FOUR

Home Life





In Stoney Stanton Road we didn’t have a bathroom; the first house we had with a proper bathroom was in Alliance Way – they were new houses. And then Lowther Street was a posher house with bay windows. There was a side entrance, and we used to take the motorbike and sidecar straight down the drive into the garage. It was really nice. We had our own bathroom, and nice big rooms.

Our front room in Lowther Street was at the back – I know it sounds funny, but the front room was at the back – and we never used to use that room except we used to play in there, our Herb and I. We used to play fish and chips in the empty fireplace. We used to cut up thin bits of paper and have them for chips, and we used to shovel from underneath and have threepenn’orth of chips. When we first went to Lowther Street I remember doing that: I’d only be about eight or nine, and Herb was only little. It used to keep him good for hours cutting these bits of paper up and having fish and chips in paper.

When we were children in Lowther Street, next door to us there were some people named Holland. They had two boys and a girl – Hugh Holland, Thomas Holland and Jean Holland (they always called them by the full names) – and when I got to about twelve I used to be in charge and take those three kids and our Herb – not Betty, because she was just a baby – to the Palladium, the pictures (almost facing Phillips in King William Street), on Saturday morning. Tom would be about two or three years younger than me, and Hugh would be about the same age as Herb. They were all going to school, but I was perhaps three years older than Tom and I had to be in charge of the money and see them all in.


Watering the Hollands

Herb (top) watering (L to R) Hugh, Thomas and Jean Holland, and Betty


We got into some antics there. The films were always breaking, and we used to shout and boo. They were all silent pictures – Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. And I remember this serial came out with Pearl White. We used to go every week, because every week it left you where she was lying on the lines and the train was just coming down, and you couldn’t wait for the next week to come to see if she escaped. And then this man would come along with his big moustache, like they used to wear, and grab her off just in time out of the way of the train.

Sometimes my auntie and uncle used to like to go out for a drink on Saturday night with Auntie Jenny and Uncle Edgar. They used to go to the pub next door to the Scala in Gosford Street. Eddie and Alec used to come to our house then, and I used to have to look after them.

Eddie and Alec and our Herb used to play me up something terrible. Eddie was really the one – he was a real prankster. I was known to not like being about in the dark too much, and they used to get net curtains hanging on the door and call me upstairs and I’d bump into this curtain that was supposed to be cobwebs, and all things like that. Mind you, I got used to them. And when I used to tell them they had to go to bed they used to tie the door handle so I couldn’t open it because they didn’t want to go to bed.

They really used to play me up – it was three to one, you see. And of course if they weren’t in bed when my uncle and auntie came home I got into trouble. But I couldn’t always control them – it was hopeless. Alec and Eddie slept in one room and our Herb and I in another. Auntie Jenny and Uncle Edgar didn’t stop – they went home.

Hear Chris describe trying to control her cousins:


I used to have to make sure they were all right before I went to bed, but I used to be nervous. I couldn’t go to sleep until my auntie and uncle came home, and I often used to wake Betty up and put her in bed with me. My uncle and auntie used to say, ‘What was she doing in your bed?’ and I used to say, ‘She was crying, so I brought her in.’

There were no telephones, so my auntie and Auntie Jenny used to give me or Eddie a note if they wanted to arrange to see each other or to borrow something. And of course it was a standing joke, because our Eddie and I used to read them, and they used to be ‘Dear Jen … Love, Fan’, ‘Dear Fan … Love, Jen’, and we used to go along through Gosford Green park singing this. We used to think it was smashing. They must have known we’d read them, but they never took any notice.

My uncle was always keen on photography, and when we were in Lowther Street he had a very posh camera. He had a tripod and everything. He used to take this tripod everywhere with us. He was really very keen.

Under the stairs was made into a dark room, and we used to have the room blacked out and he used to go under there and make the prints. He used to have a wooden frame and put a glass in and these negatives, and then we used to have to stand and hold them up to the light. There was a little flap at the back where you could just open it and see if it had got the right colour – they were sepia then – and we had to be ever so careful. Then we’d take it ever so carefully under the stairs and he had trays with some sort of fluid in – I don’t know what the stuff was – and drop them in, and then he used to peg them all up to dry.

