From Rochdale Terrace to Bateman Street.
I was five when we moved to a house on the same street as Momma and Granddad.The new house had a parlour, living room and scullery down stairs and four bedrooms on two flights upstairs. The lavatory was still at the bottom of the back yard. Coal was kept in the cellar, which had an iron grid on the street through which coal was delivered.
We heard the clopping of the horse's hooves on the cobbles before we heard the cry of "coal". I liked to watch the coal man heaving the sacks off the cart onto his back before tipping the contents down the cellar grate. I was told to count the sacks as he delivered them but when he had finished Mam came out to count them as they lay on the pavement.
We didn't have much furniture and Dad and Uncle Tom (Mam's younger brother) moved the furniture in a barrow. The sash bedroom window was taken out to allow the wardrobe to be hauled through the window with ropes. Although the move was only a short walk away I lost Aunts, Uncles, cousins and five open doors. My playground shrank from the communal terrace to a small back yard.
The house on Bateman Street was the same as Momma's except for the yard. Momma's yard had a low wall at the end whilst ours had a really high one and you couldn't see even the heads of anyone passing by in the entry. The wall was pillow shaped at the top and I often sat on it.
It's strange I frequently heard the grown ups talk about, "having your own front door", yet the house was never entered by that door which opened on to the street. Even when I was allowed out to sit on the front door step, I went and returned by the back door. The only time I was allowed in the parlour (as the front room was called) was when I had been sitting astride one of the brick pillars at the bottom of the yard and feeling what I imagined to be cotton wool in my ear (a normal condition for me for I suffered with reoccurring earache). I poked my finger in my ear and was stung by a bee. On that occasion Dad was home, he sucked out the poison and I was laid on the sofa to sleep off the trauma.
Try as I may, I cannot recall anything else about the front room. I can't even remember details of the sofa. When I try, the picture I get is of Momma's parlour.
The floors in the kitchen and scullery were red and blue quarry tiles. Dad wouldn't allow rag rugs like Momma had. He said they harboured the dust. When Mam scrubbed the floors no one was allowed to walk on them and she would lay old newspapers down to keep them clean. Dad bought the Daily Herald and apart from covering the floor they were used to cover the table and cut up into squares to hang on a nail in the lavatory. Those used on the table were saved to make into fire lighters.
The fireplace was the same as the terrace, black iron with an oven but there was a gas cooking stove in the scullery. Dad made the fire every day before he went to work. He held a sheet of newspaper in front to make the fire draw. Often it would start to scorch and he would quickly push it into the fire.
Harry and I fetched the coal from the cellar. We held the bucket handle between us and lifted it a step at a time. When slack was wanted to back up the fire it was fetched up on a shovel.
Following the move from the terrace Mam had a nervous break down. She screamed that the walls were closing in on her. She missed her sisters, her health was poor and she made no friends amongst the neighbours. It didn't help that the house was bug ridden. They came out in the dark crawling up the bedroom walls. Dad burnt them off with a candle but still they came. Then we all had to stay out all day while sulphur was burnt in the rooms. I think the bugs must have given up then.
Next door was a widow who also suffered with nerves. The adjoining walls were thin and every sound could be heard. If we made any noise she would rap on the wall. Once Mam became hysterical banging on the wall and screaming. Dad got hold of her arms and made her sit down.
This same neighbour threw a bucket of cold water over me, when I sat on the dividing wall. This made me slip and break my front tooth - a disfigurement that inhibited me from smiling in later years. Until I was in my forty's I was told that the tooth enamel was too thin to be repaired but a new lady dentist put a piece on. It is discoloured now but still there.
It was not surprising that Mam didn't neighbour, for her family were foreigners. When the eldest children began school they knew no English for although Granddad spoke English, Momma never mastered more than a few words and had never mixed with the neighbours. There was no outside help given but Granddad started to insist on the children speaking English when he was at home.
Momma and Granddad had emigrated from France in 1902, with them came their children Rose, John, Tom and my mother, Mary, aged two. Later they had five more children three were still at home when Mam and Dad married. One had died, burnedto death in 1914 aged five.
Granddad said he was born aboard an English ship and so was able to claim British citizenship when he came here to work as a twist hand designer at Birkin's lace factory.
Momma was small with kind grey eyes, she wore long back skirts and when she went out she put a black shawl around her shoulders. Her hair, of which she was very proud, was a soft creamy white, crimped at the sides and fastened in a bun with hairpins. She always washed her hair with a washing powder called "Compo". She was the gentlest woman on God's earth. She had ten children and only once smacked one of them, the youngest, after she had gone down to the "Cut" (canal) with some lads.
