MARLENE BEWICK; meanders down Memory Lane


meanders down Memory Lane

in an exclusive interview by Norman Warwick

It was great to be able to show Marlene and Steve how well Lanzarote is recovering, even if there is still much to achieve and we no longer take anything for granted. We took them up to the new lookout point in Haria, (left) where Marlene enjoyed the view and walked around the village that has made such a remarkable comeback, with tis artisan market, fruit and veg stalls and lovely restaurants. We took them paddling in the bath-warm sea at Famara, and took them to see a wonderful concert in Teatro San Bartolme, and to visit Cic El Almacen in Arrecife and The Lanzarote Art Gallery in Costa Teguise. We also enjoyed a couple of lovely sunset meals and special views at the marvellously sited El Caliton in El Golfo.

On the evening before their return to the UK last week, Marlene and Steve, a jazz show radio host with whom I had the pleasure for my many years of co-presenting the all across the arts radio programme from Crescent Radio in the UK, and Dee and i quaffed beer, sipped wine and dipped dips on our patio, and chatted over what´s bin did and what´s bin did (sorry, Donovan at his most eloquent) since covid and assessed the state of the nation of Lanzarote. We recorded our chat, hoping to make a podcast out of it, but it might take me a few years to acquire the technicl skills to do that, so here is ´the interview´  in print, with me asking the questions.

The last time you were here on holiday on Lanzarote was three years ago, pre-covid, and this is your first time back since the pandemic. I wonder what differences there are, if any between the Marlene Bewick who was here then and the Marlene Bewick sitting down for this interview. Who is Marlene Bewick now?

I think there is a difference, yes, because I think throughout covid we all took stock of our personal lives, with our closest, our nearest and dearest. I think, for a lot of people, to have the confidence to step away from their pre-covid lives and face and deal with this new situation. My commitments to a lot of people changed quite a bit. I had dealings with people who had dementia, and their lives stood still. I mean these people had very little happening in their lives before covid, perhaps an occasional walking group round our local Hollingworth Lake (right), but covid put a stop to even that and to everything else. Children couldn´t go to school so I felt a bit more responsible about supporting my daughter and her children and for my husband Steve and I everything changed, because weekly and monthly events and other things came to a stop.

We sat down one morning with our diaries and scribbled in cancel, cancel, cancel and carry forward, carry forward, carry forward and suddenly we were left with pages, for months, of nothing coming up. To survive that you had to come up with new ideas yourself, like, walking, talking and reading, listening to the radio and catching up with tv programmes. I also felt responsible, personally, for people who were in a very difficult situation. Some people I knew saw absolutely nobody except when I knocked on their door, and stepped back with my mask on so we could hold a brief  socially distanced how are you? ok?  sort of conversation.  They would tell me the milkman had stopped coming and often tell me they hadn´t seen anybody else all week. The milkman was leaving a message asking for payment cheques to be left on the step because he wouldn´t be knocking on the door.

So, I think I am a different person, post covid to who I was before.

Similarly, you were last here on Lanzarote pre-covid, and now you are back here post covid. What differences do you recognise on the island or its landscape or its attitudes?

I think we have come back at the right time. in May of 2022. There are far more people here on the island now than there seemed to be in April four years ago when we were last here. What is encouraging though is to see tourists with young families coming over, and also elderly people like ourseves. It doesn´t feel like this is the high season of teenage-dom on Lanzarote yet, unless of course they are already here in Puerto Del Carmen or Costa Teguise, which are perhaps more their scene than Playa Blanca. I do think that for our age group, that the four of us share quite closely, you are probably in the best place on the island. Playa Blanca is age-appropriate, perhaps. That seemed very noticeable this morning when we took the coastline walk between two bars that we like, Skyline run by a Dutch couple and The Cherringeuto Bar up near the lighthouse. I am a bit of a people watcher, seeing people pass by, and it was very noticeable that the people passing by on the walk were either young couples with children in pushchairs or were of the age category we are in. Everyone was just so relaxed, enjoying the sun and just strolling along and it all felt right for me today. This was good

When did you first leave your place of birth, do you remember?

I was born in Sedgefield, County Durham, which famously became Tony Blair´s constituency for a while (right). Mum gave birth to me in 1952, in The Cottage Hospital. We lived in Chester Le Street until I married Steve in 1976 and we moved to Seaham where Steve lived. As far as my mum and dad were concerned, that was too far away but they still had my two sisters at home, and in truth we were only about eight miles away. Or two bus rides !

