My Family by betty Holman Part Two

garndpa and Rose (heads)Grandpa and Aunt Rose

I haven’t made much mention of mum’s sister Rose but she and grandpa (Mum’s father) figured quite a lot in our childhood years. They lived in rented accommodation and were everlasting moving from one flat to another. In pre-war years it was so easy to move, flats were easy to find, people with families would live like sardines themselves, in order to let a couple of rooms and thus add to the family income. Seems unbelievable now but it was possible to walk along a road and if a couple of upstairs rooms were uncurtained, just a knock at the door, a quick check on the weekly rental required and in no time you were the new tenant! Aunt Rose was not an easy lady to get on with at times and often fell out with landladies so off they’d go and start again. She always lived with grandpa, she being the unmarried daughter of the family. They lived in many different places in North London, Hornsey, Harringay, Wood Green, to name but a few and finished up at the bottom of our road in a top floor flat. Dad always told them ‘It’s cheaper to move than pay rent!

Grandpas badgeGrandpa’s badge

Granddad was something of a religious fanatic belonging to a sect called ‘Elim.’ This was based on the Pentecost, the time when Jesus’ followers assembled at the Tower of Babel when the true believers among them were given the gift of tongues, supposedly allowing them to speak in any language. The believers among the congregation gave voice to this strange custom sometimes in the midst of a service and I was terrified at first, thinking they were having a fit! Nobody ever bothered to explain to me what this was all about and I found it very strange to say the least. It was a very narrow religion, similar to the Baptists whom grandpa had always previously supported.

I was sometimes allowed to go and stay with them, taking the bus from Finsbury Park, this was a special treat. I always imagined as a child that they were quite rich. They had butter on their bread all the time, not just on Sundays, we had marge except on special occasions and then dad said you didn’t need jam as well and who were we to argue with him?red bus As some of the family started to work things got better for the younger ones. Staying at Grandpa’s wasn’t exactly a rest cure. I was expected to go to chapel with them three times on a Sunday and in between times was not permitted to knit, sew or do any of the things children like to do to amuse themselves. I seem to remember reading, not comics, only ‘good’ books were allowed. Sunday was God’s Holy day and had to be observed as such. Grandpa would often preach at the chapel and Aunt Rose played the piano or the small harmonium (a portable organ) used at open-air meetings, generally at the corner of a busy street.Rose at piano  Oh! The humiliation as the public passed by and looked at us as though we’d come from outer space! I was so pleased that at least they were not my neighbours watching me.

As I try to put some of these memories on paper I keep comparing the way we lived then and were ruled with what seemed like a rod of iron and the way our children and grandchildren are today, there is really no comparison at all. Our dad was very Victorian in his whole outlook but did we suffer or should we be grateful for the way we were brought up? We certainly don’t seem any the worse for it. There was always a stick placed on the table at dad’s position which no doubt acted as a deterrent to one and all but I never remember it being actually used on anyone. In our early years the first four of us all slept in the top back bedroom together and you can well imagine the high jinks that went on! The stick often came into play on long summer evenings when daylight defied early sleep, remember this?

In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candlelight,

In summer quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day,

I have to go to bed and see, the birds still hopping in the tree

And hear the grown-up peoples’ feet still hurrying by me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you, when all the sky is clear and blue

And I should love so much to play, to have to go to bed by day!

I’m sure we all felt like this but no doubt poor dad, after his early rising and a very hard day at the foundry had other ideas! When things got too bad he would come charging up the stairs, heavy footed in his fury, ready to put it into good use, the stickbut of course, having heard his approach, we’d all be curled up at the bottom of the bed and the stick would strike out its impotent rhythm on the bedclothes. We, in our childhood innocence thought we’d fooled him but he must have known full well that his anger was ineffective, once again the deterrent in use!

We would make Fred and Del hang their sweaty socks out of the window before we let them get into bed, four of us in that small space with those offending objects was not a pleasant experience. On one occasion, Lou, having performed a great somersault off the end of the bed, ended up under the huge wardrobe. Another time, Del, doing some trick or other, banged his nose on the mantel shelf and had a terrific nose-bleed. This sort of accident called for adult supervision, not very welcome during radio broadcasts, and no video then to shove on ‘record’ when interrupted. 

Dad’s Entertainment 
dads entertainmentDad was always very strict about table manners and we were expected to remain silent during meals unless spoken to by mum or dad of course…We had a wooden form along the back of the table for the four youngest of the family. Poor Lou always sat in the middle and regularly, on Sundays after her pre-weekend dose of Brimstone and Treacle, then prunes and custard for ‘afters’ was always trying desperately to extricate herself and to get upstairs to the ‘lav’ usually with her hand held over her backside, as though to obstruct any sudden accident. I’ve often wondered since why she was not allowed to sit on the end! Lou and Cyril (Sibs) as we called him were the two biggest ‘scrappers’ in the family, they never could quite get on somehow and would swing each other round by their hair at times. Cyril had a fiery temper as a child and was very determined once he’d set his mind to something. dirty stickHis reaction upon hearing he was to have yet another brother or sister when mum was carrying Alan was to find a dirty old stick and to place it in the drawer with the new babe’s clothes. He told grandpa if it was another girl he was going to give it a good hiding, he’d had enough of sisters! What a good thing the next babe happened to be Alan.bababy in heart shapeKath was born just two years after the war started and, as I was then 13, I became her second ‘mum’ I was delighted to have a new baby sister, once again, as had happened when Alan was born at which time I was only 10, I became the general factotum, caring for the whole family, mum and the new babe included. In those days, babies, as a general rule were born at home and the new mother was expected to take to her bed completely for one week with the midwife attending daily. The second week was for a gradual recovery and convalescent period. Midwives were very strict in their insistence that the mother had complete bed rest. I must admit that their were times when I felt quite envious of mum lying there in state whilst I battled with caring for six kids, dad, all the washing and ironing and everything else that goes with such a large family. I was grown-up at 10 years of age and I can’t say I remember much of being a child even before this as there were always so many jobs to be done. I know I must have started my chores at a very tender age as I clearly recall standing on an old fruit crate to do the ironing. I just wasn’t tall enough to reach the table.

