Big thank you from

The scholars of yesterday

by THE RAMBLER Ulster Star 17/06/2005

AS usual the luxury coaches with the company email address emblazoned on the side pulled in at 9am with rows of little heads just visible. All identically clad in school uniform and as they alighted the school patrol shepherded them into the school grounds. The molly coddled little dears are not allowed to get free or suffer a blast or a shower.

It was very different in my day. Here is an extract from my autobiography...

"In the 1920's when I started school, I walked a mile and a half morning and evening. There were only three inhabited houses on the first mile as it was a by road.

"Our nearest neighbour was a big, fat lady who wrought as a charlady and in season as a farm labourer. As the poet said about the village blacksmith, 'the sinews of her brawny arms were strong as iron bands'.

"Her name was Lizzie and she was huge, at least she seemed to my boyish eyes, but she was what was termed 'a heart of corn'- big hearted, welcoming and motherly.

"I soon found that one never passed Lizzie's house on the way home without calling if she was in. When she was at home the door was always wide open and, since it was close to the roadside, Lizzie always spotted anyone passing by.

"Usually she was seated in a big fireside armchair, knitting or sewing, and from her seat she was able to keep an eye on passers-by through a three-cornered hole in the jamb wall which sheltered the hearth from the entrance door. There was only one door to the house - no back door.

"The kitchen floor was mud, baked as hard as concrete except for an area of the hearth which was paved with round cobble stones each about the size of a duck egg.

"There was a large wooden seat along the back wall which opened out to form a bed - a settle bed, Lizzie called it.

"On either side of the chimney breast above the hearth there were two square cavities which served as mini cupboards. A wooden box with a lift up flap hung on the chimney breast and this was called the 'salt box'. For obvious reasons, it was hung on the driest spot in the kitchen.

"There was a hole in the earthen floor which Lizzie used as a drinking hole for her hens, which strolled in occasionally. When they came in, Lizzie poured some buttermilk into the hole.

"When one entered Lizzie's kitchen, there was a set ritual which had to be followed. One lifted a tin beaker off a peg, dipped it into the water in the big crock which stood on a long wooden bench under the front window, took a drink and went outside, cast the dregs out of the beaker, returned indoors and replaced the tin mug on its peg.

"You see the call at Lizzie's was always 'for a drink'. Schools had no drinking water - no water at all actually. Lizzie would have been annoyed if one hadn't called daily 'for a drink'.

"Her drinking water came from a shallow unlined well which was close to the path into the vegetable garden.

"It was uncovered as Lizzie had no children. Being shallow, a grown-up wouldn't have drowned in the well.

"A paraffin lamp or candle was all the lighting that Lizzie had. Other houses in the country were the same. Lizzie's house had three bays - kitchen, bedroom and shop (i.e. weaving shop). She had a family of two grown-up men.

"During the war, when Lizzie had died and her boys had moved on, the house was converted into two dwellings and two large families moved in, one from a council cottage.

"The tenant that had lived there with had died and in spite of their dire need of housing they were evicted and dumped on the roadside with their chattels and the local RUC in attendance.

"I met a fine, attractive young lady once who was a member of the evicted family and she rehearsed her experience of living in the half of Lizzie's old house in the 1940's.

That's a story for another day - she was one of a family of ten."

Ulster Star