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Our Lamps Glow Brightly
My maternal grandparents owned a nursery farm in Cheshire, where I was born one foggy, February night. My father had to walk in front of the taxi guiding it with a torch, to reach the hospital. My grandparents took their produce to market with a pony and trap.
I can remember my childhood days with my two brothers at Sharston Farm very clearly. It was only a few miles from our terraced house in the back streets of Manchester, yet it was another world, a world of green fields and singing larks. We could wander freely all day without fear, to swing on a branch that hung over the duck pond, or explore Gatley woods, or catch newts, tiddlers and minnows in jam jars.
We made a house in the barn by climbing up to the floor above over the mangers. We used boxes as furniture, jars as vases filled with buttercups and daisies, and stole bread and home-made jam from my grandmother's store cupboard. She used to hold a jar up to the light peering at the contents and say, 'I'll swear there was more jam in than there is now!' My grandmother made delicious apricot and almond jam, nettle and ginger beer, and huge fruit cakes. She hid our Easter eggs in the hens' nesting boxes in the outbuildings and we were sent to search for them, excitedly. I really believed the hens laid them for us, wrapped in silver paper too!
There was a pump by the back door and a great oak tree with a seat carved in it. lavatories were reached by two tracks between bushes, one for ladies, one for gents. They were buckets under a wooden seat, three in a row. I could beat any record for speed if forced to use one, the smell and flies were revolting. Beautiful lilies, azaleas and dahlias as big as dinner plates grew in the front garden, and there was a long row of loganberry bushes.
My grandmother kept a large flock of white geese. She killed them and poultry without a qualm, served teas and catered for wedding parties in their long wooden tea-room. Parties of Sunday or Day School children came in coaches for their annual day out when we helped by serving the most delicious home-made ice cream and lemonade and sweets at eight for a halfpenny. I slipped in an extra one if I thought the child was very poor, so cancelling out my poor grandmother's profits!
If we stayed overnight our beds were warmed with oven shelves taken from the big, black range in the kitchen and wrapped in cloths.
Grandmother was very hard-working. She could be quite sharp with us children, but I realize now, looking back, how harassed she must have been running to and fro between the house and tea-room, catering under very primitive conditions and having us under her feet. Her only water was a pump outside the back door, and she had two large, sooted black kettles constantly boiling over the fire in the range.
My grandfather was an endearing character. He was an expert at his job of nurseryman. Very upright, dressed smartly in a grey suit, a flower in his buttonhole, military moustache waxed and twirled to points at the ends, he would snap on his cycle clips and pedal off down the leafy lane to the local pub every lunch time to enjoy his pint or two of beer.
Both my mother and father were one of five children in the family and both lost a brother in road accidents. My mother was the eldest and walked to Northenden school and back with her brothers of school age. On the way home one day her younger brother Sydney was playing marbles in the gutter when a horse and cart went by as he bent down to retrieve a marble. The cart wheel passed over his neck and he was killed. It must have been a most dreadful scene for my mother to witness while still so young herself.
My father's brother Randle was fourteen when he was run down by a car and fatally injured. Randle had no art training but had a natural gift, and would have become a very talented artist. Before his early death he produced some beautiful sketches and small water colours.
My paternal grandmother died of cancer while still young; I was told that she was a beautiful and gentle person. I can only remember Grandad as a distant old man who wore thick serge suits with a waistcoat, a stiff bowler hat and a pocket watch and chain from which hung a bunch of keys and gadgets. These he dangled and shook to amuse small grandchildren. He wore an untidy moustache that got in the way when he drank a cup of tea He was a stern, strict disciplinarian. My father said he used to make his wife and children sit still for an hour every Sunday to listen to him read from the massive family bible. He kept a cane by his side to punish anyone who spoke at mealtimes. He owned some property. When my parents married they lived in a house he owned. He kept a rent book and charged them the full rent collecting it weekly, in spite of their poor, straitened circumstances.
My mother was tall and fair. She worked as a mannequin. My father always said he could never believe his luck at winning such a lovely wife. Before Dad married, he joined the army at the age of nineteen at the start of the First World War. He could never have killed anyone, so he joined the Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer. He had some terrible experiences and ended up as a German prisoner-of-war when he nearly starved to death.
Before the war he worked in the textile industry, but a lot of firms including his own went bankrupt in the slump after the war was over. He felt very degraded and humiliated standing in a dole queue every week to collect twenty-five shillings for himself, five shillings for his wife and two shillings and six pence for each child. He decided to earn money as a decorator, and put a notice in a shop window which read, 'Ceilings painted, six rolls of wallpaper hung, 12/6d including labour.' He started by pushing a box on pram wheels, to hold his tackle. His reputation spread as a good and obliging worker until he became a master painter and decorator employing five men. The truck made from a pram was exchanged for a hand-cart with his name and trade painted on the sides until finally he contracted a van or lorry to transport materials and ladders. He never learned to drive himself. My mother collected any bad debts and took in a lodger.
Back Streets of Manchester
We were blissfully unaware of the poverty and struggle our parents had to make ends meet. Mam could make me the prettiest dresses from old garments and work miracles with a sheep's head or some marrow bones bought for a few pence. A bowl of hot beef dripping set us up before we walked to school on freezing mornings, scarves wrapped twice round our necks and my legs encased in leather gaiters, with lots of tiny, round buttons down each side, done up with a button hook. We formed gangs with neighbouring children and played in the street until dark. Games such as, 'What time is it Mr Wolf?', Giant Strides and Fairy Steps, Hop Scotch, whip and top, marbles and skipping. A long rope was used for skipping, turned at each end by one of the gang, the rest of us queued up waiting our turn to dodge into the moving rope and skip to the chant of, 'Salt, mustard, vinegar pepper,' when the rope would be speeded up and the skipper kept going for as long as possible as the rope slapped the road under her feet. They were wonderfully happy, carefree days for us children.
We were given 2d a week pocket money. I always bought my mother a ha'penny worth of chocolate chewing nuts and my father a ha'penny cane cigarette holder. He never complained that he already had a drawerful. The remaining penny I spent on myself. No government spent its billions with more thought and deliberations as I did my penny. I stood for ages in front of the sweet shop window debating whether to buy a ha'p'orth of coconut chips, a bull's eye, or licorice bootlace, which would leave me enough to buy a handful of comics from the second-hand shop&emdash;or whether to blue the whole penny in one go. Perhaps a toffee watch shaped like a box, the lid, printed as a clock face, peeled off to reveal a trinket inside. It was the not knowing what was inside that was so intriguing, the toffee container itself tasted disgusting. Perhaps I might spend my penny at the corner shop, on a bag of broken biscuits, or a tortoiseshell slide for my hair that was set with bits of glass to look like diamonds.
We were all thin and bony by nature. I was a freckle-faced harum-scarum tomboy. Mum did her best with me but despaired of turning me into anything resembling a lady. She screwed my hair into strips of rags at nights which were very lumpy and uncomfortable to sleep in. In the morning my hair was brushed into shining ringlets and tied up with ribbon. I was sent to dancing class and dressed in pretty frocks. I hated the demure, pretty girls my mother held up as paragons of virtue and urged me to emulate. They never came home with tom, dirty dresses, ruffled hair and scabs on their knees! My knees were usually skinned from crawling on hands and knees along the top of the backyard walls after my brothers. People in one house in the street we never took liberties with. Their yard door was always shut and bolted, the tops of the walls were covered in jagged, broken glass set in cement. We rushed past the front of their house on our way to school as we had visions of witch-like shapes swooping out on us and being dragged into their dark interior never to be heard of again. In all probability they were a timid, harmless old couple!
On Christmas Eve my parents took us to the market in&emdash;I think&emdash;Salford&emdash;or was it Stockport? Traders sold hr trees, mistletoe and holly, tinsel and decorations. At nearly midnight when everything was being sold at knock-down prices we bought our goose and Christmas fare. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle, the crowd's good humour, and the wit of the barrow boys as they sold their wares. With much banter one would hold up a blanket, "Ere, this'll keep the missus warm tonight, you can 'ave it, not for £4, not for £3&emdash;a pound, give me a pound. I'm giving it away. I'll be bankrupt, but there y'are, it's Christmas and I'm feeling soft-hearted.' So it would go on while hands shot up among the crowd anxious to acquire such a never-to-be-repeated bargain. My parents had difficulty in dragging me away as the dialogue between the trader and some in the crowd got richer by the second.
At bath-time the three of us were bathed together in a big enamel bath. When the sloping end was soaped it was great fun to slide down and send a wave of water over the side. Mum sent us down to Dad in turns, to kneel at his feet while he towelled our hair dry. Then I would sit on his knee while the boys sat on the floor, in the firelight. We listened spellbound to his stories of glass mountains, giants, castles and princesses, all made up spontaneously. If only I could have recorded or remembered them, to pass on and delight other children. I felt very secure and loved on these occasions. Dad also taught us how to love and appreciate music. We sat before an ancient gramophone, wound up manually, and listened to my father weaving a story about a classical piece of music, then listen to the music on a record. The March of the Mountain Kings conjured up a picture of giants in the distance, coming closer and closer, until a sudden clash of sound startled us out of our wits. Grieg was his favourite. Morning to us was a vision of a still, dew-laden dawn, the birds gradually awakening and the sun slowly warming the earth and flowers. It was sheer magic. He took the boys to football matches at Old Trafford and me to Music Hall and Variety shows. I cried at the Manchester Opera House on hearing Mimi sung in La Bohème. My father wasn't ashamed to show his emotion when deeply moved by a particularly beautiful voice or piece of music.
