March 1961

In November 1960, Carol left New York and returned to Ottawa to spend the winter with the Costains. I suspect she had left St Vincent for almost a year because there were health concerns, and she consulted doctors in both Ottawa and New York, being diagnosed at some point with pernicious anaemia which may have responded only temporarily to treatment. This means, of course that there are no letters between Cyn and Carol, but in the collection there are 2 letters to Carol about her husband in Newcastle.

As has been covered earlier in this Project, Cyn’s mother, Carol Ewing, had left her husband, Dr. J.M.G.(Gordon) Ewing, at the end of 1947 and joined Cynthia in Cambridge. In 1948, they had met Cec who was working on his Ph.D. at Cambridge, and Cyn and Cec married in the summer of 1949, and left England at the beginning of 1950, while Carol went home to St.Vincent. Because Carol and Cyn were living together in Cambridge, there are no letters covering that period, but sometime during those 2 years, Gordon Ewing was institutionalized, diagnosed with hardening of the arteries of the brain, and remained there until his death in 1964. There were letters exchanged between Carol, Cyn, and lawyers and doctors; Cyn sent her father gifts and magazine subscriptions, with notes and photos occasionally, which he acknowledged; and from these letters, it is clear that Carol was kept informed of her husband’s condition by friends in Newcastle. The letters give us a window into elder care in the 60s with a difficult patient- and the little anyone at a distance could do. The Carnegies are quite formal in writing to Carol, so not close friends, but they are kind. The letter seems to have arrived in Ottawa after Carol had gone home to St. Vincent in March 1961 and been sent on by Cyn.

1, Victoria Square,

  1. 2. 61.

My dear Mrs. Ewing,
Our sincere apologies for the long delay in acknowledging your gift box to your husband and for the very nice box of notelets for myself. It was kind of you to do this and I have found them very useful – thank you.
I went with Alec to see the doctor, he gave us quite a nice welcome, but very unfortunately he refused to accept the very nice parcel of good things you and Cynthia had so kindly sent. We are using them ourselves as you suggested, thank you very much.
Now about the doctor. We were told he is most difficult and sleeps ever such a lot. Some days he won’t use his dentures or have his hair cut. He insists on seeing the C. priest every other day and has ceased to read or write. They think he will just sleep away. So you see Mrs. Ewing we are not hiding anything from you. He insists on wearing a felt hat all day.
We had a very happy Christmas and new year, but since, we have been rather tired and have been resting a lot. I will be 71 this year and Alec 72.
We are so glad you are having such a happy time with Cynthia, her husband and children. Wish we had known earlier about your going to Long Island because my sister Margaret & her husband are there.
Alec is going to see the doctor on Friday after which he will write you.
Our love, many thanks and all good wishes.
Yours very sincerely
Alec & Mary.

1 Victoria Sq.
Newcastle upon Tyne

13 Mch 1961

Dear Mrs. Ewing,
Once again I spent half an hour with Dr. Ewing today, and in spite of the fact that the Male Nurse said he would not talk to me, as soon as I entered the Ward, he got up and came to meet me, and we had half an hour of talk on both sides. He said he could not talk very well now, so I told him that if he would only wear his dentures he could talk quite well, you see Mrs. Ewing he will not wear his dentures; – he said he could not be bothered, just in the same way, he, some days refuses to shave. He will also now only wear Hospital woollen sports shirts – he says it is too warm to put on a collar and tie. I am afraid he is often very awkward and stubborn with the staff. He did today however have on one of his own suits. In spite of all this however he does look well, and says he does feel well. With me today he was quite chirpy, and took a keen interest in all the people I spoke about, you see it is only the past you can discuss with him, as he does not read the papers nor will he watch the Television. They have just got a lovely new 21” set in the Day Room, but he will not look at it, and grumbles because it is on all day & evening. The Nurse told me he just sits, and whether he thinks whilst he is sitting one cannot tell. Certainly his memory of the past is still good, and he keeps referring to people, I must confess I had forgotten.
By the way he is still wearing the booties we got for him a year past Xmas, so he must like having & wearing them.
I hope you are well, and derived much benefit from your holiday.
Give Cynthia our good wishes and for you our kindest thoughts.
Yours Aye,
Alec Carnegie.