"Les le pauvre chat", Momma cried when Mam raised her hand to me.
This I took to mean "leave her alone", I was her "Petite chou-chou." Perhaps I looked like a cabbage! At any rate she was the most important person in my life and to my eternal regret I never told her I loved her.
She had some funny sayings, if I said; "I wish" she would laugh and saying broken English, "wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which gets full quickest."
Nothing made Momma cross not even when I wet myself while standing on a chair.
"Oh Momma," I cried. "What shall I do, I've peed mesen."
She laughed, "Shit in your hands and clap it to."
My terror at my lapse immediately dissolved in laughter and my knickers were rinsed and dried before Mam collected me.
Wetting the bed was another of my naughty ways. To make matters worse I claimed I dreamt I was on the pot but Mam believed that I was lying and was too idle to get out of bed.
Granddad wasn't a very tall but he was a handsome man with a splendid moustache, waxed and twirled at the ends. He wore a gold Albert across his waistcoat and a shirt with a stiff winged collar. Although he spoke to Momma in French he addressed us in English rolling his "Rs" in a way that immediately identified him as a Frenchman.
At meals he seemed to me to be surrounded by plates, one for meat, one for vegetables and one for bread. A jug of ale was on the table and Momma hovered about to fill his glass. Momma didn't drink but after the meal she would take coffee with him.
Granddad always drank beer with his meals. He said water was for washing with not for drinking and I often had a sup from his tankard. I liked the taste and so later refused to sign the pledge at Sunday School. My brother Harry didn't like it and so readily signed and sang "My Drink is Water Bright" with gusto. He broke the pledge later though.
Granddad taught me to play fives and threes with ivory dominoes he had made himself. I still have some of them but alas not the full set. His cribbage board was also home made and the pegs were from an umbrella. When he was going out Momma would stand at the door with his bowler hat and coat and a clothes" brush. She also cleaned his boots every day. /p>
He never did any menial tasks. Mam told me the morning after giving birth Momma would leave her bed light the fire, put the kettle on for his washing and shaving water and make breakfast.
No one but Momma could cut a slice of bread for Granddad for it had to be so thin you could see the light through it and the butter had to be as thick as the bread. The bread knife was a steel knife sharpened until it was like a dagger.
Mam recalled that when she was a child Granddad would have six boiled eggs for breakfast. He gave his children the white tops and bottoms. In prosperous times he brought home his drinking partners to share oysters and cognac. Then he would have the children roused from their beds to display them with pride.
I don't remember sleeping at Momma's but I must have been there early in the mornings for I have vivid memories of watching Granddad shaving. A mirror hung by the kitchen window and next to it a leather strop. His razor blade was hidden in black ebony and opened up like an elongated penknife.
Momma mixed up the shaving solution in a mug and brought it to him foaming like white beer. Back and forth he stroked the gleaming blade on the strop before brushing the foam onto his cheeks. He caught sight of me staring and dabbed the brush in my open mouth. Why, I wondered, did he need a knife to scrape off the soap? He offered to use it on me once but Momma scolded him.
This must have been the period known as, "The Hungry Thirties". We had a slice of bread and lard for breakfast and Momma fed us dinner from the "Pot au feu", a cross between a soup and a stew ladled onto a slice of bread. The stew pot stood on the fire and never seemed to be emptied. Its constituents were mainly onions, haricot beans and a pig's trotter. We squabbled over who would get the bits of bone to suck.
Sometimes a pigeon would drop down the chimney and Momma would wring its neck, pluck and draw it before adding it to the pot.
I remember Mam refusing a helping saying she would be having a chop later with Cliff. However she told Dad she had eaten with us.
My early memories are of Momma's living room overflowing with cousins. We were taught card games, snap, pairs, knockout whist, ace out and clock patience, by Aunt Alice who was always at home. She was a big raw-boned woman with fair hair and dressed in knitted suits. Her days were taken up knitting or mending stockings when she wasn't amusing her nephews and nieces.
Alice was an epileptic. She worked in a stocking factory from the age of fourteen but when she at 17 she began to have fits her work mates petitioned the boss to sack her. He was reluctant to do this for she was the best stocking mender he had. However, he had to yield in the end but for a long time he provided her with outwork. I was fascinated by her skill as she picked up a ladder (run) with a fine hook. The final loop was darned in before she stroked the repair with the eye of the needle making it invisible.
