Selling the Germans cocoa seemed normal when I was growing up. We went down to the brickworks and they put their hands over the wall. “Please, you get me cocoa?” I was seven, then and war had been over a year or so. I stretched over the wall to see the prisoners, my younger brother pulling at my skirt. They handed me money and told me there was a penny for me, so off we skipped to the small shop at the end of the road.
No one seemed to mind that we were bringing back the precious drink for them. The men said they missed their children and didn’t really want to fight in a war.
“No more cabbage pie,” said Josie, who was my best friend. “Mum says we will soon be eating nice big pork sausages.”
I pondered and couldn’t remember pork sausages much. Josie’s mum was not a brilliant cook anyway, and had a lot of ‘friends’ in the American army. Mum didn’t know any Americans, but we did have the odd slab of butter or some sugar from a friend on the docks. We churned cream from the milk to make our own butter. That was my job. I sat dreaming as I made the wooden paddles turn.
Some food had come back in the shops, but still we had restrictions. Rations meant miniscule amounts of any protein foods, it was just enough to keep us going. We grew a lot of vegetables and ate a lot of porridge. We also had to queue at the butcher even after the war, and show coupons to get anything. I used to wait for Mum to be served, scuffing up the sawdust on the floor as she was handed a small slice or two of liver, and some lamb bones. Luckily, we had our own hens and at Christmas the cock birds were sacrificed and shared with the family. Roast chicken was indeed a luxury. We used to take the scrawny purple-blotched birds to my aunt and she would then share any bounty she had on Boxing Day. It often consisted of tinned fruit and blancmange with a few mince pies. One year we had boxes of cream biscuits and I made myself sick eating too many!
Bananas were a mystery; my brother said they were not real and he thought mum and her family was ‘fibbing’, but when we actually bought some and ‘unzipped’ them the joy was real. Josie even ate the skin.
Mum had saved coupons and had enough for me to have a full skirt made. I had to visit the bent little dressmaker. She lived above the fish shop, and sat on a swivel stool, her mouth always full of pins. I waited and watched, but she never swallowed any. Twirling my new skirt I felt like the film stars I saw. I was Margaret Lockwood, or Elizabeth Taylor, or even Vivien Leigh and I did dramatic Gone With The Wind poses.
The first years after war finished we lived in a country area, a little row of houses facing open fields. We had freedom to run. We would race over the black railway bridge and pretend the steam from the train was a dragon. Then we would dodge the vicious farm dogs on long ropes at the gate. After playing in the hay barn and racing with the farm kids we would eventually go home before dark.
I made little sock dolls from my father’s old socks. I called them all ‘Sooty’ and gave them character by sewing different eyes and open mouths for them. I played elaborate games on the waste ground opposite where the bomb shelter was. The weeds were tea, and the mud was made into cakes. The sooty dolls sat around and we had an elegant tea party.
Our city had been the second most bombed city after London, so took a punishment. I grew up watching the scarred buildings being replaced by concrete. Then there were new shopping centres and items that had not appeared for a long time became available. My friends from school and I wandered around Woolworths giggling and being a nuisance to everyone we met. Sixpence was a fortune to spend if we had it. I bought lavender talcum powder. We played hopscotch and marbles and conkers. We were able to go to the Saturday movies, after being so restricted. Life was almost normal again.