This month, our Calder Story comes from Mary White, a local resident who has grown up and raised her own family in this park and now, as a group member and volunteer, finds herself part of The Reader family at Calderstones.
I was raised in the ’60s and ’70s and have lived near Calderstones Park all of my life – it’s in my DNA!
In my childhood, we would often have days out at the park with my mum and siblings. I was one of four children. Mum had a couple of friends with five kids each and if we all got together we had plenty for a football match or a game of rounders. A simple picnic and exploring the rockery or climbing trees would give us that complete day-out feeling! We all loved the ‘island’ where we had great adventures on pirate ships or being Swiss Family Robinson. Mums were given a little time to recharge their batteries often having a gossip on picnic blankets on the path below. When it was time for home we all felt that we’d had a grand day out!
Sometimes if we had been good and deserved an extra treat we went to the theatre in the park to see a variety show! You could hire a deck chair but we usually sat on picnic blankets. I don’t remember too much about the performers, though I do recall a lady with her performing dogs! Poodles I think, jumping through hoops, walking on their hind legs, catching the ball and playing dead! We thought it was all very exciting.
One of my earliest memories was being brought to the park by my grandmother who was in charge whilst my mum was at work. I think I would have been about four years old as my gran was still pushing my younger sister in a pushchair and my older sister was already at school. Like all kids given the freedom of the park, I ran around like a headless chicken as we were on our way to feed the ducks. Suddenly a Great Dane appeared out of nowhere and came running towards me.
I remember a rather haughty lady shouting “It’s OK, it’s OK he won’t do anything” but I was petrified. The dog was taller than I was! The dog really didn’t do anything but bound around me, my gran still gave the owner a piece of her mind though. I remember her saying to the dog owner “How would you feel if an elephant came charging towards you? Height wise that’s how it must have felt to a small child! Keep your dog under control!” My tears soon dried up when we got over to the lake to feed the ducks.
As I got a bit older I was able to visit the park with my friends. My first ever date came when I was twelve and a young man called Michael asked if he could take me out – obviously a cheap date because we went to Calderstones Park! It was a lovely sunny day and he bought me an ice cream – it was all very sweet and innocent and we did nothing more than hold hands!
In the summer I would often meet friends in the park and as teenagers we would often scrape the money together to hire a rowing boat on the lake. If we could we’d hire a couple and hold our very own boat race to see who could be the first team around the island and back. The island in the middle of the lake was considered a spooky place because at dusk the bats would emerge from there. We were all being raised on a diet of Scooby Doo so bats meant trouble! We half scared ourselves to death with more and more exaggerated tales of sinister goings on in Calderstones Park.
On one visit to the park my friends and I had stopped for a catch up and gossip in the gardens to the right of the Mansion House. There were always plenty of benches to sit on in there. I can only tell you it was the ’70s so those of you who are old enough will know streaking was a bit of a fad back then! Anyway we were enjoying our gossip when suddenly there was a bit of a commotion.
All of a sudden a young man wearing nothing but his trainers and a smile ran into the garden and did a lap of honour around the path. An old lady nearly had heart failure and protested very loudly which made it seem even funnier to us teenage rebels. After he’d jogged out of the garden, one of my female friend delivered the line which she has been ribbed about until this day: “Did you see his trainers? They’re the ones I want when I’ve got enough money.” She must have been the only one in our group to notice his footwear.
In time I married and had four children myself and happy family visits to the park continued. One of my children who has a summer birthday even had a rounders party in the park one year. Good fun was had by all and it didn’t break the bank! Now I’m a Nana and I live on Calderstones Road, so I visit the park regularly with my grandchildren! They love to play on the rock island and to climb the trees just as I did when I was their age.
I will finish now with a brief but important word about The Reader. I retired from work early because of a chronic health condition that has had quite a significant impact on my life. I have reduced mobility and I am no longer able to drive.
I count myself really lucky that there’s a beautiful park on my doorstep and that in there is The Reader, which is a wonderful organisation. I attend Reading Groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and also the Knit and Natter group and they have made a huge difference to my well-being over the last few years.
I have read a wide variety of literature at a time when independent reading was difficult for me. I have made a number of fantastic, caring and supportive friends. Through the literature I have been able to share my worries and concerns, as well as my joys and successes, in a safe environment. Really importantly, I have been given the opportunity to volunteer and to realise I’m not on the scrap heap! Whatever the weather, whatever the season, walking through Calderstones Park to attend The Reader is an uplifting and exciting prospect.