Wheelbarrows and Marshmallows

The great adventure of moving

By Keith Harris
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Wheelbarrows and Marshmallows' page

In 1958, we moved from St. Benets Grove to Middleton Road, close to the Circle shops. The day was 25th January, a cold, wet and windy day, not only an important day for moving  from a small three-ish bedroom to a larger three bedroom with a front parlour and sitting room, divided by opening doors, but it was also my 11th birthday.  Our family now constituted four girls, Mum, Dad and myself, my elder brother having left and gone into lodgings.

The new house also had a bathroom upstairs, with a copper heated by a gas geyser feeding the upstairs bath via a hand- operated pump. No longer would we need to eat our meals in the kitchen while Dad poked his head through a half-moon shaped hole cut in the end of the fold down lid that was attached to the side of the bath. Many stories were shared as we tried to eat and manoeuvre our dangling legs, forever fighting the non-forgiving sides of the iron bath. This was common practice in houses with baths in the kitchen and we often went to school with bath- battered knees.

We often went to school with bath-battered knees.

Moving was a great adventure. All the family, friends and neighbours were rallied to help. Looking back, it must have seemed rather odd - an amazing sight with all of us moving beds, chairs, wardrobes, bedding and other types of furniture on anything with “wheels”…..prams, pushcarts and wheelbarrows from the local allotments.

My Dad meanwhile, with the help of my brother, packed a small black Morris van with all the wood, metal and tools from the 2nd World War air raid shelter, to be lovingly resited in the “new” air raid shelter in the back garden of Middleton Road.Whenever my Dad brought another “important” collection of wood home, Mum stood there with pinny wrapped tight and held by a  large nappy pin, hands on hips, omitting with a deep sigh,  ”Not more bloody wood Dad!!” Dad would smile and say his famous family saying, ”When my boat comes home, that will be useful in the life boat, never fear Mum.” We moved house using WHEELBARROWS. Dad moved his precious wood by van - in our household 4 x 2’s got top billing!

Although by moving, we had more room, I missed the green and trees in front of the house in St. Benets Grove. But the great advantage of living in Middleton Road was the shops, library and medical centre, with the St. Helier Arms being the centre of social events on Sunday evenings. I still met up with my gang near the woods behind the pre-fabs that led down to the Wandle and park.

The front parlour was kept for best, being out of bounds for me when my sisters”entertained” their boyfriends or we had visitors.Living in a house full of women (Dad working all hours at Lines Bros and my brother in the navy) I often caught snatches of “woman’s talk” between sister and Mum, but at eight years old, it was all a mystery.

Being within a stone's throw of the Circle, I was often asked to run errands for shopping, carefully carrying back a large bowl covered with a teacloth, containing pie and mash with wonderful liquor from the pie and eel shop. Dad used to give me three shillings to buy an ounce of Magpie Shag from the serving hatch in front of the café and once a month or thereabouts, my sisters gave me 3/6d to go to Boots for a packet of Doctor White’s No 1’s. Being small, I would walk up to the counter, hold up the note that had been carefully folded in my  mitten with 3/6d and wait while the smiling lady handed down to me a very large, soft packet in a plain brown paper bag.

One day, I was sent on my usual mission , 3/6d in my mitten and two of my gang members, Michael and Johnny, by my side. I left Boots, holding tight to the “parcel”- it was a very windy day. Johnny suddenly grabbed hold of the package, demanding to know what it was……"MARSHMALLOWS" I shouted firmly above the wind, "My sisters like marshmallows, so there!”

“Lets have a look” Johnny cried, tearing open the package. The wind caught some of the “marshmallows” and off they went tearing along the wet pavement with Michael, Johnny and myself close behind. “Funny looking marshmallows,” Johnny said as we stuffed the rather wet and torn bits back into the package. When we arrived home, no-one was there, so I left them in the kitchen and we bolted, fearing the worse.

They told me they were marshmallows.

When I returned later that afternoon, Mum and my sisters were waiting.  ”Give him a Mrs. Milton back-hander Mum,” my sisters cried in unison. ”What have you to say for yourself?” Mum said, arms folded, foot tapping. “Not my fault Mum. They told me they were marshmallows, more like bandages,” I said quietly. “Go and eat your tea” Mum said.

 That day my sisters told me they were not MARSHMALLOWS, but “TOOTHACHE PADS” with strings to go round each ear. But the gang and I worked out that  was a”porky” too……I was slowly learning more of the BIG WORLD I  lived in.

... and Ivy has her 'marshmallow' memories!

This page was added by Keith Harris on 16/09/2011.

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