Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Perhaps this quotation applies to me?

I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there. (Herb Caen)


In the years between the two World Wars folks were very class-conscious, much more than they are today.

As young children my sister and I lived in a tenement in a well-kept area, where the stairs in the closes were swept down and washed every week, and the back-courts kept tidy. The people - and their children - were well-behaved, and altogether it was a good environment in which to be brought up.

At the other end of the street however, it was a different story. Large families lived in small houses, many of them room-and-kitchens with outside toilets, and it was clear that, with the bread-winner often unemployed, they had difficulty clothing and feeding themselves. In another part of the town, the houses were much worse and there were stories of rowdiness and drunkenness. Certainly we children would never stray into that area.

At the end of our part of the street there was a little lane which led through to a much more posh part. Most of the houses there were all big detached villas, each with a good-size garden, and those folks were just a bit higher up on the social scale.

But there was a further level still, and the people who belonged to that class lived in Lenzie. The houses were even bigger with very large gardens, and we knew that the folk there had servants!!!

And those were the five social classes, or so we believed. For many of course, the great aim was to progress further up the scale, and that was what happened to my family. When I was ten years old, my father bought a semi-detached house in the area through the little lane, and we left our tenement life behind.  (It’s interesting that my father’s family didn’t approve of our move. People in our class didn’t buy houses, it was implied.)

Much later on, when Jean and I were married with three children, our second home was a 7-apartment Victorian “town house” in Lenzie. But oh no, we were certainly not rich!

It’s now almost exactly 27 years since we left Lenzie and moved to our present home in Auchinloch Old Village.


The following poem is typical of what was popular in the 19th century and I remember it was in one of my school books.
It was written by an American poet Rose Hartwick Thorpe 1850-1939, and was a favourite of Queen Victoria’s. Set in the 17th century, it tells of a young man, imprisoned by the Puritans, who is to be hanged when the curfew tolls.

“Sexton,” Bessie’s white lips faltered, pointing to the prison old,
With its turrets tall and gloomy, with its walls dark, damp and cold,
“I’ve a lover in that prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the Curfew, and no earthly help is nigh;
Cromwell will not come till sunset,” and her lips grew strangely white
As she breathed the husky whisper:
“Curfew must not ring tonight!”

“Bessie,” calmly spoke the sexton, every word pierced her young heart
Like the piercing of an arrow, like a deadly poisoned dart,
“Long, long years I’ve rung the Curfew from that gloomy shadowed tower,
Every evening just at sunset, it has tolled the twilight hour;
I have done my duty ever, tried to do it just and right,
Now I’m old I will not falter -
Curfew, it must ring tonight!”

With quick step she bounded forward, sprang within the old church door,
Left the old man threading slowly paths so oft he’d trod before;
Not one moment paused the maiden, but with eye and cheek aglow
Mounted up the gloomy tower, where the bell swung to and fro.
As she climbed the dusty ladder, on which fell no ray of light,
Up and up, her white lips saying -
“Curfew must not ring tonight!”

She has reached the topmost ladder, o’er her hangs the great dark bell,
Awful is the gloom beneath her, like the pathway down to hell.
Lo, the ponderous tongue is swinging, ‘tis the hour of curfew now,
And the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath, and paled her brow.
Shall she let it ring? No, never! Flash her eyes with sudden light,
As she springs and grasps it firmly -
“Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

Out she swung - far out; the city seemed a speck of light below,
There ‘twixt heaven and earth suspended as the bell swung to and fro,
And the sexton at the bell rope, old and deaf, heard not the bell,
Sadly thought, “That twilight Curfew rang young Basil’s funeral knell.”
Still the maiden clung more firmly and with trembling lips so white,
Said to hush her heart’s wild throbbing -
“Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

O’er the distant hills came Cromwell; Bessie sees him, and her brow,
Lately white with fear and anguish, has no anxious traces now.
At his feet she tells her story, shows her hands all bruised and torn;
And her face so sweet and pleading, yet with sorrow pale and worn,
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light;
“Go, your lover lives,” said Cromwell,
“Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

Wide they flung the massive portal; led the prisoner forth to die,
All his bright young life before him. ‘Neath the darkening English sky
Bessie comes with flying footsteps, eyes aglow with love-light sweet;
Kneeling on the turf beside him, lays his pardon at his feet.
In his brave strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face, upturned and white,
Whispered, “Darling, you have saved me -
Curfew will not ring tonight!”


The writers of this song got their idea from that poem. In the 1960s “Hang on the bell, Nellie” became very popular. This is the Billy Cotton Band version with the vocal by Alan Breeze.


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