Posts Tagged ‘wartime’

Of Pot Plants and Whist Drives

February 5, 2011

The window plants today

The window plants over three months ago

My first pot plant was acquired towards the end of the Second World War. I must have been twelve or thirteen. It was a memorable occasion. My dad had help organise a Whist Drive at a village hall, somewhere out in the country. My mum and I went there on the bus. It was a dark night with no moon. The bus driver dropped us off close to the hall. At least, that is what we thought. When the bus drove off  we were left in utter blackness. We knew the hall was supposed to be the other side of the road but we also knew the country lane likely had a ditch each side. We stood while our eyes adjusted to the dark. Then a car came along and the lights showed us we were in peril, but also where we should be heading.We started to walk – blind leading the blind. Then all at once, someone opened the hall door and light streamed out. We quickly made our way while we could see. (Younger people please note — this is what the wartime blackout was like. We were allowed fine pencil beam torches but we did not have one with us. Even so, country lanes are still as dark unless there are groups of houses nearby with a street lamp. With my sight I can’t see in the dark and I have had problems even round here). Once inside the Whist Drive was about to start. But they needed an extra member. I did know how to play, card playing was one of our pastimes when we were kids — toys not being what they are today. Not sure that the other three people at the table were pleased but, of course, players change tables as each game is played. I guess most of the seasoned players there knew each other, I was just a kid from nowhere. However, Gladys is not so dumb and I gained second prize. (I don’t think the other players were pleased. They take the game very seriously and here this kid beats most of them!) I chose a lovely Azalea plant. It was kept in my mother’s front room. It did not take long to kill it off.

My skills have improved since then. I can keep plants alive for a remarkable time. An indoor azalea bought about eight months ago, was not happy so I put the pot outside among outdoor azaleas and then brought it in again late autumn. The last flower has now dropped. In a month or so I will plant it outside. I bought a cyclamen at the end of October and it is still as beautiful as the day I brought it home. We took a photograph on the last day of October and another one this morning. The only difference in the photographs is the view beyond the window — late autumn then, late winter now. I talk to my plants but I rather think the secret is in watering correctly. Or do we get an inner communication that speaks of their needs? Silly nonsense? I’m sure Ivy loves our little chats. And my African violets keep their flowers for months, some of them brighten our bathroom. I guess we get interesting views of each other!

Violet is a real sweetie. She has a number of relatives in the house. Some prefer to live in the bathroom

Faithful Ivy loves living in our hall

Dithering — is there a cure?

September 16, 2010

Titles - did I get them right?

Choosing book titles and covers, choosing pen name or own name. If pen name what name? I still don’t know if I have got them right. Likely not. I will forever agonise over such choices.

I think I was born a ditherer. When I was thirteen and took an exam to go to art school, we had several choices for one of the tests (Memory and Imagination). Oh misery! From the list given, first I chose a woman scrubbing a floor. Then I turned the page over and tried a scene at a railway station. Didn’t think it good enough so turned over and finished the woman scrubbing a floor. Didn’t like it and so, with five minutes left, I turned back to the railway station and put as much in it as I could. The other tests no problem — a nature drawing (leaves with berries) and a simple still life (for shading and perspective). Decisions, decisions, decisions! I guess I got through in spite of the agony of choice with one of them.
I have always had a problem making choices. That is, except in wartime and the years following. We had few choices to make then. Rationing and lack of variety saw to that. No choice with school dinners either. That suited me fine. When school dinners were brought in, to me that was like eating out!
Oddly enough lack of choice gave us a sort of freedom to experiment and to gain satisfaction through achievement. But starting out in the world (that is what it seemed like when I had to travel by bus to Nottingham) forced me to make decisions. I was the only one from my school and felt somewhat alone until friendships were made.
The trouble is I can see possibilities in most things and most actions. Which is the best buy? Which is the best way to proceed?
My mother used to say to ditherers, “You’ll never hang yourself.”
Maybe, but sometimes it feels like that is happening. Tension does horrible things to one’s body!