Whilst mum was in labour with Kath, I took Alan out on a long trek to collect our supplies of orange juice. This was allowed to the under fives and expectant mothers only, to replace the vitamins lacking whilst there was no fruit available. Our nearest collection point at that time was the Town Hall at Islington, quite a considerable walk from our home but this sort of bus fare was not considered essential and therefore not part of the budget! As we arrived back home we were greeted by Kath’s first cries and I was thrilled to see her so soon after her birth. She was a lovely baby, almost 10lbs in weight and with a shock of nearly black hair, just like our dad’s. Mum always said she was dad’s war effort!

Her first name was given as a mark of respect to someone who had been kind to mum, helping her out with clothes for the new baby and various other kindnesses and I was allowed to choose the second name. How thrilled I was and after a great deal of consideration, our Kath became Kathleen Rosemary. I loved her dearly, still do of course but with me being 13 and very adult for my age, mentally at least, I was no way advanced physically but a skinny, under nourished looking object. KathDad used to say that cut down the middle I’d make a navvy a decent pair of bootlaces! I did so much for her that I almost felt she was my baby. I do wish I’d known years ago though, having found out quite recently that Kath had always thought she wasn’t our mum’s baby but had been passed over from our step-sister Iris. If only she’d said something to me before, I could have so gladly put her fears to rest. Kath was very strong willed, still is in fact! Mum often lost her temper with her and, sick no doubt of my pleas not to smack her when she played up, would turn her over to me with the words ‘You get on with it then!’ No doubt I spoiled her but it hasn’t affected her in the least except that now she spoils me at every opportunity!

Kath was the last of our tribe but there was almost another, whether it was stopped by Divine intervention or by mum I never knew but I had my suspicions…I had been invited to spend the weekend with Aunt Rose and Grandpa at their home in Wood Green. These few weekends were like an oasis in the desert to me, even though chapel twice or even three times on the Sunday was the order of the day. Looking back, I wonder how the prospect could have excited me so much. There was more to it of course, I was spoilt, waited on, had real butter on my bread as well as jam (whole strawberries in it too) treated to delicacies, peaches, not tinned ones! And various other little treats though I was allowed to do very little to amuse myself on the Sabbath day that was small deprivation compared with everything else. Anyhow, back to the weekend in question. I was allowed to go on the bus for my visits and had just settled myself in for my weekend of luxury when brother Fred appeared at the door. I knew at once that it must have been something drastic for dad to have paid out two bus fares in one day, so out of character. It transpired he’d been sent to fetch me back home as mum wasn’t well. I think Kath must have been about six months at the time, I know she was still being breast fed.

Aunt Rose whispered in my ear that it might be something to do with another baby. I can remember the shock I felt and in my naivety the word miscarriage had not so far entered my vocabulary. How could we be having another baby so soon I asked myself when we already had one? Off I went back home, albeit with some reluctance I must admit to finds things far worse than I had imagined.ambulance For a start there was so much silence, our house not being noted for that quality the contrast was all the more noticeable. Mum was lying there looking almost ghost-like waiting for the ambulance which by then had been called for. She just about had time to whisper, ‘Look after them all Bet, you’re a good girl’ and off she was whisked. By then poor Lou was crying, no doubt confused by it all. I sat her on my lap and told them all we had to be brave. I certainly didn’t know how I could practise what I preached at the time. Still I had no idea what had happened and only by later sight of some of the bedding etc., left behind did some awareness begin to sink in, so much blood! Years ago of course, even at the age of 13 we were not expected to know about such things as birth, miscarriage and the like, only by what we were able to pick up along the way and being a fairly intelligent child, it soon dawned on me, reflecting back on little snippets of conversation I’d heard of late that there had indeed been another pregnancy in the offing! Snatches of conversation came to mind ‘Try gin and nutmeg,’ ‘A really hot bath might do it,’ ‘I know someone could do it for you’ ‘Wouldn’t have thought you’d fall so soon after the last one, not supposed to while you’re still breast-feeding.’ All these observations I kept to myself, how could I confide in kids younger than I was? I plucked up courage to ask dad what was wrong with mum, only to be told, ‘It’s a woman’s complaint, she’ll be back soon’ Then, ‘You’ll have to make up some bottles for the baby, use the cow’s milk.’ Poor little Kathie, it was as well she was such a strapping baby or I dread to think how she would have survived my inexpert ministrations! In effect she was weaned instantly from breast to bottle in one fell swoop and, bless her heart she made very little complaint and after a few protests took it all in her stride, just as she’s dealt with life ever since.

Dad insisted I slept in his bed with Kath in the cot beside so that I should be there to deal with her if she cried during the night. He kept strictly to his side of the bed of course, pity he hadn’t done so more often when mum was around! Just imagine though how this Dad would have been looked on by the powers that be, sleeping in one’s father’s bed at the age of 13!iron works 1 Mind you, at that age I must have resembled a rather unattractive stick insect, so skinny was I. Dad, in any event was always so worn out by the hours he put in and the arduous nature of his job, pouring molten metal in an iron foundry that he snored the moment his head touched the pillow. ironworks 2Little use for me to appeal to him for assistance in my new role as nursemaid, I doubt he’d have heard me anyway. He must have kept a reserve of strength somewhere though or how come our mum was in this predicament so soon after her last efforts? When mum came home after a couple of weeks, Kath wanted nothing to do with her which must have been very upsetting for poor mum but at least it gave her a brief respite before she was flung back into the hurly burly once more.

A couple of years before these happenings I had passed my 11 plus as it was known then and had been accepted for the local grammar school. As you can imagine, my attendance record was, at times quite appalling.schoolgirl1

I had answered the door myself on a number of occasions to find the School Board official confronting me. Apart from the usual warnings there was little they could do. They never did get to see dad, he was always at work. I was given a variety of messages to relay to him, all of which he treated with contempt. With the war in progress and so many children being evacuated it must have been some task for the authorities to keep up with it all. It puzzles me how I ever managed to pass the11 plus in the first place.

