The only thing I really remember about being a baby is what it felt like to
be in a pushchair going over bumpy cobbles. I remember saying “aaaaaa” with
the sound coming out in a wobbly way because of the bumps. I can also remember
the smell of our old house, and how the table was so high above me that I
couldn’t see what was on it.
What I looked like then
Being A Baby
What I looked like then
Splash!One cold day my mother put me in the pram and my big brother onto a little seat on the pram, and she pushed us to the Botanical Gardens. We ran around in the gardens, and then we set off back home across a little bridge that went over a stream. There were ducks in the stream. I swung on the bars of the bridge, and I swung – whee splosh! – right into the stream! I was sinking and the ducks were quacking and my brother was crying. My mother jumped into the stream and pulled me out. She put my brother’s coat on me and her coat on him, and then she walked as fast as she could – squelch squelch – dripping and soggy, all the way home.
The TunnelMy brother made friends with a boy who lived in another village next to ours. If you stood on the table in our garden and looked over the fields you could just see houses on the edge of his village. So my brother decided to dig a tunnel from our garden, and his friend was going to dig a tunnel from his garden, and the two tunnels were meant to meet in the middle. That way my brother and his friend thought they would be able to meet up and play in secret whenever they wanted to. I was my brother’s helper, usually being look-out while my brother dug the tunnel. My job was to make sure that our mum didn’t see what was happening. I was put in charge of domestic arrangements too. I kept my share of teatime biscuits and hid them away ready for the party we planned to have when the tunnel was completed. We started digging into the side of our sandpit. It felt really exciting but digging is hard work. We only dug about an arm’s length of tunnel before we gave up. I can’t remember what happened to the biscuits I’d saved.
I went to a small village school. At first there were only two classes, the Big Class (the juniors) and the Little Class (the infants). There wasn’t a hall or an office. There weren’t even proper toilets. Our toilets were bucket toilets in a sort of shed in the playground. If you sat very still and quiet, sparrows sometimes flew in, and snow came through the doors of the toilets in the winter. Mr Muggleton used to empty the buckets every day. Twice a day in the winter he came and put coke into the big stove that kept the big classroom warm. The stove had a metal railing around it to stop children burning. We put wet mittens on the railing to dry. Sometimes we reached across and toasted beech nuts from the playground on the hot top of the stove, then we’d crack them open to eat. The school didn’t have a dining hall or a kitchen. School dinners were brought in a big silver box called a hot-lock. They came in a van from another school. When it got near to lunchtime we had to clear everything from the floor of the big classroom, stacking tables and chairs away and then bringing out long trestle tables and wooden benches that were called forms. We took turns to lay the tables. After dinner we had to put the classroom back to normal before we began lessons. To save that bother in the summer, we often put the tables and forms up in the playground and ate lunch outside. I loved that. But one winter day the van bringing our dinner didn’t arrive.
There was no dinner, so Miss Taylor gave me and another girl some money and we went by ourselves to the village shop to buy Penguin biscuits for everybody to eat. Sending children out on their own like that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays, but I remember being very proud that I’d been trusted with the job. I suppose that’s why I’ve remembered it.
The WormThere were workmen digging new drains in the village and Miss Taylor went and asked them if the school could have some of the clay that they were digging up. It wasn’t nice clean clay. It had stones and mud in it, but you could use it for modelling. There was something else in that clay too - a worm. A boy called Huw found the worm and he came up behind me as I was making a dinosaur out of my lump of clay. He put the worm down my neck and it felt cold and tickly and horrible! I walked very stiffly to Miss Taylor and she pulled the worm out. Then Huw got told off, and it served him right!
Miss Taylor Came To SupperOne evening my teacher, Miss Taylor, came for supper to my house. My sister and I were in bed before she arrived but I could hear the noise of the grown-ups talking and laughing downstairs and I wondered what they were talking about. Then I heard my mother and Miss Taylor coming up the stairs. I closed my eyes and breathed very slowly and I pretended to be asleep. I could feel them standing beside me and I kept very still. They talked in whispers and they talked about me. I can’t remember what they said, but I do remember the powerful feeling of them not knowing that I was listening to them.
That Cat That Stole Christmas LunchAn old lady called Mrs Bannister lived next door to us. She had white hair that curled in a circle around her head, and she had a real tiger skin rug on her floor. We called her ‘Banny’. One Christmas day Banny had cooked roast pheasant for her old brother and sister and herself. She took the pheasant out of the oven and put it on one side in the kitchen. When she came back to it, the pheasant was on the floor and there wasn’t much of it left except for a few bones. Our cat Leo was g obbling the pheasant up and purring! I don’t know what they ate for their Christmas lunch instead of the pheasant, but Banny never sneaked on Leo. We would never have known what had happened, except that another lady in the village couldn’t resist telling us.
