This is the sixth and last installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:
Now we can start the long, delicious, shivery countdown to Christmas . In the kitchen, tables are scrubbed and heavy with fat-bottomed, cream-glazed bowls of cake or pudding mixtures; curds of sugared, brandied butter and eggs by the dozen, all beaten within an inch of their lives till smooth and pale. These mixtures are thickened with dried fruit: with raisins, sultanas, currents, candied peel, angelica and cherries. Suet, grated carrots and bread crumbs are added to the pudding mixes, flour and spice is folded into the cake bowls. We take it in turn to stir, to make wishes, to fill the cake tins and pudding bowls, to scrape them out and lick the spoons, the raw mixtures being so infinitely more delicious to us than they will be after their long metamorphoses. Pudding bowls are wrapped up in butter muslin and steamed for seven hours then hung in the larder to await a further hour’s steaming on Christmas Day. The largest, deepest cake-tins, lined and covered with greaseproof paper, are slipped into the middle ovens of the Eagle range; Molly, the young cook, hovers over them until, after three hours or so, they are taken out and pierced with a skewer … if it comes out clean, the cakes are done and can be left on wire racks to cool before being covered with a thick layer of marzipan then coated and piped with a hard, tooth-cracking shell of royal icing. When finished, they are stored in sealed tins, to await Christmas Eve and the final trimmings of snowmen and esquimaux, of robins, logs, polar bears, miniature Christmas trees, gold and silvered-paper frills, scarlet ribbons.
This is the fifth installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:
Our year is noticeably cyclical; passing seasons are marked by changes in the natural and domestic landscape, by the altering minutiae of household routines, by religious observations and by the food we eat.
Autumn is often glorious, bringing high blue skies and a sharp bite in the air; fruits ripen, leaves flame and become bronze. We gather blackberries and rowan-berries, the hedgerows drip with scarlet, sealing-wax hips and the crimson beads of haws. The purple bramble mounds crouch like brooding animals amongst the swirling trails of mist. Up on Duxon Hill, there is a smudge of mauve heather.
This is the fourth installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:
By my third birthday, the memories begin to thicken, to gain some structure and sequence, although these are not always reliable. The night before it, my sisters lean over my bed to hear my prayers ….’Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to God my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray to god my soul to take’, awesome thoughts for an about-to-be-three-year-old. In return, they chant the ritual promise for the night-before -Christmas, or Easter or birthdays … ‘the sooner you go to sleep, the sooner tomorrow will come …’ but I cannot go to sleep, no matter how hard I try. For what seems like hours I watch the faces that come and go in the flowered wallpaper and the shifting patterns on the nursery ceiling. Yet sleep I must at last, for suddenly I am awake and struggling up to awareness of sun streaming in at the window, the Atco stuttering over the lawns, the smell of oil and mown grass, to the dogs barking at the postman, the weight of parcels on my bed…. I remember only one of my presents (it still hangs by my bed) a holy-water stoop, topped by a sweet-faced, blue-robed, star-spangled virgin holding out her arms.
This is the third installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:
The wind rises to a high-pitched scream, changes direction and now seems to attacks the house on all sides. It claws at the doors and forces its way through the window-frames. The oil-lamp above my bed oscillates, the white glass shade tilts and rattles in its brass frame, small flecks of plaster flutter down over the bedspread. I think of the pear tree in the next-door garden; it was here before these late-Victorian houses were built … if the wind turns west and the tree falls, it will crash through my roof. The chimneys begin to shake; with a great roar, the roof lifts off the house some six inches and hovers for a second or two before falling back into place. I think there has been a bomb. When the landmines fell near our home, the roof rose like this. A thick flurry of soot swirls down the chimney and fills the room with its dry, acrid smell. I lie rigid, trembling; my teeth chatter, the wind dies away, there is a great silence …the telephone rings …
‘Your mother is not at all well, she’s had a great fright … trees fell round us all night long … the door is blocked, … Babs, my mother’s housekeeper is on the line … ‘we haven’t slept, can’t get out… I think you should come and get her … she’s asking for you.…’
This is the second installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:
I am born in 1932, the youngest of eight children, and am, without doubt the last straw for my parents; I suspect they do not have sex again. They marry young, in 1915, overcoming furious opposition from both their families and the Catholic church. My father, a short, handsome man, whose thick hair turns white before he is thirty, comes from a large, Protestant family of eleven sports-mad children (one of whom writes a cruel, anti-Catholic letter to my mother upon her engagement, in a crude attempt to frighten her off). They have all been away to war; the boys to cavalry regiments, the girls to join the Red Cross or to became V.A.D.s. Uncle Norman, the charmer, loved by all, is killed in the last cavalry charge of the war, or so family legend has it. He stares out at us from his photographs, handsome in the uniform of the 19th/20th Cavalry, Queen Alexandra’s Own. I think he looks sad, as if he knows that he will not be coming back. One of these photographs in our drawing-room, another in Granny’s house and one by my aunt Angela’s bed. She was in love with him but he loved my mother and so did Uncle Bertie. My father had an accident on the school Rugger field and lost both both cartilages so the army wouldn’t have him; he had to stay at homes to run the mills and accept white feathers.
As part of the Ay-up family newsletter I was planning to include chapters from my mother's memoirs about her childhood in Lancashire. I've always been more interested in family stories and photographs, than who begat who and whether there was a baptism certificate to prove it. Instead I'm going to add these chapters to the newsletter section of the blog. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did.