As a child I used to love staying with my Grandparents. They lived in a small, rural village in Gloucestershire called Netherend, close to the small town of Lydney. On one of these visits, when I was 10 years old, my luggage included a brown paper parcel. My Mother had wrapped it up for me to take down to my Grandmother. Apparently at this period in the late 1940s it was nearly impossible to get coloured wool where my Grandmother lived. She could get simple plain colours but not the colour she wanted. My Mother had managed to find some near to where we lived in London. She had said to me before I left.
‘Now make sure you don’t loose this or tear the paper. It contains some coloured wool for your Grandmother. She wants it to knit something special as a surprise for Granddad. You mustn’t tell him what’s in the parcel when you see him.’
As the train left the Paddington station I shouted out the window to my mother.
‘Don’t worry mum, I won’t lose the parcel’
A kind lady in my compartment helped me, and put it on the overhead rack along with my case. Do you know, I kept my eye on that parcel all the way to Lydney in case I lost it.
My Grandfather was at the station to meet me. He was 6ft tall with a large bushy moustache and bald head and looked much like Pancho Villa, but without the sombrero, With a cheery wave, and a twinkle in his eyes he strode down the platform ready to help me with my case. With a big grin on his face he said,
‘Everything all right lad? No problems on the journey’ and patted me firmly on the back, making me stumble slightly.
I said ‘No problems Granddad.’ and I clutched the brown paper parcel tightly remembering what my Mother had said about not telling Granddad what was in it.
We went out to his little Austin seven car, parked next to a grassy bank opposite the station
entrance. I looked around me at the countryside with all its wonderful greenery, woods in the distance, and fresh mown grass smells, so loved by a town boy like me. As I got in his car, I could see the steam train over the white fence that I had just come from, puffing its way slowly out of the station, on the way to its next stop at Chepstow further down the line.
When we drove up to my Grandparents cottage, my Grandmother was there to meet us. A small rotund woman, with her grey hair brushed back and a big smile on her face. She was standing outside wiping her wet hands on her pinafore. I had never seen her without her pinafore. Most of the women folk around Netherend were the same. She always
seemed to be working. Either cooking, gardening or washing in her tub in the brick outhouse, always on the go. I suppose it must have been a hard existence in those days.
She gave me big slobbering kiss, which I quickly wiped off, and said,
‘Come in lad I’ve got some nice lemonade and cake for you in the kitchen. But don’t let
it spoil your appetite for dinner later. Will you?’
‘No grandma.’ I said, carefully passing her the brown paper parcel, and making sure Granddad didn’t see me do it.
‘Oh good, she whispered, your Mother remembered. Just you go inside, while I take this down the lane to old Mrs Jackson. She’s making something special for me.’ She said, and she put her finger up to lips and whispered ‘don’t tell Granddad where I have gone’
The cottage was an old solid stone building with a brick baking oven at one end of it, next to the wash house, and had climbing rose bushes around the outside. Just like a picture post card. It sat in two acres of land and had been well looked after by my Grandparents for over 40 years. They had a large garden with a lawn, and an area where they grew all their own vegetables. There were free range chickens and rabbits in cages. They also had a
pig wandering around an orchard of apple, pear and cherry trees. The pig was so that they had fresh bacon and meat after the butcher visited. They were completely self sufficient and wanted for nothing. The only thing I didn’t like was that you had to go several yards down a pathway from the house to the outside toilet. In the dark this could be quite scary and I always asked one of them to escort me when I wanted to use the toilet.
Five days later my Grandmother came into the kitchen with the brown paper parcel and put it on the table. Grandfather was down in the orchard at the time. She said to me,
‘Mrs Jackson has just knitted me a cosy with the wool you bought me to put over the toilet seat. In the winter it can be very cold on your bottom, so I asked her knit this’ and she opened the brown paper parcel and showed me the knitted seat warmer.
It was quite big as it had to go over the whole of the wooden platform you sat on. In the middle was a large oval hole. She then took it outside to the toilet. Fifteen minutes later she was back. She said to me ‘Now don’t tell your Granddad. It is supposed to be a surprise.
Later, when it was dark, Granddad went out to the toilet. There was a full moon
so he didn’t take the hurricane lamp with him as he said he could see alright. Grandmother
winked knowingly at me and put her finger up to her lips to indicate not to say anything,
and we waited. All of a sudden there was a terrible noise from down the garden and Granddad came rushing back to the house shouting ‘what the hell, I have been attacked by something’
Grandmother said ‘What’s on earth is the matter, what’s wrong?’
‘I have just been bitten on my behind by something furry.’ He said trying to hold his trousers up with one hand and waving the knitted toilet seat cover with the other.
It turned out that one of the chickens had decided it liked the knitted toilet seat cover and was roosting on it. So when Granddad sat down to go, the chicken objected by pecking him. We don’t know who was more frightened, Granddad or the chicken. It didn’t lay any eggs for several days after that. My Grandmother and I found it really hard to suppress our laughter. Granddad had such the pained look on his face. My Grandmother had to put some ointment on his bottom to help heal his sores. He sat down very carefully for a week after that.
So much for the brown paper parcel. At least I won’t be carrying one of those down to Netherend next time.
Netherend? That’s a coincidental name, and a play on words if ever I heard one.
Oh, by the way. Granddad cut the toilet seat cosy up and laid it around the hen coop. I was told that the chickens loved it and egg production rose significantly.