Saturday, September 05, 2015

Chapter 3


 

Wartime.

 

   September 3rd 1939 was a Sunday but unusually Evan and I had not gone to chapel and Dad wasn’t mucking about with the motor bike in the garage.  We were all grouped round the wireless, listening to Mr Chamberlain – our prime minister.

I was standing because Mum had let me put my best dress on and I didn’t want to crease it.  In the summer Maddie and I had been bridesmaids at a big, posh wedding.  There were four brides maids round about my age and we wore these dresses in heavy gold satin with frills round the sleeves and the hems.  You could tell the quality from the weight.  Then there were three big girls in long dresses of turquoise satin and all the men wore CRAVATS!  It must have cost Mr and Mrs Cooper a fortune and yet they just lived in an ordinary council house like ours but it was on the Avenues.

 Alice their daughter was marrying a solicitor from Rochdale so it had to be a posh do,

   I liked Alice – she was different.  She was quite tall and always stood straight as a ramrod with her head held high.  She spoke slowly and had a slight smile on her face as if she knew something you didn’t.  We would be having our tea and she would call in on her way back from work – she worked in an office.  I was so excited when she told us about the wedding and nearly choked on my jam butty when she asked me to be bridesmaid.  All the time she was talking to us she would be making patterns with the crumbs on the bread board with the serrated bread knife and we would all be mesmerised.  Just for once Mum didn’t come out with her maddening ‘We’ll see.’

When Alice was courting Melvyn the solicitor she would sometimes take me with her to Rochdale and we would have tea with Melvyn and his mother.  They were very quiet and dignified – a bit posh but no swank.

    One time we were waiting in the queue for the bus back home to Rossendale and Alice was asking the conductor something.  A strange lady bent down and started talking to me as if I was a little kid.  Alice turned round, saw her and flew at this poor woman and gave her hell of telling off and told her never to come near us again. I’d never seen her in a rage before. I felt really safe with Alice.

It was lucky she had the wedding when she did because once the war started everything was ‘utility’ and there was no heavy gold satin or cravats.


   After we’d listened to the wireless Mum and Dad went all quiet but I couldn’t wait to get changed into playing out clothes.  I could see through the window our gang were already gathered round the lamp post and I knew we would have a lot to discuss.  Our leader was Jack King - a boy with false legs.  They were jointed and made of metal and with the help of a stick he walked with his legs wide apart strutting up and down the lane and anybody who crossed him got thwacked with the stick.  Just walking required so much effort his upper body was built like a prize fighter and nobody messed with Jack.

“Are we goin’ to be evacuees Jack?”

Wis not be ‘VACuees – wis be REFugees” declared Jack!

‘Oooh I’ll bet we’ll go to America.’

There was a long pause – we knew all about America from our twice weekly visits to the cinema.  We loved its drug stores, ice cream sodas, picket fences and Andy Hardy houses and we relished the idea of living over there.  So we weren’t fazed by the idea of being at war.  To us it would be a great adventure

   We decide to raise money for the Spitfire Fund.  Jack’s sister used cardboard cylinders at work – just the right size for spill holders.  The lads covered them with gold paper and then stuck them on to a flat piece of cardboard with a hole at the top so they could be hung by the fire.  Then they put tapers in the spill holders so Mums and Dads could light their fags from the fire and save matches.

We girls made lavender bags which were less successful as we had no lavender and made do with talcum powder. Miraculously people bought these rather messy articles and when we considered we had a reasonable amount of money we marched on the Town Hall.

“ We’re only givin’ it to’t Mayor.  Nobody else” Jack declared!

All of us went down on the bus to Rawtenstall and had to cross the main road to the Town Hall.  Jack did most of the talking. 

We were shown to the Mayor’s Parlour.  He had a red face and a magnificent gold chain round his neck and he made a speech saying that it was all the little efforts like ours – all round the country- that would bring us victory in the end.  We felt ever so proud and then they gave us tea and seed cake.

