Lifestory Showcase - Chappell
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We settled at Ferndown and I lived there for the rest of my childhood and for a long time afterwards, I was known by everybody in the village. I must have been about four when we moved to St. James, Clayford Road (now Bracken Road). We had a cold tap indoors, and under the kitchen table was a real bath and by lifting the table up, we could get into the bath.
But the water still had to be heated in the copper once a week for the whole family to have a bath. We even had a water toilet outside the back door. No more buckets to empty until many years later. But the water still had to be pumped up every night to keep water running from the tap, as it came from a well outside. We also had a rain water butt, a large steel container filled with the water which drained from the roof. Every drop of water was very precious and pure rain water was very useful and always used for washing hair and rinsing clothes and watering the garden.
The washing took every woman all day Monday. It had to be out on the line Monday morning wet or fine, for some it became a ritual to get their washing out first. Clothes were still being starched to make them look fresh and clean. If it came on to rain there was such a scramble to fetch it in and call out to all the neighbours. If anyone had gone out, their lines would be emptied by a neighbour, until the sun peeped through again when all the washing would be put out again.
Ironing was another day’s work, the old flat-iron was heated on the fire, summer or winter, and the ironing still had to be aired in the sun or by the fire. Fires had to be lit every day of the year to keep the big black kettles always singing, as well as for cooking and a big baking day had to be done at least once a week.
Soon after we moved to St. James, mother bought me my first tricycle which had a rounded back. She sat me on it, tied my feet to the pedals and my hands into a glove-like shield on the handlebars. It had a furl on the back into which she could put the end of a walking stick and push me. It being a fixed wheel meant my legs had to work, going round and round with the pedals.
Away we went and if I hadn't had that tricycle I believe that I would never have walked or done anything. I would have been the proverbial ‘cabbage’ and I have always been truly grateful to her. I would never have gone to school, walked enough to be able to get on and off all the future tricycles that were to follow, gone in shops etc. or walked around indoors and short distances outdoors.
Walking wrongly for many years was to cause me a lot of pain in my teens. It led to operations on my hips and eventually put me into a wheelchair for the rest of my life, not able to walk even one step. With hindsight I now think this could have been avoided had I not be quite so cruel on my hips by what we called ‘sprawling around’ walking.
This wore out my hip joints with every step I took, until they were both egg shaped and I could go on no longer. I have seen the same thing happening to spastic children today, they are given walking frames and walking sticks to get them on their feet. Anything to get them to so-call ‘walk’ when they never will walk properly and will end up like me now, having also to cope with the additional problems of old age. My advice to anyone coping with a spastic child is to find out what they can or cannot do and concentrate on that, especially their brain and hand control. (more about this later in my story).
Soon after having my first little red tricycle, my brother Derek was born at the end of 1935. Mum won a lovely big christening cake with a stork on it for him, by betting a friend that her baby would be born in the jubilee year of King George V and Queen Mary. Early on December 30th Derek was born in hospital, so easily, that only Mum and he knew anything about it. He was just born, with no complications while her nurse had just left the room.
She told the nurse when she came back to her, “I have a baby boy, a real red-head, like so many of the Chappell’s before him.” He weighed into the world at only seven pounds and was soon doing things for himself and his ‘sissy’ as he used to call me, at a very early age. He was running around in no time and would insist on feeding me and himself from his high chair. “I can do it”, he would say; and he was soon fetching and carrying for me.
Like his mother, he soon became very useful with his hands, making things mainly out of wood, for me to try and use my hands and also tables at the right height for me. We moved again to a new bungalow only two doors away and Derek did a lot of the moving with my doll’s pram. We had even more mod cons here, a proper kitchen with gas, a larder, a bathroom, two bedrooms and even electric light. There was a little gas fire in our room, and a front room which became Derek's bedroom. We called this new home ‘One Better’
Our books and toys, dolls, wooden bricks, soldiers. farm animals, and toy cars for Derek, mostly came from jumble sales. Great care was taken of these and they were finally handed on to younger cousins. They were also played with by our friends. If any got broken, either mother or Derek would mend them, but I was always the one who had to pack the toys away while they had their run around afterwards.
It was my job to sort out all the jigsaw pieces, sometimes several whole jigsaws one from the other. We had those puzzles for so long, that all the pieces became so familiar to me that I could almost sort them out blindfolded. Jigsaws were a great help in steadying my hands. I always had one on the front room table, along with colouring books, crayons , a box of paints and plasticine to make models.
Home made toys, cotton reels and so many everyday things were in our toy boxes. I have often imagined what I could have done with the plastic and other similar things that are just thrown away today. I used to love wrapping myself up in large pieces of corrugated cardboard and big cornflake boxes that cost nothing. In the summer months these were put away for wet days, as we were off out birds-nesting. picking flowers, trying to catch butterflies, tiddlers, and tadpoles and then find out more about them all from books.
