Tenants at No 36

From Clifford Chambers
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Back to the Square

Bucky Pittaway and his wife were the tenants of this cottage at the beginning of last Century. The only thing I knew about Bucky was that he always insisted on cleaning his shoes with the black lead his wife used for the kitchen range, rather than shoe polish.

Sometime after Bucky (and no-one seemed to know how he acquired his peculiar nick-name!) Jack and Gladys Harris moved in. Gladys was a small plump very anxious lady. There was a nervous hesitancy about her as if she lived in fear of constantly offending everyone she met. Her laugh was catching – a hooting laugh that set everyone else laughing – except her husband! It was heard mostly when she was relaxing indoors watching television and could be heard clearly through the front door and the walls!

Gladys exuded cleanliness. Her jumpers, skirts, cardigans looked as fresh as they did when she bought them from the shop, yet her kitchen was only the size of a cupboard and all her washing was done by hand! Every morning she would walk down the path to her garden near the river with a bowl full of wet washing ready to hand out. Later in the day, she would collect the dry washing, disappear once more into her house. Then, somewhile later, she would bring out the carefully ironed laundry to hang on the line – “to air”!

Gladys regularly travelled to Stratford on her upright bike, but her progress was so slow, she could have gone just as fast pushing it. In our late 20th Century living conditions she fared badly, for everything she worked with and used was more 1950’s than 1980’s. They had no bathroom and the toilet was a shed by their garden containing a wooden seat with a hole in it and a bucket underneath. What was worse, when the river flooded as it did every year, the floods came up and into the toilet! Still, every morning, Gladys had to take the night bucket down to empty in the hole her husband had dug for her in their garden.

Yet Gladys never complained. She loved company and whenever she could, would join any little group of women who were passing the time of day chatting. As soon as her husband or son appeared in the distance, she would slip very quickly back to her house before they could see her.

Jack was a painter and decorator – and a great vegetable gardener! His conversation however was limited. Occasionally he would manage a “morning” or “evening”, but mostly it was a grunt! He and John his son, had a passion for horse-racing – or maybe it was the betting that went with it, and each year made the trip to Ascot to watch the races, with Gladys looking wistfully out of the window as they went. She would have loved to be with them in order to see all the fashions. Instead, she stayed at home and did some more washing!

Jack loved vegetable gardening and spent every evening on his allotment encouraging his vegetables to grow fat and healthy so he could enter them in Clifford Horticultural Show – and win! He regularly won the Bramwell Cup, and when the Horticultural Show finished for good, clung onto the cup for a souvenir.

John, their only child was, and still is, one of the best carpenters in this area. Due to Gladys’ nervousness, his early childhood was rather lonely. A few in the village could still remember his wistful face looking over the boarding that Gladys had put up in the open doorway. The children of his age played in The Square. It was considered, in those days, to be a safe place where the children could play in full view of their mothers, who watched them from their windors or open doors as they worked. That was too risky for Gladys, so she kept John in, but allowed him to watch.

Suddenly, in the 1980’s, things happened quite quickly. Rumour had it that the owner of the house had permission to put a bathroom in, and Jack left because the rent would go up as a result! All three moved to Stratford and sometime after, Jack died. Then Gladys became ill. She had always been subject to bronchitis, but this time she was really bad. She became hardly recognizable. Her plumpness had gone, and her clothes just hung on her. She died soon after. John is on his own now, working at Alscot Park Estate, but I’m sure he is missing the meat and two veg dinners that were always waiting for him when he came home, and the next day’s crisply ironed shirt on his bed.