The Grave That MovedOne time we went on a trip from school and went to stay at a place called St Mary’s Bay in Kent. We slept in big rooms full of bunk beds and we washed in metal sinks. We stayed for a few days and we did projects. The thing I remember most was when we went to a graveyard and saw a wooden cross where E Nesbit was buried. She was the lady who wrote The Railway Children. I was looking at another grave and imagining the body under the soil when the soil began to move. It moved just where a hand would be! But it was only a mole moving underground, thank goodness!
Making Bamboo PipesJust over the road and along the way from our school there was a row of very old cottages with thatched roofs. Miss Hicken lived in the middle one. Inside her cottage there was a brick floor and a bit of real tree that held up the ceiling. That small tree trunk was still alive because it grew little green leaves every spring, even though it was so old. A group of four or five children from the school used to go and visit Miss Hicken and she helped us to make musical pipes out of bamboo. She showed us what to do, but we did it all ourselves. Sometimes we worked inside and sometimes outside in her little garden. We had to make holes for a thumb at the back of the bamboo and holes for six fingers down the front. Each hole had to be tuned to the right note. Miss Hicken would play the note on her piano and we’d file away at the hole until the note was just right. She helped me to make a bamboo piccolo too. And she gave us orange squash to drink, which felt very special because we knew that all the other children were busy doing real work at school. We played our pipes in a concert for the parents at the end of term.
Learning To Like SausagesI used to think that I hated sausages, so if it was sausages for supper I’d always have lump of cheese instead. But one day when I was visiting my friend Lesley it got to time to go home and Lesley’s mum was cooking sausages for their supper. She kindly gave me a sausage wrapped in a paper napkin to eat on my way home. I didn’t like to tell her that I didn’t like sausages. So, to be polite, I gave the sausage a little nibble as I set off home, just so that she would think that it really was a treat for me. And that nibble was nice! I nibbled more and more as I walked through the village, and when I got home I told my mother that I did like sausages after all!
A Donkey For BotswanaWe had a funny vicar in our village who used to drive around each Sunday morning collecting children in a big green old army van called Albert. The van had wooden benches down each side and was exciting to ride in because the vicar left the back doors open and there was always the feeling that if you didn’t hold on tight you might fall out. At Sunday School one time we were told about how people were starving in the African country of Botswana because there had been a drought and their crops hadn’t grown. They needed food to eat, but they also needed help with growing their own food again for the next year. One of the things that they needed was donkeys. I can’t remember how much a donkey cost, but my friend Sarah and I decided that we wanted to earn a whole donkey between us. So for several weeks we washed cars and weeded gardens and did all sorts of jobs to earn money towards our donkey. And we did earn enough, and the money was sent off. We never met our donkey or even saw a picture of it, but I used to lie in bed and think about that donkey that we had bought and that was somewhere in Africa with a family who loved and needed him.
GoldMy mum, who is called Chris, had a ring that she sometimes got out of a box and put on her finger when she was wanting to look especially nice. It was a ring that her mother, who was called Dorothy, had given her, and her mother, who was called Florence, had given her, and her mother, who was a blind lady called Polly, had given her. It was a ring with a flat stone of brown and grey colours, but it had a small swirl of real gold through the stone. My Great Great Granny Polly’s brother William had gone to the Klondike in Canada when it was the Gold Rush there. Thousands and thousands of people went to the Klondike in 1897 and dug and panned for gold. A few got rich. Most didn’t. I don’t know if William got rich, but he did at least find that little bit of gold that is in the ring, and he had it made into a ring for his sister.
PlayingWe played outdoors a lot, in the garden and in the lane. There was a big fat beech hedge in our garden that we used as a house and we played at living in it. It was a also a good place to go just to be by yourself sometimes. In the lane we played on bikes and roller skates, often having pretend accidents and rushing ambulances to the rescue. Indoors my friend Sarah and I had a sewing club and made clothes and things for our dolls. Or we played schools. But best of all was dressing up and pretending to be orphans.
At school our playground was just a patch of tarmac for skipping and chasing around on, but we had a bit of meadow to play on too. There was a big grassy dip where all the children in the school could play one game all together. We would stand on one side of the dip, with just two people in the dip. They were the crocodiles who had to catch whoever they could when we all ran across. Anybody who was caught turned into a crocodile too, so the game got more and more exciting as there were more crocodiles to do the catching and fewer running across.
Learning To ReadI found learning to read hard. I remember a really boring book about a dog called Tip who had a red ball. I couldn’t read it. In the end my mum taught me how to read one summer holidays. We used books, but she also wrote special stories for me to read. One of them was a sort of poem called Hickey Honkers. It went –
Hickey Honkers was rather bonkers.
He spent each morning getting conkers.
Each afternoon he made a cake.
Each night he groaned with tummy ache.
Now conker cake is a mistake and something you should never take.
Hickey soon felt such a hurt somewhere underneath his shirt
He never nibbled knobbles any more.
