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A Shout From The Attic: Knives, Forks, and Spoons!

...The blacksmith never acknowledged my presence and I wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him. I went to watch him work. The forge fire was raised to white heat by a huge bellows pumping air through its vast leather lungs. Sparks flew up to the vaulted roof twenty or more feet above street level and scattered their iridescent showers all over without setting anything alight. The light from the forge burned brightest around the spot where the anvil stood on its elm block...

Ronnie Bray recalls sweet boyhood Saturdays - even though there were chores which had to be done.

The best thing about my boyhood Saturday mornings was no school. The worst thing was knives, forks, and spoons.

It is hard to explain to those who enjoyed their schooldays what Saturday morning felt like when there was no requirement to attend school. It had a sense of freedom about it that was only surpassed by the fact that Sunday had no knives, forks, and spoons to blacken its welcome sense of complete liberation. I will add for those hostile to religion that I enjoyed attending Sunday School at Brunswick Street Methodist Church right up until the day they threw me out.

Sunday was a quiet day. If you had taken me and buried me in the earth for months without any sense of time and then stood me in a box in the middle of Fitzwilliam Street on a Sunday, I would have known what day it was. I would have known by the very sweet stillness that pervaded the air like a musk scent, heady and compelling, with a sense of excitement that was the signature of the Sabbath Day.

Saturdays were different. There was less traffic, and fewer footfalls on the near-eye-level pavement outside the window scullery window, but there were those ever-present, hateful and insufferable knives, forks, and spoons.

Although my load of household chores was by no means burdensome and consisted of going down to William Woods & Sons fishmongers in the wholesale market for threepenn’orth of fish bits, a chore that I didn’t mind, it was made lighter by my concomitant visit to the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway’s farrier’s shop under the Victorian railway arches along Viaduct Street, where the great cart horses were shod. I stood on the quarry-flagged pavement and peered through gaping doors, flung wide to admit as much light as possible.

The blacksmith never acknowledged my presence and I wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him. I went to watch him work. The forge fire was raised to white heat by a huge bellows pumping air through its vast leather lungs. Sparks flew up to the vaulted roof twenty or more feet above street level and scattered their iridescent showers all over without setting anything alight. The light from the forge burned brightest around the spot where the anvil stood on its elm block.

Stories were reverently whispered about heroic men whose strength was such that they could lift the anvil and the block from the floor: no-nonsense men with little to say but whose prowess caused a hush to descend whenever they entered into knowing company. It was a hard world of work that produced such men from the squalid ranks of the underpaid and underfed, but now and again one emerged. Duggie Clark, the coal merchant, who played Rugby League at Fartown, was such a man, still remembered by the older end of Huddersfield.

The horses were of giant size, especially to a short lad. Today, they are not as big as I remember them, but most things have shrunk since an when I was a wee lad. Nonetheless, they were big enough: great powerful-muscled beasts that did as the blacksmith ordered whilst looking as if they could have pleased themselves. There, watching them clopping the hay-strewn and urine-soaked floor, snorting and majestical in the romantic mix of half-light and shadows, with eyes shining like lanthorns in the heat of the fire and their glossy coats glowing like champions among the sparks and smoke, I often felt close to worshipping them.

The leather-aproned farrier tore the worn shoes from their feet and they did not complain. A massive foot held between his knees, he filed away at their hooves with a monster rasp, scattering parings about him, and they did not balk. Next, he cleaned out the underside of the big hoof, digging and gouging with an iron tool, but they did not grumble. Then, he offered a red hot iron to the underside of the hoof. It burned and sizzled and smelled a smell you never forget, but the horse did not object. Even when he took the three and four inch flat brads and drove them through the hot shoe and the hoof, the horse did not flinch. The sight, sound, smell, and warmth of that ancient place in which the knowing smith practised his antique craft was one of the magical tableaux of an often dull childhood.

My admiration spent, I took my parcel of fish bits round the corner and snail-like walked up the long steep hill to home. I never hurried because I knew what awaited me there: knives, forks, and spoons!

A copy of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner laid on the table in the back room that served as living and dining rooms. On them was emptied the contents of the cutlery drawer. Yellowed celluloid or bone handled knives and forks, and a variety of spoons, tea, dessert, and table lay in an unfriendly pile. At one side was a hank of steel wool. My task was to rub off all the week’s tarnish and make them look like new. The last time most of them were new was sometime during the Crimean War. It took a lot of hard rubbing on the never-diminishing pile to make a little headway. It was a long, hard task that blackened and made sore my fingers, and made them taste funny.

However, eventually the job was finished, the cutlery, once more fit to eat with, put back into the musty drawer, the wire wool returned to wherever it was they kept it, and the newspaper, badly discoloured, put inside the fender to be used as kindling for Sunday’s fire.

And then I was free. And that’s when Saturday really began for a work-shy young lad who, whilst never actually doing so, apart from eating fish and chips from Bill Haley’s, would have been happy to eat with his fingers if it meant the end of knives, forks, and spoons.

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