  At first the war seemed like an exciting adventure but then familiar faces started to disappear as one by one the local young lads were called up into the army, the navy and the glamour boys – the RAF.  Most of our lads went in the army. Dad’s younger brothers went and also our cousins Danny, Bennie and Ernie.  Dad’s best friend Fred Woodhead became a Desert Rat. My Dad had run away to join his brothers in WW1 but his mother brought him back.  Slowly it dawned on us that war wasn’t all beer and skittles.

Elsie’s dad - Mr Tricket next door had lost a leg in the First World War and once I saw the stump when he took his false leg off because it was hurting him.  My own uncles – Ben, Ernest and Bill had had their health shattered with the awful conditions out in France in the trenches.   Poor Uncle Ernest was gassed also in WW1.

   We had to get used to the black out; not a chink of light must get through the curtains to help enemy aircraft.  Flimsy curtains had to be lined with heavy black-out material.  Strips of lead were attached to the windows to prevent them from shattering and there was great rivalry between the neighbours to come up with the best design.  Ours had an egg shape in the centre which also helped to give us some privacy in day light - much needed in the depths of winter when we tended to get dressed and undressed in front of the fire.

 By now Margaret had won a scholarship to the grammar school and I only seemed to see her on Sundays.  Evan and I were quite bright but she was the clever one.  Just recently she sent me a cartoon of two ancient old crones and one was saying:

“Was I the clever one and you the pretty one, or was it the other way round?”

   Since she had gone to live with the aunts it was my responsibility to look after Evan. Mum and Dad worked from 8am to 5.30pm so I had to make sure he had his breakfast, was clean and tidy and get him to school on time. I still dream of the panic of getting us both to school with the clock at quarter to nine and with twenty minutes walk to do. After school I would light the fire and try to keep Evan in one piece. He was accident prone and was rarely without a plaster on his knee and sometimes stitches in his head. I was always highly strung but I started to become quite fearful. If Mum and Dad had a row after we had gone to bed I would sit in the stairs steps listening, dreading they would be divorced.  I used to browse in Gran’s medical books and when I read the symptoms of pregnancy was convinced that my sprouting breasts meant I was pregnant. I was completely ignorant of how one got pregnant only that you had to sleep with someone.  What made it worse was that as small children Evan and I had slept in the same bed – did that count?  I couldn’t voice my fears to anyone.
I didn’t go barmy but would sit staring into the fire with tears rolling down my cheeks.
   One evening Mum and Dad were out and I was looking after Evan when a plane came buzzing over the valley. It came perilously close to the roofs and I was convinced it was going to dive bomb us.  Evan and I tried to hide under the Singer Sewing machine.  The plane veered off and then came in for another attack and we both started yelling at the tops of our voices.  Finally Mrs Tricket from next door came and comforted us and told us it was one of ours and just a daft young man showing off.

Years later I discovered it was a local lad – Ted Rayner - showing off to his family so Mrs Tricket wasn’t far out.
  She told Mum, “A’m worried about your Pat May. She shudent be gettin’ upset like that.  It’s not right.”

“Right m’lady!  We’re going to see Doctor Anderson,” said Mum

   Mum marched me off to the doctor’s and he asked me lots of questions about what I read and did I

 go to the cinema. Mum said -

“Eeh Pat I nearly ‘ad a fit when ‘e asked ya what ya read.”  She had just caught me reading Vinegar

and Brown Paper which I had found hidden in a cupboard. She needn’t have worried – I wasn’t that

daft - I told him I read Angela Brazil stories, all the Dimsie books and ‘Just William’ which was true.

 I would read anything available - even the blurb on HP sauce bottles. As for the cinema   - we were

the cinema generation and would go twice a week. 

  “She is quite highly strung and you’d better forget about her taking a scholarship.”

