Authors: Margaret Thornton
This book is dedicated to ‘sand grown ’uns’ everywhere; those of us who feel proud to have been born in the amazing town of Blackpool.
And with love to my husband, John, and my thanks for his ongoing support and encouragement.
lease, Miss Roberts … what shall I do? I haven’t got a mummy, you see.’
Katherine Leigh raised her hand a little timidly as she spoke to her teacher. She felt her cheeks turning a little pink as sometimes happened when she had to explain that she didn’t have a mother as had the other children in the class.
It had been all right at Christmas. When they had made cards to take home she had written her card ‘To Daddy and Aunty Win’. But it was different now because they were making cards for Mother’s Day. She felt sure, though, that Miss Roberts would help her to solve her little problem. She was a lovely teacher and Kathy liked her very much.
Sally Roberts smiled understandingly at the little girl. ‘Well, Katherine, dear … maybe you could make a card for your aunt instead. Aunty
Win, isn’t it? Or for your grandma, perhaps?’
Katherine Leigh nodded, a little uncertainly, then she smiled back at her teacher. ‘Yes, for Aunty Win, I think. She’ll like that. But then … I can’t write “Happy Mother’s Day”, can I?’
‘Oh, I don’t see why not,’ said Miss Roberts, ‘because that’s what it will be on Sunday – Mothering Sunday, although everyone seems to call it Mother’s Day now. And you can write “To Aunty Win”, inside the card, “With love from Katherine”, or “Kathy”, if you like.’
‘All right, then,’ said Katherine.
Poor little mite, thought Sally Roberts, as she went round the tables of her ‘top class’ infants, giving out the paper required for the making of the Mother’s Day cards. She had grown very fond of little Katherine Leigh, who had been in her class since last September. How awful it must be for her not to have a mummy, like all the other boys and girls in the class. Sally knew that Katherine’s mother had died when she was a baby, only two years of age, so the little girl had no recollection of her at all. She was well looked after, though, by her father, and his sister whom she called Aunty Win, and Sally felt that she was well loved too.
She was always smartly dressed in a gymslip with a hand-knitted jumper beneath it, or a regulation white blouse in summer. School uniform was not compulsory, although most
parents made an effort to conform.
Even in 1950, five years after the war had ended, there were restrictions, and many things were still in short supply. But Mr Leigh and his sister clearly did their very best for the child. Her dark curly hair was always well groomed and shining, tied back from her face in two bunches with red ribbons. Her father and aunt always came along on open evenings and other school functions and were pleased to hear of her good progress. They were, however, quite middle-aged; not old, of course, by any means, but considerably older than the parents of most of the other children, and Sally was sure that Katherine must notice the difference. She guessed that Mr Leigh would be in his late forties, and his sister maybe a few years older.
Katherine was not an outgoing child, but she seemed happy enough and got on well with the other children, especially with her best friend, Shirley, who sat next to her at the table.
There were nine tables in the large classroom, around each of which were four child-sized chairs. A class of thirty-six children – aged six to seven – was really more than enough for any teacher to cope with, but it was the norm in those post-war days, as it had been for many years before. There had been a ‘baby boom’, with more children than ever being born as a result of fathers returning home from the war, and so classes were expected to become even
larger in the next few years. Unless, of course, many more schools were built by the Labour government, elected in 1945 and still holding on to power.
‘Now, boys and girls, listen carefully,’ said Miss Roberts. ‘The first thing we are going to do is write at the top of the card …’ She wrote on the blackboard, in clear printing, ‘Happy Mother’s Day’. ‘Now, pick up your pencils and copy this. Best writing, mind, because it will be going home … No, Graham, don’t turn the paper over, or the writing will be on the back, won’t it?’ There was always one, she reflected.
The children were then instructed to make up their own design of a bowl with flowers in it. In the centre of each table was a selection of gummed paper in bright colours: green, blue, red, yellow, orange, pink and purple; four pairs of scissors with rounded ends; and cardboard templates of bowl shapes, leaf shapes, and various types of flowers – daffodils, tulips and daisy shapes.
It was, in that year of 1950, the beginning of the heyday of ‘free activity’ in the classroom, when infants, for certain times in each day at least, were free to express themselves in all sorts of ways. Painting easels with jars of brightly coloured poster paints; tables with crayons and drawing paper, plasticine, jigsaws, and creative games; building bricks; a sand tray and a water trough; and a fully equipped Wendy house with a
dressing-up box; these were to be found in most infant classrooms. And what chaos was left for the teacher, single-handedly, to clear away after each session! The children, of course, were supposed to do it themselves, but it was more often a case of ‘if you want a job doing, do it yourself!’
