Uncles and Their Uses

Everyone needs an uncle.

As I mentioned earlier Shildon tunnel, at nearly a mile long joined Shildon to Bishop Auckland. The tunnel went under Shildon and at one time trains ran through both ways but later it was deemed unsafe so now there is only one line through. The line comes out into a deep cutting with a deep bankside running along it.

In the winter days this bank would be a magnet for kids with their sledges when the snow was down. It was quite steep but luckily there was a fence to stop you from flying over the tunnel top. But if you wanted to get enveloped in the smoke as a train came out you could climb the fence and slide on your backside down to the top of the tunnel entrance and wait to get lost in a cloud of steam and smoke.

We didn’t buy sledges as such because our dads made them for us, and they were great sledges. Because they worked at Shildon Wagon Works, or Shildon Shops as it was known locally, all the materials and skills were available to make or repair sleds or even bikes. My dad was a welder so he would fashion the irons and my Uncle Fred and Uncle Tom would sort out the woods. All this was done on nightshift and brought out under jackets or in bait bags, then assembled at home ready for the snow.

Uncles played a big part in my education, well not so much in school education but in surviving life’s little ways. As I said anything could be made by those who worked at the railways, but Uncle Tom also had an extra rare skill on the side. He could put a pan on your head and cut round it until there was only short hairs left on the top of your head. Every now and then we were required to line up outside his washhouse while he cut all our heads/hairs in turn. This would be that short that you could go for months before you were sent again, the army couldn’t have done a better job. Actually Uncle Tom did one more thing for which I will be grateful. One day I was sucking a large gobstopper and it slipped down my throat choking me, my friends didn’t know what to do and I was struggling for breath when Tom walked round the corner. He took the situation in and belted me on the back forcing the sweet out. I never bought another gobstopper again.

We owe a lot to our uncles and aunties who helped us grow into decent adults and I remember them all with affection, but my Uncle Arthur on my mam’s side encouraged my creative side. He was a brilliant artist who showed me how to draw and paint from being very young, I would stand and watch him draw superb detailed pictures with just a pencil. He had a proper full time job as well which was a dream job in my kid’s eyes. He worked for a plastic model company called Kleemans who made beautiful model kits for people to build, not like Airfix aimed at youngsters, but large Mississippi river boats and highly detailed WW2 aircraft. His job was to take home 20 or 30 of these kits and build and paint them for displaying in store windows. They would give him a spare kit to practice on but he didn’t need it, and so who do you think would take home at night a large box containing everything needed to build a large Sunderland Flying Boat or a Tiger Tank, Moi.