Percy and Chris didn’t find it plain sailing with their first child. Not because of any character defects, but I turned out to be a “chesty” child troubled by bronchial catarrh and croup. The latter was frightening for a small girl. I was told that I also had pneumonia, after which the Doctor suggested it might be better to move inland to a country area. When I was still a toddler we moved to Kilmacolm and lived near Auntie Kate and a mile away from the Toll.
We saw a lot of my Auntie Annie and I became her little shadow, following her around everywhere – and I think she liked me too! The “Wee Park” was across the road from our house with swings, joy-wheel, ocean wave and a pond to sail boats in. Fortunately it was very shallow, because one day when Auntie Annie took me to the park I toddled off round the pond. She called me to come back and I just walked straight across the pond – the wee kilt I was wearing was fair drookit. Well, it was the quickest way! That tale was told a few times. The ocean wave when I first knew it was a big, circular wooden seat with metal struts leaning up to a high pole. It went round and round and back and forward. Naughty boys sometimes tried to bump the pole, and one day a girl had her kneecap broken. Looking back, it did seem like accidents waiting to happen but health and safety hadn’t been invented then! The ocean wave was made rigid after that, and only circulated.
By the time I was coming up to four, Mum would see me over the road and I played on the “bottom swings” so that she could keep an eye on me from the window. I could also go over to Auntie Kate’s house, and she would wave out her window to tell Mum I’d arrived. Uncle Stewart was the coalman for Laird’s Garage and the stable was next their house, so there were horses to look at. Then there was the Garage where my cousin Nettie worked in the office. The Old Kirk was just down the road where I went to Sunday School.
I started school in September 1931 escorted by Mum and Auntie Mary. In later years I heard that Mary cried all the way home – she had hated school, but I liked it! Miss Barclay was a motherly grey-haired lady nearing retirement and perfect for infants. We learned a lot by rote and soon could reel off the alphabet, even if some didn’t recognise the letters on a page. We learned the early Tables and, by the time we moved to Miss Lang, were old hands at the game. Both teachers had big books which they hung over the blackboard and which felt like our kitchen table cover (oilcloth). Miss Barclay told us tales and nursery rhymes such as Red Riding Hood, and turned the pages of the book to show us the illustrations. After more than 80 years I can still visualise these pictures and I sing the rhymes to myself sometimes when I can’t get to sleep! We learned to print some of the letters on our slates with squeaky slate pencils. Miss Lang’s book had songs for us to learn while she played the piano, e.g. Where are you going to, my pretty maid? There was a second book which had the Tables all listed, so it wasn’t all play. We got a good grounding particularly in reading, writing (printing) and arithmetic. I got a lot of encouragement at home, plus books, and had no problems with reading. Every day before morning playtime the Janitor, Mr. Whittet, brought each class a large enamel jug full of Horlicks and we each got a cupful. School was great; I liked the teachers and made lots of wee friends to play with.
Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Scotland then as it is now. We spent it with our English family. In my class at school, mine was the only Daddy who didn’t work on Christmas day because the RNTF had English holidays. New Year was for the Toll which I’ll write about another day.