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My early years

by Fieth 

Posted: 21 November 2003
Word Count: 4272
Summary: A personal recollection of my early years, growing up in Post War Britain

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I am doing a creative writing exercise for my first seven years. What do you think of this first draft? Any criticism welcome…I might extend to include first ten years..
First seven years…
Even my birth was unusual. I was my mother’s third child and when I had decided to

be born, I only took 20 minutes on the journey to arrive.. Meanwhile, my mummy had

told my daddy to get the midwife. This meant him getting on his bike and going to the

phone box in the cold winter darkness of a February night in the black out, as this was

during the war. By the time she arrived at our house on her bike, my mummy called

down the stairs, “I have a little girl” and her reply was “I am supposed to tell you that.

Not you me”. So there I was. Twenty minutes past midnight. No cone shaped head

from boring hours of tunnelling to

escape the confines of a soft warm place in the dark, but a pretty little girl, with big

blue eyes, and long eyelashes, ready to face the big wide world, which was to be a

fascinating and challenging experience. I was welcomed into this world by Mummy

Daddy, Michael, Deirdre, Peter and Roger, my three brothers and sister into a tiny

cold house on the railway estate in Hayes, very near what was to become Heathrow

Airport. My daddy worked on the railway mending the engines, which is how we

came to live in that house. My mummy was a nurse. I shared a freezing cold bed with

my sister with blankets and coats on top of us. It took ages to get warm. There were

beautiful ice patterns on the insides of our windows and I had terrible chilblains on

my fingers and toes, which cracked and bled and were very sore...and there was a

crucifix on the wall and an electric red one lit up and holy water at the door. We

prayed to be warm. Oh dear I did have a lot of religion in those days. Full time Roman

Catholic school and shipped off to Sunday school too to get rid of us. We used to

stand on the walls there and watch the Salvation Army play their music. After all

they said “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?” and they enjoyed their

band. We used to shout out “Salvation army have all gone barmy” and run away.

We had shamrock sent to us from our relatives in Ireland in envelopes for St. Patrick’s

Day and wore it proudly to school on March 17th pinned onto our uniforms.

We never did have a telephone or a car. We eventually got a black and white

television but not until after the coronation in 1952?, which we all watched at Alan

Spenser’s house, 4 doors away sitting on benches, riveted by a flickering black and

white screen. Watching the privileged rich from our humble place, I wonder when I

first became aware of the class system in this country? I used to go to the pawnshop

with my mum with granddad’s gold watch, and get thirty bob, and we all got fed and

we went to get it back again when we had money again.

We loved going to Saturday morning pictures at the local cinema and I nagged my

brothers to take me with them. Their reluctance was validated by their insistence that I

was too young and not big enough. “I am I am! “ I insisted, but they said “you’re not

big enough and when you are big enough you will be too old” but I wore them down

and they promised to take me if I lied and said I was six, so they made me practice

saying “I am SIX, I am SIX, I am SIX” as I was quire desperate to go to the cinema

with them. So when I was finally taken there, I was very excited. After all, there

would be a cowboy or war film, Pathe news, the cartoons etc all for four pence in

1949. What more could a little and determined girl want? So when the very big

Commissionaire, in a red uniform with shiny brass buttons, on looked down from his

colossal height and said “Little girl. How old are you?” I said, “I am four “ My

brothers said, “She is SIX!!” “I persisted “ I am four and I am going to be five on

February 16th” and we were all told off and sent home and my brothers were very

cross with me at missing the films because I couldn’t even tell a lie properly and

convincingly. Sometimes I learn things the hard way.

However when I was allowed to go, I was part of the team, which let the girls in

without paying, by opening the outside door by the girl’s toilet. A boy did the same

by opening the door on the other side of the film theatre by the boy’s toilet.

