Feed the birds. Me and Dewey.

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A single image can bring back so many memories…………………

This simple little photo, probably taken in 1963, is me feeding my pet throstle Dewey. Even the word throstle, which I was taught, is unusual now- it is a word from old English which was still common usage for a song thrush or a mistle thrush in the East Riding of Yorkshire back then. Feeding Dewey was a regular event. We had a large garden where my grandfather, a retired farmer, used to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. There was a small orchard of apple trees and it was good hunting ground for birds, especially when he was digging. They regularly became quite tame as he would throw them worms. There were plenty of insects for them too as he gardened organically without necessarily even knowing the word. I had a very close relationship with everything that I saw in it.

This photograph was taken in the days before people recorded their every special moment at the touch of a button and it would have been quite carefully planned. Dewey used to come to the back door, but not always, and someone needed to be ready. Waiting for a photograph to be developed was quite nerve wracking. You had no idea whether it had actually come out or not until you opened the packet. No second chances as film and developing was expensive. There would have been some satisfaction when this one turned up. My generation generally has a very fragmented record of their early past- it’s a very different story now.

I used to have a special trip into York to get a pair of those cut out Clarks sandals at the beginning of every summer- just one pair and they were expected to last. I liked having my feet measured on the special gauge because it didn’t hurt and it made me feel special. I had wide feet and I was quite proud of that for some reason. Even though each pair of new summer sandals looked exactly like the ones that I am wearing in the photo shoe shops were still exciting because you had to wait to see the shoes taken out of a box, fetched down from high up on the wall by an assistant who had to climb a ladder or disappear into a storeroom at the back. I usually chose red and I was always allowed to walk out of the shop wearing them. I loved that.

In those days little girls always wore dresses, even when they were racketing around making dens between the apple trees and our high privet hedge. I still have my favourite one from this period, bright turquoise with rows of little white daisies sewn on and vertical stripes. That was my best dress and this one is a more everyday one but they were always in the same style. We weren’t princesses- more like mini Alma Cogans. Only the material changed.

The cardigan would have been hand knitted by either my Auntie Jean or my mum’s cousin Joyce. Knitting wasn’t something that you made a fuss about- it was quite an ordinary thing to do- but every family had one or two women who were particularly good at it and they were kept very busy. You didn’t buy jumpers.

Just behind the door there is a small rag rug. These rugs were handmade by my gran and my Aunty Edie from old cut up winter clothes and they were laid all over the house behind doors, next to beds and in front of fireplaces. The pieces of rag were pulled through a piece of loose weave, strong backing material with a special hook and they made simple colour combinations and patterns. Nothing was wasted- ever. I might well have walked on fragments of a frock worn by my great grandma. In her book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal Jeanette Winterson describes rugs like this as lying around the house like damp dogs and I know exactly what she means. The big ones were very heavy and took a long while to make. Worn out summer clothes were made into patchwork quilts and dusters.

The step that I am standing on is the back door step which led into the kitchen- we rarely used the front door. My gran used to put down a rubber mat in front of it and scrub it regularly. She wore a cross over pinny and I had to keep out of the way. When she cleaned the back kitchen she used to make a train of chairs for me and sit me in one of the middle ones. I was quite happy on my own sitting there shouting choo choo while I could hear her bustling about in the next room.

Growing up in a household which was run by a couple born in Victorian times gives me a link to the past which someone of my age is lucky to have and I have always valued it. It might have been the swinging sixties but not in our house…….. or at least only on our tiny black and white television.

So near and yet so far.

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One comment on “Feed the birds. Me and Dewey.

  1. nigelweaving says:

    Dear Patricia,

    This is a fine and affecting piece of writing. Good to be reminded of such childhood memories. Yes, you are most fortunate to have had such a link to Victorian times.

    Thank you

    Nigel

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