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The Day Before Yesterday: 15 - The Blue Boy And His Red Brother

...But I didn't know what had been decided until almost Christmas. Under my parents' bed was a large bulky object covered by a blanket. I had a peep but dare not show any excitement because it was a secret...

Gladys Schofield recalls Christmastime and the other the "high'' days of her childhood.

Well to get onto a more pleasant subject, mail order catalogues were doing the rounds as they still do today. One of our neighbours ran a club, Mum of course was a member, and Lilian, our neighbour's daughter was getting a small fairy bicycle (the first size on two wheels).

Lilian was a friend of mine, and her mother was trying to convince mine that it would be nice if I had one too. Mum had plenty of priorities other than spending one pound on a bicycle for me, even if she had to pay just one shilling a week. I knew all about this conversation even though I was not there. Lilian informed me. But I didn't know what had been decided until almost Christmas. Under my parents' bed was a large bulky object covered by a blanket. I had a peep but dare not show any excitement because it was a secret.

That Christmas my aunty asked my mother if I could keep her company through the night of Christmas Eve, as Uncle Ernest would be away all night playing with the band. I went of course and shared her big bed. I must have been tired as I slept right through the night. Not even the joyous notes of the brass band had awakened me until breakfast time. As soon as this was over I bid my aunt and uncle goodbye and off I ran to find my bicycle.

I looked all over the house but I couldn't find it anywhere. Could I have been mistaken when I peeped under that bed? Not knowing how to approach my mum
on the subject, I said, "Did I get anything for Christmas, Mum?"

"You have a bike," she said, "but the boys got tired of waiting for you. The last I saw of them was when they were taking it out of the door."

Out I ran. I knew where to find them. We had only one stretch of flat road, which ran between the two front blocks of houses as a means of getting to the back two. I was right. Two little boys in turn were trying to sit upright on a bicycle far too big for them, while the others pushed. I lost no time in claiming my present and with a few sharp words for both of them, off I went.

We travelled many miles on those two little bicycles for the next year or two and eventually grew out of them.

There was always a bully or a mean child in every school, taking their frustrations out on someone smaller than themselves. I only encountered one who chose me for her victim. This girl would lie in wait for me at the bottom of a short road leading up to the school. It was the only way I knew at that time to get to school so I dreaded this point of my journey every day.

She would jump out at me and give my skin a nasty nip, contorting her face until she looked quite ugly. This must have given her some satisfaction as she would skip away as though nothing happened. I learned after a while to avoid her as she obviously had a problem which she grew out of in time.

Carol singing was held in a big way. Groups of professional singers sang around the district and we also would form groups, wrapped up warmly against the cold. We would sing our little hearts out for a penny or two. This practice had eased a little after the war, although one or two groups of local children could be found still to carry on doing this. Way back, the groups would be invited into the kitchen of the big houses for a feed of mince pies and a hot drink or wine.

Bonfire night was another celebration and very exciting for children. We started weeks before the day that Guy Fawkes is burned on every bonfire, collecting chumps (wood) and anything cast off from the neighbours that would burn, tree toppings, old furniture, just about anything was piled high. They also had to be guarded as rival gangs would steal them in a late night raid, especially near to the night of November the fifth.

Mums made toffee and gave potatoes to be roasted in the embers of the glowing fire, while the air would be full of exploding fireworks. You could get injuries from these if you were not careful. Because it came dark very early in England, there was no problem letting the children watch this event and set off their sparklers. Some of the boys would wheel the guy (made by one of the mothers) around the streets in a box cart fitted with old pram wheels, shouting, "A penny for the guy."

On such a night as this, John along with his brother Ted, went looking for chumps and called at the local dye-works, as there were often empty barrels to be had. Sure enough, two empty dye barrels stood there and they were allowed to take them. Off they started home, rolling them before them up and down the streets. For a change they cut across some fields as it was quicker and in a straight line to where the bonfire was situated. They carried them across these fields and tried all ways to get them over the walls. They were only about seven and nine at the time and I don't know how they managed this at all but get there they did and the older boys stacked them for them.

Two tired little boys presented themselves at the kitchen door. Mum had a fit, the dye powder had covered them from top to toe, one red and the other blue. How we laughed when we saw them but it wasn't a laughing matter to Mum as she hauled them up the stairs to the bathroom, and listening to Mum's voice, I would say all the air was blue. I've never heard such a commotion coming from the bathroom. At last two pink boys emerged from the purple water. They never collected dye barrels again.


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