I was shocked when the doctor said that and I couldn’t wait to get outside the surgery and tackle Mum;   I just had to take my scholarship. Thanks to our trips on the motor bike I had seen the world outside the valley and I couldn’t wait to spread my wings. Most people worked in the mills and the elite worked in the offices. I wanted neither but realised my passport to the outside world was an education. Mum’s response was her usual:

 ‘We’ll see…’   I groaned in despair.

    There was talk of a ‘nervous break-down’ and everyone agreed that I should go up to Gran’s for a rest.  Gran had had a late child - Aunty Jean - who was now in her late teens. I would share her room and bed. She was very glamorous - not like Mum who was pretty and cuddly. She worked in The Lewis Department Store in Manchester and had fantastic clothes which I looked forward to dressing up in whilst she was at work.

  I took the three buses to Gran’s and was met by Jean (I was allowed to call her that as she was so young) at Road End.

  ‘’Hello love.”  Jean had been to a Convent School and talked ‘proper’ – she wasn’t broad in her speech at all.  I decided that I would learn to talk like that before I left the valley.

“ Your Gran’s hidden the peroxide.  I’ll give you half a crown if you find it for me.’

. She wanted to go blonde and Gran had hidden the bottle. It didn’t take me long to spot it tucked between the blanket box and the wardrobe in Gran’s bedroom.

   It was lovely being with Gran and Granddad again.  Just for a while I had no worries and it was so peaceful especially after tea.  Jean would be off with her girl friends, Granddad would sit by the fire smoking his pipe and reading a travel book and I would tuck myself behind Gran on her sliding arm chair and comb her hair which now had little bits of silver in the brown.

   The peace was shattered when Jean came in later and removed her turban revealing bright yellow locks.  I suddenly felt the need for an early night.

   Whilst Gran and Jean were out at work I would help Granddad in the shop. I loved sticking labels on things and weighing out sweets. He tried to fatten me up and would cook me tripe and trotters. The tripe - cold with salt and vinegar - was quite refreshing and the trotters tasty. I changed my mind when I learnt what part of the animal I was eating.  Granddad came from Cumberland and his home-made rum butter which he always put in a beautiful orange and blue bowl was a special treat.

   On Monday afternoons Gran took me to the cinema or pictures as we called it. Her favourites were thrillers like ‘Suspicion’ with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. I don't think the doctor would have approved but I was enjoying life.  The only snag was the privy in the back yard with its squares of newspaper on a nail.  There was only one big stone sink in the kitchen but Jean had a stand with a marble top in her bedroom and on it there was a lovely big jug and bowl decorated with roses.  Under the bed there was a beautiful chamber pot.  Gran would fill the jug with hot water and pour it into the bowl and there I was with all mod cons.  Gran had some lovely things in her house – mostly given by grateful patients.
  By the end of the summer holidays my ‘nervous breakdown’ was over and I was ready to get back in time to prepare for the scholarship.

  It was good to be home with a flushing toilet. Gran's ancient privy had a paralysing effect on my innards and whilst Californian Syrup of Figs was OK, Gran's enemas were a step too far. 
   As the war hotted up more friends and family began to be enlisted in the forces and there was a lot of heartbreak and sadness. Occasionally the German planes bombing Manchester would go off piste and jettison their cargo near us, causing the sirens to start their mournful wailing. Dad would race down to the Town Hall on his trusty steed (the motorbike) and Mum would usher Evan and me down Short Piercy to Uncle Joe’s pub The Miner’s Arms where Auntie Elsie would give us chocolate biscuits.
  The pub was a bit of a boozer with sawdust and spittoons on its stone flags. Evan and I loved the notice in the bathroom which said 'PLEASE USE THE LAVATORY NOT THE BATH'
Eventually the 'All Clear' would go - one continuous note, and back we would go up the hill to our beds.

