It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of the Gordon's. On a beautiful sunny day in March 1973, my husband, Charlie Gordon, left the RAF, and we returned with to young daughters to his home town of Amble, a small fishing port on the Northumberland coast, dominated by a large caravan site. The sun would soon go behind the gathering storm clouds.
His parents owned the Salt Pans, a row of six unmodernised, Victorian terraced houses on the edge of the Links leading down to the sea. They had just sold 3, 4, and 5 as holidays homes. No. 2 was rented by a wonderful couple in their seventies, Sally and Jimmy Kennedy, they had lived there all their married life, since the late thirties. Jimmy, had lost the lower half of his left arm in a mining accident, he was a real character. Nice friendly couple, good neighbours.
And given us no. 6 (not the Deeds) the end house on the waters edge, with panoramic views of the sea and coast line: a one-up, one-down with lean-to on the front housing, stone sink with cold water tap and lavatory. No mains gas, cooking with gas was calor gas. Low pressure water supply which meant, when you flushed the lavatory you had to wait for the cistern to fill before you could turn on the tap. Septic tank sewage that had to be 'unblocked ' from time to time to stop backflow to the house. This sparkling engagement, not for the faint-hearted, had to be done at high tide, using a 'chip shop' strainer and chimney sweep rods. The heating was coal fire. No phone line, I had that put in, it took weeks, telegraph pole had to be erected across the Links to run the wire from the main road.
The parents said: 'Do the house up, add an extension, and it will be a lovely home for you and the children'.
I still hear those fateful words today. What should have been an idyllic home with the sound and the smell of the sea, the waves crashing over the seawall, the Big sky, the sunrise over Coquet Island, turned into a nightmare. The end of the marriage, and a traumatic, and protracted divorce - 1980 to 1997 - 17years Britain's longest divorce.
To the sea facing side of the house was the eroding seawall. First, we had to 'brick-up' the holes in the wall to stop us falling into the North sea. This involved lowering buckets of bricks and cement over the wall onto the shore, and working against the tide. Now we start work on the house. There was no money for a regular builder so, it was DIY. I worked during the day when the girls were at nursery school, evenings, weekends and the summer holiday a local man came down to help out. The back of the house had no door, just two tiny windows, one at the top of the stairs, this is taken out and fill in, and one at the bottom in the pantry off the living room, this is taken out and the new back door put in it's place. The bedroom and living room windows are put in. The staircase is turned 180 degrees from south to north so it now faces the new back door. All the stone work had to be repointed.
Round to the front of the house. The lean-to is demolished, and we build the extension: bedroom, bathroom, dining room and kitchen. All the bricks and stone where reclamation, and had to have the old cement chipped off them. The front door, back door, and the internal doors all reclamation. We had a cement mixer, the recipe was: I bag cement + three of sand + dash of lime mix with water to a smooth consistency - keep wet. I did the inner brick work, husband outer stone work. It got rather breezy up on the scaffolding but, what a stunning view of the beautiful Northumberland coastline, the light house on Coquet Island, and the Cheviot Hills to the east. Always got a wave from the crew of the Sea King search and rescue helicopter, out on exercise from RAF Boulmer.
We lived in a caravan the parents had on the property for four months while we did the building, and got to use the old communal lavatory, set between the middle of the terrace, and water from a standpipe.
That house will always be part of me. The bricks and mortar are doused in my, money, blood, perspiration, toil and tears. When the work was finished so was the money, my parents paid for all the internal work, plus the fixtures and fittings.
The husbands parents both in their late sixties lived at number 1, later, known as Checkpoint Charlie. His mother, Peggy Gordon, was a short, plump, very unpleasant woman, the original mother - in - law from hell, not happy unless she was making trouble, and thought nothing of going through your handbag, as she did mine. Peggy, looked like Ena Sharples from Coronation Street, minus the hair net, and drank cider instead of stout. The children would sing The Wurzels hit song of the time: I Am A Cider Drinker as they passed her house. She dealt in antiques, house clearance, had a shop in the town. His father, Charlie Gordon senior, was a tall, thin man, who had to do as he was told and follow orders. Peggy, sat in her kitchen and shop making the bullets, and Charlie senior had to go out and fire them. We had been in the house just a few months, when husband Charlie, had a dispute with his mother, he was doing a house clearance for her when something went missing - I never knew what it was - she had him arrested, he was taken to the local police station for questioning and released without charge.
We then received a letter from the parents grimy solicitor, Hylton Young, giving us a months notice to leave the house. We took legal advice from solicitor, Andrew Garside, he told us:
' They can't put you out - he cited Bannister v Bannister 1949 - Stay put and wait till they die'.
The parents then started a war of attrition, more letters from their grimy solicitor, Hylton Young, one telling me:
'To take down the washing line', the washing line is a story in it's self. Another, telling us:
'Every time we step outside the front door, we are on their property'.
How are we suppose to get in and out ? fly ? There where running battles between father and son. A padlock and chain was put on one side of the access gate, so you could only go in and out on foot, you had to park the car on the Links. With all the disputes going on, Northumberland police were never away from the Salt Pans, the police station should have moved down there. On Guy Faukes night we light a bonfire to the side of the house, next thing we know, the police are down, telling us to put it out, the parents had complained it was on their property, here we go again, they were very territorial. It was just non-stop with them, the list is endless. The house was in legal dispute and they wasted an estate agents time, sending him down to tell me they are selling the house ? Charlie. the husband is never at home now, either at work or in the pub. It's all going down the Pan ! the writings on the wall.
My lovely friend and neighbour, Sheila Stephenson, who with husband Roy, and their son Michael had the holiday home next door number.5, and still have, said to me:
'It's like something from a Catherine Cookson novel. We are only here at the weekends, you have to live with this all the time, get yourself out of here with the doctor'.
I could have got out of this mess with my doctor, John Quarrie. Carpe Deum.
Doctor John Quarrie came to Amble in 1974, taking over the practice of Doctor Robertson, who was retiring. John, lived in Warkworth, a beautiful picturesque village, a mile outside Amble, noted for the Castle and Hermitage: with his wife, also a doctor and their two children, Rachel and Ian, who were the same age as my children. From the start he became emotionally involved with me. He separated from his wife and they divorced after 3 years. John left Amble in 1978 for a teaching post at Guy's Hospital in London, asking me to go with him, my emotions were in such turmoil, I did not want to cause a scandal and ruin his career. It was a very torrid departure. The next year he remarried, marring Elspeth Earle - a children's psychiatrist - on the rebound and had two more children with her, Susanna and Benedict.
I was not the only one affected by John's departure. He had started a group for children with disabilities and their parents, with evening meetings once a month in the surgery. John's final meeting did not go well, he did not want to be there, he was in bad humour, he took his leaving present, a very nice jumper to wear for his sailing pastime, he sailed close to the wind with me rocking the boat. And left in a huff and a hurry, causing upset and anger to the group. Driving off down the A1 in his 2 cv to his teaching post in Guy's hospital and then a GP again in Kent. Leaving a trail of destruction behind him in Amble.
And then the construction workers came.