Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Flo's Story - Two Little Boys

We left Flo and her husband Ted and me living in a tiny bungalow in Caldecote. Time to move on a bit further with her story...

When I was a big boy of nearly two years old, I was told I was going to have a baby brother or sister to play with. They would have to sleep in my cot while I'd have a big bed. Apparently I wasn't having any of that and refused to sleep anywhere but my cot. Mum disappeared for a few days then I was told I had a baby brother. Mum would be bringing him home in the morning. I was playing outside when a big car pulled up at the gate. Mum stepped out carrying a bundle of blankets and I slipped past her and looked in the back of the car. "Where's my baby brother?" I demanded. I must have been expecting a brother about my size, after all they'd said I could play with him.

When I finally set eyes on him I exclaimed "Ain't he little! He'll have to sleep in my cot." Flo had knitted some little bootees for me to give to the baby. I ran to get them, then threw them to the new baby saying, "Here's your Wellingtons!"

I think that "Wellingtons" must have been a new word for me; I always liked long words. Flo often told people that once, when she'd taken me as a little boy to the Botanical Gardens in Cambridge to feed the ducks, she told me on our return to tell Grannie where we'd been. She expected me to say we'd been to feed the ducks but I precociously replied "To the Cambridge Pertanical Gardens, Grannie".

I realise that this is becoming John's Story rather than Flo's Story but these are the tales that Flo told from this time. Like many young mothers her children became the focus of her life, so most of her tales are about my brother and me. Apparently I once poured a bottle of tomato ketchup all over the cupboard and on another occasion I tried to saw the leg off a sideboard, though I don't remember either incident. Then I tried to climb over the lawn mower and fell off - I still have a painful memory of that! I also attempted to climb on to the pram while my brother was in it and managed to tip the pram and catapult him out on to the ground.

I'm also told that I once threw an enormous tantrum in Woolworths when Mum wouldn't buy me a big lorry from the toy department. When we got to the top of the stairs I refused to go down. A man who was a complete stranger picked me up without a word and carried me downstairs - he'd probably end up in court if that happened these days!

My brother learned to talk at a very young age, though I was the only person in the world who could understand him and had to translate for others. But while he was still very young our family doctor noticed something wrong with my brother's eyes. At first a squint was diagnosed but it became clear that something else was wrong. He was taken to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London where they found he was developing holes in the retinas of both eyes and he would soon go blind. Don't reach for the tissues just yet - he's now 62 and has spent his life mending TVs and driving vans, he's always worn glasses but so far the dire predictions have not come true.

Every cloud has a silver lining (for somebody at least) and Mum resolved to take Les to London to show him the sights and meet some of her family so that he would have at least some visual memories - and of course I got a holiday too! We stayed with her twin brother Eric and his wife June and visited as many attractions as we could fit in. We had a day at the zoo, a trip on the river, went to the Tower of London, to Madame Tussauds (or Madam Two-Swords as I thought it was) and best of all to Heathrow Airport where, in those innocent days, you could sit on an observation deck and watch the planes come and go.

We went to school in what was little more than a hut, built hastily during the war when the original school was requisitioned by the RAF when they built an airfield at Bourn. We walked or cycled home for our lunch each day. Amazingly for a little country school at that time it had pupils from a wide range of backgrounds as all kinds of more or less needy folks were attracted by the availability of cheap land. There were some of Irish descent, children of German and Italian prisoners of war who'd made their homes here and a handful of Polish children. Soon after a Hungarian family joined us, displaced by the Uprising of 1956 and then a West Indian family who somehow found their way to this uncharted backwater.

Despite being a twin and coming from a fairly large family Flo understood something about loneliness. Her mother was seriously ill after Flo's birth and may be the reason they never had the usual bond of a mother and daughter. Her father could be unpredictable and difficult and all her siblings were boys who understandably had different interests to Flo. Then at the tender age of nine she was separated from much of her family by the war. Flo not only liked to have people around her but she also hated the idea that other people might be lonely.

So it was that Flo visited all sorts of people in the village. It was anyway the main form of entertainment for the womenfolk as there was little money for holidays, trips out or shopping expeditions, few people had TV or even telephones, and most women did not enter pubs. So going round to each other's homes for a cup of tea was a very frequent occurrence. But Flo's circle of friends was probably unique in that it included young girls, married women of Flo's age, elderly ladies some of whom had no other visitors, Polish and German housewives with very little English.....and so on and so on.

One day Flo was visiting a friend who lived in a relatively isolated spot. This friend needed a postage stamp for an important letter. "No problem," said Flo and jumped on her bicycle to go home to get one. When she arrived home she found she'd not got her door key with her. Luckily she found a window ajar and decided to climb in. Halfway in, she heard a stern voice behind her, "Is this your house, madam?" and turned to see a policeman standing there. The chances of seeing a policeman in Caldecote were very remote indeed; the policeman from Bourn cycled through very occasionally. The chances of being apprehended for a crime - even breaking and entering your own house - were virtually non-existent. So this policeman was very keen to nip this particular crime-wave in the bud and would only let her go when she told him exactly where the stamp would be.

Take care.


  1. Hi John - fascinating stories ... love reading about them - so glad your brother's eyes didn't deteriorate ...but wonderful that your mother was so concerned about others' loneliness - something we should remember today ... just such a lovely read - thank you ... cheers Hilary

  2. I've been enjoying reading your stories and memories of Flo and Ted and your brother and youself. They are wonderful, thank you for sharing them with us:)

  3. These memories paint such a wonderful picture of time. Your mother's life in a small town was incredibly rich and full. It's delightful reading about your experiences as a little kid too..."Cambridge Pertanical Gardens..." love that!

  4. sympathetic photo with your stories

  5. I would have liked Flo as a neighbor! These stories are prompting me to some google look-ups for such places as the Bourne Airfield and Caldecote.

  6. A great read and very entertaining. It's wonderful that your mother shared her stories with you more than once. Now you can share it with your great story telling skills. Well done John!

  7. Life was in some ways more restricted in those days, perhaps, but clearly village life had a richness and sense of community that is often missing in our modern society.

  8. Lol. Another great chapter, John. I like your mother's spirit!

  9. It was a very different time, wasn't it? Your mother was a kind woman.

  10. On to the next post! I'm having such fun reading these.

  11. Such fun to read. I also tipped my younger sister out of the pram when she was a baby. I thought I was the only one! She still reminds me of it occasionally.

  12. I am having so much fun reading these...so glad you made time to write them for us.


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