The Characters of Manchester Streets
Mum always kept a bag of rags handy and when she heard the raucous shouts, 'Rags and bones, any old rags and bones,' we rushed out to the rag and bone man's barrow to exchange them for a goldfish or a windmill.
Another call to be heard regularly in our back entry was, 'Milko! Milko!' It was made by a man with silvery white hair and rosy cheeks. He pushed a milk churn on a porter's trolley. We took out a jug which he filled with a ladleful of milk for two pence. He also drowned anyone's unwanted kittens for sixpence. We wondered how such a jolly, Father Christmassy sort of man could do such a dreadful thing. Did he drown them in the milk churn and continue ladling out his customers' two penn'orth? We eyed out jug of milk dubiously. We only knew him as 'Milko.' The germs we must have downed in those days our modern dieticians would throw up their hands in horror.
The lamplighter walked the streets every night, pushing the end of his long pole into the top of the lamp to ignite it, leaving a warm pool of light beneath which made the shadows even darker.
Transport was by tram, noisily rattling and rocking along metal rails. On reaching the end of the line the driver merely walked the length of the tram to the other end, flicking the seats back over as he went, to face in the opposite direction, and took up his stance by the brass control levers which were situated at each end of the tram. He then wound on the handle to wind on the place name for his next destination.
A New Home
Times improved and we were able to move to a better house with a garden. On Sunday mornings my father took us to Alexandra Park nearby while my mother stayed at home to cook the dinner. We walked round the lake and rose garden, through the magnificent Cactus House, along a terrace bordered by herbaceous plants, and back along an avenue of beautiful lime trees. No one was allowed to walk on the grass. Park keepers lurked behind trees, ready to blow a whistle if anyone dared to commit such a crime. The new house wasn't far from our old 'Coronation Street' house, but the park lay between them, the Moss Side end being the 'common' district, the top end where we now lived was in the 'posh' area, a completely different class of people were now our neighbours.
We spent our holidays in the Yorkshire dales. Such intense excitement packing the gigantic leather trunk, sitting on it to hold the lid down while it was strapped up, before being sent ahead. The steam train left Victoria Station, passing though sidings and slums, tall chimneys belching black smoke, on through Lancashire and Yorkshire to Scarborough. We collected our luggage, loaded it onto Mr Noble's bus, and drove along wooded valleys, through Hackness, to rattle over the wooden bridge over the River Derwent and alight at the gate to Bridge Farm, Langdale End.
Kathleen, the farmer's daughter, to greet our arrival always arranged a vase of her sweet peas by the glass case containing a stuffed stoat, frozen for perpetuity in its act of killing a rabbit. Every day was heaven. Long hikes over the moors covered in heather and harebells, sometimes as far as Thornton-le-dale to see the sheep dog trials. We walked knee-deep in wild flowers in the meadows. We rarely saw another human being, but plenty of wild life, rabbit warrens, huge ant hills, stoats, voles, adders and herons, great dragonflies and jewelled kingfishers.
Dad always went for a swim in the river before breakfast. Sometimes I would be brave enough to go in too, but as I felt the icy band of water creeping higher, the ache from the cold becoming a numbness, I often jibbed and couldn't take the final plunge. Many an afternoon was spent on our little island in the river, swimming, or by a log fire. The sun never failed to shine when we walked over Broxa hill, through Whisperdales where the road is covered in shallow water and the banks are thick with wild strawberries.
Our one day out was to Scarborough on Mr Noble's bus. The farmers' wives sat in with large, cane baskets on their knees, full of mushrooms picked at four o' clock that morning, home-made jam, bunches of parsley, vegetables and chickens to sell on their stalls in Scarborough market.
Kathleen carried water from a gushing, sparkling spring two hundred yards away.' Breakfast at the farm was usually a vast, Yorkshire ham my father carved into thick slices. Dinner was Yorkshire pudding served as a separate dish&emdash;I can taste it now&emdash;followed by chicken or meat, fresh garden vegetables and a dessert of wild strawberry pie or bilberries that we had picked ourselves with cream. For tea we ate newly-laid boiled eggs and Yorkshire curd tarts. Before bed we supped on fresh-baked bread, home- made butter and milk still frothy and warm from the cow.
My bedroom was under the roof. I stood on a chair with my head out of the tiny fan-light window on our last night. I can remember so clearly the peace and stillness as I drank in the quietness, only the soothing sounds of wood pigeons as they settled for the night I watched the lengthening shadows, trying to hold and imprint the scene in my memory to sustain me on our way home back to the depressing grey dirt and smoke of the city.
Geoffrey was born eleven years after Philip, then Ralph two years later. I was often to be seen pushing my two little brothers in an enormous, old-fashioned pram, on my way to do the family shopping on Saturday mornings. I taught the Beginners' Class in a large Sunday School during my teens. I had about twenty under-fives. The church was in a very poor area. On our annual day out we took the children to the seaside by train, the only holiday they got. First I pinned a label on each child in case any got lost. It gave me great pleasure to see those little ones splashing in the water and soaking up the sun, licking ice creams gritty with sand, and digging frantically in the sand trying to finish their castles before time ran out on them. They paddled in rock pools which they called the 'little seas,' and on the way home most fell sound asleep worn out by the excitement, sea air and activity. The mothers must have been very trusting, I was only young myself to take on the responsibility of such tinies. I can only look back now and thank God, who must surely have been watching over us, that I never lost a child or had any mishaps.
In 1939 World War II was declared, my eldest brother Dennis joined up in the 2nd Lothian & Border Horse, tanks. Philip worked on the land. We fixed up the cellar to sleep in during air raids. When the first bomb dropped it was at least a mile away in Old Trafford, but it seemed to be on our doorstep. I fell out of bed and fled down to the cellar losing my slippers on the way.
We became so used to air raids we became very blasé about them, ignoring them and becoming quite immune to any fear. My father was in the Home Guard and was out a lot during the nights. Manchester suffered constant bombardment, but a two days and two nights blitz levelled whole sections of the city. Travelling to work in the city each day there were fires still burning and more and more buildings reduced to rubble. My mother took in my aunt and five cousins from London, although I would have thought it was 'out of the frying pan into the fire'! We learned to recognize the throbbing sound of the German bombers. Our house was badly damaged and people were killed nearby. We were sat in the cellar when the bomb fell that shattered all the windows and split the doors. It caused a load of soot to fall down the chimney and cover us. We fell about laughing as we looked at each other&emdash;more like the Kentucky minstrels than our real selves.
About this time I became ill with severe rheumatism which crippled me for a time and damaged a heart valve. I spent three months in hospital. As it was in the city centre the noise of anti-aircraft guns and bombs was deafening; casualties were brought in all night long. Nurses remained on duty day and night, near collapse from exhaustion and crying from sheer weariness as they went about their work. We didn't forget to laugh however, and had our moments of fun. I have written an account of this period in my life&emdash;but that is another story.
Dennis survived the war in North Africa and Italy and extracts from his letters give some idea of his experiences. He married an Italian girl he met in Italy while on active service. We each settled into our respective jobs. I was employed by the Manchester Education Committee, and had a nursery class in a very pleasant school.
15.9.42 My dear Mum. Here is a special letter for you to show my appreciation for the wonderful parcels and letters you send regularly every week. I honestly wonder how on earth you have managed it and last week's parcel surpassed them all. There was another of your delicious home-made cakes, a tin of raspberry jam, cigs, chocolate, hair cream and magazines . The lads' eyes round about opened wider and wider as I brought out one thing after another and they told me what a lucky so and so I was. I think I realized then more than ever just how good you have been to me and what you mean to me. he war cannot last much longer, the day is sure to come when I will be home again and the sooner the better. If Dad could go through four years of hell in the last war I'm damned sure I can look after myself in this. I have a lot more protection, Dad had nothing, but I have a bullet proof tank. I was talking to a driver of Matilda tanks in France. He said the armour was so strong that even when they drove over a land mine it didn't cause any casualties in then tank. The tank was disabled of course, and there were minor injuries, but it's encouraging to know how much these tanks will stand. Give my love to the kiddies, Geoffrey and Ralph. Your affectionate son.
Geoffrey had to be kept in a Mental Institution from the age of fourteen years. Being brain damaged as a baby from whooping cough his behaviour had become more than we could cope with. We wished we could have cared for him at home but it was not to be. My parents suffered hard times and sad times that took faith and strength to endure, but the hardest cross to bear was Geoffrey. He has been in five different institutions. We shall never know how much he suffered in at least two of them. Treatment of the mentally ill is more enlightened now, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. He is now in the best, most caring 'home', not too far for Ralph and me to visit, the only ones now to care enough to go and see him. I wish my parents could see him now, as contented as he can ever be, but perhaps they do see and know. Many of our prayers over the years have been for poor Geoffrey.
Our parents have always taught us to be thoughtful towards others, to care for helpless creatures and appreciate the beauty around us, to respect all God's creatures and creations great or small, to give and not just to take, and to know that money cannot buy true happiness. They are lessons of life I value more than riches. Although they couldn't give us money they gave us something to treasure and bring us pleasure for the rest of our lives. As this chapter of my life closed, our venture into farming began in 1953.
We Find Our Farm
We sat around the kitchen table, dinner over, dishes stacked to one side as we settled down to discuss the great event that was to change the lives of all of us. We were going to buy a farm. Outside the drizzle swept down unheeded, the dark pavements wet and greasy. My younger brother, Philip, had always wanted his own farm and had worked on the land since leaving school in market gardens and farms in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. I worked in a children's nursery class. I had always loved the work with children but never liked city life. Our family holidays were spent on a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, happy times that had given us all a deep love of the country, and I was eager to give up everything and go into partnership with my brother on his new venture. There were plenty of pessimists who tried to persuade us to give up the idea with comments about having 'no experience and bound to fail', 'it would take at least five years to make it pay', 'we needed a capital of £10,000' and so on, but we were too keen (and too green and innocent) to allow ourselves to be dissuaded.
