Old Friends, New Friends: An English family saga

Old Friends, New Friends: An English family saga

by Margaret Thornton

Hardcover(First World Publication)

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Old Friends, New Friends: An English family saga by Margaret Thornton

It’s 1970, and 18-year-old Debbie Hargreaves is heading to agricultural college in Leeds, where she’ll be sharing digs with three girls she’s never met before. Although they’re all from very different backgrounds, Debbie soon becomes firm friends with shy Lisa, outspoken Karen, and cool, self-assured Fran. Over the coming months, the four flatmates will share tears and laughter, drama and heartbreak, and the excitement of new romance.

At the same time, Debbie’s birth mother, Fiona Norwood, is struggling to cope with four young children and her duties as a rector’s wife. The arrival of a new childminder should be the answer to her prayers, but Glenda’s open flirting with Fiona’s husband soon sets tongues wagging. Is Fiona’s marriage really under threat?

Meanwhile, Debbie is loving her new-found independence and the male attention she attracts. But is she in danger of neglecting her family and friends back in Northumberland, and forgetting her roots?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780727883827
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Edition description: First World Publication
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Margaret Thornton was born in Blackpool and has lived there all her life. A retired teacher, she is the author of over twenty previous much-loved sagas, all set in the north of England.

Read an Excerpt

Old Friends, New Friends

By Margaret Thornton

Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2014 Margaret Thornton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8382-7


Debbie looked anxiously along the track as she had been doing for the last ten minutes, to see if the train was on its way. Mum had insisted on getting to the station in good time, as she always did when they were going anywhere. But Debbie hated these goodbye scenes – she knew her mother did, too – and now she couldn't wait to start out on her journey.

'Now, you're sure you've got everything?' asked her mother, Vera, for the umpteenth time.

'You know I have, Mum,' said Debbie, smiling and shaking her head. 'You put the sandwiches in my bag yourself, and I've got a magazine to read ... and a clean hanky, too,' she added with a laugh. That was something her mum had always checked, ever since she was a little girl going to the Infant school. 'Well, a packet of tissues, actually.'

'And make sure you've got your ticket safe. You'll need it for each leg of the journey, so look after it. It's a nuisance having to change at both Newcastle and Darlington, but there it is. It's just one of those things.'

'Don't worry about me, Mum. I've done this journey often enough, haven't I? I'm quite used to it by now.'

'Yes, of course you are, pet. But it seems different this time, somehow. You won't be coming back ... well, not for a while, I mean. It'll be too far to come home for the weekend, won't it?'

'Probably; it depends on whether there are lectures on Saturday morning. But there's the half-term break; that'll be at the beginning of November. And Christmas, of course. The weeks will soon pass, Mum, you'll see.'

'Yes, love; I'm sure they will,' said her mother, not sounding sure at all. 'Anyway, you'll be able to visit Fiona and Simon some weekends, won't you? That'll be nice for you.'

'Yes, I will,' agreed Debbie. 'But I won't go every weekend. Mum ... that wasn't the reason I chose to go to college in Yorkshire, you know, because of Fiona. It sounds a jolly good course at Stanborough; I'd heard glowing reports of it. I don't want you to think—'

'Debbie, I don't think anything like that,' said Vera. 'We got over that little problem ages ago, didn't we? And I'm glad we all get on so well together. It was very good of Simon to come and collect your luggage, wasn't it? I was worried about you having to travel with those heavy suitcases. No; I don't mind about you being nearer to Fiona. Anyway, you'll be looking forward to seeing your little god-daughter again, won't you?'

'Yes, so I am; little Michelle. She's a real bobby-dazzler, Mum, as Dad would say! And the other three as well.'

'Fiona's got her hands full though now, hasn't she, with four children?' commented Vera. 'I'm sure I don't know how she copes.'

'She seems to manage,' said Debbie. 'Although she did say that Matthew was into everything, now that he's walking, and Mark copies him, of course ... Oh, here's the train, at last.' She put her arms round her mother, and Vera hugged her tightly then kissed her cheek as the train pulled up at the platform.

'Bye, Mum ...' Debbie opened the door and climbed the steps. 'I'll write, and I'll phone. Don't worry about me. I'll be OK.'

'Yes, I'm sure you will, pet.' Vera blinked and dashed away a tear. 'Take care of yourself and enjoy your course. I know you've been looking forward to it.'

Debbie nodded. 'And you look after yourself, Mum ... and Dad.'

The train didn't halt long at the little station at Whitesands Bay. In a moment it was off again, and Debbie waved from the window until her mother was out of sight. She sat down in a seat by the window. It was a train that had groups of four seats around small tables. There was no one else sitting there at the moment, and Debbie was glad to be on her own for a while to collect her thoughts.

She had done this same journey – from Whitesands Bay in Northumberland, where she lived, to Northallerton, the nearest railway station to Aberthwaite in the North Yorkshire Dales – several times over the past two years. But, as her mother said, it was different this time as she would not be returning home again for quite some time. Several weeks at least, the longest time she had ever been away.

