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The Day Before Yesterday: 13 - Wonders From A Small Fortune

...Electricity had arrived at last and Dad bought a wireless, or radio as it became known as. It had a large speaker which sat on top of another unit. We were the second family in the houses around to get one. Dad peered at the instructions with Charles at his elbow, and the only noise that came out of the thing at first was a loud oscillating screech...

Gladys Schofield continues her vivid account of her childhood years.

We didn't visit relatives a great deal unless they lived close. Father would take one or two of us if he visited his parents. It was quite a long walk to get to their house, so when Dad said he would take me with him I was excited, as I had not seen them before. At least I couldn't remember them. I was six or seven at this time.

I wondered if we would ever get there. It was much further than the school. After we had left the road, we climbed the rocky edge of a hill on a narrow path and paused to look down at the houses and streets below. They seemed so far away. We then came to another ginnel, the end of which opened up to the road where my grandparents lived at Oakes.

A long row of terrace houses again ran down the road, each one like its neighbours except for the number. A familiar smell was in the air. Yes, just down this road was another mill. I suppose people living so close must be used to the smell and I realised just how lucky I was to live closer to the open country.

My granddad was not at home when we called, but Grandma was and welcomed us into the house. We sat on a black sofa. It wasn't as comfortable as the one at home as it pricked the back of my legs, and I soon jumped off. Gran noticed this and said," Is my sofa uncomfortable, Love? It's made of horse hair, that's why it pricks your legs."

Her next question was, "Would you like a cup of milk?" as she poured my dad a cup of tea.

"Oh yes, please," I said, eyeing the pot she was pushing towards me. I couldn't take my eyes off the picture on this little pot. It was of a black cat doing funny antics and written underneath was the one word 'Felix'. I found out later he was in cartoons, long before Mickey Mouse.

Gran was speaking again. Smiling she said, "You like that pot, don't you? Would you like to take it home?"

"Thank you," I said smiling back at the sturdy, pleasant lady who looked so much like my dad.

That was the first and last time I remember seeing my gran on my father's side. She died the next year and granddad wasn't long behind. I was just nine when that happened. Dad was left a small amount of money from Granddad, not a lot, though it must have seemed a small fortune at that time.

Electricity had arrived at last and Dad bought a wireless, or radio as it became known as. It had a large speaker which sat on top of another unit. We were the second family in the houses around to get one. Dad peered at the instructions with Charles at his elbow, and the only noise that came out of the thing at first was a loud oscillating screech. After much studying of the various diagrams, they eventually got it to work. Charles was soon building his own crystal sets and had a great interest in electricity. His job was connected with that for most of his life.

Dad bought another wonder at this time. It was a gramophone, another box with a large horn on top and the words 'His Master's Voice' written in front with the picture of a little dog staring up at the speaker. The records were very large. They were light instrumental tunes and songs that fitted that period of time.

Alan, baby number eight, was a toddler at this time and had a favourite, which he could pick out from all the others. We never knew how he did this, as he couldn't read the title. We thought the gramophone was great, and it was never quiet for the next few weeks.

An electric iron found its way into the household at the same time.

Charles did a few odd jobs for a man who kept a greengrocery store higher up the road we lived in. He earned spending money this way which all went on parts for his new hobby. Inside the wooden greengrocery store he had boxes and more boxes full of the most tempting sweets. For a halfpenny or a penny you could buy whatever you wanted. Four ounces cost a penny.

Wilson Mills was very stout and spent most of the day, when he wasn't serving, in a corner of the shop. He sat there just waiting patiently for a child to make up its mind. He never grumbled at them. In fact I think he even fell asleep sometimes, but no-one would think of robbing him. The world had not yet got greedy.

Two afternoons a week he hitched his old horse into the shafts of his cart and walked the streets of the neighbourhood. His horse knew ail the stops, it was so used to the journey, and a shaggy old black and white dog called Crongy completed the trio. He rang a hand bell to bring the neighbours out, then they would all be on their way again until the next stop.

We would buy a chocolate wafer called a film-star biscuit. Inside each was a picture of the current film stars. We collected these into sets and would swap different ones with our friends. We got cards in cigarettes too. It was quite a popular hobby. The green bar soap our mum used gave two coupons for each bar. It was called Fairy soap - a picture of a fairy on every coupon. This soap was very gentle for children's hands, as well as clothes washing.

Our gas meter had a slot you fed pennies in which paid for the gas you burned. It was opened every three months when the gas man called. Part of this money paid for the gas, and Mum got part back as discount. We loved this day because we all got one whole penny to spend that day.

A little baby girl had arrived while all this was going on, the last three being quite close together. She was number nine, and we had to wait four years after that until the tenth and last baby was born. I was pleased she was a girl at last but as she was seven years younger. There was too much distance in our ages to be able to play together, and an incident happened when she was just a toddler that upset me for a long time.

When I came home from school one day, Alma was sitting on Mum's knee and on her knee was the loveliest doll I had ever seen. She was dressed in blue silk with white socks and shoes and was about fourteen inches in length.

"Oh," I said, "where did you get that doll?"

Mum looked at me and said (a bit haltingly), "Well, she is really your doll. I saved the Oxo coupons until I had enough to send for her, but Alma saw her and she won't put her down."

I tried to retrieve my doll from my baby sister's clutch, but she screamed and said, "My baby, my baby." So in the end I let her have it.


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