Others’ Children in the Summer

It is likely that Cyn got photos of her friends’ children with their Christmas cards, but she put them in her scrapbook in amongst her fall events, although they have a summer vibe. No doubt she sent pictures of Linda and Charlie looking one year older as well!

First, however, her friend Anne sent pictures of the previous spring and summer, before her husband’s tragic death in Cambridge.

The summer of 1955, they seem to have gone to the beach! Cyn, enjoying her new sewing machine, was busy making mother-and-daughter skirts for Anne and Janita for Christmas.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, the Sheedy boys were getting older too.

And Nan and Dick Heslop were obviously proud of their daughter!

Back in Canada, after their working summer, Merle and Dix sent a picture of their boys, John, Lorne and Bruce.

These would be the cousins we were closest to, but it would be a few years before we met them.

Summer in England 1953

Although Cyn and her friends in England were occupied with their growing families, they kept in touch. I am publishing only one side of Cyn’s correspondence with her mother here- but all of these women wrote to each other back and forth and it is hard to imagine the volume of correspondence Cyn generated in a year!

While Cyn was experiencing cottage country in Ontario, her friends in England were also on holiday with their children, and sent her pictures. Although some are wearing swimsuits as brief as the Costain children, somehow it looks a little bit colder. Cyn, Dottie, Mary Stewart, and Nan Heslop (Sandy’s mother) knew each other from Newcastle days.

Dottie & Peter Burton with Sandy.

Christopher was born in. Ottawa but is in England here.

Anne Winnick and Cyn were colleagues teaching in Cambridge before their marriages, and I assume Rosemary is another. Janita is Anne’s daughter, and Rosemary has another Charles!

I don’t know who these two are but they look sweet. Possibly this is from Newcastle, where there was another Bobby Sheedy, named for Cyn’s childhood. friend killed in the war.

I’m sure all the children had a happy summer so long ago!

November 3 1949

At Home.


Dearest Mummy,

Here I am to finish off my letter with a second installment! We have had dinner & washed up & Cec is reading with Spiv on his knee, so we are very comfortable.

I had got as far as Sunday evening, so will carry on from there. On Monday morning we had breakfast & packed & got ourselves into town in a scramble to see Mr. Kirby at 11 o’clock. As a matter of fact, we were late & were so relieved when we got there & he was later still! I asked him all the questions you told me to, & you will probably have heard from him by now. He wrote out your cheque when we were there & said he would send it off straight away – he said it hadn’t been sent since the Accounts were done for the year to send to the Court. He also said that he had been signing the cheques for the Hospital & apparently they have been going regularly. In reply to your questions he said that he would go on looking after everything when you were away & with regard to the Receivership did we think we would like him to do it & would other relatives agree. I said I thought so. About paying your allowance into Martin’s I think that is O.K. but all these queries seem to have to be referred to the Court before he could give a definite answer. He said he’d see about the clothes at Mrs. Johnny’s & that you’re not to worry about his account, the court allowed him expenses etc. & he had sent his account to them. He also said that at the end of last year, there was a surplus of £80, & one reason he hadn’t sent your cheque was that he was considering applying for an increase in allowance for you & asked what you thought. I didn’t know what to say, so maybe he has written to you about it. I thought perhaps it may be a good thing to have some in hand in case of an emergency, but Cec said in that case they would probably be able to use capital. We were there nearly an hour, & old Kirby was quite nice to us, but he is a funny old man!

We looked around town a bit – I sent roses to Irene & Dottie & carnations to Winnie on 2nd Nov.- then went up to Dottie’s for lunch at 1 o’clock. There was a great family – the three boys – Marjorie, Oliver, Dottie, Mr. Laing, Cec & I – and we had a great big meal too! Pete has been in bed, but was up again & at school on Monday. Geoffrey is 5, & going to school now & is just about as tall as Peter. Oliver has had bad rheumatism & arthritis, & has been finding it troublesome for quite a few months now.

In the afternoon I went to see my Father again, and he was much more cheerful, and quite interested in us going to Ann Arbor etc. & telling about people he knew from there. I took him a pipe & tobacco, & he seemed to be pleased with them. He was quite cheerful when I left, & we had a very nice letter from him today.

