As It Were by John Connolley, Part One

From the age of five
Obviously I cannot give a day-by-day account. I won't be here that long... some folk were poor and too proud to admit it; not me...

So the following will be interesting points during that time. At five years old I started school. A Catholic school a good two miles away. No bus ticket unless you lived three miles away. How I dreaded those winter morning. I would be in the company of Cath, Mary, Nora, Tommy and Irene (my siblings). No overcoats, no gloves; shoes often letting in water. Some of those winters were bitterly cold and often deep with snow. We were pleased to get to school and warm our hands on the hot pipes. Hot aches often bringing us to tears. No school dinners. We took bread and dripping/lard sandwiches. The elder sister took a bag with cocoa/sugar mix and made a hot drink at lunchtime. No milk. That was a luxury. Mum could only afford ½ pint daily.

On arrival back home - no hot dinner awaited us. Just bread and margarine and maybe a ¼ slice of some pig's chap or souse. Bedtime - a drink of tea…

While on the subject of bed. The nights were cold but as we were three or four to a bed we kept each other warm.

Sunday meals were exceptional. On Saturday evening mum would go to the market late and as the butcher was wanting to sell up and clear his stall she got a really good piece of meat for 2/6d = 12½ new pence. That meat would last two days. Mum would spend Sunday afternoon baking bread, cakes and pasties. Sunday was a feast day and the rest of the week was "pot luck"…

If any of us got a new piece of clothing we were over the moon. The head lice and fleas were always pests. The beds were saturated with Keatings Powder and our head hair absolutely stunk of coal tar. Often we would get up in the morning with red fleabite marks somewhere on our body. Most evenings there was a ritual for us kiddies. Mother or eldest sister would sit on a chair and have a piece of paper on her knee. We would kneel in front of her and with a fine toothcomb she would catch the little b……s. It was a never-ending war.

Once a month the School Nurse would attend. We would go in front of her and she would search our hair. "Tell your mother you have got nits." She would get paid for that. If I had repeated to her what mother called her I would be doing penance still.
Two tragedies
During this spell of time we lost a brother, Paddy. He died of pneumonia at less than two years old. That disease cost many lives in those days. I remember seeing him in his small coffin, which was resting on the front room table, completely at peace. Every so often the neighbours would ask permission to see him and it was always granted. Two or three days and then it was goodbye. Time went by and our fortunes got worse, but that is another time.

A second tragedy in the family occurred about the same time. My sister Mary, aged about 11-12 had stayed at home from school not feeling too well. During the morning my mum decided that she would have to go to the butcher's to get some steak for my dad for his meal. Mary, meanwhile, had decided that she would black lead the stove and clean the ashes from the grate whilst mum was out. Whilst doing so, unfortunately, her apron caught fire. Not knowing what to do and in a blind panic she ran outside and sustained terrible burns. She was unrecognisable. The neighbours said that they had gone to her aid but that is doubtful according to the extent of her burns. An ambulance was called and we never saw Mary again. Her coffin was sealed as the sight was considered too awful.

Life is what you make it!
Approaching summer 1926. Not much coal wanted, so father was put on a four-day week, which meant a loss of 16/- (80p) from the weekly wage. Had it been a three-day week he could have got three days dole money but it seemed the mine owners (father had a different name for them) and the government, were in cahoots. Anyway to offset this my eldest brother, Steve, had started work down the same pit (pony driving) at 10/- per week, less lorry fare to work and union fees. He gave mother his entire wage and she gave him 6d spending money per week.

Now at no time were we kids hungry. Not while we could enjoy mum's "nubble" and jam, margarine, dripping and lard. Look what the fat did for us - most of my kin hit the 70-year-old mark and we had salt and sugar and fat ad lib.

(Nubble = a cake of home made bread just below the circle of a dinner plate and 2" thick. Lovely with the spread mentioned.) Roll on Sundays.

Our weekly spending money we received every Friday night. Yes, one whole ½d each and that amount would buy one gobstopper or two bullseyes. They changed colour as you sucked them. Or ½oz of some teeth rotters. Whenever the jam jar was empty we would take it to the rag and bone man and he would give us ½d for it. Of course the jam jar was of no use to us and no one had any money to put in it and secrete it away. We was poor!

One day at school it was announced that any child whose father was on the dole could go to the Council offices and they would be fitted with a new pair of shoes. I consulted my younger brethren and they said I must not go. Our father was working... He who dares! I went. No questions were asked except your name. I got a new pair of boots. On the top inner edge were two eyelets… no chance of pawning them.

The Brampton Bruiser
In those days we kids had to make our own fun. No wireless to listen to. We obtained one at a later date though. It was second hand, 10/- (50p). We enjoyed our spare time in the playfields in the lane. They had swings and a maypole. Often at school holiday time, I and two or three of my siblings would hike anything up to nine miles there and nine miles back to Matlock, Baslow, and various other places. No trouble and no danger of perverts as there are today. A good day out with a bottle of water and the usual sarnies. We did get into trouble occasionally but I was always wary of my father's belt. A very good deterrent. The more serious crimes we steered clear of. Thoughts of the "birch" kept us in check. The minor things were avoided too. If you were caught say, in "Woolies" shoplifting you were immediately sent to borstal for three weeks, the shame of it being in having your hair shaved off. When you returned home everyone knew you for what you were - a petty thief.

