Chapter 4 - A dream was realised.
A dream was realised. We had talked of it for months, discussed what colour it should be, and what we would call it, and at long last it was here in the stable. We had hitched our waggon to a star and bought a pony and cart. I had for sometime fancied a white horse, but when I saw the sturdy little brown pony with a white flash, I was more than satisfied.
She arrived at the farm rejoicing in the name of Fanny, but Mother didn’t care for that name, (thought it rather vulgar I believe,) so after great thought and consideration, she was rechristened Pansy. The name Pansy held no offensive implications in those days.
It was the latter end of July, we had enjoyed cloudless skies for three weeks. The hay was cut and neatly stacked in the stackyard, the grain harvest was not yet ready, for although the corn was ripening, and the fields turning to a warm biscuit colour, the grain was still soft within the ear.
The school summer holidays had just begun. They were always called ‘harvest holidays,’ for even quite young children could take their father’s ‘foures’ into the fields, and most of the lads from the village, found their way to the nearest farm to ask if they could ‘do’ a harvest, and farmers were quite glad to employ them for a few shillings a week.
Wednesday was market day, and Pansy was harnessed to the cart, while Mother and I, in our best dresses, climbed in beside Father. Over the fields the little horse bowled, then through a gate onto the main road. There we were trotting to Watton in our very own horse and cart. We wouldn’t have called the King our cousin, no, we wouldn’t even have changed places with King George and Queen Mary in the royal coach.
A red United bus passed us with its cargo of women from the surrounding villages, all off to do their weekly shopping in town. No more would we have to wait for public transport.
It was with pride my parents acknowledged greetings from men in the fields, as they paused in their labours to watch us go by.
“Is it goin’ to keep fine?”
“This weather ‘ill be breaking up soon.”
“There’ll be a storm afore night, yew mark my words.”
I marked his words, but couldn’t see a cloud in the sky. We passed the Black Horse. Mr Sturman in his yard was equally pessimistic about the weather. Mother anxiously fingered her umbrella.
We arrived at town and Pansy was left in Barnham’s sale yard, tied up beside two or three other ponies, they were stamping their feet and swishing their tails restlessly, for the flies were sharp.
Father took a basket of eggs out of the cart to sell in the market, while Mother took a shopping bag in one hand, and my hand in the other, and off we went to the shops.
At Durrant’s the drapers, I was helped onto a very high chair, and looked with awe at row upon row of bolts cloth stacked on the shelves behind the counter. They were in every shade and texture.
We had to wait to be served as there were several people in the shop, but I enjoyed sitting before a large wooden counter, with its yard measure of brass let into the wood. A blonde lady in black came to serve us and Mother bought elastic, hooks and eyes, pins and thread. The assistant handed my mother a neatly written bill for 1/11 3 / 4 , and received a small packet of pins in lieu of her farthing change from a florin.
In the high street the market was in full swing, with the stallholders calling their wares, each one trying to shout louder than the next.
We paused in front of a man selling fruit. He was filling carrier bags with oranges, grapefruit, and hands of bananas. One shilling each he was asking, and they were going like hot cakes, but a shilling was a lot of money so we moved on, leaving the man shouting to women in the crowd who were bold enough to reply to his often coarse remarks. There was much laughter, and women and children were standing around just for the fun of it. Many of them spent lonely lives in remote cottages, and market day once a week was their only contact with the outside world.
At another stall, where as usual all the best fruit were displayed in the most prominent positions, Mother asked for, “Four of those oranges from the front please.” “They’re all alike m’am,” the man replied. Mother said sweetly, “Well, then you won’t mind me having some from the front, will you?” He knew when he was beaten.
At the stores we were served with a weeks supply of groceries. I was happy to note these included a quarter of hazel nut creams, and a half of ginger biscuits. The last shop we called at was Harvey’s, the newsagents, and our usual comic was purchased. It was a weekly known as ‘Crackers.’ This I always shared with my young brother. I remember this was made with loose leaves like a newspaper, so one of us didn’t have to wait till the other had finished reading it, but could divide the pages between us.
Mother asked to see some cigarette card albums, and bought two, one for Sidney and one for me. They were both green with scarlet poppies on the front covers. Sidney had a very strong collectors instinct, I wasn’t so keen, but I wasn’t going to be left out, so I had to have one too.
Mother then choose her weekly luxury. A twopenny library book. This took some time as she was torn between the delights of May Edginton and Ethel M. Dell. I suppose to have taken them both would have been too wild an extravagance to be contemplated.
It was time to return home once more. We loaded ourselves and our purchases into the cart, and a willing little horse sped on her way, her feet clop, clopping on the tarmac road, keeping a rhythmic beat that was music to my ears.
I was seated beside Father with my nose close to the reins, facing the road ahead. Pansy’s flanks shone like polished conkers, and the muscles moved in waves beneath her skin.
The roadside was gay with scarlet poppies, yellow toadflax, and white daises, while an occasional butterfly flittered from flower to flower in lazy flight, as if the heat of the day had sapped its energy. As we passed under each tree, we welcomed the brief shade it afforded, the sun made patterns as it shone through the branches, dappling Pansy’s back with light and shade.
The fields either side of the road were duly noted and commented upon. A particularly good field of wheat was declared ‘road proud,’ while a crop bright with poppies, Father shook his head over and said, “That farmer won’t get many coomb an acre off that field.’
We arrived home by tea time, clouds were gathering and the sky darkening, a faint rumbling could be heard in the far distance, but I noticed little of this for I was already half asleep.
It must have been an extra loud crash of thunder that woke me. I opened my eyes in the darkness and faced an uncurtained window, then, it was as if a giant hand with a silver pen scrawled across the sky illuminating the whole world for a second, and all was darkness again.
The rain came as the merest whisper at first, then gradually worked up to a roar, as if it had been held up too long.
The bedroom door opened, and Father lifted me from my bed and carried me downstairs. Every mirror in the house had been covered for fear they would attract lightning, and no one was allowed to handle a knife or pair of scissors for the same reason.
Mother was always very frightened during a thunder storm, and irrespective of the hour, we all had to be downstairs in case the house was struck by lightning and the chimney stack came crashing through the roof, killing us all in our beds.
My brothers and myself had no fear, in fact I was always rather excited during a storm, which made me feel guilty as Mother sat with her head in her hands, obviously very nervous.
Downstairs in the kitchen I could no longer see the lightning, but the thunder still crashed around us. The oil lamp had been lit and the wicks gave off a slight smell of paraffin but very little light, although this must have been adequate, for my brothers sat round the table amusing themselves with their various hobbies. Harold was reading a Sexton Blake, Jack was mending a pocket watch, (he always loved taking things to pieces,) while Sidney was carefully putting cards in his new album. Father went to the door to watch the rain, and wondered how it would affect his corn. I sat on a rag rug by the hearth at mother’s feet, and with her hand stroking my hair, sleep claimed me once more.
Chapter 3 / Chapter 5