So, it’s 26 January 1947. I’m told it was one of the worst winters in living memory. But of course my memory doesn’t stretch back that far. Good old Google tells me that one of the cold spells started on 21 January, so I guess there must have been some difficulty in getting my mum to hospital. I was born in St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford. The main buildings of this hospital formed the infirmary of the Bradford Union Workhouse (completed 1852). It was not luxury, obviously!
Everyone was also dealing with the difficult post-war period. In1945, Labour had won a general election and on 1 January 1947 had nationalised the coal industry and created the National Coal Board. Still, due to a lack of planning for a possible cold winter, there was a coal shortage and, together with food rationing, we all had a pretty tough time.
Health-wise, the NHS was taking longer to be born than I was and, apparently, it was practice at that time for new mothers to stay in hospital for two weeks, having bed rest. So again it must’ve been difficult for my dad to visit us in hospital. We were one of the lucky families who had a car but as I’ve been told that snow was so deep that people had to walk on the walls I’m not sure if the roads will have been open. Anyway I presume that at the beginning of February I arrived home to our cycle shop (perhaps strapped to the handlebars of a bicycle) where the other person waiting to meet me was my Grandma.
Before I start moving forward from January 1947 it’s time to explain who my mum and dad were and where they came from. Phyllis and Cuthbert (whoever would call themselves by their middle name, Cuthbert, when their first name was a perfectly normal John?) had been married since November 1939 and had known each other for many many years before that. I believe I was their first and only baby. No-one ever mentioned miscarriages or stillbirths but then, they wouldn’t. So I have no explanation as to why it was more than seven years after their marriage that I was born. My belief through teenage years that it was because Dad was doing war work in a local factory through the night, while Mum did similar during the day was poopooed by a kindly colleague who assured me that “people will always find time for a little love”.
Let’s start with Phyllis. Born in August 1905, she was the youngest of five sisters. Emma (known as Emmie) was the oldest, born in 1891. Her father, Thomas, was my grandma’s (also Emma) first husband who sadly died at a very young age only two or three years after they were married. I haven’t been able to find out what happened to him, although I know that he was farm labourer. Grandma Emma later married my grandfather Frederick and had four more daughters, Bessie, Violet, Jessie and Phyllis. Frederick had been a baker at some point and, possibly, a soldier. He was born in Lincolnshire in 1863. Emma was also born in Lincolnshire in 1869. By the time mum was born Frederick worked on the railways and they lived near Wakefield. Bessie was born in 1896, Violet in 1901, Jessie in 1904 and Phyllis in 1905. The girls all worked in the local mill when they left school.
I think I’ll leave dad’s early story until tomorrow. It includes desertion and, possibly, bigamy, a drunken first wife and illegitimacy so will take a bit of explaining.
In the meantime, I’m digesting the final episode of “The Plague” from BBC4. Not an easy watch, what with the pustules, the Spanish Inquisition and a pre-NHS doctor who shouted for “lard” when the hero was brought in close to death. He patched him up and bathed his wounds with a mixture of egg and turpentine. BBC4, my staple Saturday night fare (sub-titles and all) was on hold last night while I went to a party. I’m coming to terms with the fact that BBC1 has started has started showing an equally gripping but totally different, Saturday night serial. “Killing Eve” is fast, edgy and has me hooked already. How will I juggle the two?