Marjorie & family left Dottie’s after tea & then we got ready for our night out at Tilley’s. I wore my grey & yellow dress, & Boy! was it tight!! Joan came down with us, & Pam & Sam were there, & Nan & Dick & Irene & Bill came soon after. We had a drink in the lounge & then went into dinner & had a very nice meal- the main course was venison steaks, & they were lovely. My old friend Max saw me & remembered & played my tune, & we sent up a great list of requests which he played for us. The restaurant was very quiet, being Monday, with only 3 other tables & by the end of the evening we had them all joining in “Blaydon Races” & having a good time. Everyone said they enjoyed it & thanked us for a nice time.

Next day Dottie had to go to work (she teaches at Rutherford on Tuesday, 1/2 day Wed. & 1/2 day Fri.) so she poked her head in & said goodbye to us and so did Pete, and we had breakfast later. Then we went down town & parked our bags at the Station, & I showed Cec the Castle & the bridges & Bessie Surtees house! We had lunch at the Station Hotel & caught the 1.20 train & had a really comfortable journey down – just walked from one train to another at York & March & had tea & dinner on the trains. It was nice to get home again though!

I must stop now as it is bedtime nearly & I shall make some cocoa. (No wonder we put on weight!) About coming to see us, how about coming for the weekend after next? Cec & I, after our travels have a couple of tickets from London to Cambridge & back again, left over, so we will send you one to use- but it has to be within the month! Let me know what you told Pam, & we’d love to have you before or after you go to her – just let us know & we’ll send a ticket.

[Cec’s handwriting: Sorry to report Spiv got all dirty while we were away – he must have been sleeping in the coal. He’s a mess, but very affectionate these days. But so am I. [Cyn: Me too!]

In Mother’s last letter she let us know indirectly that the wedding photo was in the paper, so it must have arrived and she forgot she hadn’t told us. It runs in the family. 

See you soon

      Love Cec]

Lots of love 



P.S. Forgot to tell you, Amy apparently wasn’t pleased because our visit was so short! Isn’t she an old so-&-so. Wonder if she’ll write and wail at you!

They must have changed the date!

November 2 1949

37 de Freville Ave.


2nd Nov. 1949

Dearest Mummy,

Here we are – back home again! And despite all the traveling, feeling quite rested and better for the change. We did dash about of course, as I always do in N/C, but having Cec with me made all the difference, and of course, both our hostesses were very good about letting us sleep late! I felt really tired last week- I think Bar was a bit of an effort- but I feel fine now.

After we left you on Friday – hope you got home quite safely – we went & got in our little sleepers & they were sweet. Two little cabins with a communicating door, and lots of cunning little gadgets- lights, ventilators, coat hangers, washbasin etc.- and very comfortable beds with linen sheets! We crawled in, & both slept like logs, & were awakened by the steward with cups of tea at 5:45. We dashed to get ready & when we ventured out onto N/C platform here was Bill waiting for us with the car. Irene had a lovely fire on, & breakfast all ready so we tucked in & were amazed to find ourselves sitting around the fire talking with the lights on at 7.0 a.m just as if it were 7.0 p.m.! We all chatted, then I washed my hair (!) and we seemed to have such a lot of time before we finally set out for town, where we had coffee with Dottie & Marjorie. We went back to Irene’s for lunch & in the afternoon Cec and I had been invited to Nan and Dick’s for tea. However, Bill was going to the Football Match- a big one, Arsenal & N/C United- & Cec was panting to go with him, so I let him go! I went down to Nan’s at about 3.15 & Cec came after the Match soon after 5. Mrs. Allen was at Nan’s as she has sprained her ankle, but none of them seemed to mind Cec’s late coming! 

The first view I had of the baby was in the pram, with Dick wheeling him down the road – proud Papa! He is not a pretty baby!  But he is a big boy- tall, not fat, and looks definitely like Tom & Peter when he was a baby, I think. Mrs. Allen doesn’t see it, but he has a rather long thin face & head like theirs, not a chubby little round baby one. He was rather pale, although Nan said he was really a rosy baby, but he had no spots or anything. His hair is really red, but it is rubbing off, and the new lot looks browner. On the whole I thought he was a fine boy, but not being a chubby little thing, he doesn’t look so cute. My big surprise was Nan! Irene had warned me, but I suppose I just couldn’t visualize Nan as immense – but she is! When she opened the door, I actually had to look twice to be sure it really was Nan. Apart from her body, which is quite solid & stout – rather Mrs. Allen’s figure- her face has altered so. Instead of seeing Nan’s high cheekbones, as one used to do, it is completely fat & round & red! She is wearing her hair sort of skinned back & she reminds me a bit of Mrs. Scott. I was surprised!!

