Tales from Cambridge part 2 written by my aunt Joan Punter (nee Toller)
Another big influence on us was home-grown vegetables and fruit. Everyone kept allotments the (dig for victory) and if everything else was on ration we could at least live on fresh produce, so many hours were spent with our cousin, Christine [Christine Cash, nee Broom, Bill Broom’s daughter] helping bring home potatoes, carrots, onions, green veg, whatever you could grow we did and everything tasted so much different to nowadays supermarket stuff. Strawberries, asparagus, runner beans and peas were nothing like nowadays tasteless objects. Uncle Bill also kept hens and pigs, so it was something like a farmyard up Histon Road there, through the passage in Windsor Road. Auntie Hilda [Hilda Broom – Bill’s wife, Christine’s mother] plodded up there everyday carrying two buckets of pig ‘swill’ that Gran had boiled up on the gas stove.
We were accustomed to watching hens having their necks wrung when they were ready for the pot. We helped pluck the feathers off them and I actually held them upside-down by their feet till they stopped fluttering (when they were dead they fluttered for a bit before they finally went still). Children accept these things as a normal part of life, but Uncle Bill used to laugh and say I was ‘bloodthirsty’. (perhaps that is why I’ve never been afraid of blood or gory sights in my work in the hospital!)
Val and I were quite different in temperament as young children. She was the quiet, thoughtful and studious one; whereas I was outgoing, noisy, assertive and a dare-devil. She smiled sweetly and spoke quietly – I tended to shout and ‘lark around’ a lot. When dad came home in 1945 he quickly sorted me out and I received the discipline he thought I needed – but I always had Gran and Bill on my side and I distinctively remember Bill’s voice saying “Come on my little old sugar plum, over the road with your granny and me.” I loved Uncle Bill, and I thought him handsome with his black wavy Brylcreamed hair and twinkling blue eyes; also a real softie. He would have tears in his eyes whenever something upset him (or through laughing) and Christine was his pride and joy. If he wouldn’t let anyone hurt one hair on my head, you can imagine what he was like with her.
Ivy and Russ were also a big influence on our lives when they lived with us after their marriage during the war. I could snuggle up with them in their bed any morning I liked, they played with me all the time, and I even ate off Russ’s plate, pinching his spouts.
When I think of those poor girls, single parents, living in an upstairs flat with babies, also toddlers having nowhere to run around in a garden, driving their mothers into depression I realise how lucky we were to be born when family was everything, stayed together to build a secure and loving home, and it was rare to see a woman struggling on her own without the father and relations nearby to ease the burden. They never gave up on parenthood, they learned the skills to make it work, and had confidence through it for their children’s sake. They didn’t have to learn it from TV or a book. It was commonsense; and a joy, not a burden. Kids were always happy.
When I was quite young my Gran acquainted me with the verse in the Bible that goes “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven”. It always stuck in my mind. Children were something, not only innocent, but almost sacred. If anyone harmed them physically or emotionally, they were in danger of hell fire!
When I was 11 I passed the scholarship (pre-11 plus exam) and had a choice of the Perse or the County Girls School, so I chose to go with Val to the newly built County Girls High School. It was an excellent school, brilliant teachers (called mistresses!) and I was in the top grade ‘A’ class. I have to admit that being with those brainy girls was demanding, and I struggled to keep up when I was 13-14, mostly because we had hours and hours of homework, and Bet and I had discovered boys, so spent a lot of evenings on Histon Road Rec and Jesus Green swimming pool. We both lliked the same boys so sometimes swapped! I looked a lot older than I was with massive boobs, and I wore uplift bras with tight sweaters, and a pair of real American tight jeans given to me by American friends when their dad was sent back by the U.S.A.F. to Minnesota!
Dad was always on my case to stop my fun and games with the boys, and when we moved to Netherhall way I was 14, and I was only allowed to go to St Paul’s Church to meet ‘good’ friends (not common ones from Akeman Street as mum used to say!) So I got quite religious going everywhere with Val, and Den Beales got fed up biking across town to see me. So I got a new boyfriend called Brian Stalley, a County [school] boy 2 years older than me. He was a decent boy, played cricket, studied hard at school; so unlike my naughty friends. I had new friends too like Sadie, who was homeless and lived in a hostel; I sang in St Pauls choir and helped in other organisations, taught in Sunday School, worked for the Sudan United Mission, and after getting my five O Levels I got a job in University of Cambridge Exams Syndicate up Mill Lane as an examinations clerk preparing question papers for Press. (near dad at the Cambridge University Press opposite).
It was about then, 16 years of age that I decided to do nursing training when I reached 18 with views to working in Africa with the S.U.M. Everything was arranged, my interview at Addenbrookes and I was accepted to start at 18. Everything went pear shaped when I met Mike (Michael Brown) at 17 and a half. He was 24, just back at U.C.L.E.S from his National Service in Malaya – fit, tanned, crew-cut hair, footballer, beer drinker, I fell in love! We got together at the University Ass. Club Xmas 1957, and everything went to the wall – Africa, Church, friends etc. Dad was in the R.A.M.C [Royal Army Medical Corps] with Frank Brown, so Mick was IN! However, I started my nursing training as planned and although I found it clashed horribly with any social life with Mick I stuck it out till the P.T.S. exam (which I passed very well) so kept going til six months was almost up, then I realised that marriage was out for a nurse (in those days you had to be Florence Nightingale) I talked to the Matron, who had no time for thoughts of boyfriends, marriage was forbidden, even engagements were kept secret. I was up in Hatton Ward sluice with the bedpan round while Mick lived it up on a Saturday night with his mates (and girls from work) so I gave in my notice. I knew I would go back into nursing one day, buut NOT NOW! They took me back in the Annexe as before, I got my sapphire and diamond engagement ring and looking back I was stupid because had I stuck it out, instead of romance I could have qualified, got married and still had Christopher [Chris Brown] in 1962! I changed, chameleon like, and in the fashions of the fifties wore pencil slim or very flared skirts, 4 and half inch stiletto heels, permed hair and smoked with a long cigarette holder. Every weekend Mick and I went dancing with our many friends, or up the Old Spring in Chesterton Road. Saturday afternoons were football or cricket as he played for the N.C.I., Central Old Boys, Cambridge University Press. I used to score for cricket and if it was a village match we had lovely teas laid out in the Church hall. This life went on for three years till I had Christopher at twenty three. I stopped smoking and drinking!
Written by Joan Punter (nee Toller) – my aunt – transcribed by Michelle Bullivant Dec 2010
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