Rosemary and Rue.
Recollections of a Forest of Dean Childhood
Grandma Jane's Day.
"The trivial round, the common task
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God." - John Keble.
The alarm clock sends out its shrill summons. Jane stirs quickly so as not to wake the baby, slumbering in his crib alongside the bed. It is four o'clock in the morning and another day has just begun.
Joseph is already up and dressed. Trousers of moleskin, white once upon a day but now stained black with mud, sweat and coal dust which no amount of washing will shift. Below his knees the trousers are tied close to the leg with "yarks" - pieces of cord to prevent bits of coal finding their way inside as he works, prone, in the narrow seams. Flannel shirt over interlock cotton vest, the indispensable waistcoat, and a muffler round his neck.
On the scrubbed kitchen table are the three "tommy bags" of blue checked cotton. They each contain a thick crust of home-baked bread, a hunk of cheese and a raw onion. Jane fills the three enamel cans with tea from the fat brown teapot on the hob - no sugar or milk. Cold tea makes a refreshing drink six hundred or more feet underground. The acrid smell of carbide fills the kitchen as Joseph checks his brass lamp, pockets the spare carbide in its Andrews Salts tin and makes sure he has his shut-knife safely in his pocket. He shouts imperiously upstairs to where Jack and Will are sleeping. "If thee bisn't down yer in two minutes I'll be up fer thee. Dus wanna be late at pit?" And he sets off for Lightmoor, a mile walk across the green and up the Speech House Hill, leaving Jane to chivvy the boys along - one to Crump Meadow and one to Foxes Bridge. She drinks a quick cup of tea as she rakes the fire, banked up overnight in the huge range, and stirs it into leaping flame.
Gradually the house comes to life as the children get up. Freddie and Ernie are first, they both have jobs to do outside before school; feed the fowls and let them out, bring in the coal for the fires, fill the copper and clean the boots for school. Jinny and Minnie have washed upstairs in the little bedroom and dressed themselves, then they wash Hilda, dress her in clean dress and pinafore ready for school. Long hair is brushed and combed and tied firmly back with black tape - Jane doesn't want any trouble with "dirty" heads.
She puts the breakfast eggs on to boil; it's a good job the hens are laying well, but they still only get one between two. They fill up with dripping toast and tea and, after a last visit to the privvy at the end of the garden, Freddie and Minnie set off to run up the back lanes to Double View School at the top of the hill. They run most of the way because they dare not be late. "Gaffer" Emery locks the door on the stroke of nine and anybody left outside it gets the dreaded cane. Meanwhile, Ernie runs off across the Green to Bilson Boys' School, dragging little Hilda, protesting, after him. He pushes her through the Infants' gate with scant ceremony and rushes the last few yards up to the top school.
Jinnie clears the table and shakes the crumbs outside. She left school a year ago and will soon be going off to service like her sisters, but for a little while her father has allowed her to stay home to help her Mam. By now young Hubert is making himself heard upstairs, so his sister brings him down, washes him in the kitchen sink, dresses and feeds him, while her Mam lights the fire under the copper. Jane has already done the big Monday wash but the girls need clean pinafores and pit work means never-ending washing anyway. The wash house fills with steam and the
smell of soapsuds, but, by a quarter past ten the snow-white washing is billowing on the line, white calico drawers and petticoats dancing with gay abandon in the breeze blowing up from the valley.
In between times she and Jinnie have made all five beds and emptied the chamber pots. She learnt very early in her married life that colliers' wives always made the beds first thing in the morning. You never knew when your men might be brought home from the pit injured, so you made sure that everything was ready "just in case". Jinnie had swept and dusted the downstairs rooms; shaken the dusty rag rugs and black-leaded the range in Bottom kitchen. Jane stokes up the kitchen range, the July day is hot and sunny and the temperature in the little kitchen is unbearable. But dinner has to be cooked and kettles boiled for washing. Luckily, Joseph with his ticket coal, means that fires are no problem. Into the oven goes the big brown stewpot with a shillingsworth of butcher's pieces, onions and herbs.