11 January 2017
Cold and misty
I did write today but it was the beginning of my novel How Hard Can It Be? Tales of heroic failure in SW France. So I fished through my last year's blog and found the following, which was one of my favourite posts
My mother and my mother in law were both born in 1921 and were female. They had similar working class backgrounds and lived through the Second World War. Their resemblance one to another stops at that point. My mother was born in Birkenhead, Lancashire and lived with her three sisters and one brother in a terraced house. She was the baby of the family and when she was born, Frank, the eldest, was already 15. Her father was a butcher and her mother was a cook. When the War started, she was evacuated into the countryside: she missed her family and the city and was only away a month. She came back home and was then sent to Bletchley to do 'something with wiring'. She was away a month there too and came back to find a job in the NAAFI which was much more her style. Mum loved being the centre of attention and enjoyed her War to a large extent. Dances, dying legs with coffee dregs and drawing a line on the calves to simulate real stockings, peroxide, exciting US soldiers (two of her sisters became GI brides), makeup and clothes.
In 1942, having been bombed out of three houses, the family decided to leave the city and went to the tiny village of Weston Rhyn in Shropshire. After the initial shock of no electricity (gas provided both heat and light until into the 1950‘s), no shops and so much grass, they settled in. The War did not physically touch Weston Rhyn - on the one occasion when a German plane passed overhead, apparently my Grandmother ran out of the house, clutching her ration book, only to find herself alone in the street; the locals still warm and quiet in their beds.
I have a photo of my mother taken in the early 40's, standing on a rock at Llandudno, wearing a ruched one piece swim suit and with a figure that I have never, in any decade of my life, achieved. She was always glamorous. She was always well turned out. Just about the only piece of advice that she gave me was 'get yourself ready first'.
My mother in law was born in Preston, Lancashire and had two brothers and a sister. Naturally blonde, she was once teased that she ‘touched up’ the colour with peroxide and was embarrassed. She was conservative and never discussed the past with me, apart from mentioning that she and her sister Betty used to be on ‘fire watch’ which in the early stages of the War involved going onto roofs of tall buildings and spending the night looking out. The most interesting story of all which is one which my hubby told me. Apparently Lilian was in Ribbleton, it was in the early 60’s and she was hanging out washing on the line. She looked up. There was a space ship - a classic spinning saucer, hanging over the garden. It span for a minute and then flashed up high and disappeared. If my mother had told me this story (and she would have told this story to everyone), I would have assumed it was the gin talking. I have no hesitation in believing my mother in law - she was completely unfanciful and would not have welcomed the attention that this story would have brought.
Apart from a spell in Birmingham, my mother in law spent the rest of her life in Preston - the latter twenty odd years in Penwortham, which is where my husband was born. Her life was her family and her Christian faith and she was content with it. My mother always hankered for a more exciting life. We were in the garden once and a passenger plane passed overhead ‘take me with you’ shouted mum at the tail stream, and then laughed. I was 13 at the time and it disturbed me. We did not have a quiet life - mum and dad’s favourite occupation was moving house. We must have moved on average about every couple of years. Of most of the houses I only remember one or two rooms or a patch of the garden. I have had to write them down in case I forget. My brother and I had numerous primary and several secondary schools. They were mostly dreadful and we emerged with poor exam results. My mother in law was horrified to hear of our fractured education. ‘You can move house all you like, but you’ll still be the same person’ she concluded. A conclusion that my mother didn’t arrive at even after dozens of removals.
It was my mother in law who came to stay when we had our babies and who cooked and cleaned for us. She came on holidays and babysat. She loved her grandchildren completely. I remember her holding William in her arms when she came to see me in Chorley Maternity unit and saying with wonder ‘its as if I have known him all my life’. Her views on the relation between husband and wife were very different to my own and the cause of much grinding of teeth (probably on her part too) but I miss her enormously, so this is my tribute to you Lilian. We all loved you and now your lovely malt loaf will be out there in the wider world xx
My Mother in Law’s Malt Loaf
3/4 pound of self raising flour
cup of fruit
cup of sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 cup of milk
Mix altogether well & put in a greased loaf tin, medium oven 1 hour.
The cup I use is a large tea cup - I fill it with mixed fruit and add some nuts. I use three quarters of a cup of sugar.
Take a large pan and put in the fruit, sugar, treacle and syrup. Warm gently until the treacle and syrup start to run. Add the cup of milk and stir. Sift in the flour, mixing well. Finally add the beaten egg. The mix is quite stiff. Grease the rectangular loaf tin and I usually line with baking parchment so it comes out easily. Fill with the mix, leaving at least three centimetres between the top of the mix and the top of the tin. It does rise considerably so place in a baking tray to avoid oven floor spills. The top will crack as it cooks. Test for doneness with a skewer after an hour. It is better to cook for longer at a lower temperature than for shorter at a higher one as the elevated sugar content will cause the top to burn. About 170 degrees C in my fan oven is usually fine.