Friday, January 25, 2008
Mi dad had a job on Baitings Dam as a Foreman. He was a Heavy Timber Construction Engineer by trade, so most of mi early life I spent on moors. One of the perks of mi dads’ job was housing. Wherever a new damn was being built, the people in the Valley would be booted out and we would get to live on the land in a big, old farmhouse until the Valley was flooded and the farms were under water.
This particular farmhouse was very old and picturesque. It was built in a L- shape, meaning the house was on one side and the farm buildings were on ‘tuther side. There was no electricity or running water. Candles were used for lighting and wood or coal for heating. I spent many a good day on that farm. Into everything, that was me. Richard Swindells, George Richard Henry Walter Swindells lad. People called him George for short.
Part of building a dam entailed blasting away huge big boulders out of the valley side. So many times, during the day, the Siren Whistle would blow and a few minutes later were a big dead-sounding BOOM! and the side of the Valley would seem to ‘hiccup’ and loosen massive big boulders, dirt and rocks which were then carted up the hillside in small dump trucks and then loaded into big heavy-duty trucks whose wheels seemed to be at least five times bigger than me.
After the Valley was made wide enough to hold millions of gallons of water which was then used for town water supplies, a concrete wall was built which stretched right across the Valley from one side to ‘tuther. It took forever to build, or so it seemed to me. The Dam wall was really wide so it was strong enough to hold all the water back. Twenty or thirty foot heavy wooden beams were used to form the walls. That was mi dads’ job. He knew how and where to build the formwork so the concrete could be poured into place.
I remember him coming home and telling mi mum, “I nearly got done in today. A bloody big beam came loose, wench, and fell down. It just grazed mi shoulder. Another couple a inches and I’d bin a goner, wench. (He always called her ‘wench’, but her name was Iris.) It had to be mi bad shoulder, it couldn’t have been mi good ‘un!”
Mi dad was in WW1. He joined up at 15. Lied about his age he did, ‘cause all his pals were all older than him and had all gone off to war to kill the Krauts and Square-heads and Huns, whatever they were. His bad shoulder had these two funny-lookin' holes in ‘em that seemed to have healed up with funny-lookin’ skin and jagged edges. I always thought the holes were still under that funny-lookin' skin.
He had the rest of day off. They sent him home ‘cause his nerves were jumpy, he said. So I said to him, “What do ya mean ya nerves are jumpy, dad?” and he sez, “I got shell-shock from war.”
I had no idea what he meant until a couple ‘a years later when one Xmas morning he was sitting in his old armchair in front of fire having his pint-pot of tea. So just for a laugh and some fun I crawled across the stone floor on mi belly, round back of his chair and let him have it! Two or three close range shots from mi cap gun right in his lug (ear). “Bloody Nora!!!” I soon found out what Shell Shock was. When he eventually landed in his armchair again I didn’t need mi psychic powers to tell me what to do. I was off like one of those Square-ed things. I stayed outside in the snow in mi pajamas and socks till his jumpy nerves cooled down, thinking to misen of all the fun I was gonna have with this new cap gun.
Old stone farmhouses in the North of Yorkshire are very magical places to live in, although they can be quite cold and most of ‘em are very damp. Mi mum used to get old wheat bags and cut them open down the sides. Then she used to get old worn out clothes and cut them up into two or three inch strips. Once she had a bag of strips she had got her carpet-making tool out and set about making carpets for the stone floor in the living room. I don’t know the name of the tool she used, but it had a long wooden handle on it with a shaft attached on it and on the side of the shaft was a single pliers type handle that was spring-loaded. What she’d do then was take a strip of cut up old clothing, trap it in the end of this tool and thread it through the holes in the wheat bag and pull it halfway through.
Mi mum was real good at it. She’d sit for ages and ages filling all the holes in the bag until she couldn’t get any more material in, that way the strips were so tight they wouldn’t pull out. One day I asked her, “Hey mum, how do ya do that?” She sez, “Grab one of those bags and I’ll show ya.” It only took a short time to learn it but then I was stuck with the job of makin’ rugs from then on.
