Emily Bradley, aged seventy-four (after Akenfield)
This story is to remember Clara Codd who planted a tree on 23 April, 1909.
There’s nothing but fields opposite my house. And electricity pylons. I always live in fear that they’ll build houses there and block the view, but they never have done. The road outside is busier now than it was when we moved in. A lot of lorries, rumbling past at all hours. Cyclists, too. I worry about them the most. Sometimes I see them riding past at night without any lights on. I shout out the window that they’re going to get themselves killed. Salford has come up a lot in the world since we first moved here, but it’s not made that much difference in Pendlefield. There’s still poverty here, unemployment. A lot of crime. I’ve been burgled five times. Once they stole the video recorder. I heard a noise outside, opened the curtains, and could see them making off with it across the fields.
I’ve lived in the same house since Bill and I got married in 1958. I raised all four of my children here. Bill died here in this house, too, upstairs in his bed in 2002. Prostate cancer. There was a time, back when we first moved here, when William (my eldest, named for his father – and his grandfather) was born, when I worked days and nights. I’d work during the day at school, then cycle home and put the tea on. Then when Bill got home – he was a welder – I’d leave the baby with him and go to the children’s hospital, mopping floors and changing babies’ nappies. My children ask me when I slept, but the truth is I didn’t! I barely slept for six months. Then I gave up nights and just worked at the school. I had no choice though; we needed the money.
I worked at that school until I retired in 2004. I was a teaching assistant, although my job has had all sorts of different names over the years. I know the children – and grandchildren – of the children who were at school when I first started working there. I still see them around Pendlefield now, all grown up. They’ll wind down the window of their car and call out “Hello Mrs Bradley! Remember me?” And I do, I remember them all.
Pendlefield was terribly deprived back then. There is still deprivation now, but not like it was then. Some of the children would come to school without shoes, or without lunch. I’d always pack a spare sandwich, just in case. ’Course, the children couldn’t read when they arrived, but some of them had never even seen a book; they came from houses where the parents just didn’t read. We got them all reading by the time they left us.
I’ve lost count of how many headteachers and teachers I’ve worked with. They all come with their own ideas but these get ground out of them. It’s so sad. I met my best friend at the school, Penny. She was one of the first teachers I worked with. I remember the day she started. I looked down at her shoes and asked if she was Welsh. She asked how I knew, but it was because she was like a little Welsh doll with these little black shoes on. I remember what the headteacher said when she introduced us. She said: “I hope you two get along.” We still laugh about that even now, 50 years later. She died last year. I miss her terribly, laughing and chatting with her.
Charity work takes up most of my time nowadays. I raise money for Cancer Research UK. I’ve ridden to Blackpool and back, and I’ve lost count of how many miles I’ve walked for them. I had to stop a few years back, when I had my hips done. That was the worst part, not being able to ride my bike. When it’s cold, I can feel the metal in my bones. It’s worst on a Sunday morning in winter, because the vicar never turns the heating on in church.
I was married in that church, buried Bill there too. Expect some day soon, I’ll be buried there too. Not yet, though. I’m not quite done.
Andrew Kenrick has worked as an archaeologist, a magazine editor and a freelance writer. He is now studying for a PhD in Life Writing at the University of East Anglia, from where he gained an MA in Creative Non-Fiction in 2017. Andrew is one of the founding editors of Hinterland, a quarterly magazine dedicated to publishing new creative non-fiction. He lives in Norwich with his partner, and no dogs.