The Blue Flower
It was close by my talking place that I later found an exquisite little blue flower which the teacher said was a speedwell, and whose name I remembered always, but didn’t see the flower again for many years. The other wall was the one at the front of the whole land, were I watched for Dad coming up the hill. There was a well-built, high wall round the big house along the lane, which had ivy in places, and a few little spider-holes and tiny bits of vegetation – walls were always interesting to loiter beside.
Until that time I contented myself playing my own games largely, I had several walls that were nice places to pretend. The front garden wall had a flat sandstone top, and if I rubbed my fingers or palms about on this, a slight powdery patch developed and my skin became wondrously soft and smooth – I never quite wore it away. If I wanted to produce a heap of sand instead of a thin skinned finger, I rubbed another piece of stone to and fro on the wall, and soon had al little pile to scoop up. Along the back lane there was an angle of the wall round a little field which had started to fall apart, and there was a sort of little cavern about my head height and a shelf like stone below the gap: there I used to go to try talking like the older people did. I ‘did things’ on the shelf, perhaps baking , writing, washing up, all the things so important to adult like, making talking noises to myself.
I have always enjoyed rain and wind; it seems a wonderful thing, to have clear cool water gurgling and tinkling and rushing down all the lanes and roadsides, – why couldn’t I play out in it, instead of being kept grizzling indoors until it had stopped raining! Water that just lies there not moving seemed somehow sinister to me.
The Norland stream must have had some waterfalls I think as it tumbled through North Dean Wood and emerged above Copley in the gentle slopes of green fields, and joined itself to the Calder. My Mother had grown up in Copley, which was one of the string of ‘valley bottom’ villages beside the Calder; it had been built as a model village, planned and built all at once which seemed a very unusual idea then. During the Great War there was a munitions works there, where picric was produced, which I think was something to do with gas. My Mother worked there for a time. Near Copley was Stern Bridge across the river, which was said to be the setting of Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lucy Gray’. I always felt worried down in the bottom of the valley there, it was too near the river which caused that strange smell, a mixture of woollen industry pollution and the jungle-like waterside weeds. The water in the river was dark and sluggish and menacing, added to which there was a canal very close by which was equally sinister. But before Norland stream finished its journey down to the Calder, while it was still beautiful, gurgling and sparkling, it provided another picnic place for us; a place of lush grassy banks and smaller boulders and waterfalls, perfect to play about in. I still preferred the moor above; even then, – the higher and more exposed the more I felt happy and content.
More about picric – The Low Moor Picric Explosion
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