste extended into Scottish stuff - her Mam was Scots after all - and of course, anything Geordie. One of her favourite LPs was the Bobby Thompson one. No surprise there, as some regarded her as a female version of the Little Waster in terms of her humour, and she was born in the same streets as the Thompson family anyway.


And of course, her LP collection etended to old crooners and glamourous ladies. Jim Reeves, Doris Day, Dean Martin, and all the rest.


Her film-watching, via the telly, tended to be romance-dominated. South Pacific. Casablanca. Brief Encounter.  She would often mutter about some Hollywood star -  eeeeeeeeeeeee, he was handsome, or eeeeeeeeeee, she was so bonny.


Pearl liked to get about, too. As a young girl, she never missed a Durham Miners Gala unless she had to sort something out back home. When her Mam fell ill for a long period, she took charge of her many siblings and thought nothing of taking off with her clan, in order to land upon some unsuspecting household. One included that of Aunty Mary, who was in service in Darlington. and Mary still wonders how she never got the sack because of such visits. The same Aunt remained a victim as the years progressed, after she became the Senior Housekeeper of the big Catholic Presbytery in Consett. Yet more unannounced visits would take place under Pearl's stewardship, either with her own bairns, or later on, with her gang of increasingly elderly mates. Mary still laughs at that - just! 


 As her summer years turned to autumn, this very dangerous and menacing gang, Edna, Nora, Nancy, and God Knows Who Else, got armed - with bus passes. This ensured that they refound their teenage years, lurching off to Seaburn, South Shields, Tynemouth, and Whitley Bay.  Not for the night life, or Spanish City for example, but rather to make their presence felt in cafes, fish shops, and on the beach. Woe betide, if you pardon the pun, if anybody got in their way.


Like most of that Durham generation of women, travelling abroad was not a regular feature.The men had, like her Dad to the Somme, and then brothers as stated, to Dunkirk, Arnhem, and so on. But as they hit the early 70s onwards, some females did cross the Channel. My Mam made it to Lourdes with Shiney Row Catholic Tours Limited, for example, and they all seemed to have a right old party there, judging by the photos. Little sign of prayer in the snaps, though. But I am sure they did pray, and help out with the sick and disabled, and Pearl was, after all, strongly proud of her religion. It has to be said that she was a rather untamed devotee , however, as if any Pope came out with any statement with which she disagreed, then she told it how she saw it. Bloody rubbish, she would say!!


Lourdes and visits to Our Lady aside, Pearl did end up on one other continental foray. An odd one really. Salou in Sunny Spain with her sisters. Her trip made a maor impact on my Dad back in the house. On the Saturday morning, he rushed around with a hoover, much to the annoyance and bemusement of her sons lying around the floor. One of us asked him what he was doing, he replied....Ya Mam is back the day......we said she was not back to the following Saturday, man..............and the hoover was immediately put away. Away for 2 weeks, Fatha, not one!! 


It has to be admitted, also, that Pearl never claimed to be a brilliant chef, apart from boasting about Yorkshire Puddings on a Sunday Dinner, and that dinner was then recycled into dripping sandwiches on a Sunday night, and a Monday night fry-up.

Her occasional attempts at baking usually failed, but she was proud of her rock cakes. God Knows Only Why, as they knackered your teeth, and were simply used as weapons of mass destruction inside the family by her sons. I have been hit by some objects in my time, but I can honestly say her rock cakes caused severe damage to the head.


And one other culinary delight has to be mentioned. Her banana sandwiches with loads of sugar on. They were great, but she was even known to ruin them!! If she saw a fly on the loose, or felt something smelly needed removed, the table, and sarnies, would be covered by FlySpray or AirFreshener. Try eating a sarnie through a mist of FlySpray or AirFreshener!!


I hope you are getting a small picture of this ordinary Durham Lass.              Bear with me for a little bit longer.


