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Life with My Father: A Nostalgic Look at Growing Up in a Working Class Family in North West England

My dad, Richard Evans, pictured with me when I was only a few weeks old.

My dad, Richard Evans, pictured with me when I was only a few weeks old.

Dad came from a very large family

I have so many fond memories of my late father that it's difficult to know where to begin.

In particular, I recall my own childhood being a very happy time, growing up in a seaside resort on the North West coast of England, UK, with a loving family and all my pets.

Although we were never well off and I would say we were a working class family, I never wanted for anything and was very lucky that I had such a wonderful start in life.

For my dad, it was a very different start in life. Born in 1929 in Bermondsey, which was one of the poorer boroughs of London at the time, he was one of 14 brothers and sisters.

Their parents were George Charles Evans and Alice Harriet Evans (nee Spilling).

Dad had a twin brother, Leonard, six sisters and six other brothers. Dad and Leonard were the second youngest children. They were born on 17th July 1929.

Rose was the oldest child; then George Charles, who sadly died in infancy; the brothers were Sid, Ted, John, Billy, my dad Richard, Leonard and the youngest, Frank.

The younger sisters were Josie, Ivy, Olive, Alice and Eileen. Only my Auntie Eileen - dad's youngest sister - and Uncle Frank are still alive now.

The family lived at 9 Bermondsey Square in London.

A street scene in Bermondsey, London, the borough where my dad grew up, in 1936, when he would have been seven years old.

A street scene in Bermondsey, London, the borough where my dad grew up, in 1936, when he would have been seven years old.

My grandma, Alice Evans (nee Spilling) as a young woman. Grandma was born on 23rd December 1889.

My grandma, Alice Evans (nee Spilling) as a young woman. Grandma was born on 23rd December 1889.

Dad's father - my paternal grandad - George Charles Evans.

Dad's father - my paternal grandad - George Charles Evans.

Dad's mum - my grandma - Alice Harriet Evans (nee Spilling) with six of her children in the 1930s. The girls (from left) are my aunties Josie, Eileen and Olive. The boys (from left) are my dad, his youngest brother Frank and dad's twin Leonard.

Dad's mum - my grandma - Alice Harriet Evans (nee Spilling) with six of her children in the 1930s. The girls (from left) are my aunties Josie, Eileen and Olive. The boys (from left) are my dad, his youngest brother Frank and dad's twin Leonard.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when dad was ten years old, he was one of hundreds of evacuees from the capital who were sent to various locations across the UK to keep them safe from the air raids.

The mass evacuation was known as Operation Pied Piper. Dad was sent to stay at the seaside with the younger Evans siblings when war broke out.

My Uncle Frank and Auntie Eileen recently recalled what happened when they were evacuated. At the time, they were still living in Bermondsey and during the Blitz, when there were air raids on London every night, they regularly went to safety in the air raid shelter at the Parish Church on Bermondsey Street - St Mary Magdalen Parish Church.

St Mary Magdalen Church, Bermondsey, which was an air raid shelter used by my family during World War II.

St Mary Magdalen Church, Bermondsey, which was an air raid shelter used by my family during World War II.

Bombing of Bermondsey and London during the Blitz, showing the aftermath of an air raid over the Thames and Tower Bridge.

Bombing of Bermondsey and London during the Blitz, showing the aftermath of an air raid over the Thames and Tower Bridge.

The air raid ticket used by the Evans family during the war, showing my Grandma Evans and the younger children, including my dad, who sought safety at the church.

The air raid ticket used by the Evans family during the war, showing my Grandma Evans and the younger children, including my dad, who sought safety at the church.

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My dad's older brother, Sidney Horace Evans, pictured in his first suit. My cousin, Margaret Jennings, recalled how he joined the Army at the outbreak of World War II and their other brother, Bill, pinched his suit!

My dad's older brother, Sidney Horace Evans, pictured in his first suit. My cousin, Margaret Jennings, recalled how he joined the Army at the outbreak of World War II and their other brother, Bill, pinched his suit!

Soon after the war started, the youngest children - Frank, Richard, Leonard, Olive, Eileen and Josie - were initially evacuated to the seaside town of Worthing in Sussex in 1939.

