I am delighted to have a guest writer this week….my mum.
A few weeks ago, I found that she’d written her memoirs….so I’ve copied ’em verbatim here. Tomorrow, I shall tell her she is PUBLISHED. Ok, it’s “only” the interweb, and it’s “only” a blog….but I wanted her words OUT there.
Mum isn’t academically gifted – and if you read her memoirs you will see why. Her participles are dangling all over the show, but I’ve left ’em like that. If I changed them, the voice of this piece wouldn’t sound like hers. BUT THIS: she is one of the smartest people I know; and one of the most wonderful. If ONLY I could be half the woman she is (no comments about tiny Irish short arses, please).
As she talks about some of the grottiest times in her life, so Mum remains more concerned about others.
And that’s essentially the essence of my Mum: ANGEL.
My dad, James Joseph Rossiter: One of my earliest memories of my dad was him getting up at 4 o’clock every morning and lighting the coal fire in the kitchen (now called the living room) then going out into the back kitchen and getting a cold wash – even in the winter. Then he would bring me and my mum a cup of tea in bed and leave to go to work, after resetting the alarm clock for us to get up at 7.
Then, he would knock at the houses in the street to wake the neighbours up for work, which they paid him 6p a week for. (Not many people had alarm clocks in those days).
Then he would get a tram to the Pier Head, change to a boat, get off and then walk to Cammel Laird shipyard in Birkenhead. He would arrive home about 8 or half 8 when we all had dinner and he went to bed about 9. He never once complained about work, even though he used to come home very tired.
Weekends were best because he used to tell us stories about his life in Ireland. He was born in Wexford and had 2 sisters – one died at birth- and he had a few brothers (I forget how many),and he told me that he was lucky because he had shoes. He would walk 2 miles to school bare-footed, then put his shoes on and when it was time to go home he would take them off and carry them home. He didn’t mind because some of his friends had no shoes at all.
One day on his return home he heard his mum and dad crying. He was going to have a baby sister but his mum died giving birth, along with the baby. Dad was only 7 and he had to grow up very quickly. So by the time he was 14 he was helping his dad on the lifeboat. Grandad was quite famous and he was honoured by the King for saving so many lives.
There was a lot of trouble in Ireland and Catholics couldn’t get work so dad joined the Merchant Navy. He was in lots of battles in the war and one of the tales he would tell us was when they were in the middle of the firing line the captain would give all the crew a drunk of rum. They had no guns on board and that was supposed to make the men brave (it didn’t work).
One night their ship was torpedoed and the ship that picked dad and his brother up was also torpedoed the same night. The sad thing was Dad and his brother were holding onto the same piece of wood but his brother died and dad was saved for me. When, years later, if it thundered in the night, I would run into his bed and ask him to tell me how he was saved for me. He would tell me and I would fall asleep and he would carry me back to bed.
It was only years later that I realised how much it must have hurt him to tell me of the night his brother died in front of him. He must have really loved me. Yet I was the cause of so much worry to him and Mum (but that’s another story).
It was during that battle that Dad got shrapnel in his head. They couldn’t operate because it was too near his brain. It made him colour blind and he was thrown out of the navy because they said he couldn’t read the coloured flags. No compensation – or compassion – was offered in those days. When my poor mum asked for assistance she was told “he hasn’t lost a limb” so he wasn’t entitled to any help.
He walked to the docks every day looking for work and that’s how he ended up in Cammell Laird’s Shipyard.
Meanwhile on his shore leave from the navy in Liverpool he stayed in the sailors home and used to go to dances at the Catholic Club ATLANTIC HOUSE. It was there that he met my Mum who was a volunteer from St Anne’s church. She made the guests feel welcome with cups of tea and found them places to stay. She also helped with their shopping and writing home to their families. (A lot of the men couldn’t read or write).
Dad took her home to Wexford to meet his Dad and family but only his sister Anne stood by him because he had “married a foreigner”. She was English – and as I said there was a lot of trouble in Ireland at the time. But he loved her and that was all that mattered.
