There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
This is one of my memories; the street I lived in until the age of five.
It was a narrow street with only ten small, terraced houses. Built in stone, the front exteriors were identical: a door with a window on the left and two bedroom windows above. The differences were made by the individual choices of each household. Perhaps I should really say, the choices made by the women. Each house had different net curtains at the downstairs window, white or cream; a variety of patterns. It seemed like every other Monday the washing lines on the common land at the back of the houses were filled with row upon row of lace-like material. And every Saturday morning my mum cleaned the front step with a white donkey-stone, bought from the rag and bone man in exchange for any old clothes that were past wearing. Rubbing the sandstone in long sweeps over the step she would smooth it out with a cloth until it was evenly covered.She was always in a good mood if she was the first on the street to have a Saturday “tidy front step”.
The street was cobbled. In summer when the weather was hot the tar between the cobbles melted, very tempting for small fingers. We would poke the tar with sticks and often get some on our hands, or clothes. I’m not sure how my mother removed it from my fingers, but I do remember getting into trouble about that. Being too narrow for cars, we were able to play on the road: hopscotch, skipping games, football (the dads would sometimes join in), cricket (being the smallest I was only ever allowed to field, not always successfully, I might add; the street sloped downwards, the ball often only came to rest on the patch of land at the end of the street).
We stayed out from first thing in the morning until dark, given half a chance. I remember eating whatever ‘butty’ I was given for lunch (dinner) sitting on the front doorstep.
The patch of land I mentioned, was called ‘the croft’ for some reason. It was where we had the communal bonfire each year. The men collected old boxes, planks and pallets, broke up old furniture and built the bonfire. Some older boys would guard it to prevent anyone from the other streets stealing anything; there was great rivalry with the bonfires. On the night our mothers produced potato pies, black peas, treacle toffee. Some people threw potatoes onto the fire to cook – which they more often than not, didn’t, but no one admitted the hot, blackened potatoes were raw inside. There was always lots of fireworks (always the dads in charge): Rockets, Catherine Wheels, Rip-Raps, Bangers. We were allowed Sparklers to write our names in the dark skies. I don’t remember it ever raining on Bonfire Night, though, being in the North of England, I suppose it must have.
With no bathroom in the house the lavatory was in a row of three small buildings. A cinder path crossed the common land to get to them. Stiflingly hot in summer, bitterly draughty in the winter, my mum fought a war against germs inside our loo, it always smelled of Jeyes Fluid. The brick walls were whitewashed which sometimes formed bubbles and broke up into powdery flakes that floated down onto the stone flags. With no window, and a door that fitted tightly when latched, it was pitch-black in there. I always stretched my leg out to hold the door back against the wall; I was more scared of the dark than being seen by anyone who passed. And, anyway, over the roofs of the houses in the next street I could see fields and the dark purple of the moors; somewhere that seemed a magical place.
Bath night was Sunday night. With no bathroom in the house, we used a large tin bath that was usually hung on a large nail outside the back door. Hauled in front of the kitchen fire the bath was filled with pan after pan of hot water heated by the wall cylinder.
In winter the only warm room was the kitchen. Bedtime was a dash from there, up icy-cold stairs into the bedroom, tightly clutching my hot water bottle. If my father wasn’t home, my mother, oblivious to any thoughts of Health and Safety, carried a shovelful of fire, burning coals from the kitchen fireplace, to the fireplace in my bedroom, in order to take the chill off the room. It rarely did, but I loved watching the flickering shadows from the low flames on the walls and ceiling. Often, by morning, my clothes, laid out on the chair at the end of my bed, in readiness to jump into, would be stiff with cold, and the inside of the windows were covered in intricate patterns on the panes, icy kaleidoscopes of snowflakes that melted when I held my hand on the glass.
I suppose we were poor, but where we lived and at that time we were the norm. I can’t remember feeling any different from anyone else. But I guess, at five, I was oblivious to the larger picture of our family, days were times of play, and the novelty of the small school I attended. It’s only looking back that I realise how quickly I took for granted our next house with a bathroom, electric heaters in all the rooms, and a garden to play in. Oh, and an inside lavatory!
Best of all, I was within walking distance of the fields and the moors, and as I got older the moors became a somewhere to roam, to escape to, with my dog..
Next week: Places in our Memories #MondayBlogs #Memories with Thorne Moore