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A Shout From The Attic: Weekends

Ronnie Bray tells of window shopping on his Saturday trips into town.

To read more of Ronnie's engrossing life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

The best thing about weekends was no school. I had been left for a year before it began to dawn on me what school was all about. It seemed as if it was just somewhere to send me to get me out from under the feet of Nanny and Ma. Weekends were different. Although most people had to work on Saturday mornings, you could tell it was Saturday as soon as you woke up. There were fewer sounds and less of a sense of worry in the air.

A quick visit to the bathroom, sometimes having a wash in the white sink under the window that admitted light through the small front bedroom, and it was time to get out the wire wool, spread newspaper on the table - always the Huddersfield Daily Examiner - and clean the cutlery. That was before stainless steel cutlery at affordable prices had made its appearance. The wire wool and the oxide it removed from the knives and forks made my fingers black, and I hated it, feeling a great sense of relief when it was done. I think that was the first inkling I had that I was short on rigour. If I didn’t like something, I wanted to put distance between it and myself rather than solve the problem. Problems were never solved in our family; they were dealt with by diktat.

Although I remember doing this chore on Saturday mornings, René recalls that we cleaned the knives and forks on Friday evenings together. I can’t say I noticed her, probably because I was too busy reading the newspaper under the implements as I rubbed my fingers to the bone.

When the cutlery was gleaming, it was time to go to Woods' the fishmongers in Brook Street next to the wholesale market to but bits for the cat. The fish bits secure in their newspaper parcel, my next stop was the farrier under the arches to drink in the evocative smell of burning hoof mixed with straw and general horse smells but mostly stale urine. Then it was the stiff climb up the hill to home. Once my parcel was delivered it was Liberty Hall and off to town to look around.

My regular window shopping stops in town were at Wiley Bros., cycle dealers at the bottom of Trinity Street, then Fleischer’s watch makers where the window was at pavement level and you could look down on the watchmakers at work. Then on to Barkers sports shop on Market Street just around the corner from the Elite Cafe where I sometimes bought chips. Next to the old market, that wonderful and familiar piece of Victorian architecture that was as black as and almost as good as the Town Hall. What confidence the Victorians had. They imagined their times, values, and wealth would last forever and built according to that confidence.

The upstairs market had some intriguing shops including the clog stall where in later years I would buy pretty clogs for Gaynor and Matthew; the book shop at the King Street end from where I bought Cruden’s Concordance when I was sixteen. It cost me a pound and saved me hours of searching for Bible references. What happens to your books, where do they go?

But it was the downstairs market that held a treasure that I long for today, and ever fail to find. Apart from a magnetic stall that sold jokes and novelties, itching powder and fake ink blots, and another that sold Foulsham’s’ range of cheap books that contained all the knowledge any young man might ever want need, there was a stall at the far end whose big glossy legend declared “Dr Dan Holroyd’s Drink of Health”. The herbal brew cost either twopence or threepence according to one’s pocket and reflected in the size of tumbler, being tapped from a giant varnished barrel and topped up from a bottle of special brew that sat on the counter looking just as important as it was. I had threepenn’orth and thought myself a toff. Two or even three glasses could be consumed by the determined. Nothing wrong with my rigour here!

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