I have many memories of my childhood, as I suppose most other people do of their own. In my case the memories are all good and it truly was a magical world for me. Many of my childhood experiences are in black and white, which is probably linked to television that was in its infancy and was in monochrome, and also due to the pollution that had created buildings that were indeed black. Town halls, museums, factories, schools, all of the stone used in buildings was black due to the smoke of thousands of coal fires and factory chimneys.
One splash of colour though was my grandmother’s house. Not the house itself, as that was a mix of stone and brick, but my grandmother herself and her kitchen. My grandmother was very short, very plump and she dyed her thinning hair a fairly vivid orange. Her dresses were shapeless and often of floral design, but quite colourful. Her skin was bright pink and she had hands that were amazing, in hindsight. She had the ability to plunge her hands into almost boiling water to wash up. Her incredible hands showed no sign of pain, but my brothers and I felt it, particularly when washed us. She would scrub mercilessly our bare skin and after one of her washing and drying sessions, we emerged like lobsters pink, buffed and scoured. Dirt free we could bring no shame to the family. I loved my grandmother and her hugs were smothering and comforting in the way that all grandparents hugs should be, and she was always kind to me.
Anyway, I should tell you about the house. It still stands all these years later and hopefully will continue long after I have left the Earth. It was a two-up two-down terrace in Chapel Allerton in Leeds, in the North of England. There were about eight houses in the row and the road was, and still is, unmade. For some reason it is a private road and despite there being some large, grand houses in the street, it is still unsurfaced, no cobbles, no bitumen, just dirt. It sits opposite a beautifully kept park, bowling green and a large number of allotments. In the past the hillside of the park had air raid shelters, but these were in filled before I ever went. There was a bit of waste land, with some large trees set on a small hillock and I vividly remember a tiny bakery built into the hillside. It was like some sort of hobbit building and unfortunately is no longer there. I remember with great pleasure going with grandma to buy tiny freshly baked loaves. They were individual size and when cut in two, spread with jam and butter and eaten whilst still warm, were delicious. Another delight were the bilberry and cream individual pies and I can still taste them as I write this. Up to this point of writing, I had forgotten all about them. The little bakery was dug into the hillock and there was a rough stone wall holding the hill in place. A chimney vented fumes from the oven and there was only a small counter, but a strong smell of bread and baking.
Another vivid memory, was the slugs that would appear on this wall at times. If there is a world record for slug size, then Chapel Allerton must have it. They were monsters, at least seven inches of black, slimy creatures, the subject of nightmares. They also inhabited the stone wall opposite the back entrance to grandma’s house and her garden. My grandma was not overly sentimental and she dealt with the slugs without mercy. Salt was the chemical weapon of choice. After a liberal dousing by my grandma, I watched in fascinated horror as the creatures writhed in a slow agony, frothing and foaming as the salt dehydrated them and ensured they never trespassed into her domain again. Ever since I have never resorted to using this approach to dealing with the pest. A recount of my own approach will have to wait for another day.
Back to my grandma’s house. The little house was a marvel to me. Outside on the dirt road was a gas street lamp, just like the one in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and the toilets were not in the house, but in a row at the bottom of the lane. The houses didn’t have toilets at that time and my brothers and I were amused by the Guzunders. These were large chamber pots, ready for those times when a walk down the lane was either too much of an effort, or the thought of the weather, the cold and the dark, proved too much of a barrier. Each house had its own loo and there was a large iron key on a piece of string for when nature called. They are not there now. Another conquest of modernity and the passing of hygiene and sanitation laws that we are privy to.
Anyway, I’ll have to leave you hanging there, a bit like the key on the string, but I’ll be back soon. I always like visiting my grandma’s.