Our task that wet evening was to sort out sheaves of papers on farm sales sent to us by land agents. The largest number to choose from were in Devon. We wanted to go south having experienced the hard farming life of the North so we chose sales in that county alone. A short list was made taking into account price, acreage, distance of markets, quality of soil, and away from an area that could be swallowed up by roads and buildings as towns spread outwards encroaching onto farm land. We mapped out our route and set off one October day laden with rucksacks and bicycles to travel by rail to Exeter. From there, we cycled miles from farm to farm, stopping for meals and beds where we could. We passed through Newton St Cyres and Crediton marvelling at the redness of the rich Devon soil. On a Sunday we could find no place open where we could eat and it was dark before we reached a village, Chumleigh, and found a shop that also offered bed and breakfast. Feeling very weary and rather sick from want of food, we were soon in a warm room, a hot meal before us and feeling more cheerful with the generous hospitality of the owners, also from Manchester, as we were.
The next morning our hosts laughed heartily to see we had chained and locked our bicycles, quite unheard of in those parts. At home we couldn't have left a bicycle unlocked for a couple of minutes without it being stolen! We left reluctantly with many farewells, cycling down a long, steep hill in the fresh morning air. All the colours seemed richer, the pure air like wine. Both of us hoped we would soon be living in this lush and beautiful county. At noon we found ourselves back in the same village we had left that very morning, having travelled in a complete circle! We sheepishly presented ourselves to our friends in the shop and again enjoyed a warm welcome and a hot dinner. We left again to lowering skies as rain threatened. The next farm was down an endlessly long boggy lane. The house was big and square with a corrugated iron roof. The young couple who lived there had two small children with ash blond hair; they played barefoot on the stone flagged floor. The boy had tied himself to a chair with rope, pretending to be a calf. His mother was drawing water from a pump in the farmyard. The little family were so friendly we would have liked to be neighbours of theirs, at least. The farm was useless to us, so isolated, the land wet, and all water having to be carried some distance. We pressed on, our time being limited.
One farm on the list we didn't really plan on seeing as it was thatched. It seemed a serious drawback to us, insurance being heavy, and thatch so expensive to renew apart from the fire risk. Studying the map we found it lay just off the route to the next farm we were to see and as the weather was worsening we decided to call there&emdash;or perhaps fate directed our footsteps that day. We turned off the road and down the lane towards it. A thunderstorm swept down on us as we pushed our bicycles up the hill and through the wide, white gate, and leaned them against a great cypress tree. It seemed to be a longhouse of cob, a historical long building where animals are housed under the same roof as the farmer and his family. The garden sloped down the hill to an apple orchard. There was a porch with seats in it and a clematis climbing over, sheltering the garden and house on one side were two cypress trees, and a copper beech on the other. The hills around were green, it was beautiful even through the driving rain. We fell in love with it then and there, we knew this was it, it had to be ours. The family living there showed us around, but it was fast getting dark and we decided to spend the night in the village inn, the Duke of York at Iddesleigh, and so see the farm properly in daylight. To drive us to the village a very battered, ancient car was emptied of straw and chickens, squawking their protests, and we made the half-mile journey amidst clouds of smoke and fumes.
The next morning dawned fine and clear. We found ourselves in the centre of a small, very picturesque village of thatched cottages with a magnificent view across to the Dartmoor hills. We were excited as we walked back to the farm through the deeply cut lanes. The lane leading up to the farm actually had grass growing in the centre.
Back home, our enthusiasm communicated itself to the rest of the family and they became as keen as we were to go through with the sale. After a year of negotiations, lawyers, surveyors, valuations and an endless stream of setbacks, so that we almost gave the whole thing up, the day actually dawned when the last document was signed. My father encouraged us through all the difficulties, and my mother, born and brought up in the Cheshire countryside, was delighted at the prospects of joining us in the future.
Resignations were handed in, goodbyes said, and the removal van bulging at the sides left on its long journey. When buying the necessities for housekeeping I had mentioned that I was leaving for Devon to the salesman, so now reposing in the van was one brand new ironing board on which the salesman had written: 'Devon here we come!'
On arriving we were dismayed to find the family still occupying the farm. We had to find a bed in the village once again, not at the Duke of York this time, but in a cottage, with Mr and Mrs Ellis. We were very warmly welcomed, and we joined them at their delicious evening meal before being shown to our spotless rooms and the comfortable, puffy feather beds. They were our last moments of comfort and ease for quite some time. Back at Mons Hall we had to help them carry out their belongings the next morning, after they had breakfasted on eggs boiled in the kettle. They loaded up lorries with furniture, bedding and pillows, all exposed to the rain that drifted down thinly. They finally made their departure in the same haphazard way as they had farmed, leaving us a one-eyed canary, a deaf, blind and toothless dog called Scott, a horde of starving cats and a trail of debtors.
In spite of our determination to succeed, the first year or two were a hard, heartbreaking battle to survive. We found we had been sold old cows at a high price even though we had paid to have them valued, and they were sold at the local market at a big loss. Starving hens we rounded up at night using a ladder and a lantern, dislodging them from bushes and trees. All had to be killed because of foul pest. Hay we had 'bought' simply wasn't there, having been sold again before our arrival. On our very first day, the local policeman called to say swine fever had been rife on the farm and we could keep no pigs until given clearance. The garden, buildings and stream were full of rubbish that took us weeks to clear. Mice fell out of cupboard doors when I opened them and rats ran across above the bedroom ceilings, so noisily I swear they wore clogs. We knew the land had been badly farmed, but we also knew, after a soil analysis, that we could get it into good heart again, but it meant spending a small fortune on fertilisers first.
Cats of all shapes, colours and sizes came from all around, following me everywhere, yowling and tripping me up at every step. If I opened the kitchen door they rushed in leaping on the table to snatch at any food. The RSPCA took most of them away and a rat-catcher soon rid us of the mice and rats.
Our day started at first light, we worked hard outdoors until dark, I cooked and did the housework after that, until ten o'clock when we fell into bed exhausted. There was an outdoor toilet, no bathroom, and r electricity. The only water was from a tap over a sink in an open-sided lean-to, the water being pumped up by hand from a well some distance away.
We had one man to help us who lived in the farm cottage. He was always cheerful and singing. He worked long hours with no overtime, to help us through the almost impossible amount of work that faced us. Little did I know that one day we would marry, have two lovely daughters and a very happy life together until he died. Norman was skilled in the arts of thatching ricks, laying hedges, and dry stone walling which proved of great benefit to us who knew little of such country crafts at that time. Also of great help was his knowledge of the fields and land, having worked on the farm since leaving school.
Norman taught me to milk. I struggled for a long time without result until I felt I must be hurting the poor cow and was nervous in case it kicked out, suddenly a 'ping' sounded in the bucket, then another&emdash;success! After that I milked the quietest cows and kept the milk records for Buttercup, Poppy, Daisy, Snowball and the others. Cows are known by numbers now, more efficient but not so interesting.
Norman lived with his mother in the farm cottage. She was one of those countrywomen who could turn her hand to anything: act as mid-wife, lay out the dead, take home-made cakes to tempt the sick. She even took a whole family in when their cottage burnt down, until they could find other accommodation. Widowed at forty, she reared eight children in the cottage, without running water, electricity, stove or bathroom. The lavatory was in a garden shed: wooden seat and bucket variety. Cooking was done in an oven set in the wall of the big, open hearth. Logs burned on the floor of the hearth, kettles and pans hung over it from hooks and chains. She never called on us without a bundle of leeks, bag of beetroots, pot of jam or a goose wing which the cobwebs down with, m'dear.'
Our First Winter
We arrived in December, milking was done in open sided shippons in freezing weather. Our most urgent tasks were to repair the buildings and till the land. That first winter was a hard one, pipes freezing up, and constantly bursting. Water had to be carried from the well and the buckets stood on the Rayburn to melt the ice in it before calves could be fed.
We soon had our first visitor, my great-aunt Janey. She arrived unannounced, hat rammed firmly down on her head, fur boa about her neck, and carrying a suitcase. She inspected the house, poking into every cupboard, spent most of her time at the Duke of York and departed after two days. She had satisfied her curiosity and was suffering from lack of sleep due to all the noise of owls and sheep, although her home in Wythenshawe was on a main road and opposite a public house. My brother Philip prepared for his first year's work carefully, studying the held plan. The fields had fascinating names: Big Goosey, Little Goosey, Gander, Woodplatt and Longfield. Ploughing, fertilizing, harrowing and sowing followed. My brother tilled one field by hand, he looked like a biblical character pacing up and down, pulling the handle of the 'fiddle box' to send the seed scattering in a wide arc. Neighbours passed by and watched with interest. One admitted later he had given us 'townies' six months, but after three years he knew we were here to stay and said the land had never been so well farmed. Praise indeed.
Our neighbours did their best to help us in any way they could. Shopping was a nightmare, cycling up and down steep hills the four and a half miles to Hatherleigh, or cycling three miles to Dolton to catch the one bus to Exeter. My brother gave me a long list of articles he needed, tools, hinges, nails, and I would find the ironmonger stocked at least twenty different varieties of each item, completely flummoxing me as to which ones were needed. Tools, teapot, jugs and other vital necessities were purchased and I staggered to catch the bus with several laden bags. They then had to be balanced on the bicycle handlebars while I cycled home in the dark against winds and driving hail stones to a dark, empty house at about seven o'clock. An oil lamp to be lit, fires lit and a meal prepared after the Rayburn had heated up. Starving pets wound in and out of my legs, voicing their protests at the delay of feeding time. To light the oil lamp in a cold room by candlelight was an art in itself. The lamp had to be filled with oil, the fragile mantle warmed with a meths-soaked device, then pumped to obtain pressure, when it would usually flare up sending flames to the ceiling, and the whole process had to be repeated. Scott used to beat a hasty retreat when the lamp was brought out.
