Jane was very conscious of being the only child at her school without a mother. She remembered another small girl telling her that her mother had smacked her. Jane was shocked, she knew this woman and she was a loving, kind mother with apparently endless patience, so she asked what happened. The child had behaved badly and kept doing it when told to stop until mother snapped. This was 80 years ago, that sort of behaviour just didn’t happen! So Jane asked why on earth she’d behaved that way. “I was seeing how far I could go,” wept the girl – which I still think is funny and I know just what she meant.
Jane couldn’t go far at all with her stepmother. It was all such a shame. I don’t for a minute suppose that she embarked on that marriage without hope, even though there wasn’t a romance involved. Mummy said that it wasn’t too bad to begin with, but then she inherited a lot of money, over £40,000 – a fortune in those days. I suppose the irony of marrying for security and then getting it through a legacy, so she was unnecessarily saddled with a husband and stepchild she didn’t care for, embittered her and she took some of it out on the child. My mother was quite claustrophobic, as a result of having been shut in a cupboard as a punishment. The stepmother, whose name I don’t know, became very mean. Although she had adequate housekeeping money, she wouldn’t pay for Jane to have school lunches and she had to cycle three miles home and then back again every lunchtime (as well as the same at the start and end of the day of course) to eat a lunch which, typically, would be a small bowl of cornflakes and half a banana. School never shut for bad weather by the way, and Mummy remembered sometimes having to carry her bike through snowdrifts. Occasionally, she couldn’t tell where the edge of the road was if the fence or hedge was entirely covered with snow.
She was immensely proud of her bike, by the way, which was new and a very good one. It had been a present from her father on passing the exam and interview into the high school at the age of 9 instead of 11.
Mummy remembered one time when her stepmother and she laughed together. They decided to make lardy cake, which is a traditional West Country pastry. They followed the recipe carefully, cooked it – and it was so tough that, when they tried to cut it, both knife and cake ended up on the floor. It might have infuriated the mother, but it was so ridiculous after all their work that they looked at each other and burst out laughing. Even the birds wouldn’t touch it.
As an aside, I’m so sorry about the dreadful weather that you’ve been having in that part of the country. It hasn’t touched us in East Angular, but I’ve been thinking about you and hope none of you have been flooded out or otherwise affected.