Young Jane – 3

I skipped through her childhood far too quickly – actually, it was because it wasn’t happy, not at home, but I suppose I shouldn’t shy away from that.  I have had a quick look back through old posts, most of which were in the ‘family story’ series if you did want to search back, in 2006 and 2007, and I’ll only repeat things if they’re relevant to a story I’m telling.  I don’t feel inclined to repost anything, I like writing to you.

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.

7 comments on “Young Jane – 3

  1. Nellig

    Thanks for these anecdotes. It’s like finding undiscovered pages of a well-loved novel.

    Your mother’s stepmother sounds like something out of Grimm. Fancy locking a child in a cupboard. And providing a lunch like that. Mind you it was a different world back then (shudder).

  2. allotmentqueen

    Coming back from South Somerset yesterday (in the dark) we did rather a lot of wading. Fortunately we were in a Range Rover.

    An entirely justifiable choice of car as we frequently carry more equipment than your average car could cope with, we’re often out in the country, and we’ve had it since 1985 so we aren’t using all the energy used to manufacture a new year every few years. And because it doesn’t have onboard computers, etc, it’s almost entirely serviceable ourselves. Not that I feel the need to justify my choice of car, mind.

    Have you read “Toast” by Nigel Slater? He suffered from a stepmother, too.

    I’m sure I remember my mother shutting me in the cupboard under the stairs for being naughty, but she swears she never did that.

  3. Z

    That must be fun when you go out in your wheelchair, John. Hope it’s got good brakes.

    No need at all, AQ, some of my best friends have Range Rovers.

    Yes, I have read Toast. Step-parents didn’t get a good press in the past, sometimes it’s well deserved.

  4. Z

    Nellig, your comment didn’t show a while ago, sorry. And thank you.

    I don’t know anything more about her than the understandably biased description my mother gave. She must have been very unhappy – but that was no excuse. Dreadfully unkind.

  5. mig

    Shocking behaviour if there was no real financial hardship to excuse it – I’m thinking more of the long journey home for lunch.

    I think shutting children in cupboards was quite a common punishment in those days, I dimly remember that my Aunties talked about it as if it was quite normal when they were little. I suppose it was an alternative to physical cruelty – people maybe thought they weren’t doing any harm. Ignorant as well as unkind.


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