Dad came back to England where he lived for the rest of his life – dying at the age of 83.
My Mum – Jane Rossiter (Nee Dunwoodie): Mum was born in Liverpool, one of 14 children (but only 4 survived). Her Dad was Scottish and very strict but she loved him. He was a painter and decorator so he was lucky to have work – but he died when my Mum was about 13. Mum then had to go to work so she was put into service in a big mansion by Sefton Park. She started as a cook’s assistant – the cook liked her because she never complained. She had to clean pans with sand and have everything shining. She learned a lot from the cook and when she was allowed home one Sunday a month to give her Mum – my Nanna- her wages, the cook would give her little treats for her brother and sister.
Later on, Mum became the “lady of the housemaid” and this was a step up, although it meant more work.
Sometimes in the middle of the night the bell would ring and the lady would say “It’s too hot – open the window” only to change her mind and summon her back an hour later.
But Mum was happy because she had a place to live and good food because the servants had all the leftovers from upstairs. (The people upstairs always had plenty of food and the cook was a very good cook).
Another of Mum’s jobs was to iron the daily newspapers because this stopped the ink print from getting on the nice white sheets when they read the papers in bed with their breakfast. (Also the master and lady of the house didn’t like creases in their papers).
When the master and lady went out together, Mum was given the key to the jewel case to mind because the mistress said Mum was the most honest person there. She never even took a sweet from the sweet tray until she was offered one. And it was only at Christmas that the maids were given sweets or fruit.
The servants were given time off for church on Sundays and one or two nights off until 10 o’clock if they had any voluntary work to do.
Mum used to help with the church plays and help in Atlantic House where the sailors came in if they had no home in the port. Sometimes they would need help letting their families know they were back home safe. That’s how she met Dad.
When she told the lady of the house she was getting married she was told that she would have to leave service because no married servants were allowed. She was given a dinner service as a wedding gift.
And so, she set about looking for somewhere to live. Landlords had notices in their windows saying “No Irish” so it was hard going. But luckily there was an old man in the church who needed someone to cook and look after him so mum moved into his house. It was filthy and bugs were walking up the walls but it was a place she could do up and clean.
On Dad’s next leave, they got married in St Anne’s church on Overbury street. As they stood outside church the military police called for Dad – he had overstayed his leave and had to go back to his ship at once as they said “There’s a war on, Missus”. What a way to start married life.
Mum’s wedding dress was made out of parachute material but she said it felt like silk. She was just so happy to be married.
After a few years the old man in the house died but the landlord said mum had taken so much care and made the house clean that she could stay on and rent it. This was 47 Cardwell Street, Liverpool, where Mum and Dad went on to have four children: Agnes, John, Me (Pat) and Jim.
Years afterwards, I learned from my Godmother, Auntie Kitty (who had Alzheimer’s and thought I was my Mum), just how much my Mum and Dad had done for the neighbours in the war. If anyone died their family would come and ask my Mum to lay them out, clean them and prepare them for burial. She also collected food and would make big pans of soup for everyone. (Lots of people had no pans because they’d been donated to the war effort).
Auntie Kitty would ask about my Dad, “when is Jimmy coming home”? – He was the life and soul of the air raid shelters with his mouth organ. And I never knew any of this while Mum and Dad were still alive, so I was thankful that Auntie Kitty thought I was my Mum. I really missed Auntie Kitty when she died. She loved Mum and Dad so much.
MY STORY: Life was very hard for Mum and Dad but I never heard them moaning. Mum cleaned other people’s houses every day – except Monday which was washing day. There was a wash-house where she would go with a pram piled high with laundry. They had big tubs that the washing was put into and the ladies used to scrub the washing on a washboard and put all the things through a mangle to squeeze the water out. Then they would hang the washing on big pull-out driers to dry. After that, you would see all the mums pushing the clean things home, very tired but happy.
Mum had so many good friends there. The same people went each week at the same time, as you had to book your place. As I said, life was hard but everybody was in the same boat.
