20 - Married Life.

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Married Life

Dad bought the two shop premises some time before (1936 according to my younger brother). The opportunity came when the landlord of no.87 which Dad rented offered it for sale. The adjoining shop premises no 85 had become vacant so Dad got both premises very cheap.

He rented no 85 to some one as a hardware business which failed. The tenant had then sublet the shop part and she incurred Dad's wrath when he came home one day to find it was to be used as the "Conservative Party" headquarters.

In spite of this he would have found it difficult to recover the premises for us but for the fact that he discovered she had accepted "key money" for the house part. This was a practise that had been made illegal.

We were delighted at our stroke of luck even though the rent was to be twenty five shillings a week.

The week prior to the wedding we spent every night scraping the walls and decorating the house that was to be our home. We scraped off layer after layer of paper only to find the walls were painted dark green with a two inch black border at head height. It had previously been a butcher's shop. A retired painter and decorator advised us to use powder distemper to cover it and he showed us how to stipple a pattern using a sponge. We used cream for the background and random dots in blue and pink. I was very satisfied with the result but we were both dog tired by the time we finished.

My cousin Jean was to marry the following month and we planned to share the house as it had a living room and kitchen downstairs and the shop could be used as an extra lounge whilst upstairs was a large room over the shop and three more bedrooms.

Dad had previously had a "cook an heat" put in both 85 and 87 kitchens and bathrooms built over the kitchens.

It was years before I lost the sense of utter luxury of having a bath in our own bathroom. Turning on the taps and pulling out the plug were miraculous to me.

Jean's parents stepped in to offer her a room at home at the same time pointing out that if she moved in with us she would probably forfeit her chance of a Council house.

The Councils at that time had waiting lists. Nottingham City would accept engaged couples names on the housing list providing the man was a resident in the City. Nottinghamshire County, however allocated houses on a points system. The first requirement was that the man should be married and a resident of the County. Points were added according to the number of children he had and as there was no way I was going to start a family without a home of my own we were ineligible for either list.

Dad had passed on to me his own fears of hire purchase and Wesley's father was of the same mind so we agreed we would pay cash for everything or go without.

We furnished the living room with Momma's drop side brown Rexene settee, and a wooden folding bed chair from mother in laws attic.

There were alcoves either side of the fire, in one we put Mam's old treadle machine, given on the understanding that I would do any sewing she required and in the other alcove an orange box covered with a piece of matching curtain. I had made the curtains very simply by hemming each length top and bottom and hanging them on a stretch curtain wire. The wire was not enclosed in plastic at this time.

Our last forty pounds went on a gas cooker that I bought new. I have always been particular about my cookers and couldn't abide the thought of a second hand one.

Wesley's father bought us a utility dining room suite that had a huge draw leaf table and a sideboard. He had chosen it with care but without any regard to the dimensions of our room. I would rather have had the money but we were given no choice although he did take us to see it before it was delivered. He had examined it carefully and told the shop he wanted that particular suite and not another from the production line.

We couldn't afford a new bed and I was allowed to bring the 3/4 bed that I had shared with my young brother until I was fifteen. I also brought my bedroom furniture, a wardrobe, which was a converted wall cupboard, and a three mirrored dressing table.

Mam gave me a couple of part worn blankets and sheets. The sheets were worn in the centre but I cut them and turned sides to the middle, one of my aunts bought us a pair of sheets and another a blanket. We were very lucky in our presents for the only thing that was duplicated was a teapot.

Before the wedding Dad warned me to avoid having babies too soon but as the Doctor had told me I wouldn't conceive unless I had my tubes blown I thought I had nothing to worry about. I intended to carry on working for at least five years before having a family.

On my wedding day Dad told me, "marriage is just hard work." I didn't understand then what he meant. Later I realised how right he was.

My main worry was that I would disappoint my husband in bed. He had confessed to an affair in the army and that his first sexual experience was with a prostitute.

Three months after the wedding I started to be sick in the mornings. I hadn't noticed the absence of my periods because I was so irregular.

