Many (or not so many) years ago we had the idyllic childhood. There were, my parents an older brother, and me. We grew up on a small holding in very rural Wales, the summers were long and winters with a picturesque white blanket covering everything with an innocent sheen.
Then at the beginning of one winter our lives were to change dramatically. My father a then officer in the fire brigade was seconded to another force for six months. The same time my Mother gave birth to a ‘screaming pink smell’. ( I was only seven and it later grew into my younger brother). Due to many complications my mother was now bedridden for a few months. Our father was away for up to six days at a time, no neighbourly help and Grandparents who lived the far side of the country.
It fell to me and my older brother (aged 10) to take the reigns of the small holding and the house. We drew lots, and then he beat me into submission, so we shared out the chores, basically he took charge of all the animals, and outside needs, I shouldered the more domestic chores. So at the young age of seven years old I started cooking for a family, doing the laundry, and general house keeping ( we did at times help each other ). My first trouble was ensuring that the coal fired stove stayed alight at all times, this was the only form of cooking, a small oven and two cast iron hotplates. (Imagine an AGA, but a quarter of the size and a thousandth of the price). With many trips upstairs to check things out with ‘mum’ and slowly deciphering cookbooks over time I became quite a proficient cook. The top loading washing machine and I came to an agreement. We did not like each other. I hated it because I had to almost climb into the drum to reach the lone sock from the bottom. It hated me because as far as I was concerned why do four loads when it can actually fit in one load? Then there was the log fire in the living room ( a once converted barn, Have a look at my other post ‘A childhood in rural west Wales part 1-3 ‘ for more details). My brother supplied the chopped wood I kept feeding it day and night, it was our only heating. This was done while attending school.
A normal day for me through that winter went as follows.
6:00 wake up dress in rough clothes.
6:30 feed chickens, ducks, geese, collect eggs
6:50 bring in coal, and fire wood.
7:10 rescue fire in stove add more coal, re stoke fire in living room, de ash, and re stock wood.
7:30 Chase and catch chicken ( or rabbit, or duck or whatever animal real peeved me of) Kill and remove feathers. Hang to bleed out and leave to chill on kitchen windowsill to chill.
8:00Wash change for school.
8:10 put more washing on and hand out to dry (indoors above stairs) wet washing.
8:30 double check fires
8:45 Go to school. (500 yards away down a very quite single track rd)
12:45 after lunch at school nip home with brother put dead meat in pot along with veg put in now much warmer oven. Check and re stoke fires. (he checked on animals)
3:30 after school change.
Bring in more coal, and wood. Help brother with mucking out.
5:30 dish up food, eat and with help from my older brother wash-up.
7:00 fight washing machine, feed dog and cats, and ensure fires are set for the night
8:00 Collapse into bed.
Before anyone goes phoning social services I am now touching forty and this only lasted for a few months.
I look back on these times now with almost fond memories, I see how I had to grow up at a young age, but in a way that has helped me. I was not abused or left to starve in a corner like so many others. Through my teenage years I hated my parents for that time, I raged that they took some of my childhood away from me. But then I saw my peers and friends struggle to turn on an iron while in University, one friend destroyed a £200 fleece by trying to dry it in the microwave. They lived on baked beans not due to financial hardship but because they couldn’t work out how turn on the oven. I realised my parents inadvertently gave me a fierce independence. I now have four children two are way past this age and the other two are bracketing it. They show interest in the cooking but only fun things, I try so hard not to tell them how lucky they are and what I had to do at that age, but it was not the norm for anyone at that time. I was a Seven year old boy who had been thrust into the boring bit of an adult world. Much of the time I was dog tired and was close to tears pretty much all the time. Sometimes I would lay in bed quietly whimpering to my self, but sleep would always come and with it the hope of another day.