I was the third of three children but I was always ill. Doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong and poor Mum and Dad had to pay every time I fell ill (I still have the bill from when it as born – the midwife cost 10 shillings).
Anyway, by the time I was 7 I was quite ill but I still went to school. I hated it. One of my problems was that due to lack of oxygen I would faint and one of my classmates would be told to take me and we would both have to run around the school playground 3 times to “sort me out”. You can guess I wasn’t popular with the class – everyone was waiting to see if they would be the one that got picked. Sometimes I would just suddenly fall asleep and one particular teacher – Miss Giles – would come along and hit me with the edge of the ruler on the back of my leg. That really hurt.
One time, as punishment for coughing, I was told to stand behind the piano in the class and not to move until I was told to. The result was that I didn’t come home. Mum and everyone else were looking for me. When they asked one of the girls from my class when she had last seen me, she told them “in school”. The police had to go and get the school caretaker to open up the class and they found me still behind the piano, crying.
All the headmistress (who was a nun) said, was that I was silly for not going home. But don’t forget – I had been told not to move.
It was around that time that I went into the childrens’ hospital in town and when they couldn’t find out what was wrong I was sent to Alder Hey hospital. From there I was transferred to Leasowe hospital over the water in Wallasey. I remained there for almost a year and that was a happy time for me. We did have schooling while we were there but it was good – and nobody shouted at me if I coughed or fainted. They taught me how to dance and read and knit. The nurses were very good but I had so many infections that I got used to them and the nurses would make me laugh. But it must have been very hard for Mum and Dad because it was only visiting on Sundays and they had to get two buses and a boat across the Mersey to visit me.
They had to bring some eggs and fruit to help out on the ward. The poor things had to sit in the cold by the bed because the whole of the big window was folded back so that we could breathe the sea air. The patients were used to the cold and we could snuggle up under the blankets but bet the poor visitors were glad when the hour was up!
One Christmas, two of us were chosen to go to Liverpool in an ambulance to see a pantomime. The nurses lent us their capes, and we had a ride through the Mersey tunnel. It was the first time either of us had been through it and we had a great time.
Just after that we were both transferred to Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool for an operation to remove half of one of our lungs. It was only an experiment but they had to try and help us. My surgeon had never done it before but he had a top surgeon to teach him what to do. That was Mr Sutton who had operated on the King.
My Mum told me that he (Dr Van…something…his name was very long so we called him Dr Van) sat by my bed for four days until I regained consciousness and she said the first thing I said to him was “you hurt me”. Mum was mad at me but Dr Van laughed and gave me a big hug. The last I heard, he was a chief chest surgeon in Belgium.
After six months lying on my back (nowadays patients are only in for a week) and then learning how to walk again I went home and returned to school. Mum and Dad were told that I might only live until I was about 14. It must have been terrible for them – all that worry.
When school heard this, they decided it wasn’t worth teaching me anything so I was given the job of sorting out the cupboards and cleaning all the windows in the long corridors outside the classrooms. I remember once I was caught chewing gum and the punishment was to stick it on the end of my nose and go into every classroom and get the teachers to sign that I had been there. I have never chewed gum since.
The good thing that came out of all that cleaning and window washing was that later when I married and took cleaning jobs (so I could take the babies with me), I was very good at cleaning.
Sadly my friend that had the same operation as me died a few months after she went home . But I am now the proud mother of three great children who have done well, and I have five wonderful grandchildren. So much for dying at 14!
After spending 2 years in hospital love has always pulled me through.
I am very lucky that I had a family that loved me, but I regret the worry they must have had with me being ill. My sister put her wedding off twice waiting for me to come home but in the end she married at 18 when I was in Leasowe hospital. My eldest brother missed a lot of school because he had to come with Mum on all my hospital appointments and I remember my younger brother had to wait outside the wards on his own because children were not allowed to visit.
But when I did come home, everyone spoilt me.
A few more memories from my childhood!
At home in the kitchen we had a big black grate with a high mantelpiece, and a brass rail running along under it that was used to dry small things on. It had a fire grate in the middle and on the right it had a big black oven – Mum could get the heat just right when she made bread in it.