One day in the cinema a spiteful girl sitting behind me twisted chewing gum into my

lovely long hair. I was so immersed in the film I was unaware of this and it took my

mum a long time to get it out..
However we did love our Hollywood stars and we used to get on the 140 bus and go

to London Airport to see them fly in. They were so glamorous. We saw Humphrey

Bogart and Lauren Bacall Doris Day and other such heroes and heroines. Heathrow

was so small then. It was only huts. This was before the Queen’s Building was

opened which is now Passenger One Building. We went on the roof to see the planes

come in. It was very exciting. We yearned to go on planes. We got autographs from

these beautiful and glamorous great people who spoke to us. .It was so exciting. I

have them still. And a wonderful authentic black and white autographed photo collection..

We never did have a phone and I had one friend whose family had one. So I could

talk for hours from the red telephone box at the end of my road for four big pennies,

when there were 240 pennies to one pound, until my brothers taught me how to tap

the phone, then I could talk for nothing, for as long as I wanted to. The black receiver

had to be pressed the same number of times as the number you wanted to call. It was

that easy.

We did have an inside bathroom and I didn’t know until 50 years later that we were

the envy of our Leicester cousins. When we went there we went to a toilet in the

garden and they had a tin bath hanging on the wall in the kitchen, which was used

when boilers of water were heated up and we had shallow baths. In our house we

always shared the water and I was about third in. It was an unforgettable occasion

when I had first water in a shallow bath. I did feel important .The water was heated

from a back boiler when we burned coal fires in our one living room.

We got cheap coal and cut up sleepers as my daddy was a railwayman,

and we all chopped firewood with a big axe.

Sleepers were once the big timbers on which the rails were set for the railways. Two

of our three bedrooms had fireplaces and when we were sick we could have a fire lit.

When I was three, my brother Kevin was born, so I wasn’t the baby any more. So now

we had six children. The four boys were in one room. My sister and I were in the

tiny room. And Mummy and Daddy were in the big room

He was always very good natured but he couldn’t keep secrets. I had bought

Roger a plywood aeroplane kit for Christmas and I told Kevin and he told Roger and I

was furious and I never ever forgave him. These things mattered to me when I was

six. He was someone my brother Roger, who is two years older than I am could beat

up, and did so for very many years until little Kevin realised he had grown to be as

tall as Roger. I worked very hard at peace keeping even then. Holding two brothers

apart so Kevin wouldn’t get hurt and cry. I also wrote notes and left them under the

budgie cage “Dear Mum. Rog said bum” because I was a good little girl. However I

never could drink tea. No matter how many times I tried to swallow it.

When I went to school I could always call on my brothers to defend me if someone

took my place in the bus queue or committed some other equally serious malpractice.

Simply the knowledge that “I’ll get my brothers on to you” gave me some standing

and personal power. And I was seven then.

On our way home from school we jumped on the backs of the steamrollers for a ride

home. And on the farm behind us we rode on the combine harvesters. We rode horses

and pigs and cows too, and all bareback. Pigs and cows didn’t like it. We were

fearless and immortal. We all double dared each other and you couldn’t be a ninny or

you would really lose face. And then you couldn’t be part of the gang.

None of us ever had any teddy bears as children. We didn’t have many toys. We made

lots of things. Like catapults and bows and arrows. Such as crystal sets and we

listened to the radio coming through a small thing in one ear. That was really exciting
There were very few stations then. We used to play marbles and my daddy used to

bring us home big shiny ballbearings from the engine sheds and we could swap these

for a hundred marbles. We used to say “Lardy on you” for first turn and play on

pavements in our road. Sweets were on ration for a long time after the

war. My mum left the coupons from her ration book in the sweet shop so when we

had spare pennies we spent ages evaluating what we would most like. Such as two

ounces of liquorice comfits so we got a lot, or sherbet lemons, which were very

heavy, so we only got four or five. We watched them being weighed and hoped it

would be five. Or penny gob stoppers, which we sucked for hours, and the colours

changed because we kept taking them out of our mouths to see them and compare

them. Aniseed balls were good too. We played cards and any other games we could

lay our hands on. I could play brag and poker from an early age. And gamble with

buttons and matchsticks. We spent a lot of time in the fields at the back of our house

making camps and we hung ropes from trees so we could swing over the river. We

made rafts, which sometimes floated, and sometimes disintegrated, so we fell in the

river. We scrumped Bramleys cooking apples from the derelict orchard and gave them

to neighbours. One day we found a cow in a clearing with two baby calves. We were

so excited. It had found somewhere private and safe to give birth and we were very

quiet. We were always out until we were hungry and then we came home. We didn’t

have watches and no one knew where we were.

