Here’s another great instalment from the series I started a couple of months ago, chronicling the memories of Walsall Wood lady Audrey Proffitt, carefully and faithfully transcribed by reader and Walsall Wood correspondent David Evans.
Audrey has gradually been recounting memories and experiences of her life growing up near Streets Corner, in Walsall Wood. These have been very, very popular with readers and the last article I featured – The disappearing fish – was a big hit.
As ever, I’m keen to express my thanks to Audrey and her niece, Sheila for their openness and hard work, and also to the young David Evans, who works hard on so many great articles here.
Audrey and Sheila also helped create the fine article on the Walsall Wood Cossacks, the equine daredevils of the village which forms an interesting companion to this series.
In this piece, Audrey remembers her misadventure visiting Bert Pinchers and recounts her experiences at school.
School days, and the pretty little pink and white gingham dress.
I would often go into the slaughterhouse behind Beak’s butchers and watch Bert Pinchers killing the cows and pigs. It never upset me at all, its what you are brought up with. Mom taught me to clean a fowl and skin and gut a rabbit when I was about nine or ten. I would have only been about five when this happened to me.
I was in the slaughterhouse once watching Bertie as usual. He had just killed the cow and gutted it when he bent over, gathered up the intestines and threw them out of his way, but he threw them my way and a certain part hit the wall, burst and went all over me. I was covered from head to foot. Bertie burst out laughing and said:
‘Oh dear, Audrey. I think you had better go and tell Mom and put a clean frock on!’
I was about five minutes’ walk away from home and as I walked up the street one old man started laughing and said
‘Have you been helping Bertie?’
Another lady said
‘Oh dear, wait till your mother sees you!’
But when I got home Mom took one look at me and said
‘I’ll kill that Bertie Pinchers when I see him!’
I have always remembered it was a pink and white gingham dress I was wearing and Mom put it into a bucket of water then got the old zinc bath out and got me into it. She was a bit rough rubbing me down, I remember, and doing a lot of muttering to herself. I don’t think she was pleased.
Another time Mom wasn’t pleased to see me was my first day at junior school which was just round the corner in Brownhills Road. Mom held my hand and took me there and I remember being quite calm about it. Miss Edwards the teacher lived more or less next door to the school so I knew her quite well. She asked me if I would like to sit by Stella, one of the girls I often played with, but this girl soon started kicking me under the desk. As soon as playtime came I made a bolt for the school gate. Some of the children looked through the railings and shouted ‘You can’t go home yet’, but I was off. When I walked in to the house mom was making pastry. She looked at me and shouted at me. I can see her now wiping her hand on her pinafore, grabbing my hand and taking me back. Miss Edwards was coming to see us. Mom passed me back apologising. I told Miss Edwards that I didn’t want to sit by that girl any more and she let me sit by Sammy, a lad I knew well, and he smiled at me so after a while I settled.
I didn’t enjoy my schooldays. I was never chosen to be in any team. I was hopeless at netball and sports, or art. I remember my painting of a butterfly caused a lot of giggling when it was pinned up on the blackboard. Well, I had done my best.
One day my friend Cora talked me in to pretending that we weren’t well. She was allowed to take her chair outside and sit in the playground for a while by the teacher, Miss Barnes. I gave it about ten minutes and then I said I felt sick and Miss Barnes sent me out to sit with Cora. But we didn’t realise that the cookery teacher was watching us through the window. She fetched us into her class and said, ‘Here you are, drink this and it will make you feel better’. And we had to drink some salt water. This was the first and last time I tried anything like that.
I didn’t have a very good introduction to the senior school. Mr. Hamer had taught my brother Dickie who was eight years older than me and had remembered him, and Dickie seemed to have left his mark on Mr.Hamer.
I did love country dancing and poetry lessons and I wasn’t bad at geography.
I had seven months at Stone senior school in Staffordshire, where I stayed with my Mom’s sister Daisy who lived in a village called Hopton, just outside Stafford. I had about a half mile walk to catch the school bus. I was made to wear a pinafore to school, but when I walked to catch the bus I would always take the pinafore off and put it back on again after school. Aunt Daisy used to tell people what a clean school it was, as I didn’t get a mark on my pinney.
Aunt Daisy’s cottage wasn’t as up to date as the one we lived in when I was younger. She had no electric, gas or water. It was all oil lamps and candles and the water was from a pump down the lane near the centre of the village. Aunt Daisy needed fourteen buckets of water on wash day. Her outside loo was referred to as ‘Lavender lodge’ as it had a wide border of lavender growing round it. On Sundays we went to church in Salt, the next village. We used to take a shortcut over the fields and eat raw mushrooms on the way. When we came out of church Uncle Jack would go the pub called ‘The Hollybush’ and have a drink before we started our walk back home. There was always a lovely roast dinner waiting for us when we got back.