When I was a little girl
January 3, 2013
I lived in Scotland. I was (and still am!) the younger daughter and as such was still at home for a few years when my sister went off to school. I would sit on my mother’s lap and ask her to tell me about ‘The olden days’, meaning her childhood. It seemed such a different world to the one I lived in. And of course the same is true now as I look back at my growing up without central heating, frost on the windows in winter, a metal bath tub put in front of the fire if it was too cold to bath in the bathroom, no showers but washing hair in the sink……
Our mother was at home when we were small, reviewing books every few weeks for the Scotsman, a national newspaper. Father was an agricultural seeds salesman out on the farms all over Scotland and often away Monday to Friday. But mostly Mum was a stay at home mum in that she wasn’t out at work. But we had a daily ‘help’. Dot. Dot came every day and from my memory was there all day, but that can’t be true. But she did all the cleaning and washing and ironing. And babysitting. But that’s another story. But she had a mystique about her as far as I was concerned. Her children all had different surnames and I just couldn’t get my head round it.
Groceries were delivered after a list had been left at Rennie’s the independent grocer. Occasionally the co-op was used and we would get the Green Shield stamps to stick in the book – the original loyalty tokens. “Morning rolls” were delivered every day at 7 am – the best bread rolls I have ever had. Round with a crispy top and bready in the middle. And still warmmmmmmm. The fresh fish van came round on Fridays. Milk of course was delivered by Billie Rutherford’s Dad from across the road. Everyone had their milk delivered in those days.
Mother learnt to drive after she had me. I remember sitting petrified in the back of a turquoise Mini as she had lessons. My father had filled my three-year old head with the fear that she didn’t know how to drive so had to have someone help her so I clung on for dear life imagining desperate accidents. But she passed and took ownership of a Morris 1000 convertible with the number plate GUT 200. A fantastic car.
Pale blue with leather seats, and indicators that flicked out like arms from the side of the car. Although they often jammed so she had to use hand signals. Which wasn’t easy as she smoked her Richmond tipped.
Those Richmond tipped cigarettes were the ones I would be sent to Annie MacGregor’s to buy. Clutching the money – often a ten bob note – and reciting over and over in my head lest I forget ” 20 Richmond tipped, 20 Richmond tipped”. Probably only 400 yards away – down our street, turn left on to Cash Feus and it was just past the houses on the left. A tiny shop with a counter so high I couldn’t see the top of it. “20 Richmond tipped please”, and I would be handed the white box – flatter and shorter than today’s king size cigarettes – with a picture of a sailor inside a life belt and the words “Player’s Navy Cut” written around it.
I handed over the money – my memory is that they were something like 3/11 (it was definitiely something and eleven – everything was) and I would be given any change and would trot off home clutching the money and the cigarettes. Sometimes I would buy a penny dainty at the same time, or a barley twist, but not usually. Very occasionally I would be sent to get cigarettes for Dot too. If she was getting them herself, she would sometimes buy 2 at a time. The shopkeeper would open a packet of ten and wrap two in a tissue. But if I were getting them , my parents were paying so it would be a whole packet of ten Number 6. So slim in comparison to 20 Richmond Tipped. I thought the packet more elegant.
Mum passing her test gave her freedom. And she would go out shopping for clothes or to meet friends, often leaving me with a wonderful old couple who lived next door. Auntie and Uncle we called them, although they were no relation. I don’t think they had any children and certainly no grandchildren so I think it was a mutually enjoyable arrangement. I would go to their dark dark sitting room and play for hours underneath their table which was draped with a heavy tablecloth. Uncle would feed me Russian caramels and teach me to play numerous card games. He would also allow me to play with the telephone – he would pretend to ring someone and then hand the phone to me to finish the call. A wonderful fantasy world.
Auntie taught me to knit using huge knitting needles about as thick as my finger but gave really fast results as each stitch is massive. She also used to allow me to clean her front step – hands and knees with a bucket and somehow she sold it to me as a privilege to be allowed to do it. They were like surrogate grandparents as our own were hundreds of miles away.
Mum would return from wherever she had been, my sister would come back from school and I would return next door to home cooked tea. Mum did all the cooking except Saturday lunchtimes when Dad would do egg and chips or corned beef and chips. And chips were real chips from real potatoes fried in a pan on the top of the cooker. Cooked at least twice in lard and dripping. Yum!
After tea when I got a bit older, perhaps four or five, we would watch Blue Peter with Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton talking to us in their received pronunciation, and then The Magic Roundabout. And when Zebedee said “Time for bed” (just before the Six o’ Clock News), I did just that and went up for my bath and to bed where the polystyrene tiles had holes gouged out of them by us trying to do headstands on the bed and pushing our toenails through the wallpaper and the tiles beneath. Happy days.