We played “knock down ginger” when we knocked on peoples houses and ran away.

.I had a pretty new dress and I was so proud of it. I sat on a kerb side one hot sunny

day, just thinking, and watching the world go by. When I tried to stand up I was stuck

as the tarmac had melted under my bottom. I was very upset when I got home, as my

pretty dress was all sticky. My mother was furious, so I got rid of the sticky tar on the

back of my dress with a pair of scissors, and I cut the back out of it, and I couldn’t

understand why my mother was even more cross!!

One day, my life was so miserable, for one reason or another, that I ran away from

home on my scooter. I scooted about 10 miles and I planned to live in a concrete

shelter next to the canal. But I got cold and hungry so I scooted home exhausted. My

mum was furious again and took me the shops and told the shop assistants what a bad

girl I was, and thoroughly humiliated me, and took me to church and made me go to

confession. Nobody ever asked me what had made me run or scoot away.

One day we had an air gun so we put tins on the back fence and aimed at them. We

weren’t experienced marksmen, or markschildren so we often missed. Later that day

big policemen arrived on our doorstep asking if we had shot up the school as all the

windows were smashed a whole field away. We hadn’t realised the gun had such a

range. Of course we denied it but it was rather a coincidence.

When I was seven I could read. Kevin and I were in the town centre and in

Sketchley’s dry cleaning shop there was a teddy bear in the window, which was a

raffle prize. This was in 1952 and none of us had ever had a teddy bear. Kevin said,

“I would really like that teddy bear”. Well I could have said “Wouldn’t we all like a

teddy bear like that?” but mischief was inside me so I said airily, “It says on that sign

that this teddy is for anyone who birthday is on July 11th”. He was five years old and

incredulous. This really beggared belief, but when you are five and really want

something really badly like that teddy, you can have tunnel vision. “My birthday is

July 11th,” he said with uncontrolled joy, commitment and anticipation. “ No yours is

on the 10th” I said with cunning and control in a sympathetic way. “No really, really

it is 11th. What must I do now? “ He said “Well”, I said in a doubtful way” If your

birthday really is on 11th July, and I personally think it is 10th, you must go in and tell

them that and claim that teddy. “Are you sure?” he said with suspicion. “Well my

birthday is in February and I think yours is 10th and I can read and you can’t. I am

only telling you what the writing means.” I said with resignation. “Let’s go”. “No” he

said. “ I believe you and my birthday is on 11th and I will tell them”. He marched in

to tell the lady. I watched through the window as the entertainment started. One very

small and sincere boy of five was telling a very confused lady about his birthday and

demanding the much wanted teddy and pointing to it in the window. She explained to

him that it was a raffle prize. He realised with utter dismay and disappointment that

he had been conned by his sister and was very angry, and I was laughing myself silly

watching all this happen. I stayed watching too long as I was still there when he

emerged from the shop and beat me up with all the fury of a disappointed and duped

five year old..

We all went to mass on Sundays and at school in the week the nuns always wanted us

to bring in money for the missions in Africa. We all had little ladders on paper on the

wall, with our names on going up to heaven, and because I had my older brothers and

sister, I got money from them, so I had more ladders going to heaven, with changing

people’s beliefs in savage Africa, than any other self righteous little girl. We also had

mass registers on Mondays so we could say eight o’clock and 10 o’clock masses

Holy Communion and confession and get lots of stars and self satisfaction. And

relieved that we wouldn’t go to hell with all the eternal fire and damnation that week.

In between the two masses we were insulting the Salvation Army. I had had a pretty

white dress for my first holy communion and when we went to confession we had to

think up sins we had committed. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. I said shit.” And

he would give us a penance of three Hail Mary’s and make us promise to make a firm

purpose of amendment, And we knew if we got knocked down by a bus that day then

we wouldn’t go to hell..

