Archive for the ‘Mother’ Tag
To help with the cost of running the family home my mother tried a number of home based jobs, including making paper bags for florist shops, and packing pipe cleaners. These generally offered little reward for all the efforts and were soon abandoned. Soon after I started school and my mother had more time to herself she became a Home Help. This was a time when the service was provided free by the local council to the elderly and disabled. She would spend a hour each weekday in the homes of several local people and families, cleaning, washing and generally helping out. One lady, Mrs Woogar, who only lived a few doors away in a little bungalow at the end of our terrace of houses became a bit of a surrogate grandmother often looking after me during school holidays while my mother walked to the local shops to get her groceries.
A second family she worked for were the Campbell’s. The mother was confined to a wheelchair after a motorcycle crash and the son, who was only a year younger than me, had Down’s Syndrome. My mother often worked more than her paid hours to help the family and Mark and I became great friends to the point where we would be allowed out on our own to go to the shops and local playground. Even when my mother stopped working as a Home Help Mark and I remained good friends.
The way my mother would go far beyond what was expected from the job was a measure of her attitude to hard work and ensuring things were done properly. It was the same attitude she applied to keeping our home. Even though money was a constant problem she managed to keep us well fed and dressed, the home was clean and our childhoods happy ones. I think she was more than proud of her family and how both my brother and I managed to have successful careers and make a good life for ourselves.
There was a time when owning a motor car was like being part of an unofficial club. Drivers would look out for each other, stopping to help when the new and unreliable form of transport broke down or just to give directions in the days when directional signs were far less frequent. As the numbers of motorists grew the camaraderie faded and it become an everyone for themselves attitude. Motorcyclist tended to retain the club attitude and three-wheel drivers even acknowledged each other with a raised hand as they passed.
Helping motorcyclists and three wheeler drivers was an ingrained habit for my father. When ever we passed someone stopped at the side of the road he would stop to see if he could offer any help. Carrying a significant supply of tools and spare parts was the norm and many a time he managed to get some poor motorcyclist going again, or at least give them a lift to the next town so they could summon help. His good Samaritan act was not without its consequences however; travelling to his brothers wedding we passed a lone motorcyclist stopped at the side of the road who obviously had a problem as his chain lay in several bits on the road.
Dad proceeded to unpack his tool kit to locate the chain splitter and some spare chain links of the right size. After about an hour he had managed to get the chain repaired and refitted to the bike much to the surprise of the driver who was far from mechanically minded. My mother was furious at this act of kindness, not just because we arrived late but because my father’s wedding suit was now rather creased and covered with strategically placed highlights of grease. His brothers and sisters thought the whole episode was hilarious and typical of my father’s attitude to life.
I must have been about nine or ten when I first bought my mother a birthday present, using my own pocket money and without the help of someone else. I had latched onto her preference for 30 denier stockings, so trotted off to a dress shop on the Broadway with one aim in mind.
The lady shop assistant seemed very impressed at my knowledge of women’s hosiery and offered a selection of colours that left me rather confused. I chose a mid brown that looked similar to the ones that hung on the washing line in the back garden and headed off home with the gift-wrapped package.
Handing over the present to my mother and seeing the pleasure it gave I discovered how much satisfaction could be gained from the act of giving. There are occasions when I have to be restrained from over indulging my grand children, particularly at birthdays and Christmas.
For some unknown reason I started to attend Pentecostal Church services at a local old folks home. I think I was eight or nine at the time. The joyousness of the Sunday morning services really hit home, as did the captivating words of the reverend. I remember a sense of warmth and friendship was so strong, when the congregation was asked if anyone wanted to fully embrace Christ my hand shot up almost involuntarily.
The few of us who had responded to the invitation were blessed and praised by everyone present. The joy in that room was overwhelming and I left filled with so much enthusiasm it took some time before I calmed down sufficient to tell my mother of the events of the morning. Although she had been brought up in the catholic faith she had become greatly disillusioned by the actions of the church when she was young and the way it dominated her family’s life.
Her reaction to my embracing the Christian faith in such an open way was quite pragmatic. She took the view that we should all decide for ourselves whether we believe in a god and which faith we think is the one, if any, we wish to follow. Clearly she knew as an eight year old I was too young to full understand the consequences of my actions that Sunday morning. Today I may not be wholly convinced there is a single unifying power, but I strongly believe in the creed of peace and tolerance to all.
My mother was a consummate pastry maker and pudding cook. A meal is not complete without a pudding, and memories of steamed syrup sponge, jam roly-poly and apple dumpling made with suet crust pastry remain as strong as ever.
My favourite is Sussex Pond Pudding, simple to make but totally delicious. A greased bowl is lined with suet pastry, filled with brown sugar and a whole lemon and topped with a pastry lid. As it cooks in the steamer the lemon bursts and spreads lemon juice all over the inside of the pastry case. When you cut into the pudding, the mixture of brown sugar and lemon juice runs our and the pastry is crisp on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. Wonderful. In fact I think its time for a little pudding love.
