Friday, September 21, 2007

Memories Of The Cemetery Women

If you look on Google Earth at New Burlington Road, Bridlington you see a long row of Edwardian terraced houses, a seagull's flight away from the grainy sands and the lapping North Sea waves. It is nothing special : like hundreds of other streets in over-tired Northern seaside resorts. And yet, when I was young, our family were drawn back to New Burlington Road, year after year for our annual holiday by the sea. And so were the Cemetery Women.

Each year my mother, father, brother and myself along with Auntie Annie and Uncle Harry would catch the steam train from Bradford to Bridlington. Bridlington Station was the end of the line and the long station forecourt would be crowded with local lads with home-made wooden carts who would pull your luggage to your boarding house for sixpence. For a young boy from the mill-lined streets of Bradford, Brid (it was always Brid never Bridlington) was an exotic place. When you went to Blackpool on the west coast there was always an informal competition to see who could spot the tower first. When we went east to Brid the competition was who could smell the fishdocks first. Here was a place where not only land met sea, but where fish met the filleting knife, where donkeys walked the sands and where the sound of the mill shuttle was replaced by the metallic clink of pennies falling into slot machines.

The boarding house we stayed at in New Burlington Road was indistinguishable from its many neighbours. Each house would accommodate about a dozen guests. "Terms" were usually "half-board" which meant that you got bacon and egg in the morning and then you were expected to vacate the premises until you had your meal in the evening. As a mark of the exotic lifestyle of Brid, this early evening meal was called dinner rather than tea. We went to the same boarding house year after year, most people did. You got to know the landladies (a special breed who deserve a blog to themselves) and they got to know you. And you got to know many of the other guests. In our case we got to know the Cemetery Women.

They were christened thus by Uncle Harry, no doubt after he had been "throwing his money away in the pub" (my mothers' description, not mine). There were three of them : small, dressed as though every day was Sunday, and having the kind of disapproving look etched into their faces which was so common amongst Yorkshire women of a certain age. Each year they would come to Bridlington for a week. Each day they would go to the Cemetery and sit. As far as we could tell, they sat there all day until it was time to come back to New Burlington Road for dinner. After dinner they would go to bed.

Who they were visiting at the Cemetery we never found out. On rainy afternoons whilst gathered in the shelter just opposite the harbour we would weave long and complex stories : dashing young men crushed to death under a runaway luggage cart, elderly uncles who had died and left them a fortune in war bonds. If you tried to engage them in conversation you would be stopped in your tracks by the disapproving look. The only question they would respond to was "where are you going today". The only answer they would ever give was "just up to the cemetery".

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