I rolled up my sleeves, screwed up my eyes and stretched my arm into the cupboard under the stairs. Feeling around in the darkness my hand found the shallow dish but as I touched the cold gloopy liquid I screamed. I was about six years old and had been sent by my mother to get some eggs out of the dish of water-glass under the stairs.
In those days we had no fridges or freezers, no twenty-four hour supermarkets or ready-meals, but we did have an allotment, chickens at the bottom of the garden and, if we were lucky an occasional rabbit for the pot.
(I used to invite my friends in to see a man-eating rabbit which turned out to be my dad having his dinner!)
I was the youngest of four girls, one of twins. The war was over but everything remained rationed: clothes, sweets and food, so the allotment provided most of our vegetables and the chickens provided eggs and a hearty soup when they got too old to lay. I didn’t mind mixing the chicken food with grits for the hens, nor collecting the eggs from the boxes but fishing around in the dark to retrieve eggs from the freezing protective preservative freaked me out.
We had hens but no cockerel, so every so often my Dad would round up the hens into a sack to be taken to a man in the next village who had a cockerel. The hens would be exchanged and we would return home with some that were ready to lay. I’ll never forget sitting next to the wriggling sack of live birds on the back seat of my father’s Austin Seven. Once I was even sick over the sack which didn’t go down too well.
A regular Sunday morning would be helping my Dad over the allotment or helping Mum with the dinner. I preferred the warm steamy smell of the kitchen. I can’t cook cabbage or rice pudding today without thinking of my mother.
We always had rice pudding on Sunday, put in with the meat so as “not to waste the oven.”
The oven was only turned on Sundays, the rest of the week we had cold meat, mince or stew. When Billy Cotton’s Band Show came on the radio and we heard him call “Wakey, Wakey” I’d be sent over to the allotment to fetch Dad. After dinner I’d go to a neighbour who lived three doors along the road to collect the Sunday paper. He bought The News of the World in the morning and sold to us after dinner for half price. (I seem to remember that he was an Accountant).
At my sister's wedding
Another regular errand was round to the scrap-yard on the corner. Old Mr Bentley had white hair and a beard and smoked a pipe. He always wore a battered old hat and whistled through brown stained teeth. He took old cars apart, lifting the engines out with a hoist fixed up in the branches of an ancient tree standing in the yard. The yard was piled high with the shells of cars and engine bits were scattered around. I still recall the smell of grease and leaking oil.
Rumour had it that there was nothing you couldn’t get from old ‘Shove Bentley’
At the tender age of six or seven we were sent round, clutching the price of a packet of cigarettes in our hot little hands for ten Weights, or, if Dad was feeling flush, twenty Senior Service. These were sold over the counter at the back of the workshop. I’m sure there were lots of other goodies hidden there but we were too short to see over the counter so we never got to find out.
I doubt whether Shove Bentley ever had a licence to sell the half the stuff that went out of that workshop!
In the summer there were blackcurrants, raspberries, plums from the garden and wild blackberries to be picked for jam. My mother saved our sugar ration and swapped rations from our neighbours for eggs or runner beans from the allotment.
Runner beans would be salted into large sweet jars purloined from the sweet shop
A loaf of salt would be placed on paper and it was my job to scrape at it with a knife while Mum sliced the beans which were layered with the salt until the jar was full. Then, lid screwed on tight it would be placed on the floor of the larder until needed.
I remember another sweet jar being filled with cherries. When as many cherries as possible had been squeezed into the jar it was filled with brandy and put in the larder three months before Christmas so there would be Cherry Brandy for the Yuletide celebrations. As I remember it there were so many ‘testings’ of the cherry brandy that by Christmas there was nothing left, still, happy days.
Today we are told to re-cycle to save the planet
My parents would have got medals for re-cycling, nothing was every wasted. Sour milk would be poured into muslin bags that were hung over the sink to drip until the milk turned to cottage cheese, stale bread would be made into bread pudding, cooked in the bottom of the Sunday oven.
My mother’s bookcase was made out of orange boxes and rugs were made from rags and clippings sewn onto sacking. Shirt tails replaced worn collars and cuffs and sheets were turned sides to middle when they wore out.
My mother made all our clothes, there were very few outings and not half as many toys as the children today enjoy. Even in my teens we were a bus ride away from the nearest record shop, no ipods or downloads in those days, but were we happy? We had good neighbours, lots of laughs, friends and each other.