Some events in one’s life can have a strange impact on your childhood. One Christmas I opened the pillowcase placed at the bottom of the bed and rummaged through the contents with all the usual glee and excitement. As I only really saw my father at weekends, most of the contents of the pillowcase were bought by my mother having helped me to write the letter to Santa that was sent up the chimney in a burst of magical flames.
On this occasion the contents of my Christmas sack included a thick but low cost colouring book. Inside the cover was a dedication from my father. For several days I kept the book safe and refused to allow anyone to look through the pages; and refuse to start filling in the pictures of clowns, animals and other everyday objects.
Eventually my mother enquired why I had hidden the book away, ‘was there something wrong with it? Did I not like it’? My response was to burst into tears. I was convinced that, as it was the only present he had written in, the one shilling colouring book was all my father could afford to buy and therefore I had to treasure it forever. I had never considered that almost all we ever had was bought by my father. Mother was the home maker. She was there every hour of every day, providing all we ever needed.
Among my mother’s wide range of cooking skills was a biscuit called the melting moment. Made from porridge oats they have a soft, flaky texture that truly melted in the mouth. As a child I could have eaten a whole batch at one sitting, particularly when taken still warm from the baking tray.
Home baking, be it cakes or biscuits, was a common occurrence in most households in the 1950s and early 1960s. Teatime comprised a selection of sandwiches, a few items of salad, a tin of salmon or corned beef and something freshly baked. Having been a cook in the WRAC, my mother was particularly skilled and meals were big and wholesome.
The recipe, which I think originally came from a box of Scotts Porridge Oats, was lost many years ago, and although she tried to recreate my childhood favourite on several occasions they never quite came close. I have also searched many recipe books and found dozens of versions, I have never found one to match the luxuriant treat of my youth.
Knitwear only makes a sporadic appearance on the fashion catwalks and home knitting seems to have declined in popularity over the past 30 years. A few celebrities have used colourful jumpers as an identity catchphrase and the tank top has made a bit of a comeback recently, but overall knitwear remains on the margins.
During my childhood every mother seemed to knit and most children wore something homemade. Our home was constantly filled with the click click click of needles until arthritis took away my mothers dexterity. I can also remember being made to stand with arms out stretched to hold the big skeins of she bought to save money. Homemade knitwear was an essential part of our clothing, and meant I occasionally got to wear something other than my brothers hand-me-downs.
I did try to learn to knit, and manage to produce a very long scarf following the fashion trend set by Dr Who. However I could not keep a constant tension and regularly dropped stitches that my mother would spend time having to recover. There a few dedicated knitters about who can produce some extraordinary items. Perhaps the bad economic time might just prompt a mini revival and the clicking sound of knitting needles will fill a few homes again.
Until I reached double figures, each annual summer family holiday was taken in the south west at a place called Sandy Bay. These were camping holidays and involved most of my fathers brothers and sisters along with his mother. We would spend a week playing inter family cricket matches on the beach, getting up at sunrise to scavenge for field mushrooms on the near-by firing range and watching the menfolk drink too much at night and complain about the noisy kids in the morning.
At first our family of four shared a large green ex-army tent that smelt of musty canvas and some strange waterproofing liquid. As my brother and I out grew the available space a small, grubby white tent was acquired as our bedroom. Around us were many more tents of various sizes to accommodate all the uncles, aunts and cousins that formed the family clan. We thought dad’s eldest sister was by far the most affluent of the family as they had the luxury of a small caravan, although it did not have a WC and they, like all of us would troop off to the toilet block in the mornings for a wash in cold water.
Within this tented community my mother would create a home from home. Using wind breaks she would divide the tent into a bedroom, sitting area and kitchen with the cooker just outside the entrance to the tent to avoid the risk of a fire. Everywhere would be furnished with little extras to make us feel more at home. Even though camping was supposed to be an adventure and involve roughing it a bit we were expected to follow the same routines, including our weekly bath, dressing smartly for outings and putting on pyjamas at bed time.
As times and fashions change we look back to the things of our childhood with affection and some amusement. Just look at all the wedding photos with the men in wide collar jackets and flared trousers, you would never be seen dead in them today. Watch a film of the 1960s and cringe at the hippy styles and strange language that seem to come from a foreign country. But then I think back to the quirky things my mother did and wonder, was she mad, eccentric or just normal.
Although we were a family with little money she managed to keep a very clean and tidy home and brought up my brother and I with lots of love and great skill. She had a habit of adding little touches around the house to make it more cosy. There had been a fashion for lace doilies which were placed under every ornament, candle holder and lamp in the house. Some had small, but heavy, beads sewn around the edge to act as weights. These were placed over sugar bowls, fruit bowls and the spare toilet roll in the WC. The easy chairs and settee had lace cloths placed over the backs and on the arms to protect them from greasy hair and sticky fingers.
The house looked like it was infested by some giant exotic spiders that spun webs of thick off-white silk. Which in its self is a bit ironic as my mother was petrified of spiders. Even the smallest specimen would send her into apoplexy as she demanded we remove the eight legged beast from the house. Not that we were allowed to kill them, just in case they went around in pairs and the survivor inflicted some terrible revenge.