As I sit here sneezing my head off, (the cold is in full swing now) trying to muster up a bit of energy to do even the smallest of tasks, I wonder how my Grandmothers used to cope when they felt lousy, back in the days before we had all the mod cons which make our modern lives so much easier, and I feel pretty ashamed of myself for being such a wimp…..!
Both my Dad’s mum (Nanny R), and Mum’s mum (Nanny M) lived next door to each other, at the time when they were born, in huge Victorian houses, situated on a very pleasant street, not far from the beautiful Jurassic coast in the South-West of England.
Nanny R had never been married (scandalous in 1929 when she gave birth to my dad), and lived with her spinster sister (Aunty May), whereas Nanny M was married with one daughter, and three sons, one of whom suffered with Muscular Dystrophy.Both nans were under five foot tall, but what they lacked in height they made up for, being extremely feisty! Aunty May however, was tall and slim with a sour face, and personality to match! Mind you, I can understand why she was so bitter, as apparently she had a fiance who her father didn’t approve of, and forbade her to marry,so although engaged for years, she never did marry him – or anyone else!
Nanny M used to take in lodgers during the war whilst Grandad (an officer in the Navy) was away, and she certainly had her work cut out for her. Not only did she have her young children to look after, but she had to cook all of the meals for her visitors (no convenience foods for them), plus somehow manage to launder all of the linen etc without the aid of the trusty washing machine we rely upon so much today. I remember seeing these massive wooden tongs that she used to have, plus this washboard thing she had to scrub the laundry against.
This must have been so time-consuming and cumbersome for her, especially as she also had to iron everything with a flat-iron that was warmed up by the fire. This along with cleaning the entire four-storey house single-handedly must have been one hell of a mammoth task.
Nanny R and Aunty May did not have any lodgers, they were ‘above’ all of that, and accused Nanny M of running a ‘knocking shop’ (she found out about this and gave them a piece of her mind). They just lived there with their very strict father (a Peppery Old Sod is how my mum referred to him) and my dad. They too had a lot of work to do in the house. I remember walking into their house as a child; it still had all the bells on the wall (very Upstairs, Downstairs), labelled with the names of various rooms, which I presumed my great-grandad would ring to summon them to do his bidding.
Aunty May went out with her father to work during the day which would leave Nanny R to run the house and prepare the meals for them when they got home. They had a huge garden where they would grow their own fruit and veg and Nan would conjure up delicious meals with all fresh produce. My own experience eating at their house was a VERY formal affair. There was a huge table laden with all manner of vegetables, meats, and other dishes, but you got NOTHING unless you ate your bread and butter! My siblings and I were to sit in silence and only speak when spoken to. We were not allowed to leave the table until we excused ourselves and God help you if you didn’t behave with the correct table manners)!!
Still, it was a small price to pay,at least we didn’t have to wash up afterwards, as my poor Nan was left with all the clearing up to do, along with everything else that needed doing! The mountain of crockery, cutlery, pots and pans to clean up must have been so disheartening for her, especially as she had cooked and prepared the meal to begin with!
Never once did I hear my Nans complain about their lot in life. Yes, they were both lucky in that they lived in these gorgeous properties, but they did all the work themselves. I don’t remember them moaning that they felt ill, and didn’t want to do anything except languish in bed, feeling sorry for themselves….they just got on with it; it was what was expected of them and they did it with good grace.
I am blessed that I have had such strong,hard-working women as my early role-models. I know that if they were here now, I would get a bloody good telling off,and told that I needed “a good kick up the arse” to shake me out of my inertia, and they would be right!!
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