Ever since I can remember, mother had gone out to work. In the mornings it was housework for sixpence an hour. She went on her old bicycle which was retrieved from the dump, as were any old push chairs for me. No such things as wheelchairs in those days. Then she would always be at her sewing machine all afternoon and late into the night but she was always home when we needed her. This hard earned money was used to buy me anything and everything she ever thought would help me, such as books, pencils and jigsaw puzzles, anything that would help me and educate us both.
She must have taught me to read at a very early age, as I can never remember not being able to read and I have always enjoyed teaching other children to read. Neither my brother nor I can ever recall learning our ABC. as such. I would read to him in bed, he held the book up and always followed what I was reading with his eyes. Then he would fall asleep while I was still ‘rabbiting on’ but he would always want to go back and find out what happened the next night. It was never any punishment to send us to bed.
My father's attitude was always the same. He would never accept me, be seen out with me or talk about me, but mum after the initial shock always treated me as normally as possible. The older I get the more sorry I feel for my father, not being able to accept it. He was more to be pitied than blamed, although he could have made everything so much easier for mother.
He was always in work, but no matter how wages rose, he never gave mother more than £3 a week to keep the four of us. It was always, ‘his beer money.’ Mother would starve herself and can still feel that gnawing pain of hunger. Father and we children always had out bellies full while she would hide behind papers and books and ate what scraps there were left. Mother would work day and night to earn enough money to buy food for father and us children. She never went into debt and never stole anything. Everything had to be paid for or she went without, but we didn't.
By the time, Derek had arrived, I was almost seven and using my second tricycle, and we had to go over four miles to Wimborne from Ferndown to see a specialist from Bath Orthopaedic Hospital where I had spent about six months at some stage. Mother had visited me most weeks, but when she got me home again, we had to begin all over again more or less, as I had been kept in bed and put on a lot of weight. This particular visit to the clinic in Wimborne proved to be the first big turning point in my short but eventful life. We had got there with mother pushing the baby in his pram and helping me on my tricycle up the hills.
After the usual long wait in a very damp and cold W.I. Hall with one small finger of flame in a so-called gas fire, we finally got into see this Lady Orthopaedic Specialist called Dr. Forrester-Brown. I can see her now, she had known me a long time. All she ever did was to examine me; twisting my arms and legs and telling me to relax something with a very long name. Neither of us ever knew what she meant and I do not know to this day, what I was supposed to relax.
However, after this ritual, mother tentatively asked her, “Can she go to school?” I could read, spell and write and all my little friends were at school, I knew where they were and I wanted to be with them. The first reaction, was; “How would she get to school?” Mother said, “On her tricycle.” This she would not believe, until they got me dressed, and she saw me on my tricycle. This really amazed her, and not long after she had other disabled children up on tricycles, but still the word ‘spastic’ was never uttered by anyone.
Now on what, I expect was the next day, mother took me up to the village school, a Council School, right at the top of a long steep hill. In those dark ages, there were no Special Schools but a few Institution Schools, where remember I would have probably been put with mentally handicapped children years before, had the medics had their way.
Going to this Council School was entirely up to the Headmaster and the teacher who was a Miss Durrant. Having got there on my tricycle, I would need help to get to my desk, toilet and if I stayed to dinner would need to be fed and washed afterwards.
This was tried for half-days for a few weeks, but I remember it wasn’t very long before I was going every day, and woe betide anyone who tried to keep me away from my beloved school. There followed a few years of this, going everywhere and doing most things that every other child did, the only difference being, most went to school on foot, some had over a five-mile walk each way.
A few went on bicycles on two wheels while I had three and a big basket to carry everything, including a very big cape for the many wet journeys. The foulest weather would never keep me away from school. Holidays were always far too long for me and I would have all the children around, playing school with my little desk and blackboard and easel, chalks and pencils.
A born teacher or little bully. Then I had a 'shop' with everything priced and which had to be paid for with pebbles. Derek knocked so many nails into that counter he had made from two oranges boxes and a plank of wood, that in the end there were more nails than wood.
This led on to Sunday School, where of course we always had to wear our best clothes and a pretty little bonnet while women wore hats, and furs in the winter. There was always a Sunday school party at Christmas, a present off the tree and a book if you had attended at least forty eight Sundays out of fifty two. We had to take our Star-card to collect a star every Sunday we were also given a text to learn by next time and look it up in our Bibles.
