22 August 2013

Poverty

Home sweet home -  only surviving photo of the chicken hut
Growing up in the heart of East Yorkshire, I knew dire, unyielding poverty. Though my father was the village schoolmaster, he was saddled by endless debt - something to do with the gambling addiction he had developed during the second world war. 

We lived in a wooden chicken hut down by the canal - Mum, Dad, my three brothers and I. There was no electricity or running water and if we needed the toilet we had to nip over to the reeds by the canal. Of course food was always a problem. Sometimes we found duck and swan eggs in nests amidst the reeds and at harvest time we could be seen gathering individual corn seeds from fields that had been just mown by combine harvesters. At potato picking time, the whole family would be out from dawn to dusk. It was back-breaking work but we could filch  enough potatoes to see us through the winter.

At Christmastime, the village butcher - Tommy Lofthouse - always took pity on us and would send us a whole pig's head which Mum would roast over a blazing Yule log.

I got my first pair of shoes when I was eleven. They'd been left behind after the church jumble sale which is where we got most of our clothes from. Those first shoes were hob-nailed and the worn-out soles flapped freely. My younger brother - Simon - mostly wore hand-me-down gingham dresses and many villagers even thought he was a girl with his curly blonde locks.

Life was very hard in the chicken hut but we were used to it and quite content. On the coldest winter nights we huddled together shivering under the pile of old sacks that we called a bed.  But one day the fearsome landowner - Sir Xavier H. Brague came to evict us - driving us off his land with much cursing and threats of extreme violence. Then we had to move to a kennel in the grounds of the old rectory. Corpulent Canon W. Crow-Magnon who lived alone in that imposing ten bedroom Victorian  mansion took pity on us and made Rufus - his Alsatian guard dog - come and sleep by his roaring fireside. Sometimes at night we crept up to the French windows and watched as Canon Crow-Magnon necked whole bottles of ruby port or French cognac while listening to Gilbert and Sullivan records on his gramophone. It looked so lovely and warm in there as we stood outside, our teeth chattering like old typewriter keys.

It was very cramped in Rufus's kennel but cosy. We mostly ate the Canon's vegetable peelings and worms from his compost bins. Yes my friends, we really knew what poverty meant back then. We were so poor that we begged from the gipsies and tramps who sometimes wandered those rural byways and fortunately they tended to take pity on us. You may have heard the expression, "as poor as church mice" - well we were considerably poorer than that, I can tell you! 

By the way, have you known poverty yourself? Pray tell.

24 comments:

  1. I was alone in the h0use when the bailiffs came. I was always taught to be polite so I invited these strangers in. I was too young to know that by inviting them in, they were legally entitled to take anything they could lay their hands on. My father lost his job because the union, of which he was not a member, had closed the factory in which he worked by striking so the company went bust and closed the gates putting about 1500 employees on the street. Half the working men on our street had lost their jobs through factory closures. I did two paper rounds in the morning and after school and at weekends, I pumped petrol at the local petrol station. Luxury for us boys was sharing a bowl of Angel's Delight (do you remember that sickly dessert out of a packet?). I am not surprised that after a taste of that, of power cuts and watching her boys being beaten up by 'Nazzie' bashing natives welcoming a change from Paki bashing (there weren't many Pakis in Chaseterrace in those days), my mother took us back to Germany.

    So, to answer your question, no, I have not experienced real poverty. Sadly though, I see abject poverty every day and strive to make my own tiny contribution every day to alleviate it, whether that be to hand out milk for the kids or deliver fresh water from the well I dug with my own hands.

    You lived in a chicken shed? Luxury.

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    1. Hippo - I forgot to mention that when Canon Crow-Magnon tired of us we went to live in a cardboard box behind the village pub where we dined on woodlice, caterpillars and other creepy crawly things. Angel Delight? God, you were lucky. We used to dream, of that. Fresh water? Now that's real uxury. We got ours from rain puddles in the road. God, we were poor.

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  2. You are a naughty naughty boy

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    1. So how poor were you your earlship?

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  3. You may like to know that before the corpulent canon became a corpulent canon, his people were forced to live in a discarded Caviare tin. His father had been released from work as a result of his fellow workers wanting more time in Marbella (and less down pit).

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  4. OK, hands up - who lived in a hole in t' ground!

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    1. Hole I'nt ground...thought myself lucky. My sisters crib was a wee cardboard box and I'd shite in it. I would have welcomed a hole in the ground.

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  5. Hmmm... you think you were poor. We had to have our Yorkshire pudding with gravy before the meat and veggies on a Sunday; this was to eke out the roast beef. We were so poor my dad had to have Yorkshire puddings with syrup as 'afters'. We were so poor we called dessert, afters. We were so poor we called it dinner, only wealthy folk called it lunch, the very upper classes, called it luncheon. As the cat was loathe to lose a whisker we harnessed it to a treadmill to generate enough electricity for us to listen to Two Way Family Favourites. That's poor!

