Michelle My Umbrella: Ian Mole and memories from the heart of Sunderland

Michelle front
Michelle back

Not much more than a year ago, Mike Dennison wrote about an utterly fascinating book by the exiled Sunderland supporter and wit Ian Mole on life on Wearside in the 1960s. Treat yourselves and read it, as a companion to what follows, at https://safc.blog/2018/02/the-heart-of-old-sunderland-remembered/.

Yes, there is a follow-up. Ian gets to produce another book barely a year on while Monsieur Salut labours on getting a first one finished. The title’s a gem but Mike – unwell recently so, we hope, fully recovered – signals an explanation rather than providing one, though it’s not hard to guess if you know anything about pop song lyrics. A Love Supreme offers it at this link and Mike suggests eBay for those who use it but I cannot find it on Amazon …

Many Salut Sunderland readers will be familiar with A Love Supreme‘s website and Ian Mole’s Lines From London match reports.

You might also have read his book Tiddle-ee-aye-go! Stories from the
heart of Sunderland in the Sixties
. Well he has produced a follow-up – Michelle My Umbrella – Stories from the heart of Sunderland in the Sixties and early Seventies. The new book pretty much takes off where the old one left off and deals with life in Sunderland in the period 1965–1972 when Ian was at secondary school prior to going to university in London.

Ian has a prodigious memory and has put together a collection of stories that you can dip in and out
of to get a feel of what life was like in the period.

There is a fair amount of football-related content including memories of the 1966 World Cup games at Roker. You can find out about a diverse range of topics including trainspotting, first attempts at dating, going to the cinema, school dances and DJ-ing.

There are also quite a few music-related items and it’s easy to forget what a lively music scene there
was in the town, when Sunderland could attract massive bands like The Who and Free in those pre-stadium rock days.

Ian Mole’s Sunderland memories began here

I must disclose a personal bias here, having known Ian nearly all my life; I was in the same class all
through Chester Road Juniors. We also went to the Bede together, albeit in parallel classes.

Ian sent a copy of the book to cheer me up when I was ill a little while ago and it did indeed cheer me up. However upon re-reading it, I am struck by the profound changes that it documents. Ian has a knack of remembering the tiny details that bring the stories to life especially for those who lived through the period.

We were in the last generation in Sunderland to take the 11+ exams, success in which meant a place at The Bede (The Bede Grammer School for Boys/Girls) rather than staying on at Chester Road Secondary Modern.

For those of you brought up in within the comprehensive school system, it’s hard to visualise just what a profound difference that exam had; passing opened up huge opportunities that were closed off for those deemed to have failed.

This often lead to resentment with friends and family. Ian and I were in Thornhill scouts and one of the reasons I left was the resentment and my treatment by older boys who hadn’t passed the exam. I confess that initially I had had no real understanding of this and whilst I was pleased to pass, I was also a bit p***ed-off. There was no uniform requirement for the Secondary Modern and my mother had
promised me my first pair of jeans – indeed my first pair of long trousers – if I stayed on a Chester

I enjoyed all of Ian’s stories, but a couple really stick out for me.

The chapter on teenage parties, which reminds me of the usually fruitless searches for parties after a night spent in the Rosedene or the Barnes pubs.

The story that I found most insightful was “Oxford Interviews”. Ian applied to do Classics at Oxford and had to attend interviews there over the course of several days – he was the only working class candidate; one fellow applicant asked Ian where he was from and when he replied Sunderland, the response was “Oh, I didn’t know they taught Classics up there!”.

Nowadays it is hard to imagine the overt snobbery and cultural bias against working class people from the North East. I remember only too well having to learn to “modulate” my accent at my first job in London in 1975.

I would recommend this and Ian’s other book to anyone wanting to get a flavour of what life was like
in Sunderland in those days half a lifetime and a whole world away from today.

Both books are available from A Love Supreme and at eBay.

Ian also regularly appears at the Sunderland Minster Craft and Vintage fair, where he is happy to chat about the book or just say hello.

What about the rather odd title – Michelle My Umbrella. You need to check out the “Misheard
Lyrics” story for that one.

4 thoughts on “Michelle My Umbrella: Ian Mole and memories from the heart of Sunderland”

  1. I must buy these books.

    After doing my art foundation course in Sunderland (Backhouse Park) we students were expected to consider doing our BA degrees elsewhere; Norwich University was highly thought of, along with St. Martin’s in London…..probably a bit earlier than Jarvis Cocker’s time there.

    This was at the time the tv series When the Boat Comes In was hugely popular.

    So, interview panel at St. Martin’s comprises 2 bearded blokes and a petite young woman wearing Kensington/Biba Art deco flouncy dress and chandelier earrings purchased from Tarquin of Molton Street…..

    After the introductions the woman asks how I am coping with London. Perplexed, I say fine and I’m only here for the day.

    “So, you are not overwhelmed with, you know, electricity? I watch When the Boat Comes In and….”

    The 2 blokes burst out laughing…… I just said “Dozy cow” and she departed. The blokes were very apologetic but there was no way the interview could be amenable after that.

    What a loss to the art world.

  2. I worked with Ian for a year in 1977 on a job creation scheme in the social services department of Sunderland Council when we were both unemployed graduates.

    Between work, which mostly involved going swimming, canoeing and rock climbing as well as writing songs for our imaginary punk rock band, The Murton Stare, we would go to the Ling Hong near Park Lane bus station, for their 3 course lunchtime special, which cost 50p and follow that up with a pint or three in The Albion or maybe the Brewery Tap if we’d been to Newcastle Road baths.

    Happy days.

    As for my accent, when I went to college in London and asked for a Coke, I was given a cork from a bottle. A few years later when I did my first teaching practice in Fleetwood, the class I had looked at me blankly when I told them they’d get wrong if they forgot their sandshoes the next day.!

    • LOL 🙂

      My biggest problem on arriving in London in 73 was buying “Onions” from the greengrocer or asking for an 8 (pence) ticket on the bus – I learned to ask for “Anions” and an “Ite”.

      However the funniest experience was sending my room-mate Pete from Seahouses (“Sea-Hooses”) for taties, which he pronounced as “Titties” – always a joy to watch – from a distance!

      • Mike if you are in touch with Ian, if he’d like to get back in touch, ask him to post a comment here then I can access his email address via the editing dashboard without it being made public.

        Be nice to catch up. Last time I saw him must have been about 1978.

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