Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chilblains and icicles by Sheila Claydon

Fortunately it hasn't actually come to chilblains and icicles but only because the weather in the UK has been warmer than usual for this time of year. What has happened though is that our central heating and hot water have packed up and the three weeks we have been without them has taken me right back to my childhood.

How spoilt I am now. The house is always warm. Hot water is available at the turn of the tap. I can have a shower whenever I want. I can even walk around the house without a sweater in the middle of winter if I want to (I don't!). My kitchen is full of gadgets from a toaster to a steam iron, an ice-cream maker to a microwave. My kitchen hob is ceramic so it's clean at the swipe of a dishcloth, and my cooker and fridge are self-cleaning, and of course there's the washing machine and tumbler dryer. How could I manage without those?

Now let me take you back to when I was tiny and my mother, father and I lived with my grandparents. It was at the end of WW2 and we lived in Southampton, a maritime city that had been severely blitzed, so there were no houses to buy or rent. In those days laundry was either done by hand, using a big block of green soap and a washboard, or it was piled into a copper boiler and the dirt was stirred into submission. Then it was rolled through a mangle and how important I felt when I was allowed to turn the handle. Then, after hours flapping on the line in the garden, it was ironed with a flat iron that had to be heated on the stove. Even so, everything was ironed. Nothing was easy care in those days.

Then there was the cooking. The milk, which was delivered daily by a man driving a horse and cart, was kept in a bucket of cold water on hot days, or, on cold days, outside.  The food, too, had its place. A big old meat safe with a fly cover was kept in a shady part of the garden and everything in it was used within a day or two. No supermarket shopping, no packaging either. Everything was weighed out and wrapped, even the biscuits. My favorite job was to go to the shop next door and fill a bag with broken biscuits because that way we got a selection instead of just the one kind.

As for central heating and hot water, forget it. An open fire and the warmth from an old-fashioned black-leaded range were the only forms of heat we had in that cold, dark 3-bedroom house, so going to bed was a sprint up the stairs to an icy cold bed made marginally more comfortable by a big stone hot water bottle wrapped and pinned into a cotton cloth. I remember the cotton coming off mine one night. I still have the small burn scar on my leg to this day.

Washing for me was from a bowl beside the range or, once a week,  a tin bath that had to be filled with pans and kettles of water that had been heated on the stove. For my grandparents and parents it was ewers and bowls in their cold bedrooms and a weekly visit to the public baths.

I can still remember how happy my parents were the day we eventually moved into a property that had a bathroom, a fridge, and a water heater, whereas nowadays nobody expects anything else.

Of course all this was a very long time ago, and because we lived with my grandparents who were still using gaslight instead of electricity, we were probably at bit behind the times anyway. Other people lived in more comfort I'm sure but I didn't have a problem because, like all small children, I thought what I was used to was normal. I didn't like the chilblains (caused by sitting too close to the fire in an attempt to warm my frozen feet), or the chapped knees and lips. I didn't especially like having to wear layers and layers of clothes either. Scratchy woollen vests, a liberty bodice with tiny, fiddly buttons, a pleated skirt that hung from a warm over bodice, then a thick woollen jumper. My knees were always bare though, above very unattractive woollen socks held up with an elastic garter, and this meant chapped knees and thighs. Little boys suffered a similar fate because in those days children were deemed too young to wear long trousers and I didn't know anyone who wore woollen tights...maybe they hadn't started making them.

So although I'm not enjoying being without heating and hot water, it's not all bad. Without the sudden upheaval it's caused in my life I wouldn't have remembered how lucky I am, and how much harder domestic chores were for my mother and grandmother.  I haven't got any chilblains either and I am very grateful for that.

None of my heroines have ever had to suffer such deprivations although Kerry, in Double Fault does have a bit of a hard time when she's a single mother. Before the path of true love can run smooth they all have other problems to contend with though.

Sheila can be found at:

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