We become Farmers
The spring was glorious. I had never lived in the countryside during this season. I wrote long letters to my parents describing the beauty and wonder around us First snowdrops, followed by short- stemmed wild daffodils nodding along the banks of the stream and hedgerows, or in sheets of yellow massed under the apple trees. Pale primroses, violets, campion, bluebells and blossom; the lanes were lush with wild flowers and grasses, laden with the scent of honeysuckle, meadow-sweet and roses.
Our younger brother, Ralph, joined us in June, in time for the hay harvest. It was shortly after this that Scott died. Although blind he could find me several fields away by following my scent alone. I had come to love him very much and it was a great sorrow to lose him.
The weather became very hot, and stock broke out constantly to escape the tormenting flies, or search for fresh grass. Precious hours were spent rounding up these obstreperous animals. I dived right through a hedge to catch a pig and still missed it! It took four of us to haul the squealing pig back to its sty. A cow bought from the market galloped off at the double as it was being delivered, the sale label still stuck on its back. Bicycles were dragged out and the chase was on as we panted and puffed up the hill after it.
We hired a cart horse called Queenie for some jobs, but she hated work and if she found herself unguarded for a few seconds, off she went back to her home in Dowland.
The hay was a good crop and we were all in the fields turning it in blistering heat. We stopped to rest in the shade of the trees for sandwiches and drinks, filled with pride at completing our first big haystack.
My brother had sown one field with corn and peas; it proved too heavy to mow with our old machine, and it had to be cut and tied by hand into bundles. I wore an anorak, gloves, headscarf and neckscarf. I was red-faced and dripping with perspiration from the blazing sun. Even so, the coarse straw searched out and scratched every bit of unprotected skin.
As the square of corn in the centre of the field became smaller all kinds of creatures came running out. A fox shot out and ran across the open space to safety. I was enthralled by the tiny, long-tailed field mice and their intricately woven nests among the corn stalks.
To bring in the harvest worked until eleven o'clock by the light of a brilliant moon. The tractor chugged down the lanes, three of us clinging to the top of the swaying load, singing away.
With the summer came the bees. It seems there had always been bees in the farm chimney. They dropped into pans of vegetables stood on the Rayburn cooker, crawled on the floor, and buzzed against the windows in black clouds. We were all stung. I swept them up in hundreds as they fell. In desperation I sealed the living room grate with stout paper, the bees buzzed and hummed against it, unable to find a way to freedom; it was a most unhappy sound.
An owl came to live in one of the cypresses, and in due course she hollowed out a nest in the thatched roof and hatched out two owlets. Exposed to all the elements there seemed little hope they would survive, and one did fall to its death one night. It lay on the path, a pathetic fluffy white ball. Philip climbed up to fix a ledge of wire netting to the edge of the roof; this saved the remaining owlet, preventing it rolling right off the edge. If it fell its mother helped it to regain its little hollow. Barney grew into his adult feathers and I stayed up late one night to watch his first flight. He remained with us, living In the cypress, gazing down at us with his great golden eyes. When the swallows came they attacked him in screaming hordes, swooping down and just missing his head. It was then that Barney left to find a more peaceful home.
Occasionally, we treated ourselves to an afternoon by the river. Herons and kingfishers flew away at our approach, the trout and salmon leapt from the water. We swam in the icy coldness of the river, then lay on the grassy bank among the balsam and clouds of Queen Anne's Lace to watch the broad rippling waters winding through the woods of oak, beech and ash. I felt a contented calmness flow through me, feeling refreshed as we walked home through sweet smelling fields of cut grass, a blue sky above and hazy purple hills in the distance. This was what made all the worry worth while.
Daffodil was one of my favourite characters on the farm, an enormous sow who was given to us by a neighbour who was giving up farming, on condition that we were kind to her. They had made a great pet of Daffodil, who loved her back being scratched. When she started to farrow in their orchard, they had actually built a shelter over her to protect her, rather than disturb her. She was huge. She reacted to all this attention by being very docile and affectionate and roamed freely. I could set a watch by her return to her sty at dead on four o'clock every day. She remained one of our family until the vet told us he could do no more for her, she was worn out with age. We sold her cheaply direct for slaughter rather than have her whacked and buffeted around the market. That was a sad day. Sentiment is wasted on a farm, but we never got used to seeing docile old cows led away for slaughter because their usefulness was over.
It was a priority to obtain a working dog and one day a fat, shivering little pup was dumped on our doorstep by a neighbour. Laddie soon made himself at home. His favourite pastime was to take the washing off the line, or pull the clothes off the airer and get thoroughly entangled in them. He loved to undo my apron strings and dash off with it. He was notorious for his fierceness, but he proved a very intelligent dog who would bring in cows and sheep on his own on command. If one animal was missing, having strayed from the main herd, we told him so, and ordered him to go back, find it and bring it in, which he did instantly.
Calves were my favourites. To teach them to drink it was necessary to hold my fingers in the milk and allow the calf to suck them. The feel of the rough tongue was almost unbearable at first. I got the knack of wedging myself in a corner and wedging the bucket between my knees. The force of the calves butting heads frequently knocked me flat, the milk drenching me from head to foot.
My brother built a boiler in the wash-house, and there we stoked up and boiled tubs full of 'pig potatoes' until we vanished.
The responsibility and shortage of money weighed heavily on us as we struggled against all the odds stacked against us, but my youngest brother helped us to remember the lighter side of life with his great sense of humour, perhaps dressing up a sow and riding on it round the farmyard. One relaxation consisted of cycling through moonlit lanes, frost glimmering on the hedges, or the glow worms shining from the hedge banks in summer, to the local village hall. Paying our sixpence to go in and forgoing the cushion which was an extra threepence, we saw films of rollicking cowboys, six shooters blazing, Red Indians biting the dust in all directions. The film invariably broke down at the crucial point and everyone yelled to the frantic operator to get the thing mended!
Occasionally, feeling very reckless we hired the local 'taxi.' A lady drove us to Westward Ho! and there dozed in her car waiting patiently for us while we plunged in the sea, then emerged to bask ourselves in the hot sun before running to the sea again to be knocked off our feet by the huge breakers crashing down on us. This local lady, Mrs Anstey, was very kind to us and would drive us to Westward Ho! for a very small charge. She drove at a steady rate. One day, turning at a crossroads, a policeman tried to flag her down. 'Well, he must know me, but I don't know 'ee,' she said, and proceeded on her way quite unaware of his real reason for waving so frantically.
In the autumn the orchard trees were laden, and picking the apples took several days. My youngest brother helped by climbing the trees and throwing the fruit down to me to place in a basket, when he threw some down unaware that they had hit me in the face as I was gazing up to heaven, lost in some dream of my own. I hopped around expecting several teeth to fall out and banished him in a rage. It wasn't as easy as I'd thought trying to finish the job myself. I soon found myself strung upside up in a tree, coat hooked on a branch, limbs entwined round the boughs. I soon gave in and screamed for help.
The second winter was again bitterly cold. Icicles hung along the edge of the thatch, the fast running stream froze over, more bursts and leaks, more buckets of water to be carried from the well. Time was spent hedging, ditching and repairing gates and buildings. Shippons were improved, new buildings sprang up, stock increased as cows were replaced and sheep and pigs were bought.
Pinkie, Our Pet Lamb
As the second spring approached we ordered one hundred day-old chicks and coped with our first experience of lambing. I often had several lambs in boxes around the Rayburn. A ewe died after giving birth to twins so they had to be hand reared. I bought bottles and teats and christened the lambs Pinky and Curly. They became thoroughly spoiled. Curly was the weakest and died in spite of all, my efforts to save her. Pinky became even more dependent on me and dogged my every footstep. To try to get to the village I sneaked off round the back of the buildings, crept past the garden hedge, keeping my head down, then leapt on the bike and pedalled off furiously, only to hear her hooves pounding along the road behind as she caught up looking very smug. It was a familiar sight to see half of her poking through a bedroom window, wedged tightly. I had to down tools, rush upstairs and drag her back inside. She came indoors at ever opportunity to sit comfortably in an armchair munching the daffodils from the vase on a tab by her side. In fact she was fast becoming nuisance. She was so endearing she got away with a lot more than she should. The time had come to get to know her own kin and go with the flock, but Pinky had other ideas. She crashed into the gate with her head, bleating and calling for me, while I remained out of sight like an anxious mother worrying about her child's first day at school. If it took her the best part of a day Pinky broke out somehow and appeared at the back door once again. I would open the door on hearing her and find her standing there, smiling benignly with the entire flock behind her all trying to push their way in.
As Pinky had decided she was a human and definitely not a sheep she was allowed to roam freely, becoming a very fat contented ewe, a Border Leicester with an aristocratic Roman nose that gave her a haughty, condescending look, with the best fleece in the county of Devon. When the sheep were taken a couple of miles to another farm to be sheared all I had to do was walk ahead with Pinky and the rest followed with no trouble at all. She subjected herself to the shears with great bliss, as if the whole affair was specially for her benefit, to give her petting and pleasure. In a sixth heaven she kept her eyes closed and remained completely relaxed as she was rolled from side to side, her fleece coming away in a perfect piece. The fleece being twice the weight and quality of any other it was kept aside to be sold separately. No wonder at the quality, as she lived on the fat of the land, the pick of garden plants and hedges, the odd bag of grain if she could sneak unseen into the barn.