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Of Wasted Food and Prudence

January 14, 2010

Wasted food? What waste?

We constantly hear about all the food WE waste every year, what it is doing to our pockets as well as the environment.

I get very annoyed. I feel like yelling, ‘Please don’t include US in this waste statement, we are careful not to waste anything.’

Hardly anything goes into our general waste bin. Recycling stuff gets sorted and no food is left to throw away. It seems insane to waste money on food, which is unlikely to be eaten.

Of course, we were brought up in the days of rationing. Nothing was wasted. But we did not have the money to waste on uneaten food, or anything else, for that matter.

In wartime we had to queue for those little extras like offal — tripe, liver, kidneys, lungs, tongue, brains, trotters, dripping etc. and luxuries like rabbit. At one time we had to queue for bread. (I guess that was after our baker stopped calling at the house.) And, oh what tension to queue an hour, or more, for fish and chips, in the hope that they had not run out of fish before we were served. Fish with chips was usually for my dad, but we might get some crispy bits for a penny. We got pretty good at being inventive with food and I never recall us going hungry. Sweets being on ration was a good thing, and so was getting cod liver oil and malt every day. We ate vegetables and fruit as they came into season.

But we were often cold. Having poor circulation, I had severe chilblains every winter. No central heating and no power points even if we had an electric fire. With little coal due to rationing, there was usually just a fire in the kitchen. Gas often on low power too. That could spoil cakes but everything was eaten and enjoyed just the same. Washing by dolly-tub and mangle, drying outside or over a line in the kitchen. Even if clothes had not been on coupons we did not have the money to buy new ones unless needed. Pipes froze in winter, even those that ran through our bedroom. And beautiful patterns of ice decorated the inside of our bedroom window. Yes, we would play happily in the snow but we sure did suffer afterwards with hot-aches and swollen toes and heels.

You might think that once everything went off ration, and that was some time after the war, we would splash out on food and clothes. To do that would cost money and wages or salaries, and that were not as high as they are today. After we were married, we continued to be careful with our pennies and save for what we really wanted — a home of our own. I made my own clothes and we did our own repairs etc etc. Debt was considered shameful and saving for a rainy day prudent. Retail therapy? ‘Must have’? That would have been a way to ruin.

Credit cards? No such things. Mortgages? Hard to get, and a deposit required. There had to be enough salary of just one breadwinner to make the repayments, or no mortgage.


To a large extent, I blame the supermarkets that sell ’offers’ — two for one, or three for the price of two, or any three for £10. To buy one only, means you are being overpriced and, unless I want and can use the ‘bargain’ offer, I will not buy at all. Too many fattening foods are sold this way, and too much perishable stuff that is likely to be thrown out. Okay, freezing helps with food like meat, but I prefer to buy according to my meal planning. We have always eaten simple but enjoyable food and I ignore the cookery programmes on TV. Left overs? Plenty of ways to use them up. Why throw money away? For everything that is bought is bought at a budgeted price.
We were taught to cook at school. Simple and satisfying meals, simple receipes that can be adapted to any taste, enriched if required, added to as necessary. Waste was NOT part of planned meals. Nothing thrown in a bin. Soups, broths, pies, turnovers, sandwiches, puddings etc can use up what is left. Nowadays we have fridges to keep things longer too.

Packaging, long-distance travel of people and goods; all these things affect our environment. Moderation in all things would be a good motto for all of us to live by. Prudent buying and a simpler lifestyle can bring greater happiness, than overspend that causes guilty feelings (and comfort eating?)