The other older siblings had either joined up and were in the Armed Forces, or were working, by then. In Worthing, they stayed with a lady whom they knew as Mrs Ida, who was very kind and looked after them well. The girls stayed in contact with her for quite a while after the war.

Grandma and Grandad Evans remained in Bermondsey, where grandad was an ARP warden. They went to visit their children regularly at weekends.

The children returned to London briefly in 1940, before going to live in Blackpool later that year. This time, many family members moved to the Lancashire seaside - my Grandma Alice Evans, the older Evans sisters and Auntie Rose's kids all went to the Lancashire coast.

They travelled by train and stayed overnight at Whittingham Mental Hospital - the psychiatric hospital near Preston - en route, where they were washed in 6ft x 6ft baths and dressed in pyjamas for the night.

I imagine it must have been quite a scary experience for children in those days, as psychiatric care wasn't as advanced as it is today.

The siblings were all sent to stay in a boarding house in Blackpool, run by two spinster sisters. They would toast bread over an electric fire and the Evans children used to run rings around the two elderly ladies! A relative once described dad and Uncle Len as the "terrible twins" (in a nice way).

The "terrible twins", my dad on the right with my Uncle Leonard, aged about 17, strolling along one of the Blackpool piers - "putting on the style" - just after the war.

The "terrible twins", my dad on the right with my Uncle Leonard, aged about 17, strolling along one of the Blackpool piers - "putting on the style" - just after the war.

Eventually, Grandma Evans and the clan were provided with a house on Leeds Road, Blackpool. Auntie Rose lived on Reeds Avenue.

My grandad remained behind in London to carry on working as an ARP warden at night and also as Knox’s funeral director during the day. He re-joined the rest of the family in Blackpool later on.

The school age children from both the Evans family (my aunties and uncles) and Auntie Rose's children attended Tyldesley Secondary Modern School in Blackpool - where there was quite a lot of fisticuffs between the locals and the London incomers!

From there, Grandma and Grandad Evans and the younger kids eventually settled at 49 Vicarage Lane, Marton, next to Sutcliffe's sweet shop, where they lived for many years. This was just round the corner from 42 Rectory Road, where I grew up.

My mum and dad meet

I know dad used to go to big band dances at the Tower Ballroom. I presume Leonard used to go with him and probably Frank.

Dad also met his lifelong friends in Blackpool in his youth - Alan "Lofty" Burns, Dennis Goring, Geoff Atkins and Reg Ormond.

Both dad and Leonard completed their National Service, but at different places.

Mum and dad met at work - mum worked in the office and dad in the factory. She used to pay his wages out every week and romance blossomed which eventually led to their getting married.

My dad as a young man doing his National Service - he is in the middle row, fourth from the left.

My dad as a young man doing his National Service - he is in the middle row, fourth from the left.

Mum and dad when they were courting in the mid-1950s

Mum and dad when they were courting in the mid-1950s

Mum and dad's wedding day (1957)

Mum and dad's wedding day (1957)

Mum and dad's wedding in 1957, pictured with dad's mum, my Grandma Evans.

Mum and dad's wedding in 1957, pictured with dad's mum, my Grandma Evans.

Mum and Dad's honeymoon in London in 1957

Dad feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Dad feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Dad at the elephant house at London Zoo.

Dad at the elephant house at London Zoo.

Dad in Trafalgar Square feeding pigeons.

Dad in Trafalgar Square feeding pigeons.

Mum and dad in Trafalgar Square - mum said later she was a bit nervous as there were hundreds of pigeons flying round their heads!

Mum and dad in Trafalgar Square - mum said later she was a bit nervous as there were hundreds of pigeons flying round their heads!

Mum posing in front of Big Ben.

Mum posing in front of Big Ben.

Grandma Alice Evans as I knew her

My Grandma Evans as I remember her, when she was elderly.

My Grandma Evans as I remember her, when she was elderly.

By the time I came along, my older brother was already 14 years old and dad's mum was very elderly. In fact, with dad being one of the youngest siblings in his family, I recall his oldest sister, Rose, was actually the same age as my own maternal grandma! There was a 20-year age span among my dad's brothers and sisters.

Because of this, unfortunately I have no memories of my paternal grandfather and only vague memories of my paternal grandma. I am told my Grandad Evans died on 4th July 1956, at the age of 69, before I was born.

