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OliveBritish Heart Foundation
Olive was born on 3rd August 1930. About six years earlier her parents, Lawrence and Gertie Tasker, had bought a “cottager’s plot” of one fifth of an acre in Bradley Road, Grimsby, on the very edge of town and at the time surrounded by countryside. There, they built a bungalow to their own design, called “Fairway” after a popular racehorse of the time. My grandparents were of very modest means – my grandad was a general labourer from Horncastle and my nana a dressmaker from Grimsby – so I’ve no idea how they could have afforded to do such a thing. However, when my mum was about three my grandad lost his job as a result of the Great Depression, and was to remain unemployed till retirement age. This made life suddenly hard, and to make ends meet the family (Lawrence, Gertie, Olive and her elder sister Ivy) moved to a cheap rented house in Convamore Road, Grimsby, and let out their own bungalow, so that the difference in rent supplemented Gertie’s income.
Olive wasn’t very happy in Convamore Road, and it was much closer to the docks, and therefore at greater danger from bombing during the War, than Bradley Road. Although they had the asset in the bungalow the family was poor in their day-to-day lives, and wartime rationing made this feel worse for the children. Some time later, when Olive met her husband Nigel, she was very irritated by the fact that he’d had a happy war as a child. Even though he’d been even poorer, his mother had provided the family with plenty of fancy food from the American air base, while the Taskers had done everything by the book – the ration book, that is.
Olive left school at the age of fourteen, at about the same time the War ended, in 1945. After the War things looked up, because my grandad reached retirement age and was able to draw the state pension, which in turn meant the family was able to move back into their own house in Bradley Road. Olive enjoyed being in the large garden, and they were able to have a pet dog. She got a job as a receptionist cum general secretarial assistant at Lincolnshire Motors on Victoria Street. She learnt some basic bookkeeping (processing the car sales), but didn’t get much job satisfaction, so she undertook various correspondence and evening courses in typing and Pitman shorthand, and became qualified as a shorthand typist, validated by the Royal Secretarial Association. At the time this was quite a high status professional qualification for a young woman to have, and my mum was quite proud to have achieved it. She decided to leave Lincolnshire Motors, and they gave her a glowing reference, in which they praised her conscientiousness, and emphasised that she was leaving of her own accord, “to better herself”.
In 1950 Olive got a new job as a shorthand typist with the Cooperative Insurance Society in the Old Market Place, Grimsby. This immediately broadened her horizons socially and culturally in a way she’d never dreamt of previously. She suddenly had a large circle of workmates who were young women of the same age and the same level of qualification. Olive enjoyed many day trips and short holidays with them, including visits to the theatre in Leeds, and a particularly memorable boat trip down the River Thames from Greenwich to Margate.
Olive also discovered the joys of going out in the evening. In those days, it wasn’t the done thing for women to go to pubs, so a favourite destination for her and her group of friends was the Gaiety Dance Hall in Welholme Road. It would be all girls together till shortly after 10.00pm when the pubs shut, and then the men would turn up. One such man was my dad, Ernest Nigel Brett Simms, who started chatting to her one evening in late 1953. Olive wasn’t that impressed at first, but Nigel persevered, and soon they were courting. They liked to go to Cleethorpes, and one day they were caught by a sudden downpour, so they went into the fish and chip café by the station. My dad was amazed at how quickly my mum wolfed down a plate of fish and chips, and would tease my mum about it for evermore.
