How visits to Sunderland were perfect relief for orphan who lost both parents in just 10 weeks

Phil and Roger play on Seaburn beach with their cousin Gaynor.
Phil and Roger play on Seaburn beach with their cousin Gaynor.

An author has told Wearside Echoes of childhood days in Sunderland – playing crazy golf, going on the mini dodgems and listening to the animals in the zoo.

Phil Mews has penned Orphan Boys, which describes how his idyllic Northern childhood was blown apart when his parents died within 10 weeks of each other.

Sea Road in Fulwell was one of Phil's favourite places to visit.

Sea Road in Fulwell was one of Phil's favourite places to visit.

He was a Weardale lad whose world was turned upside down more than 40 years ago.

But it was his Sunderland family who helped him to rally round - and especially Auntie Brenda.

“I would spend every Easter holiday at her home in Seaburn and two weeks every summer,” said Phil on the eve of the release of his book, all about a childhood with so many differences, including growing up on a farm.

“We also stayed with her every year during October week (potato picking week), and in the run-up to Christmas every year we would stay with her for a few days to do Christmas shopping.

There was an adventure playground nearby and sometimes we played on the Put Put / Crazy Golf. There was a small boating pond with a railway running around it where the carriages were in the shape of ducks

Phil Mews

“I’ve so many happy memories of my visits to Seaburn. Despite it being very different to the farm, it was relief from being back at home, where the memories of my parents’ deaths were so vivid.”

In 1976, it was the hottest summer for a generation and life was perfect for the two young brothers, Philip and Roger.

The book describes how they lived an idyllic life on a farm in the picturesque dales of the north of England.

They played on Tarzan swings, built dens and swam outdoors – until tragedy struck.

The front cover of Phil's book.

The front cover of Phil's book.

Within a 10-week period, the boys lost their parents and were left as orphans.

This is the story of Philip and his brother Roger, how their grandparents stepped in to bring them up and how a family and community came together to deal with the consequences that the devastation of death had left behind.

But Orphan Boys is not a misery memoir. It is a story full of love, strength and hope – an uplifting tale of a family’s survival and how they faced the challenges that life threw at them.

And for Phil, speaking to the Echo, he described how visits to Sunderland were the perfect distraction.

“In the mornings I would wake up to the sound of the foghorn and the seagulls. From the front of the house you could see the funfair in the distance and on occasions, hear the animals in the zoo near the seafront.

“Most days would be spent on the beach in the summer. Auntie Brenda had a stash of brightly coloured buckets and spades in her garage and she would pack her tartan shopping trolley with towels, bathing costumes, egg and tomato sandwiches.

There would be orange squash and, if money allowed, a trip to the funfair.

“The mini dodgems and the ghost train were my favourites. There was an adventure playground nearby and sometimes we played on the putt putt/crazy golf.

“There was a small boating pond with a railway running around it where the carriages were in the shape of ducks.

“On some days, we stopped at the fish and chip kiosk and my auntie bought us a cone of chips each, which we ate as we walked back to her house.

“We went to the shops on Sea Road almost every day to visit Laws supermarket. If it was a Friday, she went to Presto to do a ‘big shop’.

“We often went into town on the 124 (later the 24) bus which dropped us off outside Joplings department store. I loved music, and if I had pocket money, I would go to the big Woolworths to choose records.

“The cinema was a favourite treat. The first time I ever went to a cinema was to see Grease at the ABC in Sunderland in October 1978.

“The film was so popular we queued four and three-quarter hours to see it! I’ve written a short chapter in the book called ‘Grease is the word’ about this experience.”

Orphan Boys may have strong Weardale connections, but it’s affinity to Wearside is there.

“There’s a chapter called The Caravanners in the book which prominently features two families from Sunderland, the Devitts in Red House and the Pratts in Fulwell.

“Both families are still in touch and friends with me to this day,” said Phil.

* Orphan Boys is released on July 26 at £7.99 in paperback. It will be on sale in Sunderland in branches of WH Smith, Waterstones, Asda, other shops and online, said Phil.