Thursday, 3 July 2008

Home Sweet Home Two

After my mother died I went to live with Aunt Clara, Uncle Walter and son Dennis in another part of the village. I have no real memory as to whether I chose them or they chose me. My sister went to live with another Uncle and Aunt, Nettie and Edward, the latter known as Ted. We were not offered the choice of staying together and in retrospect this was insensitive in the extreme. But I suspect the Fifties were less au fait with the needs of orphans, plus the extended Hudston family had little insight into my own requirements; they were more ignorant than malicious. At least we were not homeless as was the case with many orphaned in the early fifties, Australia being a favourite place to send those not lucky enough to have a family in time of need. Was it a mere sixty or so years ago, not a hundred and sixty.
Clara and Walter lived in a huge Georgian house owned by my grandmother on the Settlement, a private part of the village. But if this sounds grand, nothing could be further from the truth. The house would eventually fetch a lot of money (it was modernised after my grandmother's ownership)but in the fifties my family were cash poor in the extreme, granny included.
My Uncle was an outstanding craftsman in wood yet earned his living as a school caretaker come handyman on the poorest of wages. Fortunately his expectations from life were not great. His pride and joys were his motorcycles, at one time an AJS and later a Rudge Ulster. His weekly pleasures were his Woodbines and his pint of mild at the Cross Keys. Clara was never a 'Cordon Bleu' cook, boiled cabbage high with bicarbonate of soda often figured on the menu. The only meat I ever remember eating was chicken, though fish sometimes figured. It was a frugal though not unhappy household. The house was draughty and cold. One downstairs room only was used; the other room had furniture permanently adorned with dustsheets. It was never to my knowledge ever used or the fire lit in all the years we lived there.
The toilet was up a dark passageway, some distance from the living room. The bathroom was equally unusual, off a landing and heated by an antiquated gas geyser than could have killed with no effort, such was its age and the lack of ventilation the bathroom offered. My bedroom was on the third floor, entry via a steep carpet less winding staircase. The room next door was windowless (bricked up during the tax on window, 1696-1851). Though there were slits in the walls that allowed birds to enter at will and not even quietly. Suffice to say it was an eery place to sleep, not for the fainthearted.
I was not unhappy in this house but it is interesting that I can never remember taking friends home. We either roamed the streets or visited another friend's house where there were no dustsheets.
The school Walter worked at was a private girls school. When Dennis left home and a small lodge became vacant we moved in as it was no doubt financial helpful to Walter, though it made him very much at the beck and call of his employees. As well as general maintenance Walter fed the boilers, mowed the grass, filled the swimming pool, his efforts were endless and I fear unappreciated. The lodge was small and damp, a relic of the past; (again renovated and modernised many years later.) They deserved better.
Walter and Clara looked after me to the best of their ability. They were concerned as to my welfare but I fear they were out of their depth at times. I wandered rather than worked through my school life, unhindered by adults. I remember at the age of sixteen overhearing Walter and Clara talking concerning my future. And Walter uttered immortal words that indicated the grasp he, and Clara had concerning their nephew come lodgers education. "Has he left school yet?" was Walters simple question. I hadn't as it happened but it did show we weren't exactly on the same wavelength.
I stayed with them both until I left for college at the age of twenty four. They were simple people, caring, tolerant, Christian and loving in their own way. I owe them so much, for how many would take on someone else's thirteen year old for little or no reward.

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