After and the Sunday lunch dishes were washed and put away, Mum would begin the weekly ritual of getting myself and younger sister Vivianne ready to go and visit Grandma Ridley, dads Mum for tea. I was six and Vivianne was two and a half.Dressed in our best frilly dresses, sandals whitened,and hair brushed until it shone, we set out to catch the bus to Ryhope Village where Grandma lived. She was a very cold austere person,dressed usually in a white blouse with a broach at her throat,black skirt and her very fine grey hair pulled back into a bun. Four pm on the dot we arrived. The table was set with a pristine damask table cloth and the best china as it was Sunday.
By Ida Collett
The story of my first twenty years is a simple one – unlike a work of fiction it has no plot pattern, no heroes, no heroines, only `characters’. Its action is in the usual (and some unusual) everyday activities of ordinary people. The time is the period from the beginning of World War I to the eve of economic recovery in New Zealand, a time when women were still being exploited, when poverty was everywhere and there was little help for the needy.
The setting is a small township, landlocked in a deep valley, and inhabited by workers and their families. Above the township lived the upland farmers, the distance between the two groups causing more of a social problem than a geographical one. The villagers thought the hill people considered themselves a `cut above.’
Be that as it may, everyone, high or low, mixed at some time, with little apparent discord: at social functions, on the sports ground, in the classroom, in church, some, for better or worse, in holy matrimony. Finally, most would come to rest, side by side, in the cemetery on top of Coalpit Hill.
The unfamiliar absence of children’s voices spoke volumes as I first entered the Sunderland Empire theatre one cold and dismal Wednesday afternoon. The usually elegant entrance was still asleep from the previous evenings entertainment.
Wearily I climbed the the short staircase leading to the Vesta Tilly bar where the patrons usually met for drinks before each show.The opulent mirrors, normally glistening in the splendour of the evening, were now a sorrowful sight of unpolished prisms and unreflective of their familiar beauty on this dowdy afternoon. Cheer up old gal, was my immediate reaction to the sombre start wandering casually over to the bar, where sparkling lights were beckoning.
I’ve always ran away from poverty, using it as a trampoline to launch myself off onto better things, turning my back on its existence refusing to accept its misery.
In 1942 I was born and bred in a mining community a small village called Silksworth with the pit at one end and the long arm of the law, the local cop shop at the other. An ugly mile of grimy colliery houses, Blind Lane, so aptly called; lay in between, all uniformly belching clouds of deathly smoke in to the impoverished atmosphere. Behind them ran the pits railway, which was the local playing area for our young, where a dear friend lost a leg being ran over by a train. Adding to this depressing scene was the infamous pit waste heaps. The continuous stench of sulphurous fumes rising from the hot ash was forever polluting the air in our small village. Often causing major health hazards and creating dangers for our vulnerable children. However this was partially controlled later and sprayed with the dirty water pumped up from the mines. I often wondered which was worse as neighbouring villages suffered the continuous drone from the electrically operated pit pulleys, as they menacingly ran their gruesome gauntlet swinging dangerously in the air, leaking its foul odour of unsightly substances, carrying unwanted by products to the North East coast. On arrival the pulley automatically swung out like a hopping in a fairground, around the u shaped bend, dispersing its contents from a great height into the North Sea, silhouetting the natural beauty of the area with a never ending flurry of filth.
In the old man’s tool shed everything was neat and stowed away. Down one wall the gardening tools, each hanging on a pair of nails driven high into the timber framing of the shed. The wooden handles were well used, they narrowed where the old man’s hands had worn away the timber grain by grain over years. One day in winter I listened to the rain on the roof and watched him oil the handles – his hands seemed fashioned from the same timber grain.