As long as I remembered, we used to have a small weekly order from Mr. Whitely along the road, at Cross Hills. I remember various breakfast cereals, and there would be a fair amount of baking ingredients as my Mother baked a good batch at least once a week, on Wednesdays. There was a man with a horse and cart who called once a week, selling greengrocery and my favourite of all sweet things, little boxes of chocolate raisins. I would wait and listen for him trundling along the lane: I can remember the impatience while my Mother chose this and that, and paid for it, before I could get on with the interesting part of the shopping ritual. Oddly I have no memory of a butcher at all, I don’t know where our meat came from, but I wasn’t too keen on meat at that time.
If I went out at the front of our house, I could see my Dad walking up the lane, coming from work, just where the shop and the tip were: so it was a very regular part of my day to stand beside a wall gazing down the lane to catch the first glimpse, and then run off to meet him. I liked it best when he wore his big gabardine Mac, with pockets that went right thorough, and I would go right inside it, and hold his hands in the pockets, walking home almost without being able to see where I was going. There was always a smell of sweet pipe-tobacco around him. He would buy a small amount each week, which had to be broken up and rubbed into shreds, on a piece of newspaper. I think that was a Saturday special treat. My Dad worked on Saturday mornings always, and in those days had one week off in summer to go on holiday. I always wanted my Dad to come home, I felt much happier then.
I had one or two other treasures before I started school, given by neighbours usually. Mrs. Priestley next door gave me a very small porcelain figure of a little girl in a Dutch bonnet, and that became a sort of friend and confidante and comfort for many years. I still have it. I was told later that it was a cake decoration and it was hollow, about one and a half inches high. The same lady gave me a little pot watering can, with a brilliant orange lustrous glaze and a little desert scene on one side, about five inches high. It wasn’t very useful; I couldn’t think of anything much to play with it, and I always disliked orange I’m afraid, but it was mine and therefore special. Later another neighbour presented me with one of those Japanese tea sets, with very thin china and a beautiful lustre, decorated with ladies in kimonos and trees and blossoms and lakes and bridges: I really thought they were beautiful and was quite upset when my mother shattered the milk-jug. The rest of the set is still intact and still seems lovely to me – I fall for lustre, it’s so pretty and bubble-like. I suppose some things that I once liked I have grown out of, but it is surprising how I feel to have been consistent. Many of the things I specially liked when very young I still take much pleasure in.
Perhaps the boys tricked me at times, I don’t know – but on the whole they were very nice to me. They certainly encouraged the tomboy in me, and I was told that one mustn’t cry ever – if you hurt yourself you should laugh and hide the pain. Since I was three at the time, it surprises me that I simply accepted this and acted on it, and have always so far taken pain in silence- funny if the reason I have done so for 60 years is because my brother told me that was the right thing to do. He could have taught me to curse at pain instead and that would have made my life and me different. Such small bits of guidance can prove to be absorbed so deeply. Another thing I learned very young was that it’s not very clever to lose your temper – I had been playing all afternoon and was probably just about tired of it all, when the last straw reared its ugly head. I was playing with one of my favorite things, a set of thick cardboard squares, with round holes cut out in patterns, into which I placed little clay silvery painted balls to make pretty, geometric designs. Unfortunately, it was frustrating me in some way and I just got so cross with it that I flung the little balls about the room. My Dad came in from work while I was miserably crawling here and there trying to gather up my precious game, and he naturally came to help me, reaching into far corners and moving furniture – if I had lost any pieces I would be unable to complete the designs and was feeling rather desperate. Dad was calming me down all the time and I trusted that it would all be all right because he was on my side, but before we finished he pointed out that such dismay and effort to put things right were likely to result if one really gave in to temper. I thought I’d like to avoid such things in future. I thought my Dad would like me to do so. I knew that was the way he behaved and I very much wanted to be just the same.
