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Donkin's World: Mud Pies And Mucky Fat

...We called them auntie Annie and auntie Hilda. I don't know their histories but they were part of that generation that lost so many boyfriends and husbands during the First World War.

On the wall of their house they had an old whip - a cat-o-nine-tails - and its presence was used as a reminder of its terrible potential for inflicting punishment on naughty children. I suppose nuclear weapons have the same value today on a larger scale...

Richard Donkin, recalling his childhood, is in full agreement with the findings of a recent report - dirt is good for you.

Playing in dirt can be good for children, says a new report. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8373690.stm Well that's a relief. As a two-year-old my outside entertainment involved making mud pies in some churned up ground beneath a lilac tree, the only piece of vegetation in the small back yard of our rented terrace house in Dewsbury.

There was an outside toilet that possibly contributed to my lifelong fear of spiders. We had a cat too, called Blacky but maybe I didn't play enough with him as I developed a cat allergy in my later years.

Across the yard was a rag warehouse and we would play on the bales made from oily rags, wrapped in sack cloth. I dare say there must have been a few fleas around but I don't recall picking up skin infections. That's about as much as I can remember of that first house, apart from two spinster sisters next door - who owned our house. We called them auntie Annie and auntie Hilda. I don't know their histories but they were part of that generation that lost so many boyfriends and husbands during the First World War.

On the wall of their house they had an old whip - a cat-o-nine-tails - and its presence was used as a reminder of its terrible potential for inflicting punishment on naughty children. I suppose nuclear weapons have the same value today on a larger scale.

Auntie Annie was a kind old lady who I liked, but auntie Hilda was not very pleasant and was always looking out of the window for signs of mischief. I remember the shock on her face one day when I put my tongue out at her. The whip stayed on the wall but I think I had a slap on the bottom for that one.

There was even less room around the front of the house, just a tiny patch between the house and the pavement. But I still played games there with my best friend, Beverley Hammond. It's difficult to explain how a mat on the ground could pass for a tent and campsite but when that was all you had you needed to develop quite an imagination.

I couldn't relate to the kids in Enid Blyton's Famous Five books who could range freely with "lashings" of ginger beer. We had fizzy pop at home - a bottle of orange and dandelion and burdock http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dandelion_and_burdock when the pop man came once a week. But we always had to be back for lunch which was never ever referred to as lunch. We knew dinner time and tea time.

Dinner might be treacle sandwiches and tea, banana sandwiches or a bit of stand pie, tripe, fat n'bread or a fry up. It would be difficult to find a more effective recipe for arterial sclerosis. the best days we might get meat and tatey pie and on the rarest days, stew and dumplings.

I should elaborate on fat n'bread. The chief constituent of this delicacy is pork fat that posher people than me call "dripping". At home the fat would be in a bowl, separated from a layer of brown jelly a dish that added to the taste - hence the term: mucky fat. When smeared on bread with salt and pepper there was nowt to beat it. In fact I shouldn't use the past tense here since it remains popular today in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

The floor of the kitchen/living room of that first house was covered in oil cloth (linoleum) and the table had a plastic table cover. When mum wiped it with a dish cloth it made a high pitch sound that went right through you. Close to the fire place, where the oil cloth met the hearth, I used to look for silver fishes (discussed previously here http://www.richarddonkin.com/blog/richarddonkin.co.uk/blog/2007_02_01_archive.html) in the dust. It must have been the insect life that got me interested in nature. You didn't need to live in the countryside to appreciate other living things. OK, the sparrows were generally black, but there were plenty of insects to find when making mud pies. Yes, dirt is good for you.

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and
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