When I was quite young, in Lowther Street, I can remember my uncle making a radio. We had this great big table in the dining-room, and he had this big blueprint – of course it didn’t mean a thing to us – and he used to sit there with his soldering iron, sticking it in the fire, and these little tiny things, all wires and fuses. When he got it together there was a little crystal and a little wire – the cat’s whisker – and you used to keep turning this till you got it just on the right spot. It used to take you ages.

I can always remember when he first got it going – of course we had a few ups and downs trying to get it going – there was my auntie, Herb and Betty and me and my uncle, and my uncle had it first and Big Ben was striking and we all had to take the headphones off quick so we could hear Big Ben in London. We’d never been to London! It was fascinating. And of course we used to have quite a few come round to have a listen.

After that radiograms came out and we had a radiogram in Lowther Street. We used to club together every week and buy a record. They used to be one and ninepence. Our Herb, my uncle and I were supposed to buy them between us, but more often than not it was my uncle and I that used to buy them. We used to have these records with the Inkspots, and all that sort – ‘Valencia’. We used to sit there and listen to them, and have some of the kids in. Uncle Edgar wasn’t that keen – he was all for live entertainment – but they used to come up and listen to it.

I remember my Uncle Len and Auntie Vi came over from Rugby to see us one day – he lived with my grandma – and he thought this radiogram was jolly good. He went out and bought two records so he could play them on it. They were ‘The Galloping Major’ and ‘Constantinople’. And that was one word that I could always spell. I thought, ‘If ever we have dictation I’ll always be able to spell Constantinople,’ because you sang it – ‘C-O-N-…’

My uncle was always interested in anything that came out new. I think we were the first people to have a battery clock – that was a new thing. Everybody used to come to see this clock that you didn’t have to wind up – they thought it was magic!

I used to go to St Margaret’s church, on Ball Hill, sometimes – I was confirmed at the church. But after I was about fourteen I stopped going but still used to go to the church fellowship. (We didn’t call them youth clubs in our day.) It was supposed to be free, but you paid a penny. We could never work that out – it was a standing joke with my uncle that you went for a free night out for a penny. We used to play table tennis and do a bit of dancing. It was for about fourteen-to-seventeens I should think – the choirboys and all that. We all knew one another.

On Monday night it was called a fellowship night, and mostly the girls used to go and we used to make things to send to hard-up countries – knitting and sewing. It was supposed to be a good-doers kind of thing.

There were no churchy prayers or anything attached to this – it was just a youth club. But then of course when you get older and go out to work you meet other people and that seems very ordinary and you don’t bother with things like that so much. You start going to the pictures and things like that.

I always had to be in by dead on ten o’clock, and it was most vexing, because they used to have dancing and it was always half-time at about half past nine and you used to go back into the hall at about quarter to ten. Half past ten it finished. But at half-time I had to leave to get home in time for ten o’clock. My auntie would be standing in the front window with her arms folded waiting for me to come in, looking at her watch.

I think Auntie Daisy had a lot to do with that, in a way. For a long while when I was young she was a nurse at Gulson Road hospital, where she’d trained, and we used to go and see her sometimes. Attached to the hospital there used to be the workhouse where they used to take all these babies that unmarried women had had, and she always used to take us round there and impress on me, ‘That’s what happens if you do anything wrong – this is where you end up.’ She was always frightened that I might get into trouble – because I was the only girl, you see: the others were all lads. I was brought up with lads. I was eleven before our Betty came along, and I slept with our Herb until I was fourteen – in those days you did. And Eddie and Alec – we all used to sleep together. So I was always used to lads: I wasn’t used to girls until Betty came along. And I always played with lads – all I thought about was playing cricket in the back there, shaking our Betty to sleep so I could have a go on the cricket pitch, and things like that.


Chris in Lowther Street

Chris (in Herb’s trousers) in Lowther Street


But it got better as time went on and my auntie got more broad-minded. She used to use a little make-up and not much lipstick. I used to use some then when I was about fifteen, but not at fourteen when I’d only just left school. Of course I’d have thought the same myself in those days. And you had a job to get it – only from certain places.