I Want To Go Home

September 29, 2008

I want to go home

It was one week before Christmas 1939. The Second World War had started but that meant nothing to me; I was facing my own painful battle. I was just turned seven years old, I had scarlet fever and had been sent all alone in an ambulance to an isolation hospital far from home.
I lay in the bed looking around me. It was a big room with lots of other beds but no other children. All the people in the beds were women and in a cot at the end of the room was a young baby. Everything was white – walls, ceiling, beds and bed covers. Nurses wearing big stiff white hats and white starched aprons came to take my temperature and ask me to wee in a funny shaped pan. I was wearing something the nurse had put on me – a white all-in-one with a flap at my bottom which had to be unbuttoned to go to the toilet. Like a baby, I had to stay in bed and be looked after.
A nurse woke me up early in the morning and asked me if my bowels had moved. I had nothing of my own there so whatever my bowels were, how could I know if they had moved? She laughed and explained what she wanted to know. I was brought some dark brown medicine to take.
“It isn’t very nice. Eat your banana with it,” she said, pointing to a plate on the cupboard at the side of my bed.
I soon found out that every morning the nurse came to ask me the same question with the same result. Every morning, a banana and a piece of bread and butter was placed on the cupboard for my breakfast. They were the last bananas I was to eat until the end of the war but I could not have known that then. The bread and butter had its own peculiar taste and even now, I can still recall the flavour.
When I needed a wee, I was told to call the nurse for a bedpan. I did so, to be met by howls of laughter from all those who heard me. I was mortified.
“What did you ask for?’”
“A bread pan,” I said, close to tears.
“Bedpan – not bread pan!” she laughed.
Well, it looked like a pan for frying bread in; it was nothing like the pot we kept under the bed at home.
I came to hate that pan, especially when I did my number two’s. It stank and had to be covered with a cloth. I felt so ashamed. I also wet my bed the first night I was there so I was already feeling a dirty little girl.
I felt incredibly lonely. I longed to go home but dare not say so. I had to be a good little girl and never cry or be naughty. We were not allowed visitors inside the ward. Twice a week, for half an hour, they were allowed to come and see us but they had to speak to us through the closed windows. It was bitterly cold outside but eventually my mother was allowed to speak to me through the nurses’ office window at the side of my bed. My mother had to travel on two buses to get to the hospital. There were seven at home to look after but she always came for that short visit and to leave me sixpence to spend. The money paid for pop we were allowed to buy each week.
I had been in just a week when it was Christmas Eve. My mother had been told that if she brought me some clothes to wear I would be allowed out of bed to go to a party in the other ward. She forgot. I was bitterly disappointed. No use explaining to me that she had been too busy to think about it; it just made me feel even more isolated from my family.
After they had gone, the nurse came and said that I would be allowed to go in the dressing gown she gave to me. I put it on and walked my lonely way to the other ward. Isolated from my parents and my big family and with no one to comfort me, I felt so incredibly alone and utterly miserable. I didn’t know much about parties – we never had them at home. But surely you wore pretty dresses not bedclothes? I would be an odd one out and everyone would laugh at me. I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. A nurse saw me and asked what was wrong. I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m cold,” I lied.
“You’re just a big baby,” she shouted and threw me a blanket. “Put that on and stop crying.”
Alone and humiliated, I walked into the other ward covered in the blanket. There was just one seat left and I sat on it. People started pulling crackers and I cheered up. I had a cracker. The lady next to me helped me to pull it. The cracker was empty.
“Gladys hasn’t anything in her cracker,” said the kindly lady next to me.
“She doesn’t deserve anything,” came the nurse’s reply.
I hung my head in shame and tried hard not to cry.