We weren´t in Seaham for long, anyway, because Steve got the chance to go to Ruskin College in Oxford. I can remember my mum saying what a long way that was to go. She said my dad had been showing her on the map how far it was so she thought I might prefer to stay home with them and Steve could come up every weekend.

I knew that wasn´t going to happen, and going to Oxford (left) , the city of spires just opened up so many opportunities for us. I was then able to go to Oxford College to do a pre social-work course, which was something I had always been interested in. Steve studied at Ruskin for two years and it was just mind-blowing. We struggled for accommodation at first, because were waiting for Steve´s bursary to come through. The college offered us a caretaker job if we looked after a local home for mothers and babies. They offered us a reduced rent if Steve kept the bins empty and tidy out at the front and did some decorating in the property. And I took on an unofficial social worker role of looking after some mothers and babies. There were five different flats in the house, each allocated to a mother and baby. That was an eye opener. It was mind-boggling. They were all different cultures and nationalities. This was really a situation I had never come across before. It was all run by a charity called The Skene, which was really a group of old ladies who were lovely, and would invite me to their monthly meetings to report on how these mothers and babies were doing,…or not doing…, and to tell these ladies what further support these young mums required. These ladies had two properties in Oxford, of which this was one, and the other one was run by a nun. She must have had a very difficult job, I think, because I certainly found it challenging. There would be occasions when the boyfriend or partner of one of the mothers would come banging on the door at one or two in the morning,  maybe just out of prison or borstal or who had just come off something or other, and demanding to be let in. No men other than Steve, as the main care-taker, to be allowed on the premises.

That must have identified some skill sets and sharpened some attitudes that you didn´t know you had.

I think you´re right, Norman, because I became very attached to one young girl who was a member of one of the wealthier families that came across from Uganda, to escape the Idi Amin regime. Her sisters had properties elsewhere but she had been disgraced within her family for having a child out of wedlock. She was about sixteen, with a little girl, living in a strange country and with no idea about motherhood.

We had girls and women in the house who would ask me to babysit,….and one mother didn´t come back for several days. I had no choice but to get social services involved, and to do that I had to go through the chair-person to the committee, and the child had to be separated from her mother, who we learned had gone off on a bender for a few days. We had one lady who, literally, did a moonlight flit. She threw her bags out of an upstairs window to a waiting taxi and then fled down the stairs with her child. I must say that the state of the living accommodations for these women and children was pretty bad, and I felt like I was always washing and cleaning and asking Steve to put things back together again. There were six cats in the house, and Steve and I took them on as well.

So when and where did you eventually return to in the North of England ?

Not for a long time. Steve was at Ruskin and I was doing a course at the same time, but then he told me he had the chance to go to study at The University Of Kent (right) . I remember my mother saying to me we couldn´t possibly move any further South, but I said we could and we would and off we went to Canterbury. That was a lovely time in Canterbury from 1979. Our daughter was born there and we made lovely friends there. I was fortunate to get involved with working with Shelter, the housing organisation, really early on. I had always been passionate about homes for people. Everyone needs a roof over their head, so I worked with a lovely group of people campaigning for fair rents and a roof for everybody. It was a lovely time in Canterbury but when Steve was awarded his degree and I was still a mother with a young child, we knew we must decide where we would go next. It would all depend on where Steve could get a job. He got a temporary post in London that saw him involved in the Workers´ Education Services but that involved him travelling into the City two or three times a week, going in very early in the morning and arriving back home late at night. There were other temporary, peripatetic jobs which saw him working in the prison in Canterbury, but there were times when he´d be halfway there on the train when an announcement would come out from the Maidenhead prison services that the prison was in lockdown because of one incident or another. Steve was offered a full time job, though, as manager of an employment centre in Nottingham. Alice would be about three we years old by then, and went to look at the area, found a nice house, and we got full time nursery provision for her. It was local policy for children under five, and I got a job as a community worker at St. Anne´s Community Centre, in BlueBell Hill, a then very deprived area of Nottingham.

There were six of of us working there at Blueberry Hill (left) , and I worked in the probation team, with mostly young offenders. My job was giving the young women with children advice on child care and how to qualify and register for benefits etc, which of course went sort of hand in hand with the kind of services Steve was delivering at the employment centre. My post was for a two year period and as that came to an end so too was the funding for Steve´s post, but he found a position up in Rochdale, on a permanent contract. I still had six months left on my contract, but I was adamant I wasn´t going to live up in Rochdale until I had found work there. So Steve travelled up and down on a Monday to Friday, while I had my work in Nottingham and our daughter in full time nursery there. As my post was coming to an end I saw an advert of vacancies with the Family Service Unit.  They were offering five year contracts, which in those days seemed a long, long time and I got a contract in Rochdale that was offering available further training on the side. And I stayed there for twenty five years or maybe more than that,…and when I did retire from that I still had some casual work with the Adult Care Services in Rochdale. I was dealing with people with learning disabilities. And now I´m seventy this year and I don´t know where the time has gone really.

