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
I can’t remember anything of my babyhood, unlike some people who remember sitting in their prams; probably it was best consigned to oblivion in my case. However, when I did get the knack, I stored away a great deal in my memory. If I tried to organize these recollections into any sort of order, I would not even get started at setting them down, so they’re going to be higgledy piggledy, perhaps to my regret, and annoyance for the rest of my days.
In 1931, I was born at Lindwell, Greetland, but remember nothing at all of the couple of years I lived there. The house had been my Dad’s family house (rented of course) and when his father died, he and my mother were able to get married and live there, as my Grandma Townsend moved out, probably up to Halifax with Amy and Edith.
I was told that there was a wonderful spring feeding the well, from which we collected our water; also that I nearly faded away as a small infant because my mother didn’t realize that I wasn’t getting enough milk until my weight was quite worrying. Another thing I was told was that I was always lively and awake, and destroyed or lost a shameful number of dummies, which my mother kept on replacing in the hope that I would suck and keep quiet.