Me and my Dad with Maurice at the beach
There were no other girls within reasonable distance, but I played on my own a lot, and was accepted by the gang of boys that my brother played with, when I could manage to keep up with them. The leaders of the gang were two brothers living at the big house, whose father owned a mill at Sowerby Bridge; their garden seemed huge and park-like and they employed a gardener and a proper live-in maid. We didn’t get to the garden as far as I remember but could scramble through the hedge at one corner where the grass clippings were tipped and the smell of hot, rotting grass seemed a big part of life to me in those pre-school days, meaning that I was romping about, rolling in clippings and out of earshot of my mother. Once we were trying to cut the grass with a small scythe, and I must have swung it against my left inside ankle bone, because when my mum removed my wellies, there was a wet foot caused by a little hole leaking in some puddle water. On close inspection, there was a little hole on my ankle. I remember deciding that the sickle-swinging incident was not a suitable item for adult ears, and said I’d no idea what had happened to my boot. I still have a little scar, just at the front edge of the ankle’s bony knob.
The living room seemed light enough for all my needs; I only noticed the gaslights when a mantle conked out and had to be replaced. The bedroom was hideously dark however and my Dad would carry me upstairs in one arm, with candlestick in the other hand, and there were some very strange shadows always. Of course when we were in bed, the candle went back downstairs. Maurice and I went to bed at the same time in those days, and no wonder we used to talk quite a while, making up pretend games, imagining we were heroes of some sort- I was never a girl.
Me in the Garden 1932- a black and white print which I later hand coloured-(this was my job for a while)
I was told that I fell down the cellar steps once when the door had been left open, I’m sure most children did ‘ I burnt the backs of my legs when a toddler, tottering on to the fire front that had been moved off the hearth to give access to the ashes – ‘blisters as big as eggs’ I was told, that prevented me from enjoying a particularly heavy snowfall, as I had to keep my legs dry.
Families like mine with hardly ever a penny to spare ever, were reluctant to use the doctor, and my Dad was pretty good at first aid; infectious diseases were always treated by doctors but we gave any problems a chance to put themselves right, or perhaps accepted things that didn’t cause too much distress, without indulging in outside help. One year I was poorly for a while with what was said to be ‘flu’ but could easily have been typhoid because of my liking for playing tea parties with tiny tin tea cups and saucers, ladling dubious liquid form a neighbor’s rain tub, beside his hen hut. There is the memory of feeling bad, just the knowledge that I was kept downstairs in the warmth day and night, with anxious parents nearby.
Maurice and me on the steps 1932
Most cooking, and certainly the washing was done on the ‘Yorkshire’ range in the ‘house’. I remember a brown Rexine settee, with loose cushions, and two deep armchairs, also a draw leaf table, and four dining chairs with Rexine seats, which could be lifted out to enable crumbs and grunge to be removed from time to time. The chair backs were high, with some carving in places, including a sort of knob on top of each upright, between which my Dad taught us to stretch various grades of rubber bands, to make a sound that I thought was lovely music; many of my games were with furniture- the settee had many possibilities as it was rather saggy and deep when the cushions were wrestled out onto the floor, making it a boat usually, but probably other more unlikely things at times. Dens were everywhere, naturally under the table, which always had a thick chenille cloth on it, with bobbles and tassels drooping down quite low; I well remember sitting under that table, feeling invisible, and waggling hopefully at a loose tooth.
We had a simple chest of drawers varnished brown, with seaman type handles of brass, which could be rattled up and down to make an irritating noise. I did it a lot because it felt nice, rather grown-up and business-like. I had the bottom drawer to keep my toys and treasures in and it usually smelt odd in there because my acorns were stored there. I wanted to keep them all the time, and wasn’t inclined to throw them out just because they were either covered in mould or growing long roots. There was a little old hand coffee grinder which my brother and I, helped by Dad, completely wore out by grinding loads of acorns and conkers for fun. I liked turning the handle, but didn’t like damaging the beautiful acorns.
My Mother and Father, Frank and Dorothy Townsend
My Mother, Dorothy Parker
My father, Frank Townsend