STORY

Part One of Wendy Davies's 'Spring, Summer, Autumn, Scouse':


As the Spring weather got a little warmer, one big occasion for me to look forward to was the dispensing of the Liberty Bodice. You remember, that little white thing you wore on top of your vest, with those damned rubber buttons. If mum found out I hadn't put it on, woe betide me, and believe me, she always found out. I could go to school in my blazer instead of the long gabardine mac with the belt that I could wrap around me twice, I could wear my white ankle socks instead of the long grey ones, and best of all for the boys, no balaclava for at least three months!


You would wake up on a Sunday morning to the whirring of lawnmowers of people who were sure the grass had grown three feet high during the winter months, and if your bedroom window was open, you could smell the freshly cut grass too. Spring was a time for new clothes. A new dress, white sandals, white cardigan gloves and socks. Was I going to a party? No of course I wasn't. The outfit was for Sunday School on Whit Sunday. I hated Sunday School, but you had to go, and you didn't dare argue with mum about it. She wasn't over religious or anything like that, but the norm was for the kids to go to Sunday school. I even tried to get out of it one Sunday by crying and said I had a headache, so she made me stay in bed all day. So much for my plan to stay at home and play outside. It's ironic really, when I was about fourteen, I became a Sunday School teacher. I loved reading the stories of the bible to the children and getting them to draw pictures, yet when the roles had been reversed, I would have done anything not to be there.


Spring was the cue for the local kids to start playing out again in the street after tea whilst the mums used to lean on their respective gates and have a good old gab about how little Carol and Joey had grown so much, and did you hear that old Mrs Smith had died, and isn't the new postman so much like Clark Gable (who the hell was Clark Gable?). There was on oldish man who had an Ice Cream cart on his bicycle and would ring his bell as he rode up the road. The ice cream cones were round and so was the ice cream. It was made by Walls and that was the only brand we knew. As it started going dark and the street lights came on one by one, it wasn't long before our mums would start calling us all in for bed, and as if by magic, within about two minutes the street was deserted and peaceful for the night. Once indoors, we went into the kitchen, washed our hands and faces, then a glass of milk and some biscuits then up to bed. No watching television (if you had one), or playing computer games, it was tucked up in bed with your Dandy and Beano annuals, or Bunty and Judy, and you could read for half an hour then off to sleep, no arguing, but after a full day at school, then fun out on the street, you were too happy and tired to argue.


Almost every front door step was white, this was down to the fact that all the mums would get on their hands and knees and use a whitening stone once a week. It was like a ritual for them. Mum would say that you could always tell what a house was like inside by how clean the front door step looked. So when I walked passed peoples house I would observe the colours of their doorsteps. What if they had a painted step, perhaps red or black? What would that house be like inside?


At school it was time to start practicing for Sports day. I must admit I loved sport, but you could guarantee that the kids with the newest pumps and the whitest T shirts got all the attention. I often think now, that if I'd had a little more attention I could have been the 60s version of Aisha Hanson. I loved long and high jump, but I wasn't very fast at running. You were in one of four teams. Drake, Nelson, Wellington or Wolf. These names meant nothing to us at the time, but we learnt all about them in history lessons later in school life. I was in Drake team whose colour was green, Nelson was blue, Wellington was yellow, and Wolf was red.


Each morning mum gave you a penny to spend on biscuits at break time. Such things as jammy dodgers, or pink wafer biscuits, or coconut mallows. If she could spare it you could have 3d for a wagon wheel or a packet of crisps. You would take it in turns in the class to be a biscuit monitor for the week. I have to be honest and own up, that as I took the biscuits back to the school office after each break time, sometimes there would be one jammy dodger less than there should have been!


