The family in 1944 ~ Stephen, Nancy and Mary ~ please note, all the children in home-made coats !
Good heavens ~ I see the last entry was on May 1st ~ it seems to be all GO here at the minute what with getting the new telly installed, signing up for the personal alarm system, and then Mo coming to re-apply for the Attendance Allowance ~ all wonderful
helps but these days after an hour's chat, I am quite limp and need to flop on the sofa to recover. There was a very friendly couple next door at Number 7 ~ people who I'd kind-of known for years ~ Dave and Judy ~ such a nice pair ~ they came in one
morning and I showed them round the house and had a good chat ~ on Saturday before they left they brought me a dear little soap stone box, white, with shells and seaweed carved into it ~ just the right size to hold a pendulum ! How kind !
I'll take a photo of it later.
Any Questions on Friday came from Bristol, more particularly from Knowle West, the once notorious housing estate. In fact my family lived there for a year or so, before the War, in 1938 when I was about four or five
years old. As War became more and more likely, Daddy had given up his job in Sweden and found one with Bristol Social Services, working in Knowle West ~ a newly built housing estate with some 2,000 identical council houses covering about
two square miles ~ built to re-house those whose homes had been erased in city centre slum clearances. We lived on the estate, Daddy working with a team of noble social workers and Christians to aleviate some of the misery ~ among them the Vicar, Mike
Hulbert, his wife Helen (the parents of my life long friend Rachel) and Miss May Bolt. It must have been pretty soul destroying work as the people had all been wrenched out of their familiar communites and separated from friends, families and
neighbours and dumped down in this dismal urban sprawl, but they did their best.
Of course, my parents had moved there from Lustleigh, the iidyllic "Miss Marple" type Devon village where Mother had been with David and me and often a
Swedish au pair girl while Daddy was away. The contrast for them is hard to contemplate. Before long he was appointed Secretary of Social Services with responsibility for the whole city, and at that point they were
able to move out of Knowle West to 35 St Martin's Road ~ a very different kettle of fish, in Knowle proper, a pleasant and respectable suburb alongside the Wells Road. The houses in St Martin's Road were all substantial semi-detatched
stone built four or five bedroomed with good gardens, late Edwardian I should think. The road was wide and tree lined. (I'll find a photo later.)
Anyway, back to Knowle West ~ to hear on the radio that this is where this
week's Any Questions was from was quite a shock. It was held, they told us, in the Community Centre by which I think they meant the large complex of buildings looking out across Bristol where Merrywood Grammar School once stood. Right,
on this vaste soul-less estate the council had obviously provided schools ~ primary, secondary and a Grammar school ~ Merrywood ~ in a splendid building at the cliff edge looking down on St Paul's and the railway, the river and way over there Clifton and the
posh parts of town. The school was in two parts ~ the boys' and the girls' ~ mirror images of each other, with about 500 pupils in each. Every time I went down to visit Mum and Dad in their last home in Somerton, I'd see Merrywood
Schools high up there above the railway. But no longer. I'm not sure why, but some years back the school was bull-dozed and new community buildings put up in its place ~ almost certainly this was where the Radio 4 Any Questions was coming
This is really very sad ~ in my day, the headmistress was a Miss Dick-Cleland, a real Lady ~ who had worked so hard to bring the school up to the standard of other Bristol Grammar Schools. I guess it would have broken her heart had
she lived to see it demolished. I may have already mentioned this, but I left school in the Lower Sixth suddenly wanting to get on with LIFE ~ a big mistake, of course ~ how on earth could working as a kitchen maid at Eton College get me anywhere
!!! Except to the au pair job in Lausanne !! Anyway, when I got back from Switzerland, I would sometimes go and visit Miss Dick-Cleland in her Clifton flat ~ she'd make us supper and I thought we were quite friends.
Until, oh Lordy ! ~ until Richard was born, right. One time visiting the family in St Martin's Road with my adorable baby I rang the school and asked if I could call in and show him off to everyone, especially to my dear friend the Head Mistress
! I guess Richard must have been about a year old at the time, and absolutely adorable ~there was a bus ride, and a good walk up the dreary road that I had walked so many times with friends and satchels full of books, and now here I was with
my darling baby. The houses looked as slummy as ever with old broken furniture in front gardens, broken down cars along the pavement, urchins playing in the gutter ~ grim ! But never mind ~ I felt so proud and happy to be visiting my old
school. BUT although I saw other members of staff who remembered me, and in spite of the appointment I had made with Miss Dick-Cleland, she was "unfortunately not available to see me" so I sat disconsolately outside her room, where naughty girls used
to be seen waiting for a scolding, and eventually she did emerge but not in the least bit friendly and scarcely sparing a glance for my beautiful child. I was hurt and could not understand this, but years later Mother told me that Miss Dick-Cleland
was furious at the way her brightest and best abandoned the possibility of university and glowing carrers in prefeence for motherhood and babies ! Certainly, I never heard from her again. And after all her efforts on behalf of girls'
education, Merrywood Grammer School has now been razed to the ground, her noble efforts obliterated.
