Following a previous visit to my sister Iris a few years ago. She gave me some more stories of our family.
In 1936, to help things out with the cost of everything, Mum takes in a lodger, Fred Barker, he came down from Yorkshire and worked for the council as a painter. His money really helped and at last things were looking up, that is, until the ‘Poor-aid’ ladies found out about Fred, and stopped the little payments they had been making.
Iris looks over her glasses.
‘I never really liked Fred, he was very familiar with Mum’.
In this of course Iris was quite right, they had become partners.
For my part as a child, he is great, he is very handsome, he has thick, curly hair, with grey bits in it and very blue eyes.
He must have been some man to have taken on a broken family of six young kids. I never called him Dad—it was always Fred, or his nick-name, ‘Yorkie’.
He was a brilliant cook, and knew lots of tricks and jokes, he sometimes made me laugh till I ached.
I can remember the excitement in December 1937, when my Mum gave birth to a son.
David Peter Weguelin—despite being Fred’s baby, his legal surname had to be the mothers name Weguelin, he was a true Weguelin as far as I was concerned.
Iris carried on with her story.
“Although I never really got on with Fred, he was no substitute for our dad. But he was a very funny man, and made Mum happy. He was married but the marriage failed, and his wife refused a divorce. At last we were on our feet again, Everything seemed to be going well Fred was a great cook and could play the mouth organ and ‘clappers’, he kept all of us amused, even through the first years of the war right up till early 1940”.
“Then Events saw our family in dire straits once again. Mum was in hospital with complications while expecting her ninth baby.”.
This was something I remembered very well, I was just eight years old, my brother Don, was nearly ten. We were farmed out to Mrs. Wade.
Being ‘farmed out’ in this case was the most perfect way to put it.
Mrs. Wade’s home in Cowley Avenue was more like a farm than a council house. They had chickens, rabbits and ducks, and even a couple of pigs.
Our house, just round the corner in Pyrcroft Road, was not what you would call ‘pristine.’ Today it would be said to be ‘lived in.’
So we felt very much at home in Mrs Wade’s, we were in heaven, everything was so casual.
Mrs. Wade was really nice, although at first she frightened me.
She wore a dusty black beret tightly over her head, tufts of black hair escaping from beneath it.
For the two weeks that we were there, having a wash was not a priority, once a week seemed good enough. This suited me just fine—but not my ‘neat and tidy’ brother.
This bathing routine may sound less than perfect. Most council houses had no hot water. Having a bath meant taking steaming hot buckets from the copper to the bathroom upstairs—most homes had a tin bath in the scullery, girls first then the boys, I was always last. Sometimes a ‘flannel wash’ or ‘strip wash’ was the only choice.
There were so many of us in Cowley Avenue, that having a bath could take hours! Yet, despite these chaotic conditions, or more likely because of them, they were a very close and happy family.
Mrs Wade was always singing, she was also a brilliant cook. They had so much more fresh food than most of the neighbours, including rabbit, chicken and new laid eggs, and pork from the pigs.
The pigs were taken to a butcher and the meat was put into the local ‘Pig Club’. This was then used to help with the rationing.
Anyone who collected waste food and gave it to the club could have a few rashers of bacon or some pork once a week.
This odd family—who most of the neighbours looked down on—were always quite happy to pass on any surplus eggs to these same ‘sniffy’ people.
The strangest thing of all though, in all this jumble, was that the children all had pyjamas. Things that I had only read about in stories about posh children.
—All the books at our school were about posh children.
That fortnight was as good as any holiday that I have ever had.