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My first holiday away from home.
March 1942. After a few years of getting back on our feet, with Fred joining us in 1936, our family were suddenly in dire straits again.
My mother was in hospital about to give birth to her ninth baby.Fred—my mother’s partner—had just been admitted to the Milford TB hospital in Surrey.
My five-year-old half-brother David had also been taken to a TB hospital, this one was in Essex.
My poor mother, heavily pregnant and unable to visit either Fred or her little boy, both desperately ill.
As was usual in these hard times, the lovely families in our little corner of the council estate, stepped in.
I, aged ten, and my brother Don, who was eleven, were farmed out to one of our neighbours.
Being ‘farmed out’ in this case was the most perfect way to put it.
Our home, like many of our friends were not what you might call ‘pristine’, yes, our stone steps were kept as white as snow, our curtains were nicely hung and the washing on the line was boiled to a blinding whiteness. Anyone foolish enough to tread on the lovely white steps, before the hearth-stone had dried, would be in big trouble, it was a mortal sin. Once over the step though it all changed— it was eight years since my father died, and our home had been stripped of any ‘excess’ furniture to raise some money—our home was still without any nice furniture, so things were very casual, or to put it another way ‘lived in’.
To say that our ‘holiday’ home was ‘lived in’—could not do justice to the saying.
To be fair though, this was hardly surprising, besides the big family, they also had chickens, ducks, rabbits and two pigs!
We were in heaven, no more jumping over the white step or the continual wiping of our feet— the chickens and ducks had full right-of-way over the entire house.
It became clear that having a wash was not a priority either, once a week seemed good enough, this suited me just fine, but not ‘neat and tidy’ Don
The father looked like a ‘hill-billy’ in his ‘bib and brace’. Don said he only changed it when he had his yearly bath.
His wife frightened me, she looked like a witch, her eyes were like little black shiny beads, tufts of black hair escaped from beneath the dusty black beret pulled tightly over her head. Don said she removed it once a year, when she joined her husband in their yearly bath.
This bathing routine may sound less than perfect—most houses had no hot water, having a bath meant taking buckets of hot water from the copper to the bathroom upstairs.
A ‘flannel wash’ or ‘strip wash’ was the norm.
Yet, despite these chaotic conditions, or more likely because of them, they were a very close and happy family.
She was a brilliant cook, on her little blue, stove enamelled ‘New World’ cooker—standard issue in council houses— she had so much more fresh food than most of us, rabbit, chicken and new laid eggs, plus some of the pork from the pigs—the pigs were taken to a butcher and the meat was put into the local shops to help with the rationing.
This odd family, who most of our neighbours looked down on, were always quite happy to pass on any surplus food to these same neighbours—they were ‘salt of the earth’ in every way.
The strangest thing of all though, in all this jumble, with chickens in the bedrooms and ducks in the living room, was that the children all had pyjamas, things that I had only read about in stories about posh children—all the books at school were about posh children.
That fortnight was as good as any holiday that I have ever had.
But as for my poor mother, Fred never came home, David remained in hospital for a further two years, until completely cured.
On the other-hand, we had a lovely new baby sister, she was named Sylvia, she grew up to be just as tough as her mother.