Its interesting and might make for an interview for another time and for another outlet. Of course, we both know that you and I are not in what would ever be described as in political alignment. I do believe, though, that whilst we were both working, unaware of each other, throughout that period in the Rochdale MBC we had a mutual pride in our local council, of whatever colour, through most of that time, in the array of social services that were provided. Notwithstanding some of the scandals that hit the Borough, I think I was certainly impressed by what seemed an ever-present compassion from the council.

The voluntary sector was very strong in Rochdale and they too deserve massive credit for they work they did, of course

Absolutely. To continue this discussion, though, I would ask why, when you are so patently happy in Rochdale, have you now spent three holidays in the past six years here on Lanzarote.

I think we come to Lanzarote, if I´m honest because you and Dee being here. I asked Steve the other evening how he thinks we would have fared on Lanzarote for a fortnight as a tourist without you, and he said he thinks we might have struggled. Being here on our own would have been very different. All the adventures and trips out that you two have offered us have been wonderful, and without you driving and everything, and knowing places, we would have worn out our flip flops walking along the sea walk that runs from one end of the town to the other. I do like Playa Blanca best, I think, out of all the other well known places, like Peurto Del Carmen and Costa Teguise. This would have been my choice on the island too, for its diversity, the colours the aromas. The view this morning over to Fuertoventura (right) was fantastic, and I think you´ve made your own niche here haven´t you?  You´ve taken us to some of the out of the way places you know, and you and Dee are obviously very settled. We feel it’s a safe place and that we go into the local supermarkets with confidence and get all we need, bread and fruit and everything else.

Yes. It is our third visit here, and we should have been two years ago and then lockdown came. I remember when our flight was cancelled, I said to Steve, well maybe we can go next year. And he said he thought it would all take a lot longer than that. That was over two years ago now, and we´ve only just managed to get back here. Even before we came over this time, we had friends in the UK asking if we would feel safe flying now. I made sure we had our masks with us. I mean what more can you do? I think we have timed it right though. Lots of the travel and entry rules were relaxed only a couple of weeks before we came over, but we´d had all our vaccinations etc, and had documentary evidence of that, so we were about as prepared as we could be and it´s been lovely.

Marlene And Steve are by now probably gearing up to catch some of the free gigs that form the major part of Rochdale Folk Festival, this coming weekend. The Festival´s facebook page makes it all sound very promising, with talk of the fantastic line-up of artists that will be playing.

As well as a special ticketed gig from Lala Qadeer, there will be FREE music from Bryony Griffith & Alice Jones, Mama’s Broke, Bonfire Radicals, Harp And A Monkey, Honey We Three, Johnny Campbell, That Old Quiet Lighthouse, Willi Carlisle, Orladh & Leo and more!

The free music will take place in The Flying Horse Hotel, The Medicine Tap, Hoochi Koochi, and Touchstones Rochdale. Look out, too, for the  pop up Morris Dancing in various locations across Rochdale town centre, as well as Folk Sessions at The Baum.

On Sat 11th June you can also hear folk music in Vicolo del Vino, and two wonderful outdoor performances from Skylight Circus Arts with their new show, SPARK!

For the full line-up head to  https://rochdalefolkfestival.co.uk/

And watch this space for any reviews we can gather..

Steve and Marlene are regular suppliers of information that we can share with our readers here at Sidetracks And Detours. We publish a weekly update on Steve´s Hot Biscuita radio programme and heis also an occasional contributor of interest articles about his love of the arts in general and of jazz in particular, such as one about his visit to Tel Aviv to investigate the jazz scene over there and his in-depth article on the 606 club in London. We also published xxxx, an interview about his weekly mix-cloud sessions of a Hot Biscuits jazz programme.

Marlene provides occasional news by e mail but whenever she comes over to Lanzarote she brings me bagfuls of any print material of arts news in Rochdale she has found in the time since she was last here. We have already recently published an article on poet Mike Garry:xxxx and you should watch this space, too, for soon-to-be-published articles on Julie Hesmondhalgh and Hayley Cropper  the Coronation Street character she made famous. All these articles arose from items in the literary goody bag Marlene had brought over for me from the UK on her latest visit !!

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