The Auntie Doris Years: 1908

My Mother got her first taste of work in 1908. She was sixteen, and she got a job cleaning at a local doctor’s house and Surgery. Dr Poultice and his wife were a nice couple who worshipped at the local Nonconformist Chapel, and were happy to provide an opening for a young lass of sixteen. She always said that they related her more like family rather than someone who worked for them. As a treat that summer they took her out to Withernsea on the train. Mother had never been on a train before and said that she found it most thrilling, with the scenery rushing past, and the rhythmic click clacking of the wheels and vibrations of the engine ensuring that she was flushed and short of breath with excitement by the time they arrived at the station by the seaside. Doctor Poultice had showed some fatherly concern ant attempted to calm her by placing a reassuring hand on her knee, but his wife, sitting opposite, had taken exception to the gesture and dug him in the ribs, with the end of her umbrella.
As it can often be, Withernsea was a bit chilly when they arrived, but this didn’t stop them taking a walk on the beach and savouring the fresh North Sea air. Everybody believed that sea air was good for your health in those days, and if it was a bit damp and chilly, all the better for invigorating your vital fluids and clearing out your pipes. That was what Dr Poultice said, any road, and what with him being a Doctor, who was my mother to argue with him.they had a high tea in a cafe on the front, and the Doctor gave her a penny to buy a bag ob aniseed balls to give her parents when she came back. Apparently they were ruddy disgusting, and ended up in the bin. My mother always preferred those buttermints. But I don’t think you could get them in Withernsea in 1908.
Down the coast in Lincolnshire, Skegness was doing really well out of the trains. I bet you could have got buttermints there, and barley sugars an’all probably. It was becoming a top seaside destination, with the Great North Eastern Railway running regular day trips from Kings Cross Station in London. Of course, they had to convince the London people that it was a good idea to go and stand on a chilly beach up North, and they did it with one of the most famous holiday adverts that the world has ever known. They didn’t exactly hide the fact that the place was usually cold and damp, they used the phrase “Skegness is so bracing!” And put it on a poster with a picture of a grinning old pipe smoking sailor dancing down the beach with his arms stretched wide in a thick wooly jumper and scarf. They got this bloke called John Hassall to paint it, and gave him twelve guineas for doing it. Despite how successful the picture was he never made much more money out of his art though, and when he died, about forty years later, he was skint. He had probably spent all that he made on Whisky, women and buttermints. These days there’s a statue of that fisherman at the station in Skegness, but you would have to change trains a few times before you could get to it from Kings Ruddy Cross though. Southerners! They have far fancier places than Skegness to go to for their holidays these days, like Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. None of them are as bracing as Skeggy though. Which is hardly surprising, as they are all a lot nearer the ruddy equator.
Auntie Doris’s pop hit of 1908: “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” By Florrie Forde. A funny story, that wouldn’t have been so funny for the poor lass Kelly stood up. The rotten so and so.

Auntie Doris’s That’s Swearing #3: Heavens to Betsy/Murgatroyd

Meredydd Evans“Heavens to Betsy”is nowhere near strong enough for me. It just doesn’t reach the parts that a good “Ruddy Nora” or “Flaming Henry” does. It is a phrase which my mother would use, but only in the sort of circumstances that got her mildly flustered, “Heavens to Betsy” she would say “I didn’t realise we had so little flour left, and I was going to bake a cake” or “heavens to Betsy, Doris. What on Earth have you been doing to get your bedsheets so twisted and crumpled!”
Most people think that this phrase is American in origin, but actually, like my mother, it’s history lies in Wales.
In the mid 1800s, Meredydd Evans was probably the most sinful man in Mid Wales. Tales of his debauched carryings on were well known around the valleys. He worked building the railwys, and would spend any money that came into his possession on hard liquor, and if he ran out of money he would steal more. He would pester the women of Cardiganshire for sexual favours, and if they could not be coerced into obliging him, he took pleasure in the company of sheep. He would fight with any man who got in his way, and if they were tougher than he was, he would use a knife. He swore, he lied, and he didn’t look after his teeth properly either, so when he laughed in the faces of people who tried to stand up to him, both the sight and the smell of them was ruddy awful. He was completely wild, and completely untameable, until he met Geriant Jenkins, known as the Apostle of the Aberystwyth, for his work amongst the poor souls who laid the rails in Cambria.
Jenkins, with his courteous acceptance of all manner of men, however far they might have fallen, somehow managed to bring about a fundamental change in Evans’ behaviour and outlook. He got him to give up the drink and debauchery, and read the bible. He got him to clean up, and perform charitable acts as pennance for his sins. Eventually he got him a job as sexton at the Church of St Mary at Betws-y-Coed in the North. Betws-y-Coed, (twinned with Gyrrwch yn Ddiogel in Finland or somewhere) was a peaceful town which had grown in size somewhat after the railways came. Importantly, no one in the area knew of Meredydd Evans’ wicked past there and he became a respected figure in the local community.
However his tale lived on in the light mid Wales curse “Evans to Betws-y” which was used to indicate surprise at some unexpected transformation or surprising occurrence. It survives today as “Heavens to Betsy”
Some versions of Meredydd’s story have him ending his days at Merthyr Tydfil, working on the restoration of St Tydfil’s Church. The phrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd” is clearly something that has evolved from the phrase “Evans to Merthyr Tyd”
Some situations where “Heavens to Betsy” or “Heavens to Murgatroyd” might be used.
(i) When a cake or has risen more than was expected in the oven, and it has run down the sides of the tin and caused a bit of a burned cakey mess.
(ii) When the midwife delivers triplets, and you were only expecting one larger than normal baby.
(iii) When you go to the lavatory only to discover the seat in the upright position and wee all over the floor.