The street where I lived was one of the roughest in the area. Mostly miners and their families. We kids knew this because about 4 to 5 am - clump, clump. The sounds of clogs on the pavement on work mornings and a bang on the door if they thought you had overlaid.

Up to meeting with a very bad accident, my grandfather called me the "Brampton Bruiser". You had to defend yourself and look after your younger siblings in that lane. I got many a thumping and I may add I thumped many more.

My father told me he went down the mine aged 13 but by the time my brother left school the age had been increased to 14 years. Now the real hard times. Before I carry on though, there are one or two points to mention. As I said it was summer time and so I was wearing Woolies sandals, 6d each foot, no socks… This day I was running home during lunch time to run an errand for mum. It was pouring with rain and as I ran a sole of one of the "pumps" became loose. It was very awkward running so I stopped and rived if off. I ran the rest of the way with one barefoot.

Christmas time
During these past years we never ever got birthday cards. Our birthday present would be one shiny new penny coin and we did not expect anything more. A whole new penny was a dream gift. Christmas was always looked forward to but we knew what Santa was going to bring for sure. In the case of sisters, a doll from Woolies. The girls made dresses for these themselves. In my case a Hohner mouth organ, must be key C or G. My younger brother - a smokers chocolate outfit. Our stockings always contained an orange, an apple and the new penny.

How did my parents fare at Christmas? Well, two sisters and myself made sure they got a little Christmas fare. Every Christmas morning for a number of years we three would set off and "carol" our way from Brampton to Holymoorside. Come 3 o'clock we would be £2 - £3 richer and had had mince pies and Christmas cake. Then we could afford a treat. A 1d tram ride back to Barker Lane. Oh those bygone days… they were hard but I sometimes yearn for them.

The money we earned was given to mum and she gave us 6d each. We were rich. By the way, I cannot ever remember having turkey or Christmas pudding during those years. Beef or pork was on the Christmas menu.

By now we had an addition to the family. My sister Margaret had arrived.

The Miners' Strike - the details I am not certain of, and as I am only writing what I actually remember I will pass on that. First week - no pay, no dole, so... no money. "Don't cry Ellen" (Dad's pet name for mum). "I will go out and get some money." He went to the workhouse (lugger) and they gave him a token for 15/- (75p) to be spent only at a food store of their choice. Don't forget, I could go to Melias grocery with 10/- (50p) and get a week's groceries. Father was told he must repay the loan at 1/- per week when the pits resumed work. As I said, we kids were never hungry, but during this period the bread and jam, and dripping and lard worked overtime. Do you know, I can't remember ever having an egg until I left school and obtained employment. They were only 1d or 1½d each. A soup kitchen was opened down Bumpmill Lane and I remember going daily at lunchtime for a large jug full - beautiful stuff. Mum reheated it for when we all got home from school. Now the strike was beginning to hurt and the powers that be were turning the screw.

"If they won't work, let them starve!" A mouthful from a well-known politician.

That night a number of stores were broken into and the miners' families fed well for a day or two. Come the morrow, Chesterfield was being patrolled with the addition of the Manchester bobbies. The strike went on and the miners were tightening their belts.

Illness and Disease
My mother was in great demand in the Lane in those times. She could prepare a deceased person's body in the most reverend way. "Mrs Connolley, ……… has just passed away. Could you come?" Morning, noon or night… "Yes, I will come."

We kiddies also had our illnesses but we did not always fly to the doctors as today. Sores were treated with brimstone and treacle, a very good remedy too. A boil was treated with linseed poultice or a bread poultice. Another way was the steam bottle but that was a very rough cure. It worked though. Oh dear it worked… Then there was measles, the whooper, chicken pox and the most feared of the lot - diphtheria. Cases of the latter were transported to isolation in a black ambulance and if we kids saw it parked outside a house we would give it a very wide berth. A very deadly disease. Then there was the small pox scare. Every child was inoculated on the left arm in four places in close proximity. I still have the marks. A red ribbon was placed around the arm and the order don't knock it! You can imagine how we kids obeyed that order to the letter. I think it lasted four to five days. Of course we did have our accidents when a doctor was needed.

Some nice polony for you
The street in which I lived is worth a mention before I proceed to other things. You can image the frustration of being penniless. Well, some folk could not stand the pace and were apt to let rip. My friend Sid and I loved to go the (bugs hut) cinema on Saturday afternoon. To get there we had to run many errands for folk to earn the required 2d entrance fee and ½d for a gobstopper. A mile walk to town to do a message was worth ½d. Anyway, this Saturday Sid was a bit short of cash. "Come in the house and wait for me John and when Dad comes in he will give me the money required." "OK Sid." Now Sid's father was a bit of a drunkard who would spend his food money on ale. He arrived, and on entering the house said to his wife "What's for me dinner then?" "Tommy, I have got some nice polony for you." He picked up the polony and, better than any cricket fieldsman, it went straight through the window. Sid and I were off. "We'll see Tom Mix another Saturday."

There were the odd one or two that fell by the way and turned to drink instead of supporting the family. You could see these chaps being turned out of the cop shop on a Sunday morning after spending the night in "clink". They usually had a 50p fine on the books but they never paid it - they preferred gaol.

As I wrote… the strike collapsed and according to my dad, the railway men who came out with the miners went back to work so no more could be achieved. Whatever the strike was about, I am not sure. The strikers lost the day.

I believe I was about 10 years old when I began to have worries about a private matter. Mum took me to the doctor's and he advised an immediate circumcision, but there lies another story.
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