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'Mutiny in the Classroom'

Part 1 PUB. JUNE 2000 Part 2 PUB. JULY 2000 Part 3 PUB. AUGUST 2000 Part 4 PUB. SEPT. 2000 Part  5 PUB OCT. 2000

The wedding of Constance Grimmer and Ralph Howlett precipitated many changes. Mrs. Grimmer had been in poor health for some years and now Mr. Grimmer sought an easier life for her. They moved to Hockwold where he had secured the job of manager at Mounts Lime Works. They lived close by at Downham House which was provided by the company. My grandmother Florence retired from the Chequers and was installed in a small cottage in Short Beck. The Howlett's butchers shop was

transferred to Commerce House and with the help of a mortgage, my parents Robert and Edna, took the bold step of buying the shop at Commerce House. Our living accommodation was rented - presumably the house was still the property of Mr. Grimmer. An L shaped house with each half quite self contained. We only met Uncle Ralph and family very occasionally on the stairs. I cannot remember the move but the years that followed were idyllic.

 We moved to Commerce House late in 1930. A large house with most of our portion at the front of the building. Our sitting room was adjoining and to the right of the shop. A long spacious room with the hall and front door our usual path of entry. Behind our sitting room was another large room, obviously originally used for business with wooden workbenches and fixtures on three sides, expect in the corner where the sink and pump were installed. This became our dining room and children's bathroom. In the large area behind the shops, a small office had been constructed in one corner, but the majority was a storage area for goods waiting to weighed and packed. Adjoining our shop on the street side was Uncle Ralph's butchers shop. He and Aunt Connie had a large sitting room at the front of the house to the right of our hall and accommodation, and behind their sitting room was a large country style kitchen and a roomy walk-in pantry or dairy. The staircase at the end of the hall led straight to Ralph and Connie's rather grand bedroom (of which I caught occasional glimpses), and a small bedroom was close by. A sharp right turn and a corridor led to our three bedrooms, again at the front, my parents' room on the left, my sister Joyce and I directly opposite, and beyond our room was Barbara with Mum's live in helper. The first of these young women was Beatrice Arnold from Brandon. We all called her Beatie. I think we children were fairly easy to manage, and all were fond of her. She would even take me home with her at times on her day off, when we sometimes walked to Brandon. I had happy times with younger members of her family.

In the spring of 1931 business was satisfactory but Robert, with high hopes for the future, decided to revive the country round. He bought a Ford van, fitted it out with shelves and was able to collect orders and also to supply a variety of goods as he journeyed on his round. Driving lessons were not compulsory in those days. A driving licence would cost five shillings each year upon renewal but entitled him to drive a motor vehicle of any class or description. (Do we assume that the car salesman gave a few tips before the vehicle was driven off or perhaps you would be accompanied by a friend for a while?)

I cannot remember the birth of my cousin Derek to Auntie Connie and Uncle Ralph. He must have been a very good baby! I seemed to spend most of my time planning and organising concerts and making costumes with crepe paper - what joy to go round to Polly Prior's shop for the coloured paper. She would collect her key, then take me outside, and across the open space to her storeroom next door. It was like Aladdin's cave in there, but each visit was over all too soon.

I wonder why my most vivid memories of the big school at Feltwell are of indiscipline? Probably not a daily occurrence but I shall never forget the trials of Miss Addison: a group of boys in her class would react badly if she admonished one of their pals. They banged their desk lids and stamped their heavy boots on the floor. Looking hot and bothered but undeterred, she would order them to take off their boots, lending a hand to ensure that it was done. I always feared that the mutineers would win, but they never did. I don't recall problems in Mr. Davidson's class. He liked us to sing "Jerusalem" each morning, and expected all of us to know the words. The Headmaster, Mr. Fassnidge would use the cane without hesitation once his patience was exhausted, punishing a whole section of the class (me included). The lessons I enjoyed the most were sewing with the girls in the sunshine on the grassy slopes at the back of the school where we were surrounded by clumps of valerian. Sometimes a few girls would go to Miss Addison's house after school where we sat around the table winding the silk from our silkworm cocoons on to cards. I also enjoyed the cookery lessons with Miss Pym in the Coronation Hall, where I came top of the class with my rhubarb pudding and chocolate buns. I turned the pudding out like Delia Smith with the pink juice spreading round the plate looking very mouth-watering. The more usual distractions at school would be the tolling of the death bell, and the one thing always guaranteed to disrupt our concentration - the sound and sight of an aeroplane about to land. If our school day was over we would rush past the Elm tree and up Lime Kiln Lane to the airfield. The pilot in his flying gear would be walking round the aircraft, waiting for Mr. Brooks to arrive on his bicycle with a can of fuel. This was a very exciting event for us.