At this time Wes was earning just under five pounds a week and I was earning just over five pounds so we were by no means living in luxury on two wage packets and yet I had no doubt, I would cope.

Fortunately I could both knit and sew and began to make the layette and to read everything I could about giving birth and rearing the baby. Dr. Spock's book on baby and childcare became my bible.

One promise I made to myself was that I would never smack my baby. The other was that we would never quarrel in front of the children. I thought I knew it all.

After the morning sickness passed I bloomed but it wasn't easy to keep working and I was relieved when the time came that I could give up and still qualify for the maternity grant.

It did not occur to me that I would ever go out to work again.

Natural childbirth was the vogue in 1950 and my baby was to be born without pain. At least that was what the books told me.

My doctor did not attend childbirths and so I was referred to a doctor at the other end of town.

She was a Catholic and as a result of an article I had read I asked her what would happen if at the time of birth she was faced with a choice of my life or the baby's. She assured me that it couldn't happen for if there was any doubt about my being able to deliver safely I would be admitted to hospital for a caesarean birth.

I travelled across town by bus and alone for my antenatal checkups. These visits became ever more wearisome as I passed the projected birth date. My mother's cleaning lady said I should be induced but the doctor insisted the baby would come when it was ready.

I had continued to work for the first six months and I bought as much as I could for the coming event. An aunt gave me a dropside cot which Wes painted lemon so that it would be all right for either a boy or a girl. We had to secure the bottom with string, as it was apt to collapse.

I am always amazed at the magazines costing of having a baby. In 1950, we used terry-towelling nappies and the recommended number was three dozen. I bought one dozen plus one dozen muslin ones and I had to manage.

The gowns, three instead of the recommended six, I made myself from vyella. Mam advised against the cheaper flannelette in view of the fire risk. One of her brothers had been burnt to death

I had set my heart on a Silver Cross, coach built pram, for babies spent most of the first year of their life in a pram. They were one of the most expensive prams on the market but we were lucky. Every night I scanned the Evening Post advertisements and answered every advertisement, at last we found one in mint condition. We had raised the money by selling both our bikes. The family forecasted that "no good would come of it." for it was considered unlucky to buy the pram before the baby came.

After I left the lab I worked in Dad's snack bar at lunch times for ten shillings a week. We had the use of the house not the shop. An entrance from his shop through to ours had been made and he had set up a snack bar hoping to attract customers from the nearby Players factory. He had the idea that I could provide homemade cakes but I told him they couldn't be made cheap enough to be viable.

Dad had thought there was a fortune to be made in cups of tea and bought a second hand urn from a market trader. The tea was vile!

The second error was in setting up a bar with bar stools. No one used them and he had to abandon them in favour of tables and chairs. Another mistake was he had calculated the profit to be made on such items as beans on toast, reckoning on one tablespoon of beans per customer. He had over looked the possibility of every customer making a different order so that not only did lunch time end with the kitchen table full of various open tins but as cooking was done on a standard household gas cooker the waiting time gave great dissatisfaction. Microwaves were unheard of,

Mam had been against the idea of the snack bar from the beginning and they argued bitterly. She reminded him of a costly mistake he had made previously. He had been offered a large quantity of sugar pigs, coupon free. Unfortunately just after he bought them sweet rationing ended. The walls of my old bedroom, which he had converted into a stock room, were lined with boxes of sugar pigs.

One of the best things that happened at this time was that my former school friend had bought the house where Momma used to live, she had a baby girl and we took turns to visit each other. But for her companionship I would have been very lonely indeed as Dad told me I should not invite neighbours into the house. I suppose it was because of the easy access to his shop premises.

May 1950 was very hot and I sweltered in a wool pleated crossover maternity skirt and crimplene smock. I remember the heat bouncing off the flagstones, and the sweat running under my heavy breasts as I puffed my way up the avenue. I was grossly overweight due, no doubt, to following folk law and "eating for two" and stuffing myself with chocolate.

By the time labour began I'd lost my fear of the pain to come thinking thank God that these wearisome months would soon be over. My friend, always Job's comforter, said it had to get worse before it got better and I knew she was right.