We had a nice tea, and Cec came in & we talked a bit & Nan took the baby and fed him & put him to bed. Then as Mrs. A. was spending the evening there, they came up to Killingworth with us just for a breath of fresh air. They didn’t come in & it was just as well, as Irene had cooked a dinner & we had a glass of sherry & then had a lovely meal. We were all tired, so I went & had a bath & Cec helped Bill & Irene wash up & we were all in bed in a short while.

I forgot to tell you that before I went to Nan’s I rang up the Hospital & Dr. Murphy was away, but I asked if there was a message, & the man said that my Father was very keen to see me, so I arranged to go on Sunday at 2:30. On the Sunday morning, we got up late & had breakfast then Bill drove us down to the coast. It was a lovely morning, & we drove down by Seaton Delaval & to St. Mary’s Island. We got out & walked round it- the first time since goodness knows when – and then drove to Tynemouth, to the Park Hotel for lunch. 

Afterwards Bill drove us to the Hospital & left Cec and me there. As we didn’t know whether Cec should come in with me or not, he stayed in the waiting room, & when I saw my Father he said that he didn’t want to see a stranger, so I just left it at that. He was quite nice about Cec though, and didn’t say anything about the wedding. He was looking pretty much the same, in health, but was much quieter and more rational in his manner- not the incessant talking. He talked, of course, in the same strain, but in a more normal way and the decent man with specs in charge of the Ward (what is his name?) said that he was quieter and more rational now, and appreciated more what was being done for him. Mr.?? asked for you and said that if either of us wanted to know anything just to write to him direct. He has arranged for my Father to have a bigger room to himself & he says he passes his time playing chess & bagatelle & reading. I asked him if he thought my Father would remain rational if he did come out of Hospital as he keeps wanting to but he said that he was afraid not – it was the regular quiet life with no upsets that was what he needed. I talked to my father (or rather he talked to me) for about an hour, then he said not to keep Cec waiting any longer & I left & arranged to go back the next day.

We went back to Irene’s for tea, & then got ready straight away and went down to Walkerville. We dashed to Amy & Charlie’s first as we knew they would be going to Church, & talked for a little while before they went. Then we went on to little Mrs Johnny & she was very sweet to us both. To Dawson’s next, where we had a glass of wine! – and then to Sheedies. I may say that all your friends were enquiring for you very tenderly & saying you hadn’t written for a long time!

We enjoyed our evening at Sheedies & I liked Dorothy very much. I thought she & Denis were a very well matched couple & both Cec & I thought that they would be very happy together. We finally got back to Irene’s around 11 o’clock.

I’ve been writing this for 2 days now & will post it as I know you will be waiting for a letter. I’ll tell you the rest tonight & post it tomorrow – as you’ll gather this has been done at school! 

My love to AGL & Chris & lots & lots for you



August 1949: Meanwhile, back at the the ranch..

While the newlyweds had their honeymoon, life went on among their friends and relations. Carol, the mother of the bride, had sent her choice of wedding photos to the groom’s family in Canada the week after the wedding. The Costains in Saskatoon made sure the news was spread, with quite a lot of biographical detail!

The Anglican Church at Chesterton, England, was the scene of a pretty wedding July 26 when Cynthia Hazell Ewing, daughter of Mrs. J. M. Ewing of Cambridge, England, became the bride of Lt.-Cmdr. Cecil Clifford Costain of Sutherland, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry H. Costain. A reception was held in the Dorothy Cafe at Cambridge, the young couple leaving later for a honeymoon in Paris and Cannes. They will reside at 37 Freville Avenue, Cambridge.

The groom is a distinguished graduate in physics from the University of Saskatchewan, winner of an Empire scholarship and is now attending the University of Cambridge, England. For three and a half years during the war he served in the British Navy with the rank of lieutenant-commander and was in command of the radar squad on The Indomitable, winning the Distinguished Service Cross.

The bride was born in the West Indies, of English parents, and spent most of her life in England, with a year in Toledo, Ohio, as an exchange teacher.

They will return to Canada early in 1950, afterwards going to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for further graduate studies.

Cyn’s close childhood friend Denis was preoccupied with his own wedding two weeks after hers, and none of those invited above were able to attend, Cec and Cyn being in France and Carol packing up for London. But wedding presents and photographs were exchanged.

