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Thank God for 999 #2
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

I was 19 in 1962 and living at home with my parents at 195 Woolton Road, Childwall, Liverpool 15.

'It's about time you left home.' Said my close teenage friend Estelle Irving who had moved to Manchester from Liverpool to study psychology at Manchester University followed by a post graduate course in Personnel Management. 'We need a fourth girl to share our house.' She was right of course; And so it came to pass. I moved into a bedsit in a crumbling depressing large house in Withington for 2.50 a week on the third floor. Estelle was on the second floor and the other two girls on the first. The large communal kitchen was on the ground floor beside a pokey communal living room.

The bedsit had a shared bathroom on the second floor for Estelle, the 2 female psychology students from Leeds and a depressing recluse who worked on night shifts in a factory and never cleaned the bath after use, leaving disgusting black water rings which we would have to clean first before our ablutions. We never saw him nor knew his name as he never ventured out of his room during the day. I recall the old fashioned coin telephone was on the wall outside his room.

My dream was to live in leafy Mersey Road, West Didsbury but I wanted to be with my friend Estelle so I reluctantly stayed on in the house of horrors as I had no other friends. I was not at University but working for Shearer Estates, PA to one of the directors, the formidable Elton Davis from Bolton. An older man who growled at me and trained me to pass his documents from behind over his shoulder rather than hand over his daily post as one would normally do. How I lasted a year in my first ever job, I know not!

When the Xmas holidays came, the 3 students went back to Liverpool and Leeds and poor me was left freezing to death in the famous Big Freeze of 1963. I went to bed keeping the gas fire on putting shillings in the slot, with two pairs of woollen underpants on and a wool sweater over my pyjamas plus bed socks. Snow lay up to 9 inches in nearby Wythenshawe in January 1963, the coldest month since January 1814. The thaw set in during early March. The temperatures soon soared to 17 degrees centigrade and the remaining snow rapidly disappeared.

I had a medium sized bedroom, a white painted wooden fireplace with a mantelpiece opposite an old wooden dressing table. A dining table and a couple of rickety chairs. I had made a big Reddicut Rug to be placed by my bed so I would feel warm when I got out of bed to stumble down to the bathroom below. I had a few books like 'The glass bead game' and 'Steppenwolf.' But was reading an anthropological one called 'Love in action.'

My little cubbyhole of a kitchen was outside on the landing. I didn't know how to cook but manage to rustle up some concoctions to eat. The thought of going out for a meal never occurred to me as I only earned 7.50 and 2.50 was my rent plus heating.

In early March the girls were away perhaps for Easter holidays when one early evening I heard dripping coming from the landing. I looked up and saw a bulge in the ceiling which was water from the frozen pipes that had expanded with the thaw. I stupidly touched the bulge and the wallpaper collapsed in my hand with water gushing everywhere, fortunately not inside my room. I became hysterical. I rushed down to the recluse who opened and then shut the door in my face.

What to do? I rang Irene, a Scottish girl I had recently met at a party and asked if she had a spare room in her nearby flat in Palatine Road. Yes, she had, someone had just moved out and it was free. 999 sprang to my mind. I called totally hysterical and asked the police to help a damsel in distress.

Four policemen turned up around 10.00 pm. 'Where's the stopcock, love?' One of them asked me. I looked at him blankly and shrugged my shoulders. He soon worked it out, brought a ladder from the police van and got into the cockloft on the landing. No more drips but what a mess with water all over the place.

One of the cheerful policemen saw my book and thinking it was a sex book, sat down to take a gander! I told them about the room for rent close by.  Could they move me? Well I was a Liver Bird! Apparently they could only move bare essentials but I persuaded them to take the lot, not that I had that much anyhow. I can still see my dresses on hangers merrily swinging from the black grill of the police van. Pots and pans plus one hurriedly packed suitcase and a shopping bag full of vegetables and potatoes all went in the back with the 3 men.

By this time I was laughing hysterically and the driver told me to pipe down while he made his report to central office. We all arrived to Irene's at midnight and she kindly offered the men tea and biscuits.

I moved in and stayed a short while buying the daily paper searching for another bedsit. Then someone called me. He had found out somehow that a bedsit in Langham Court, Mersey Road had become available next to the British Council. My dream had come true! If you want something and put your mind to it, you will get what you want sooner or later. In my case it was sooner.

Overjoyed I moved in at 5.50 a week, expensive in 1963, and the first time I had lived alone. My father subsidised me. Estelle moved in to the room I had just vacated and through Irene went to a party where she met her future husband Laurence from Blackpool. I lived in Langham Court for a few years until I left for a 2 month adventure in Israel in 1966 and then on to Perugia, Umbria, Italy for several months. Estelle lived happily ever after thanks to 999.

Written in Casa de los Bates, Motril, Spain on 7/2/17.


Wikipedia - The Big Freeze of 1963
Famous British Winters 1947-63
60s UK winters - historic weather
The Big Freeze of 1963 remembered BBC news.