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U3A Writing: Turning The Clocks Back

"The radio played a big part in our lives and both my brothers and I had crystal sets, (home-made of course). Dad was a radio buff and made our radios and also built the cabinets to put them into. Uncle Mac on Children's hour, Dick Barton Special Agent, Radio Luxemburg and The Ovaltinies, Happy Girls and Boys and George Formby singing “Keep Fit, Chew Phenamint”, another version of Andrews Liver Salts if I remember correctly. But don't quote me it was a long time ago...''

Nancie Dyson treasures memories of long winter evenings when she was young.

Autumn and winter are not my favourite seasons any longer. When the clocks are altered and we draw the curtains on the world outside, my spirits drop. I start counting the weeks to the day we put the clocks forward again. And yet as a child I loved the winter evenings when we were all together indoors every night.

In the 1930s with no central heating we all congregated in the living room which had the only fire in the house. Piano practice in the front room with the one bar electric fire was not a highlight of the day. The time to choose to do it was when Mum was busy getting tea ready and not as likely to notice my half hour practice had only taken twenty minutes. The only drawback was that my older brother and I were in competition and it was a case of who got there first, although if you had to be second it meant that the room was that little - very little - warmer.

The radio played a big part in our lives and both my brothers and I had crystal sets, (home-made of course). Dad was a radio buff and made our radios and also built the cabinets to put them into. Uncle Mac on Children's hour, Dick Barton Special Agent, Radio Luxemburg and The Ovaltinies, Happy Girls and Boys and George Formby singing “Keep Fit, Chew Phenamint”, another version of Andrews Liver Salts if I remember correctly. But don't quote me it was a long time ago.

Chumping was great fun and one year when I was about eight we heard that one local boy had managed to acquire a large branch from a tree, sure to keep the bonfire going for ages. The gang got together to work out a strategy to get hold of it. It meant sneaking around to his back garden, reached by going down a flight of steps and then getting the branch back up into the street and high-tailing it to our bonfire.

And yes the boys (I was the only girl in the gang) worked out a foolproof modus operandi. They would take the boy with them, to where it was rumoured some wooden boxes were to be had whilst yours truly nipped down the steps to the back garden, got hold of the branch, back up the steps and, hoping nobody caught sight of me, taking it to our bonfire in our back garden. Then I was to go in home, giving the owner of the branch the impression I hadn't played out that night.

All went well until the next evening. There was a knock on the back door. “Mr Owen, your Nancie has pinched my best chump.”

"Is this true?” my father asked me.

"Yes," I replied.

"Right. In that case you can take it back,” my father ordered. I was made to do it by myself, with the owner, two years my senior, following me all the way.

Came bonfire night my elder brother gave me his packet of sparklers and Bob, my brother’s age but my best mate, gave me a rocket which shot stars into the sky. Needless to say I never went chumping again.

We had a budgerigar, a blue one, which was allowed to fly free in the winter, when all doors and windows were shut. It would land on our shoulders and sometimes our heads. We tried to teach it to talk but to no avail. Dad would have a glass of beer on high days and holidays, which the budgie loved to share.

It was Christmas and Dad was having a whiskey, a Christmas present, and our parents didn't notice that Billy was taking the odd sip from Dad's glass. We children, of course, having seen him pinch the beer, never gave it a thought.

Mum had a green glass vase, of which she was very fond. It was tall and narrow and had a fluted rim. Billy perched on the rim and promptly fell head-first into the empty vase. He was rescued by Dad smashing the yase, but the bird was so tipsy he kept falling over. We kids thought it a huge joke, but our parents weren't very pleased. After that the bird had to be in his cage before Dad was allowed to imbibe.

Winter evenings meant games. Snap with our younger brother. Dad taught my older brother and me to play Whist, Bagatelle and also dominoes, in which we all joined.

One of our treats was, come tea time at the weekend, we turned out the lights and toasted bread at the fire (a kitchen range) with dripping to spread on it instead of butter. The dripping in those days always had jelly at the bottom. I liked beef best, pork always needed salt to give it flavour.

Reading was and still is my favourite past time. Print of any kind, labels, signs, comics, books. I was quite grown up before I discovered that what I thought was an ORANGE OUTANG was really an ORANG UTAN, or that COTTON EASTER was a Cotoneaster.

I'd been cured of asking my older brother the meaning of words, when one Sunday evening I had finished the book I was reading and didn't fancy going into the cold front room to fetch another. I turned to the Sunday paper. All I can remember was reading about a girl in a tent and I asked my brother what NUDE meant. The paper was snatched from my hand; no explanation was given. No Sunday papers after that!

Bedtimes held no fears for me, being the middle child I'd always had company at bedtime and we were allowed to have the landing light on until we were all asleep. The bedtime ritual was pyjamas warmed in the fireside oven, hot water bottles with covers so that we could put our feet on them without being burnt, and yes we were allowed to get washed in the living room instead of having to go into the stone cold bathroom. The weekly bath in winter never took very long.

Another bedtime trick was to get into our pyjamas, which were always warm, as fast as we could. We perfected the art of getting into them without exposing our skin to the cold for more than a second, and I haven't lost the knack - it just takes me longer. We didn't know at that time that we would be the last generation of children who had complete freedom to spend our days wandering where we pleased in the summer, and safe to play outdoors in the winter without fear.

I look forward with eagerness to the day we put the clocks
forward again. I haven't got my 2007 diary yet, but the date will
be ringed in red when I get it.

There is one date when we put the clocks forward that I will never forget and that is April 15 1950. Fartown were playing at home and it WAS my wedding day. By the time the taxi arrived to take us to the station, all the male guests had left for the match and it wasn't until we got to the hotel that we discovered the clocks were going back an hour.

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