“I’m going to me Nan’s,” my frequent Saturday morning call to my Mum.
Nan lived just over a mile away. Four stops on the bus route. Not that I would ever waste money on such a short journey. I’d got this system learnt in the wolf cubs. You run from one bus stop to the next, then you walk to the next stop, then run again and so on. It worked well, mind you when you approached a bus stop on a running phase and the conductor had held the bus for you and you didn’t get on he wasn’t best pleased. But that was only a minor hitch and being young I didn’t know what half the words he used meant anyway.
I would reach Nan’s road passing the bike shop on the corner where no doubt I would later take the accumulator to be changed for a freshly charged one. This was to power the wireless. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Nan and Granddad never had much money not that anyone would say they were poor. Well I mean judgment was by the neatness of the front garden and the whiteness of the step. No one had much money so other standards had to be set.
Nan was a roly-poly lady who did truly waddle. She bound her legs every morning in surgical bandages but she was my idol this lady could do no wrong. Granddad I admired, he could, and did, make me catapults and acorn firing popguns. He taught me one thing which I tried to stick to, not I will admit always successfully, and that was if you make a promise keep it.
Back to the description. Nan’s front garden was all of six foot from wrought iron gate to front door. Well at least there was a wrought iron gate and railings to for that matter up to the early 1940’s when they were taken to make Spitfires or so we were told. The path was of the traditional black and orangey red diagonally laid tiles. This was edged by the brown rope styled casting so loved by the Victorian age which was when Nan’s rented house was built.
The front door was a splendid front door. It was varnished and shiny. It was varnished with the use of a blowtorch and a ball of rags on a stick to enhance the grain of the wood. Surrounding the downstairs front window was a well clipped and shaped Japonica. And in the window on the inside was a row of potted Geraniums prevented from falling by curtain wire.
It might be appropriate to say at this point that Nan did not go out to work it wasn’t the done thing. Mind you she worked hard, damned hard and so did Granddad he was a gardener at a big house, he had two allotments, one to feed his family and one to grow plants and cut flowers to sell which is what we did on Saturday mornings. He was also a watch and clock repairer, mainly casement clocks, alarm clocks and hunter watches, and this was how he got his blood shot rheumy eyes you see their house only had oil lamps for lighting.
The front door led directly into Nan’s front room. There was a spindly sideboard, a double bed and a large tile sided fireplace. I don’t suppose it was that large but the size of the room made it seem large. The two most memorable things about Nan’s front room was the smell of Lily of the Valley mixed with moth balls and Nan’s best hat complete with hatpin ready for any emergency outing. Nothing much ever happened in this room. It had served as an extra bedroom when Nan’s three daughters and one son were children for there were only two bedrooms upstairs.
The next room was located passed the narrow passageway that held the staircase to upstairs. This was the main room of the house. It was dominated by a large scrubbed deal table which was used for everything. Food preparation, pastry making, work table for Granddad, sewing table for Nan and dining table. In the middle of this table stood the oil lamp. Down one side was a well battered, well used chaise longue. Along the opposite were placed the remaining chairs, it is not fair to call them dining chairs because they were used for so much more. The backs were used for winding wool, the whole chair was used to support the weight when cutting up old clothes and so on to make either rag rugs or quilted bedspreads. Granddad’s chair which no one except me was allowed to use even when he wasn’t there was a carvers style chair with a bentwood back and wooden arms. Nan’s chair, the other side of the fireplace, was far less imposing it was square with a padded oil cloth covered seat and caster wheels. There were no easy chairs in Nan’s house.
Cooking was done, to a very high standard I might add, not that I am biased you understand, on a cooking range heated by the fire. This, I now realise, suited perfectly the slow cooking of stews, beef, lamb and the favourite rabbit. Suet puds were made with most things. They were serve with stews to fill you up cheaply and again with apples and custard or treacle as “afters”.
The fourth side had one huge chest of drawers. Its drawers contained all Nan’s and Granddads bits and pieces. Linen, material, clock parts, spare cutlery all had their designated spaces. The top was piled high with tins of buttons, small cogwheels, spare balance springs and Nan’s sewing machine. Now to get out this sewing machine necessitated dismantling this pyramid of tins and boxes which explains why Nan sewed most things by hand.
In Granddad’s “corner” was the rough homemade unit in which was kept all “The Important Papers” insurance policies, rent book, payments to the Christmas club and so on. On top of this unit was the wireless. Only Granddad was allowed to touch the wireless, well my Aunt Daisy did as well but no one ever told Granddad.
The next room was called the kitchen, it wasn’t really it was a laundry room and scullery. One third of this small room was taken up with the concrete copper. Another wall by Nan’s mangle and the last remaining wall by the stone sink. Wash day was on the traditional Monday.
Nan would get up early to light the fire under the copper and by the time she had finished the washing, mangling, hanging out and bringing in of the washing it would be early evening. Remember this terraced house had no electricity and the ironing was done with a set of three irons heated by the fire.
Outside the back door was the passage way to the long thin back garden. In the open passageway was Granddad’s garden table on which seeds were planted in boxes, cuttings taken and plants re-potted.
The aerial for the wireless ran the length of the garden and attached to the house wall above the garden table was the aerial cut out switch to be used whenever there was the slightest hint of lightening. Next to this table was the soot box used as a soil mix for Granddad’s celery and as a deterrent for slugs.
Next along this wall between Nan’s and the neighbours was Granddad’s cuttings bed. Now granddad liked to show off his gardening with his Chrysanthemums and Dahlias and this was where it started.
The other side of this passageway was the brick built coal shed, the toilet and round the corner another brick built shed that Nan used to store all the stuff she had collected to light and burn in the copper. The back garden was enclosed by a waist high brick wall. Next door one side housed rabbit hatches. Mr Bullard was locally famed for his prize winning Blue Rexes. Granddad’s garden was topped by the biggest Laburnum tree you have ever seen it was a triumph, an irresponsible triumph, but never the less a triumph. The rest of the garden was taken up with tomatoes, onions, celery and homemade cloches.
Beyond the back gate was a warren of back passage ways leading to three different streets. A children’s adventure playground. Was ever hide and seek and releaso played in better surroundings.
We were poor then but no one ever told us and we the children never knew it. The grown ups were all in the same situation, except Mr Sabettala who owned the best fish and chip shop ever even though we did call him Scabby Sabby and as we got older lust after his lushest Italian looking daughter.
So I was poor as were my relatives in my childhood. Do I resent it? No not ever. Its only money and we were rich in so many other ways. And I still need less cash than most to make a tasty meal.
Two expressions not of my Nan but of one of my wife’s Gran’s sums up my view of some people they are “all dressed up like a tupenny halfpenny ‘ambone” and “she’s all fur coat and no knickers”. This from a widow lady who took in laundry to put her son, my father in law, through grammar school.