Chapters

Young Freda

Growing Up In Sheffield

I'm five years old and my throat feels sore, I told Mum that it hurt to swallow, the next thing I know I am in hospital and I'm going to have my tonsils out!! Help! - Nobody asked me if I wanted them out...The nurses are quite strict and shoo Mum away from my bedside, which makes me feel very cross with them. She has brought me in an egg for my tea - I never got it. The next day I am put onto a trolley and left waiting in the corridor outside the operating theatre, another child on a trolley is wheeled out and it's my turn! The surgeon says he is going to put a mask over my face and I tell him that he's not and put my hands out to stop him - I'm aware of a nasty smell of rubber, as I lose the battle, and the mask goes over my face - ugh! Gas is horrid but I know no more until I wake up back in the ward, in my cot. Mum is there as the mist clears from my eyes, but again, the nurses send her away, and I am soon asleep again.

The nurses keep trying to make me eat - but how can I? Anyway, where's my egg? I am in hospital for 3 days altogether, I'm told that I can't go home until I have eaten something. Normally, I have a very good appetite, but I have never felt less like eating. I manage to force some bread and milk (known as 'pobs') down my poor little throat and on the third day I am allowed to leave. In years to come, tonsillectomies will be performed in hours, and patients allowed home the same day - although they will not be whisked into hospital with quite the same speed that I was!

We move to Eastern Avenue, Arbourthorne and it's leather leggings, liberty bodices and black patent ankle straps. The cry of the rag & bone man - he offers me a balloon in exchange for my outgrown shoes and I'm outraged! Being the youngest of three girls, I'm used to having the 'pass-me-downs'. Mum actually tried to throw out my black patent ankle straps because there was a hole in the toe of one of them - can you believe it? My favourite shoes! I crammed my little toes into my brown leather shoes with the strap across the front, even though Mum wanted to give them to the rag and bone man because she insisted that they were too small - so?? He thought he could tempt them off me with the offer of a big, bright yellow balloon - he must think I was born yesterday, I know that that lovely balloon could go pop at any minute, then no balloon and no shoes - no way, Jose! But I will be glad when I've grown out of those leather leggings. I wear them with my shoes to keep my legs warm, they button up with a million, trillion tiny buttons that have to be fastened with a special button hook, and Mum is always telling me to keep still while she tries to match the button holes with the appropriate button, she gets very cross when, reaching the end, finds a button and no button hole...a smack usually follows.
And as for that Liberty bodice (I'm sure it didn't really come from Liberty's) those flat, covered buttons are so difficult to do up and undo that I wiggle and squiggle until it's off, if I do this often enough, it will stretch, and I shall get it on and off with ease. I tried leaving it off all together, but got a smack for my temerity. Smacks came often, as I remember. I got two for getting tar on my legs - a smack for each leg - after I'd been told not to go near the newly tarred road, but I wanted to get a closer look, it's a wonder I didn't get any on my nose!

Victor Sylvester represents chairs on the table, Housewives Choice - a house full of damp washing. I still cannot bear to hear the sounds of Victor Sylvester and his orchestra, it revives memories of being told to go away and amuse myself whilst Mum got on with the cleaning. I hated seeing those chairs on the table whilst Mum washed the kitchen floor, it seemed to take forever, and all I wanted was a bit of attention...On one occasion, Mum gave me a bag of desiccated coconut to eat, thinking it would keep me quiet for a little while. I did my best to eat it; I was supposed to like it, wasn't I? In fact I disliked it intensely, and have loathed coconut in any shape or form ever since, I cannot even bear the smell of it. (Unfortunately for me, it appears to be used in practically every consumable!)

The whole process of doing the family wash took forever. Every inch of the kitchen floor would be covered with separate piles of clothes, the large copper bubbled away in the corner, filling the room with hot steam. With sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and the hair that escaped from her turban, stuck firmly to her forehead, Mum used a wooden 'dolly' (like a 3 legged stool with a long handle) to thump the living daylights out of the heavily soiled clothes that had been soaking in a zinc pan, and a copper 'posher' for moving the clothes around in the boiler. A bucket stood in another corner, supposedly out of the way of curious little fingers, where the boiled white washing was soaked in water to which a bag of 'dolly blue' had been added. It turned the water (and my fingers) a lovely shade of blue, I never could understand why Mum wanted to turn her lovely white washing blue!

Mum used to have to wring out the soaking wet washing by hand, until the day a wringer arrived, but it had to stand outside, there just wasn't enough room for it in our small kitchen. I used to help by lifting the wet washing out of the zinc bowl for some one else to feed through the rollers, standing well back - I'd heard horrific tales of long hair and even arms being caught up in those rollers! Then there was the drying; we had washing steaming all over the house when the weather was behaving badly. The ironing process took up another whole day, robbing me once again of even a tiny bit of my mother's attention. The freshly ironed washing was then draped over the slats of the ceiling dryer and hauled back up high, where it hung over us during every meal time until it was all hauled back down again, to be carefully folded and put away.

We still have to go outside to get to the toilet, but at least it's bare whitewashed walls are attached to the house, although the ledge and brace door, to which squares of neatly torn up newspaper are attached by a loop of string, (when will we get to use those wonderful sheets of shiny 'Bronco' lavatory paper??) does not quite reach the floor and the sharp draught which blows beneath, feels appallingly cold to tiny feet.

Sent off to nursery school at the age of three and on the first day, clinging to my mother's skirts, I cry broken heartedly - because another girl is wearing the same dress as myself! Which was all a waste of time, because on arrival we have to put on overalls, identical except for the picture on each pocket. Mine is either an 'h' or the profile of a chair - I never could decide. (And I still don't know!) This matched the picture above the peg on which we had to hang our overall.

My favourite activity at nursery school was 'woodwork'. Hard as may be to believe, we had a huge block of wood on the floor, measuring perhaps 4' x 6' x 1' thick, into which we hammered large nails! (But it would be another 30 years before I put this early experience to some practical use!)

During play, a shove from my young friend and neighbour, Peter Parkin, sent me sprawling on the pavement. I ran into my house crying for my Mum, (as you do), blood streaming down my face. In fact it looked to be far worse than the small cut, the cleaning up process revealed. Never the less, the scar above my lip, bears testimony to that event and has caused many a ribald comment about 'over-enthusiastic' kissing, ever since!

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