Denis and Dorothy Sheedy

And a week after that, in Newcastle, Cyn’s other childhood friend, Nan, had her baby and sent an announcement.

Nan and Dick Heslop’s son was called Sandy.

Cynthia at School


by Cynthia Costain

When I was a little girl I lived in a city in the north of England called Newcastle-on-Tyne. The castle had been new when it was built by William the Conqueror in 1066, and the Tyne is a river. My mother and father and I lived in a brick house in a street of other houses much the same. Every house had gardens in back and in front, and in the front garden was an apple tree; the street was called Appletree Gardens.

Appletree Gardens

This was a new part of the city and a pleasant quiet place to live, but it was near an old industrialised area where the schools were big, old buildings with crowded classrooms. My father decided that this would not be a good place for me to start school, so 1 first went to a nearby private school. Then when I was 7 years old, I was sent to a school called St. Margaret’s School for Girls. I was bought a new school uniform which was very exciting: a navy blue gym tunic with a pale blue blouse, black stockings and black shoes, a thick navy blue winter coat and a black felt hat with a navy and pale blue ribbon around it, and a navy blue blazer with the school badge on it. I felt very smart.

The school was in quite a different part of the city and of course there were no school buses in those days. Every morning I left home before 8 o’clock and walked down my street and along another to the main road where the streetcars ran. I walked down the road until I came to a corner where I waited for a rather old green streetcar which turned onto a track which ran straight across the fields. I was often the only person on that streetcar except the driver and the conductor who took my fare of tuppence (two pence) for the ride. It took about half an hour to cross the fields and small straggly woods and reach streets with houses and shops again and it was a long lonely time. At last I got off at the Catholic Church, walked to the corner, crossed the main street, then turned into a road with big stone houses, two of which had been turned into the school.

I think my father or mother must have taken me on that journey a few times before I began school but I don’t remember that. What I DO remember is the first day. I was very scared. I didn’t know any of the girls, and some were very big girls. I didn’t know any of the teachers and the Principal was a very tall, terrifying, grey-haired lady. Not only that, but I was to stay at school all day and not get back home until 5 o’clock. At that time most families had their main meal in the middle of the day, so school was from 9 o’clock until 12 o’clock, and then a break of 2 hours for the girls to go home for dinner, starting again at 2 and going on until 4 o’clock. Our parents paid for those of us who lived too far away to go home, to have a hot cooked meal at school. Those school dinners were a great trial to me as there were many things I didn’t like, and at each end of the long table sat a teacher who frowned if you did not eat everything on your plate.

Afterward we went into a classroom for a while and could read or do homework and then were sent out into the playground and played with balls or skipped, rushed around and chased each other or played tag until school began again.

I can still remember how long that first day seemed. I had never been away from home before without my mother or father or someone I knew and the more I thought about it, the more dreadful things I imagined could be happening while I was away. At last the teacher noticed the big tears rolling down my cheeks. She came over and asked, “What is the matter, Cynthia?”

Choking back my sobs, I said, “It’s so long since I left home this morning perhaps our house has burnt down and there is nothing left.”

She persuaded me that she was sure that everything was all right and eventually the long day ended. I put on my coat and hat, walked back to the old green streetcar, drove across the fields, walked home, and there was the house, quite safe with my mother and father waiting to hear how I had liked my first day at school.

About a year later other parents began sending their daughters to the same school with me and we had quite a good time on our rides, chatting and trying to finish homework each morning. In the afternoon we would rush to the little corner store to spend our pocket money on long liquorice strips or packets of sherbet and snowballs. Big hard round candies called gob-stoppers were a favourite as they lasted so long and changed colour as we sucked, taking them out frequently to check each new colour.

There were holidays to look forward to: a month at Christmas; another month at Easter; and then six weeks in the summer. Both my parents were far from their homes so I grew up without any extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, but we had friends in the neighbourhood and I enjoyed visiting and playing with them.

There were treats to look forward to: the comic my father brought home for me on Tuesday evening; the Pantomime at Christmas; having my parents’ friends to tea on Sunday afternoons, with a visits to the patisserie the day before to help choose a selection of small fancy cakes. I always kept a close watch on the chocolate eclair as the plate was passed round. Going out to other grown-up tea parties where I sat quietly while the adults talked was not very interesting, but I soon found out that many of them had lovely story books, like the Pollyanna books and Tales from Japan which kept me happily occupied.