We had such a minimal amount of education, particularly during the first year of the war which in my case preceded the examination. There were very few children left in London so all who were within walking distance sat for it at Drayton Park school. My school friends who would have taken it with me were all evacuated so I walked alone to the unknown destination, having little idea where the school was that morning. I must have been pretty well stressed before I even got there, worrying whether I’d arrive in time. Maybe they gave me extra marks for that. Anyway, the good old basic learning we had in those days must have seen me through. I was given a grant by the education authorities in order to purchase the required uniform, this was a sum paid into the Post Office in an account in my name and therefore could only be drawn by me. There was a lump sum to start with so that the necessary items could be purchased with which to start school life. When I saw the list I found it hard to believe that one person could have need of so many things! A different hat for summer and winter, thick lisle stockings, house shoes for wear when changing from outdoor shoes on arrival at school! Never were such times, I felt I had joined the upper classes! I can only ever recall having one lot of school uniform for summer and another for winter.

There was a girl who very conveniently lived across the road, a year or two older than me and thereafter I was kept supplied with her cast off bits and pieces, thus saving my grant money for household emergencies which cropped up from time to time. There were times when I’d find mum having a quiet weep, the budget not having stretched that week to cover the rent and if the ‘rent man’ was due to collect rent the next day this was a very bad situation, mum would never dare to let dad know. Dad always drummed into our heads that all else must be sacrificed to pay rent money and keep a roof over your head. The fact that mum had spent the rent money would have been a real disgrace. I don’t think he ever realized what a struggle she had to make the money go round, he gave her his wages at the end of the week and expected her to manage it whatever else cropped up. Off I’d trip to the Post Office and draw the necessary ‘readies’ and the day was saved. I didn’t miss it, I’d never had money before so it didn’t mean much to me, just gave me a real glow to feel that it made poor mum happy.

Going to be measured for the uniform in the first place was a harrowing experience, for once I had company on such an auspicious occasion. Wonder of wonders, mum came with me. I still remember the feelings of awe I had when on arriving at the tailors shop in Buckingham Palace road, I saw the plaque above the door and read the words- ‘Tailors to His Majesty’ Surely we’d come to the wrong place, but no, there it was, the name above the door, Kinch and Lack, Ltd., I definitely had the same tie for the whole of my grammar school life, it faded badly but I soon found a remedy for that! I bought two bottles of ink, one green, the other navy blue and did a smashing job! This method was O.K. if the weather kept fine but otherwise a bit tricky, especially on the way to school when the colours tended to run on to the blouse beneath! In those days, initiative came into play at a very tender age and it’s stood me in good stead ever since. Good thing I was not a fast grower or things would have cost a lot more.

Incidentally when Kath was old enough she too took the 11 Plus and also went to the same grammar school being sometimes taught by the very same teachers I’d had all those years before.kath in school dress She hated school and was glad to leave although she did quite well and passed quite a few ‘O’levels as they were known then. I’m sure if she’d wanted she could well have gone on to further education but possibly with no better results than she had when she left and got by under her own steam. She finished up working for the Queen’s accountants Peat Marwick Mitchell and was one of the instigators of putting her department on computers when it all got going. I sometimes wonder if there is any truth in the belief that the seventh child of a seventh child is usually quite clever. Our mum was a seventh child and Kath was too! Perhaps this is proof?

I sometimes think the rest of the family who went to the Central School had better opportunities than we did to meet the outside world. We were taught to be ladies and to follow careers, teaching being the main objective whereas they were trained for jobs in the business world. For instance Lou was proficient at shorthand when she left school which stood her in good stead when applying for work. Although we learned more academic subjects they were not all that useful in working situations. I was never asked for instance whether or not I was prepared to use the Latin I learned in any capacity! I must say though that I feel very fortunate to have had a good education and have never regretted the time I spent at school.

My brothers and their friends made fun of me and when asked would let people know that I went to ‘Ighbury Ill Igh School for Higorant Ussies’! In our family one was never allowed to get beyond themselves, they were soon brought down a peg or two. In return, my friends and I called them the Tin Pot Cleaners as their title was Tollington Park Central!

Having brothers brought one quickly down to terra firma and some of my friends, particularly those who had none were often envious of the fun we had together. Mind you, on the other hand, I had one friend who refused to call for me for fear of what my brothers would get up to to shock her when they opened the door! Yes, there were pluses and minuses in having them around.

My hair was always a big problem, fine and wispy, just like mum’s. Dad had a lovely head of black, wavy hair and with his bright blue eyes was quite a striking looking man. dad in deckchairOf all the seven of us, Kath is the only one who seems to have inherited this fine feature, the rest of us have hair like mum. As you can imagine, washing Kath’s hair was quite a task, particularly with no bathroom and no hot water laid on. She would fasten herself to the table leg when hair-washing was mentioned and what a job it was to prise her away! Thus this job also became mine on a regular basis. Hair and bathing was always dealt with at weekends. On one occasion, Kath being a toddler at the time, I was none too pleased at having to perform this task two days running. For some reason we had left her in the kitchen alone whilst we’d popped into the garden, upon hearing a tap, tap at the window, we turned to see her, standing on the kitchen table, Golden Syrup tin on her head, and syrup streaming down her face. I swear it’s the goodness in the syrup that’s kept her hair in such good condition over the years! Mum was very cross with her at the time but we couldn’t help laughing all the same.

It seems strange to think that when Kath was a toddler, Fred and Del were thinking about leaving school, they being that much older. In those days the school leaving age was 14, unless one was at Grammar school or at a Secondary modern (The equivalent of a Comprehensive today) when one could if furthering an academic career, stay on a year or two longer.

Dad was all for us getting cracking and earning some money as soon as possible and the boys were encouraged to find some sort of job as soon as they were old enough.