She was on her way, eventually, to Leeds, where she would be living in 'digs' with three more students. She would travel the short distance each day to Stanborough College, which was situated in the Vale of York, midway between York and the city of Leeds. She was to embark on a course in Horticulture and Garden Design which would lead in time, she hoped, to a career as a landscape gardener.

The term was due to start on the following Tuesday, the 8th of September, 1970. This would give the students time to settle into their accommodation over the weekend before commencing their various courses. Debbie, though, would be spending the weekend at the home of the Reverend Simon Norwood and his wife, Fiona, at the rectory in Aberthwaite, where Simon was the rector of St Peter's Church. Debbie Hargreaves had known from being a tiny girl that she was an adopted child. Her mother, Vera, had told her many times that she was a special little girl because she had been chosen. She had grown up with the knowledge without ever worrying too much about it.

That was until she was in her early teens, when she had started to wonder about the person who had given birth to her. She had been born in the May of 1952, and she discovered that her birth had taken place in Burnside House, a home for unmarried mothers in the Northumbrian countryside, not far from where she lived with her parents, Vera and Stanley, in the pleasant coastal resort of Whitesands Bay.

It was more usual for the adopted children to be placed a good distance away, but Debbie's adoption was different. And so, as she grew up, becoming more and more inquisitive as time went on, she found out enough to go in search of her birth mother. This, of course, was unknown to Vera and Stanley who were, understandably, upset and hurt at first when they discovered what Debbie had done.

Everything, however, had ended happily. Debbie had turned up on the doorstep of the rectory almost exactly two years ago, She had found out that her mother was a young woman called Fiona who was now married to the rector of St Peter's Church in Aberthwaite. Simon and Fiona had lost no time in letting Debbie's parents know of her whereabouts, and she was speedily forgiven by her understanding mum and dad. Debbie had assured them that she loved them, and had had no thoughts in her mind about leaving home. It was just that her curiosity had got the better of her. Debbie reflected now on the time she had spent with Fiona and Simon over the past two years. The scenery from the train window – of factory chimneys and slag heaps in the industrial heartland of Northumberland and Durham, then the pleasant green hills and vales of NorthYorkshire – had become more familiar to her with each journey. Just as her relationship with Fiona and Simon had strengthened and become more relaxed as she had got to know them better.

Fiona had always seemed more like a friend or an older sister than a mother. She had been only seventeen years old when she had given birth to the baby that she had been forced to give up for adoption. She had insisted straightaway that Debbie should call her by her Christian name, and this came quite naturally now. Debbie had always thought of Vera as 'Mum', even though she had been curious to find out about the circumstances of her birth.

When Debbie had first met her, Fiona had been six months pregnant. They already had a little girl, Stella, who was then almost two. Then, halfway through her pregnancy, Fiona had been told that she was expecting twins. She and Simon were delighted at the news, but had not been prepared for the eventual outcome. At the beginning of November, 1968, she had given birth, a month early, to triplets!

It had so happened that Debbie had been spending that weekend with them in Aberthwaite. It had not been an easy birth, followed by an anxious time for both Fiona and the three tiny babies, two boys and a girl. All was well, however. Fiona soon recovered from the trauma of the birth, and the babies thrived, putting on weight and developing normally.

At the baptism in the spring of the following year Debbie had been asked to act as godmother to the babies, but most especially to the little girl whom they called Michelle. She had been delighted and very touched that Fiona and Simon had included her in this way, drawing her into their lovely family, and not making any secret to their friends and members of the congregation about who she was. She had grown very fond of little Michelle over the past two years; she had already formed quite a bond with Stella, who was now nearly four years old.

Debbie had been in the sixth form at her school, Kelder Bank, at that time. And now she was on her way to Stanborough College to learn about all the different aspects of gardening in greater depth, the subject that had been her consuming interest ever since she was a little girl.

'Did our Debbie get off alright then?' asked Stanley, the moment he came through the door.

'Yes, of course she did,' said his wife. 'I tried to keep cheerful while I was with her, but I must admit I shed a few tears when I got back home. Oh dear! We'll miss her, won't we, Stanley? The house seems different already; sort of ... deserted, now she's gone.'

'She was out quite a lot though, here, there and everywhere, especially these last two years, so happen it won't seem all that bad, once we've got used to it. I know what you mean, though. We'll miss her, even though she gave us a few headaches. Eeh! She was a little madam at times, wasn't she?'

'She was that!' Vera nodded. 'She was better, though, after she met Fiona. It was as though she had to find out, then she settled down. It could have been difficult, Stanley, but Fiona's a lovely lass, and they've been so kind to us, haven't they, Fiona and Simon? Do you know, Debbie mentioned it just before the train came in. She said it wasn't because of Fiona that she had chosen to go to college in Yorkshire; she wanted me to be sure about that. It's because she thought it would be a good course. I think she wanted to reassure me, you see, just in case I was – well – jealous, I suppose ... Anyway, sit yerself down, and I'll dish out our tea.'

