... When they come back their talk is rather more animated. One of their topics is always brass-banding, for they are both instrumentalists; but they also discuss current affairs, the state of the country and the often uncertain business of earning a living. My father's friend is a carpenter, my father himself, a coalminer.
When it's time for their return the kettle will be put on, and a cake and perhaps the remains of a stand pie brought out again; what is left from high tea. At this time in my life, high tea is my favourite meal. My mother despairs of making me eat a 'proper dinner'. Roast beef and pork are of interest to me only as providers of dripping for spreading on bread - mucky fat. While I love being taken into tea-shops on trips to Leeds and Bradford, the only hot food I relish is fried fish and chips, and even when I come to enjoy many dishes from many cuisines - from England, France and Italy, from Greece, Turkey, India and China - there will still be a special salivatory anticipation in a parcel of fish and chips fried by someone who knows to a nicety the temperature of his fat and who can mix batter that will coat a portion of flaky haddock with a crisp, airy lightness.
I can locate the warm heart of my childhood in the big family parties that my grandparents held at Christmas. How many there were I can't now say, and perhaps one very successful one, with a score or more relatives crammed into the small cottage, has left its happiness like a stain on my memory ever since. My mother's family were no strangers to rancour and bitterness: they bore lingering grudges against their own, and I recall that one of my aunts refused to speak to my mother for years. But none of that marred my pleasure in those get-togethers when, in the roasting heat of two huge fires, the square table in one room would be laden with all the good things of high tea, and games in the other would reduce the womenfolk and the children to helpless laughter. In that room also I would see my first dead body when my grandfather lay in his open coffin.
My mother's thrift was a powerful factor in keeping us afloat, and other people's deprivation could sometimes surprise even her...