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Of late I have been contemplating on how life changes over the years, but really when you come to think about it, apart from their mode of living, choice of religion, color or creed humans are the same the world over. What we mainly crave is someone to love and somewhere to call home. What brought this on was my latest book, Amethyst. This one is set in a small Australian town. Now to be honest I have always lived in a large city or the outer suburbs of one so my background in this story was based on what I learned from visiting friends at some time or another who resided in country towns much like the Yewbank featured in this book.
It got me thinking about my childhood living in a North London street surrounded by city-dwellers and the more I thought about it our street and surrounding area was not unlike a small town. I had an unusual childhood as three families lived in the house I was brought up it. We, that’s my parents, and any of my nine siblings who happened to still be at home, shared the bottom four rooms plus what we pompously called the kitchen but was in fact no more than a scullery. Anyone who has lived in an older style house in London who is around the same vintage as me will know what I am talking about.
So, the middle two rooms plus a small kitchen were rented by my mother’s sister who had two girls, the eldest being a year or so older than me. At the top of the house in two rooms plus two attic bedrooms was my eldest brother and his wife with their son and daughter. As you can imagine because we were all related we intermingled and thought nothing of going up and down and mingling (or interfering) in the lives of all occupants. In those days there was no such thing as childcare, after-school care, kindergarten or crèche. If the mother had to go out to work for financial reasons then either her mother or grandmother would care for the child/children and failing that a neighbor.
Now the reason I considered this was not a lot different to life in a small town is because we knew all our neighbors by name and all their offspring. We kids would all play out on the street or in each other’s back gardens, often disappearing for hours at an end. I can’t recall my mother asking where I’d been or who I had been with, I guess she had sixth sense or knew that anyone we talked to or played with must be all right as they were local. Mind you, she had a few simple rules: 1. Never take lollies from a stranger, especially a man. 2. Never go into the house of someone you don’t know. 3. This one came along when I got older—don’t let a boy touch you. Now, she never went as far as explaining just where he shouldn’t touch you. Oh, and following on from this one was—it’s up to us girls to say no to a boy. Likewise she didn’t explain fully which question we were supposed to say no to. I found out later that none of my four older sisters fared any better with their sex education (guess that has changed fundamentally over the years as now the teenagers seem to know it all) The last rule was that if you got into trouble you asked a policeman for help. I don’t know if it is any different where you live but I can’t remember the last time I saw a policeman on the street, they all drive around in their cars these days.
Our mother was always there when I came home from school or work. If she wasn’t then you knew she was up the local shops. We had an extensive extended family who kept in touch by mail. There was no telephone or email back then, but we always managed to learn when there was a wedding, funeral, birth in the family or any other special occasion and often had parties where distant relatives would be invited. Being such a large family any get together often evolved into a party.
I attended a small church school which still thrives today (I love Google Maps) and knew most of my classmates and where they lived and would often visit them in their homes. Of course there were a few that I was advised not to mix with as someone in THAT particular family had acquired a bad name. But isn’t that the same in every small town—there’s always the black sheep. When our mother passed away in 1964 as the funeral cortege passed along the shopping street someone who remembered her with fondness came out of almost every shop and bowed their heads in respect for a much loved woman.
Another thing that started me reminiscing is that the backdrop in Amethyst is the game of football—soccer as it is called in England, and footy here in Australia. Because we lived a stone’s throw from the old Arsenal football club, my brothers and all the local lads would go off to the matches when they were played at home. We knew not to go out about the time that the match finished as in those days everyone had to catch a bus or train home and there would be a three mile long queue of exuberant or glum men, depending on the outcome of the match, all waiting to get home. But I can’t remember any fights breaking out as they formed an orderly line as they discussed the good or bad day’s football.
Perhaps I sound melancholy when I go back in my mind to those days, but believe me the memories are all fine. Not many people share a childhood such as mine and if they did then we all know how lucky we were. I had an email from one of my nieces in England a while ago saying how she still remembers and cherishes the years in that house in that street and my answer was that it was such a huge part of all our lives that it lives within us and always will.
The pictures are of my old primary school, the church where I was bridesmaid to my sisters and where I got married, and the house where I grew up. All are still there as you see, and there are not many changes since those far off days. There was no tree outside our house and of course probably only one or two cars parked in the street back then.