My hair was always a big problem, fine and wispy, just like mum’s. Dad had a lovely head of black, wavy hair and with his bright blue eyes was quite a striking looking man. Of all the seven of us, Kath is the only one who seems to have inherited this fine feature, the rest of us have hair like mum. As you can imagine, washing Kath’s hair was quite a task, particularly with no bathroom and no hot water laid on. She would fasten herself to the table leg when hair-washing was mentioned and what a job it was to prise her away! Thus this job also became mine on a regular basis. Hair and bathing was always dealt with at weekends. On one occasion, Kath being a toddler at the time, I was none too pleased at having to perform this task two days running. For some reason we had left her in the kitchen alone whilst we’d popped into the garden, upon hearing a tap, tap at the window, we turned to see her, standing on the kitchen table, golden syrupGolden Syrup tin on her head, and syrup streaming down her face. I swear it’s the goodness in the syrup that’s kept her hair in such good condition over the years! Mum was very cross with her at the time but we couldn’t help laughing all the same.

It seems strange to think that when Kath was a toddler, Fred and Del were thinking about leaving school, they being that much older. In those days the school leaving age was 14, unless one was at Grammar school or at a Secondary modern (The equivalent of a Comprehensive today) when one could if furthering an academic career, stay on a year or two longer.

Dad was all for us getting cracking and earning some money as soon as possible and the boys were encouraged to find some sort of job as soon as they were old enough.

Until then Fred and Del did morning paper-rounds. Del was the bane of dad’s life, getting him up in the mornings was a job and a half!

Dad would go into the bedroom, call him; he would start to get out of bed and then, when he heard dad going down the stairs, he’d get back into bed again, poor dad being such a highly principled man himself couldn’t imagine anyone being so deceitful! Dad was for ever threatening to call him only once ‘That’s it, he’ll lose the job, serve him right’ he would say but then, the next morning he’d be back to call him again. Del just laughed it off as only Del could and got away with it.

During my ‘growing-up’ years I was called upon to do so many adult jobs which I suppose could be looked upon as training for life but sometimes needing a great deal of courage to be summoned at the time. school mealThis incident was one of them…I think only one of the family was unfortunate to be afflicted by the unwelcome scourge of head-lice, quite surprising as it was a very common occurrence at the time. In those days the school nurse, aka ‘Nitty Norah’ made a regular visit to every school, I swear I can still smell the stench of the Lysol in which she dipped her comb between inspecting each child! The whole building seemed to be overtaken by it and we all knew, even before she bustled into our particular classroom that she was around. It was expected that some children from each class would be despatched home with little brown envelopes suggesting a trip to the local Cleansing Station to polish off the offending vermin. Lou arrived home one day with one of these little envelopes, indignation knew no bounds and guess who was sent into school the next day with instructions to inform her teacher that she was to be moved immediately away from the girl she’d been sitting next to as in mum’s opinion this was where these intruders had come from. No doubt mum’s suspicions were well founded but imagine at the tender age of 10 being sent to confront her teacher with such instruction. No doubt it was considered impertinence on my part and I was probably noted to be a little upstart!

Dental visits too were included in my line of duty and I grew very familiar with the sight of the school dentist in Manor Gardens, not a favourite of mine anyway since he had whipped ten of my teeth out in one fell swoop just after I’d started school at little over four years of age!

Fred and Del both left school at the age of fourteen, Fred found himself a job at a newspaper office with a paper known as the daily Sketch and Sunday Graphic.fred in a heart shapeThese are now no longer in existence. We were all quite proud of him and felt that this was indeed a step up the ladder, not even on the first rung, no doubt if the truth were known he was really just a tea boy and dogsbody but I think we all felt he’d achieved something. Fancy someone in our family having dealings with a London newspaper! I think the two things he learned most about whilst he was there were how to drink and play a mean game of cards! He was working with his great friend, John Poore and they were always blotto when they came home with their wages at the end of each week. As long as they brought the wages home I don’t think anyone showed much interest and the younger members of the family soon got to know how generous they were when they’d had a few and took good advantage while they could.

Del1Del started work a year later and from then on, for many years spent his working life at a radio and television shop at the Angel, Islington. He did very well and at eighteen became the youngest manager on the circuit.

He was well liked by everyone and still is.

The old folk could always rely on him to help them out with repairing bits and pieces very cheaply or sometimes for no charge at all. He has always been a very affable sort of chap and I think it would be impossible not to get on with him.

I was still at school of course, that is, when I was able to attend, allowing for family commitments which took priority. I was not able to leave school until I was well over sixteen, being at the grammar school.

I now feel that the years between ten and sixteen were the hardest in my life. At the age of ten I was considered adult enough to take on a great many of the household chores besides which the war was in full swing thus creating a great deal of stress outside the home too.

An experience still outstanding in my mind during the early part of this time was when I was sent to Aunt Rose and Grandpa’s during the school holidays. Grandpa had suffered a heart attack and had to take to his bed. At this time they lived in a small flat at the very top of a three-storey house near Turnpike Lane. They weren’t so well-off at this time and Aunt Rose had found herself a job in a leather shop, working all week to supplement Grandpa’s pension. I was therefore sent to help out and to sit with him so that I could attend to his needs. The owner of the house and a couple of the other lodgers were also out working all day. I was terrified Grandpa would have another attack and had no idea what I would do if he did! Granddad was a strange old man, wore a bowler hat for weekdays and a homburg for church on Sundays, he had a white bushy moustache which made him look quite fierce. Some years later, when Norman, my husband and I started courting, he tried to stop me by asking if I’d wear an engagement ring which he’d buy for me and keep myself true to him! I don’t know if he was thinking back to all those years ago when mum had ‘gone off the rails’ and fallen for me but it really gave me the creeps! I told mum what he’d said although he’d said it must be our secret, she must have spoken to him and told him to stop his ‘larks’ as I didn’t hear any more of his nonsense, thank goodness. He was supposedly very religious and was always trying to convert me but I always thought, even when I was quite young that he was an old hypocrite. He died in 1951, a year before my marriage. Poor Aunt Rose had a terrible time nursing him, he was 83 and had become senile, he gave her a hard time before he drew his last breath. He imagined she was his wife and was always trying to drag her into bed with him to claim his conjugal rights! She became afraid to be with him alone at nights, although he was only a short man, about 5’2” I think, he was very strong. They were living at the bottom of our road at the time and I can remember on a couple of occasions she had run along to our house in the middle of the night asking mum to go back with her and sort him out. She had a raw deal out of life one way and another and with him she certainly had my sympathy!