As business prospered at Commerce House, our lifestyle became very enviable. I think that seaside holidays were initiated by my Grandmother Harrison. She had taken her son Victor to Lowestoft for convalescence as he recovered from rheumatic fever. My mother had then decided to go by train to join them there. When we approached Lakenheath Station on that day we saw the train pulling out. Robert turned the car and at breakneck speed set out to catch up the train at Brandon! My mother shrieked and implored as we hurtled round bends on that futile exercise.

However, we then went yearly to Lowestoft where Beaty was left in charge. My parents went for short spells on their own, but there were also days out for all of us at Heacham. Sometimes the car roof was folded down - excitedly we children would stand on the back seat, and sit on the hood; but Robert would wait patiently, twirling the starting handle and not budging until we were safely settled.

Our own back yard was a children's paradise. Opposite the double gates and standing back was a long and substantial brick building incorporating a garage and large slaughterhouse with outside stairs leading to a huge hayloft. A wonderful place to plan concerts on wet days, with the children who lived close by. The garage was our concert hall and we got the inspiration from the wonderful musicals at the Coronation Hall cinema. Robert would playfully toot his horn and park outside on concert days. At the right of the house was a long narrow vegetable garden, but stretching the full length of the back of the property and on higher ground was a wide field. A few apple trees were dotted about. Washing lines were attached to them on Mondays and washing propped up. The wash house stood on the near edge of the grassy field. It was like a large beach hut where dear Mrs. Barnes would sometimes do our washing, but more frequently we would deliver it to her house. She had a hard and busy life, but was not to be pitied. Always cheerful, resolute, wise and loving, I shall never forget her.

Our life at Commerce House in 1933 was happy and settled but it was now that our best friend Beaty left, presumably to marry her boyfriend Basil Vincent? We loved little Alice Colman who looked after us temporarily (I think a relative of Mrs. Barnes). Later, from Fulmodestone, came Joy Wright. Straight from High School, she taught us some of the French that she had learned. Slim, tall and dark haired we liked her immediately. Her pay was five shillings a week with keep. During the year all three children needed medical attention, but the usual earache, toothache or chilblains, but tonsils out in hospital for me, Joyce with the top of her little finger cut off in the car door of a visiting travelling salesman. Finally Barbara who caused great anxiety when she had a series of abscesses on her neck. After three small operations at our house where Dr. Francis gave her a whiff of chloroform each time and the district nurse came often to put hot lint dressings on her neck. Dr. Francis called in a specialist. He prescribed a "magic" ointment, it was not to be handled during treatment, but to be rubbed on the neck with a glass tumbler. "It worked".

Joyce and I would visit our grandparents at Hockwold frequently, getting out our bicycles and riding off along the Wilton Road to a home that was run like clockwork and always welcoming. Granny Harrison was very special to us, calm, quiet and constant. She was never given to great shows of affection, but somehow we gave and received a lot of undeclared love and were always happy to be with her. Our grandfather Harrison was a busy man, of regular habits and few words, but admired from a distance. Although children said very little at mealtimes he would usher us out of the room after tea in case we interrupted the weather forecast on the wireless. We played in the farmyard and the harvest fields in Mill Lane with two of our girl cousins who lived nearby, and could not have been happier.


To be continued in, "Green Coats and Flickering Flames"