I recall my Grandma Evans was a tiny woman, not even 5ft tall, who lived around the corner from mum and dad. She was very smartly dressed and always wore a long coat and hat when she went out.

I recall sitting in my pram in her hall when mum had taken me to visit her.

Mum always said what a hard-working woman she was and how difficult it was for ordinary working class families to bring up 13 children in the 1930s, before the days of the welfare state.

With the large age gap between all the children, this meant the older ones were earning a living and helping support the younger ones, as many started work at the age of 14 years in those days.

My Grandma Evans died on 25th December 1967. My grandma and grandad were both laid to rest together at Carlton Crematorium.

Mystery surrounds dad's family tree

I was fascinated by mum's tales of how I was apparently descended from the French aristocracy! I don't know whether it is true or not, but it has interested me to this day.

Dad's older sisters told my mum that their grandfather was the illicit love-child of a doomed relationship between a high-ranking French nobleman and a young girl of a much lower social rank in the 1800s.

Their romance and his existence would have caused a national scandal, so after he was born, he was secretly whisked away to London, where he was adopted and brought up by an ordinary working class family. No-one knew the identity of the nobleman, but they were sure it was true.

Even dad's mum didn't know the details and it would be impossible to find out now, I would imagine, too many years having passed and the cloak of secrecy surrounding the whole incident.

Blackpool in the 1950s, where dad swept mum off her feet as he romanced her and eventually they married.

Blackpool in the 1950s, where dad swept mum off her feet as he romanced her and eventually they married.

Evans family growing up in Blackpool

What ever the family history, by the 1950s, many of the siblings had moved to Blackpool, although some of the older brothers remained in London, where they already had family of their own.

Those living in Blackpool as adults included my dad's sisters Rose, Ivy, Alice, Josie, Olive and Eileen.

Dad's sister, my Auntie Rose

Dad's sister, my Auntie Rose

Dad's sister my Auntie Josie in her youth.

Dad's sister my Auntie Josie in her youth.

Dad's sister, my Auntie Alice.

Dad's sister, my Auntie Alice.

Dad's sister, my Auntie Ivy.

Dad's sister, my Auntie Ivy.

Dad's sister, my Auntie Eileen

Dad's sister, my Auntie Eileen

Dad's sister, my Auntie Olive

Dad's sister, my Auntie Olive

Mistaken identity!

Mum and dad at a party in the 1960s. They were sometimes mistaken for the singers Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson (pictured below) which caused them great amusement!

Mum and dad at a party in the 1960s. They were sometimes mistaken for the singers Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson (pictured below) which caused them great amusement!

The 1950s and '60s singing duo, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson.

The 1950s and '60s singing duo, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson.

All the siblings remained very close

My mum, who was one of two children, the other being my uncle Ken, suddenly found herself surrounded by a ready-made family of sister-in-laws, although she often said they were very different from her, having grown up in London. They wore the latest fashions, dyed their hair and wore make-up.

In the 1960s, they had the latest "beehive" hairstyles, dyed black or bleached blonde, with "winkle-picker" shoes with spiky heels and lots of black eyeliner. They were always impeccably turned out in the latest fashions.

My mum, who came from a small area of Leeds, Yorkshire, was from a different world.

My maternal grandma had never worn make-up and seemed to prefer "sensible" clothes and shoes, although she was always very well-presented and smart. I don't recall ever seeing grandma wearing even a little lipstick.

So I think in the beginning, mum was a little overwhelmed by all dad's sisters. Going out with my dad meant becoming part of the whole Evans "clan".

However, dad courted and romanced her and they fell in love despite their different backgrounds. My mum was very petite - just under 5ft tall - and used to wear huge high-heeled stilletos. She was still smaller than my dad.

In their youth, strolling down the seafront, they were sometimes mistaken for the husband and wife singers and entertainers, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, famous in the 1950s and '60s! Looking back at the old photographs now, I can see the resemblance.

Mum and dad thought it was hilarious!

My dad remained very close to his brothers and sisters and throughout his life, he would visit those sisters who lived locally most days. He would also maintain their gardens for them, as he was a keen amateur gardener and loved being outdoors.

