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A Shout From The Attic: Mrs Simcox

Ronnie Bray tells with great compassion of a lady who lived in a cellar.

To read further chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Across the street from us, a couple of doors above Wentworth Street, lived the Widow Simcox, alone in her cellar. Having let all the upstairs rooms of her massive stone terrace to generate an income, she occupied its dark cellar in a large overstuffed easy chair. Both the chair and she, like her big double bed, also in her cellar living room, were lavishly draped in a superabundance of knitted and crocheted blankets and shawls to keep her warm.

I never saw her in any other place than in her chair, and I could easily believe that it had grown to become a permanent part of her anatomy.

The gloom of the cellar was relieved only by the glow of the fire burning in an unpolished Yorkshire range, that she poked from time to time. Mother used to say that she would stuff pages of the Examiner up the chimney and set fire to them to clear out the soot. It saved paying a chimney sweep, but it drew the attention of the fire brigade who used to charge her for turning out, although I was never sure if she paid the fines or was allowed to escape them, being old and perceived as somewhat eccentric.

Occasionally, mother would give me a quarter of tea to take to her to sell, so that I could have some pocket money. René remembers that she killed herself by drinking water glass

During the early 20th century, water glass was used to conserve with considerable success. Water glass, a bacteria-resistant, highly viscose clear solution of sodium silicate, discouraged the entrance of spoilage organisms and evaporation of water from eggs. It did not penetrate the egg shell, imparted no odour or taste to the eggs, and was considered to have somewhat antiseptic properties. However, it did a poor job at high storage temperatures, although at a cool temperature eggs would keep for eight or nine months.

Nan said, “I hope to God she dies!” This was not meant unkindly, but if she had survived the attempt, she would have had criminal charges brought against her for attempted suicide when suicide was considered to be self-murder.

I imagine that Mrs Simcox viewed life in her dark cellar in her lonely old age with increasing disfavour, much as Ma views hers, even though Ma is in the light, does not have to see to a fire, has domestic help twice a day, and visits from District Nurses. It is not the discomforts and inconveniences of particular circumstances that has old people looking for the peace and safety of the grave, but the daylong loneliness and an increasing sense of the futility of life when most meaningful contact with others is reduced to the bare minimum.

Rest in peace, Mrs Simcox.


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