One morning whilst sitting in class, I had my penny in my hand and was clicking it up and down on my teeth, when suddenly it went down the back of my throat. I stood up frightened and went towards the teacher with my hand in the air. He thought I wanted to got to the toilet, and said yes I could go, but I managed to gurgle 'Ive swallowed me penny sir'. He scuttled me down to the headmasters office who called for the female head teacher, Miss Culshaw, who took my hand and almost carried me to her car. Within minutes we were at Garston Hospital where she explained to a nurse what the matter was, and they asked me to try and cough. I did as I was told and after two or three coughs, out popped the penny. I was perfectly O.K. apart from being a bit frightened, and my only concern was that I wondered if I could have my penny back! By this time my mum had turned up, obviously someone had contacted her. All she had been told was that I had been taken to hospital. The relief I saw on her face when she saw that I was fine was lovely to see. Miss Culshaw took mum and me home and told me to stay there the rest of the day. Once inside the house mum wanted to know at had happened. She shouted a bit, but I think that was because she was worried about me. But she wouldn't give me any biscuit money for the rest of the week to teach me a lesson. Needless to say I never put any coins anywhere near my mouth in the future. Next day it was back to school as normal and in the playground the long skipping ropes came out and great queues of girls (and boys) would jump through the ropes one after another. There would be wild squeals of joy for others who were playing 'Tick'. My favourite game was throwing two balls against the wall to the rhyme: 'Gypsy, Gypsy Caroline, Washed her hair in turpentine. Turpentine to make it shine, Gypsy, Gypsy Caroline', and other ditties which nowadays kids wouldn't dream of reciting, but we all knew them, and would avidly compete to see who was the best two ball player. Another great craze was the 'Whip and Top'. The top was a spinning top shape, made out of wood, with what appeared to be a nail pierced into the bottom of it. It was only about four inches high. The whip was a piece of wood about a foot long and the width of something like a piece of dowelling. Through a hole at one end was threaded a piece of stout cord or thin string. You wound the string quite tightly around the neck part of the top until it met the piece of wood. You crouched down on one knee and tucked the top between your knee and the ground, and with one great effort pulled the string as fast as you could which would send the top spinning up the road. You ran after it and would whip the top with the string which would then send it in another direction. The aim of the game was to keep whipping your top until it finally stopped spinning. Oh! what a simple game, but so much fun.


In class you tried to do your neatest writing in your work, because you would be given a star in the colour of your House team. If your work was very good you got a silver star, and if you had had three silver stars in a row, you got a gold one. Not many gold stars were given, but I did get one once for getting all my spellings right. I was so thrilled to tell mum, and she gave me a threepenny bit for doing so well. One exciting event each Spring to look forward to was the arrival of Billy Smart's Circus. The Circus and all the animals would arrive at Lime Street station in early evening, and then it would parade through the town until it reached Sefton Park. It was a real circus in those days, with lions and tigers and best of all the elephants. When you arrived home from school on that special day, you just had time for some sandwiches and a cup of tea, before setting off to catch the bus to Sefton Park, There you would stand with all the other mums and dads and their children, waiting for the big parade. Then in the distance you would hear the band playing and there would be a great air of excitement, with people stretching their necks to see who would spot the parade first. At the head of the parade would be Billy Smart himself, waving his top hat in the air, and smoking a big cigar. The clowns would follow behind handing out balloons and tumbling all over the place. Everyone clapped and cheered, especially when the elephants came lolloping along, and if there was a baby elephant then that was even more exciting. The lions and tigers were next, pacing up and down in their cages, and growling at everyone. The circus men and women would walk along giving out free tickets to the lucky people at the front of the crowds, and one year mum got one, and it was a family ticket so we all got in for free. The parade seemed to go on for ages, but finally the last of the performers went past, and we trundled back home, only stopping to pick up some fish and chips on the way. Of course there was more excitement to come on the day that you actually went to see the performance in the big top.


Easter time was fun at school too. You would spend a few lessons during the week leading up to Easter folding pieces of cardboard into the shape of a basket, and the teacher would give you a small hand full of straw, 6 little sugar coated Easter eggs, and a little fluffy yellow chicken to sit on top of the eggs. You carried it home ever so carefully and proudly showed it off to your mum. On Good Friday we always had this yellow fish which I really liked, with a big knob of margarine on the top. (we only had butter at Christmas time).


On Easter Sunday when you went to Sunday School, the vicar would give all the children an Easter egg. The only thing I remember disliking about Easter was that after Sunday dinner, come hail, rain or shine, we all had to walk down to Hale Lighthouse. You were allowed to take one Easter egg with you. When you were a child, it seemed as though you were walking forever until you got there, but in fact it was only two and a half miles! We only got the bus anywhere if it was too far to walk, otherwise you walked whether you liked it or not. You could guarantee that mum would meet someone she knew and would stop and talk for what seemed like ages, and you just had to wait patiently until she was ready to carry on. You didn't dare interrupt or you would get told off for being rude. One day I was walking up the road in front of mum and I kept turning round to talk to her. She warned me not to turn around or I would walk into a lamp post. Needless to say I took no notice and turned back around just as she was shouting 'Watch where you are going' when bang, not a lamp post but a tree. It made my nose bleed and cut my face, but mum had no sympathy for me. 'I warned you what would happen' she said, and I was even more upset because she wouldn't comfort me. Once in the house though she cleaned me up and I said I was sorry for not listening to her, and she did give me a cuddle, so I felt a bit better, but I was really only feeling sorry for myself.