One morning, after breakfast, mi mum said to me, “Richard, I’ve got a surprise for you!”
“Don’t say ‘what’, mi mum sez. “Your mum is going to have another baby.”
“What!” I sez.
“Don’t say ‘what’! ‘I beg your pardon’ she sez.
“It’s all right.” I sez
“Don’t be cheeky, Richard. I’m going have another baby. Now, what do you think of that?”
Well, I didn’t think I had much choice in the matter so I sez, “As long as I get a brother, someone to play with, then it’s all right by me.”
Mi mum said, “I can’t guarantee that, but it will be something.”
“I hope it’s a monkey. I always wanted a monkey, mum!”
She sez, “Oh, get your warm clothes on and go out an play. Take your sister with you!”
What if she had another girl and I got lumbered with that. That would be terrible. Then again she might have a boy and there’d by someone to play with. So, off I go, mi sister in tow, imagining all sorts.
Time went by as it usually did, a day at a time. On a farm, the usual daily things happened. Mi dad, going to work. Mi mum looking after place, milking goats, cleaning eggs, feeding pigs etc.
One day, I said to mi mum, “Hey mum, you’re getting a fat belly.”
“Don’t be lippy!” she sez. “I’m due to have a baby soon.”
At long last the day arrived and mi mum didn’t come downstairs that morning. Mi dad got sent off to fetch midwife. She was one of neighbors' wife from around area. Every time she came to our farm she would say, “And how’s my little lad going?”. Then she’d pat me on the head and say, “You’re not putting much weight on. Are you eating your Yorkshire puddings all up?” She was a kindly woman but very trying at times.
Mi mum made the best Yorkshire puddings in Yorkshire, and I always ate ‘em, but it didn’t do much for my weight as I was always so active.
I was not allowed upstairs at this point so I have no idea what was going on.
“When’s the new baby coming?”, I would say to mi dad.
“Not long now.”, he’d always say.
Finally! It arrived that day. The first I heard of it was when it started crying. It sounded as though it was in a lot of pain.
The midwife neighbour came downstairs and said, “Richard, you have now got another sister. A healthy eight and a half pound baby girl!”
“No comment.” Just what I needed. Another girl to look after. Why couldn’t it have been a boy, or better still, why not a pet monkey! I could have had a lot fun with that.
At last I was allowed to go up and see the new arrival. She was all bundled up in white blankets in a cot next to mi mums’ bed. By this time, she was sleeping. (although I was sure I could wake her if I gave her a slight pinch!)
Mi mum sez, “Have you been behaving yourself, Richard?”
So, I gave her one of mi best Angelic smiles. She smiled back at me from her bed, but I knew I hadn’t fooled her. She was a hard one to fool was our mum!
“How do you like your new sister?”, she sez.
I sez, “She’s very small and why is her face so red? Will it stay like that?”
“No.”, sez mi mum. “Only for a day or so.”
“Can I touch her, mum?”
Mum sez, “Better wait for a while I think. She’s asleep now.”
“Why didn’t you have a boy, mum? I’d have had someone to play with. Hey mum, can I have a monkey to play with?”
“Oh go on, get out of here. You’re a big enough monkey yourself, never mind another one.”
“What are you going to call her mum?”
“Her name is Sandra Mary Swindells.”
‘What a daft name’, I thought but I didn’t say now’t.
I must admit over the first few months she was living with us she was not half bad. See, she slept most of time. Mi mum would change her nappies on a small table and she’d always say, “Go fetch me a nappy out of the cupboard, Richard.” I never understood why she didn’t get it before she started, then I wouldn’t have to get it.
Every time mi mum undid that nappy I’d stand around table making funny sick-feeling sounds in mi throat. I was very good at that, least I thought so. Mum obviously didn’t. She’d say, “Stop making that noise or you’ll catch it my lad!”
I did the ‘puking’ noise once too often, so mi mum grabbed ‘old of this wet nappy and threw it at me. It wrapped itself around my face and stuck there till I pulled it off. I made the ‘puking’ noise even louder this time and she laughed her head off. That was the first time I washed my face without being told to.