Although childhood memories of the early 50s are fading fast, we should record them for our children to try and understand why we think and do as we do even now. They were the years that shaped us – and the extended family was an integral part of this. Nowadays our kids would be horrified at the thought of using an outside loo or only having a bath once a week in the tin bath in front of the open fire, but we managed and counted ourselves lucky to have a close and loving family around us.
I was so lucky to grow up with my Mum, Dad and younger sister. Before moving to our Council flat when I was 7 years old we lived with my grandparents, in their 3 bedroomed rented house and had two rooms to live and sleep in and Mum and Nan shared the kitchen. Dad was one of six sons and there were still three of his brothers living at home at that time.
Dad was a lovely man, serious, caring and with a deep sense of family, but unfortunately without much of a sense of humour, but it has to be said not the most patient of men when he was in pain. Mum on the other hand had a silly sense of humour and would often get into fits of giggles at the drop of a hat.
In the early 1950s there was no State sickness benefit so if you were ill you lost wages and in some cases, your job as well if you took too much time off. Dad was a fireman (stoker) on the railway which was heavy, back-breaking, dirty and tiring work. One time he had put his back out and was in agony, but with a wife and 2 children to support he couldn’t afford to be off work, so he went to the doctors to get something to ease the lower back pain and allow him to continue working. After much haggling, as the Doctor wanted Dad to have complete rest, the doctor suggested using a belladonna plaster, which Dad eagerly accepted as a way to keep earning.
So, Dad arrived home with the belladonna plaster, which he looked on as a miracle cure, and asked Mum to help him put it on. It first had to be heated in the oven and then placed on the back. She proceeded to light the gas oven which had recently replaced the old iron range in the kitchen, to heat the plaster and sent Dad up to their bedroom to undress and lie on the bed and wait. Impatient as ever he was calling down to find out what was happening and Mum was getting flustered because the oven was quite temperamental. Once it was ready Mum had to peel off the sticky backing, which she managed to do with the help of Nan, ready to take it upstairs. It was really hot and burning her fingers so she was juggling it between the fingers of both hands as she tried to get upstairs as quickly as possible, unfortunately her haste made her a bit clumsy and she tripped up dropping the plaster on the stairs which only had the carpet runner in the centre of the staircase. Although Mum & my Nan kept the place very clean all old houses did manage to accumulate dust & grit and wouldn’t you know it – the plaster had to land sticky side down. After picking it back up it was now partially covered in fluff, dust and grit and to make things worse some of it had stuck together in places making creases. With Dad yelling where was she and the miracle plaster, Mum, because of her anxiety, succumbed to a fit of giggles along with Nan. They finally got their act together and Mum took the plaster into the bedroom where Dad was lying face down and naked on the bed. Mum was known to be scatty at the best of times but now nervous that Dad would see the state of the plaster, she wacked it straight on his lower back. Unfortunately putting it much to low down and slightly askew it was covering quite a proportion of his buttocks, which now caused further fits of giggles as Mum couldn’t now pull it off to reposition it.
Dad couldn’t see what was happening and was becoming more and more annoyed, Nan went in to see what was happening and sent my still giggling Mum down to get a pair of scissors from her workbox, Nan was a seamstress and worked from home, so it was decided that Mum should cut a v shape in the plaster and shape it around the buttocks. Once they had tidied him up and made him lie on his back to rest for a while he began to calm down and could begin to see the funny side of things.
Over the years the story was often told to great hilarity, but always with great love between my parents whose sense of humour so often differed. In fact, I remember my Dad as being quite strict, but my daughters adored him and it was a joy to see him playing silly games with them.