When Cyril started work it was with a printing firm but he was a good hard grafter two men in circlesbefore that whilst he was still at school. He got himself a job with the local greengrocer, working hard after school and at weekends. This was useful to us during the war years as we got to hear in advance when anything ‘special’ was coming in.

Fruit was very hard to come by but occasionally a few oranges would be allowed over on the ships which mainly carried arms and ammunition. All these things which we now take for granted were almost non-existent. Bananas for instance were never seen at all. Oranges, when they were allowed in were only sold to those with children under five years of age or to expectant mothers who all had green ration books. Of course, in our family there was always someone who had reason to qualify and Cyril, bless him would let us know when they were in. oranges on stallOnce word got out (and it always did!) There would be a queue all round the street, those at the end of the queue would often be unlucky, sometimes having waited for an hour or more for the shop to open. I don’t think there was much trouble though when some had to go away empty-handed like there would no doubt be today. People took it all in their stride and the attitude was, oh well, better luck next time! When war finished bananas were once more shipped over.

When Alan was old enough he also worked at the same shop after school, when he finally left school, he worked in a provision shop in Blackstock Road known as Stevens and Steed.

I left school at sixteen and a half and was recommended by a neighbour’s daughter for a job at Somerset House on the Victoria Embankment in the stamping department of the Inland Revenue.

somerset houseSomerset House

In those days, all cheques were stamped with an embossed revenue stamp, no longer the practise. Dad took me for the interview with the Director of Stamping, no less, a Mr Burnett, a very rotund little man who reminded me of Mr.Pickwick but he was very awe-inspiring for all that. He put me through my paces with a test of Arithmetic and a sort of General Knowledge paper. To testify intelligence I suppose. There was an excellent reference from my headmistress who, when dad told her I was leaving, gave him a good roasting and told him I was capable of doing a job which was not merely routine, he upset her by giving her his opinion that education was wasted on a

girl as her main function was to marry and bring up a family! She in turn told him that an educated woman means an educated family! I don’t think they were on the same wave-length at all and I was glad when we’d left her office in case dad told her any more of his rather strong views!

Anyhow I landed the job and worked in the Stamping room for some while and made the best of it, truth to tell, I found it absolutely boring, perhaps Miss Smith (my headmistress knew what she was talking about after all. The morning of my ‘O’ level results, or school certificate I think they were known then, mum, in her excitement that I’d actually passed, told the girl I was working with and with whom I travelled to work each day. She, in turn passed the news on to the powers that be who decided to move me to a higher plane and, forthwith, transferred me to the office upstairs, thus making me most unpopular with the girls in the Stamping room who were only granted this privilege after years of graft and who were always looking for promotion. I didn’t blame them at all, I’d have been just as annoyed in their shoes!

I found myself in charge of all the Inland stamp duties for the whole of England and Ireland, a formidable task! Books had to be balanced each day and many times I took them home with me when it just didn’t add up. I got quite used to the job and made some good friends. It was strictly a ‘Them and Us’ attitude between the office and Stamping girls which didn’t really suit me. I like to be on good terms with everybody and I believe we’re all as good as one another, can’t stand ‘stuck up’ people.

county hallCounty Hall

This job was quite well paid and with excellent prospects but it wasn’t really the way I wanted to spend the next few years. I had always hankered after teaching and when I went back to school on presentation day some of the staff offered to help me as I had enough marks in the exams, they arranged for me to be enrolled at Goldsmith’s College, a University of London offshoot. All I had to do after that was to wear dad down with my constant pleading. He reluctantly agreed and I duly presented myself for my medical examination at County Hall, an impressive building alongside the Thames. I was rejected for my teaching career most emphatically and ticked off for wasting their time. I had not been completely honest, so they said when I completed the questionnaire beforehand. To the question, have you ever had any heart problems, I had, and truthfully I thought, answered no. I had had bronchial pneumonia as a baby and almost died apparently and then, rheumatic fever as a five year old, which had left me with a heart murmur, this to me seemed no problem at all and in today’s more enlightened times would have scarcely been worth a mention. The doctor told me that if I did not take care of myself I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 30! I’m 76 now and still awaiting my fate! Even typing was too much for me, so he said and I must find myself some light employment. I was heartbroken at the time but as with all life’s setbacks they have to be overcome and life must go on! I played tennis that evening, it was already arranged, we’d booked the court and I wasn’t going to let some jobs worth of a doctor stop me! After all my efforts pleading to be allowed to give teaching a try it did seem a bit hard at the time and I would have dearly loved to go to college, I had never really wanted to leave school.

With help from Aunt Rose who had some connection with the director of a shipping company I managed to get myself a job in the accounts section of the office and worked there for seven years until a year after my marriage in 1952 when I left as we moved down to Essex, thus making the journey a bit too far.

When Lou was old enough and ready to start her working life, I was able to get her into the same company where she stayed happily and got on very well for many years. I shall always remember her interview, she came in her little white ankle socks and didn’t look old enough to be considering a job! The director who interviewed her, a really nice man called Mr. Kent, thought she was a real sweetie and she had no trouble getting started.LOU1

She did very well there, she had learned shorthand at school and her typing was good too so I’m sure she was an asset to them. It was nice for me, having Lou’s company to work every day, we always went together and started at the same time although we were in different departments.

Alan went into the print when he was a bit older and had outgrown the provision shop. We were all expected to hand over our wage-packets, unopened each week and were man and brickworkgiven back what was considered enough for the following week’s expenses. I don’t fancy that would go down too well today! I found it quite difficult to say the least to get some sort of arrangement whereby I could save some of my money towards my wedding.

Things were a lot easier for the boys, I was a girl, it seemed to be expected that their expenses were more than mine and they needed more!