My parents enjoyed the theatre and if there was no baby sitter available I was taken along. Plays, concerts and even operas were sometimes exciting and sometimes dull, but they were all fun. One thing I was never taken to and that was a MOVIE. They were not considered suitable for children. No movies! No TV! What we had was wireless- radio to you- and if I got home early enough, I could listen to the Children’s Hour on the BBC.

New Year in Northumberland

Now that my mother’s stories are set in England, and deal with her own life as a child with Carol in her role as mother, it is time to introduce Cynthia’s first letter- not to her mother (although she is the person who preserved envelope and letter), but to Santa Claus! This is a bit strange in itself, since I would have thought an English child would have written to Father Christmas rather than Santa, but she did have an American influence- her Simmons cousins, Milly, Marguerite, and Mona, who had spent the war with her in St Vincent, at some time had joined their father in New York, and grew up on Long Island. This letter from an 8-or-9-year-old Cynthia is, I hope, legible enough not to need a transcription.


by Cynthia Costain

Children growing up in Northumberland had one big advantage over children in most of the rest of England. We celebrated an English Christmas and a Scottish New Year.

At Christmas, there was none of this grudging John Knox attitude. It was the season to be merry, with presents and Father Christmas; delicious secrets hidden in cupboards; expeditions to the country for holly and mistletoe to decorate each room. Noontime dinner on Christmas day was full of delectable smells and feasting a fat stuffed roast capon (as we were a small family) and the fun of blazing Christmas pudding with the suspense of seeing whether I would get the silver ring this year or the threepenny bit or horrors! the silver thimble. Tea at five o’clock brought friends to share the large iced Christmas cake and little warm mince pies. We younger ones ate and giggled, compared presents and began the task of eating as many mince pies as we could in between Christmas and New Year each one consumed counted as a happy month in the coming year.

New Year was quite different. No presents or special goodies, but the mystique of STAYING UP TO SEE THE NEW YEAR IN. This longed-for event was not achieved by being good or behaving well in church, it involved pleading each year, “Can’t I stay up? I’m seven eight- nine now,” until at last, parents tired of nagging would say, “All right, this year you can See In The New Year.”

The best family party was at the Sheedys’: an Irish father, an exuberant North Country mother, two sons of my age, and various young Irish uncles, as well as a selection of neighbouring families. The most important person in the whole ceremony was Grandfather. Mrs. Sheedy’s father was a fine impressive old gentlemen with white hair and a beautiful white beard a cross between Father Christmas and King Edward VII. We would all gather at the Sheedys’ house about eleven o’clock, the adults making polite conversation, and the children being as quiet as possible so that we could eavesdrop on our elders. As midnight drew nearer, Grandfather, already in his best black suit with white shirt, stiff collar, and black silk stock, would put on his overcoat with the velvet collar and his hard square topped hat, tuck his scarf around his neck, put on his gloves, and take his silver topped cane. In the meanwhile, Mrs. Sheedy would carefully slip into his pocket a piece of coal, a twist of paper holding salt and a small flask of whiskey.

We all gathered to see him march down the garden path, out the gate and down the dark road. No need in that shipbuilding city to watch the clock for midnight. As the minutes crept by we listened and then up and down the river for miles around the sirens howled and the ships’ hooters blew as Tyneside welcomed in the New Year. There would be a great knocking at the front door, and everyone would rush to see Grandfather enter the house as the First Foot over the doorstep to bring good luck to the house and all within. With the coal for warmth throughout the year, salt for food, and whiskey for drink he would call a Happy New Year to all and set out to kiss all the ladies. Traditionally the First Foot must be a dark man, and presumably Grandfather had once had dark hair, since he remained the perfect bringer of good luck.

Then what hugging and kissing and exchanging of good wishes, from husbands to wives, mothers to sons and adults to children! 1 can’t remember that we children kissed each other perhaps we did. Glasses were filled with port or sherry and each child had a wineglass of Stone’s Ginger Wine glowing ruby red, with a lovely hot sweet burny taste. Then the toasts and speeches and refilling of the glasses, until at last the piano would begin to play and everyone would gather round to sing. The favourite music was “The Student’s Songbook”, a fat compendium of songs from all over the world, from Annie Laurie to John Brown’s Body and on to Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. People would call for their favourites, from hymns to the local anthem, The Blaydon Races. I remember a dashing ditty about a railway journey which began “Riding down to Bangor on an eastern train” and ended with “a dainty little earring sparkled in that naughty student’s beard”.

