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The Day Before Yesterday: 3 - Washdays

...Nothing was thrown away that could come in useful. Sheets were always white and were torn into small squares for children's noses when needed, or bandages for sore knees. These were perfectly hygienic because of their constant boiling on washing day...

Gladys Schofield recalls growing up in less affluent times.

Manners were something we were taught at an early age. We dare not reach for anything without saying please and thank you. Respect for others was another thing, and swearing was another no-no. Our father didn't swear at home and we dare not. If we told them someone used these words at school we were told, "Well you don't." We would get a smack for misbehaviour but that seemed to do the trick. We knew how far we could go and dare not give our parents cheek.

The older children were able to go to the same school as before. It was quite a walk for them but they preferred this to changing schools, which would have been almost as far. Three of them were school children now and only my brother Charles and I were at home.

One day Mum was washing in the kitchen. It was a cold day so she left us playing in the living room. She had just come in from hanging out the washing and noticed the door between the two rooms was closed and a gasping sound was coming from inside. She tried to open the door, but my brother had put the latch on.

"Charles", she shouted "what are you doing, pull the latch back?"

"It's all right, Mum, I will get her undone in a minute," and still the choking sound came through the closed door.

"Undo this door at once", Mum told the four-year-old, and this time he responded. Mum found me on the floor, a piece of string tied around my neck. I was a horse and he was leading me.

He had found a fork and was trying to undo the knot in the string. He had seen his big brothers undo knots in this way and locked the door because he didn't want Mum to find me before he had removed the string. He didn't realise I was slowly strangling.

Washing was not the simple task of today, just pressing a few buttons in an electrically operated machine. For a start we had not yet got electricity in the houses. We used a peggy tub as our washer, a large tub the size of a wine barrel. As soon as the water was hot enough in the boiler we transferred this to the tub using a long broom handle posser with a metal funnel-shaped object with lots of holes punched in it. We possed the clothes in an up and down movement to squeeze the dirt out.

The other gadget placed in the tub was a rubbing board. This had a wooden frame. Two legs rested inside the tub while inside the frame made of zinc was a panel made up of tiny wavy lines like miniature stairs. Taking the garment, you soaped it with a bar of soap and rubbed it up and down on this rubbing board until it was clean.

White things and fast colours were always boiled for a few minutes, and after rinsing they went through a much larger contraption called a mangie. Two large rollers squeezed the water out of the garments. A large handle had to be turned. You fed the wet clothes in one side and out they fell into the clothes basket at the other side.

You always starched and used a blue bag on some things if you were proud of your appearance, so washing took up a good part of the morning.

The large wheeled prams of that day were so easy to push along the cobbled roads. Mum took us out in the afternoons whenever she could. An active baby wore a tiny leather harness which fastened at the sides of the pram.

Our roads were all hills and valleys and the main roads seemed to always be resurfaced in the hot weather. A large monster called a steam engine slowly squashed stone chips into liquid tar that had been sprayed onto the surface of the road. The huge roller in front of the monster did a good job, but our shoes often got covered in wet tar as it took so long to dry. Mum used lard to remove this.

Nothing was thrown away that could come in useful. Sheets were always white and were torn into small squares for children's noses when needed, or bandages for sore knees. These were perfectly hygienic because of their constant boiling on washing day.

Socks were always darned and tears in clothing carefully mended to make them last as long as possible. We always polished our shoes too, Dad said it made them waterproof. I can't remember having gumboots, or Wellingtons as they were called. The man about town wore a type of overshoe in wet weather called galoshes, but Wellingtons must have crept in when I wasn't looking.

Bicycles were used frequently as a quick means of travel for short distances. They got you to your destination quickly.

You had to find the shortest way to any place if you walked, and linking some roads to each other were ginnels, long narrow walkways where you couldn't walk more than two abreast but much quicker than going around the road. A lot of these shortcuts have disappeared today. New subdivisions are springing up everywhere, and I don't know the old place anymore.


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