Susan Coney (née Phillips) is a prolific researcher and recorder of local history, especially about Truro. Here, she shares with us part ten, the final part, of her memories of growing up during the 1940s to the 1960s, recalled and recorded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
Lead Photograph: County School 1962 – Susan Phillips seated on the far left.
When I was about four, I went to ballet lessons – I can’t remember who the teacher was or where the class was held, but I do remember pointing my toes to a piece of music called ‘Little Red Monkey’ – I can hear that silly song in my head now.
When I was eight years old, Dad bought an old Victorian up-right piano with candle stick holders: it was placed in our front room. I started piano lessons with Miss Jenkin in Kenwyn Road, she was the organist at Kenwyn Church for many years. Miss Jenkin was a very patient lady and never told me off but simply said, ‘You haven’t practised have you Susan?’, which I hadn’t! I was more interested in playing the latest pop songs rather than ‘Minuet in G’ but I can still play all the scales and can read basic music which stood me in good stead when I was in the County School Choir.
When I was about 10, I started to go to Wood’s ballroom dancing classes on a Saturday morning at the old St George’s School Hall, which I really enjoyed. I can still do the waltz, quickstep, foxtrot and cha-cha-cha. I did get my bronze medal which I still have. Many other youngsters continued with classes getting silver, gold and the statuette, but not me, I was just content on knowing the basics and learning the latest ‘pop’ dance.
Looking back, teenage years in Truro were exciting but difficult. Living in a village outside of the city, we had to rely on buses or a bike. I was lucky as Dad had a van and gave me a lift if I needed to go somewhere, especially in the evenings.
My first ‘boyfriend’ was a Cathedral School boy who lived about a mile from my house. He asked his sister to pass me a note at school. The boy and I both cycled to meet up. He often used to cycle to my house and ride around in the road outside my house – I could see him from our landing window but was too scared to go out to meet him in case my Mum or Dad found out. I told my much younger sister that my boyfriend was outside, and she told our Mum ‘Susan’s got a boyfriend, and he is outside waiting for her on his bike!’ This got back to Dad and when he saw the boy at the chapel, he told him to ‘clear off!’ Dad was very protective of his young daughters.
At about 13, I was able to go to Wood’s Saturday evening dances held in the old St George’s school hall. Dad used to take me in, often missing half of the TV program he was watching but he never complained. He also picked me up after the dance. I didn’t like coming home on the last bus as there was often a passenger or two on the bus who had had a drop too much to drink! Also, I would have to walk down the pitch-black School Hill from the village bus stop. It is not only my generation and subsequent ones that were taxi drivers for their children.
The dance started at about 7.00pm (but no one liked to be first) and was supposed to finish at 9.30pm but the last dance was about five minutes to 10.00pm. There were bottles of ‘pop’ on sale – Vimpto was my favourite.
My Dad would be waiting outside in his green van and expected me to come out of the hall at precisely 10.00pm. If I didn’t, he would come into the hall to fetch me!
At the end of the evening the lights were dimmed and sometimes a boy would ask me for the last dance: it was the only one which was a bit of a smooch. Often a boy would ask me ‘Is your Dad the big bloke in the green van?’ ‘Yes’, I would say, then they would ‘cut short’ our dance and go off to dance with someone else!
Once I did go ‘outside’ to the Waterfall Gardens with a very good-looking boy and was having a cuddle sitting on one of the benches – and Dad found me!!! He was not amused but then he looked at the boy and realised that it was the son of one of his work mates!
On a Saturday evening, once a month, when I was a young teenager, I went to the Methodist youth club (TAMYF –Truro Area Methodist Youth Fellowship) where we played ‘parlour’ games. Again, Dad would drive me in and fetch me at about 9.30pm. Once, I waited for Dad to go and then skipped off to a party in someone’s house not far away but made sure I was back outside St Clement’s Chapel Hall before Dad was due to pick me up!
