Sunday, 27 January 2008
Down Memory Lane 1
I grew up in the 1950s. To my children, that seems little short of the Dark Ages. Things I took for granted sound so antiquated to them. Take for instance what we called various rooms. We didn't have a kitchen. It was never ever called a kitchen - it was the scullery - and it was very basic. We had a sink, with a plank at the back that had a cold tap sticking through it. Beneath the sink mum kept things like the packet of Daz for washing (this also served for washing up dishes too), a spare bar of Palmolive soap, scrubbing brush, bucket etc. There was a wooden draining board to the left. Above this was the Geyser, which was gas powered and gave us our hot water. Sometimes the pilot light went out and mum once, having found it out, and despite the stink of gas in the room, lit a match . . . The resultant woosh of flame left her with half an eyebrow growing in a totally different direction for the rest of her life. In the left corner was the copper. It wasn't made of copper, but was aluminium-coloured. Every Monday (for Mondays were washing days come hell or high water), mum filled the copper, brought it up to boil, and the sheets (cotton, white) went in first. Then the towels. Then gradually as the water cooled, the clothes which could tolerate less and less heat were washed, woollens last. Handkerchiefs, also cotton, white, were boiled in an aluminium pan on the gas stove.
On the opposite wall to the sink was a small enamel-topped table. To this, on Washing Days, was attached a little table mangle, for getting the water out of the clothes into a strategically-placed bucket. In the summer holidays, it was my job feed the clothes through and to turn the handle, so that the wooden rollers pressed every iota of water from the washing. The washing was wrung out first, to get rid of the worst of the water. Sheets were hell to wring out . . .
On Mondays we always had Shepherd's Pie for tea. When I came home from school I would get out the mincer and screw that to the end of the table, and then put bits of leftover lamb or beef from the Sunday roast into the mincer. This could be responsible for the mincer fetish I have as a mature adult . . . I find them SO hard to resist when I find them in charity shops or car boot sales . . .
I mentioned the wildlife here at our Welsh farmhouse. Equally in the Hampshire house where I grew up, we had lots of wildlife in the garden. I can remember being kept awake on hot summer evenings by Nightingales singing in the Damson trees on one side of our garden. We had a gravelly bank enclosing a triangular piece of land on the opposite side. Here lived slow-worms and lizards and kids from miles around used to come and try and catch them. I grew up with no fear of what other kids called creepy-crawlies, and was happy picking them up and gently stroking them. If either got worried, however, first they would pee (which was foul smelling) and if that didn't work, they would drop their tails. Only once did it ever get to that stage and I felt so cruel because the poor creature had got so worried. I loved, most of all, just to watch them sunning themselves. We had a coal bunker outside our back door, and I came out early one morning to find a snake ON the wall, sunning itself. I don't know how it managed to stay there. Perhaps my memory is playing me tricks and only part of it was up against the wall, climbing, but I know I saw it. I can't remember if it was a grass snake or an adder, but we did have grass snakes in our garden on occasion. No panicking or anything from parents - just "don't touch it."!
My love of wild flowers stems from the time I was about 6 years old and a neighbour's daughter, a couple of years older than me, had to do a project for nature study. We picked all sorts of wild flowers, and pressed them between sheets of paper under books. My dad bought me the Observer's Book of Wild Flowers so that I could identify them. We had Yarrow, and Toadflax growing along the edge of the lawn, just before the wild tangle of gorse and broom. I've still got that book . . . and I still love wild flowers. The Purple Loosestrife at the top of the page grows in my garden, but I can remember it growing on the banks of the stream where I used to play, and it seemed so exotic . . .