I think we must have left the terrace before the other aunts moved for my cousins still seemed to be around. There were two parks locally, the Forest that had little claim to its name. The lower part consisted of rectangular grass lawns used for cricket and football according to season, together with one section used as common land. What trees there were lined the centre path above which were green slopes with paths leading up to the top walk, beside which, there were more trees and bushes. Walking up the banks, the path led out to Southey St. and the Arboretum.
Aunt Alice took us for picnics on both these parks. I preferred the Forest where there was no "Keep off the Grass" signs and no one told you off for shouting, although on one occasion the Parky did tell Alice off for playing a portable gramophone.
The Arboretum was more of a Sunday place, with flower borders, deck chairs and ladies in white gloves and hats. It was Alice who decided to take us there.
The morning mist promised a sunny day, later the streets would be hot and dusty but the Arboretum was only half an hour's walk away. We took cucumber sandwiches and a bottle of home made lemonade and set off for a picnic. It was a rare treat and I was determined to save some of my bread for the brown ducks that swam in the ornamental lake.
We had a lovely time, I beat my cousin three times in the "rolling down the bank race" and then it happened, Aunt Alice had a fit. During these seizures she wet herself and so instinctively tried to raise her clothes to remove her knickers. We gathered round trying to hold her skirt down and a woman came over to us. She was dressed in a brown costume and was wearing white gloves.
"Move away from her," she said "she is a bad woman."
I was so angry I used the worst words I knew, "She's my Auntie. Bogger off you, you, bitch."
She went muttering about people not being fit to have children.
Swearing was not acceptable in those days although adults in the home used "bogger", "sod" and "bleddy" frequently. I did not hear the "F" or "C" word until I was eighteen and working in a factory. What constitutes acceptable language depends, I suppose, on custom. Although, I find such expressions as "Good God", "God knows" and "damn" acceptable I still flinch at "Jesus" and "Jesus wept".
I remember my mother being horrified when I said "flaming." She called it "Narrow Marsh" language, Narrow Marsh being one of Nottingham's slum areas.
Aunt Vi laughed when I told her about the incident on the Arboretum, but Momma shook her head and said I shouldn't be rude. I couldn't understand why people were afraid of Alice for I only once saw her behave violently and that wasn't in a fit.
The shingle hair cut was in fashion and Alice took me with her when she had her hair cut and treated me to a similar cut. Mam was furious; she was always torturing me with rags in my hair in a vain attempt to make it curl. The argument became a fight and Alice bent Mam over the table and viciously banged her head over and over. Terrified that Alice would kill her I ran down the road to fetch Momma.
It still puzzles me that my concern was for Mam and not for Alice. I can only suppose it was because I saw Mam as the weaker of the two.
Aunt Alice's fits grew worse as she got older and sometimes she would clutch the oilcloth on the table tearing it to shreds. Once she had hold no one could prise open her fingers.
Alice suffered the antagonism of the neighbours and said they wanted her put away. I suppose it was understandable that people seeing her in a fit should fear her for they were of the type described in the bible. Her face was contorted, her lips blue. She frothed at the mouth and thrashed and twisted. If she was standing when the seizure came she usually fell but occasionally she did not totally lose control but went into a kind of trance. She almost walked in front of a bus on one occasion.
The local greengrocer accused her of walking into his shop and stealing oranges. I thought this accusation to be pure spite but since I have read of epileptics behaving in this way.
Hers was a tragic life. The family believed kicking over her high chair as a baby and striking her head on a fender caused her illness. My fear was that it was an heredity ailment although no one suggested it.
I don't think public attitudes have changed much over the years. In my late teens I met a lad who was sacked from his clerical job for the same affliction. In the 1970's I saw antagonism towards a child in school for the same reason.
On one or two occasions Alice threatened suicide by hanging out of the top bedroom window. Momma would cling to her wrists and send the grandchildren to fetch the men to help haul her back. I think these episodes were ended when Dad was the only man available and he stood below and shouted, "Right you boggar jump."
She didn't jump but clung on with a superhuman strength. I think Momma and a neighbour managed to get her back in but someone called the police and she was taken to Mapperly Mental Hospital. When Momma and my uncle visited Alice she begged to be taken home and promised to be good.
There was a family conference, my heart pounded and I felt sick with fear as they discussed whether she should be fetched home. The decision was that she should stay in hospital. That night I ran a fever and had a bad attack of nettle rash.
When Momma and Uncle John visited her a second time she was in such a distressed state they brought her home but she was not allowed out of the house alone after that.
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