 I was the first to be married and dad was dead against it, he tried his hardest to put me off but of course, as we all know, that’s the easiest way to draw a couple even closer. dad and IWe married on Boxing Day 1952 at the local church just up the road. There was no organ or church choir. The church had been partially destroyed by bombing (Dad and I had collected firewood there after the raid!) A piano provided the music and Fred and Derrick had recruited their mates and threatened them with something dire I’m sure if they didn’t sing their hearts out and give us a rousing service. In fact, I don’t remember hearing the pianist in the background! It was a very simple, homely service but enjoyed by all.

Norm wore his one and only suit which had been cleaned for the occasion, evidenced by the cleaning label still attached to one cuff! When I knelt I showed the sale price of my shoes, marked on the sole! A cut-price wedding to be sure!

We had a great party afterwards, we borrowed tables and trestles from the mission hall and we sat at the top table in all our glory, at least that was the idea. kissing coupleI stood up as a toast was given, went to sit back down again, the form collapsed and I found myself underneath!

Our wedding photos were a fiasco, Norm had hired a cheap photographer as our funds were so limited. He’d been recommended by one of his so-called friends. It took us months to get anything out of him and when we did I could have cried to see the mess he’d made. It seemed to matter a lot at the time but now, after all these years it’s insignificant.


background image

A Good Idea

Years ago when we were wed,
It’s a good idea somebody said,
Trestle tables and chairs to seat us all.
We can borrow them from the mission hall,
The hiring fee will be quite low,
But help to make the church funds grow,
The great day came and all the brothers,
Dad and uncles, many others,
Willing hands all joined the race,
To put the tables and chairs in place.
The wedding breakfast, all laid out,
Fit for a king without a doubt.

The feast was over, the guests well fed,
Let’s take some photos someone said.
We’ll have one while you cut the cake,
What a good picture that will make.
As the happy pair prepared to stand,
Things got a little out of hand,
Someone hadn’t made quite sure,
That the legs on the bench were quite secure!
The blushing bride blushed even more from
under the table on the floor,

Ever after we all knew,
Why the bride’s headdress looked so askew!


Next to marry was Fred who married Vi.

fred and Vi


Then a couple of years after Del took the plunge and married Jean.

del and jeanDad came to Del’s wedding but was very ill at that time. He’d had a colostomy operation in l955, he struggled to carry on. He even went back to work on light duties but it was no use, he had to give up after a short while. We nursed him at home which was what he wanted but sadly he died in agony of cancer in February l956. Norm and I stayed with mum for the six weeks, Norm was working in London at that time. We were able to sit with dad at night so that mum could have some rest. It was so distressing at the end not being able to ease his suffering that the only emotion I felt when he died was great relief. I had a terrible guilt feeling that this should be so but have since learned from others that this is a normal feeling in these circumstances. Poor Kath was only about fourteen during this time and we tried to protect her by keeping her away as much as possible. I now believe this was wrong and we should have given her the chance to say goodbye and to do her grieving too.


Cyril married Viv in 1959.

Cyril and Viv


Alan married Rene in 1964.

Alan and Rene

Lou and Kath were left at home with mum although until they were settled in their own home, Rene and Alan were living there too.

Lou and Kath gave mum such wonderful care until she passed away in 1986. They took the whole burden on themselves, never bothered any of us with problems and I think we were all very fortunate to be left to get on with our family lives, by then we all had children to care for. They never complained about their lot when I’m sure it was far from easy for them, juggling their working lives with giving mum all the comfort they could in her twilight years. I for one shall never forget them for it.

Mum had trouble getting about towards the end of her life, she had always been plagued by her legs and feet, no doubt having been on them so much of her life. She also had arthritis and took anti inflammatory medication for many years. Mum with a woollyUnfortunately this is now well known to have an adverse effect on the digestive system and I feel pretty sure this was the cause of her peptic ulcer which gave her such a hard passage at the end of her life. Once again Lou and Kath were wonderful in their caring and she died at home, surrounded by all the love they could give her in January 1986.

Lou had been working with John Cuthbert in the paper business for many years, first as his secretary and then as his partner when they went into business on their own and when mum died they bought Kath’s share of the house in Canning Road and lived together.

Lou and Johgn in a heart shapeKath then moved out, first into a flat in Sutton, Surrey where her long term friend another John had an apartment. After some time she bought a house in Birchington, near Margate. A replica almost of our old house in Canning Road, even to the number twelve! She is very happy there and is still near her friend John who lives in nearby Garlinge. She has made a good life for herself and formed her own business book keeping for local firms. She had worked her way up in a very good firm of Accountants in London over the years and had gained valuable experience which stood her in good stead.

Lou and JohnLou and John had the old house gutted and practically re-built, they lived there together until their marriage in 1992.

After some time they eventually sold the old family homestead and bought a very nice bungalow in Suffolk with a huge garden and orchard overlooking a field, lots to look after!

Sadly John passed away after they had a very happy time for seven years in their littlegarden heaven and left Lou trying to cope on her own but the place is far too large for one person to maintain so she has now reluctantly put it up for sale.





Our family are well scattered now and we no longer have our dear brother Fred with us, sadly he passed away in 1997 at almost the same age as our dad had been when he died and with the same disease, cancer. two heartsWe miss him sadly, nobody knew how ill he was and he was hospitalised, operated on and died within three days. I sat with him as he died but he never regained consciousness after the operation, he appeared to be in no pain thank goodness. I hope he knew I was there and was not dying alone. We were all shocked that he died so suddenly but Fred would have been a poor invalid so perhaps, who knows, this way was the best for him. I still find it hard to believe he’s gone.



Twins you’ll nearly always find,
Seem to read each others mind.
With barely one year in between,
A brother appeared upon my scene.
Although we didn’t share our birth,
We always knew each others worth.
Childhood friends we’d always been
Rarely a cross word in between.
When we were young we played together,
In summer sun or winter weather.
We had our scrapes we’d overcome,
But most of all a lot of fun.
His ready grin and happy ways,
Gave us many joyous days.
As we grew older I always knew,
In troubled times he’d be there too.
He’d help me out with any task,
He knew, I never had to ask.
He’d lend an ear if I felt sad,
If I was happy he’d be glad.
We were so close, even within,
I almost felt he was my twin.
The sadness I felt when he died,
A feeling I could never hide.
I’ll always see his cheeky grin,
And love him still, my almost twin.