Sometimes, though, handwork had to be partially directed, and that was the case when cards – for Christmas, Easter, or other festivities – were being made. The children’s efforts would vary, helped in some instances by the intervention of the teacher, but parents would be delighted at the finished masterpieces, however messy they might turn out to be.
‘Why haven’t you got a mum, then?’ asked Timothy Fielding, one of the boys who was sitting opposite Katherine.
‘Because I haven’t, that’s why!’ she retorted.
‘Why? What’s happened to her? Has she run away and left you?’ he persisted.
‘That’s quite enough, Timothy,’ said Miss Roberts who was passing near to their table. ‘Leave Katherine alone, please.’
‘Well, that’s what my mum says when I don’t behave myself,’ retorted the irrepressible Timothy. ‘She says she’ll go away and leave me.’
‘I don’t suppose for one moment that she really means it,’ replied Miss Roberts. ‘Now, get on with what you’re supposed to be doing, and stop
pestering Katherine.’ She reflected that some parents did not show a great deal of sense in some of the things they said to their children. Although it was doubtful that Timothy believed his mother either; no doubt it was an idle threat not meant to be taken seriously. Timothy Fielding could certainly be a pest; most likely he drove his mother to distraction sometimes, as he did with Sally if she didn’t sit on him hard when he became too troublesome.
‘As a matter of fact …’ Shirley Morris was saying, with a toss of her flaxen plaits as Sally moved away, ‘Kathy’s mummy died when she was a baby. Didn’t she, Kathy? Not that it’s any of your business, Timothy Fielding.’
‘Yes, she did,’ said Kathy, in quite a matter-
manner. ‘But I’ve got a dad, and a very nice aunty who looks after me. Aunty Win; that’s who I’m making the card for.’
She didn’t feel particularly upset; it was certainly nothing to cry about. She had never known her mother; only sometimes, now and again, in the dim recesses of her memory, she seemed to recall a pretty lady with dark hair and a smiling face holding her in her arms. But she could not be sure whether it was a true recollection or something she was imagining. Only occasionally did she feel the lack of a mother in her life. Times such as now, when they were all making cards for Mummy, or when she was invited to tea at Shirley’s house and she realised what a difference it
must make to have a mother in the home.
‘OK, then,’ said Timothy with a shrug of his shoulders, seeming for a brief moment to be a little subdued. But he soon bounced back. ‘My mum’s all right, I suppose. I’m glad she’s there, anyway; I wouldn’t want her to be dead. But she isn’t half bad-tempered sometimes, much worse than me dad. You should hear her shout!’
‘I’m not surprised, with you to put up with!’ laughed Stanley, the boy who was sitting next to him, giving him a dig in the ribs.
‘Shurrup you!’ countered Timothy, shoving him back. A scrap seemed likely to break out until Miss Roberts clapped her hands and demanded silence – or comparative silence, which was all she could hope to get from thirty-six infants – with a threat that those who couldn’t behave would have to stay in at playtime.
Peace reigned as they all settled down to creating their cards. Katherine chose blue for the bowl. She painstakingly drew round the template, then cut out the shape, licked the back of the gummed paper and stuck it to the bottom of the card. Then she cut out some yellow daffodils, red tulips and white daisies, and green leaves, and arranged them as though they were growing out of the bowl. Then she coloured in the stalks and the centres of the daisies with wax crayons. Each child had a box of these in their drawer beneath the table. Katherine’s
were still in quite a good condition as she was a methodical little girl and she always returned them carefully to the container after they had been used. Timothy’s, though, were broken and several of the colours were missing.
‘Kathy, give us a lend of your green,’ he said. ‘I’ve only got this titchy bit left.’
‘That’s your own fault, then,’ Shirley told him. ‘Why should she? I know I wouldn’t.’
But Kathy uncomplainingly handed over her green crayon. She was amused to see Timothy stick his tongue out at Shirley.
‘Well, I wasn’t asking you, was I, clever clogs!’ he jeered.
Kathy quite liked Timothy really. He could be a bit of a pest, but she knew there was ‘no real badness’ in him, as her Aunty Win might say. He brightened up the day sometimes and made her laugh, recounting the jokes that his dad had told him. His shock of fairish hair stood up on end like ‘Just William’s’; in fact, he resembled her favourite fictional character in quite a few ways.