Olive and Nigel were married on New Year’s Day 1955, and from this point on my mum’s story repeats a lot of my dad’s, since they were to be inseparable for the next sixty-five years. Olive was utterly devoted to her beloved Nigel – in 2019 when she was being assessed by various medical professionals, she was asked what she wanted from life, and she replied “I just want to be with Nigel”. The next five years were something of a golden age for my mum and dad: wartime rationing ended and Harold MacMillan proclaimed “You’ve never had it so good” – it was certainly true of them. They had a wonderful honeymoon in York, which, strange as it may seem now, was a very smart and fashionable thing to do. A couple of years later they had the holiday of a lifetime in Jersey. Every night they would drink cocktails, and my dad would have great fun getting my mum uncharacteristically tipsy. A favourite destination was the outdoor Bathing Pool at Cleethorpes (replaced in 1980 by the Leisure Centre), where they would spend all day on a hot summer’s day. They also like playing tennis at Barrett’s Recreation Ground. My mum would be the first to admit that she didn’t have the best sense of humour, and she was also quite short tempered, so my dad would laugh himself silly by winding her up. One of his favourite tricks was to pretend he was about to take a long shot in tennis, then just drop the ball over the net. But however frustrated my mum would get (and sometimes she would storm off), it really only served to cause her deep down to love my dad all the more.
In the second half of the 1950s my mum and dad moved house a few times: first they lived with my grandparents, then they bought a house in Sherwood Road, then they sold it and moved back with my grandparents, then finally they bought a bungalow in Bradley Road, not far from my nana and grandad’s, where they were to stay till 1984, and where I grew up. While at the Cooperative my mum developed her bookkeeping skills, handling the accounts of the various insurance agents, and when this was combined with her shorthand typing it enabled her to rise to quite a senior position in her office. She also encouraged my dad to get promoted, so they had two decent incomes. My mum handled all of the household finances, and my dad, who didn’t understand how to manage accounts, was happy to let her do this. She approached the task with the same conscientiousness and precise attention to detail that she applied in her work, and she continued to do this throughout her life, even when digital technology had made much of it unnecessary: when I cleared out the house, I found neatly handwritten records of every financial transaction they’d made, accompanied by paper receipts, going back donkey’s years. But as a result of my mum’s meticulous financial management, Olive and Nigel were able to pay off their mortgage before I was born.
I was born on 30th September 1961. As was the way in those days, when I came along my mum gave up work. The overtime that my dad had been doing dried up for a while, too, so their income was cut by more than half, with an additional mouth to feed. Times were really hard for the first five years or so of my life, and I remember feeling cold in winter. Anyone else would have solved the problem by re-mortgaging, but my mum and dad were determined not to do this – however short of money they were, they were mortgage-free, which was to help them enormously later in life.
Despite these hardships, my mum was determined to keep me entertained during my early years. Of course, she would take me with her wherever she went, and in the days when few people had fridges or freezers, we went to the local shops almost every day. This included Tates, which was then on Littlecoates Road, the greengrocer’s on the way back, and Creese’s butcher’s and sometimes Haines’ post office where Tates currently stands at Bradley Cross Roads. In winter I’d usually be allowed a chocolate bar, and in summer an ice cream or lolly – my favourite would be a Zoom, which my mum didn’t like me to have because there was no nutrition in it, so a good compromise would be a Fab. If we went on longer journeys it would always be by bike: my mum had a child seat that was slightly unusual in that it was at the front of the bike rather than the back. I loved it more than my mum loved carrying the weight, so as soon as I was able to ride a bike myself I was given one. In Grimsby we would visit the fruit shop in Chantry Lane, and a special treat would be a peach if they were in season. We often went on days out to Cleethorpes. If we went with my dad at the weekend we’d go via Cleethorpe Road and over Fuller Street Bridge, but if I went with my mum during the week we’d go via Weelsby Road. A favourite resting place on the journey was the little recreation ground on Clee Road just past Love Lane Corner, where I’d like to go on the swings.
Very few kids went to nursery in those days, so my mum bought me a little blackboard and easel, and some chalks, and taught me how to read and write before I went to school.
