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U3A Writing: The Journey

...Christmas times were always happy times. We didn't have much, but the family get-togethers were magical for me. The local brass band and choir would come round the village to welcome in Christmas, and people would take out cake, mince pies and a warm drink for them. Sometimes when it was snowing it seemed to me like an old fashioned Christmas card with the adults and children in their colourful winter clothing carrying lanterns and singing carols and the snow falling all around them...

Brenda Hayler tells of a two-hour bus journey which carries her back to her early life.

I was born the country village of South Kirkby near Pontefract. I now live in Dalton, Huddersfield. Occasionally I travel to South Elmsall, which is the next village to South Kirkby. I go there to visit a women's group to do a craft workshop with them. My sister is a member of the class, and that is how I became involved with them.

Each time I take this two-hour journey it brings back memories of people and places that were part of my life as I grew up, and I spend the whole time reminiscing and enjoying the scenery. I get on the bus outside my house, and the first of my memories is when the bus goes through Lepton,

I was a cub scout leader there for six years. I had 36 little boys to look after aged 8 to 11 years. What a happy time that was, teaching them how to work together as a team and at the same time to have fun while doing it. Showing them different skills to work towards so they could get their achievement badges, and taking them on camp was quite an experience for all of us but a happy one.

On then up Lepton Edge past where the mine used to be, where one of my uncles used to work I remember him coming home in all his dirt, black from top to toe looking like a chimney sweep. There were no baths at the mine in those days. The working conditions were bad too. My uncle had to lie in a space only 18 inches high and get the coal out by hand pick, and a lot of the time he would be laid in water too for several hours at a time.

At the top of the hill the bus turns right on to Paul Lane and on to Emley Moor and then through Emley village. As we travel along this road you have a glorious view across Huddersfield and Castle Hill and to the Pennine Hills beyond.

It is even more memorable to me when the bluebells are out, because I just love bluebells, and childhood memories of going out to gather them and taking them home for my mum to put in a jam jar, and thinking that I had brought something special for a very special mum.

Emley is a lovely village and it is where my aunt and uncle lived the latter part of their years. This aunt and uncle were very special to me because they were like my second mum and dad and always treated me like one of their own.

The next village we pass through is Flockton where I spent a lot of my childhood years and some of my teens too. My grandparents and great-grandparents lived there, and this was where I had my most happy times.

My gran’s house was on the corner of the junction of two roads that go to Barnsley and Wakefield. There was a square of houses and on one side there was an archway that led into the square and where the coaches would go through.

Gran’s house used to be an old coaching inn, It had a large bay window with small square panes some of which had bottle bottoms in them. It was bigger than the other houses in the square and had a large lounge, or parlour as they were then, and an average kitchen with a stone flagged floor and a stone sink with one cold water tap. The hot water was from a side boiler in the fireplace, which meant that you only got to have a bath once a week in front of the fire and one bath full of water had to do for about four of you.

My gran used to bake a stone of bread every week and store it at the top of the cellar in an earthenware pot with a lid on. It was called a pansion.

There was always a kettle simmering on the fire and a pot of stew. There were regular tramps or travellers that would call and ask, “Can you give us owt Mrs? Gran would ask them in and give them a dish of stew and a crust of bread and send them on their way.

I remember the May Day celebrations and the beautiful horse-drawn drays decorated with flowers for the May Queen, and the maypole dancing, all of which took place in the field across the road from Gran’s house.

I remember going to the farm carrying Gran’s glass jug to fetch a pint of milk and skipping along the footpath and accidentally smashing the jug up against a stone wall. I used to love going to the farm when the piglets were born and I would spend ages watching them feed. I would go to the pub and get Granddad his pint of beer, but this time it would be in a metal jug.
My gran was from a family of 12 children, so every weekend we would have visitors with their children and we would have about three sittings for tea. Later there would be a sing-song around the piano and the men would play cards.

Christmas times were always happy times. We didn't have much, but the family get-togethers were magical for me. The local brass band and choir would come round the village to welcome in Christmas, and people would take out cake, mince pies and a warm drink for them. Sometimes when it was snowing it seemed to me like an old fashioned Christmas card with the adults and children in their colourful winter clothing carrying lanterns and singing carols and the snow falling all around them.