Of course we had our summer charabanc outing to Swanage or Weymouth, a real treat and the only time we left Ferndown. It usually rained sometime during the day, if not all day, but there was sand, sea, a penny bucket and spade, an ice cream and a ride on the donkeys and afterwards sandy sandwiches on the beach with ‘Punch and Judy’. If it was wet we went into the big shops and if we had been very good we got a balloon, a stick of Weymouth Rock and a new ball, which had to last until the next year.
Back home wherever, the other children went, I went:- uphill, down dale, across the common, I was there on my trike, chasing after the ice-cream man with his half-penny cornets and penny wafers on his bicycle-cart. If I was ever alone I could get off and push the tricycle up the hills, pick flowers and thrown away cigarette packets to save the ‘fag cards’ as we called them.
I had every set that came out with fifty per set and a penny book to stick them in. School days were some of the happiest days of my life and the older I get the more grateful I am to all those teachers who helped me through those years. I feel that, although the only disabled child at the school, I was treated the same as anyone else, just one of the girls.
There was never anything 'special' about me. While the boys learnt gardening, we girls all had cookery lessons, but to do this, we all had to take not only our own dishes and ingredients, but more important we had to take our own big white starched aprons and white hats to cover every hair on our head. Of course we had to have clean white hands and finger nails.
I always had a go at cookery and the teacher and other girls would help me and I never really missed out on any thing. Some of my school friends remember me today. I am still in touch with my first friend, who like all the others is a grandparent now. They will remember having to carry me out to the trenches on the old stretcher when the air-raids were on and often tipping me off in the process. Oh what fun we had then! The stretcher was there for me to lie down for an hour in the afternoons when I was ‘growing’ fast, but I would read or listen to what was going on in the classroom
When the three male teachers had to go off into the Army we had female teachers come from afar. They had never taught ordinary village children as we were, let alone gypsies and a disabled child like me with a speech problem and uncontrollable limbs. One awful day I will never forget it, I was sitting in a desk at the back of the classroom. It was something like silent reading and just before dinner break. The desk squeaked every time that I moved and this teacher asked, “Whose desk is squeaking?” Up went my hand. I was told to stop doing it, but the more I tried to keep still, the more I moved and the squeaking went on. In the end, I was sent out of the classroom.
Nothing like this had ever happened to me before and I was about twelve. I burst into floods of tears, which brought the headmaster down the corridor just as the bell rang. I was sent off to dinner with all the others, and right through play-time the boys were jumping up to look into the very high windows. There they were, Headmaster Mr Allan and Miss Hall arguing away for the whole of the dinner hour. Neither had any dinner that day, but it never happened again.
I recall that not long after this incident, the whole class were being very noisy for the same teacher. She had had enough and marched right round to every desk9 whacking each child across the hand with a ruler, breaking two rulers as she went. When she got to me she walked on by, I was the only one not to get the wooden ruler - and I must have deserved it just as much as all the others.
I did not want to leave school, it wasn’t until then that I realised that I was any different, being disabled had never come into it, except that I was left to pick up all the toys or was left to lie on the grass while they all had a run round or played football or some other game. I was always there with them and even if the ground was rough and bumpy, they would push me across.
If it was kite-flying time, mine would be got up for me to hold. I could play marbles with the rest but I could never catch a ball, ‘only a cold’ when all the others had them. I would always watch school games such as rounders and netball and knew all the rules. I must have enjoyed my childhood as well as any other child in the village.
Games would come into season and there would be crazes, balls, marbles, jumping with a skipping rope, dibs, conker bashing and picking up acorns to play with or feed to the pigs, hopscotch, kite-flying, leap-frog, (whatever happened to leap-frog, when everyone jumped over everyone else?), string-around-our-hands, statues, hide and seek, touch, whipping tops, blowing up paper bags to make them pop, fishing for tiddlers and tadpoles, catapults, penny whistles, making mud pies, playing shops (I have already mentioned the little shop with the counter Derek made).
Then we played mothers and fathers with our dolls, taking them for walks in their prams perhaps picking a few wild flowers on the way, before taking our babies (dolls) home to undress them ready for bed. Then some times we were doctors, nurses or teacher to our dollies. None of this happens today children are always bored, fed up and beating up everything they see these days.
They are never seen improvising. Many, many years later I was talking to one of the girls I went to school with, who, I thought, paid me such a nice compliment. She suddenly said to me, “We were very privileged to have you at our school.” She went on to say, that it had taught her how to treat disabled people and so she taught her children to do the same. Those were the days when children were children and not born vandals. We were not perfect and got into mischief, but children were not molested nor was anyone frightened of young children as we all are these days.
During these years I can also recall memories of King George V's Jubilee, his death followed by the abdication, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's Coronation in 1937 and of course the War years.
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