I was 15 and supposed I must be grown up now I was a working woman doing a man’s job, but I still felt just the same. One change was that Mr Cameron the postman, who had always called me Chrissie, started to call me Miss Stroud! I would rather have stayed Chrissie, but was too shy to ask him. Customers in the bank called me Miss Stroud and I couldn’t change that either. I came to the conclusion that growing up was a slow, long drawn out process and that nobody is ever absolutely grown up. Something of the young person we were stays and is always in the background.
Recently, we have had snow around the UK and I was surprised that some children were sent home because the playground was covered in snow. Our school occasionally closed at 1pm if there was a heavy fall, mainly so that the country children were able to get home to the farms before any road blockage. Next morning, however, we would start a slide in the playground and enjoy it at lunchtime and play time. It was exhilarating. The Janitor, Mr Jimmy Whittet, would salt it at night and we’d make a new one next day and once more ‘keep the pot boiling’! I don’t remember anyone ever being hurt, but doubtless Health and Safety regulations would veto slides nowadays. We had snowball fights which are also frowned upon now.
It was no fun being a ‘scavvie’, (scavenger or binman) in icy weather. Today, binmen have a comparatively clean job with suitable clothes and no lifting. Then, binmen wore old clothes and a hessian bag slit up one side on their head like a cape. The middens (bins) were full of ashes from the coal fires and all sorts of messy rubbish. They had to hoist it on their back and carry it out to the road and empty it into the lorry. The headgear would protect their heads from the ash. Now we put our bins out on the pavement ready and the wagon equipment does the lifting. Postmen all wore a navy uniform with red piping and a peaked hat. Railway workers all wore uniforms too. The most impressive uniformed people in civilian life were the commissionaires at cinemas, theatres and hotels. They seemed so grand, and to be respected. Coal men were a bit like the midden men except their faces were black with coal dust. They had to be able to carry on their back a hundredweight of coal. Housewives knew which day they would come round shouting ‘Coal’, and would rap the window or run out and ask for the number of bags they wanted. It was probably not much over 1/- (one shilling) a bag. Sometimes we’d be allowed to give the horse a carrot or an apple, under supervision. Grans and Mums used to say to noisy children, ‘My, my, what a grand voice for shouting coal.’ Coal men are thin on the ground nowadays but still exist. Annabel in Greenock has a coal fire. We were there one day when her coal was delivered and I watched from the window as the man heaved the bag on to his back. There is an art in it. The job is still the same but customers have to order the coal and it costs £15 a bag!
Annabel was able to use my bike when I was at work, especially in summer. None of my school friends had a cycle but I had found a new ‘bicycle friend’ who lived in the tenement next to us. Her Dad was a chauffeur and they had lately come with his employers to Kilmacolm. We did a fair bit of cycling in the evenings and covered a good bit of the surrounding area plus occasional forays at weekends, e.g. across the Clyde to see Elma’s Aunt and Uncle. The Toll figured of course, and the Big Park from where we sometimes called round on our way home to the private tennis courts where we sat on our bikes against the wall and watched the players. They probably thought we were a nuisance!
The family moved to Auchterarder with Mr Fraser’s employers some years later. They were two sisters and their brother, and they built a nice wee bungalow for Elma’s parents. Each one when they died left Elma’s Dad their third of the house and eventually it was his. I stayed there several times. Twice I took my bike and we did some long trips. Once Elma had been ill and we had a less energetic week. She always bathed the wee dogs from the House. They were two wee Yorkshire Terriers who didn’t smell very nice and didn’t seem to have much personality either. Elma had three older brothers. The eldest emigrated to Canada, the middle one was in the RAF, abroad mostly, and Ernie, the youngest, was at home until he was called up and joined the Royal Scots Regiment. He was one I wrote to and Elma said he liked getting letters. He was killed on the last day of 1944. Others from the village were killed and grieved for, but he was Elma’s brother and a friend and I shared her sorrow. Mrs Fraser never really recovered from the blow and she and Mr Fraser and Elma were probably glad to move away to Auchterarder where their sad loss wasn’t known. We kept in touch by visits and letters for many years until last year when the Christmas card/letter I sent brought no answering phone call from Elma. Just recently, I googled ‘Ian and Ernie Thomson’ (her sons). The website which resulted told me Elma had died peacefully a year past December. Another old and dear friend gone but the memories remain.