Joyce Milan

By Pam Schweitzer

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Joyce Milan' page

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Joyce Milan Interviewed by Rib Davis on the 4th October, 1995.

JM: Winters when I was a child. You say keeping warm in winter? Well we rarely kept warm in winter, we were extremely cold. I don't know if winters were colder, but I think it’s more that we didn't have very many things to keep warm. I remember my bedroom windows had ice on the inside, and I used to be able to scrape it off with my thumbnail, all different shapes. You know, the ice used to form patterns on the inside ofthe window. I remember getting into bed at night and having to breathe like mad down the bedclothes. My mother used to say, "Keep breathing down the bedclothes", because it was so icy cold. I had a stone hot water bottle, which went cold very quickly, and I really was very, very cold at nights. Terribly cold. Some nights I couldn't sleep because of it.

RD: Did you sleep by yourself?

JM: Yes, yes. I was an only child, so I didn't have any brothers and sisters. I often crept in my mum's room, and I remember her saying to my dad on the other side of the bed, "Oh, she's frozen, Craig??", you know, because I was, I was absolutely frozen. So cold I couldn't go to sleep. And the moment I got in the side of my mum I was asleep. And I'm afraid that practice went on for a long while, because I just had to go near somebody to get warm. The mornings were all cold. You'd put your feet out onto cold lino. Most particularly I remember that my feet were always stone cold. I never feel that now, but I can remember my toes always being so solid, I couldn't feel them all through the morning at school. Now, that's a feeling we never get now, because we've got all these fur-lined boots etceteras, but I do remember my toes being solidly cold. We had very little heating in the house. We had one fire. We didn't have a fire when we first went into the council house. They didn't reckon ... They were going to be all electric -they were going to be these wonderful work-economy places.

RD: This was when, in the 30s?

JM: The 20s, late 20s. So they didn't put fire places in, and all we had was one electric, what they call a Belling?? Cottage fire, I don't know if you ever knew them, they were just a little square electric fire. And we all huddled round that to get warm. And then after we'd been in there about ten years, they said, "Well you can have a fire place built in if you want, but it will be a lot of work", and they built the fire place inside the house once we were in it. So, that always jutted out in the one room we had, the one living room. And the chimney breast came out from the wall, like this, you know, from the house. So the chimney stack went up. But my mother said yes, she did want a fire, and it was a little Triplix?? stove, with an oven at the side. But that didn't used to give a lot of heat, really. And we had no heat in the bedrooms whatsoever. No heating in any other part of the house.

RD: So before you had that fire, what did you cook on?

JM: A cooker in the kitchen. An electric cooker with solid plates, and the old Queen Anne legs. A three hot-plate cooker. So in the kitchen we had a cooker. But they were extremely.. . no one had ever thought how cold they were going to be. I know as a small child, my mother having me ... getting me out of the bath and wrapping me up in blankets, because it was so bitterly cold when you got out of the bath. You could hardly stand it. And yet I suppose we got used to it really. Wearing Wellington boots, another disadvantage I always found was that they blistered the back of your heel. Your socks always went half way down your feet, and the Wellington boots always used to rub the back of your feet. My feet particularly I remember, as I say, being very cold. My mother even used to put brown paper inside my shoes sometimes, to keep this cold out. To try and warm your feet when you were out.

RD: Did you wear Wellingtons to school?

JM: Yes, but I used to take plimsolls, and change when I got there. But the schools were cold as well! I mean, milk at school -we used to have free milk, oh, I think I had to pay a ha'penny for mine, because we weren't all that, you know, so poor -my dad was in work. And in the cold weather, it used to freeze, and the cream used to pop out of the top of the bottle, about an inch out, like ice cream, it was so cold. We didn't have adequate heating in school either. Chilblains, I got, dreadful. We all suffered with chilblains. You hardly hear of them now, do you. You don't hear of kiddies suffering with chilblains. We all had chilblains when we were young. ­

RD: Is that from standing in front of the fire when you're cold... ?

JM: It's circulation. It's the cold not getting to your extremities, like your fingers and your feet. They used to say it's because you go from hot to cold, but we didn't get all that much heat out of a fire, you know, there wasn't much heat coming from that fire. But we did use it... We used to bake hot baked potatoes in the ashes of a fire. We didn't put them in an oven -I mean it cost too much to do that -, but we did used to put potatoes in the ash, and the grate under the fire. I never did like that because they used to come out all covered in ash, but my father always reckoned that that was the proper way to do it. What we used to eat. You know, your parents always made you eat suet puddings. We lived on suet puddings in our house. My dad reckoned you had to have one every day to keep you going. And when my children looked thin, like I was thin, "That girl doesn't have enough pudding! She should have more puddings in her!". My children don't know what it is to grow up on puddings, but we eat suet pudding, steak and kidney pudding, treacle pudding .. .

RD: Was steak and kidney pudding, the same thing as steak and kidney pie?

JM: No, you lined the basin. With suet pastry, not pastry like you rub in the flour. This is all done with suet, so it's really thick and heavy. I mean you could sink if you went swimming after a suet pudding, you know! It was really heavy, but it was reckoned that, you know, if you got more food inside you -dumplings, and things like that ... You know, every day we had stuff from suet, either as a desert -'afters' as my dad always called them -or.. . 

This page was added by Pam Schweitzer on 31/03/2014.