Family weddings

My Auntie Eileen marries my Uncle Bill Bennett. Grandad Evans is on the right, Grandma Evans on the left, Auntie Josie second right.

My Auntie Eileen marries my Uncle Bill Bennett. Grandad Evans is on the right, Grandma Evans on the left, Auntie Josie second right.

My Uncle Leonard's wedding to my Auntie Vivienne

My Uncle Leonard's wedding to my Auntie Vivienne

My Auntie Olive marries my Uncle Arthur - with Auntie Eileen sitting in the background.

My Auntie Olive marries my Uncle Arthur - with Auntie Eileen sitting in the background.

My Auntie Josie marries Uncle Tony, with Auntie Ivy in the background. On the left is my cousin Carole Ardron, carrying her oldest son, Paul Ardron. My cousin Linda is the small child being carried (on the right).

My Auntie Josie marries Uncle Tony, with Auntie Ivy in the background. On the left is my cousin Carole Ardron, carrying her oldest son, Paul Ardron. My cousin Linda is the small child being carried (on the right).

Dad learned to drive in the Army

Mum recalled how, in his youth, dad completed his National Service, as all young men were required to do in those days.

It was a constant source of pain to mum that dad had learned to drive in the Army, as she always said he drove his car like he was driving a tank!

In fact, she hated driving with him ... and her fears appeared justified when, before they were married, they were involved in a very serious accident in dad's Morris Minor, when he hit a kerb and the car overturned, rolling over several times.

Dad escaped unscathed, but mum was quite badly injured.

Mum and dad in their youth - mum once told me this was soon after their bad car accident when she was recuperating and had lost a lot of weight.

Mum and dad in their youth - mum once told me this was soon after their bad car accident when she was recuperating and had lost a lot of weight.

Mum recalled waking up in hospital and feeling pain in her head. She asked for a mirror and perhaps foolishly, a nurse passed her one - as the shock almost caused mum to feint when she saw her face.

The impact of the accident had split her head open and she had a huge cut which went across her brow near her hairline. It had been deep and required many stitches, so the surgeon had shaved her hair at the front to properly treat the wound. So being partially bald, with stitches snaking across her forehead and a badly swollen face came as a terrible shock to mum!

She has never got over the accident psychologically - even though it was about half a century ago - and to this day is a nervous wreck when a passenger in a car. Dad tried to teach mum to drive when she was in her 40s, thinking that if she was a driver herself, she would lose her fear of being on the road.

But mum never did learn to drive and to this day puts her hands over her eyes when we are on the motorway, with little gasps and squeaks of panic if she sees any vehicles near us (particularly lorries) as she "brakes" the imaginary brakes at her feet as I am slowing down!

Dad on his wedding day to mum, pictured (in the centre) with family members and friends.

Dad on his wedding day to mum, pictured (in the centre) with family members and friends.

Three generations of our family: Dad, grandad and my older brother outside our house. Dad had driven to Gisburn to pick up grandad and they were relaxing in the garden after the journey.

Three generations of our family: Dad, grandad and my older brother outside our house. Dad had driven to Gisburn to pick up grandad and they were relaxing in the garden after the journey.

Me as a baby with my Auntie Josie, dad's sister, who lived nearby, pictured in the front garden. She was the height of fashion with her winkle-picker shoes and beehive hair do.

Me as a baby with my Auntie Josie, dad's sister, who lived nearby, pictured in the front garden. She was the height of fashion with her winkle-picker shoes and beehive hair do.

Dad always drove carefully after his accident

Following the one serious accident, my dad had a relatively safe lifetime of driving and as far as I can remember had only one other accident, when his car was hit by a speeding motorbike.

He did a lot of driving in his lifetime, in particular he used to do deliveries in his spare time for Ardron's hardware store. The owner was his niece Carole's husband, Pete Ardron, who had his shop just over the road from our house in my youth. On a Saturday, dad would drive the transit van all over Lancashire, dropping off items for customers. I went with him on several occasions in the summer and enjoyed the day out.

My grandad - mum's father - still had his own upholstery business, Trigg and Oldfield, in Ossett, Yorkshire, which he had run since he was a young man in his 20s. He used to drive over to Blackpool from Yorkshire many times, but as he grew older, the drive became too much for him, so he would drive half way, to Gisburn, where he would leave the works van on a pub carpark and dad would meet him there and drive him back to Blackpool.