I had to be in at ten o’clock. I couldn’t argue if they told me that I’d got to do it, but our Betty never took any notice, nor our Herb – they came and went as they liked – so it got more easy.

Auntie Daisy died when I was seventeen. By then she was a sister somewhere down Ashford way – or in Norfolk – in a TB hospital, and she caught it.

Uncle Bert and his brother Fred went down to see her, and they had the shock of their life when they went, she looked so ill. So they just wrapped her up and brought her home. So then she had the front room downstairs in Lowther Street, and I used to have to help look after her. She wasn’t with us all that long before she died.

By now Les was about nineteen or twenty. He wasn’t happy. He didn’t have much of a life living with Beat. She used to take almost all of his wages off him, and he used to have a paper round to pay for this bike – he wanted a bike, and he had to buy it himself. And he’d never got any money.


Les

Les


I used to see him sometimes, and one day when I came out of work he was waiting for me. He said he was fed up, he’d had enough, he wanted to leave. He told me about this suit. He’d bought himself this suit, and Beat had pawned it and promised to get it out at the weekend for him. But she didn’t get it out – she said she couldn’t afford it. (Of course she was the sort who liked to go to the pictures nearly every night – that’s what she spent all her money on. That’s why she needed the extra money, you see. In the cheap seats. It was a new thing, the pictures, and when she came to Coventry she was really let free: there was more doing here.)

Les had had enough – this had happened lots of times: it wasn’t the first time. He didn’t know what to do. What would I do? (Even though he was older than me, he always used to lean on me: if he wanted anything he always came to me.) So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what: don’t do anything. When I go home I’ll have a word with my auntie and see what she says.’

So I talked to my auntie a bit. I said, ‘He wants to get some lodgings, but he wants somewhere to go just while he looks round.’ So my auntie said, ‘Well if it’s just for a little while he can go in with Herb.’ Auntie Daisy had died by then and we’d got a little bit more room – he couldn’t have come if she’d been there. Betty was in with me, and our Herb had got the boxroom – the boxroom was bigger than our room.

I saw Les waiting for me next day and I told him. And he said, ‘Well, what about my suit?’ So I said, ‘Where does she keep the ticket?’

He said, ‘She keeps it in her purse.’ So I said, ‘Look, when you see her purse – she can’t have it with her all the time – wait your chance, and when she’s out and you see it … But don’t touch anything else whatever you do. Look in her purse and take it out, and just get your bike and come.’ I said, ‘Find out how much it is, and then I’ll give you the money.’ So he did that and he came up. And I said, ‘How much is your suit?’ And he said how much it was – probably four or five bob then. So I gave him the money, and next day he went and got it.

He stayed with us then for a bit, and then he got some lodgings with a Mrs Pears in Uxbridge Avenue, by the GEC. And he was quite happy there – he was there for quite a long time. And then the people moved from there and he came back to Lowther Street.

By then he’d got in with his wife, with Win. When he was in Uxbridge Avenue he used to go about with Harry Welch a bit, and Win was his younger sister. She was only fifteen when Les started going out with her – he was five years older than her. Really, what it was, Harry was very fond of his cousin, who had come from somewhere to live with them for a bit till her dad found a house. Harry was sweet on her, and he used to ask our Les to go along with Win – to make up a foursome. So I believe that’s how that started.


Win et al.

(L to R) Win, Auntie Fanny, Bob, Les and Chris in Glencoe Road


Anyway, he came back to Lowther Street, and then they were engaged and he was saving to get married. We all moved from Lowther Street in September 1937, and he got married the following June, a few months before me.


Win and Les's wedding

Win and Les’s wedding


When my brother was first courting Win he always used to come round on a Tuesday night and bring Win round – he was in lodgings at the time. My uncle had a magic lantern, and at first we used to buy the still slides – Charlie Chaplin and all that sort of thing. But then we got to know of a place in Ford Street where you could get ones that you turned the handle and they moved. They were all old ones – Harold Lloyd and all that. So then we used to have them on a Tuesday night when Les and Win came round. I’d be about eighteen or twenty.

