My Earliest Memories - my mother's memoirs (1918-2007)
Written in 2002
My earliest memory was my first day at school; in those days we started when we were 4 years old. I was quite happy to go, thinking of all the kids I'd have to play with. My older brother Jim took me along - he was all of 5. New kids were taken to a room where lots of equipment was kept, the most imposing being the Maypole, which only came out once a year, on the first of May. There were hoops for bowling, skipping ropes with real handles, whips and tops to spin and a rather worn out rocking horse. It went through my 4 year of age mind that I had at last found Paradise. There were 5 of us, 3 girls and 2 boys, most of us still at the thumb-sucking age. After a while in came two ladies - I thought they were ladies because of their very nice clothes. The elder announced she was the head-mistress, Mrs Eagles, and spoke to us very kindly, and wished us happy, then the other, our teacher, told us her name was Laura Bettles, and we were now ready to join the rest of the class. "Hang up your coats and hats on those pegs." She came to help unbutton my little overcoat and I was convinced I had to live there forever, never to go home again, and I screamed and screamed! Poor Miss Bettles was as terrified as I was. I still had to go and sit at this little desk, and sobbed all day; Miss Bettles never liked me all the time I spent in her class - I wonder why?
As time went on I settled down and didn't do too badly. Definitely not an academic - I always wanted to go to the drawing classes, which were for boys only. It was sewing for the girls - how to sew on a button, make a button hole and, of course, how to darn socks! I galloped home to tell all and sundry my new achievement, and how I had earned a bit of praise at last!! With 4 brothers and a Father all competing on which of them could wear the biggest holes in their socks, what a fool I was! I was 7 years old then, without a crafty thought to my name, and certainly no brain! I remember it was several weeks before I caught up with the darning. After that I could get out to play.
Talking of playing, in the winter, by the street light, at least a dozen of us would gather. Our favourite game was "statues". Another was where we all held on to each other to form a long chain like a snake. We'd run up the street - a quick turn to dislodge whoever was on the end, and back again, doing that until only the leader was left. By then we were all too tired to do much more than maybe a short game of "Sheep, Sheep, come over". Children on each side of the street with one in the middle (the Wolf) who had to call "Sheep, Sheep, come over", and try to catch one as they crossed. Great fun on a cold, frosty night, and would get us warm in no time. In the summer we would play in the meadows just at the bottom of the street. There was a big hill that we used to roll down, and a little stream where we fished for minnows with penny fishing net. We used to eat different leaves, and little flowers we called "eggs and bacon" - it's a wonder we didn't poison ourselves.
I always loved to hear the church bells ringing. There were lots of villages around ours (Bozeat), 2 to 4 miles away, and Sunday evening enchanted me. They sounded so beautiful, and not too loud. I really loved them, and have missed them since we left England. I suppose I should tell you the Sunday ritual. Jim, myself and Alec were referred to as "the 3 littl'uns", there being a big gap between us and the others. Well, we kept very quiet, but still were scrubbed within an inch of our lives and dressed up in our Sunday clothes, then off to the 11am Church service. At 12 o'clock home for dinner, then 1.30 Sunday School with a penny to put in the collection plate. Off we'd go and call in at the sweet shop to spend a halfpenny each (a bag full of toffee or whatever in those days) and halfpenny we'd put in the church plate. We were never found out, because all the other kids copied us. After tea we would hide under the table, but were always found in time to be sent to church again for the evening. We hated Sundays, because we were not allowed to read a book or comic, or play any game at all - very hard for us to understand.
We had no electricity in our younger days; we used to have a candle to go to bed with. We would make a tent of our bedcovers and read our books underneath! It was great excitement when we finally got electricity, then later radio.
I remember one Saturday being sent to buy a loaf of bread at the baker's house - he lived behind his shop. I hated going. I knocked gently on the door. He was a big, jolly man, had a big jolly wife and a boy and girl, both big and jolly too. They were round the kitchen table, loaded with food - my mouth watered! "Come in child" boomed the baker. "Mother, give her a cream bun." My eyes watered this time, but I had to refuse, for our Father's rule was that we accepted no food or drink from any other house. The baker returned with the loaf and I whispered "thank you", and went home dwelling on the thought of that bun.
I always remember seeing the Northern Lights in the sky. I never forget them. Also, once we were wakened up to look at the R101 airship. It was dark, but we could see it quite well, even people in it. It crashed in France. We were quite upset because it had been built at a place called Carlton, only a couple of miles away. We all wagged school one day and trudged through wet grass and early mist to see it in its hanger. This was the first time we ever heard the school bell ring!
Opposite the school was a sweet shop. We got to know when the man delivered, and every few minutes a couple of hands would be held up - the usual sign for a visit to the lavatory. Teacher's consent was given, and away would gallop one of the boys with a pocket holding many halfpennies and later back in his place. Only the scratching of pens could be heard, but gradually the beautiful aroma of Spanish liquorice would take over. "Who is eating sweets?" from the teacher. No answer, only looks of great innocence! "Alright, but next time you can all stick out your tongues!" After that a different sweet was chosen.
May Day was always good. "No Lessons!" We all had our parts to play in little sketches, etc., and dancing around the Maypole with different coloured ribbons attached to the top. We made some very pretty patterns, and of course most Mums and Dads would come to watch and enjoy tea and cakes served by the children.
At 14 years old we left school and were placed in a factory to start to earn some money. 1928 was the awful depression, no work, and my older brothers used to walk miles every day in the hope of getting work. Their little bit of "dole" they had to work for. It was very hard for Mother - I can still picture her writing her shopping list out. It must have been hard.
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