Friday, February 26, 2010

Driving for the deaf

In 1936, my grandfather bought the first family car from Alfred Chaston’s in Blackwood. New cars were great novelties and it was assumed that you wouldn’t know how to drive. So they chucked in a set of lessons with the car.

Grandpa was 57 years old and had no intention of learning to drive. Too old, by far: my age now!. My father, aged 19, was to be the family driver.

Driving had become a dangerous pastime. In 1934, 7,343 people were killed on Britain’s roads. There were only 2.4 million vehicles on the road, 1.5 million of which were cars. The driving test was introduced in 1935. Initially, the test was voluntary. Another world, eh?

The second edition of the Highway Code had just been published. It was 24 pages long and there were only 10 road signs to learn. It cost 1d. No, I don’t mean 1p, I mean 1d, there were 12 in a shilling and 240 in a £. It still included advice to drivers of horse drawn vehicles to ‘rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made.’

After his eight lessons, Dad was test-ready. The examiner met him at Chaston’s, Dad handed over his 7/6d (37.5 p) and off they went. The test involved:
• Eyesight - he could see the birds on the trees on the other side of the valley.
• Highway Code Questions – with only 10 road signs, that was easy too
• Emergency stop – the examiner banged the dashboard with his clipboard and you stood on the brake. The little car halted eventually. You prayed that there was no-one under the car, or even worse, behind …
• Hand / arm signals – rigid (right turn), rotating (left turn), and slowly up and down (slowing down)
• Reverse left – round a corner watching out for the person you nearly got in the emergency stop
• Turn in the road – not as easy as it sounds. No power steering and if you stalled, you had to get out and start it with a starting handle.
• General driving – this was all over in thirty minutes and, anyway, he could turn the car on a sixpence.

Nearly done … except. Applying for your licence, you had to state whether you had any disabilities. When he was three years old, he had been seriously ill and this left him profoundly deaf. No hearing aids gave him anything approaching normal hearing.

The examiner hopped out of the car and produced one of these. Standing in front of the car he squeezed the bulb end and then jumped back in. Fresh-faced and eager, Dad turned to him. The examiner hollered “Did you hear that?” “Yes!” he replied enthusiastically. He never worked out whether the air horn had indeed made a noise.



He drove every day for the rest of his life, more or less. My mother never failed to remind him that she had learned to drive before him (1933). And he never failed to remind her that, unlike her, he had taken and passed his driving test.
So, Megan . What are you waiting for? It’s much safer now. In 2008, there were 2538 road deaths but with over 30 million vehicles. Still, drive carefully.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

For Renee

One of the last times that Renee posted on my blog she said that she would like a piece of pie. She hasn't been up to eating much of late so this is all for her.

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead mean naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Monday, February 15, 2010

No place for a decent woman

My grandfather died in 1927 leaving his widow to bring up five children. The eldest daughter was already in work and the next eldest had to leave school immediately. My mother was nearly twelve and in grammar school. She dreamed of a life outdoors and longed to go to agricultural college in Usk which had just started to admit women. She was crushed when she was told that she would be able to stay in school until sixteen to study book-keeping, shorthand and typing. In 1931, she set off to work in Hampton Court, living as a lodger. Lonely, she missed the family home and hated the suburban environment.

When war broke out in September 1939, my mother had just celebrated her 25th birthday. Girlfriends joined the WAAF and the WRENS, but she knew what she was going to do: she was going to join the Women's Land Army.

Farmers were incentivised to grow more to avoid food shortages, Between May and September 1939, they were paid £2 for every acre of grassland that they ploughed up, for the Battle for Wheat. Two million acres of additional grassland were ploughed in time for the 1940 harvest. The shortfall of 50,000 agricultural workers was to be filled by women and the WLA was formed on June 1st 1939. The farming community thought it was a joke.

Girls were interviewed to see if they were suitable, given a medical examination and enrolled. The official minimum age was 17. Some lied and became Land Girls at 16 or even younger. It wasn't hard to get into the WLA. One girl who wore glasses, was asked to read a sheet of letters of diminishing size. As she struggled with the smaller letters, the doctor said Never mind, I suspect you'd see a charging bull and passed her.