   Food rationing meant we had to eat endless quantities of spam and scrambled egg, made from a yellow powder reconstituted with water. Sweet rationing really hurt us kids and we used to have little flat tins filled with a mixture of cocoa and sugar which we would lick. The more knowledgeable of us warned that it was dangerous to lap up too much at once as this would dry your blood up. Obviously.
  The evacuees arrived and as they had spent countless nights underground, avoiding Adolf's bombs they brought with them nits and scabies but DDT lotion and sulphur ointment soon got rid of those.
We were brainwashed with propaganda and the world was split into goodies and baddies.  Clearly we, the Americans and the Russians were the former and the Germans and Italians were the latter. Stalin and FDR were revered as our noble Allies and Hitler and Mussolini were pilloried as ridiculous figures of fun. 

We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing mother dear?

It was only at the end of the war that - thanks to the newsreels when we saw the unspeakable films of Belsen we realised the full horror of Nazi-ism and later still we learned the true story of Joseph Stalin.

    After the shock of Pearl Harbour the Americans declared war and the GI's (dough boys - over paid, over sexed and over here) were a breath of fresh air and were very generous (got any gum chum?) with precious items like nylons. It was always a sadness to me that I was too young for them but Auntie Jean married one George Baldwin and they were together in the States until his death over 60 years on. 
In spite of what the doctor said I sat for and won a scholarship.  Joy all round; I could now join my big sister at the grammar school and the world would be my oyster.  I’d see Maddie every day.

Hip Hip Hooray!
    So much for seeing more of Maddie now we were both at the same school.  I hadn’t reckoned on the rigid class system whereby lordly Fourth Formers ignored the existence of the Lower Thirds.  People thought it strange that two sisters lived in different homes and it was assumed our parents were divorced. 

I soon made friends in my own year - girls of course.  Although it was a co-ed school we were segregated in class and especially out of it.  Northern lads had strange ways of attracting a girl’s attention and would playfully flick one’s legs with a wooden ruler and leave little offerings of rabbit dung in one’s desk.  When puberty kicked in their behaviour improved somewhat but at this stage they were a blessed nuisance and I could never understand the girls who mooned about boys.  There was one girl who was always top of the top stream in my year.

“I’d give it all up if I could just ‘ave a boy friend,” she told me.  I thought she was daft as a brush but as I matured I understood better.
  Apart from the boys it was like being in an Angela Brazil story: - the Latin, the Prayers, Prep and vigorous games of hockey- minus the lemons at half time (I still have a scar over my left eye thanks to ‘sticks’ and a girl named Marjorie Doran).  And the uniform - navy blue and gold.  I loved it all and was living in a dream world.

  I was caught out one day in a history class when the teacher, Miss Moore (Little Tich) called out -:

“Pat Barnes tell the class what Barbarians are.”

Without a moments hesitation I said:

“They’re little silver balls in skipping ropes.”

  That got me another detention and a thousand lines.
    In the second year, although in the top stream I had settled lazily in the bottom third of the class and was nearing my Waterloo.  Sure enough one day, the headmaster’s secretary Miss Crowe – a tiny little woman with thick glasses interrupted our physics lesson to say I had to go to the headmaster’s study immediately.  Mr Holden (Ted) was a fearsome man and would stride, snarling round the Assembly Hall when he was in a rage.  With his black gown wrapped round him he looked like an angry crow.  Much of it was bluster but it served to put the fear of God in most pupils including me.  The discipline was exemplary and I later came to know him as a kind man.

At this moment however I was having difficulty in breathing and shaking like an aspen leaf.

“What does he want me for,” I asked Miss Crowe,”is ‘e angry?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” was the answer.  I soon found out.

“Now Pat Barnes I’ve sent for you because I’m afraid you have not been doing yourself justice.  You’ve been wasting your time and that of the whole class.  I am going to move you out of Upper 111 A into Upper 111 R,” he boomed.

