Family connections

The Canadian Aunties not only sent Granny letters they occasionally sent magazines such as Saturday Evening Post and women’s periodicals, plus the ‘funnies’ from their Sunday newspapers. They were much enjoyed. The Post was full of good reading and the front illustrations were lovely, typifying American home life mainly. The artist was very well-known but in spite of that I can’t remember his name! One year, Auntie Jen sent us a copy of Sears Catalogue which was a revelation to Annabel and me. You could buy a combine harvester if you were so inclined, some needles and thread, pencils or almost anything you can think of. It kept us busy for ages poring over it and choosing what we’d buy if we lived in Canada! It gave us an idea what it must be like to live in a very isolated farm with no towns to shop in, and we laughed to think of a tractor being delivered by a postman. (I thought of the catalogue many years later when John and I were in Chicago. To get to the top of the Sears Tower, then the tallest skyscraper in the city, we first had to go down three stories in an elevator to get the one to the top. It was extremely fast and the view from the restaurant was spell-binding. Cars and people scurried about like ants and we were tickled to see swimming pools on top of other buildings.) Jen also sent us sweets during the war and, while we thanked her warmly and gratefully, none of us enjoyed them! They were ‘boilings’ and didn’t have much flavour.

Baby with Grandaddy, cousins Nettie and Isa and proud big sister

Annabel with Grandaddy, cousins Nettie and Isa and proud big sister

I haven’t said much about our cousins Nettie and Isa. The age difference (which you can see from the photo on the left) meant we had little contact apart from family times. When I went for paraffin, or with the wireless accumulator, it was Nettie who served me in the garage office where she was the clerk, and when we were at the station we saw Isa, who was one of the two people who ran the Station Bookstall. Miss Nancy Gardner was the Manageress. When the trains stopped running the station became a restaurant and it was called the Nancy Gardner Restaurant – a lovely tribute to someone who had spent all her working life there. I spent a lot of my pocket-money on books and magazines at the Bookstall, they always had lots of both. When the War, began Nettie was called up first and then Isa. They both joined the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute) and looked very smart in the khaki uniform. Both met their husbands while in the forces. Nettie married Fred Simmonds, who was in the Army and a master-butcher, and they lived in Streatham. They had one little boy called Stuart. Isa met Peter Davidson, a Paisley lad, in the RAF. They lived in Paisley and had a boy called Stewart and a girl called Jan (short for Janet).

Visiting Trafalgar Square with Nettie and Stuart

Visiting Trafalgar Square with Nettie and Stuart

Annabel and I spent a week with Nettie and Fred when Stuart was a baby. London wasn’t as busy as it is now, but we felt we were brave to go around on our own. We had a 3” x 2” guide book with a map on the back page. With that we found Buckingham Palace, where a friendly policeman said if we stood ‘over there’ we would see the Queen and the Princesses coming out in a car, which we did. We had arrived by bus in London on the day in June of the Trooping of the Colour. We went to look at the BBC, the Bank of England and various other important buildings. Freddy got us free tickets to Leicester Square Cinema but neither of us can remember the film we saw! We visited Uncle Albert and family in Plumstead and had tea with them. Sunday we spent at Box Hill having a picnic lunch and walking up to the very top where supposedly a man is buried standing up or maybe it was upside down! So they said, anyway.

Dad had seen us off from Glasgow. We had to get to Nettie’s on the Tube, and when I asked the ticket seller for two to Tooting Annabel had a fit of giggles and we got on the train weak with laughing! We also went to some of the London stores including one that had a lovely garden on the roof. The weather was good and we had a lovely holiday. Nettie and Fred had made us so welcome and we enjoyed being with the baby, he was lovely. We had arrived in London with £2 spending money. On Monday night we knew we were going to be poverty-stricken before long. On Tuesday we sent a letter to Mum and Dad and on Thursday morning we had the reply with another £2! The post travelled a lot faster in the old days.

There were few cars around in the Forties and not many accidents, but on several occasions a car coming down the hill to the Toll would misjudge the angle and clip the corner of the house. I was only there once when this happened and it was quite an event for me. A man was driving and his wife and another lady were with him. He had a bump on his head and had passed out. His wife was naturally upset. We all rushed out but when Mum saw there was an injury she grabbed me and put me in behind the gate and told me to stay there. But I could watch through the slats. Doctor Ferguson appeared and I’ve often wondered how he knew about it. Probably someone had run down to the Mill and asked them to telephone, or he could have been out on a call. Doctors went to see patients at that time. I never thought to ask. They were moved into the Toll and Granny made tea for them. However the younger lady came out of the car, tottered across the road and collapsed in the undergrowth beside the War Memorial hedge. This was right in my line of vision and I watched entranced. Even more so when the Doctor came along and took hold of her ankles and hoisted her up, displaying her legs and some of next week’s washing! It was amazing how quickly she sat up and rearranged herself. I found it all quite exciting and entertaining. It turned out that the driver didn’t have concussion and no damage was done except the dent to the car and some fragments off the Tollhouse. So they were able to continue their journey and make their way home. And our crowd were ready for a nice reviving cup of tea after such an unusual afternoon.

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