On those same dark winter nights I remember having to go out into the cold and down the yard, what seemed a long way to a small child, to the toilet. It was an earth toilet with a wooden board on a stone slab with a hole in it with a lid on and a seven-foot drop inside. You can imagine!!! Sitting there with only a dim light and the wind whistling round your nether regions It was scary.

As I grew older I had the task of scrubbing and scouring the same toilet and washing the kitchen floor and scouring the doorsteps. That was my Saturday job while granddad cleaned all the brasses (fire irons etc) and black-leaded the fireplace. It took us all morning.

I remember a special carnival day when I was a teenager. The village carnivals were always great because it brought everyone together; everyone would be involved. This special one was to celebrate the Queen’s coronation.

The carnival committee decided to have three queens besides the carnival queen and the retiring queen. They were to be Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II - five queens in all. I was chosen to be Victoria. I was also in the chorus line of the open-air concert that was performed in the evening.

At the meeting was a visitor from Canada, who was staying at the farm. He suggested that we should roast an ox, This seemed an impossible idea at first for our small village, but he managed to persuade them that it could be done and said that he would supervise it.

The carnival was wonderful. The ox was roasted on a huge spit, and when it was done we were able to purchase lovely hot beef sandwiches. There were five queens on their decorated drays, brass bands, fancy dress, local organisations represented, and a really magnificent parade. In the evening after the show there was a candle-lit procession through the village led by the queens to a huge bonfire. The queens were given the honour of lighting the fire, and of course it was finished off with a firework display. A truly most memorable day.

Gran’s house isn't there now, only the old stone garden wall that I used to sit on, but if you are ever passing through Flockton and you come to the junction look to your right on the Barnsley road and you will see a lovely old cottage painted white. It is a listed building now. That was my great-grandparents’ home. And it is still being lived in.

And so on to Overton and passing Cap House Colliery now a mining museum. My uncle and three of his sons worked there for many years up to its closure.

Through Middlestown, where I used to visit the cinema, and if we missed the last bus home we would think nothing of walking all the way home late at night, and we were quite safe to do so.

Next we travel on to Horbury and pass what used to be Slazenger’s sports factory. I left school at 15 years old and started work in the tennis department and then in the golf ball department and was there for six years until I was seven months pregnant with my daughter.

There was another girl who started the same day as me and she had come straight from school too so we be came good friends and are still in touch with each other today 56 years on. There was an older lady there who was very kind to us, and we could go to her with our problems. When I got married she made me my wedding dress, and when I left to have my baby she made my daughter’s Christening gown.

The bus has reached Wakefield now and I change buses for the next part of my journey.

It is interesting to see how people and the scenery change from town to town, from the hills of the Pennines around Huddersfield to the flat country the other side of Wakefield, and how people’s dialects change too.

The first time I travelled back to South Kirkby after a long absence I had forgotten just how slang some of our broad Yorkshire can be where I had come from. People getting on the bus greeting each other, “Ay up cock. At are or reight, cock? Weer ast ta been?” And when leaving the bus, “Tara, cock, al si thee t’neet.” I have to smile; they say ‘cock’ like I say ‘love’ to everyone as a term of endearment or just being friendly.

As the bus leaves Wakefield we pass Heath Common. There were always gypsies there and at Easter there would be a big fair and people would come from all over to it.

On past Nostel Priory with its beautiful lake, through Fitzwilliam, Kingsley, Hemsworth and on to South Kirkby, my birth place.

The school I went to has been pulled down and a bigger one built. The house where I was born is long gone. The field across the road from the house where we played and the old farm and flour mill are all gone, and there is an estate of private houses there now. But the public house called The Old Mill is still there.

The Co-op building is there but it’s not a co-op. Most of the villages did their shopping at the Co-op, I can still remember my mum’s dividend number, 47876.

I have almost reached my destination now, and no matter what time of year I take this journey or how many times, it always gives me a great deal of pleasure. This short journey covers all of my life.

Just over two years ago I remarried, and my husband and I have travelled over 200 thousand miles around the world, but whatever road one travels on, we all come back to the same road, all travelling in the same direction on the journey of life.


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