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A Shout From The Attic: 1 - Mummy-Daddy Years

...I found a company selling chamois wash-leathers. I bought a dozen and was impressed that these would make a good hard wearing pair of trousers for an active boy. I made them with fringes to add a touch of decoration and the chamois leather pants were made and worn at all suitable occasions...

Ronnie Bray tells of bleak make-do-and-mend days.

I've been looking at a picture of Matthew before he reached his second birthday. He seems to be about eighteen to twenty months old. I don’t know who took the picture but it could have been my old friend from Manchester, Eric Nowell. It was taken outside our house at 15 Church Street, Longwood, and Huddersfield. The windowsill belongs to the house that was made by taking the old front room of number fifteen and one of the upstairs rooms to make a one-up-and-one-down. It meant that when we went onto no. 15, we had a long hall to traverse before we reached our living room, but we lived with that.

I got a long piece of red linoleum and laid it along the hall, polishing it to a high gloss with Dual floor cleaner. We turned left onto a sizeable living cum dining room that had useful cupboards to the left of the chimney breast, and which we kept warm with a paraffin heater. This type of paraffin heater is the dangerous smoky kind, but I kept the wick trimmed and when they turned the electric off for non-payment, I cooked in a frying pan on top of the heater. Matthew’s clothes were kept in the left-hand cupboard.

I was off work for some months because of a road traffic accident, I was hit by a car, had my left femur smashed, a few inches below the neck of the femur. The accident happened when he was ten months old and I was immobilised in the old Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for four months, so he was fourteen months old when I left hospital.

They told me that I was going home on one day but actually took me home a day early so I arrived unexpectedly. The ambulance dropped me off and I let myself in the house. Matthew’s pram was in the hallway and in it was Matthew. He had on a Terry nappy, a thin cotton vest and nothing else. The pram was filthy, and Matthew looked neglected. In the pram was a pint bottle of model milk, hateful stuff, with a teat on, presumably his dinner. He cried when he saw me and lifted his arms to me to be taken out of his pram. I secured my two walking sticks and undid his reins to lift him out. We sat together in the living room No one else was in the house.

Being off work for so long meant that funds were low, which is why the power was cut off. The gentleman who came to disconnect my electricity gave me sixpence to buy some sweets for my darling boy. Looking through the Exchange and Mart, I found a company selling chamois wash-leathers. I bought a dozen and was impressed that these would make a good hard wearing pair of trousers for an active boy. I made them with fringes to add a touch of decoration and the chamois leather pants were made and worn at all suitable occasions.

I had thought that my son should only have the best and that meant new clothes. However, penury has a way of changing the most obdurate mind and so I became grateful for the many gifts of second hand clothing supplied by Olive across the road, and her daughter who had a baby a little older than Matthew. I also discovered that young children do not wear their clothes out; they grow out of them while they are still good, so I in my turn joined in the supply chain and washed, pressed, and passed on Matthew's cast-offs.

Matthew was a delightful baby and an even more delightful toddler. He was very sunshine, charming everyone, including me, with his sunny disposition. And he still does!


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