Friday 19 July 2013

And so to Nailsea

And so to Nailsea ....  I LOVED Nailsea ...  I LOVED almost everything about our time there.  And it was the time I came closest to being a real-life Heartbeat Wife.  Nailsea was a village beat in those days, and we lived in the police station, an old stone-built house with an office just inside the front door and a blue light above it.  As an ex-civilian employee, I loved living 'over the shop', even if it did mean we could be interrupted at any time of the day or night by a telephone call or someone knocking at the door.  I was back in my element!  And oh, the scope of those calls, from the hilarious to the scary, and all stops in between.  But more of that later.  This blog will definitely run to more than one instalment!
Our time at Nailsea didn't get off to a very auspicious start, however.  We moved in on a day of pouring rain to find that many of the interior walls were so damp they were running with water, and the whole house was grubby, to say the least of it.  I had to scrub grease and dirt out of the channels in the draining board and give the cooker and all the kitchen paintwork a good scrub before we could even think of eating anything prepared there.  Our three-piece suite wouldn't fit into the tiny front room, not even the 4-seater sofa we were so proud of (and which survives today, in spite of children and grandchildren leaping all over it for more than 40 years!)   We decided to make that little front room the spare bedroom, and converted a bedroom upstairs into a lounge, which worked well.
The police station - our home - was situated close to the centre of town, just up the road from the first arcade of shops pictured above, and the garden backed onto the grounds of the comprehensive school.  It operated as a two-man beat, which was worked on two shifts, 9am-5pm and 5pm-1am, alternating weekly.  The other Nailsea beat policeman lived in a council house and he and Terry shared a motor-bike, which was, I think, a Triumph Tiger 500cc-twin.  At the end of a shift one of them would drive to the other's home, where they would change over and drive the back to where they wanted to be.  Terry loved that motor bike and was never afterwards without one - he was still riding a Triumph up to last September, though he did have Suzukis and BMWs in between.   
Determined I would not become isolated as I had been in Minehead, I joined the local amateur dramatic society, then called the Nailsea Venturers.  I have lovely memories of playing Daphne in Noel Coward's Present Laughter, and I made many friends, one of whom turned up years later at my drama group in Midsomer Norton, and who remains a close friend today.  (Kay, you know who you are!)   Another (who for reasons that will become obvious must remain anonymous!) gave me an experience that can still make me smile.
At the time Nailsea was notorious for the so-called 'Key Parties' of the early '70s.  It even got a mention in the News of the World, if I am not much mistaken.   Large numbers of apparently respectable professionals were involved, along with some business people - speculation was always rife as to their identities, but a lot of expensive motor cars parked outside someone's house on a Saturday evening tended to give it away. 
After rehearsals, many of us Venturers would go for a drink together at a pub close to our rehearsal room, as Drama Club members often do.  But one night one of the ladies, middle-aged (well, to me, aged only 25 or 26, definitely an older lady, but very attractive, very sophisticated, very friendly towards me) suggested we might go to a different pub.  I must admit I was intrigued - the pub she mentioned, within easy walking distance of the police station, was known to be the haunt of the Wife Swappers, as we called the people who attended the key parties.  And sure enough there were quite a few of them in the bar, including my friend's husband.  Looking quite pleased with herself, she led me over to him.  'Here we are ... I've brought Janet.'   He beamed.  'Can I buy you a drink?'  I thanked him and asked (I think) for a gin and tonic.  I have no doubt he thought he was onto something here.  So I took great delight in chatting whilst finishing my drink and then saying sweetly: 'And now it's time I went home.'  Which I did, bursting in the door scarcely able to wait to tell Terry: 'You'll never guess where I've been - with the wife swappers!'   It was my first and last encounter with that merry band.
Oh, I loved Nailsea.  I loved the little shops, the greengrocer's, the butcher's, the baker's, the hardware shop, the newsagents.  I loved the people, all really friendly. Terry's shift pattern was perfectly manageable.   Little Tracey (now known as Terri) started nursery in Tickenham and was picked up outside our door in a minibus.   And my writing career began to really take off.   My first short story, which I had sold to Annabel, the monthly glossy mag, appeared after we moved to Nailsea, and I was busily writing in every spare moment - after Suzie was born in 1970 that usually meant when I was up after feeding her in the middle of the night!
I know, I know, I haven't talked much about the sometimes bizarre, sometimes frankly scary, things that went with being that Heartbeat wife ...  there were so many of them they deserve an episode all their own.   I'll do that very, very soon ....   
Watch this space!