We always had pets of a kind. We always had a dog and we mended birds with

broken legs in our air raid shelter in our garden. We splinted their legs with

matchsticks and lolly sticks. I don’t suppose any of them ever flew again but we gave

them our utmost expertise, which was mostly made up of enthusiasm and care. We

were all under 8 years old when we ran our sick animals hospital with little beds and

all made from wooden boxes with cotton wool. We played with the gas masks too and

one day I found a rusty egg shaped metal thing and I couldn’t get it apart. My oldest

brother Michael was around and recognised it as a hand grenade and they called the

police. When the big policeman collected it and peddled off with it in his saddlebag,

we watched him cycle up our road with terrific attention as we thought his bottom

would be blown off. We were quite disappointed that nothing happened. We loved

our dogs. Our dog Bambi was named after the deer in the Disney film. Our dog Judy

was red with curly hair. One morning she was on my tiny bed in my tiny room I

shared with my sister and I called down to my mum, because I didn’t dare move,

“Mummy. It’s Judy” “Leave her alone. She is having pups” my mum called back

“ But Mummy” “Leave her alone” “But Mummy she is having them on my bed” so

my mummy arrived very quickly and I lay in bed watching these red wet puppies

being born and they all had their eyes shut. It was a beautiful experience and our dog

had chosen my bed to have her litter. My sister was at work by then and missed the

excitement. I remember my mum cutting off puppies tails with a razor blade in the

kitchen and of course, putting a dressing on. My mum was a nurse. My daddy

mended the engines, which is why we lived in a railway house and why we all got

privilege tickets to travel on the railways. We went to Ireland and Scotland and

Leicester where our cousins lived and we often shared beds with them, top to toe, as

we all had big families and we all lived in small houses. We stayed in my

grandmother’s house in Rathmines in Dublin, which was the top floor of an old

house, and we played in the garden and sometimes we sneaked into O’Malley’s shed,

which was like a warehouse where furniture was stored and played hide and seek in

quite some fear because O’Malley was very cross if he ever found us in there and

chased us away.. We were quite alarmed when my uncle Joe belted his children across

their bottoms with a big buckled belt but he didn’t belt us for the same transgressions.

Like invading O’Malley’s shed. We also had the same god fearing belief in our safety

when we used to chant from the holy and safe part of the church’s grounds “Proddy

Woddies on the wall. Half a loaf will feed you all. Farthing candles show you light to

get you home on Friday night.” Because we knew they would all be drunk on payday

. And we would run back onto the sacred turf. Protected by our god and our religion

. Poor Protestants! We used to suck fuchsia stamens and I don’t know why. I think we

thought if bees liked them there might be some nutrition in them.

When we went to Scotland on a train we went on a little train from Glasgow to

Lennoxtown. Two Irish families lived in the same road. So we had eight cousins to

play with. We used to lose ourselves in Campsie Glen, which is very beautiful.

Sometimes we were put on trains in London, without adults, and were met in Dublin

or Glasgow or Leicester by aunts and uncles. Once my father found a nun on the train

in Paddington and asked her to look after us but when he left, peaceful in his heart

that a holy person was looking after us, we lost her, as we knew then what we could

manage. And we had enough of nuns in school. They caned us. Girls on hands and

boys on bottoms.

At home we were busy enough. We helped the milkman and the baker who both had

horses and carts. My brother Roger got his foot run over by a bakers cart and we all

got free delicious factory cakes until he got better. Of course he limped for a long

time on purpose. My mum baked good cakes but nothing like a factory one.. I helped

Mrs. Gilbert in the dry cleaners sort her buttons. She used to send me to the

fishmonger to get her an eel, which was so fresh it was killed in front of my very

eyes. I used to stay for tea on eel day and have a boiled egg. And oh the ice cream

from the Italian man three doors away on the shopping parade was wonderful. Oh the

cornets and wafers we had. We had a cake factory near us and they had a piggy bin,

which was like a coalbunker, where left over cakes went unless they were intercepted

by us. They used to hold my feet while I was upside down in the bin stretching for

iced fancies or some other such treasures.