I recall the family waiting with great excitement for them to arrive back. Grandad appreciated the lift and it was only mum who remained terrified of dad's driving for the 40 years after their accident!

However, there was one occurrence when dad decided to drive with a broken ankle, which caused my mum no end of worry.


The Evans sisters in the 1970s (from left): Eileen, Ivy, Olive, Josie, Rose and Alice.

The Evans sisters in the 1970s (from left): Eileen, Ivy, Olive, Josie, Rose and Alice.

Dad in the 1970s, soaking up the sun on our front doorstep after work one summers evening.

Dad in the 1970s, soaking up the sun on our front doorstep after work one summers evening.

An accident led to dad's leg being in plaster

On a Friday night, dad sometimes went to a club called The Lemon Tree with his friends from his youth. It was on the seafront and the weather could be wild at times.

On this particular night, there had been storms and high tide. Dad always drove to the club, as he only had one beer while there. When he left, he saw the waves had burst over the sea wall and flooded the promenade. He could see his car about a hundred yards away, but there was sea water 2ft deep separating him from it.

He decided to try and walk on top of a low wall to reach his car without getting wet. Unfortunately, he slipped and fell off the wall. He thought he had sprained his ankle, hobbled back to his car and drove home. But the next day, his ankle was swollen like a balloon and he had to go to hospital.

He arrived home with his leg in plaster up to the knee, as it was quite a bad break.

However, after only a few days convalescing, he was so bored that he decided to see if he could drive. It was his left ankle which was broken - the foot which operated the clutch - and he devised a way of driving despite the plaster cast on his leg. I recall he went out in the car several times in this condition! Mum was so mad at him. But he insisted he was okay and he didn't have any problems, carrying on driving until the pot was removed.

Dad in his younger days - on this occasion, he was a passenger in his friend's car and not driving, although he had even driven with a broken ankle when a young man!

Dad in his younger days - on this occasion, he was a passenger in his friend's car and not driving, although he had even driven with a broken ankle when a young man!

Needless to say, perhaps rather sensibly, mum refused to travel in the car with him when he had the plaster cast on his leg.

I was not allowed to drive with him either.

I imagine if the police had pulled him over, he may have been in trouble!

Dad in the 1960s (pictured with mum and my big brother Eric) was an absolute whizz at anything practical and made lots of furniture for our house in his younger days.

Dad in the 1960s (pictured with mum and my big brother Eric) was an absolute whizz at anything practical and made lots of furniture for our house in his younger days.

Dad learned joinery at night classes to make furniture

In the early years of their marriage, when my brother was a child, but before I came along, dad attended night classes at the local college to learn joinery and woodworking.

He obviously did really well, as most of the furniture when they moved into the house where I grew up was made by my dad.

I remember he made all the wardrobes and dressing tables in every bedroom, thus saving them vast amounts of money. The furniture all looked very professional and was in matching wood, beautifully varnished.

I recall I loved my wardrobe when I was young, as it was huge, with a long rail for all my clothes; shelves underneath for my shoes; more shelves at one side for my cosmetics; four drawers for my underwear and nightclothes and a full-length mirror attached to the door.

I had the wardrobe and it was in daily use up until seven years ago, when I moved house. I would have brought it with me then, had it not been jammed in a room. Dad had dismantled it to get it up the narrow staircase and into the bedroom at my old house. He then put it all back together again.

Sadly, he had passed away some time afterwards and when I moved house again in 2007, I was sad that I couldn't take my wardrobe with me, as none of us knew how to dismantle it and it was stuck in the bedroom.

Dad also made the book case and book shelves, the glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room where mum displayed her favourite ornaments and even an authentic bar, with glass shelves going up the wall for the spirits and miniature bottles.

He also made two oak and glass coffee tables, one circular and the other oval, which were in use for many years.

Dad sitting in the dining room in the 1990s - behind him were the book shelves and cabinet that he had made at joinery classes many years earlier. In front of him is the coffee table which he also made.

Dad sitting in the dining room in the 1990s - behind him were the book shelves and cabinet that he had made at joinery classes many years earlier. In front of him is the coffee table which he also made.