We all try to keep in touch and take turns each year to have a reunion in one of our houses, just brothers and sisters together with their respective husbands and wives.

At this meeting we always used to arrange a picnic for the whole family in Clissold Park, our old haunt as children where we could meet all the new babies, boyfriends etc; as many of us who were able to turn up. This arrangement was fine and we did it for many years but as the children grew up and were working or going on holidays at different times it became too hard to find a date when we could all attend and it has gradually fizzled out.

It had been Fred’s idea when we were all together after mum’s funeral and it did keep us all aware of our families but all good things come to an end and at least we all keep in touch and have our annual get together. I’d like to feel they know we are all still together.

Family Picnics headingFamily Picnicpicnic 1picnic triopicnic trio 2four children

We had so much fun while we were growing up, not much in the way of material things but we made our own pleasures and have so many happy memories to look back on. I think we all feel that being one of a large family had its own rewards.

two men undressThe family of today (2005) has grown by leaps and bounds.

Starting with Norman and myself, we had two girls, Gina and Lynn. Gina and Paul have two girls- Donna and Corinne.

Lynn has three- Adam, Fern and Marc and is now divorced.

Fred and Vi had two children, first a boy, Barry, then Janis. Barry and Jackie have two children, Matthew and Emma. Janis has four, Jamie, Jackie, Samantha and Stephen. (Jackie has three of her own.) Jan has been married twice and is now single again.

Derrick and Jean had three, Christine, Alan and Nicola (Nicky)

Chris is divorced and has three children, James, (married to Georgie), Joanne and Paul.

Alan and Lesley have two boys, David and Robert. Nicky and Jeff have four children, Jack, Sian, Karis and Elysha.

Lou has no children of her own, but both she and Kath are well loved Aunties.

Cyril and Viv had Faye and Brian. Faye and Ron have Christopher and Bradley. Brian is unmarried so far.

Alan and Rene have four children – Penny, Gary, Toby and Timmy.

In 2003 we attended a very nice Blessing service for Penny and her partner Anna and as a result of IVF she and Anna are expecting their first child in April 2005.

Gary and his partner Kelly have four children – Albert, Georgia, Evee and Mae.

Toby lives with his partner Michelle and they have three children –Joseph, Constance and Patrick.

Tim has divorced his wife Tricia, they have one little girl, Saffron who was born just as Fred was dying in 1997.

Kath is still unmarried but remains faithful to her John.

It struck me since starting this epistle that there are now so many things which we took for granted as part and parcel of everyday living that children of this generation and indeed our own immediate offspring will never know so I thought I’d just mention a few-

One which comes to mind is the daily delivery of bread by the local baker with his horse and cart. He would arrive on the doorstep with his huge wicker basket full of bakers cartloaves, rolls, buns and all sorts of other delicacies, most of which we could never afford but it was an event which always gave us pleasure.

The milkman too, although, until the end of the week when he collected his money, all we generally knew of him was the sound of his horse as it clip-clopped along the road at crack of dawn while we still lay snug in our beds and the sound of the bottles as he placed them on each doorstep. milk wagonOnly very early risers like our dad saw him. Dad probably thought the milkman had a cushy job as he had often told us how he had delivered milk before school carrying a heavy churn and a jug to ladle the milk out to customers in his bare feet! He was not allowed to wear his only pair of boots until he left for school, in case he wore them out!

The coal delivery was another event to be enjoyed, by the children anyway. Mum was always too busy making sure she was getting the right number of sacks of coal, instructed by dad of course who knew only too well how a good many negligentcoal man housewives were fiddled with their coal deliveries, never realizing they could be a sack or two short! Our dad was only too aware of any ‘fiddles’ which could be perpetrated, he knew too many of his own!  He always had a watchful eye on the main chance did our dad!

I can’t blame him, with such a large family to support and poor as we were, we never lacked the basics and neither did we go to bed with an empty stomach as did so many at that time.

The mobile Knife-Sharpener is another sight we don’t see nowadays. He would trundle his very efficient grinder around the streets with his call to bring out the knives, knife sharpenerscissors or shears to be given his excellent attention. He would appear every two or three months and was always welcome, not by our family however. Jobs such as these were done by our dad, he never paid out for anything he could do for himself!

There was also the cat meat man, patronised by many people, not by us of course. We always had cats and a profusion of kittens about the house but they ate scraps and liked it! On reflection I wonder they didn’t starve, I can’t imagine there were many scraps when we’d all finished! cats meat manThere were often disputes by neighbours with the poor chap, when folk were out he rather foolishly put the cat meat order through the letter box and of course, by the time they came back all they found was some very crumpled newspaper and then they’d refuse to pay him even though he’d protest that the cats had had it anyway, just that they’d eaten the week’s supply in one fell swoop!costmonger barrow

I must mention the ‘Winkle man’ He was a chap with a shop just round the corner from our house, he ran the local greengrocer, closed on Sundays of course as most shops were in our day. On Sundays he would walk the streets with an open barrow, ringing his hand bell and calling ‘Get your shrimps and winkles, all fresh’  This was a real treat for Sunday tea. There we would sit, all armed with our little pins, raking the delicious morsels from their shells. I reckon it was worth the cost for the peace it brought whilst we were all busy!

Another Sunday treat in the summer, not every week of course, just now and again when funds allowed, we would all go for a walk (after Sunday School) we’d make our way to Finsbury Park where dad would love to listen to the band at the band stand. There would be a different one each week. Sometimes, if he was in a generous mood, he’d take us all on the pleasure boat. For a penny, one could take a trip twice round the big lake. We thought this was the height of luxury and couldn’t have been more pleased if we’d been taken on a cruise. He could never persuade mum to come with us, she had a life-long fear of the water but she’d sit on a park bench near the lake and we’d wave excitedly when we passed.

 duck on lake

 We had a sweet shop a short walk away from us called Bellows, this was one of the few shops to be open on Sunday and sometimes in the summer out would come the big enamel pie dish, normally used for the family rice pudding (I still have it right to this day!) A senior member of the family together with an escort was chosen and given the correct amount of money to buy an ice cream cornet each. This we would take to the shop and each ice cream would be placed carefully in the dish then covered with white paper to keep off the dirt and flies and off we’d trot with it. On the way home we’d have to lift the paper to check everything was O.K. and I can tell you now, that paper was well licked by the time we got home, the ices also considerably smaller! By today’s standards I doubt if it would have amounted to much, there were always a good many lumps of ice to be found in the ice cream, the people made it on the premises and I doubt whether the apparatus was up to much, definitely not cordon bleu but we thought it was wonderful.

