Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The effects of war at home 2

We had a good healthy diet on the whole, as we produced our own fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as eggs. My mother taught herself to look after hens, and then added geese to the flock as well, which meant we sometimes had a goose for our Christmas dinner - a richer meat than turkey. I remember that the feeding of the hens and geese required the saving of all food waste to be boiled up as 'swill', a foul-smelling concoction which drove us out of doors when it was cooking on the stove!

A goose egg with hens' eggs

[Couldn't find a picture of pig swill anywhere!]

However, as a result of being at a vegetarian school, my brother and I had vegetarian ration books. To begin with we were able to change these in the holidays so that we could get meat, but eventually the government discontinued the practice, and we had to manage. Our parents gallantly shared their tiny meat ration with us, but our veggie ration books gave us access to additional cheese and eggs, and more in the way of nuts and dried fruit than was available to eveybody. I remember too a delicious cashew nut butter known as Nutter, which made a really tasty spread. As most women had to do, unless they were prepared to buy on the black market, my mother became expert at contriving nourishing meals out of not very much.

A typical weekly ration for one - enough cholesterol there for a week for me nowadays, even without the black pudding which I don't fancy!

A rather posh neighbour of ours kept a Jersey cow on her lawn for a time, as her ‘contribution’ to the war. She kindly offered to leave out two glasses of rich creamy milk every day, in her lovely cool dairy, and my brother and I were expected to walk down the hill and back again to take advantage of this extra nourishment. I remember it being a rather boring obligation which we did not appreciate! However, it did not last long, as our neighbour was soon notified that all the product from her cow which was surplus to her own household’s needs, was expected to be handed over to the Milk Marketing Board for fair distribution – she was not supposed to give it away to friends!

I think the worst thing I suffered personally as a teenager, as a result of the war, was the clothes I sometimes had to wear made over from my mother’s by a local dressmaker. I could tell that they were not stylish and they embarrased me. Only a few years ago I was using up a set of dusters which my mother had bought with a view to turning them into some sort of garment. Thank goodness that project was never realised! Incidentally, I still have left one or two of the black satinised cotton curtains we used to black out our windows. Over the years these have been made up into a variety of fancy dress costumes for school plays and local amateur dramatics.

We all suffered as a family for a while, when we gave houseroom to my father’s sister from London, together with some other London relatives. This was extremely tough for my mother, with two other women in her kitchen, and she became very stressed and tearful. The other family lived in a different way from us, and I can remember our horror on one occasion when they had prepared a cauliflower cheese for our supper, and it had come to table absolutely full of aphis which had not been washed out before cooking. I am afraid we made a bad hand of having evacuees in the house, even family, and I feel a bit ashamed when I think of all those other families who had no choice about taking in strangers.

The effects of war at home 1

As the years of my senior schooling slipped happily by in Letchworth, I was living an equally happy home life in Worcestershire during the school holidays. Our parents seemed to settle in well to living in the country, and so did my brother and I. Our father was relaxed and at ease again, working on the land, away from the city and the stress of trying to sell cars, and our mother soon set to work to learn how to live the life of a countrywoman, and to make a place for herself in the village community.

My father picking apples

We had not known the village prior to the war, as we arrived only in the July before war was declared in September. Village life was pretty simple then in any case. I have already written that we had neither mains electricity, water or sewage. I think we had a car in the early weeks of the war, although later it had to be taken off the road, as petrol was rationed, and used for essential purposes only. As I recall, apart from tradesmen who had to make deliveries, cars were mostly owned by the better off in those days, with two-car families being a rare occurrence. So people walked to where they had to go: to their work, to the shops, to school, to the pub, and to church.

The village had only three shops, as I remember: a baker, a butcher and a post office and general store. Fortunately we had our milk delivered; we lived next door to a farm and the milk arrived in a churn, still warm, and often with little black floaters in it, as it was not treated in any way at that time. It was ladled out into our own jug or milk can which we left on the doorstep.

The bulk of our shopping had to be done in the local town of Worcester which was seven miles away. By the time the war was well under way, the local bus service to the town was down to once a fortnight. It was a 10-15 minute walk downhill from our house to the bus stop, but probably half an hour up hill again, to get home with heavy bags loaded with tinned goods, dry goods, vegetables, clothes - everything that was needed for the next two weeks of living.

But once my father had the smallholding working well, with fruit and vegetables to take to market, as well as the eggs from the hens kept by my mother, it was necessary to have some form of transport to get the produce into the town. For a while we ran a pony and trap, which we parked in the car park alongside whatever cars were there. The first pony we bought turned out to have been doped by the crooked dealer, and became unmanageable as soon as we got him home. The second buy, an amiable little Welsh pony called Mick, turned out fine, and my brother and I were able to ride him as well.

My brother and I with Mick the pony

I remember that on our shopping expeditions to the town we used to lunch at the British Restaurant. This was a sort of communal kitchen set up in schools and church halls by local authorities on a non-profit-making basis, where one could get a good wholesome meal for about 1/6d (8p), without handing over food coupons. I remember too that in those days of shortages, teas and coffees in cafes and restaurants tended to be served with one lump of sugar for each person, and if one did not take sugar in one's tea, one put the lump quickly into one’s pocket, and took it home for use in cooking, hopefully collecting those of other non-sugar-takers too!