    LLX

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  6. I'm not sure how much of this I'm buying...

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  7. After a week away from blogland it's good to be back to your sad, sad stories. I have rarely laughed so much. Nearly wet myself when you were evicted from the chicken shed.
    I hesitate to ask but were you the ones that ate the 'Ex Parrot'?

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  8. Too bad Earl Gray didn't have his allotment then. You could probably have lived in the Ukrainian village.

    I grew up in a farming community. Farmers never have much money, but there is always plenty of food. You just have to figure out how to pay for electricity and taxes and other government fees. I still live in the crummy little house I was born in. Each generation has worked on it to keep it livable and there hasn't been a reason for a building inspector to come around and prove otherwise.

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    1. Jan, I try to imagine your "crummy little house" evolving over the geberations.

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  10. Sir Yorky, I have read this piece several times now and at the risk of popping my head above the crowd, I have to say your words made me squirm a tad. I wasn't sure of your purpose (sound like I am marking your work don't I?) ~ whether you were sharing a real story or trying to highlight a very real issue or create a discussion amongst your readers. I suppose I found your use of humour a bit strange and wondered why? Maybe because we were familiar with the characters in your story. Whether any of us could identify with that level of abject poverty remains is the question. And some of us could probably catch glimpses of our own "chicken huts". My father had a gambling addiction. I know what growing up in that home was like before he died. His father had a problem with alcohol his whole life after being born out of wedlock and given up as a ward of the State and growing up in an orphanage that much later came under review in an inquiry into institutional abuse. What leads to poverty and the generational effects of poverty stay with us. Living in Cairns there are many people sleeping rough on the streets. I once saw a Dad and a young girl in her school uniform emerging from the public gardens to catch my bus one morning. Her school was on the other side of town. And yet where he had chosen to sleep that night was safe because the gardens were locked at night. There have been times when I have feared being in that same place. Many years ago, I spoke to a farmer who had been doing some charity work with homeless people in Sydney, and the message he was trying to get across was that these people are not nobodys ~ they have been somebody who have fallen on hard times. Like I said, your piece made me squirm on topic and delivery ~ so maybe it did achieve its purpose. A+ :)

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    1. Enjoy the ride Carol, if you'll pardon the expression. It's the great British humour, which I must admit takes some getting used to.

      Glad to see you back in the swim.

      LLX

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    2. As Madam Lettice implies Carol. my silly tale of overwhelming poverty is merely meant to be the start of a comical game well known to the English. The light-hearted idea is that you should come back at me with a tale that's even more excessive and outlandish. There is no serious intent whatsoever. so I am bemused why you and indeed Mr Hippo seemed to take it too seriously. Must be somehow lost in translation.

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    3. Who would have thought huh? :) No wonder I didn't 'get it' LOL. Thanks for the tip LL. Apologies Yorky.

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    4. Carol, whatever you do don't say sorry...You'll just encourage further essays and he will develop the theme to unimaginable extremes.
      Not all Yorkshire folk are like YP, having met a few Australians, I think you are grooming us from London or the Home Counties. I think we should see a photo of you holding todays Cairns Advertiser.

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    5. Don't listen to a word Adrian says... They are! Far worse.

      The story so far (well my take on it)...

      Adrian is a retired public school headmaster (now called head teacher for PC reasons) who looking at his blog, can't seem to kick this habit, he's picked up over 63 years of teaching... TEACHING.

      All things he reads, he will be mentally marking out of ten. The light relief he gets, is to climb into his motor home and roar off at 27mph. With brain in neutral, he has freed himself for the delights of the open road. He can be sighted at Happy Eaters throughout the land. Approach with caution, especially if he's just started on his all day brekkie.

      LLX


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    6. Lettice leaf, I'm just so over excited. Solved DALIANAS puzzle.

      Yes Home Counties are far worse than Aussies. Not sure if they are worse than East Yorkshiremen time will tell.

      You couldn't be more wrong. My job was running boats all over the world...I tort folk rite from rong. I taught cadets how to do posh mathematics and rudimentary Spanish. If your Spanish doesn't work then shout louder in English, if that doesn't work hit them and hard.
      It's how I was tort in an English Grammour Skool.

      I'll tell you now that my shed on wheels does 32.45mph up hill and down dale...glen where I am now.

      I'm not interested in teaching....I'm just trying to learn you.

      I only eat posh food. I'm so sorry if your livelihood depends on folk eating in Happy Eater. Come to think what is a Happy Eater?

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    7. Carol may I suggest you invest in a crash course of Monty Python. This delightful daftness should then all become clear as day!

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  11. Certainly lost in translation is what it was. Glad I came back to read replies as I now understand the "game" though I never thought it was real just one of your stories and was lost for something to add.
    Will understand next time.

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  12. I totally understood what you were doing, just lacked the talent (and maybe the inspiration) to join the fun.

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