I was horrified.  This meant I would have to do an extra year before I could take School Certificate.  Another long year before I could get out of this bloody valley. My sobs and pleas caused him to gently pat my head but not to change his mind. 
I was being put down.  I was totally humiliated.  As I wailed to my mother,
“It’s not FAIR!   I’m not even in’t bottom THREE!  WHY ME?”
Well it turns out the other three didn’t have my sister - Meddlesome Maddie - to stage-manage their life.  She – a thirteen year old girl - had convinced my parents and the head master - Mr Holden - that this was best for my well-being and when I found out I was as mad as hell.  How dare she interfere with my life? 
However, many, many years later I have to admit this kick up the back-side was the spur I needed to work.  There was much catching up to do as the syllabus was different.  There were two boys who were first and second in the new class- I only knew them as Harper and Joe.  These kind lads lent me their notes and did all they could to help me. By the end of the year I was top of the form – those two lovely boys never held it against me and I managed to hold that position until I left school with a Complete Shakespeare to prove it.  A salutary lesson and I have just about forgiven Maddie.  Not totally!


    Now I’m not saying I’m psychic – maybe I overheard someone’s conversation but around this
time I had a dream that Uncle Bill was standing in front of our fireplace with a great thick heavy rope around his waist.  We were all standing round him – he was in some sort of trouble and we couldn’t help him.  Again it was just like a snapshot.  Not long after that Dad told us that Uncle Bill had stomach cancer and he was very ill.

“Pat I don’t want ya to see Uncle Bill.  I want you to remember ‘im like ‘e’s alus bin.”  I never saw our dear uncle again. I can only think that Dad was afraid it might tip me over the edge.

   The really extraordinary thing that happened was that the three aunts – pillars of the chapel - defied custom, convention and gossip and behaved like true Christians.

They took my uncle into their home, converted their lovely sitting room over the shop into his sick room and nursed him devotedly.  They even allowed his large rumbustious family to visit him - until he died peacefully, cocooned in love.

  Then my darling Granddad had a massive stroke and - despite Gran’s nursing -died.  Gran blamed his ‘flaming customers’.  His Sunday walks had been abandoned to make time to deal with the endless ration books and coupons.  The points system - whereby customers exchanged points for special goodies like tinned salmon- was grossly unfair.  Not enough tins – not enough points and Granddad trying to please everyone without success.  Another casualty of wartime.
  Everything was changing Auntie Jean married her GI and departed for the States and Gran sold the shop and went to work as housekeeper to a man in Southport.  On a visit to Gran one weekend I couldn’t bear seeing her reduced to looking after some strange man, and insisted she came home with me.  

I didn’t think of what Mum and Dad would say or the effect it would have on our household.

 Mum and Dad were surprised, but took it in their stride and I shared a double bed

with her, except when she visited the States, until I left home at sixteen.

Maybe Maddie wasn’t the only meddlesome one. 

21 comments:

Pat said...

Do please leave a comment. Feed back is always illuminating and is one of the reasons I am posting it on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Experiment

Kim Ayres said...

Didn't quite understand the Vinegar and Brown Paper reference. Was it a notorious book?

SDC said...

Very enlightening reading about wartime through a child's eyes. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

I do have one question though, when your grandmother sold her husband's shop, how is it that she had to go and keep house for another man? Was the shop sold at a loss? Not a huge point, just wondering.

Pat said...

Kim: I was very young - I found it hidden in a crockery cupboard possibly by my parents and it was to me incredibly naughty. I have forgotten the details but always remembered the title. I googled it:-
Vinegar and Brown Paper, etc Unknown Binding – 1945
by John Paddy Carstairs (Author)
The name of the author rings a bell - the book seems to have disappeared but I'm determined to try to find it and read it again. Let me know if you have more luck.

Pat said...

SDC:I think as Granddad was incapacitated after his stroke the shop would have gone down hill and Gran spent most of her money visiting Jean in America.
It was one way of having a home and earning at the same time. She would never be defeated by circumstances. However I solved the problem of where she should live and my parents meekly accepted it. It helped that she was frequently in America.
She missed both my wedding and Maddie's. Once I was married she loved to come to stay
and Mum and Dad enjoyed the break. Even a nosey child like I was doesn't have all the answers.

