Do it Yourself came upon me at an early age.
In wartime when slogans urged everyone to Make ends Meet and Waste not, Want not, I was a small child under the influence of my capable Mummy who did everything herself. Well, nearly everything. She paid for shoe repairs. After that, waste ended and Make do and Mend began.
We loved the weekly Baking Day. Our dining room fire heated the water and the kitchen oven so on Thursday the damper was drawn, the fire was ‘banked up’ to divert the heat to the oven and the excitement began.
1940’s kitchens were small so the polished dining room table was covered with red-checked oilcloth. On it Mummy placed a big mixing bowl, rolling pin and tart tins before mixing a large fruit cake, made to a fat-less wartime recipe of flour and sugar enriched with egg powder, mixed spice and raisins. Flaked almonds were artistically arranged on top before my sister and I were allowed to scrape the bowl. This delicious cake lasted for a week.
Years later when I asked for the recipe, my mother said, “Surely you don’t mean that wartime cake. I was happy to throw away the recipe when rationing ended.”
Pastry went into the oven first. Mummy had light, cool hands. If she had four eggs she’d make a perfect custard tart. Her apple pies were unsurpassed as were the blackberry pies in autumn and rhubarb tarts in the spring. This perfection led me to a dislike of any food not cooked at home. But eating away from home was rare. Once, I tried a fourpenny School Dinner. It was horrible. I refused to return but invited my best friend home every day as I felt sorry for her. She didn’t go back either.
Mummy made our summer dresses - three each in cotton gingham to save clothing coupons. She knitted our winter jumpers, gloves and socks.
She was no good at decorating but then all that was available was distemper - a powder that had to be mixed in a bucket of water and applied fast, before it dried out. Once, she obtained a tin of red enamel paint and spent a happy day in the back and white tiled bathroom. It was a disaster. She picked out the worst features. Scarlet blazed from winding water pipes and the solid feet of the bath. It embellished the door jambs and doorknobs and made a feature of the previously unobtrusive airing cupboard. Daddy distempered it out.
I was hooked. But with me wartime economy developed into, not a hoarding instinct, more a mild obsession.
I am now a grandmother who has never bought a cake. Nor a pot of jam. I don’t like the taste. This is not a proud boast. I wish I didn’t feel the need to stock-up in case of power-cuts and freak snowstorms. I could survive a (small) war.
My husband died two years ago and I had to downsize. It took three removal companies to clear the house. First to an auction house where my antique furniture went for a song. Then a second hand/junk dealer filled his huge van while my daughters urged, “You have no room to keep all this stuff.” Finally I refused to budge until I’d had an 8ft x 8ft wooden shed erected in my new garden. Here the last of my treasures are kept and added-to.
The bungalow is lovely. I enjoy a clutter free life. I slimmed down my book collection and confined it to one wall. But old habits die hard. There is little space left in the shed which holds books, occasional tables, boxes of curtains and bed linen, a bread-maker, pie maker, sandwich maker, electric bottling equipment, easels, canvasses, paints, sewing and knitting machines and exercise equipment.
Left to itself, Stuff multiplies.
Which reminds me. I haven’t read many books lately. I’d better stock up on typing paper and set-to.