*Disclosure: I only review books that I have selected for my own enjoyment, and the views expressed are, therefore, even if a little batty, completely genuine. You need to be aware, though, that this review has an affiliate link, meaning that if you click through to Amazon, via the book’s image, and choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to yourself.
Being a displaced Salopian, I greedily read everything and anything to do with the lands of my ancestors across Shropshire and Staffordshire. And, on spotting a family history book by a Rowley, I was left with no choice but to buy it there and then.
For indeed the surname of Rowley, screams at me daily from my family tree.
Could it be that Marion Rowley, author of ‘Nellie:A Darlaston Wench’ is one of my own? Does she carry within her, just a little bit of Cool DNA? And, even if not, can she tell me more about the lifestyle of my working-class ancestors in the early 1900s?
The book focuses on the childhood of Nellie Askey, the author’s mother (must look up the name Askey on my tree!), and it turns out to be a real page turner for one such as I, Jay Cool, the most obsessive of all obsessive-time travellers.
I enter Nellie’s world the moment I read about her five-year old self, sitting on a ‘Mission Wall’, with bunched-up hair, flagged with ‘red, white and blue ribbons’ (p.12). The day is significant – the Coronation of King George V – and Nellie, along with her family, and neighbours, is all spruced up awaiting a celebratory procession. She’s already had an exciting day; she was presented with a ‘mug, a medal and an orange’ at school (p.15). But, in spite of the evidence all around her, Nellie, being five, doesn’t really have a clue what all the fuss is about.
Immediately, I am seven years’ old. It’s 1977, Jubilee Day. With one hand, I’m clutching onto my mum, and with the other I’m holding a little flag – red, white and blue – a Union Jack. My scalp feels uncomfortable, almost pulled off my skull, by the tight bunches my mum tugged my hair into earlier. Unlike Nellie, I do not sport a red ribbon – red, my mum tells me, is really not the colour to go with ginger hair!
We’re in Felixstowe, awaiting the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II, who’s scheduled to pass by on her way to docks – where the Royal Yacht Britannia awaits for her! I’m struggling to see anything in front of me, with the exception of some very-tall adults sporting some massive heads, but I’ve got my flag ready anyway, poised to wave at her Highness.
Suddenly, all the crowds start cheering, and a little boy is hoisted onto his taller-than-tall dad’s shoulders. I’m vaguely aware of a shiny black car passing by, and the flash of a white-gloved hand at its window, followed by a load more shiny-black cars and shiny-buttoned policemen on motorbikes. I have my flag at half-mast, on red-alert, waiting.
“How much longer do we have to wait for the Queen?”
Laugher. Disconcerting laughter.
“The Queen’s been and gone my dear – she just went past! Did you miss her?”
Tears. Tears trickling down over my freckles.
Devastation. A moment lost. A moment gone forever.
Coming back to the present, to my middle-aged self, I realise that I didn’t need to read about Nellie. I’ve known about Nellie all along. Her life was my life. The events, and non-events, etched into her long-term memory, are not so different to those of a displaced Salopian living in Suffolk in 2019.
Fortunately, though, my dad, born in the 1940s, didn’t ever in his life have to set foot inside the quagmire of a trench in a European battlefield. And, on delving further into Nellie’s life, I become aware that at the age of eight, our stories diverge.
Time to find out more!
Copyright owned by Jay Cool, March 2019
P.S. If you want to learn all about the process of scrubbing a wooden floor and blacking a stove, join Nellie and I on the journey …
P.P.S. Reminder! If you purchase the aforesaid book, via the book image link to Amazon, I will receive a commission from the seller, at no cost to yourself. (But, in view of the fact that I have a multitude of Rowleys from Staffordshire and Shropshire on my family tree, then I’m sure that, on this occasion, you can forgive me!)