Di Rayburn – My Coley

Some of my mother’s memories

Dora Gaines/Griffin wrote this.

Looking at all the troubles with the youngsters of today, then looking back through the years to my own school days I do worry where life went wrong for them. We did minor misdeeds of course, but we knew we would be punished if caught. Such things as scrumping, or picking blue bells in a private wood. We had walked miles to get there and we didn’t know it was private. We were chased by a gamekeeper with a gun under his arm and his dog. We didn’t get caught scrumping, but if we had then the owner of the orchard or a policeman would have threatened us with all sorts of things we could expect if we did it again.

It seems to have worked. I can’t remember any big trouble with the youngsters where crimes were involved. Adults now there’s a different story. The drinking and fights, the wife beatings and the coppers used to walk down our street in pairs. But I never saw knives flashing, just a man with his thumb bitten off, or the occasional black eye.

There seemed to be many other things to worry about such as slums for homes, no money and illness. The school would stop ringing their bell and straw would be spread on the road and the children asked to be quiet as they could when someone lay dying.

As for school I don’t remember the years up ’til I was about eleven. My mother and father had parted which I was thankful for as I hated the rows, but not long after my Granny Smith died [she lived with Gran and mum and looked after mum when Gran was out on the town.] I felt absolutely alone for my mother had no relations. My father had loads but of course they were all against my mother and it rubbed off on me.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

When they pulled down the courts it was a tremendous happening. But it seemed to change those of us who were left.

Two gangs emerged. The older kids and those a couple of years younger. I was piggy in the middle so to speak. There was only 1 year’s difference between myself and the two gangs so I latched onto the older gang. We made our own fun and games. We used to see how much money we could cadge from our mothers and go to the corner shop. I think I was encouraged by the gang as my mum always gave me more money. We would buy some slices of bacon, potatoes, pickles etc. What you could get for a few coppers!  Then half of us were waitresses and the other half diners. The next time we’d swap places. Another night we’d be chorus girls.

As for the games in the street, tops, skipping, 3 balls, stilts, flower pot walking, marbles, even making butterfly brooches with fuse wire and tiny beads.

The Student’s rag day was a highlight. One year mum bought me a dolls cooking stove. The students evidently used to collect everything they could and auction it off for charity. I think they held the auction from a place in Chain Street.

Then there were elections and again two gangs one for the Tories and one for Labour. As I never knew who mum voted for, [it was a secret] I just sized up the two gangs and chose the one I thought had a better chance of winning if a fight started. Then we would go around chanting ‘Vote vote’

There was the muffin man and the umbrella lady. The old organ grinder and knife sharpener. Always something or somebody.

We used to join every Sunday school we could so that we could go to their treat. Once it was to Bucklebury Common on a horse and cart.

There was a little alley in the Butts near Haines sweet shop where we used to go to a room and sing, ‘Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam’.

Then there was old Nelly at the Coley Mission. She had a lovely warm stove and if it was a wintry night we would go in to sing hymns. We would sit on long benches and when we started to sing, we would shove the bench with the back of our knees so it crashed over. Many a time we were thrown out.

Sometimes to go in for the Sunday Schools treat we had to join the Guides. Most of the things like learning Morse code and sitting around the campfire were okay, but when it came to learning semaphore with flags we opted out.



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