Big Flo is loosely inspired by my grandmother, who was very much a strict Methodist and a stoic. She would stand in her pew at chapel every Sunday reciting: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, while her belly growled with hunger and she wondered what they could possibly find to eat for their tea.
They were poor because she was the bread winner as her husband had MS. She
also lost her baby son while he was being minded by a friend. He was scalded to
death with boiling hot water as he grabbed a pan from the stove. Her
hardships of life created a woman of strength but with a lovely dry Lancashire sense of humour, and a
most tolerant lady. Her second husband was a Catholic, quite a daring thing
to do in her day.
Polly’s problems are very different from those suffered by my gran, and in the
sequel, the war is as much a family one as attempting to recover from
the actual hostilities.
Here is a picture of Clara as a young woman, (on the left) with her sister Sarah, and her daughter, (my mum).
These are some of her favourite sayings:
Stand on yer own two feet.
Be clean in mind, tongue and body.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Idleness addles the brain.
Be stoic - no complaints.
Look the next chap in the eye.
And some others with origins:
Don’t throw the baby away with the bath water.
Back in the day when the bath was a tin one in front of the fire, the man of the house had the privilege of the first bathing in nice clean water, followed by his sons and other working men in the household. Finally the women and children. The baby was last, and as it was pretty dirty by then, you had to be careful not to lose sight of it and throw it away with the bath water.
Raining Cats and Dogs.
The thatch on houses was a favourite place for animals to sleep and keep warm, so cats, dogs, mice, bugs often lived on the roof. But when it rained it became slippery, the straw might split and they could fall through, thus raining cats and dogs.
The floor of a worker’s house was generally comprised of dirt. Only the wealthy had flagged floors.
Bring home the bacon
Most people lived on vegetable stew from the stock pot kept going over the fire, but sometimes they might be lucky and be able to afford pork which was a treat. It was a sign of god fortune if the man of the house could “bring home the bacon” and they would hang it over the fire to show off.
Bread was divided according to status. The peasants got the burnt bit at the bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and the lord got the top or the “upper crust”.
It was alarmingly common for someone to be believed to be dead when they were no more than dead drunk. With medical expertise unaffordable they would be laid out for a couple of days so that family and friends could gather round and see if they would wake. Hence the custom of holding a “wake”.
Saved by the bell
When graveyards began to get full and money was tight, coffins would be dug up and re-used. On reopening scratch marks were sometimes found inside, indicating that the incumbent had been buried alive. So a string would be tied to the wrist of the corpse, fed through the coffin and up through the ground and tied to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell, just in case. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer”.
Make do and mend
From a pamphlet
issued by the British Ministry of Information during WWII intended to
give advice to housewives on how to cope with rationing. But it became a
way of life for my Big Flo, and many others in real life, including my gran.
The Polly Books now republished by Harlequin Mira Books.