Mum was a fantastic cook. I used to clean it with a black polish called ZEBRA and it used to shine.
Dad made us a long fork at work and we used to make toast on it in front of the fire. Toast has never tasted so good.
Anyway, while I was in hospital Mum would say every time she came to visit, “wait till you come home, I have a big surprise for you.” I was away for a long time but at last the day came when I could see my surprise.
I walked into the kitchen and there was a new modern tile grate. Mum and Dad had got rid of my black one. I cried my eyes out and hid behind my Granny’s big chair and wouldn’t come out for ages.
Poor Mum and Dad – I must have really hurt them, they thought they were doing me a favour by not having to clean my black grate. I never did get to like the new one.
Before I went back in hospital for my op I had another surprise – a good one. It was my birthday and poor Mum and Dad thought it may be my last.
The street had arranged a party for me and all the neighbours brought tables, chairs and all kinds of things out into the street. Each family had tied different coloured cotton around the spoons, knives and forks so that they could get them at the end. We had fish paste sandwiches, cakes, jelly – and lots of singing and dancing.
The big surprise at the end was a man who came on his bike with an ice cream fridge on it. He had come from Sefton Park and his Dad worked in Cammel Lairds with my Dad – and all Dad’s mates in work paid for ice creams for everyone, even the grown ups. Nobody had much money or things but there was so much love from everyone we were the richest people ever.
I had some good times in hospital as well as the bad. In the ward upstairs was a boy named Ron. He had been born with only one heel – the other leg was dead straight and the two doctors were going to make him a new heel so he could walk properly.
Anyway, we must have been horrible children because when we played together we used to kill flies so that we could bury them and sing hymns by their graves.
Another time all the children were playing out in the snow when I saw a nurse in the kitchen watching us. So I threw a snowball at her through the open window and of course the other children saw me and joined in. Just then, Matron walked into the kitchen and WHAM! A snowball hit her on the side of her face – she was not pleased. You can imagine the mess in there and because I was the one who threw the first snowball I had to help clean it up (which I didn’t mind). But the nurse who had been in the kitchen thought it was great fun and used to give me a wink every time she saw me. Only downside, I was quite ill for the next few days – must have been all the exercise. Ha ha!
I still remember the fun we had. My friend Mary Johns and I had a lot of freedom because she was the same as me and we both needed the same op. And everyone thought we would die soon. I am now 72 but sadly Mary did die not long after we came home.
Anyway, one day we overheard the doctors saying that we would both be getting transferred to Fazakerley hospital in Liverpool for our operations, so we ran away and went to play on Leasowe beach (not far from the hospital). We wanted to stay in Leasowe – we loved the nurses because they taught us to dance and how to do envelope corners on the beds and let us help them when Matron wasn’t around. The police soon found us because we hadn’t realised on the back of our dresses in big letters was LEASOWE HOSPITAL! Ha ha!
We cried when we left, we missed the Irish dancing and square dancing but most of all our friends, the nurses. I realise now all the dancing was for exercise but we loved it.
Back home things went on as normal. Mum and Dad went to work so there was nobody in when we got home from school. My sister was at work and didn’t get in until about 6 o’clock. We didn’t have a key so my brother John used to climb over the back wall into the yard (we lived in a terraced house with a long entry at the back) and open the back door for me and my little brother Jim to get into the yard. We would then find the kitchen key which would be hidden in the toilet in the yard. There were no toilet rolls in those days, only squares of newspaper on a nail and that’s where the key was hidden.
Funny thinking back – if we needed to go in the night we would have to put a coat on and wellies if it was raining. It didn’t bother us then but I would hate to have to do that now.
Sorry – back to my story. Sometimes Mum would forget to hide the key and my brother John would break a small pane of glass from the back kitchen window and put me through the hole so I could open the door from the inside and let us all in. When Mum came home from work John would say “our Pat got in through the window again” knowing I wouldn’t get into trouble because I was sick. If she had known John had broken the glass he would have had a smack. I saved him from a good few smacks! Ha ha!
