I rarely read memoir or autobiography but the title ‘Diary of a Lollipop Lady‘ jumped out from the library shelf. The subtitle is, ‘Memories of a Crossing Patrol in the 1960s’ and it is exactly what it says on the tin.
Hazel Wheeler spent 1966 as a lollipop lady in Yorkshire. She has two young daughters, her husband is working all hours and the debt collectors are after them. Back then it was unusual for mothers to do paid work but being a lollipop lady fits with school hours and the family needs the money. Hazel kept a diary during her twelve months in the job, noting down stories about her regular ‘customers’, the extremes of weather and the interesting things she witnesses.
What I liked most about this book were the odd comments Hazel dropped in about her ambitions to write for a living. Like many of us, she was an avid writer of letters to magazines. She records how she went into Smiths to leaf through the latest issues and see if anything of hers had been published. When it was, she celebrated the one guinea payment or the tea caddy from Peoples’ Friend (I think that prize is still going!). Her children are encouraged to enter writing competitions – with success. The book ends on a positive note, with an acceptance for Hazel from the BBC in January 1967 for a feature to be used on the ‘Home this Afternoon’ programme. Her fee is 10 guineas – more than three times what she earns in a week on the crossing.
After finishing the book I Googled ‘Hazel Wheeler’ and was sad to discover she’d died in 2009, not long after the book came out. Her obituary charts her diary-keeping and her publication history. Other volumes of her diaries provided material for ‘Living on Tick‘ and ‘Huddersfield at War‘.
I’m sure Hazel would be pleased to know that her books are still being read after her death – something for us all to aim for.