They say pain is the quickest thing forgotten and in this case, "they" were right. I was given pethidine and although my parents told me I suffered, I had no recollection even immediately after the birth. My mother was present most of the time. Not all the time for she was obliged to keep going downstairs to fortify herself with a drop of gin. By the time my daughter was born, the bottle was empty.

I think the pethidine had addled my brain for although I had spent many hours choosing names, when mother asked I said "Mary" which was mother's name and the last one I would have chosen in the cold light of day.

Dad's first concern was whether she had the full compliment of fingers and toes. I hadn't checked for it hadn't occurred to me that my baby might not be perfect.

I was rather shocked at her appearance for head seemed too large for her scrawny body and she had inherited her father's aquiline nose, she had a mass of black hair falling low into her neck. At the moment of birth, she looked a perfect replica of him. I wondered afterwards if I hallucinated for by the next day, the elongated head had shrunk and the nose was a tiny bud. She was as pretty a baby as anyone could wish to see.

The first night she uttered not a whimper and I asked Wes to bring her to me. I was alarmed to find she was icy cold in spite of the coal fire that he had stoked up before coming to bed. I lay her across my body to warm her and kept her with me all night. I know the experts preach against this but I honestly believe she would have died that night if I had left her in the cot.Besides Momma told me she always kept her babies with her and pooh-poohed the notion of a mother overlaying her own child.

The midwife terrified me. She was typical of the harridans who had slapped me in hospital when I was child.

"I hope you haven't any silly notions about putting her on the bottle," she said. "I always insist my babies are breast fed."

With hindsight I should have said, "I didn't know you had any Miss-" but I was too intimidated.

Just as my childhood nurses, she railed at me for the state of my bed, especially the pillows, "There are four corners to every pillow and four corners to each pillow case," she snapped every day as she proceeded to make my bed.

I was thrown into despair as she stripped the baby and threw all her clothes and cot linen, into a bucket of water into which she added a liberal quantity of Dettol. I had only three of everything and no washing machine or dryer and I knew I would run out of baby clothes and linen. Moreover, I thought one bottle of Dettol would be sufficient and it obviously wouldn't.

On the third day she was very late so I asked Wes, who had taken his holiday fortnight to look after me, to bring in the baby bath and I attended to her myself. The Midwife was furious!

"How dare you," she fumed. "I haven't even shown you how to bath her. Suppose you had dropped her."

Why I didn't tell her I had been bathing my brother and cousins since I ten or less, I'll never know, but then nurses, doctors and policemen represented authority and one didn't answer back.

She wouldn't give an inch and even though I had just changed the baby, she went through the same routine of stripping her and pouring water and dettol over her clean gown.

I could have choked her.

< p>Mother-in-law came and found her darling son labouring over a sink full of nappies. She had bought him a thick woollen dressing gown that she had made herself. She gathered up the bed linen and crying, "This mustn't happen again," stormed off. Someone should have told her I didn't do it all by myself.

My father was disgusted but I couldn't help seeing the funny side. West Bridgford people in general considered themselves a cut above the rest while we regarded them as penniless snobs. It was a standard joke that if you dated a Bridgford lad he'd meet you inside the pictures.

There were many snide jokes about them. We called them the'Plus fours, and no breakfast" brigade.

Question: "What is a West Bridgford pheasant?"
Answer: "A kipper with a feather up its arse."

"What do the West Bridgford folk have for dinner?"
"A sausage on a silver plate with the blinds drawn."

All this because most of those on the other side of the river struggled to buy their own homes in an area where rates were less than in Nottingham. At the same time it must have been an awful blow to her that her son not only married a girl from Hyson Green but also went to live there.

Poor Wes it seemed as if someone at the war office was having a joke at his expense when the day our daughter was born his war medals arrived. Dad ribbed him for years.

Breast-feeding was a traumatic experience. At twelve, I had tried in vain to shrink my bust with tight binding so I had always assumed I would have no problem feeding a baby. Alas, it doesn't work like that. I appeared to have the milk and after the first fortnight, she gained an ounce or two every week but I seemed to have her on the breast every hour of the day. The experts said feed on demand. "Never mind that," Mam said. "Feed every four hours," I thought the experts knew best.

