Saturday, 13 April 2019

Delving even further back into the past

My gorgeous 80th birthday cake!

Recently, I turned 80 years old. Now how did that happen? In my head, I don’t feel any different than I did when I was much younger though of course the body has deteriorated. Like many of my contemporaries, I’m subjected to various ailments that come with increasing age although I’m luckier than most in that I don’t have a debilitating illness or infirmity.

I’ve had a full and varied life and have been sharing some of my most memorable moments with anyone who reads this blog. In the spirit of looking back over my life, I want to go a little further to my very early days.

Early memories are like those old photographs we all have in a battered photo album or at the back of a cupboard. There are gaps in our lives, too, similar to those left by missing photographs. The hazy recollections I have of my early life are like that too, faded, none too clear and all of them connected with the Second World War. Born six months before that fateful September 1939 when War against Germany was declared, I was only a baby when my father went away to war. He’d been working as a lorry driver and had become a reservist under a scheme where experienced drivers were encouraged to register for service with the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and would be rewarded for doing so by an extra £15 a year, a lot of money then.

My very earliest memory, and I must have been very young at the time, is of lying on my mother’s chest, my cheeks burning hot and seeing the moon through the window castling its full light into the shadows of the bedroom. Mum must have opened the curtains to see to me by the light of the moon rather than put the light on because of the blackout.
Me about a year old!

Another memory which comes vividly to mind is of Mum and me running through a blacked-out Manchester at the beginning of an air raid. Who could forget the bloodcurdling wail of the air-raid siren that struck fear into the hearts of everyone or the same sound of the all-clear which always sounded much lighter, less fearsome? A further click of my mind’s eye shutter and we were on the train to Bolton on our way back home and seeing in the black night outside, fires leaping and flaring from buildings that had been bombed.

My little sister, Christina, was born in November 1942 and tragically, the only memory I have of her is seeing her in her cot, chubby arms and legs flailing as she fought for breath. From then on, the memories mercifully fade. I remember a sense of confusion, of shouting, someone wearing a uniform plunging my strangely still sister alternately into a hot tin bath then an icy cold one in what we would now see as barbaric attempt to revive her. Then stillness, quietness, broken only by muffled crying, a darkened front room through which we had to tiptoe, eyes averted from the still form in the cot. At the age of 13 months, Christina had died from broncho-pneumonia. She had battled valiantly against it but penicillin, which might have meant her living, still wasn’t widely available.

The next snapshot image that comes to mind is of my mother and me walking hand in hand down a street. Mum was crying, tears rolling down her cheeks, and she was wearing a black coat. I had the strong impression that we were leaving and this may well have been true because we spent the rest of the war years in Blackpool.

Blackpool is a confusion of jumbled memories. Mum was working as a live-in housekeeper for an ear, nose and throat specialist who had two noisy and lively children who made my life a misery. As an only child, to have to share my life with other children, older, more precocious than myself was a humbling experience. They taunted me daily, ensuring I got the blame for things they had done, like the time they emptied a chamber pot out of a bedroom window and saying it was me. Small wonder that I became a shy timid child. I am still, as they say in Lancashire, ‘a bit back’ards at comin’ for’ards!’

Dad hadn’t, up till that time, played much of a part in my life as he’d been away for much of the war. Then, suddenly, he came home, carrying a cardboard suitcase containing his demob suit. What that meant for me was that life as I had known it was going to change. Mum told me, many years later that they, in common with many couples, struggled with their marriage after so long apart.

Early pic of Mum and me 
We were moving a long way away, it seemed, to Ivybridge, Devon where my parents had obtained a job, Mum as a cook-housekeeper, Dad as chauffeur-gardener, even though he knew almost nothing about gardening. You could say he picked it up as he went along!

And that was the pattern for most of my childhood, living with my parents’ in other people’s houses while they were in domestic service. You can read more about it in this previous post Behind The Green Baize Door.