By the late 1960s things were looking up financially, and my mum and dad had disposable income again. This may come as a surprise to those who only knew Olive in her later years, but back then my mum was very keen always to have the best she could afford when it came to food. Every Thursday she’d go to Marks and Spencer in Freeman Street and buy various treats, such as rum bhabhas and blackcurrant bombes for dessert, and if it was the school holidays I’d go with her and be treated to a can of their equivalent of Lilt. She also knew which independent shops sold the best quality items: for example, there was a particular pork butcher in Freeman Street that did the best haslet and brawn (local Lincolnshire delicacies). Every Tuesday she’d visit her Auntie Beattie in Baytree Avenue, and on the way home call in at Maltby & Coates, which was the best (and most expensive) baker’s in town, and buy their plum bread.
In 1968 we went to London on the first holiday my parents had had since before I was born, and which I still remember well, and the following year we went to Edinburgh. Both times we went on the train, but in 1969-70 Olive learnt to drive, in a Ford Anglia. My mum and dad then bought their first car, an Austin 1100 (reg LFW 342F), and my mum taught my dad how to drive in it – later in the 1970s, she was to teach me. From then on my dad always liked to drive if we went out as a family – or, rather, he was such an awful passenger that my mum was happy to let him. Because I was interested in maps I got the job of navigator, but after I left home, my mum took over that duty. I found in the house meticulously detailed handwritten instructions on how to get to such places as Cambridge and Southampton, which was symptomatic of how well together my mum and dad worked as a team.
My mum was a very good baker. She was very proud of her fairy cakes and butterfly cakes, but my dad’s favourite was coconut cake, which my mum often made for him. She would also make an egg and bacon flan that he could take to work for his lunch. At Christmas, my mum would make her own mince pies and sausage rolls. The sausage rolls were especially delicious, since they were made with the best Lincolnshire sausage meat and homemade pastry; nothing like ones bought from the shop. Any leftover pastry was used for cheese straws, made with Scotch cheddar, some with and some without Marmite, all delicious.
My mum was also a very good cook, albeit in an old-fashioned way. (This was before the days of TV chefs, so everything was well done.) My dad was especially pleased with her cooking and would praise it at every opportunity (my dad was short on praise, so that was really something). If he had been working overtime on a Sunday she would have a special roast dinner waiting for him when he came home. Two meals that were my own especial favourites were rabbit pie and stuffed lamb’s hearts. I haven’t tasted either for over thirty years – I think these old-fashioned Lincolnshire recipes are due for a revival! A highpoint of the year was Christmas dinner. Every year my mum would cook a different meat and try to top the previous year. The pinnacle was reached at Christmas 1987, when we had goose, and ate so much that none of us could move afterwards.
Olive was a keen gardener, especially when she lived in Bradley Road. A major standout was a rambling rose by the front gate, which was much admired by everyone who passed by. She also maintained magnificent herbaceous borders in the front garden, with a wide range of plants including tiger lilies and more roses. Every summer she would sow mixed flower seeds, so the borders would be full of colour. They were perfectly complemented by my dad’s immaculate lawn, which looked like a bowling green. In the back garden my mum grew vegetables, and another highpoint of the year was when the runner beans were ready, which we would eat straight from plant to saucepan to table, fresh and green and tender.
When I started secondary school in 1974 and was old enough to be left in the house by myself, my mum went back to work part-time. At first she was PA to the Director of European Operations of an American frozen food company, based in Abbey Walk, Grimsby. A firm of quantity surveyors occupied the same building, and before long she got a second job as a secretary there, on what would nowadays be called a zero hours contract, so that between the two jobs she was working virtually full-time. During this time Olive’s own parents and Auntie Beattie all died, and so she came into a bit of money, which meant that she could retire early in about 1981, when she was in her early fifties.
During the 1980s my mum and dad rediscovered going on days out. A favourite destination was the Humber Bridge, which they’d walk across and have an ice cream on the other side. When they got back to Barton-upon-Humber, they’d go to their favourite baker there and enjoy a curd tart.