‘Ta, Kathy,’ he said. ‘I’ve gone and put too much spit on me bowl an’ all, an’ it won’t stick.’ He banged his fist on the table, but the red bowl refused to stay put. ‘Oh crikey! What shall I do?’
‘Cut another one out,’ said Kathy. ‘Miss Roberts won’t mind. I don’t suppose you’re the only one who’s made a mess of it. You have to lick
it carefully, you see. Look, I’ll stick it on for you when you’ve cut it out.’
‘Gosh! Thanks, Kathy,’ he said. ‘I’ll give you one of my sherbet lemons at playtime.’
Shirley tossed her plaits and looked disdainfully at Timothy. ‘I don’t know why you bother with him,’ she said. ‘’Specially when he’s been so rude to you.’
‘He didn’t mean to be,’ said Kathy. ‘He didn’t know, you see … about my mother.’
She was pleased with the completed card and so was Miss Roberts. Her teacher told her it was very artistic and that her aunt would like it very much. Kathy wrote on the inside, ‘To Aunty Win with love from Kathy’. Then she put it away in her satchel to take home at the end of the afternoon.
Sure enough Timothy was there at playtime, true to his promise. He handed out a cone-shaped paper bag of sherbet lemons. ‘Here y’are, Kathy,’ he said.
‘Ooh, thanks!’ she said, popping a
sweet into her mouth. ‘They’re my favourites, them and pear drops.’
‘Ta very much for helping me with my card,’ he said. ‘It looks OK now but it’s not as nice as yours. Me dad says I’m all fingers and thumbs when I try to help him, when he’s putting up a shelf, like, an’ all that.’
‘Never mind; it’s the thought that counts,’ Kathy told him, something that Aunty Win often said. ‘And your mum’ll like it, won’t she?’
‘’Spect so,’ said Timothy. ‘I’m gonna buy her a Mars bar an’ all. She likes them best.’ As an afterthought he held out the bag of sweets to Shirley who was standing at Kathy’s side, looking a little disdainful. ‘D’you want one, Shirley?’ he said.
‘No, ta,’ said Shirley, although Kathy suspected that she would like one really. She thought it was very generous of Tim to offer her one. Shirley cast him a scornful look as she skipped away.
‘Please yerself, then,’ said Timothy to her retreating back. ‘See if I care! … I’ve got a joke for you, Kathy,’ he went on. ‘It’s a good one; me dad told it me.’
‘Go on, then,’ she encouraged him.
‘What d’you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?’ he asked, his grey eyes full of merriment.
Kathy frowned a little, then shook her head. ‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘What do you get?’
‘A wooly jumper!’ he cried, falling about laughing. ‘D’you get it? You get wool from a sheep, and a kangaroo—’
‘A kangaroo jumps – yes I know,’ she said. ‘You don’t need to explain. I get it …’ Although she was not sure that she did, not entirely, not the bit about crossing the animals. ‘It’s very funny,’ she told him. ‘I’ll tell it to my Aunty Win.’ Perhaps her aunt would be able to explain it.
She glanced across the playground to where Shirley was talking to another friend, Maureen, and at the same time looking a little crossly at Kathy. ‘I’d
better go and see what’s up with Shirley,’ she said.
‘She doesn’t like you talking to me,’ said Timothy, ‘but I don’t care what she thinks.
, Kathy …’ He dashed off to kick a football around with Stanley and some of his other mates.
Shirley was indignant. ‘I’ve told you before, I don’t know why you bother with him,’ she said to her friend. ‘You’d better watch out or else they’ll all be shouting out, “Kathy Leigh loves Timothy Fielding!”.’
‘Don’t be so stupid!’ retorted Kathy, feeling herself go a little pink. ‘He’s all right, though, is Tim. Anyway, we’re not going to fall out over a silly boy, are we? Here – you can have a lend of my skipping rope. I tell you what; Maureen and me can turn up, and you can be first in if you like, Shirley.’
‘All right, then,’ said Shirley, somewhat mollified. So whilst the other two girls turned the rope she jumped up and down. They all shouted in chorus, ‘Jelly on a plate, jelly on a plate, wibble wobble, wibble wobble, jelly on a plate …’ taking it in turns to be ‘in’ until the whistle was blown for the end of playtime. By the end of the afternoon Kathy and Shirley were the best of friends again.
‘My mum says you can come to tea on Monday, if you like,’ Shirley told her friend. ‘And me dad’ll see you home afterwards.’