We were very close my auntie and I. My auntie liked the pictures, but my uncle would never go, so she used to rope me in – I used to keep one night in the week free so I could go to the pictures with her. We’d catch the tram at the top of Berry Street when we went to the Empire, but very often when we came out of the pictures the last tram had gone, or they were going to the depot and we could only go so far – say to Primrose Hill Street and it would go to the garage then – and we had to walk the rest of the way. But because there were the two of us we never used to mind. Sometimes we’d perhaps only got twopence-halfpenny left between us and it was three-halfpence each, so we could only go a penny ride and had to walk the rest. We used to really enjoy it.

We always had the main meal at lunchtime, then we all sat down to tea at night – we always had the table laid and sat down. And on Sundays – it was always the same, year in and year out – we always had a roast dinner, Yorkshire puddings and everything, and apple pie.

My uncle always went to bed on Sunday afternoon, because he used to go training in the morning – he was an officer in the works fire brigade. It was very handy, the fire brigade – my Uncle Edgar would go, and they could have a little drink on the way home. It was just the works fire brigade, but they used to be called out sometimes when there were big fires when the war was on, to help out.


Uncle Bert

Uncle Bert in his fire-brigade uniform, 1935


At Sunday teatime we always had boiled eggs and a fruit cake. When we were smaller our Herb and I used to have an egg between us, but when I got to fourteen I had an egg to myself and so he had to give half to Betty then.

My auntie used to do all the cooking. I wasn’t allowed to do anything like that – she couldn’t afford to have it wasted, she said. ‘Will you please show me how to do it? How do you make pastry?’ ‘Well, I can’t tell you,’ she’d say. ‘You just get your basin out and get the bag of flour, and you put your hand over so far and tip so much in.’ She never weighed anything. She’d say, ‘You know how far it comes up the basin, and that’s how you want it. And then if you’ve got half a pound of lard you cut it in half and put it in.’ She’d say, ‘I’m not going to let you mess with it, because if you spoil it I can’t afford to have it wasted. It comes to you.’


Uncle Bert and Auntie Fanny

Uncle Bert and Auntie Fanny at a Morris fire-brigade dinner,
c.1936/7


Of course she’d got used to it because when she’d got married she was at home with my mother for three years and she’d seen my mother cook. Some of the girls had to do the cooking and do the ironing, but I was never allowed to. I did the labouring, the washing-up. But, as she said, it comes to you, and it does. I eventually learned to make pastry by just hard work, working it out – trial and error. And of course when we had the gas stove they used to give you a cookery book – Everyday Cooking with the New World Gas Stove.

(When the war broke out and you couldn’t get lard or anything like that – you only had two ounces of butter – you know what we used to make pastry with? I know it sounds silly and nobody would perhaps believe it, but I used to make beautiful pastry with liquid paraffin – you couldn’t have made it better if you’d got best lard. We used to queue up for this liquid paraffin, telling them you were constipated and all that to get it, and come home and make pastry with it. Of course the amount you put in, with a lot of flour, wouldn’t make you … )

Hear Chris describe wartime pastry-making:


My auntie was very fussy – she wanted a place for everything and everything in its place. On a wash day, when she finished her washing, she scrubbed all through. We’d be coming home from school and there’d be newspapers where we’d got to tread – and God help us if we went on the red tiles till they were dry!

Herb and I always used to get the weekly shopping together. I don’t know how it was in most houses, but in our house my auntie never really did the shopping except at weekends.

I used to have to go to the Co-op and have an order made up, and Herb used to help me bring it home. And if she wanted any chops for dinner I used to have to go and fetch them. I don’t think the shops round there would have known my auntie very well. I always used to go down and get whatever was wanted. She used to say to me, ‘Here you are – go to Stanbridges and I want a piece of beef no more than two and six’ and things like that. I used to go with her at weekends.

There was a market called the Clock Market in Smithford Street, and Mrs Holland next door had people who had a fruit stall there – very high-class stuff. She used to go on Saturday night after they’d closed, and she used to bring home all sorts of things – probably a bit bruised, but melons and things like that that you’d never usually see and couldn’t afford to buy, they were much too dear. I’m not saying that we went without things, but they were things that you could well do without. And plenty of apples – probably a bit bruised – grapes and things like that. She used to share them with us, because my auntie used to help and hand things over to her sometimes when her husband was out of work, so she used to repay her like that.


