And with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn’t trade your life for one hour of home. (Lock-Keeper Stan Rogers)
When looking back at our lives we only see the good bits, and it was always sunny, but of course it never was like that, there really were no ‘Good Old Days’ that was your lot, and you just made the best of it.
My only brother is 10 years my senior, so we were never close growing up, I was still a schoolboy when he was doing National Service. And before I left school he was married and had by now start a family. We would see each other at Hatches, Matches and Dispatches – births, weddings and funerals. But I really did not know much of what he was up to growing up and then when I started work well I had wheels on.
This last year I have possibly seen more of my brother than any time during our lives, we will meet up regularly for a pub lunch and a blether.
Now if there is one thing I regret in my life it was not asking my parents more about their early life, and as my immediate family have thinned out, again many opportunities were missed, so when I meet up with my brother I tend to spear him about The Good Old Days between the wars, for I know it shaped the character of my siblings, especially one very close to me when she was alive.
Rita was frugal and need desperately to have a few pounds in the bank, her safety net. When her husband was made redundant from Rosyth Royal Dockyard he was given redundancy money and my sister insisted that the money was not squandered on a new car but that they purchased their council house, (Maggie Thatcher was selling them off at a knock-down price at the time). Rita needed that security, it seemed to be a craving with her, even in a time of relative affluence, after all her husband had a steady job and a wage coming in each and every week, almost guaranteed, so why was this, almost a fear of what tomorrow might bring so strong?
One lunchtime my brother was deep into his life growing up in the hungry 1930s,
Dad has some job down in Leven, he started. There were now two bairns in the house, dad had been reading his paper every, word, every syllabi, morning had turned into afternoon. Dad rose from the chair by the fireside and put on his jacket,
“Where are you off to?” Mum called to him,
“Out for a paper” he told her,
“A paper?” You have just read the paper,
“I know, but I will see if the evening papers are in yet,” and he was off out the door.
Mum never saw him again for fourteen months. As she suspected he had gone down to the seaman’s union and found a ship going somewhere, it did not really matter where.
Life at sea during those times was much like life ashore ‘White Slavery’ jobs were hard to come by, second engineers taking jobs as stokers just to have a berth. You put up with most anything or you starved. Serving as an AB (able-bodied seaman) the wages were poor, and only paid when at sea, as soon as the ship tied up the money stopped until you signed back on, that ship or another ship, so it might be days or even weeks between pay. The seaman’s mission would be home from home until you could sign-on once more
There small family had moved into a council house in William Street, East Wemyss, and known locally as Macduff Park. This was the address that dad had written on the letter containing a postal order at the end of that first week he was away. The letter did not come to East Wemyss but went all the way up to Macduff up on the east coast of Scotland near to Aberdeen. When the postman revived the letter, knowing that there was no William Street in Macduff, returned to sender.
The milkman, who also sold bread rolls, carried her to the end of the week but when he came for payment on Friday, and was told the story that she had not received any money from dad, but expected a letter any day, I’m sure he was sympathetic but he possibly heard as many tales of hardship and inability to pay for milk and rolls delivered that, mum was told that there would be no more deliveries until her book was cleared.
Over the next four weeks the family survived by mum putting the bairn in the pram and they would walk out into the country, when clear of prying eyes, she would send my brother into the field to gather a few potatoes of a turnip, anything to make a meal. When the gas meter run out they sat in the dark and cooked on the open fire, kept going by sea coal gathered from the shore.
Mr Rodgers lived above my parent’s house, four in a block, and was a member of the kirk, and on the Parish Council and had something to do with most things that went on in the village, he was soon aware of mums situation. Villages were much more close-knit at that time what with the doctor knowing everyone in his practice, almost intimately, mum was trying to save for an operation she needed. The district nurse, was literally in and out of your home on a regular basis, if you had young children, and the local bobby, did not miss a trick.
Mr Rodgers came to the door,
“Your boys in the Scouts I believe, have a camp coming up soon and I think he should go”, he went on.
“Yes he was telling me,” mum had answered, all the time knowing that he could not go to the Scout Camp for it cost 2/- two shillings, that she did not have.
Mr Rodgers made a point of catching my brother the next day and placing in his hand a florin, a two shilling piece, “give that to your Scout Master, you don’t need to tell him where it came from,” he added.
Mr Rodgers knew that at least one of the family would be feed for the duration of the camp.
Mr Rodgers, again approached mum and told her that he was on the Parish Council and if she was in difficulties, she could come before the committee and possibly get financial help. Mum was desperate, all pride had gone, she was now into survival mode, she took up the invitation to go before the Parish Council.
After hearing how she had been four weeks without any money, they awarded her a payment of a few shillings, she would receive the award the next day.
Mum had my brother washed and polished and the bairn in the pram, ready to walk into Methil and the shops to buy food for her family.
Mr Rodgers, appeared at the door, “Sorry” he told her, although the Parish Council awarded her the money the Minister would not authorise the payment.
Well, mum was at her wits end and marched off down to the manse, working on her wrath with every step. When the minster opened the door and before he could draw a breath he received an almighty straight right from mums fist, clean to the jaw, a punch Henry Cooper would have been proud of. It knocked the minster clear off his feet and landed him on his backside in the hallway. Mum stood over him demanding,
“You hypocrite” she called, “stopping my money, Its not even your money, its the Parish money, call yourself a Christian” she laid into him, with all the pent up anger and fear of the last four weeks.
Next morning early, and on his way to work, Mr Rodgers appeared at the door with her few pounds form the Parish Council funds, much more than she had been promised and in high spirits set off with pram and child, and my brother for Methil.
Mum had a visit from the local police sergeant, my brother did not hear what they talked about in the back kitchen, but no charges were ever brought.
When dad returned home, looking well, tanned and dapper, mum and dad had a long talk, although it was mum that did much of the talking, as my brother had remembered it. After that dad changed, he seemed to understand now that it was he that had brought these kids into the world and they where his responsibility.
I can better understand what shaped my older siblings, why they held such a strong bond with each other, and craved security throughout their lives, in never left them. And why I in my turn, voted Labour all my working life, joined a union, and became a Shop Steward.
I was a lad growing up spent much quality time with dad, following him around like a puppy dog. When the motorcycle was going anywhere I would be on the back of it, even from a very early age. During the fair fortnight (the area holiday fortnight) I would go off with dad, we would visit family down in England or go off camping together.
I remember saying to my sister one day that I was fortunate to have spent so much quality time with dad. To which she replied,
Mum would not let him out the door without you, for she knew him too well, he would sign on the first ship in the harbour, where ever it may take him, and mum would not know until the letter arrived with a postal order from some far-flung part of the world. No, you were the anchor chain that kept him tethered her home.
Sure I’m stuck here on the seaway,
While you compensate for leeway through the trades;
And you shoot the stars to see the miles you’ve made.
And you laugh at hearts you’ve riven,
But which of these has given us more love of life,
You, your tropic maids, or me, my wife.