As she grew older she gave up her mischievous ways and remained in the paddock, grazing peacefully. One day she was found dead in the field. How I missed her. Never again did we make the mistake of rearing a lamb as a pet.
A Roof Over Our Heads
The farmhouse roof was leaking as the thatch had become so thin and riddled with holes made by rats and nesting birds. We engaged the services of the local thatcher. First he stripped off the old reed, the garden vanishing under it as it was heaped high as the bedroom windows. The skilled work to follow was enthralling to watch. Each spar had to be cut so accurately that it split evenly from the top to near the bottom, and the reed had to be watered before being carried up to the roof. On arriving, if the bees were out in force, Janny Simmons would about turn and go straight home again, so the thatch took some time to complete.
On the days when wheat was combed for thatching, all available workers were called on for the day. The huge combing machine was brought in to the top farmyard to noisily thrash away from dawn until dark. As mice scurried from the bundles of straw the men swept them up by their tails onto the moving belt where they were squashed to oblivion. At least it must have been very quick. The first morning I carried the big basket of drinks, pasties and sandwiches up for the men's morning break, to be met with grumbles and complaints. Ten o'clock was the deadline for their hunger to be appeased. Greenhorn that I was it was an hour late, eleven o'clock being morning break time where I came from. There were no complaints about the dinner as the men crowded round the scrubbed deal kitchen table to feast on roast meat, potatoes, vegetables, apple pies and fruit pies with cream.
By the end of the third year we had almost won our battle against weeds, overgrown hedges and general disrepair. Fields were drained and shippons modernized. Water was now on mains and machines replaced hand milking, which was quite missed by my own group of 'girls', specially allotted to me: Devon, Barbara, Buttercup and Penny, in spite of the way they would shift their positions inwardly when I made to reach their manger with an armful of hay, to squeeze me affectionately between them.
We had learned to load the pigs for market with the minimum of fuss. A car was bought so my cycling trips through blizzards were over. We boasted a new bathroom so that I longer had to bolt the door while I washed a tub by the fire. Although there was still great deal to do we had become a family fully-fledged farmers, happy, successful here to stay&emdash;in glorious Devon.
Love and Marriage
Our life on the farm continued to be extremely hard work. I got to know Norman, who worked on the farm for us, very well, working alongside him in the fields or milking and feeding stock. Our feelings for each other grew. I came to value his kindness and gentle nature. After the busy times of hay and harvest in our third year, Norman left Mons Hall and moved in with his sister, her husband and family. They had all lived in Dowland Mill, our tied cottage. They moved to another cottage and Norman worked on another farm.
Norman and I were engaged in August, 1957 and married a month later in the chapel on the hill, on one of those lovely, balmy days in September, when everything was sunlit and mellow. The reception was held at the farmhouse with only a few family and friends present. Our friend Mrs Anstey came to drive us to Eggesford station, to catch the train our honeymoon. The car jibbed at the bottom of the hill and was pushed by willing hands until the engine reluctantly coughed into life&emdash;and we were off. We spent our honeymoon in Salcombe, South Devon. I had booked in my maiden name, so our newly-married status was soon revealed when we introduced ourselves as Mr and Mrs Baker&emdash;our secret of being honeymooners soon blown as confetti showered to the floor at every movement. We felt really at home with our landlady She served enormous delicious meals then stood over us, arms akimbo, daring us leave one scrap. If we did, we were scolded and chased over the house being whacked with a rolled-up newspaper. She took a great liking to Norman teasing him unmercifully which he took in good part. We walked the cliffs and beaches, swam in the sea, and were content in each other's company.
Dowland Mill Cottage
Dowland Mill cottage stood empty and neglected for two years after Norman left. He was born there. His father died aged forty-two, leaving his wife to bring up eight children with no help except a small widow's pension. To survive she took in washing and worked at Nethercott House about two miles away. When the girls were old enough they went to work on local farms as house or dairy maids. One of Norman's sisters bought him his first pair of boots. His mother cooked on an open fire, or in the cloam oven set in the wall. This was an art in itself, the heat having to be built up to such an intensity that the oven interior changed to red, then the sticks were raked out and the food put in, bread first, then cakes, then meat and potatoes. Norman said no matter how late they returned home at nights there were always hot roast teddies in the oven for them to eat. Before going to work Norman had to carry many buckets of water from the brook across the paddock for his mother to use for washing clothes. The stone well in the garden held a very limited supply but a slow running spring in a nearby field supplied most of the drinking water. A tin bath was set under the spring in the morning to be collected full in the evening.
Norman with his brothers and sisters attended Iddesleigh village school. The schoolmaster taught eight- to fourteen-year olds. On pay day each month he got drunk until the money began to run out. The children took advantage of him and got up to mischief&emdash;but when he sobered up he remembered the culprits, retribution caught up with them by means of the cane. If a pupil was told to read from the First Book of Kings they all knew one of their number was to be caned afterwards.
Dowland Mill was to be our home when we married. It is over four hundred years old, built of stone and cob, the walls three feet thick. It had a thatched roof. Originally it was a well-to-do man's home&emdash;probably the miller. No trace of the mill remains but the site was discovered in a copse at the end of the garden where primroses, early purple orchis and marsh marigolds grow in profusion in spring time and a tall, wild cherry tree blossomed until it was blown down in a gale a few years ago. A lane leads from the road to the cottage where it lies hidden in a secluded valley, in an idyllic setting. Hand- shaped oak beams feature in the downstairs rooms. The door is the original one of oak, as are most of the latched doors inside.
Before we married we spent all our spare time working on the cottage. We installed a second-hand Truburn cooker. Ralph often joined us to help and perhaps bring us a couple of wood pigeons he had shot. These Norman prepared and I cooked in the oven, then the three of us sat on upturned boxes to enjoy our feast.
We haunted house furniture auction sales to furnish our home, jumble sales for clothes and white elephant stalls for household needs. We were more thrilled to pick up a bargain than anyone able to afford every luxury. Farm workers' wages were £7 a week rising to the princely sum of £9 in 1963.
The cottage lies in a valley at the foot of three hills, a garden in front and a stream- bordered field at the back. Norman and I moved in with much work still to do. For the next two years I divided my time between the farm and the cottage, cooking, cleaning, washing and shopping for Philip and Ralph as well as for myself and Norman. My parents then retired and came to live at Mons Hall which relieved me of the burden of running two homes. Over the next years Norman and I created a rockery, herbaceous borders, kitchen garden, rustic fences, an orchard, and a crazy paving path with stones from a local quarry. The plum tree against the cottage wall becomes so laden with fruit that the branches have to be propped up.
We were glad when 'Franklin's Nights,' May 19th, 20th and 21st were over without any frost. The legend says that the ale makers made a pact with the devil to cut off the apple blossom to prevent the cider makers competing with them. Certainly these particular nights do often bring frosts severe enough to spoil the fruit harvest.
My father arranged to have our cottage improved with the aid of a grant, Norman helping with some of the preparation work to cut costs. To replace the leaking thatch would have cost £3,000 even then. To strip, erect new timbers and tile the roof, convert and roof the lean-to into a bathroom and w.c., replace stair treads, form a landing to give separate access to each bedroom, and add extra windows cost £1,025 6s 0d! Dad then decorated the cottage from top to bottom, giving us a lovely home with all mod. cons.&emdash;except electricity.
I had always wondered why a square of wood was cut out of the top comer of some doors. I soon found out why, on lighting fires the smoke filled the room. We had to move out with streaming eyes. The cut-out section was to help ventilate the fire&emdash;or was it to help the smoke to escape. We tried all kinds of different things to prevent the down-rush of smoke until we finally found a solution. Norman fixed sheets of iron across the chimney space in the two rooms leaving a hole for the Truburn flue to poke through. A blacksmith came down, measured up the hearth in the sitting room, and went back to his smithy to make a canopy before returning to fit it, all for £28. A real bargain, and it worked.
I believe most houses have an 'atmosphere' one can sense immediately on entering. Dowland Mill had a happy one, a much warmer, cosier feeling than the farm had. We hadn't been at the farm very long when I had a strange experience. The three of us had retired to bed when I heard noises and voices at the front door, then sounds of luggage being carried in, and at least two or three people running up and down stairs. I don't know why I didn't get up to investigate. I wondered vaguely who had come to stay, arriving so late with no advance warning. I must have drifted off to sleep. The next morning when I asked my brothers who had called the previous night they looked at me blankly&emdash;there were no visitors and they had heard nothing.
There was one room in the cottage where I never felt comfortable. With friends or family there it was fine, but alone I felt the most disturbing impressions, not frightening or forbidding. It is difficult to describe the sensations for I saw nothing nor heard anything. It as not imagination for I would enter the room with my mind full of busy, everyday thoughts&emdash;to suddenly become still and aware of a mysterious presence. A house so old must have soaked up something of the lives of families with which it had seemed to be imprinted into the room and come drifting through as though spirits of the past lived on. No one else felt as I did but sometimes the atmosphere of the past crowded in on me and I was glad to escape back into the brightness and lightness of the living room.
We had almost given up hope of having children when to our delight I found our first baby was on the way. On November 1st we rushed off to Bideford Nursing Home where our daughter was born on November 2nd at 2AM after a long and agonizing labour. I was left alone for hours as it was unheard of for a husband to be present. As we walked in that place modesty walked out! I had very painful breasts and gained some relief when they were painted in 'colourful solution.' Cleopatra had nothing on me as I sat up in bed with bared, bright purple breasts. I had difficulty in breast feeding so matron suggested I drink a bottle of Guinness a day. Norman walked up at visiting times his pockets clanking with bottles. Other visitors looked askance at the row of empty bottles under my bed exchanging nudges and scandalized looks. Matron patted me on the head as she sailed past my bed, 'Such a good mother,' she would say encouragingly, but I've never been able to even look at a bottle of Guinness since.
