Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson
WHENEVER I look back on the 'good old days' I know in my heart I'm am not reflecting a true picture of what life was really like when I was growing up.
I admit that there are great chunks of my life which weren’t all that great and I do tend to see much about what I write through rose-coloured spectacles.
Like most people of my generation I am selective in what I write about or talk about when I’m looking back on life as it once was.
We tend to overlook the hardships and deprivations which were happening in most people’s lives.
How could I truthfully say they were all “happy days” when the first four years of my life were experienced during the Second World War?
These must have been terrible days for our parents and for those who had lost loved ones during the war and for those who came back disabled. These were certainly not “good old days”.
Yet, in a strange way so many of those who lived through the war find no difficulty in finding the good things which resulted from it, the camaraderie, the friendships, the solidarity which existed.
They have little regret and look back on those years with thankful hearts and grateful spirits that they overcame it all. That they survived, and they can always find something to laugh about it all.
The once popular song “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life” could well have been written for them because that is what they did.
My three older sisters, who are forever telling me (the young one of the family) how they used to have to queue up every Monday morning (yes, my mother kept them off school to do it) outside town centre shops to buy the broken biscuits, stale buns and boiled ham bits, left over from the previous Saturday.
All three of them love to look back on those shopping expeditions during the war and they laugh heartily about it all. Indeed they meet up once a week at each other’s homes for a fish and chip lunch and they recall, over and over again, stories such as these.
The afternoon usually rounds off with renderings of some of the old songs that my mother used to sing to us like “On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep” and “We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again”.
Yet, they are singing about some of the darkest days in our history, but somehow they have managed to look on the bright side of things, and the memories of those shameful Monday mornings, queuing up for what others had left behind, doesn’t bother them one bit.
The reason is quite simple, they are recalling the love and security which existed all around them in those days, when we as a family were always there for each other, and we were living next door to neighbours who were suffering the same deprivations as we were.
Have you noticed that nostalgia is all around us these days? You see it on television, on films and in newspapers. Even the old vinyl records we played as teenagers are now making a come-back.
Who could have foreseen that ever happening?
What we are trying to recapture I cannot really say. Perhaps they are looking back and seeing how simple and straightforward life used to be, how uncomplicated compared with today. Those of us who lived in back-to- back houses in crowded streets, now look back on those streets, as
I so often do, with rose coloured spectacles.
We forget how soot-stained the buildings in Dewsbury used to be, the outside toilets and the middens were refuse was left, often out in the open.
They forget that much of Dewsbury was not a very pleasant place in which to live, and soot was floating all around us, and sticking to everything in sight, especially the washing hung out on the line, as well as inside us, our lungs in particular.
We were an industrial township with mills belching out smoke from morning till night, and the picture above is an example of just how things were.
Although looking at streets like this makes me feel nostalgic for my childhood days, I know without doubt I wouldn’t want to go back to them.
Take a close look at this particular street and see on the right hand side, the cellar kitchens which people once lived in.
See how close the houses were to each other, opening straight out onto the street, and look at the soot sticking to them.
Note also the ginnel on the left of the picture which would be the entry round to the back where the outside toilets would have been.
Many thousands of people in Dewsbury grew up in streets like this, but I don’t know where this particular one was except it was in Thornhill Lees, quite near to Wormald and Walker’s Mill.
A study carried out in 1956 by Dewsbury’s medical officer of health, revealed that no less than fourteen-and- a-half tons of soot fell every months on every square mile of Dewsbury.
If you lived in Whitley where there were no mills you were more fortunate because they only had 10 tons of soot fall on them per month.
In Ravensthorpe, where there were many mills, they had 15 tons a month, and in Savile Town, where most of the mills were, 20 tons of soot would fall every month.
The soot levels appear to have changed with the time of the year, with more falling in winter than in summer.
In December 1956, thirty-seven and a half tons of soot descended on Savile Town alone. We were brought up with the old adage – “Where there’s muck there’s Money”.
Well if that had been true in my day, we’d have all been pretty wealthy, but we weren’t were we?
Still, like my three sisters do every Wednesday afternoon, we can sit back and look on the bright side of life. Why not?
It’s good sometimes to look at life through rose-coloured spectacles.
If any readers can identify where the street above is, please let me know by emailing me at [email protected] or contact 01924 433013.