In summer 1983, when I was about to start my Ph.D. at Southampton, my mum taught me how to type using the proper fingers, and gave me her Olivetti typewriter, which was to stand me in good stead while I was there, and for many years afterwards. She was still a faster typist than me, of course, and could touch-type, so in 1987 she typed up the final draft of my thesis for me. I moved back to the family home for this (by then my mum and dad were living in Immingham), and it was very fulfilling for both of us: for me, because I could just focus on getting the text right without having to worry about the time it took to get it on paper, and for her, because the skills she’d learnt as a teenager could still be put to good use, and not only that, but for a project of which she was enormously proud on my behalf.
At Southampton I had been very strapped for cash, and so had got into the habit of living cheaply. When I returned home, I introduced my mum to the concept of discount shops, and we had great fun seeking out bargains. There was one shop in particular we went to in Market Street (off Freeman Street) where Farmfoods is now – I forget its real name, but we called it The Coconut Shy because of all the dented cans. We would buy tinned cod roe and have it fried on toast for lunch, much to my dad’s annoyance, because it stank the house out and he couldn’t stand fishy smells. At last my mum was able to wind him up for a change! But now I regret having taken my mum to the cheap shops, because when my dad retired in 1993 he got in on the act as well, and what started out as a bit of fun became something of an obsession in their later years – they focussed on price rather than quality, and really could have lived better than they did.
In 1992 my mum and dad moved to Holton-le-Clay. Although my dad retired shortly afterwards, this wasn’t a happy time. My mum fell seriously ill with a heart condition, and spent quite a long time in hospital in 1994 and 1995 in Hull and then Cottingham. She had to have a major operation to have an artificial heart valve fitted, and her chances of pulling through were no more than 50%. But she had a very strong constitution both physically and mentally, and she did pull through, although she had to manage a cocktail of medication for the rest of her life. She celebrated her recovery by going on holiday to Yorkshire with my dad and me in summer 1995: it’s a mark of her home-loving and modest personality that, while other people might have wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or the Taj Mahal, Olive really wanted to see the canal locks at Bingley!
In 1996 my mum and dad moved to Utterby, where they were much happier. They loved to go on walks around the village and further afield. But in 2001 or thereabouts Olive had a nasty fall that put her in hospital in Leicester for a while, and that put her off walking a bit. She preferred to let my dad go, while she would watch an old black-and-white film on television. But she liked to go out to the shops at Louth or Grimsby with my dad, and when he gave up driving they became a familiar sight at the bus stop.
In 2001 I got married. Tracy is a sensitive soul and tact wasn’t my mum’s strong point, so at first Olive couldn’t understand why Tracy was offended by some of her more forthright expressions of opinion. But as time went on they came to understand one another better, and were more accommodating to one another – Tracy became more thick-skinned, and my mum became more self-editing. Olive came really to love Tracy, not least because my mum was very protective of me, and she realised that Tracy was too, rather than being a threat. In the last few years of her life, whenever I would phone her, my mum would almost immediately ask, “Where’s Tracy?”, and would spend more time talking to her than to me.
In about 2015-16 extreme old age began to catch up with my mum and dad, and they started to prop each other up, literally and metaphorically, with increasing precarity. When my dad died on Christmas Day 2019 it became immediately obvious that my mum would have to go in a care home. She was fortunate enough to find a place at Fotherby House, where she rediscovered a sociable side to her personality that had been in the background since before she was married. Olive enthusiastically joined in the various activities on offer, and was a popular member of the community, being able to hold down a good conversation. She became an unlikely Skype user, and we had a lovely chat on Skype on the Thursday before she died, when she was showing an interest in her grandson Miles and the various things that were going on at our house in Rufford.
Olive died suddenly and unexpectedly on the morning of 8th June 2020. She was very comfortable, and gently and peacefully slipped away without knowing anything about it. She had missed her Nigel terribly after all those years together – she would reach out for him in bed at night, forgetting that he wasn’t there – and I don’t think she could live without him.