Saturday, 26 December 2009

Joan's Journey chapter VII. A Move To Harborne


Denis, Sue and Peter

For the third time I became pregnant, with our second son Peter. At this point, the bed-sitter and small kitchen were no longer adequate for our needs. So it was decided we look for roomier accommodation. The Birmingham Housing Dept did not consider our housing needs to be desperate, and we had not been allotted the necessary number of points to be re-housed. Dear Nanny Mill came to our rescue, she had heard from her relatives, that cousin Sheila and husband Eric Moss, were vacating a large rented Victorian house in Harborne. Cousin Sheila kindly put our name forward to the owners Mr and Mrs Bulman. Mrs Bulman was a very staunch Victorian lady, while her husband had the bearing of a senior army officer. The old couple resided in an old Victorian rambling house, located on Harborne Park Road. Sheila’s husband Eric Moss made the introductions and our application was accepted. Just after moving in, we did have a slight hiccup. Unexpectedly we received a demand for the outstanding balance of the Local Authority rates, which amounted to £17.00 Pounds. Unfortunately we had no liquid assets or money in our bank account. We had spent money on the removals and advance payment for the first two weeks rental. Fortunately help came in the guise of my brother Kevin who loaned us the money, until we were able to pay him back. That is how we came to live at 107 Station Road, which was to become our home for the next forty years.

Bath time at Station Road—the kitchen sink!

It was a large property, comprising two big front rooms, a living room at the rear, a small kitchen, three large bedrooms, a small bedroom and an upstairs bath and toilet. We had brought only a small amount of furniture with us from Monument Road and this was lost in the big house until we had sufficient funds to furnish it properly. Initially, until the children got older, we only used two of the four bedrooms. The property was an old residence and not in a not very good state of repair. The water was heated from a coal fire in the living room, which had a back boiler. All other rooms were equipped with old cast-iron grates, for burning solid fuel. The coal fires were not very clean and when coal became in short supply and Harborne reverted to a smokeless zone, we installed a gas fires in the rooms. This created a further problem, in that there was then no means of heating the water, which in itself was very inconvenient. The solution was to heat the water in a gas boiler, in which I did my weekly wash. To take a bath, the hot water would be carried in buckets, upstairs to the bathroom. The washing water needed in the mornings was heated in a kettle, on the gas stove.

Often in winter when the weather was very cold, the windows would be encrusted with frost; we would put extra blankets on the beds and the children would be dressed in heavy sleeping suits. Clothes in the drawers and wardrobes would become damp and smelly; it was necessary to keep the clothes rotating regularly. I would place old towels along internal window ledges, in order to catch the condensation; the damp towels would freeze solid during the winter months. To prevent mildew, bathroom walls would be frequently cleaned down with bleach, but it would not be long before the mildew re-appeared. Bonding wood-grain laminated boards to the bathroom wall eventually solved the problem. I’m not sure if it got rid of the fungus, but at least now it was hidden from view. It was a long time before the landlord agreed to pay for the installation of immersion heating.

We had moved to Station Road in the August of 1961 and our second son Peter, was born on the 25th of December, Christmas day of that year. At that time we did not have a phone installed and could not announce the good news to anyone, that is until after the Christmas break. Denis and Susan thought that Santa had brought Peter as an extra Christmas present and I might add a big present, as he weighed in at ten pounds. The two children peered into the cot, in the upstairs bedroom, eager to see the new arrival.

The house in Station Road was very spacious and because of financial constraints, it was some time before we were able to furnish all the rooms. There were two front sitting rooms and so one became a playroom and was home to all the toys. One Christmas, mom and dad Lawlor bought the children a large play unit, which comprised a slide, two swings, and a seesaw. The playroom room was sufficiently large enough to accommodate the play unit, until the summer months arrived, when it was moved outside into the garden. Looking back over the years, we did not regard our position as being impoverished, after all on leaving the army Geoff had lost no time in finding a job. He was still not earning a great deal, so we had to be careful with our money, thankfully we always had enough money to pay our bills. Sometimes I would visit jumble sales in the area, in the hope of finding an item of clothing for the children, or myself. Occasionally I would accept items of clothing from friends, whose children had outgrown them. Dear Aunty Kath, generous as always, would often provide me with items of fashionable new clothing, which I was glad to accept.

My husband had only one suit to wear, but he needed to look presentable in his office job. The trousers would become threadbare, in need of darning in order to keep the suit going. At night, I would often wash his only shirt, so he could wear it the following morning. When the collar became too warn I would use my needle skills to reverse it and to give the shirt a new lease of life. At that time things were not easy, but at least none of our clothes or any of our other possessions ever ended up in the pawnshop, which had been the custom for our own folks. Thank goodness, we never had to buy our food on credit, and settle up at the end of the week (the strap), as did our parents.

Although not conscious of it at the time, I suppose we were experiencing a gradual improved lifestyle, compared with our forebears. Today, fifty years on, in these millennium years, it’s considered quite normal to pay for goods by credit card and weeks later try to clear the debt.

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