Blogging friend Ken Stevens goes under the name of Grumpy Old Ken, although I've yet to find anything grumpy about him. He writes some interesting articles on his blog and I either leave there chuckling or feeling I've learned something. Amongst other things he has written a book called A Childhood Revisited, about life as it was when he was growing up. I came across this monologue some time back and Ken gave me permission to borrow it to read at my WI. With Ken's permission, I am sharing it with you.
I’m Ninety-Nine, You Know
Scene set in an old fashioned country cottage. An old lady sits in an armchair. She is knitting and hums to herself. She wears a shawl over a cardigan and woollen dress, She has on long woollen stockings, black lace up shoes and horned rimmed spectacles.
Come in. I heard you knocking. The old eyes may be a bit rheumy but me ears still work. I’m not too bad, thank you, all things considered. Sit down and we’ll have a cup of tea. Now what is it you want to know?
Old? I suppose I am. And you want to know what I can remember about my life? I don’t know about that but I’ll try.
I were born in 1906, it seems a long time ago. I don’t remember much as a little girl though I remember everyone being excited when a great big ship were lost first time out. Terrible it were, all those people drowned. What were it called, Gigantic, or Colossal, something like that.
School were all right, but strict. A slate and some chalk in the infants, a real pen and ink in the seniors. The boys had plenty of rulers on the knuckles, but we girls were usually spared that. The three ‘R’s were what we did most, Reading, Riting and Rithmetic. And we learnt about the Empire. It weren’t just lessons you remember. Hop Scotch, marbles and ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ were great. Plus skipping games. How did it go? ‘Salt, vinegar, mustard, PEPPER!’
Went into service at the big house. Seven shillings a week living in. Up at six, black-leaded the stove, polished the brasses, made the beds, washing, ironing, never stopped ‘til bedtime. Allowed two hours off on Wednesday afternoon, we loved that. Went back home on Sundays and gave me mam and dad me wages. Were allowed to keep sixpence for myself.
The Big War, yes I remember The Big War. The first Big War. So many men in the village never came back, God rest their souls. I remember thinking, it’s always men that cause wars. If it were up to women to decide, they’d be no wars. I remember some women trying to get women the vote. Chained them selves to railings they did, and one threw herself under a horse. What was her name, Mrs Sandhurst, Mrs Panhurt, something like that. I thought she were very brave, though I daren’t say so. Dad wouldn’t have liked that.
Dad believed everyone one had his place in life, women included. Mind you, he had his standards and he kept to them. He would proudly walk our mother to chapel, twice of a Sunday, in their Sunday best. Mind you, if it started to rain dad would take his cap off and put it in his pocket.
Why did he do that? Well, there were no way he were going to sit in the house all night with a wet cap on!
Married, yes I married Baxter when I were twenty three. A fine, God fearing man were Baxter. Hardworking, he were, a plumber, and a painter, and a sign writer, plus he were the village lamplighter. I don’t know where he got his energy from. Mind you, it couldn’t have done him no harm ‘cause we had eight children! Nine if you count the little one buried in the chapel yard, poor mite. Six weeks old, that’s all. All that time ago and I still think about her. And I took on our Barbara’s baby when she died.
Only four weeks old it were. It were a hard life but what else could you do? The doctor had strong words with Baxter when I had me fifth. I weren’t very well at all. Plus the fact that money were scarce, no child allowances in them days.
“If she has any more, it may well kill her,” Baxter were told. But he were having none of it. “If the Lord sends them, we’ll provide for them,” were Baxter’s answer. And that were that.
Let me get us both that cup of tea and we’ll talk while I’m making it.
Why am I cutting up the tea bags?
‘Cause I can’t be doing with putting bags of tea in the cup. It don’t seem right to me. The only thing I reckon you dunk into a cup of tea is a nice Rich Tea biscuit. How many sugars?
No sugar? I don’t know how you young ones survive, I really don’t. Too many fads today, if you ask me. We used to live on bread and dripping and plenty of fatty bacon. Didn’t do us any harm. There you are love, Now where were we?
What do I remember most?
I remember The Second War. I remember thinking, here we go again! All those young men, what a waste! Two of my brothers went and both came back; many didn’t. Hard times once more. Men getting us in trouble again. They never learn!
Politicians? Had enough of them. If it’s not war it’s womanising. I used to like Lloyd George until he found too much time for the ladies. That Major man were just the same. At his age too! Ought to have known better! At least this other fellow seems to look after his wife. What’s his name? Bloor? No, Blair, that’s it, Lionel Blair.
I remember how many things there were for you to catch. Ringworm and impetigo, measles, mumps and chicken pox. If you didn’t get one you got the other. And some children had rickets, poor things. Mind you, everyone had nits, but you didn’t die from nits. Now scarlet fever, whooping cough, and diphtheria, they were really horrible. Chapel yard’s full of children who didn’t make it to five.
What did you say, were it all bad in the old days?
Like I said it were hard, certainly but we were happy as well.
Bath nights were funniest, the old tin bath in front of the fire. The water were filthy by the time it were your turn if you were youngest. And you had to remember to get out on the fire side if you wanted to keep warm.
Fetching the accumulator from the shop for the wireless. Listening to Donald Peers and Joseph Locke, they weren’t half smashing. And Vic Oliver and Rob Wilton. How we laughed!
There were no televisions in them days. I never had one until the children grew up and bought me one. I liked it in a way but I were never sure of them, what do you call them, channels. I used to wait for the children to come and change them. It used to say sometimes ‘Normal Service will be Resumed as soon as Possible’ I often wondered if it were just mine or if next door were the same.
Things in the old days were made really well, made to last you might say. Some of the modern stuff’s rubbish! My children try to make me modern but it’s too late. They put all my food in containers, Tupper something they called it. I put some in the oven and you should have seen the mess. And the smell, I’m sure it were intoxic. Is that the word? I heard a man say it on the wireless. Mind you, my children didn’t half shout at me when I put the ashes from the fire in a bucket they bought me. I took them out to the bin in the yard but only me and the bucket arrived. The trail of burning ashes nearly set the house on fire. Rubbish, this modern stuff; plastic do they call it? What’s the matter with good old-fashioned tin?
How do I pass the time at my age?
I still gets to chapel of a Sunday and I read, though me eyes aren’t what they were. What do I read? Not the papers, that’s for sure. Can’t be doing with them. Full of rude pictures and bad language! I reads me Bible every day. My daughter says I’m studying for me finals. In a way she might be right. Dad’s long since gone and so has Baxter. But they’re both up there waiting for me, that’s for sure.
I have a nap in the afternoon and a little tot of whisky at night. For medicinal purposes of course! I signed The Pledge when I were eighteen, but I’m sure a little to help my constitution don’t count. Would you like to join me?
You’ve got to go? Well thank you for coming.
And will you come back next year when I get me letter from the Queen. I’m ninety-nine you know. It’s still Victoria, isn’t it?
I’m only joking, my dear, I may be old but I’m not senile yet!