My family story in ten objects… number 4

Object 4 – a pair of men’s knitted socks

With this object, it is not so much the object itself but a lot of associations knitted round it… my feeble pun is part of the story, not in itself but because we grew up in a happy family, a jolly family, where there was laughter and jokes. We weren’t a family who was noisy, there was not a lot of teasing (teasing had to be gentle and witty, not cruel or unkind) there wasn’t a lot of shouted laughter, we were more smiles, chuckles and giggles… a lot of giggles. The humour came from words and stories, so using a pun is a gentle and silly way of nodding towards my childhood.

My parents married after the war and neither came from affluent families; my father’s parents had a pub, but it was not their own, they held the license, my mother’s parent’s lived in what could be described as genteel poverty – where there was an appearance of middle-class comfortability (is there such a word? If there isn’t maybe there should be!) but my mum’s father always spent more than he earned and was known for ‘borrowing’ ten bob or so (ten shillings)

So as  children we grew up in a house very rich in love, fun, interesting things to do but not necessarily a lot of material things. We lived in a rented flat – but we had a wonderful landlady who lived upstairs, and we had the whole of the nearly one hundred yard long garden, half of which grew fruit and vegetables. My dad tended the garden, my mum sewed and knitted our clothes. My mum did most of the cooking as she was at home, but my dad was an excellent cook too. We went to the excellent local primary school, and we had a week’s holiday at a holiday camp (think ‘Hi-di-Hi’) and occasionally visited friends in Nottingham for a weekend.

So, to the knitted socks. My my mum knitted, jumpers and cardigans, but it wasn’t a passionate hobby, it was a practical job which she enjoyed, and as with everything she did, she was very good at.

I have very clear memories of sitting on a little pouffe (which we called a humpty) holding a skein of wool between my hands, while mum wound it into balls… later, when I was older, I wound the balls as well… I never really got into knitting, although I can knit. In these memories, I’m sitting by the open fire, the curtains closed, on an autumn or winter’s evening, because knitting was mainly to create winter woollies!

Going back to the socks… My dad was a person who needed very little sleep, so late to bed and up with the sun. In the summer he would go out and do the gardening, and make the milkman a cup of tea – they would sit chatting in the kitchen at about five o’clock… but in the winter, he would listen to the radio, catch up on yesterday’s newspaper, and sometimes knit! I don’t know what set him off knitting – I have a feeling someone must have said ‘you can’t do that, men don’t knit‘ (not my mum!) and he would have taken up the challenge. So he knitted socks…

Men knitting… in many communities in the old days, men as well as women knitted, sometimes only men knitted, so it actually isn’t unusual… however it was when my dad did it, unless there were men who did it in private as an almost guilty secret!

I’ve told this story not just as a reminiscence, but as an example of the way we lived our lives, growing and making things, mostly because we couldn’t afford to do anything else, but also for the pleasure of it and because what was made or produced was better than what could be bought – clothes made to measure, meals tailored for fussy eaters (I’m thinking of such things as thickness of gravy, texture of sauces, thick shreds of marmalade for example) We didn’t have a TV, we didn’t have a car, but we had great fun, and a very happy family life, and if no-one but dad wore the socks he knitted… well that was fine too!

The featured image, by the way, is from a wonderful 1946 knitting book I have…

My mum never wore anything like this

… she never ever knitted anything like this, and none of us would have worn it if she did… an elaborate joke maybe!

No, dad did not have knitted underwear…

…nor did mum!

Practical gardening for January

On my dad’s twenty-ninth birthday, and in the first year of their marriage,, my mum gave him a gardening book, ‘Practical Gardening and Food Production’ by Richard Sudell. It has everything you might wish to know about every aspect of gardening, and even has advice on how to keep chickens and rabbits – for the table of course! Mr Sudell imagines that the gardener is a complete amateur and takes him (the book is definitely aimed at men) through every aspect of creating and maintaining a garden, lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, paths and paving, fruit and vegetables, compost heaps and greenhouses… and putting a garden over for use during wartime, with the emphasis on food production.

One chapter is a month by month account of what should be done at that time of year, along with plenty of black and white photographs and illustrations.

Weather – snow and ice, with outside jobs at a standstill; all hands busy in the potting shed, preparing seed boxes and composts, oiling and sharpening tools. or if a mild spell occurs, work on paths, fences, pergolas and screens. beware of the temptation to move plants: roots dislike disturbance when frosts are about, and January weather is treacherous.

There follows sections of different things to be done:

  • January work
  • food plots
  • fruit gardens
  • flower patch
  • general maintenance
  • under glass

There’s a rather nice little suggestion in the January work section: ‘Apart from the usual seeds, make a note to try out one or two unusual varieties – Golden Wonder potato for flavour, alpine strawberries, or the Paramount sugar pea. A practical novelty or two will give additional interest to your garden.’

It’s interesting that the potato seen as unusual then in the late 1930’s when the book was written, is now common and popular as a frying or roasting potato, and even has a crisp company names after it! As for the Paramount sugar pea, I’m not sure it even exists anymore!


Nature is settling down to rest

Practical Gardening and Food Production, written in the early 1940’s, was reprinted right through to the 1960’s, and I’m sure there are many copies on bookshelves and in sheds, used even now! The copy I have was given by my mum to my dad on his birthday in the first year they were married.

The book covers everything you need, and although the photos are in black and white they are very clear and no doubt were very useful. It covers everything you might need as a novice gardener, or even an experienced gardener trying new things; garden construction, cultivation and maintenance pests and diseases, propagation and looking after lawns, eight chapters on flowers, herbs, rock, kitchen, fruit and herb gardens, greenhouses, allotments, storing and preserving… It also has two chapters not so many people might want these days, Why Not Keep Poultry? including instructions on how to kill the birds, and Rabbits For Your Table… There is a chapter in the edition I have which may not have always been included ‘How to Adapt Your Garden in Wartime‘.

There is also a section which goes through the months, with the different tasks which need to be undertaken, the general work, jobs for the veg patch, the fruit garden, the flower beds and ‘under glass’. There is a nice little line drawing at the head of each month’s page, and then a little introduction. The jobs for October include putting grease bands into position, dressing old lawns, clearing away old hotbeds, pricking out cauliflowers, and forcing rhubarb ‘if desired‘!

Weather – night frosts become almost inevitable, and plant growth slows down. lleaves begin to fall. Tops die back in the herbaceous borders. Fully grown plants mature, fruits ripen, but the development of seedlings is very slow. Nature is settling down to rest.

Isn’t that a nice way to describe it, ‘nature is settling down to rest.’