And of course, it would be me that was sent for the new piece of glass and putty. And Mum became great at putting new glass in.
Another funny thing I remember Mum telling us was that when my sister Agnes was small she tried to get rid of John. It happened like this: all the houses had a hole in the back wall so that a bin could be slotted in. The binmen would come and lift the bin out, empty it and slot it back in until the next week. Well, one day there was a loud banging at the front door and when Mum opened it there was a big strong binman holding my little brother’s hand, and he said “Is this yours, Missus?” She nearly died of fright. Turns out John had been pestering my sister and she had put him through the bin hole so that he would be taken away with the rubbish. They ended up the best of friends until the day he died.
Once when I was in the girl guides I went camping for the weekend, to Wales. We set up camp in the grounds of a Monastery and had a great time eating and singing around a camp fire. There were four of us to each round tent and we were given rules: no making coffee or eating in the tents. Well, on the Saturday night we sat in the tent telling ghost stories. One of my friends was terryfied (I know I’ve spelt that wrong). We had smuggled some biscuits in and we made some coffee. Pat French, one of our gang, had brought a little calor gas stove which she hadn’t told the Guide Captain about so we were sitting around eating and drinking when a big shadow of a man appeared outside. Well, with all the ghost stories etc we were all scared so I got up and opened the tent and threw a mug of hot coffee over him. The camp soon woke up with all his screams and us shouting. Turns out it was one of the monks from the monastery checking all the tents were closed and that all was safe – oops! Guess who never went camping again.
My brother John was in the scouts and his best mate was Bob Lacy. They were always up to mischief but got on well with everyone including one of the young priests that used to help in the scout troop. One night we were all having dinner and listening to a play on the wireless when there was a rapid banging on the front door. The young priest was there as red as a beetroot and told Mum and Dad that they needed to go over and see the parish priest NOW. It seems John and Bob had set a trap for their friend (a bucket of milk on top of the scout hut door so it would fall on their mate the young priest when he opened up). But the parish priest opened up instead and the milk got all over him. When Mum asked “how do you know it was our John?” the priest said “by the way the knots were tied. Our John was the best in the troop and had won the area award a few weeks earlier. They left the scouts after that.
Once, it was all over the wireless that two schoolboys had found a dead tramp on a bomb site in town. The police came to our house and we were told the boys were our John and his friend Bob. They hadn’t told Mum and Dad because they were frightened because they had been sagging from school. I don’t remember what happened after that.
My brothers and I used to visit my Granny (Mum’s mum) and each time I went she would give me a big glass jug and money and tell me to go to the side door in the local pub and ask for “Granny’s medicine”. They would fill the jug with beer and I would try not to spill any on the way back to Granny’s. Thing is, for years I believed it was medicine (I must have been soft).
Another thing I remember was I had a friend who lived a few doors away named Janice. She was deaf and we would go off together and I would help with the language. We got on great. One night we were in her house as I was giving her mum a perm. She had a brother, Kenny, who was asleep on their sofa while I was doing his mum’s hair and for a laugh I put a few curlers in his hair while he was asleep, and carried on with his mum’s. Next morning Janice called for me and she was laughing her head off. I had forgotten to take Kenny’s curlers out and his hair had turned out better than his mum’s. He went mad and had to go to the barber’s for a very short hair cut.
Another time, his mum fell asleep while she was smoking a ciggie and set the house on fire. She was saved but the bedroom was a write-off. Her husband had been killed in the war and she had raised two children on her own. My Mum gave her our double bed and mattress and went to get a cheque so she could buy us a new bed which would take her twelve months to pay it off at so much a week. She got the cheque but the bed took almost a month to arrive. In the meantime me and Mum had to sleep on the bedroom floor. We didn’t mind, at least Mum had a husband and I still had my Dad.