Chris and Herb in Lowther Street

Chris and Herb in Lowther Street


When I started work at fourteen, Herb was nine years old. Every Sunday afternoon when we were in Lowther Street we always treated ourselves. Sweets were only twopence a quarter then. He’d have a halfpenny off his mum, dad and me to fetch the sweets. My auntie would have either Packer’s chocolate or a sherbert dab. She was very fond of sherbert dabs. At one end they had a piece of wood, only about as big as a matchstick, with a little bit of toffee, and you could dip that in and lick it, and at the other end they had a liquorice stick. I would have Palm toffee – I liked banana Palm toffee. That was twopence a quarter as well – two ounces a penny – and I used to have two ounces of that. Our Herb would have two ounces of perhaps a different one, so we could have a bit of each one, and my uncle always had buttermints – always! Betty would have whatever was going. As a special treat, auntie and uncle would have a Fry’s cream bar or a whipped-cream walnut.


Betty and Herb

Betty and Herb


We used to have some good times. We always enjoyed ourselves, but it was only with everyday things. We never wanted to leave Lowther Street – our Herb and I swore we weren’t going: they’d have to go to Glencoe Road on their own. Of course all our friends were round there.

I remember the night before we went: Bob and I went out to the pictures, and it was pelting stair-rods when we came out – it was fine when we went in. He came into our house to see me home, and then he’d got a long way to walk because the last tram had gone (he was in digs then in Humber Road) – you had to get to Gosford Green before you could get a bus or a tram, or walk to Berry Street. He hadn’t got his mac on, because it was quite nice earlier – like summertime. And I remember going in and our Herb was still up, and he borrowed our Herb’s mac to go home in. We were leaving the next morning, but he hadn’t packed it as it happens.

The house in Glencoe Road was bought (Lowther Street was rented). My auntie and uncle lived in rented houses, and Auntie Jenny and Uncle Edgar lived in rented houses – after they left Uplands, theirs was the same type of house as ours only it was in Terry Road. But they bought a new house in The Mount, Cheylesmore, about twelve months before we left Lowther Street, and then my auntie got dissatisfied and she wanted one, so my uncle bought 45 Glencoe Road. Of course I was working and our Herb was working, so we could afford to buy one then with our wages coming in.

Herb started working when he was fourteen. When he first left school he had one or two jobs to start with and then he got a job with the Morris and he stopped there. He got a good job there: he was a foreman for a long while, then he was over the foremen, like a superintendent.

Herb had his first motorbike while we were in Glencoe Road, and he talked me into going for a ride on it once. He swore he wouldn’t go fast, but when he went round the corner into Glencoe Road he leaned over so far my knees almost touched the pavement. I never went on it again! And once, in Glencoe Road, before he had a motorbike of his own, he took his friend Frank Swain down the entry and round the block on my uncle’s Triumph, when my uncle was out. He thought he’d drive it straight into the garage, but he didn’t put the brakes on in time and went into the far end of the garage. He had to get a hammer and nail a few planks back before my uncle came home. My uncle never did find out.

Betty went to Frederick Bird’s school and passed her eleven-plus to Stoke Park grammar school. Herb used to pass her on his way to work when she was going to Stoke Park, and she often said, ‘He used to ride straight past me as if he didn’t even know me. And he used to laugh and say, “Well your socks were always wrinkled down your legs”’ – he used to pass it off like that, laughingly.


Betty

Betty


When war started she was just fourteen and they evacuated the school to Leamington. She didn’t like it there – she only stayed two weeks and then came home, so she left school at fourteen. She went to work in the same office as Les at the GEC and was there for twelve months. Then she left and went to train as a Comptometer operator. When she finished her training she had a job at Clarke & Cluley’s in Gas Street. She stayed there a few months and then went to Rootes Herb was called up three days before his twenty-first birthday – that would be 17 October 1939.



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