My dad didn’t write me stories, but he did make up a silly sort of rhyme that he used to sing to me when I was very little. It has a tune and it goes –
Up girls and at ‘em
That’s the way to bash ‘em
It’s Daddy’s Pipsipop!
I still love both those silly poems.
AppendicitisOne day I got a really bad tummy ache at school. I told Miss Taylor that I felt ill and she said that I looked it. She phoned my mum to come and fetch me. My mum didn’t have a car, so she came to fetch me on her bike. Mum sat on the bike seat and peddled and I sat on the little black baby seat. But I was nine years old and knew how to ride a bike by then, so every time we went around a corner I leaned over and my mum leaned over and we nearly fell off! At home, later, the doctor came to see me. He said that I’d got appendicitis and I’d have to go to hospital for an operation. So we set off in the dark with a bag packed with my nightie and things. I was put into a gown and I had to lie on a bed on wheels. Then a doctor came. He was dressed in a green gown and a cap. He prodded my tummy and asked if it hurt. It did, but I didn’t want to be rude by telling him that he was hurting me, so I said it hurt “just a titchy bit”. I’ve been teased about saying ‘a titchy bit’ ever since then. A nurse came and put a funny-smelling rubber mask over my face. She told me to imagine being a bridesmaid dressed in blue. She was trying to make me think nice things as I went to sleep, but I thought she was a bit mad! I woke up next morning, feeling very sick and sore, in a bed in a room full of children in beds. I spent a week in hospital. Everybody in my class made me a card, which was nice. I couldn’t go back to school for quite a long time after I got out of hospital. When the doctor came to take my stitches out I sat up and fainted – thunk – onto the floor! He left one little bit of stitch behind and it only came out years later!
SkatingMy friend Eleanor’s mum used to hire our village hall every Thursday evening so that children could go roller skating there. She had a big box of skates for anyone to use, and a bag full of scarves so that we could do three-legged skating or swing each other around. It was very noisy – all those wheels on a wooden floor – and a bit splintery when you fell over. But it was fun. Then, one winter, the Meadows flooded and then froze. That made a thin layer of ice that was safe to play on. It was rough ice with a bumpy surface from the grass underneath and the wind on top, but it was good for ice skating on. We took a sledge on it too. By the time the ice melted I could do a figure of eight, but never as well as Eleanor did it. I could push my legs to slide backwards a bit too. I don’t think that the Meadows have frozen over quite like that ever again.
I always wanted a dog. We had lovely cats and a pond with fishes and newts, but a dog can be a real friend, and I wanted one. And, at last, my parents said that we were going to look at some dogs. “Just look. We probably won’t get one.” But we did! We went to a place where some kind people looked after abandoned dogs. They had a litter of five-month-old puppies who had been kept all their life in a box. When they let the puppies out for us to see, the scruffiest, hairiest one of them all knocked my mum over into some nettles, and that was that.
He was the one. We’d thought up all sorts of nice dog names, but the people said that they just called that puppy Rags or Tatters, so he stayed as Rags. He was lovely. He was a funny shy dog at first because he’d never learnt how to play. But he became just the kind of loyal friend I’d hoped for.
The TortoiseIn the lane one day I found a tortoise. That was strange because you don’t get wild tortoises in England. I ran home and told my family that there was a tortoise in the lane and they didn’t believe me until they came and saw it for themselves. We took him home and made him a pen and told the police about him in case anybody was looking for him, but nobody ever claimed him. So we kept him – until he somehow got out and wandered off and we never saw him again. I wonder where his travels took him next? Tortoises can live for a very long time, so he might be travelling still from home to home. I wonder?
The HutNear the end of my time at the village school we got a new mobile classroom that we called The Hut. It was put in Miss Taylor’s garden. It had steps up to the door and it was grey. Two important things happened to me in The Hut. One was watching the first time that a man had ever stepped onto a solid place in space that wasn’t the Earth. Our school got its first television especially so that we could all watch Man Landing on the Moon. We watched Neil Armstrong jumping in slow motion, talking about taking a big step for man and a giant step for mankind, and then making foot-prints and sticking an American flag into the dusty Moon. A few weeks later somebody from Cambridge University brought a bit of actual Moon rock into school for us to see. It was just a bit of grey rock in a plastic bag, but it was real Moon.
The other thing that happened to me in The Hut was the Eleven Plus exam, which terrified me. I’d never done a proper exam before. We didn’t even do tests at school, so it was all a bit new and scary and I couldn’t work out what some of the questions wanted as answers at all. We were given brand new pencils for the exam and I pushed down on the paper so hard that I kept breaking the point of my pencil and having to ask for another. I didn’t do very well in that exam. I didn’t get to the school I wanted to go to where my best friend already was. I went to a school that was a double bus ride away and was much much bigger than anything I was used to. But I did get used to the new school. I did get to like it very much. And I made friends there who are still my friends today.
What I look like now by Rachel Bretherton
site by www.wordpooldesign.co.uk