7 - A brother & a scholarship.

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John.

I was ten when my mother had her third baby. She blamed an uncle for her condition. Dad had been persuaded by his brother-in- law to try "French Letters" (condoms) and the result was another unwanted pregnancy. To make matters worse Dad insisted that she should have the baby in a private nursing home. To be fair I think he felt he was giving her the best care. He was a strange Janus creature. On the one hand clinging passionately to socialist principles and on the other determined to raise himself and his family to middle class status.

Mam thought he had sent her away to have the baby for the sake of the business and there is no doubt it made things easier. He was able to take his holiday entitlement from his job as a bus driver to run the shop. Harry and I were not a problem since Harry was now thirteen and when he came home he helped in the shop, while I got tea ready, and then did his homework.

Mam had a bad time over the birth. She said the delivery room was filthy; the floor was strewn with the pubic hair of the previous patient. They were reluctant to send for the doctor and when at last they decided it was necessary they had to clean up before the doctor arrived.

All this information I picked up by listening to their rows although no attempt was made to keep me in ignorance of life's hardships.

Having a baby brother was a great disappointment for me. I had prayed every night for a baby sister and I felt God had let me down.

Although my father was a professed atheist we were taught to say the "Lord's Prayer" every night. We didn't kneel but put our hands together in the proscribed manner and then Mam or Dad if he was there, would say "Night, night and God Bless."

My parents took great pains to stress right and wrong as absolute as black and white and it was not until many years later that I realised there are few absolutes in life.

As soon John, my baby brother no longer needed a night feed his cot was moved into my bedroom. I enjoyed looking after him although I wasn't very keen on washing nappies. The soiled ones were scrubbed in the sink under running cold water and then put in a bucket of soapy water to soak. After that they were boiled in a bucket on the stove. Later when the stools were more formed they were rinsed off first in the toilet.

JOHN

Secondary school scholarship.

Mam went to talk to my teacher only once and that was the year I was to sit the scholarship exam. Whether we didn't have open days or whether it was because she couldn't leave the shop, I don't remember. After visiting the school she told Dad that my teacher said hat if I wanted to pass the exam I would.

Then the arguments began. Dad insisted that if I got the chance of a scholarship I must take it while Mam held not only was it a waste to keep a girl until she was sixteen but also that I would look down on them and they would lose me.

I had no ambition until one day I saw a "crocodile" of little girls dressed in grey. I asked Aunt Alice if they were orphans. She took me along the boulevard and showed me the "Manning Secondary School" (later the name was changed to Grammar School) I couldn't believe it was a school.

The classrooms had French windows, which opened on to green banks and a rockery. There were tennis courts and hockey fields within the precinct and no high walls round the playground. Even from the outside it was a palace compared with "Berridge" or "Bentinck Rd". Schools.They were Victorian edifices with concrete playgrounds and high walls. One look was enough; I wanted passionately to go to the Manning School.

Mam didn't give way easily. She insisted that it was she who attended the interview with the head mistress after I gained the scholarship. I held my breath as she told the head mistress that if I had only scraped through she didn't want me to take the place. The head told her I had passed "quite highly" and there would be nothing to pay.

Even after that Mam tried to get Dad to change his mind, pointing out the cost of the uniform, sports equipment etc. I hated her then. But she was no different from hundreds of other parents. Some of my cousins passed but were not allowed to go because of the expense of keeping them until they were sixteen.

In those days parents looked forward to children contributing to the household expenses when they started work at fourteen.

Although I still enjoyed playing "Cowboys and Indians" when I visited my Aspley Cousins I was in some ways "street wise". Once when I accompanied a friend to meet her mother from the factory where she worked, we passed a pub and my friend told me she was going to use the lavs, which were in the back yard. After quite a while she came out and showed me half a crown. She said a man had given it her for letting him have a feel of her fanny. She told me he would give me one too if I went to him, I knew the dangers and I refused.

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