We were always made to go to Sunday school, even from a very early age and were called for by a young lady by the name of Miss. Charles who was very reliable.

I am sure we were forced to attend so that dad could have at least one hour’s peace in his short weekend and not because of any religious convictions he may have held! Anyway, on this particular Sunday, the reliable Miss. Charles failed to appear. We were always allowed to wait outside for her once we were spruced up and in our Sunday best.ready for school children

Ready for Sunday School

We must have been out there playing quite happily for about half an hour when up went dad’s bedroom window and we were ‘spotted.’  He was down in a flash and marched us poste-haste round to the mission just about in time for the last hymn, the boys still tightly clutching their halfpenny collection money and no doubt each anticipating what delicacy they’d spend it on. Imagine their disgust when our dad, on apologising to the superintendent as he was known, asked for the collection box so they could put their money in it! I doubt if the missionaries came to mind as the boys relinquished their anticipated tuck money

I had some embarrassing times in dad’s company. We spent a lot of time together and strangely enough I was always his willing helper. Although the boys were at hand they always seemed to be off on some errand or other of their own generally with their many friends. Dad always looked to me to help, especially with some of his more ‘dodgy’ jobs!

One particularly memorable occasion, he’d somehow acquired a large roll of lino from work. As his place of work was at Camden Town, the easiest way of transporting the thing was on the underground, familiarly known as ‘the tube’. Up it went on his shoulder and we set off on our journey. underground stationWe hadn’t gone far when I started to hear this repetitive sound of clang, clang, shatter and to my horror I turned to find that as he proceeded along the length of the platform, lino aloft, he was knocking off all the light fittings in his path! Horrified, I let him know what was happening, his only response was “Keep quiet and take no notice, we’ll be on the train in a minute! “ How he got away with it without being apprehended I’ll never know but he seemed to bear a charmed life and did so frequently.

Another excursion which sticks in my mind was the time we were nearly thrown off a bus! Dad had a mate at work with an allotment. A great many people, in response to the government slogan ‘Dig for Victory’ rented a small portion of land and grew all the family vegetables. dig for victoryDad, being a poultry keeper was very popular among his green fingered friends. He had promised one of his mates a sack of rich, mature chicken manure. Unfortunately the friend lived some distance away and of course, in those days very few folk were rich enough to afford a car so all journeys were made by public transport. Needless to say, I was roped in to be dad’s willing ‘helper’ and with the treat of a bus ride dangled before me, how could I refuse? A refusal in those far off days was tantamount to mutiny anyway! We duly boarded the bus and dad, mindful of the rules regarding large packages, placed his bundle in the stowaway compartment beneath the stairs on the conductor’s platform. We had only been seated for a short while before our fellow passengers started wrinkling their noses and giving each other some funny looks. Eventually the conductor, no doubt not only noticing the discomfort among his fare-payers was by now also smelling something very ‘iffy’ for himself. In sudden recognition he demanded to know whose parcel was in the rack. Our dad, looking as though butter wouldn’t melt, admitted it was his! ‘I can’t have this’ roared the conductor ‘what the ‘ell is it!’

‘Oh’ says dad, ‘Just a bit of stuff for the allotment, don’t worry chief, I’m getting off at the next stop!’ ‘So an’ So good job too or I’d ‘ave bin throwing you orf anyway’ was his retort. ‘This space is for luggage and push chairs only, get it ‘orf quick’. Needless to say, I wished the ground would open and swallow me but our dad was completely unabashed and remarked to me ’Dunno what he’s making such a fuss about, blooming good stuff that!’allotment workerWhen I sprinkle my poultry pellets on the garden I feel I should say a small prayer of thanks to the clever scientists of today. Mind you, dad grew some lovely flowers and some of the best tomatoes I have ever tasted so he must have known what he was doing!

He once brought a dustbin home from work, walked all the way from Camden Town, I should think some eight miles as he couldn’t get it on a bus. He had a fierce determination to do what he needed to do and I think this defiant strain is in all of us, we don’t give up easily and often refuse to believe a thing cannot be done How frustrating it must sometimes be for our various partners who have to cope with us!

A few etc banner1three kids eating fruitseated woman

 Five kids and a baby






 womman in colourful dresstwo children with pet cat







two ladies


couple - man with hands in pockets




two young women

big family group

script-1script-2script-3script-4script-5engine                THE GOOD OLD DAYS

            The good old days, when were they then?
            Well over three score years and ten,
            I cast my mind back over years,
            Some happy ones,
            Some bringing tears.
            So many memories in my store,
            Some days of peace, some of war,
            But as I look back, in many ways
            I’m not sure they were the good old days?

            The household wash, so much to do,
            Boil up the copper, starch and blue.
            Turn the mangle, wring out the wet,
            (No tumble dryer invented yet!)
            Then the flat iron came into play,
            Irons on the fire, it took all day!
            Next day, a job I used to hate,
            Grey, cold ashes in the grate,
            Black lead to polish, fire irons to clean;
            Gas lights with shadows in between.

            Steam trains with lots of soot and grime,
            Though I must admit they ran on time!
            Acid to play your radio, If that ran out it wouldn’t go!
            A bed you had to shake each day,
            Or the lumps just wouldn’t go away.
            Starchy collars made necks sore,
            Finding lost collar studs an awful bore.
            Travel by air was for the birds.


The end of Part Two.

Click HERE to return to the start of Part One  (Index No 41)

Click HERE to return to the INDEX

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