We called our baby Grace Elizabeth. Returning home with her was something of a nightmare, coping with a new baby amidst the cottage alterations which were in full swing. The garden was deep in old reed, the roof covered in tarpaulin, scaffolding up, powdery cob sifting down, debris and workmen everywhere. The workmen breezed through the rooms and would pull up short as they realized they had intruded on the privacy of breast feeding and back out again staring fixedly through the window and stammering their apologies.
The council had refused us permission to use green tiles we had considered inappropriate for the countryside, we could have rust or light grey. Grey were delivered by mistake, a horrible colour we refused to accept. We were adamant before the protesting driver finally drove the offending load away. In later years the same council allowed a bungalow in our area to have green tiles&emdash;but not rust.
When Grace was seventeen months old Helen Ruth was born. She was a week overdue. My family at the farm had gone out for the day. The doctor popped his head round the door in the morning, guessed labour was near and nonchalantly told me that if I went up to the farm to 'phone and couldn't get home, he would deliver the baby up there. He didn't tell me how I might get up there in the first place, I didn't him again. It was fortunate for me that Norman returned home early from work. He found the grocer delivering the weekly order in the kitchen, me in the bathroom stuffing a towel in my mouth to stifle my moans. He raced to a neighbour to use their telephone. It was also fortunate that I had such a good and efficient midwife with a sense of humour. When she arrived she said, 'What a time to choose, I'd just boiled an egg for myself for my tea.' A room was prepared downstairs for my confinement. Grace was upset at the unusual activity and refused to let Norman put her to bed. There was nothing for it but to go upstairs myself and to tuck her in, despite the midwife's anxiety as I was far gone in labour. Our second daughter was born shortly after 8PM. The midwife told me it wouldn't have done for her have been any longer being born, she was blue and not breathing. The nurse coped extremely well and I soon had another beautiful, healthy baby in my arms. I had a bedside table, half for my use, half for the nurse's equipment. We had a lot of fun as she threatened dire penalties if I encroached on her half which I often did.
Being at home was a much more relaxed, pleasant experience. It was good to rest those few days at the beginning of May, as a late flurry of winter sleet rattled against the windows. Norman washed, made endless cups of tea or coffee for the midwife, looked after Grace and cooked our meals, not exactly Hilton Hotel standard, but eatable, just about.
With two daughters we had all we could wish for. Of course, it was not all sunshine and bliss. We went through the usual run of colic, teething, measles and chicken pox. We were so isolated we saw few people and the children were terrified of strangers. A knock on the door sent them scooting under the table to hide like frightened rabbits. To overcome this I tramped for miles with them in a pushchair, up and down the steep Devon hills; other mothers with small children were few and far between.
Winters of ice and snow cut us off for weeks at a time from the outside world. After the first time I made sure my larder was well stocked with a plentiful supply of flour, yeast and tinned food. Having no money for expensive toys was no hardship. The children used bowls and boxes as boats and islands or buses. An upturned clothes airer covered in a blanket made a Wendy house. Chairs, tyres and ropes made obstacle races. Indoors a 'bit box' was full of a variety of odds and ends, used to make fantastic creations, painting, dressing up, baking, and clay from the garden was used to make peculiar pots and animals. Norman fenced off a section of garden each where they could grow nasturtiums, poppies and runner beans in their own special garden.
We had traditional Christmases. The children made paper chains, cards and gifts. Norman cut armfuls of holly and evergreen and split logs for the fire. I baked cake, mince pies and puddings, everyone having a stir and a wish. Letters to Father Christmas were sent up the chimney. Socks borrowed from Norman hung either side of the fireplace, a glass of sherry, a mince pie and a thank you note to Santa were set on the table. When the children were in bed Norman and I filled a sock each, the same items in the same order every year. A sixpence in the toe, a string bag of gold-wrapped chocolate coins, an apple, sugar mouse with string tail, and so on. At first light on Christmas morning the girls burst into our room, bouncing on the bed urging us to get up. They were allowed to go downstairs to look at their bulging socks and guess the contents of parcels beneath, but Norman and I always joined them to watch their excitement and delight as they emptied their socks and ripped off paper until we nearly vanished under mounds of it. They had a box each to put their presents in, then they carried them up to the farm to show Nanna and Grandpa. It would not have been Christmas to them without this ritual.
We could not give them the expensive gifts children receive today, but a knitted golliwog, dolls dressed from scraps, or a rag doll with floppy arms and legs are still treasured today.
We held a family party with a big log fire and fun games we all enjoyed. Norman was an excellent host making sure everyone's glass was kept replenished with cider or home-made wine.
We managed some family holidays, our first in a caravan at Goodrington, then in a friend's caravan in Cornwall. We sailed to the Isle of Wight where our landlady fed us royally. She persuaded Grace and Helen to stand on their chairs after dinner to sing to her hymns such as 'All things bright and beautiful' they had learned at Sunday school, which she loved.
Our first visit to the lovely island of Jersey was by air. Helen hadn't realized she had left the ground. When she looked down out of the window and saw nothing but space she drew in A great breath and gasped with shock. Seeing a dog at the airport Helen pointed to it excitedly&emdash;'Look, a real Jersey dog!'
Mayblossom and Lollipop.
We bought Grace and Helen a bantam hen each. They became very tame and were prolific egg layers. Grace called hers Mayblossom, and Helen named hers Lollipop. As they rode their bicycles the hens went with them, perched on the handlebars. We introduced a handsome black cockerel. He was most attentive and gallant, searching out a tasty caterpillar or grub, he stood guard over it while calling his two wives and they ran to gobble up the titbits. Apart from a traumatic year of the unwanted attentions of Mandy, a puppy we acquired later, they lived a good and long life. The poor cock died prematurely. The birds were housed in a wooden shed, a blanket covering the window space. One winter's night a blizzard raged, hail and sleet threatened to shatter the windows, and the wind howled through the trees. Next morning we were sad to find the cock stiff and dead, frozen to the perch. The blanket had blown away and gallant to the end he had placed himself between the hens and open window space to protect them from the elements.
Winkleigh school was six miles away. The school bus stopped nearby; first on were last off so it was a long day, from 8.15 AM to 4.00 PM, for youngsters who had never been away from home before. I arranged to go with Grace on her first day. She was so upset I was reluctant to leave her. A kind mother assured me she would pop in the school at lunch time to see how Grace had settled in and then 'phone the farm to let me know if I arranged to be up there at a certain time. She told me that in trying to distract Grace she had asked her what Santa was going to bring her. 'A doll's house,' sobbed Grace, 'but I'd rather have my Mummy.'
On the second day Grace locked herself in the bathroom and announced she was never going to school again. This was a battle of wills I had to win. I told her to unlock the door because no matter what time she came out, she had to go to school. I was relieved to hear the bolt being drawn back slowly and to see a little, tear-stained face appear round the door. There was no more trouble after that&emdash;until it was Helen's turn to go to school. Although she didn't put up one short, sharp battle as Grace as done, it took weeks of coaxing her on the bus and she would look at me reproachfully and tearfully through the bus window. I suffered all day until they returned. I met the bus with a cake or a sandwich at the ready, as both came home ravenous. For a time all they wanted was to sit on my knee for a cuddle. They refused to discuss school or anything they had done during the day, they just wanted to feel safe at home again. Both did well at school, passing their eleven plus and going to Queen Elizabeth's School in Crediton as boarders, for it was too far to travel daily.
We felt we had really risen in the world the day we bought a car. We had to borrow the £25 it cost from my father and pay him back £2 or £3 a week, which we did faithfully. It was ancient, rather like a tin box on wheels, but we didn't care. What jaunts we had. We never left home without a good supply of binder cord; a clang in the road meant a mudguard had fallen off, a sudden rush of fresh air and we knew the door had gone! Pulling into the side of the road, we'd trek back, puck up the fallen part, and tie it on again with the binder cord. We chugged our way along between the steep Devon banks, out to the open moor. The children played until we picnicked, and drove home again. Turning off by the Fox and Hounds the lane led us to the moor and a rushing Dartmoor stream, or Norman drove us to Belstone, past the village stocks to park among the sheep and walk in the heather to explore the streams strewn with huge boulders of granite.
Another favourite outing was to Lydford Gorge. Now it is a tourist attraction with circular walk, gift shops and car parks. In those early days there was only one entrance at the Devil's Cauldron end. We walked along the edge of a crystal clear stream, rippling between the steep, wooded slopes, with brown trout barely moving in the sun-dappled water. The gorge's steep sides were covered in tall trees, struggling to reach the light; honeysuckle climbed up them, and goldcrests flitted among them with their sweet song. Over a bridge by the hundred foot White Lady Falls the path led up a steep hill, a walk of two and a half miles. The children loved it and skipped along tirelessly. They were well used to walking quite long distances. We tucked into a substantial tea at a farmhouse near the top of the gorge. The exciting climax to the day was a ride back to where the car was parked in a trap pulled by a white horse.
We bought Helen a puppy one Christmas, when she was four and a half years old. We chose her from the litter of a Jack Russell belonging to a gamekeeper. Mandy was a character, in capital letters. As a pup she chewed everything up, and chased the bantams until they nearly died of fright. The cock lost his voice and his feathers, reduced to a pathetic, naked wreck. For a time I kept him in the kitchen, protected by the fireguard, until he recovered. With such a determined tornado after them the bantams dispersed squawking, to disappear in neighbouring fields and hedges. Norman soon found a way to recover them, taking Mandy on a lead and walking along the hedgerows, the bantams remaining still and quiet would burst from cover on seeing their tormentor coming nearer.
