THE PAST IS A DISTANT PLANET

When I was four years old my family moved from a council house on Blackburn’s Higher Croft estate to number 1 Adelaide Terrace. My mum and dad had bought the first home of their own and it was all very exciting. It had a cellar and an attic both of which were tailor made for imagination and the sort of games that ended up scaring the pants off you.

It was also very well positioned. Walk down the Terrace to Dukes Brow, turn left and make the ascent to Corporation Park and East Lancashire Cricket Club; or turn right and go downhill to Preston New Road which went into town.

On the New Road lived two important grown-ups. One was Mr Liebmann, or Fritz to my parents. They had become friends in the late 1940’s.

Mr Liebmann was a German Jew who had been allowed to leave Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s because his wife was not Jewish. He ended up in Blackburn because a contact at the Newman slipper factory gave him work. Mrs Liebmann was a talented dressmaker and set up in business and did quite well out of it. Together they made a nice home.

Both of them had been interned on the Isle of Man when World War Two began, but Mr Liebmann told my parents through a smile that he didn’t mind because it was much nicer than Dachau. He had been incarcerated there when it was a labour camp and blamed his constant bad back on the work he had been forced to do.

Mum and dad were both police constables when they got to know Fritz. Mum says you would have thought he would have been afraid of anyone in uniform, but no, he thought the world of them, raising his hat comically high whenever he met mum in the street. I choose to think that part of their appeal to him was that both had served their country in the defence of freedom. 

A few doors down from Mr Liebmann lived Daisy Stothert. Daisy was my mother’s closest childhood friend and my ‘auntie’ Daisy. During the war she had fallen in love with a Polish fighter pilot called Stanislav Litak who flew with the City of Warsaw squadron. He had escaped to England following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, determined to fight back at the earliest opportunity. This he did until the spring of 1945 when he was killed in Holland. The Mustang he was flying suffered engine failure but, instead of baling out, Stanislav tried unsuccessfully to land.

spitfire-1

Stanislav’s photograph was always on Daisy’s mantelpiece. Every November she placed a poppy next to it and did so right up to her death in 2011. I have his photograph now, together with what I regard as a self-portrait, a beautiful watercolour painting he made on brown cardboard of a Spitfire in flight, and gazing from the cockpit a tiny, blank face.

spitfire

Daisy’s home was big enough to have a small flat. She let this to Aziz who had come from Pakistan to study at Blackburn Technical College. He had something of the mod about him in his sharp 60’s suit with narrow tie and was very talkative and ambitious and seemed to love his new life. He was determined to be part of the town and make friends. Later on he would marry and have children. His two sons became doctors.

The Price family moved to Dukes Brow. They were West Indians and therefore very cool because my brother and I were already obsessed with cricket. West Indians played brilliantly and, most important of all, bowled extremely fast. My idols were their opening quickies, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith.

When I was seven or eight I met Charlie at East Lancs Cricket Club. He was the professional player for Burnley. It was like that back then in the Lancashire League – the greatest cricketers in the world would sign up to play for Accrington, Nelson, Haslingden and the rest to make a few extra bob.

In between innings Charlie was prowling in front of the pavilion so I plucked up courage and asked him for his autograph. I don’t remember what was said, though he seemed a giant of a man – the V neck of his cream sweater would easily have accommodated Concorde.

Also close to number 1 was Bogdan and his family. He was another Pole, an infantryman who had fought the Nazis and then found sanctuary from Soviet tyranny in Blackburn.

At the far end of Adelaide Terrace was a jolly Hungarian whose name, I think, was Victor. Or Viktor more like. He was a sole trader mechanic with a ramshackle garage and dad would take his car there to be fixed. I swear that one day I walked past and saw Viktor lifting what appeared to be an entire engine with his bare hands. He had thick, jet black hair and seemed covered perpetually in smudges. He laughed a lot and made me laugh. I liked him.

So this was how my hometown sometimes felt back in the 1960’s. Of course it was not all blue skies and the smell of cut grass – there was poverty for a start and industry that was dying and dirty. 

But there I was, a boy less than ten years old who had never travelled further than the Lake District, and yet, without even knowing it, I was a citizen of the world.

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Author: Mark Gorton

I am a television producer making things for screens large and small. In my spare time I write, with a particular interest in fantastic fiction and sport non-fiction.

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