Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Diamond II

Still at The Diamond. I just wanted to talk a bit about the conditions we lived in, and maybe a bit about other things.

The 'houses' in The Diamond were all two story houses, occupied by 3 or 4 families to each house. This was a huge improvement over Summerhill where often 12 - 16 or more families shared a house.

A small arrow points to the house that we lived in, the one where the wall outside is in shadow. That lamp you can see lit up our room at night.

Come inside with me and I'll take you on a little tour of the house, and maybe I'll talk about what it was like to live there too. We push in the halldoor because it was never locked. Didn't have a lock on it, if you wanted the door to stay shut and not keep on banging on a windy night you tacked a piece of leather to the edge of the door to wedge it shut. So inside the first thing we notice is the bare wooden floorboards and a long hall. The ceiling is high and about 8 feet in to the right is a plain wooden door. Inside that door lives one of our neighbours, her husband and 12 kids. There's a door just beyond that one which was a separate flat, but our neighbour has that one too on account of her big family. As you look down the hall, to your left you see a flight of stairs going up, wooden and no covering of any kind. To the right of the stairs in semi darkness there's a door, and when you open this door you see a large sink with one tap delivering cold water. To the left is another door which doesn't reach all the way to the top or bottom, this is the toilet. These facilities are shared by three families.

So we go up the stairs, two short flights, and to our front is the door to the flat we lived in. At an angle in the wall to the right is another door, our other neighbour, Mrs Rice lived in there.

We turn the brass handle and open the door to our flat. Straight ahead is the window and standing to the right of the window is our wash stand (mentioned previously) To the left is my single bed and over at the wall to the left a double brass bed which was my parents. I was very lucky to have my own bed -- few kids did back then.

There isn't much in the room. The wash stand, a black gas stove with brass keys for turning the gas on and off. There's a small fireplace between the stove and the washstand, and although we did have gas a lot of the cooking was done on that fireplace. Gas was expensive. There was a gas meter fixed to the wall and this meter eat up the shillings that had to be put in to keep the gas flowing. When that shilling's worth of gas ran out you didn't have any choice, you had to use the fireplace. But the gas was still used and a big day was the day that the GasMen came to collect the shillings from the meter. They would open the small brass padlock, slide out the money drawer and make little stacks of the shillings, and sometimes they'd give Ma a rebate. I remember that she lived for the day the Gas Men came. They came in a big van painted a sort of rust colour and there were two klaxon type horns on the roof of the van. As the van entered the street the driver would blow the klaxons, presumably to let the neighbours know that they were coming. But about the rebates. If she got a shilling it made my Ma happy, any more than that was a bonus, and I remember her telling a neighbour that she got all of 6 shillings rebate. Quite a bit of money then!

Electricity. Yes we did have electricity. But only for lighting. No such things as plug sockets. In fact I never even saw one till I was about 13 years old. No television then, but if you had an electric radio you had to get a double adaptor and plug the adaptor into the lightbulb socket and then the radio into the adaptor. And as this meant that the electricity would be running all the time there was a string hanging from the adaptor which worked as a switch so that you could listen to the radio in the daytime, but by pulling the string you turned the light on or off.

Also in the room -- a kitchen table and two chairs and over against another wall was a chest of drawers. That was the full extent of our possessions.

I said that the hall door was never locked. This made it easy for the postman to deliver any mail. he never delivered it to your flat though. He would stand inside the halldoor and call out the names from the envelopes. If you weren't in, or if a kind neighbour didn't take the letter for you, then you just didn't get it. Then again that wasn't a real hardship because we didn't get many letters anyway, except maybe bills.

I'm thinking of Mrs Rice our neighbour. I was very fond of that women and she was kindness personified. She would often bring me into her flat and give me a bowl of soup and always a slice of bread and jam. I didn't care too much about the soup, but I loved that bread and jam! A real luxury.

Mrs Rice was the best of neighbours and I remember a time when my Dad was seriously ill. We didn't have the money to get a doctor so Mrs Rice came in and nursed him. She fed him chicken soup, rabbit soup, soup made of recipes known only to her, but whatever, she nursed him back to health. But she did have one bad habit that nearly drove my poor Dad crazy. While he was ill she would sit by the bed and read the evening newspaper to him. But she didn't read the headlines nor the sports section first -- instead she went straight to the Deaths column and would read it from start to finish, commenting on any neighbours whose death was in the paper. Dad used to say afterwards that although she had a heart of gold, she had no idea on how to cheer up a man who was so ill that he thought his name could well be appearing in that column next!

I think I'll return to The Diamond again.

Till then..... hope you're enjoying the story so far. And if you have any questions please feel free to ask.


amanda said...


Omni said...

I can't imagine having to put coins into a slot to use gas for cooking...


Cavmi said...

Hi Jim! I'm Cavmi from Italy....if you have time visit me! ;-)