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The Day Before Yesterday: 17 - Visiting Aunty Becky

Gladys Schofield recalls what happened to her Aunty Becky was having to live upstaris, after the ground floor of her home had been flooded.

"Aunty looked out of the window one morning to see how far the water had gone down and saw a snake, an adder, climbing up the drainpipe, trying to reach the bedroom where they were. Quick as a flash she got a shovel of hot coals and threw them out of the window at it. They found it dead after the water had drained away.''

To read earlier chapters of Gladys's engaging life story please click on The Day Before Yesterday in the menu on this page.

I was very fond of Aunty Becky, as we always called her. Her family was not much smaller than ours. She had lovely big gardens and grew everything, it was just a mass of colour. Roses twined everywhere. She made up bridal bouquets for the girls in the villages nearby, and even made mine years later.

I loved to watch the trains go by at the bottom of her garden. Apart from the row of railway cottages and one or two farms, they looked out on vast expanses of greenery as far as the eye could see. Everyone rode a bicycle there, even Uncle who worked for the railway and could be called out at any time in an emergency. They seemed to get used to the train, and the noise didn't seem to bother them.

My aunty was very much like my mum. She kept a goat and milked it twice a day for the family. It seemed much richer than cow's milk. We got on well with our cousins also. Two boys worked for the local farmer and an older boy worked away, while two girls, Katie and Florence (after the Lady with the Lamp), worked in the village. Aunty Becky always had two or three vegetables with the meals and fruit from the garden.

We had an older cousin, Billy, but he had died several years before. Aunty told how they once had a flood, I had noticed the ground all around was flat apart from the railway lines that were up a little embankment. The river had overflowed its banks, so everyone had to live upstairs. Billy was sixteen and swam about in the flood helping his neighbours and caught a cold which got worse and he died of pneumonia.

While they lived in the bedroom it was not too bad as the bedrooms had a fireplace in the older houses. Aunty looked out of the window one morning to see how far the water had gone down and saw a snake, an adder, climbing up the drainpipe, trying to reach the bedroom where they were. Quick as a flash she got a shovel of hot coals and threw them out of the window at it. They found it dead after the water had drained away.

The workers, including Dad, always came home at midday for dinner. There were no canteens where they could get a midday meal yet. Dad smoked a pipe and this was the only thing he bought for himself, a bit of tobacco now and again. Mum got the wage packet and he just kept a small amount for this purpose. He sometimes called at a sweet and tobacco shop at the bottom of our street. We would walk with Dad back to school as far as this shop; then our roads parted. He went one way, and we went another.

But if he called at Mrs Thorpe's, she ran the shop along with her sister as she was widowed and they both looked elderly to me, the three of us would pester Dad, trying to get a halfpenny each out of him for sweets. His half ounce of twist cost tuppence. He would always find enough change for us to have these sweets, but I think he had to ration his tobacco more sparingly because of our greed.

Aniseed balls were a favourite and liquorice sticks, Yorkshire mixture and lucky bags, though they were a penny. When I think of what they contained, it's a wonder we ate them at all. The different variety of sweets must have been old stock. They contained a small toy and a fruit like a small dried banana called a locust. It had seeds inside and tasted a bit like a fig. I wonder if I had put the seeds in the garden, would they have grown.

We didn't get many eggs. The younger ones got half of one sometimes at teatime. Dad did a neat job of this, slicing the eggs down the middle so the yolk was distributed evenly. We had plenty of home baked bread and used margarine instead of butter while most of us were young. Margarine was sixpence a pound, butter one shilling and tenpence, so margarine was almost a quarter the price of butter. How things have changed.

Only on celebrations did we get butter. If we got a visit from an aunty, Mum would send me to buy half a pound of butter and a dozen fairy cakes. You always got thirteen, called a baker's dozen, each one decorated differently. We would eat quickly that day. Our eyes would be steadily fixed on our favourite cake in case someone else beat us to it.

Most of the milk was saved for the younger children. We had it in tea or cocoa but didn't get it otherwise. All this was improved as we got more workers and bedtime was early for under tens, 7.30.

We had a blackboard at the side of the room in the juniors at school. On this board was printed a poem by one of the well known poets. Each week we learned a different poem. We had to read them fluently, each child taking a turn to recite part of it in front of the class. I can still recite all the poems I learned as a child. We also acted out Shakespeare's plays, though we didn't understand them much at the time. All this is to show you we got a well-rounded education at that time.

At the age of ten we went to swimming lessons. We travelled on the tramcar all the way to Huddersfield to the baths. All the schools around used the same swimming baths. We only got a twenty minute swimming lesson, as another school would be waiting for their turn. At first we spent most of this time learning the different strokes on dry land but after a while we got more and more time in the water and eventually most of us learned to swim.

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