The bar was in use for family parties

I recall the bar that dad made came in very useful for many years, as every Christmas, the clan would hold a party (a good old-fashioned "knees-up", as the Londoners called it) and dad enjoyed playing barman and serving all his family when it was our turn to host the party.

He also enjoyed making home-brew for many years, making a variety of beers and wine. In particular, he made delicious strawberry wine, the like of which I have never tasted again since.

Years later, when I was in my teens, dad still made his home-brew and had his bar and would give my friends and me a glass of his strawberry wine each when they came over to visit. It became legendary among my friends and we still remember it to this day!

New Year always a time of great celebration

In the early 1970s, the New Year's Eve parties were always hosted by dad's sister, my Auntie Ivy, a widow, who lived about ten minutes from us. They were always very lavish parties and members of the family came from London and other parts of the UK to see their relatives and enjoy the huge get-together, which always went on until the wee small hours.

Auntie Ivy and her daughter, Carole, used to provide a huge buffet, spread over several tables and including every kind of food you could possible imagine, with savoury snacks, sandwiches, pies, quiches, vol-au-vents, crisps and nuts standing alongside a huge selection of desserts - everything from fresh cream gateaux and trifles to cakes, buns and fruit-filled meringues.

In those days, there was just a record player and seven-inch vinyl singles, or 12-inch albums, to play, so all the party records were brought out and everyone would be dancing and singing along.

The evening would start out with lively festive music and the pop songs of the day, then we would do dances such as the Hokey Cokey and the Conga - and of course Auld Lang Syne at midnight - followed by slower songs as the hour got late, including nostalgic wartime songs, when everyone would become reflective and often teary-eyed.

I remember I once wreaked havoc during the Conga when I tripped over my dress - as we kids loved to dress up and wear ankle-length party dresses. I fell flat on my face and everyone behind me, including my dad, fell into me and we went down like dominoes, nobody able to stop. I was so embarrassed afterwards I ran off upstairs! I was only 11 years old and to fall flat on my face at a family party, causing a pile-up behind me, is an experience I have never forgotten!

Dad always loved Christmas and New Year

Dad always loved Christmas and New Year

Dad would party into the night at New Year

Grandma, my mum's mother, seldom went to the family party on New Year's Eve. She said it was too noisy and rowdy for her, preferring to stay at home and watch the festive television with her favourite tipple, a glass of Warnink's Avocaat. She only drank at Christmas and New Year.

I was allowed a snowball at Christmas - advocaat and lemonade - which was a great treat for me.

I remember mum would leave the party soon after midnight to take me home, as I was only 10 or 11 when I first went to the family get-togethers and it would finish much too late for me. Mum didn't mind the early departure, as it would get much noisier after midnight and she was never a big drinker. Nor was dad really - he only ever drank at Christmas and New Year.

The rest of the year, he went out only on a Friday night with his best mates from his youth, Reg, Geoff and Alan (known as 'Lofty' because he was about 6ft 4ins tall). Dad would have only a couple of bottles of 'mild' or Double Diamond on a Friday night and wasn't a drinker at all, although at Christmas he would have the odd glass of whiskey.

Mum only ever had one Cinzano and lemonade and then stuck to soft drinks - she recalled the first time she had an alcoholic drink, when she and dad were courting, it went straight to her head and she felt tipsy! She didn't like the feeling and she has always preferred fruit juice.

Mum and dad in their younger days.

Mum and dad in their younger days.

Family parties were legendary

I recall at the end of the night, I would go upstairs with mum to my Aunty Ivy's bedroom, where everyone's coats were piled up on the bed, to find our coats before getting a taxi home.

Most of the family members who had come over from London would be staying at various relatives' houses, although some booked into seafront hotels.

I always felt quite sad to be leaving the party, as I knew I wouldn't see some of my relatives for another year, although I would always be tired out after all the eating and dancing!

Dad would come home sometimes as late as 3am, although he must have been very quiet coming in, as he never woke me. Mum would jokingly call him a "dirty stop-out" the next day and would tease him for coming in so late! My dad was always up bright and early on New Year's Day and I don't think he ever suffered from a hang-over or any ill-effects from his partying the night before!