Land Girls had a uniform for healthy, outdoor living. Not for them the smart jackets and nylons. In fact, nothing attractive and everything too big. For "walking out" they wore laced brown brogue shoes, baggy brown corduroy breeches and knee length fawn socks. A green V-necked long-sleeved ribbed jumper was worn over a fawn aertex shirt, with the WLA tie for formal wear! On their heads they wore brown felt pork-pie style hats. A three-quarter length waterproof brown overcoat finished the outfit. At five foot tall, my mother looked like a mobile brown paper package.

Brown dungarees, a matching jacket and wellington boots were issued for work clothes. The dungarees served in the garden through the 1950s and I had all the spare bits of uniform for dressing up. I cut a fine figure in the WLA jacket, breeches with her gas mask on back to front as I yomped through the undergrowth at the end of the garden. The socks were particularly hard-wearing and they survived to be Christmas stockings.

Land Girls were paid a minimum wage of 28 shillings (£1.40) a week, half of which was normally deducted for board and lodgings. If a girl was working more than 20 miles from home, she was entitled to a free journey home after six months. There was no holiday entitlement, paid or unpaid. It was left up to individual farmers to decide when a girl could take time off. They were expected to work 48 hours a week in winter and 50 hours a week in summer, but most girls worked many more, especially during harvest.

Mainly, Land Girls lived in lodgings near or on the farms where they'd been allocated. Mam was sent to Treberfydd Estate next to Llangorse Lake. It was a grand house with a home farm and several tenant farms. They thought that these Land Girls would be just extra pairs of hands in the garden or milking parlour. She was housed in a dormitory with the maids at the top of the house and put to work with the Head Gardener. On her first day he sent her to mow the lawn and the mower ran away with her. He stopped her just before she landed in the lake. Just another silly girl who knew nothing about the countryside.

Farm machinery was made for and operated by fit men, used to the physical requirements of the job. She was so petite that she struggled to even get onto a horse, needing an orange box on top of the mounting box .
This was Kit and he was her best friend until she made friends with a local family at Cathedine. But this was going to be the best of times: she determined to make the best of life in the countryside and her friends were friends for life.

While away in the 1930s, she had learned to drive, unusual for a woman. She took to the tractor like a duck to water and could turn in awkward field ends and get through gates without mishap. By the harvest of 1941, she was the main tractor driver on the farm. The brand new Massey was hers!

At the end of the war, the WLA was still required for several years until the male agricultural workers returned to the land. On October 21st 1950, the WLA was officially disbanded. The National Farmers' Union protested. The women had turned out not to be such a joke after all.

In 2008, the Land Girls were recognised with a special badge. Surviving Land Girls were eligible to apply for the badge or their relatives could apply on their behalf if they had died after the badge was announced.

Sadly, my mother died in 2002 so I was not able to apply for her badge.

So this is for her.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My sky

Inspired by Saz at Fab, Feisty and Fifty , I thought that I'd dig this old photograph out.

Bolt Head, taken from Bolberry Down with the Ham Stone in the foreground. December 28th 2003, just after dawn.

Lat 50:14:17N Lon 3:50:16W

Something for the weekend, eh?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carbon Pawprint

One tonne of CO2 a year. Just for one old collie. It's all that meat he eats apparently.

The average human in the developed world generates 14 tonnes and an, by contrast, only one tonne in the developing world.

A study published last week seemed to cover all the ins and outs of keeping cats and dogs in modern Britain There used to be six million of each and now there are ten million of each.

People with degrees are more likely to have cats. The reason is unknown but it's conjectured that people with degrees are more likely to have serious jobs and so don't have the time to give to a dog. Hey ho. Most of my friends are dog owners so that must make us a bunch of thickos. Nice thickos, though.

Anyway, who would need a degree when you can have a collie? A blind collie who can open kitchen doors. Shame he didn't know how to switch off the burglar alarm.

So, one tonne of CO2. They said nothing about the methane.