It was, strictly speaking, a dinner; a hot meal such as Vera prepared every evening for when Stanley came home from work. Old habits died hard, though. In the north, folk tended to think of dinner as the meal that you had in the middle of the day. It was posh people who referred to the midday meal as lunch and the evening one as dinner. To Vera, as to many of her ilk, any meal eaten later in the day was 'tea'.

Stanley took off his working boots and put on his slippers, and after a quick swill of his hands at the kitchen sink he sat down at the table in the living room. The house was the one they had moved to in the early fifties after leaving the little cottage in the mining village where they had lived since their marriage, and previous to that as well. The house was a modest two-bedroomed one in the residential area of the popular seaside resort Whitesands Bay. It was to there that they had brought home their precious adopted daughter. They had called her Deborah Mary, always known as Debbie.

Vera took the casserole dish out of the oven – braised steak with potatoes, carrots and onions – and dished it out on to the plates. She took off her pinny and carried the steaming plates to the table.

'There you are, Stanley, your favourite ... and here's the pickled onions and beetroot.'

'By heck! You've done us proud tonight, pet,' said Stanley. 'Is this a special meal, like, to celebrate? No, I don't mean that, do I? We're not celebrating, 'cause our Debbie's left. I mean ... is it because you thought I might be a bit upset?'

'Well, something like that,' said Vera. 'There's just you and me now, Stanley. We'll have to get used to it again, although we're very lucky, aren't we? We haven't got bored with one another like some married couples do.'

'No, that's true. We enjoy our quiet little life, don't we? Happen we could get out a bit more, though, if you like. To the pictures, or out for a nice meal. Not that I'm complaining about your meals, though, Vera. I just thought it might make a change.'

'Yes, so it might,' said Vera. 'We'll think about it ... sometime.'

She watched Stanley tucking into his meal with relish. He was always hungry and did justice to his meal after a hard day's work. He was employed as a gardener by the local council, and was now in a senior position in charge of the flower beds along the promenade and at the roundabouts in the town, which added to the attraction of the family resort. Vera thought he had aged recently, more so than she had. He was fifty-five now and she was a year younger. She knew she had put on a little weight but her reddish brown hair had scarcely any grey in it. Stanley, though, was completely grey-haired and balding a little on the top. He was lean and wiry, and ruddy-complexioned with all the outdoor work. He was more tired than he used to be in the evenings, but he never seemed to ail much.

'I hope she'll be happy at that there college,' he said now. 'It's what she's always wanted to do ever since she was a little girl, isn't it?'

'That was your influence, Stanley. You encouraged her with her own little plot of garden; and helping you in the greenhouse.'

'Aye, so I did, and she took to it like a duck to water. Then her job at "Sunnyhill"; that was what got her interested in taking it further.'

Debbie had had a part-time job at a local garden centre for the last few years, working at weekends and during the school holidays. It was through her conversations with Mr Hill, the owner, that she had become interested in the idea of becoming a landscape gardener.

'It's a strange sort of job for a girl though, isn't it?' said Vera, as she had said many times before. 'I've always thought so, as you know, Stanley. And this idea of landscape gardening, or whatever you call it. I can't see Debbie carting great boulders around, or doing all that strenuous digging. She'll be doing herself an injury.'

'She might be more of a designer,' said Stanley. 'You know – making the plans for other folk to carry out. Although I must admit that it's usual to start on the bottom rung of the ladder and work up. But don't worry about it, love. You never know what this course might lead to. She's going to study all sorts of things about horticulture, as they call it; just a fancy name for gardening, in my book. We'll just have to wait and see. And she'll get a diploma at the end of it.'

'It's not like getting a degree, though, is it? She's such a clever girl; all her teachers said so. She could have gone to university as easy as winking. Or to college to be a teacher. I really thought that's what she might want to do.'

'You mean you hoped she would,' said Stanley, giving a wry grin. 'That was always your idea, Vera love, not Debbie's.'

'I just thought how grand it would be, Stanley, to say that our daughter was a teacher. You and me, we never had the chances, did we?'

'No, happen we didn't. But we've done alright, haven't we? I suppose it's only natural for parents to want their children to do better than they did themselves. But I don't think we've lost out much, Vera. If you remember, my da wanted a lot better for me that what he had. He was determined I wasn't going down the mine like he did.'

Stanley's father had been a coal miner, like most of the men in the village where he had grown up. He had suffered badly with bronchitis and had died of emphysema in his early sixties. But Stanley had always had a feeling for the land, and he had been fortunate to find work on a farm on leaving school at fourteen. Then, after his service in the Second World War he had been employed as a municipal gardener.

Vera had not worked in a woollen mill, as had many of her contemporaries, but had always been employed as a shop assistant. She had worked in the general store in the village where they lived. And later, when Debbie was at school she had gone to work in a fancy goods store in Whitesands Bay, where she still worked on a part-time basis.


Excerpted from Old Friends, New Friends by Margaret Thornton. Copyright © 2014 Margaret Thornton. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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