I began working in the Infants class in Winkleigh School which meant catching the school bus with Grace and Helen. Any unguarded moment and Mandy would be off through the door and into a field to chase sheep. She ignored any screeches as I panted after her like a demented witch. The owner of the sheep came to look over the gate at this shrieking apparition hurtling after one small dog, probably confirming that all townies are mad. Having caught her and delivered her to the farm to be looked after. I usually managed to catch the bus by the skin of my teeth, panting with exhaustion before the day had hardly started.
We were invited to a very posh wedding at Cockington, near Torquay. My brand new suit and shoes were laid ready in the spare bedroom. The puppy found her way upstairs, sat on the bed and carefully chewed off the bows from my shoes and the matching covered buttons off the suit. It was not total disaster, it's amazing what small village shops can come up with. One provided a set of buttons that matched perfectly, another repaired my shoes overnight. I could have scoured Exeter or Plymouth and not been so lucky.
Mandy&emdash;so called by Helen after some current pop singer&emdash;did eventually settle down and become a sedate and well-behaved little dog (apart from when she thought she was defending her property). We called her the nine to five dog, as she trotted up to the farm every morning and returned at teatime for her meal and armchair bed. She enjoyed the perfect dog's life, her freedom, the company of the farm dogs, plenty of wildlife to hunt, and two families to dote on her. She allowed Helen to dress her up and wheel her around in a doll's pram. Gentle with the family, she was fiercely protective of us. Woe betide any burglar who might have broken in, he would have been torn limb from limb. She made peace with the bantams, although they edged warily away when she passed. A rat was a different matter&emdash;no escape as she pounced on it, flung it in the air, then rolled on it until it was as flat as a pancake. If the vet was forced to call, he opened the door a crack while I hung on to Mandy's collar like grim death, and he literally lassoed her with a bandage, winding it round and round her muzzle. She foamed at the mouth, her eyes glared her hate and murderous intent Yet, taken to his surgery for treatment, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, she was so quiet. But then it wasn't her territory.
Extremely intelligent, she didn't need to speak. The settee was forbidden but she crept on it unobtrusively, and while pretending to sleep one eye remained open following our movements, waiting for the moment of discovery. The slightest rustle of chocolate paper brought her leaping from an apparently deep sleep to sit begging at our feet. She had to be shut in if in season. If we had to go out and leave her we proffered a chocolate biscuit as a consolation which she took carefully between her teeth and just as carefully laid it on the floor, refusing the bribe with a hurt reproachful look. On our return, she wolfed the biscuit down and raced round our legs, mad with joy. During these sessions dogs came courting. Mandy tried to invite them in through the window, knocking over plants and ornaments. Frustrated, the dogs carried washing off the line and wellingtons from the doorstep to leave them strewn around the countryside.
The only times Mandy returned home during the day were when she was in big trouble. A born fighter and very battle-scarred, she came home covered in blood after a confrontation with a fox or badger. A shake of her head sent blood spattering over the kitchen walls. On one occasion she must have snapped at an animal. She had jammed her teeth so tightly she was unable to open her jaws. She sat very quietly as Norman prised her jaws open with a bar of wood, aware he was helping her.
Mandy underwent an operation for a growth when she was ten years old. In spite of being so ill and weak afterwards, she insisted on going outdoors to do her little 'jobs.' She was carried and gently set down on the lawn, while one of us held an umbrella over her if it was raining. She recovered for a while but the growth caught up with her. Before leaving for work I lined a wheelbarrow with cushions and wheeled her to the farm where she was received with tender loving care and placed in a comfortably lined box by the stove. Her condition deteriorated. her body swelled, her short legs stuck out stiffly as she lay among her cushions. As she began to suffer we knew we must make the awful decision of having her put to sleep. She enjoyed her last' condemned man's' meal of her favourite food, liver and chocolate. Norman wrapped her warmly and took her to the car. Coward that I was, I stayed at home, chewing my nails, watching the clock, imagining her last moments and weeping for our dearly loved pet who had wormed her way into the hearts of us and all the family . Norman returned to say Mandy had fallen to sleep quite peacefully. On the way, she had laid her head in his lap, looking at him so trustingly he had nearly turned round to come home again.
Terror on the Farm
My father looked after the pigs at Mons Hall. It was a mixed farm, with pigs, sheep poultry and dairy cows. For a time a boar was kept, a large animal with yellow tusks and evil eyes. Ralph fed the pigs one day. As the boar was not used to him he charged, knocking Ralph backwards and through the swing door, which fortunately swung back, separating him from the raging beast or he could have been killed. As it was the tusk had ripped into his leg and upwards, tearing through clothes, skin and tissue. Stitches were needed inside as well as outside his leg. Ralph was lame for quite some time, using an upturned broom as a crutch.
Taking the girls for a walk, I took a short cut across the paddock. Half way across I saw to my horror that we were not alone, the boar was loose and he had seen us. I urged Grace and Helen to get to the nearest gate and climb over, not waiting to unfasten it. I backed after them watching him as he made his way steadily towards us. Once the children were safe I wasted no time in throwing myself over. My legs had turned to jelly and I trembled and shook at our narrow escape.
At the back of the shippons is a rocky slope down to the farm. My mother climbed the slope every morning with a mug of tea for Philip milking in the shippons. One wintry morning, just as she reached the top of the slope she came face to face with the boar. He knocked her down and stood over her, his jaws slavering, his piggy eyes waiting for her to move. She lay terrified screaming for help until Philip drove it off. My mother was badly bruised, the skin broken. But for the fact she wore an extremely thick woollen coat one shudders to think of the injuries she would have received. She remained in a state of shock for hours, shaking uncontrollably. The boar came to an abrupt end, before it finally killed someone. Philip, having less help, changed to dairy farming.
Norman's employer owned a sow that produced a large litter. Norman came home one evening carrying a sack over his shoulder. In it was the unwanted runt of the litter, a strange-looking black piglet with comically long legs. The children called her Sam. Sam had the run of the orchard except at farrowing times when she was transferred to the stone shed. There she produced litters of plump, pink, healthy piglets that thrived and grew rapidly. Sam became another family pet along with the bantams, Mandy and Snowball, a white rabbit. The vet could scarcely believe how tame and quiet she was when she farrowed. When she visited the boar at her 'home' farm she walked the half mile or so with me along the lanes, stayed at the farm a few days then accompanied me home trotting along at my side as good as gold.
The money from each litter was carefully saved until it reached the sum of £200, enough to have our cottage wired for electricity, the final stage of civilisation, courtesy of Sam the runt.
As she aged the vet advised us to send her to market. This was bad enough, but to see her walk onto the lorry so docilely made our feelings of guilt and betrayal even worse. her sudden disappearance was accounted for by telling the children Sam had gone on her holidays. When they were older and learned the truth they never really forgave us.
Ralph left the farm when he met and fell in love with Mary, who lived on a farm in Dowland. Philip remains unmarried and still runs the farm, although single- handed. Mary and Ralph were married in Dolton church on a sunny September day. Grace and Helen were thrilled to be bridesmaids, but as Helen had lost her front milk teeth she was very conscious of the gap and wouldn't smile.
Ralph had a bungalow built and farmed with pigs, sheep, poultry and two house cows. Mary worked hard with him, and made delicious Devonshire clotted cream and butter. They had two sons, now two fine young men. Farming life has never been easy for them and now they only have sheep which give such a poor return. It is a struggle for them, but they are a close and loving family. Their animals often became pets. They had a .Jersey cow whose back dipped alarmingly with age. It reached the unheard of age of seventeen years. The vet told them that the kindest thing they could do for her was to have her put down on the farm. On that same day Mary brought Timothy, a pet ram, indoors for the night He tucked his legs under him and settled down for sleep in his bed of straw. Ralph looked in on him shortly after and found him quite dead. 'How sad,' said Ralph. But I thought not, few farm animals live such a comfortable life with such a quick or peaceful end. Rusty, one of the farm dogs, lived to be twenty three years old. No trees are felled unless absolutely necessary, the land and animals very well cared for.
Dowland church, one of the most charming in the country, with rare wooden pillars and a tall, square tower, has two of Cromwell's men buried in the churchyard. It is a lovely old church, steeped in history. Ralph is churchwarden, and both Mary and Ralph struggle against the odds to keep the church going with the help of two or three others. It would be very sad to see such a church closed.
More Memories of Mons Hall
Grace and Helen loved their Nanna and Grandpa. When my mother celebrated her ninetieth birthday she was presented with a 'This is Your Life' book, commencing with her early years at Sharston, courting days with my father and his time in the First World War. Children, grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren were represented with photographs, poems, cards and personal memories. Mam said, 'What is their to celebrate in growing old?' The answer is&emdash;achievement and her wonderful example of love to all her family. Emma, her great granddaughter, wrote a poem for her, 'to her best Great Grandma.'
The birds fly so high
They sing so sweetly,
When they know it is your birthday
They will sing for joy.
Grace wrote some of her childhood memories for the book: "Calling in the farm after school to eat beans and crinkly cut chips, the swing under the big oak tree, having dinner at the farm and macaroni pudding, looking for slowworms in the garden, playing in the stream, watching the nuthatch at the window, seeing the daffodils under the kitchen window in the spring, poppies and nasturtiums m the summer, the farm garden, making perfume from rose petals, cream on apple pie, packing our Christmas presents m a box and bringing them up to show you. Helping Grandpa clean the shippons and cut off lower branches from the cedars. Helping to feed the calves, the thrill of staying the night and the smell of bacon and eggs cooking for our breakfast. Watching you walk up the cottage garden path for your four o' clock cup of tea with us, and (in later years) visiting you for a morning chat and having that little glass of something good. Happy memories enriching my childhood, I do miss you and my family in England."