Every Friday night a man used to knock on the door and mum would give him 5/- (25p) and he would mark it down on a card. We three kids knew what it was for. No grants for school uniforms in those days. There was shop called Freemans at the top end of Wavertree Road. We would get one bus to Penny Lane, then on to another to Wavertree Road, where you could be decked out in a new uniform for less than £5 each, and mum would start saving in early Spring ready for the new term in September. On my route to school, I had to cross a fairly busy dual carriageway, but there was a dear 'Lollipop' lady who saw us across the road. I can’t remember her name, but if you gave her 10 old bus tickets with the number 7 at the end of the row of numbers on them, she would give you some sweets. Goodness only knows what she did with all the bus tickets, but we would spend ages looking on the floors of bus stops and buses for discarded tickets for any with number 7 at the end of them. At school every body was given a card with their name on, and if you brought empty clean jam jars to school, you would get 10 house points for every 25 jam jars you brought. You would spend some of your evenings or Saturday mornings going from house to house and asking people 'Have you got any empty jam jars please?' After a while you would trundle back home with a large bag full of jars, but then you had to cart them to school the next day. There were two old air raid shelters in the school yard where all the jars were stored. There were two 'Jam Jar Monitors', one to take your jars, and one to mark down on the card how many you had taken in. There was always great rivalry over who had taken the most jars to school during the term.


On Saturday mornings I did my duty by going across the road to see Mrs Stamford, an elderly lady who couldn't walk very well. She performed the same ritual every week. She would wait until you arrived, then root around in her sideboard draw for a scrap of paper and a biro, then take her time to write out her shopping list. (Why the old dear couldn't do it on a Friday night so that it was ready for Saturday morning I could never fathom out). Anyway, whatever the weather you took her battered old shopping bag, her tatty shopping list and two £1 notes and went up the street to get her messages. I learned that list off by heart as she had the same things every week, except for one week when she asked me to go the chemist and get the tablets the doctor had prescribed for her. I'd never been to any other shop except the grocers for Mrs Stamford in all the months I had been doing it for her. From then onwards, the chemist was included every week, except that one Saturday morning in late Spring one year, I got dressed ready to go across the road as usual but mum told me that I wouldn't have to do Mrs Stamford's shopping anymore. She had died on the Wednesday, but as children in those days were seen and not heard, nobody thought to tell me until I was about to go and do her shopping for her. Although at the time I thought it was a pain every Saturday, and I did get a threepenny bit for my trouble every week, for weeks afterwards I was at a loss as to what to do on a Saturday morning. Her house always smelt musty, and the hearth was always full of ashes that had fallen out of the fire, the cups on the table looked a bit grotty, but she was a nice old lady and I missed her for quite a while after she died.I had been introduced to 'death' twice in the space of about two years, and it scared me, but I had to get on with it just like the grown ups did, and when you're a kid you bounce back quite quickly.


You were allowed to play and enjoy your childhood, but you also had to do things around the house to help mum. Although you had already done the weeks shopping, at about five-o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, you were sent up the street to the cake shop which Mrs Lacey ran. She was a lovely lady and because it was nearly closing time she would sell off any remaining cakes at half price. Such things as triangular shaped butter buns which oozed butter when you bit into them. Cream horns and mini jam tarts. You gave her two shillings and she would fill two white bags with as many cakes as she could cram into them.


Monday morning was washing day and the old metal boiler in the corner of the kitchen was warmed up ready to do battle with the weeks washing. I wasn't allowed near the boiler, but I had to sort the clothes out into 'whites' and 'colours'. Once a batch of washing was done it was heaved into the old metal bath and we would carry it outside to the shed where the mangle and dolly tub were. Mum would feed the clothes into the mangle and I turned the handle. It didn't seem like a chore then, because mum would make it fun. We'd either sing a song as the mangle turned or she would tell a story of when she was a girl. It took most of the morning to do the washing, so it was a good job it was only done once a week.



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By The Tramp The Tramp


This story was added on 22nd November 2011

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