She had many quirky habits. One was throwing things out - fortunately, not her sons - not that often anyway. If in the hoying out mood, anything would go. One example tells it all. She had a signed photo of the Labour Leader, John Smith, who died, and of course led to Mr Blair taking his place. John was a decent bloke, but behind the signed photo lay a story. He had been popping around tables at a Do at Gateshead Civic Centre, was supposed to just have said photo taken with a bunch in the corner. Amongst them was Pearl, John stayed for far longer than he should have at that table, and Pearl and him just cracked on for a good ten minutes or so, much to  the annoyance of some young would-be New Labour organiser. He wrote her personal message. I must admit I told her off for throwing that out -  she replied, it was cluttering the place up, man, and divvent you tell me off!


Alongside hoying things out, she often took it into her head to rearrange her tiny sheltered flat. This always reminded me of her similar activities in the Council house we used to all live in. Annoying was not the word in   terms of her reshuffles, which mainly centred upon the appearance of yet another second-hand settee, usually every other month. This was usually a result of inter-Estate bargaining in which she had been involved. We sometimes thought we had gone into the wrong house!! But if you dared say....there was nowt wrong with the one -         she would give you short shrift. Complaints from offspring never got far with Pearl.



Perhaps one of the main things about Pearl, perhaps it made her so popular. She liked to tell true stories and tales, and was rarely interested in gossip. Her crack centred upon funny, bizarre, poignant, and sad, of course, about her experiences in Old County Durham. Too many in this piece to even list, but worth putting one in. As an example. In the turbulent late 20s, her Dad was in a miners' lock out. He was chased off a nearby railway track by some rather vicious police, and probably military men. He had been picking off some Black Diamonds - coal remnants - and fled hyem. He dashed to his bed, pursued by a local bobby under orders from his more senior Commanders. The bobby called at the family door, asked where Granda Bobby was, and was telt that he was in bed. The bobby was directed to the said bed, by a very young Pearl. Despite her Dad sporting a very black face, and  very dusty sheets not covering his even more black and clarty boots, the policeman said - that's alreet, I can see you have been in bed aal neet, Bobby. But next time, get a wash and change afore you gan to  sleep!! See - not all coppers are bad, eh.



She loved to tell that one. She loved to recount all sorts. A great raconteur, as well as a Listener. But the problem with the latter was her inability to listen to advice given by others, particularly in her receding years. One example, again.

Two of her daughters-in-law used to tear their bonny hair out, when Pearl would decide to stop taking her medication, and pronouce that it was all rubbish. The tablets were actually helping her, according to these two frustrated characters. What did they know - she would state. Well, one was a Doctor, and the other was a Nurse!!


Pearl had her dislikes, to put it politely. Tories. Her telly used to gan off when Thatcher came on - actually, it used to gan off increasingly when Blair came on. She also had a strong antagonism towards the Royal Family. This was mainly based upon her relationship with the Queen Mother - that Aad Grannie was of Bowes Lyon stock, and anybody who knows anything about coal and County Durham will understand why Pearl had no time for them!!!


The ordinary Durham Lass had no time either for pompous characters, people getting above their station. If she came across them, she would spot them immediately, outwit them via her machiavellian tactics and subtle mockery, and they were get out of her way - rapidly.



And any tribute to her has to include some of her phrases!!! Too many to list - again. But a few can be mentioned below to give you a flavour.











THIRTY POUND TO BLOODY DIE  -    that was her insurance money she kept aside.






Above all though, Pearl liked, indeed, loved people. Most of them anyway, unless he was crossed! No prisoners taken if they did that. It mattered little to her if somebody was an MP, and she knew some, or a miner, and she knew even more of them. Priest or pauper, she cared little - she would talk to them, listen to them, and help them, if she could.



Her official name was Margaret, but she was just Pearl, the name given to her by her Dad as a young baby back in 1921. His Pearl. And that of so many others. A Durham Pearl. Just like so many others of her generation.



Brian Hall




this was read out at the Red House on the Quayside last week. Raise a toast for a  people we should never forget. The ordinary Durham Lasses of another era. Without them all, we would have nowt, and I dont mean cash.                                       Bry   

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