By THE RAMBLER 9/03/2001
WITH only one coal fire for heating, boiling, baking, etc., it was essential for Becky, the farmer's wife, to make sure that the crook, which hung from the crane over the grate, was never idle.
Now that the men had been fed, she quickly fried a couple of pieces of bread and a scrap of bacon for the wee lad's breakfast and as soon as he was settled, got on with her baking.
She had three 'cakes', i.e. four farls of soda bread to bake, and in no time she had the first one on the griddle which she had been heating in preparation. The child knew to mind the bread for her, and shout if it started to smoke, i.e. threatened to burn.
With one cake baking, she hurried to get a second one kneaded-and rolled out. A ten-stone sack of 'Spillars' Purity' flour always stood on a chair against the jamb wall of the kitchen, so that it escaped the damp atmosphere of the scullery, and well covered up to keep it dust-free.
Buttermilk was stored in an earthenware, black-and-tan crock and had a pint tin on the wooden lid, as James liked a draught of buttermilk with his dinner, and in between as well, when he was thirsty.
As soon as the third cake of bread was baked, the griddle was whipped off, and a large cauldron was hung on the crook. Then, Becky hurried out to the water-butt below the spouting (gutter) with a bucket and filled up the cauldron with soft (ie rain) water for washing clothes. That done, she stoked the fire and used the fan-bellows on the hearth to boil the water quickly.
By the time the water had reached boiling point, Becky had the cauldron filled with soiled clothes, well-soiled let it be said, for it didn't take long to fill a soiled-clothes basket in a farmhouse.
Becky had no detergents. 'Queen's Pale' white soap which came in a slab and had to be sliced, was what she preferred for washing heavily-soiled clothing. Her only 'washing machine' was a wooden tub and a wooden washing board. This had a sheet of ribbed metal on one side, and clothing was washed by scrubbing it against the ribbed metal. Occasionally, a scrubbing brush was used to shift stubborn stains.
A mighty hand-operated mangle, which stood in a corner of the scullery, was used to dry the clothes, after they had first been wrung-out by hand. Putting a blanket through the mangle, folded, taxed Becky's strength, and usually she got one of the men to turn the handle. She had a pair of tough brawny arms, and was not easily beaten, but a thick woollen double blanket was what she termed 'a tarra'.
For peace sake, she had eventually to wrap the wee lad up and let him out to the haggard, where Johnny with milking done, was cleaning out the byre and stable with a graip and a wheel-barrow.
She knew that he would come to no harm there, except get himself mucky... a daily coat of muck was unavoidable keeping him well 'happed-up' was all that Becky worried about, especially his feet.
She had no 'wellies' for him, just stout boots. If there was a 'glar' hole he would be in it. Now, no time to get the clothes out - time the potatoes were on, as James would be in at twelve, ravenous. A quick dart out to the potato house, to find Johnny busy sorting the best for eating, a great man Johnny, always at hand when needed. Now he promptly took a half-bucketful to the pump to wash them for her. 'All, go, with Becky!' By the time he got the washed potatoes indoors, the good lady was busy placing slices of bacon from a flitch on the frying pan. James always got Dick, the pig-butcher, to cure a pork-pig when one was slaughtered, for home use.
He shared the pig with George Wilson and George did likewise when he had a carcase for curing. With 'the scholars' due in from school later racing in ravenous. Potatoes, onions and bacon were their usual request. They thrived on it.
As soon as they were fed, Becky made sure they pulled their weight, washing up and tidying to give her a much needed respite.
She had neither radio, paper, TV nor any means of relaxation. Doing a bit of needlework was her favourite pastime.
To be continued.