After a while the ladies would retire to help Mrs. Sheedy bring in sandwiches and tea and the remains of the Christmas cake. This was the time for the children to collect their food supplies and fade away as much as possible under the piano, behind Grandfather’s chair, or in the entrance hall among the coats, while the singing continued and the laughter and chatter rose. This was our way of holding back as long as possible those dread words, “Well, it’s about time to go home… Where are those children?”



by Cynthia Costain

Before- Cynthia in St Vincent

A child’s world is very small and mine had shrunk. No grandmother, aunts and cousins- no warm tropical sunshine and kind black nurse. I arrived in England when I was four years old with my Mother to meet an unknown Father in a strange country and to live in a cold industrial city in Northumberland.

This was my new world: the small detached brick house with a small garden front and back enclosed by a hedge with a wooden garden gate. Too young for school and restricted by protective parents and bad weather I knew no other children until one afternoon there was a knock at the front door and when my mother answered it there was a small red-haired boy. “Can the little girl come out to play?”

Here was my first friend, Dennis Sheedy who lived up the street. Dennis had a younger brother Bobby, and with them I was allowed to play, first of all in our garden or in theirs and finally in the street. It was a small dead-end street and made a splendid playground for children as there was very little traffic- the milkman and the postman in the morning and then later the vegetable man and the baker both with horse drawn vans. On Thursdays the fisherwoman Lizzie would come on the electric train from Cullercoats on the sea with her heavy creel on her back, dressed in the traditional costume of thick navy blue skirt and striped petticoat and apron, her bonnet on her head and a black woolen shawl tied around her shoulders if it was cold. It was exciting to see Lizzie open the big wickerwork creel, the lid of which made a chopping board and watch her bring out her big knife and deftly fillet the fish which my Mother chose. While she drank a cup of tea I would listen to the conversation but I don’t think my Mother understood any more than I did what Lizzie was saying until she hoisted her burden and marched on to the next house, saying, “Weel it’s aff the noo- t’ra hinny!”

In England at this time the memory of the Great War was still pervasive. The father of my friend Nancy down the street had been killed and her mother was left to bring up her little girl and her delicate asthmatic son. As children we could not realize the whole tragic aftermath: the loss of a whole generation of young men, the wounded still in hospitals, the jobless, the disabled begging in the streets but these were the conditions around us. In Ireland, the fighting continued in what was called “the Troubles”. My father was born and brought up in County Antrim in the North of Ireland and was a Presbyterian. Dennis’s father was from Lisdoonvarna in Southern Ireland and they were Roman Catholics. My father was overseas during most of the wartime years and I never knew when Mr. Sheedy left Ireland and settled and married a northern English girl, but it was generally assumed that he had been with the Sinn Fein, the Irish Republicans fighting for free rule from Britain. Nevertheless the two men were good friends and neighbours and I never heard any dissension between them.

Across the road lived an older man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Price. They were a quiet couple with no children who “kept to themselves”. However, they must have been fond of children because when Dennis and Bobby and I were playing in the street Mr. and Mr. Price would sometimes invite us in for lemonade and a biscuit. Even better, in the summer they would take us into their garden and let us eat raspberries, which was a special treat. One evening at home I heard my father say to my mother that Mr. Price had been a Black and Tan. I thought that this was strange since he wasn’t black and I didn’t know the word Tan. Only when I was older I realized that the Black and Tans were the hated British Police in Ireland who fought a guerrilla war with the Sinn Fein for many years. Three men who left Ireland and enmity behind.

One day Mrs. Price gave me a gold bracelet as a present.

“Look what Mrs. Price gave me today, “I said as I ran home and showed the old-fashioned link bracelet of heavy gold. My father looked at it and feeling its weight said, “I think there must be some mistake. This is much too valuable a present for a little girl. I’d better take it back.” I did not really mind as it was something a grown up would wear, much too big for me, so my father went over to see Mrs. Price and I forgot about it. After a while he came back with it still in his hand.

“Mrs. Price wants you to keep it,’ he said. “I’ll put it away carefully and you shall have it when you are older.” Then he turned to my mother and said, “She wants Cynthia to have it- for friendship.”

After- Cynthia in England