Ms Scarlet said...

I can't imagine that you were highly strung. I perceive you as being calm and patient - taking everything in your stride. My parents, I think, both regarded the very beginning of the war as a great adventure... this changed when the bombs started falling for real... but it is still a period in their lives which they talk about with vigour.
Looking forward to chapter 4.
Sx

savannah said...

I've just caught up with your chapters! As someone said earlier, it is enlightening to hear about the war from a child's point of view. Being on this side of the pond and, as an adult, seeing only fictionalized stories via tv/movies about the war (Foyle's War, etc) and the effects on towns/villages outside of London add another dimension to what I've read and studied. My Mother's experiences were as a teenager living in Manhattan, and were very different from the European experience. I look forward to reading chapter 4.

(Thanks much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I've been remiss in my reading and writing!)

Pat said...

Scarlet: it would be really interesting to compare notes with your parents. What part of the country were they. I think we were very resilient even when it got serious.
'Calm and patient taking everything in my stride.' Maybe a little more volatile than that:)

Savannah: I'd be fascinated by your mother's experiences. Do you ever feel like writing about them? I think it is valuable to the younger generation to get to know how it was without having to rely on history books. I wish I had asked more questions whilst I had the chance.xoxox

Ms Scarlet said...

Mum was in Morden, Surrey, and Dad was in Edgware....Mum had a proper bomb shelter in the garden, whilst my Dad recalls sheltering under the table! Mum's family kept chickens, so none of the dreaded powdered egg for them!
Sx

Pat said...

Scarlet: swings and roundabouts. I think they would be much more in the thick of it than us but they had fresh eggs. By then Dad had got rid of our hens - bad mistake.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

It is all so very interesting, dear Pat. I too fund the view of the War through your young eyes very very fascinating....There are any number of references that are unfamiliar to me---Vinegar and Brown Paper, for one....
I know your age but I was not clear about how old you were when you were a Bridesmaid....Was that in 1939-40?? I'd love to read more about the effect the War had on all the areas of your life.....The rationing of food and fuel, etc.
The movies saved my life as a kid---I went twice a week, too.....
Can't wait for the next Chapter, my dear.

Pat said...

Naomi; I'm trying to trace 'Vinegar and Brown Paper' I think the author was John Paddy Carstairs and the date 1945. The hunt is on.
I was Alice's brides maid in either '48 or '49 - before the war at any rate.
A couple of years later I was bridesmaid for cousin Danny -in mauve:) Then at 17 bridesmaid for Maddie in Royal Blue. Three times a bridesmaid - never a bride but I was. Twice.

giveitanothergo said...

This should be a book Pat.

Pat said...

Helen: that would be fine by me:)

Anonymous said...

Your writing & presentation is excellent & most professional . I would happily pay money for a book written by you.
Your story is very reminiscent of my own childhood, which despite the war was very happy.
Keep writing I think it's great.

D H

Pat said...

DH: thank you for your encouraging words and I am glad it resonates with you.
If you keep reading I'll certainly keep writing:)

Exile on Pain Street said...

I've very late in reading this. I didn't want to jump in until I had the proper amount of time to devote to it. I didn't want to read it in sections but, rather, in one sitting. This stuff is superb. The pacing is perfect and I love the language, especially the bits that are over my head because of our cultural differences. You are quite a writer, Pat. This is just as compelling as anything Jane Gardam wrote. Do you plan on doing more? You can't just up and quit now.

Pat said...

Exile: delighted you are enjoying it.
I'm editing each chapter as I go along- which is quite time consuming. But the plan is to post the whole of it - a chapter at a time - to the end. Fingers crossed.

Mage said...

Just a lovely history.

Pat said...

Mage: thank you - I know what a book worm you are:)