Another party I remember was in Kenwyn Road when the Beatles record ‘Please, Please Me’ was played all evening – so this would have been in late March 1963. The boy that came over to me and with whom I had a kiss and cuddle, was the very good-looking son of one of my teachers!
I had very few boyfriends, as such, and they were for only a few weeks or even days. Two were boys who I met briefly when they were on holiday in Cornwall. Only one other was for a few months – a Truro School boarder (from Helston I think). He was waiting for me when I came out of a café where I had an after-school job as a waitress. I was surprized to realise that this very good-looking boy was waiting for me! How he knew who I was and where I worked, I did not know. We met each Saturday afternoon and went for a walk (he had to wear his cap as he was in the 5th form) mostly to the ‘swan pool’ at Malpas and sat on the bench at the far end and chatted as well as having a kiss and a cuddle – all very innocent. Fond memories.
Some girls at school said, ‘how come you are going out with **** ***** – he’s the best-looking boy at Truro School?’. Girls can be really bitchie!
I did go to the pictures once on a Saturday afternoon with another Truro School boarder – boarders were not allowed out in the evenings unless they were 6th formers. He was a lovely lad, a bit younger than me and was not very tall. When we were walking down Lemon Street from the Plaza (the boy had to wear his cap as he was a 5th former), Dad passed us in his green van! Oh dear! I went home on the bus and was nervous thinking I was going to be told off! I sat down to tea with Dad at the head of the table and me at the other end facing him. Dad said nothing but when he’d finished eating, he looked at me with a wry smile and said, ‘I saw you in town with that boy, [I gulped] next time I would pick him up and carry him ‘cose he’s smaller than you!’ Rotten Dad – but he did have a wonderful sense of humour and we laughed about this many times over the years.
It was such a wonderful age of innocence during my teenage years which I remember with fondness.
With some good GCEs, I could have got a job in Truro, in a bank or the like or possibly have become a teacher. Thinking back, I could have gone to university but girls like me were not encouraged to have such ambitions in those days. I wanted a job in science after being inspired by a lecture in the City Hall about the space programme and a visit to Goonhilly Downs. Also, the prospect of becoming a farmer’s wife, including cooking several meals every day filled me with dread.
I did get a job in science and started working two days after my 18th birthday, in communications research for the MoD (SRDE – Signals Research and Development Establishment), in Christchurch, Hampshire, which was fascinating.
At the site I was based, Steamer Point, the scientists were inventing ‘night vision’ for the army. I worked on communications using a dish aerial (an unusual sight in those days) on the back of an army truck and bouncing the signal of any space junk we could detect.
It was the early days of replacing valves with transistors and I used to solder the small components on a ‘strip’ as I had small hands and fingers.
A wonderful job for a little maid from Cornwall.
After a few years I went to London, first working in the computing department at Chelsea College, University of London in the Kings Road where I was right in the centre of the 1960s swinging 60s era – brilliant. But I came home at every opportunity.
My family in the garden at Shortlanesend – Easter 1971, from the left, my sister-in-law, my brother, my sister, Dad, Mum, Me and my then Husband. The two girls are my nieces.
I have such vivid and fond memories of growing up near Truro and often think I should have stayed in Cornwall and married some young farmer, but then I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunities and life experiences I had ‘up country’.
My parents and all my family were ‘ordinary’ hard working Cornish folk with very little money, but they taught us ‘life values’ which sometimes seem missing today.
My parents gave me opportunities and gave me a ‘step up the rung of the ladder of life’. It was up to me to take those opportunities which I did, as did my brother and sister. As ordinary ‘council house kids’ we haven’t done ‘badly’, and our children have been even more successful.
For me, this poem by Harry Glasson sums up ‘zackly’ how I feel:
Susan Alecia Coney (nee Phillips)
Although I was never very interested in history at school, it is now a big part of my life. I enjoy both the research and writing about it. Initially, it was about my family and their involvement in the community but this sparked a more general interest in Cornish history, of its people and places. I have been involved in a number of projects relating to Truro and have enjoyed this opportunity to record the results for future generations.