It wouldn't have been so bad if she had been contented but although she suckled and slept through the day, she screamed all night from ten o'clock until she was put at the bottom of the yard in her pram at five o'clock in the morning. It is the biggest wonder she wasn't a battered baby for nothing stopped her crying. I remember once after I had tried feeding her, crooning to her and walking up and down to no avail, I threw her on the bed. Not, thank God, very violently but had Wes not taken over she might have gone out of the window. I think it was despair at her lack of response to me. I had always had a way with babies-other people's babies responded to me but not my own.

Wes had a remarkable store of patience and after putting her outside in the morning he would literally fall on the bed asleep.

We were kept awake every night for six months. In desperation, I consulted the local chemist who gave me a sleeping draught for her. It was a brown sludgy potion that smelt of chlorodyne. I don't know what it was or whether it would have worked for after the first few drops, her eyes dilated and I was thrown into a panic. The rest of the bottle went down the sink.

Later the doctor prescribed reducing doses of phenol barbitone and she began to sleep but not to gain weight. My friend Barbara saw me struggling to feed her and gave me a bottle of her own baby's feed, "top her up," she said. I was amazed to see Mary guzzle the whole bottle.

I knew Dad wouldn't approve so for some time I tried to hide the fact that I had put her on the bottle, which was difficult as he could walk straight in through the shop.

Another thing my father disapproved of was my habit of reading while I was feeding. Of course he was right but unhappily I saw no point in talking to this inanimate creature. Just as in childhood, I was made to feel very guilty about wasting time reading. To this day, unless I am away on holiday I feel guilty if I read during the day.

I was soon back working in the snack bar at lunch times for, little though it was, I needed that ten shillings but I was full of resentment when I sometimes had to take the baby off the breast to attend to late comers. Dad thought she should be allowed to cry until the last customer had gone especially as Mam's eyesight was deteriorating and she often burnt herself when cooking.

Looking back, I can see Mother was prematurely old. I remember Dad saying to me, "Can't you do something about your Mam? She looks like an old woman."

I remember too my callous answer, "She is an old woman." She was fifty-two or three.

She had cataracts in both eyes and was almost blind, her hair was grey and had becoming sparse and she sprouted both a moustache and whiskers. Now in my seventy ninth year, I am ashamed to remember my indifference, yet could anything I might have done made any difference?

With hindsight, it was a mistake to live in such proximity to my parents. It was strange that Dad had made it possible for he had always maintained that he would not allow his children to begin married life in the parental home for he blamed his own marital problems on such a beginning, mainly because Mam relied too much on her mother who did all the cooking.

There was no fear of that with my mother, just the reverse. Dad suggested it was a waste to have two stoves on to cook Sunday roasts so why didn't I put theirs in with mine. This of course led to my providing them with a pudding every Sunday with more regard to Dad's taste than to my husband's.

It wasn't all one way though for whenever Wes and I squabbled I would go through to Mam's in the evening and Dad would provide a glass of beer. He would also call Wes through to join us though if he did he would be sent down to the beer-off with the jug.

Also, Mam and Dad baby-sat one evening a week while we went to pictures. Every time, although we had left the baby fast asleep she was downstairs with them when we got home. She was always in an excited state as Dad played with her by putting matchsticks between her toes and then she wouldn't settle.

In return for the baby-sitting, we took care of the shop while they had a night out.

Weaning brought more problems. Dad opposed the use of prepared baby foods and apart from Farley's rusks, I tried to feed her on normal food, beginning with soft boiled egg, the only food she took eagerly. I was very apprehensive regarding her food as she been so dreadfully constipated that her bowel had protruded during evacuation.

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Joan Mary Fulford
Fulord Consulting Ltd
West Bridgford
Nottingham NG2 5GF


Clifford W Fulford
162 Edward Road
West Bridgford
Nottingham, NG2 5GF

Send e-mailclifford@fulford.net
Telephone: 07923 572 8612