One day I found a three-penny bit and I sucked it clean and by mistake, I swallowed

it. My mum made me put my fingers down my throat to be sick, and, sure enough, on

the pavement in the middle of my vomit, was my three-penny bit, and she just would

not let me extract it. I was so disappointed. I really had been so thrilled to find that

three-penny bit and I was not allowed to keep it.

One day we were out with our dog Judy and we called her across the road right in

front of what was then, a very occasional lorry and she was run over and killed The

driver had to face three distressed children accusing him of killing our dog. The poor

man put our dead dog and us in the back of his lorry and took us all home. We were

all crying. We buried her in the field at the bottom of our garden. And prayed for her

to go to heaven so she would be there when we got there. We knew we could have

everything we wanted when we were in heaven. We put a cross on her grave.
School dinners were dreadful. We walked single file and silent to a canteen where we

had to eat both courses with the same fork and spoon, and if we hid cold hard lumpy

potatoes under our pudding plate and were discovered, we then had to eat it. Greasy

Spam fritters and chips and fatty stews and soggy cabbage and other such dinners we

were supposed to be glad of because starving children in Africa would be, and we

tried to work out ways of posting lumpy potatoes to appreciative African children,

wherever Africa was.

The local theatre closed down after Noel Coward’s play “Hay Fever” and this made a

wonderful place to play in. We took a panel out of a door and squeezed in. Imagine

the fun we had when we discovered the spring door on the stage and the mechanism

that propelled a person through it. We gathered lots of friends to enjoy all this and

took it in turns to spring through the floor. We dressed up in all the costumes too and

performed dramas on the stage. Sadly one day our entry hole had big planks nailed

across it and a NO ENTRY sign. So that was the end of that game.

We collected jam jars and took them to the jam factory in an old pram and got a

penny each for them and we got a penny for the lemonade bottles too.

There was dreadful pea soup fog when we were little. We couldn’t see our hands

stretched out in front of our eyes when we went to school. We had scarves over our

mouths, which were wet by the time we got to school, but Saint Christopher looked

after travellers so we would never get lost.. St. Francis looked after animals. St.

Anthony found lost things and Saint Jude was the patron of hopeless causes and we

often needed him.

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Comments by other Members

Fieth at 00:17 on 22 November 2003  Report this post
I know it is long and I hope it is worth reading. So many people have asked me to write about my life, I have finally made a start, at the beginning. All constructive criticism is welcome.

Richard Brown at 10:59 on 27 November 2003  Report this post

I really enjoyed reading this - it has strong resonances for me (we must be about the same generation and I had the Catholic element too). There's a lightness and a strong sense of humanity which I much appreciated.

As far as constructive criticism goes, here are my comments which are not by any means whatsoever meant to be taken as gospel - they're just my views.

Much depends, I think, on what you intend to do with the finished work. If it's just a personal memoir, for circulation amongst interested friends, then it's fine as it stands.

If you are planning to publish it, I think it will need considerable strengthening (even with this, bear in mind that getting personal memoirs published is very difficult). Much of my genuine enjoyment with the piece came from recognition and perverse nostaligia (I say perverse because I don't recall my own childhood with much affection). Most other readers won't have this and what usually sustain a long narrative are characterisation and suspense. What you have written is a (very charming) series of anecdotes. The linked tales are mostly very short and the characters in them are not fleshed out.

So much to say about ways you could go with it! A major consideration is the point of view of the writer. You could, perhaps, get away with a lighter literary touch if the narrative were in the form of a diary. That is, it would be written from a child's perspective. In this way you could introduce more of your deeper feelings and maybe, through telling of childhood fears etc, create some suspense. But if you want to stick to writing from the adult perspective you could give your characters much more depth. At the moment the child version of you is firmly in the foreground and the others are just vaguely sketched in the background. For example; what did your mother look like? Was she calm and competent or a bit scatty? Even the minor characters, shop keepers and the like, could be characterised.

I hope I haven't put you off - I certainly don't mean to! and, as I said above, these are just my personal views.

Let me know what you think.


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