Grace was already living in Canada when she wrote this, and her sister in England wrote her memories completely independently, yet they were almost identical. He wrote&emdash; "I remember eating crinkly cut chips and beans. Now I have my own crinkle cutter and think of you when I use it, but my chips never taste as good as yours did. I remember helping Grandpa mix buckets of swill to feed the pigs and I helped to feed the calves. Growing up in the countryside and having you and Grandpa was a very special experience. I am glad my children have known you and love the countryside as you do."
I was glad my parents were able to celebrate their golden wedding with their fan before Dad died at Mons Hall, aged seventy-eight, much loved by all who knew him.
Mam lived to be nearly ninety-two years; she was thought of and loved as a mother by her sisters and grandchildren, and there were many to miss and mourn her.
My Father's Speech on the Occasion of My Parents' Golden Wedding, I971.
"Before I say anything else, let me tell you that every joy and sorrow during the last fifty years, and the hard times of our early married life, have been equally shared with my wife, always loving and true. Fortune has been kind to us, we are blessed with dutiful and loving daughter and sons, and allowed to see them happy and reasonably successful. All but one: nothing is ever perfect in this life. We owe it to you that we left the dirty northern city and have spent the last few years in this beautiful part of the country. It is they who thought of this celebration. May you all be as lucky as we. Several guests, brothers and sisters far away, have been unable to come. I should have liked them all to be with us at this time. Marriages can be repeated, but a golden wedding only once in a lifetime, and to the few. A sincere, warm welcome to all present. God keep you."
While Grace and Helen were at school in Crediton Norman was their willing slave, driving them to and fro. We often had them and their friends to stay over weekends and holidays. Grace stayed on at school to take A-level exams. Afterwards, tired of studying, she decided to take time out to see something of the world, and travelled to Canada to work as a nanny. Grace returned home more than once to live and work here, but couldn't settle. She went back to Canada to become a Canadian citizen and live their permanently. While working as a nanny she studied at evening classes until she completed her training and applied successfully for a position in the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto and settled very happily to her new life in a new country.
Helen left school earlier to train as a nurse. Before finishing her training she left to get married and start a family. Her first child, Emma, was so tiny only dolls' clothes fitted her at first. Norman adored her and she worshipped him, they had a close understanding and rapport that was very special. When Helen and her husband moved into their first home, Norman and I spent a lot of time helping to decorate, garden and mind our little granddaughter. Two years later I was sent to stay a few days to look after Emma when Christopher was born. Our two grandchildren brought us so much joy, our lives revolved around them.
Norman and I spent a holiday in Canada with Grace and Jose. Norman had never been far from his home until we spent a holiday in Jersey, Canada seemed like the other end of the earth! Grace and Jose gave us a most memorable time; we saw plenty of wildlife and breathtaking scenery. I am so glad we had that holiday and those happy memories with Norman.
I founded a playgroup in Winkleigh and ran it for twelve years; it was a job I loved with three- to five-year olds. I just wish there had been something similar for my own children. We worked closely with the school so that when the great day came for the five-year olds to leave playgroup and go to 'big school,' they were familiar with the schoolteachers, the routine and building, and they integrated very happily.
Our nearest bus for shopping is run by a private company. I walk the half mile to Iddesleigh and catch the bus into Okehampton, the market town, ten miles away. It runs twice a week but I like to go on Saturdays when the market is held. We get over two hours in Okehampton, plenty of time to shop and have coffee with a friend. Shopkeepers are so obliging and friendly some have become friends. There is very often something of interest going on such as the majorettes, morris dancers, a silver band or a group of entertainers outside the market entrance. At Christmas carols are played and Father Christmas rides around the town throwing presents and balloons to the children.
Everyone on the bus knows everyone else. If someone is absent there is consternation and we all want to know the reason. There are some lovely country characters. One wet day an old man greeted a friend who boarded the bus in the next village: "'ow be 'ee, Maggie?' She replied, 'I be alright except for this weather, it's all because of they rockets they keep sending up, tha knows.' One lady rarely misses a bus trip and is never without a buttonhole of fresh flowers winter or summer.
While waiting for the bus one day I was honoured when an old man let me into his secret cure for warts. The 'white magic' is still practised in Devon and it works. This knowledge must only be passed on to one other person, and they must be of the opposite sex. It never worked for me; I heard later that he had told someone else, but when I asked him to cure my granddaughter Emma's verrucas which were very troublesome they vanished in two or three days.
The driver was a good friend to us, helping us on and off the bus with our shopping bags. He swore mine were full of lead and gold bars. I wanted to purchase a Robinia tree, five feet tall, from the nurseryman selling plants at the roadside. He promised to bring one for me and that Saturday I took my trolley on the bus instead of leaving it in the village. I bought the tree, loaded it in the trolley and wheeled it back to the bus. The bus stays in the car park and we can leave our shopping in it, or sit in early if tired or spent up! I hadn't told the driver why I needed my trolley in case he had qualms about accepting a tree on his bus, but would if faced with a fait accompli. He laughed and told me I'd be surprised at some of the things transported on the bus. Between us we wedged it on the front seat and it stayed, waving its golden leaves and admired by all on the journey home.
On one return trip in the spring we passed by a large house, its banks golden with hundreds of daffodils. To our surprise, the bus slowed to a stop, the driver hopped out. Keeping his head ducked low he hastily snatched a bunch of daffodils. Back on the bus he presented them with a flourish to a passenger on the front seat. I am sure the owner would have been only too pleased a few of her flowers had gone to a dear old lady whose birthday it was that day.
Now we have a lady driver we are greeted with a cheery smile. We are still helped on and off the bus, the trip just as friendly and interesting. It's the custom for the driver and one of the regular passengers to complete a crossword together while waiting for the twelve noon departure time. In spite of having to drag a loaded trolley shopping is a pleasure.
A Place in Heaven
Norman developed lung cancer when he was sixty years old. After hospital tests the doctor told me there was no hope for Norman, there was nothing they could do. I was shattered and my world fell apart. Although Norman knew also, he refused to admit it to me, only to others. It was his way of sparing me pain, but it is my one regret that I went along with his wishes and kept up the pretence that nothing was seriously wrong. I could not share this last experience, and at least share part of his last journey with him. This was the hardest thing to bear. Norman bore his illness with great patience and courage. The vicar of Dowland church was a constant visitor and support. The house was full of friends and relations throughout Norman' s illness. Many distant friends were praying for us, and these prayers were answered, for Norman ceased to feel any pain. Grace and Jose flew from Canada to be with us.
When Norman was too weak to climb the stairs, I made a bed up for him in the sitting room. He often fell into a deep sleep, so I felt I could leave him and catch up on some work. But if I passed his open door and glanced in he was always awake again as if he had sensed my absence the minute I left the room.
Only a few days after Grace and Jose returned to Canada Norman died. It was in May when the pink campions and other spring flowers were blooming. On that last day Helen and her husband came on Sunday as usual, for their dinner and tea. Ernma was five years old. She went straight to Norman, laying her head on his breast and gently putting her arms around him, just quietly loving him. During the day Norman sank into a coma. I took Chris for a short walk to get some fresh air and have a break from my constant vigil. The lowering skies and misty rain matched my sadness and unshed tears. The family left after their tea, but Emma suddenly refused to get in the car and ran back indoors. I asked her if she had forgotten something. 'I must say goodbye to my Poppa,' she said. I opened the sitting room door for her and she went in to Norman where he lay, propped up against his pillows. Emma kissed him and whispered goodbye. Norman came out of his coma enough to open his eyes, his face lighting up with a smile, and he murmured, 'Goodbye, my darling.' They were his last words. Emma was quite content to go home then. On the way home Chris, only three years old, said, 'I'll wake up in the morning, won't I, Mummy, but Poppa won't.' Both children knew instinctively that they were not going to see their beloved Poppa again.
Ralph and Mary had been my strength and support, and Ralph came that night to sleep over l stayed by Norman's side as he slept peacefully, and held him in my arms, praying silently for him not to leave me. As I felt him slipping away I told him how much I loved him, how dear he was to me, until I knew he was gone from me for ever, and my grief overwhelmed me.
Norman's funeral was held in the ancient church of St Peter in Dowland with its quiet atmosphere of peace and God's presence. It was packed with sympathizers, there to show their love and respect for him. As voices were raised in the lovely old hymn, 'On that old, rugged cross'&emdash;Norman's favourite&emdash;I looked through the church window in front of me at the infinite sky and white clouds, and I knew Norman's spirit was still alive and felt comforted. Grace had flown back again and helped me through the first two lonely weeks.
Emma was never upset at losing her Poppa; her belief was strong that he was in heaven, with the angels looking after him and not ill any more. When the children were in my bedroom one day Chris found a pair of Norman's shoes. 'Poppa won't need these any more, will he?' I replied, 'No. I do miss him. "Don' t be sad, Nanna!' said Emma, almost dancing, her little face shining. 'Look out of the window and up into the sky. Go on, wave to him, and he'll wave back. Poppa is in heaven and he's happy. Even though we can't see him, he still loves us just the same.' The faith of a little child!
Now I am alone I thank God for my family and friends, and for my memories. Grief has to be lived though and endured, but if the humour and gentleness of a good man gave happiness when he was here, then the blessings outweigh the grief.
Now my beloved parents and Norman are gone, and Grace so far away I am going to move and give up this cottage which proved to be such a happy home until recent years. But I will not go far, I have too many friends in this part of the country. Coming to Devon was a good move.