Now why was I telling you all this ? Oh, yes ~ last Friday's 'Any Questions' from Knowle West which by the sound of it is now a thriving civilised
district of Bristol ~ so that's good. My parents would have been amazed and delighted at this ~ I wonder how much, if any, of their early efforts played any part in this transformation ?
My life long friend Rachel was daughter of Mike and
Helen Hulbert, the child of the Knowle West vicarage. As I've already mentioned, because of the epilepsy I remember nothing before the age of eleven when I was cured. However I am told that Rachel and I being much the same age were bosom friends
in those Knowle West days. It must have been in the summer of 1998 a year or so after her death, that Rachel's John took me on a kind of pilgrimage visiting her old houses and haunts, starting of course in Knowle West ~ and even then
it was still the dismal estate I remembered from my Merrywood days with what seemed like mile upon mile of identical houses in mean littered streets ~ we found the house my parents had lived in for a year or so and where my brother Stephen was born.
And of course the Church, St Barnabas and vicarage ~ the church was enormous, the size of a cathedral, to accommodate the thousands of Knowle West inhabitants (some hope) but it had now been cut in half providing a smaller more friendly parish church,
and meeting rooms for parish activities. And we drove up to the brow of the hill expecting to find the Merrywood campus ~ but already then it had gone.
Mentioning Stephen, gives me the chance to tell you again how he came to be given that
name which was quite unknown in the family. I asked Mother about it once and she told me that when they moved to Bristol she longed for another baby and one day when they were down in the centre of town she slipped into old St Stephen's Church
which I think is on Old Market and prayed to the saint, promising to call the baby Stephen or Stephanie, should her prayers be answered. Not only did he send ONE baby but FIVE : Stephen, Nancy, Mary, William and Helen ~ when I told my friend Lloyd
(my brother David's friend from Bristol Grammar School days, and a canon of Peterborough Cathedral) this, he said it just goes to show you should be jolly careful what you pray for !!
Chopping stuff up for salad tonight I managed to cut a lump out of
a finger and was bleeding everywhere. It's so long since I used a sticking plaster, I found those I had were those horrid plastic ones and all the stickiness had gone, so rushed down to Mary who fixed me up with a piece of FABRIC plaster and tomorrow
she will bring me a packet from town. I do love red kidney beans in salad and always have a couple of small tins by me ~ washed and drained, they turn a simple salad into a healthy meal.
I'm hoping Richard-the-Gardener will turn up tomorrow to
get the main patch tidy ~ last week he concentrated on planting up the pots out on the yard which are already flowering merrily and we've had plenty of showers to encourage them. Christina is coming in the morning ~ she is such a good friend ~
she comes every six weeks to keep in touch and catch up on news, bringing cream cakes to go with my excellent coffee ~ it started when she invited me to meet her in town for coffee but I had to explain that these days I really am housebound, so we do this
instead ~ great !!
Finally tonight ~ the photos of Daddy make me realise how hectic his life must have been in those days ~ he was by then Secretary for Social Services in Bristol with responsibility among other things for finding shelter for all those
who had been bombed out, and for organising the evacuation of the city's children. By night he was an air raid warden, patrolling the streets to rescue people from burning houses and when possible to put out incendiary bombs. And
he pretty well kept the family going with home-grown fruit and veg from the back garden and from his allotment down by the church ~ eventually he had TWO plots ~ all this with a family of five children already, and more to come ! Staggering
really. But looking back, I believe these were their happiest years. Sometimes once we were all in bed, Daddy would be playing the piano and once she had settled the baby to sleep he would accompany her singing her much loved Songs
of The North. And upstairs as we snuggled down to sleep, it seemed as if never mind bombs and war and rationing and shortages, in our small world, all was safe and secure. I realise now how very lucky we were.
Note in the photos
the home made coats ~ some too big, some too small, as they were handed down through the family regardless of the child's sex. It was only when we started at secondary school that each in turn had ready-made clothes, school uniform ~ mind you, there
was still rationing, clothing coupons and all, so every family was having to make, do and mend in the same way. Today's kids "wouldn't be seen dead" in an older sibling's cast-offs !! Not only do they insist on their own clothes, but the
latest fashion at that ! Ah, me ~ I'm sounding like a sour old woman ~ better switch off and go and have a bath.