My mother was born in the slave trade port of Bristol, and met my dad, who was born in Leeds, when he was over from Belgium representing the Ford Motor Company. They had married at the British Consulate in Belgium and lived there. (Not the Consulate silly, a house) They returned to England when he was transfered to London where Fords were building factories at Dagenham.
Mother on the ferry to Belgium.
They purchased a house in the nearby town of Romford and I arrived in 1933 and Christopher a year and half later. They moved to the house on the hill in Carlton Road before I was born and were there when this story started although my father had now left Fords and was working for The Plessey Company in Ilford, the next town, as a Progress Chaser. Now instead of delivering Model 'A's and 'T's he was involved in constructing bomb sights.
Now, in the classroom she led us in games and singing and with the other mothers, in reading and writing. If the weather was nice we would have class outside. The school was in deep countryside and the surrounding fields were full of wonders from the nearby farms. Cows and sheep and horses filled the fields and we were able to visit the farms and see the baby animals. We found out where milk came from, although I don't think we believed it. Some of the smells were a bit unusual and what we sometimes got on our shoes as well, but some of the smells were nice. Calves dribbled a lot and made your shirts wet and cows didn't tell you when they were going to the toilet, neither did the farmer. That's why he was always grinning.
We watched a man milking the cows and he wanted us to do it and when we wouldn't he squirted milk over us. I thought that mum would tell the man off, but she just laughed. Grownups! Still we got to drink some and it was all hot! not cold like in the bottle. Just before we left we got a drink straight from the cooler. It was thick and creamy. Mum and teacher got to take some milk and cream home.
The woods and hedgerows were full of birds and squirrels and butterfly. The squirrels were all over and so tame. There were ponds, from which, with our nets into our jam jars were soon captured and imprisoned stickleback fish, newts, tadpoles and water beetles to decorate the school windowsills. We found out that we had to keep the water beetles and tadpoles in different jars or the beetles would have the tadpoles for dinner. The jars sat on the windowsills with fronds of pond weed curling up to the surface of the water, the light outside illuminating the world of the pond into our classroom. When the water in the jars started going green we had to take them back to the pond and fill them with new water.
Midway through the morning we would stop for a milk break. The milk came in special kid sized bottles and was as thick and creamy as that at the farm, and it tasted wonderful. We then had a quiet time lasting about half an hour when you could lay down and have a doze, read a book or play.
After the break it was time for the three R's; reading, writing and arithmetic. Then it was time for dinner.
The mother's especially helped out at this time, serving and helping to feed those that were not too good at feeding themselves, and there were some four olds.
Dinner would be mashed potatoes and carrots, or peas and beans and sometimes turnip, but nobody liked turnip and it kept going back or being ignored when it was on the plate.
"What about the turnip?"
"There's children starving in Africa."
There were children starving in London, I bet.
The babies weren't good at saying that they didn't like turnip but they were clever and waited till it was in their mouth and then spat it out, usually all over the mother's hand.
If there were no potatoes then we had 'Pom' over which a 'meaty' gravy was poured. It was a substitute mashed potato invented by a scientist. More of it got thrown away, together with the turnip, than was ever eaten. It tasted like cardboard, except when they mixed crushed stewed apples with it, but we still knew what it was. The amount thrown away by the English School System alone, during the war, would have been enough to
reinforce the Maginot Line. If the French had used it , the Germans would never have got through. While they struggled we could have buried them in turnips.
Once a week , starting then, Uncle John would arrive at the school driving his car, a rusty old Humber, with a small open trailer hooked to the back. He would pull past the school gate and try and back the trailer into the yard. He couldn't drive in because there was not enough room to drive in and turn around as the washroom was in the way. His efforts at reversing were terrible. One of the ladies, not mum because she said that she was too embarrassed, tried to guide him in, but he kept hitting the wall or the gate.
Lessons came to an end as we all crowded the windows as "Stop. Stop" or "No-no, go to the left-no not your left, your right." drifted through the air. The Humber, standing across both lanes of Bergholt Lane; traffic came to a standstill.
They were patient for a while, but then the honking would start. Uncle John would not admit that he was not good at doing it and it went on like that for some time until two farm workers got fed up with waiting, got out of their lorry, unhooked the trailer and pushed it into the yard.
From then on that's what Uncle did every time. He said that he had just not thought of it.
Mum said that pride had a space in there somewhere.