I found a pillowcase on my bed on Christmas morning. There were a few bits and bobs, sweets and an orange, but the real present was a brown baby doll. We had very few toys at home and I had never owned a doll before. I let the infant in the cot play with it because he was always crying. He pulled off the doll’s head and then did his number twos on it’s body. I didn’t fancy playing with it any more.
The other patients teased me badly. There were funny noises at night in the region of my bed. I was told I had crickets in my bed and that made me very frightened. I didn’t know what they looked like or if they would bite me. But at night, a single blue bulb shone in the centre of the ceiling. It was my fairy light and I would stare at it to find some sort of comfort until I dropped to sleep.
I hated the food. The banana breakfast was all right but we had mince for dinner nearly every day. There was a lot of gristle in it. We often had fruit for afters. Fruit brought in for the patients was chopped up and shared with everyone. My dad complained because I didn’t get the expensive grapes he brought in. I don’t think the nurses were very pleased. If our relatives brought us eggs, we had them with our bread and butter for tea. It made a change from jam.
I was in that hospital for six miserable weeks. No television in those days and we had no radio or books. Anything taken into the isolation hospital could not be brought out. My mother did bring me in a book to read but I found it very difficult. We only had comics at home and I was only on the early readers at school, so reading was a bit of a struggle. Although my mother came twice a week in rain or snow despite the long journey on the buses, it was difficult to talk through the glass and she couldn’t give me a cuddle. I was not a happy child.
Then one cold day, mother brought me my outdoor clothes and took me home. After another six weeks I was allowed back at school. I was one of the few children in the class who knew how to tell the time. My spell in hospital was not entirely wasted.

My Dad

August 20, 2008

I loved my dad but I was also scared of him. He ruled the home. My mother, bless her, was a doormat just like her mother had been, and we girls had a doormat upbringing. We would not dare to argue with my dad. Voicing an opinion? Good heavens, no!
My dad provided me with pocket money: sixpence a week until I reached my teens then it was half a crown. You could do a lot with two shillings and sixpence if you spent wisely. To give you some idea, sixpence would buy a bottle of pop with tuppence back when you returned the bottle. I had to earn my sixpence by cleaning my dad’s boots each week. I worked hard at getting them shiny, and I went the extra mile by scraping the sweaty gunge from the inside by using a fingernail. As much as getting the sixpence, I enjoyed the praise of a good job done. My doormat training was really good. I recall a rainy Sunday night, walking miles to various pubs to find him and give him the raincoat he’d left behind. Of course, my mum had sent me and my sister. Males always came first in our house.
My dad suffered an accident at work when a lorry backed into him and he was gassed on another occasion but there was no compensation that I know of. I’m sure he tried. He suffered from bronchitis and later became disabled with a kind of creeping paralysis. He struggled to work on his sticks for quite a while but eventually couldn’t make it.
Then the fun began! Trying to earn a living making leather bags and purses, doing up old prams and making them look new, repairing motors and cleaners, you name it, he tried it. Mother running all over to get everything he needed, my sister assisting with motors, me sewing aprons for the prams. Dad shouting and swearing when things went wrong, and they often did! Him screaming with pain at night, and we girls queuing up for hours to get him fish and chips to help him feel better. We hated to see our dad brought so low.
Eventually dad did up an old mechanical invalid carriage and that got him about a bit. He started an association of others with similar vehicles when the government began to provide them. Dad repaired the local ones. He set up his business in an old garage and took on a partner. He worked damn hard but made little money. At least it kept him occupied and gave my mother a bit of a rest, although she still had to clean the cinema across the road, and clean for a well off family a mile away. Money was always short, but my dad had restored his self-respect.
I had my dad’s in-growing toenail to look after. It was first soaked then I had the job of clearing all the stuff away from under the nail. His leg nerve would cause his leg to jerk and it sure did make me sweat! I cut his hair too. I rather liked doing that. It brought me close to him.
But I don’t ever remember laughing and playing with my dad.
I sometimes had a laugh with my mother. I did her hair for her and gently massaged her head and face. Later I made her clothes. We were quite close, although there always remained a certain parent-child distance.
(Of course a large chunk of my childhood took place in the wartime years of 1939-45 and everything was in short supply. So going without was quite common. I never knew anyone who went off on holidays, had a telephone or electrical goods we take fore granted. People travelled by bike, bus or train. Few people had cars and petrol, like everything else, was rationed. All this is written about in my illustrated book of childhood memories “When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes”. You can read the first two chapters by going to Magpies Nest Publishing.)