——————————————One of the people I worked for used to ask me to sort her food cupboards out and throw out anything that had gone off, e.g. cake, biscuits or any bad fruit. Anyway one day, she came home and spent ages going through her cupboards. When I asked her what she was looking for she said “my jar of truffles that I brought home from France”. Yes – you guessed it. I’d thrown them away thinking they were plums gone bad. Oops!Another thing she used to do was leave dirty jugs of water in soak by the sink. She came home at lunch time one day (she was a headmistress) to check on a jug of gin she’d left out (she broke a lid off the bottle before going to school and had put it by the sink). Ha! It was now in the river Mersey because I had washed the jug.
This was the same person who told me off when I was teaching her grand daughter shapes, because I told her about a diamond and apparently I should have told her it was a rhomboid. So next time I was teaching her grand daughter to add up using playing cards I said “where is the 2 of rhomboids?” I hope she got the message.
I was so annoyed at the way I left that job. I had taken ill with kidney stones and was rushed into hospital at 3 in the morning. When I didn’t get to work on time she rung my husband up to complain that I should have rung to say I wouldn’t be there. She told him to put her house keys through her letter box (yes, I had a set of their keys because they often went on short holidays and I used to mind their 2 dogs). Her daughter came to see me once in hospital but couldn’t help me get the job back. I can’t say I was sorry because I got a better one when I was better. But I missed her two grand children who me and my husband used to mind sometimes. Last I heard they had a few cleaners and Nannies but they didn’t last long.
One of the last things she said was maybe it was a good job that I left be uses her grand daughter was speaking a bit common copying off me. (I used to tell her stories and when I read books to her I used to sometimes make up funny voices and pretend to eat sweets or cake from pictures on the pages). She must’ve been glad to get rid of me! Haha!
I remember some of the people that used to come to our street. There was a man that came in the summer with a horse and cart, and on the cart there were chair swings and the price was a jam jar or a penny, and we could feed the horse with little bits of carrot. We also had a man who used to come on a special bike with a grinding stone on the handle bars and he would sharpen knives or scissors or axe heads.
Everyone in our street had an axe. We used to go to the park and chop up any old or fallen trees to bring home for our fires, because coal was very dear – 3 shillings a bag. We also had a milk man who used to ladle the milk out of a big silver milk churn into jugs for us. There was a dairy not far from us and we would see the cows being taken to Wavertree park in the morning and coming back at night. Also with having 3 pubs on 3 of the 4 corners of our street we had the fantastic cart horses that came with the beer. They had shiny brasses and the carters loved them, so did we.
We only had one car in our street and I don’t ever remember it moving so it was safe for us to play out, but if my Mum and Dad knew what we got up to I think they would have gone mad.
There were two bombed out houses at the end of the street and we played in them for hours. We would sometimes get up half a staircase and one of the bedrooms had a single floorboard left and we would dare each other to walk across it. I did it a few times but some of the lads were chicken. We used to see how many bricks we could take out of the upstairs rooms before a window frame would fall out (glass was long gone). We didn’t think of any danger but now it makes me shudder to think what could have happened. Then of course there was the rag and bone man. He would come along shouting “Any rags and bones?” And depending on what you gave him you would get a goldfish or money. Well one day my brother John came in with a gold fish and a big grin on his face. “I’ve always wanted a goldfish”, he said, but Mum asked “what did you give him for that?”, “Oh – my school pants” he said. Mum went wild, she had just bought them on a cheque from Freemans in Wavertree road. She ran like mad after the rag and bone man but the horse was a lot faster than mum. So she made John go to school in his old patched pants for the rest of the term. He never gave anything else to the rag and bone man. And I don’t remember what happened to the poor goldfish.
Another thing I remember is when Mum would come home from the wash house on a Monday all hot after working so hard she would ask me to take a few “Steri” bottles (sterilised milk) back to Brady’s shop and the money on them was enough to get 4 penny lolly ices. Brady used to make his own and I have never tasted anything as nice. Steri milk is not as nice as fresh but it makes great rice puddings and lasts longer than fresh milk. Looking back I had a great childhood, not much money but lots of love and laughs. I think you can still get Steri.