My parents both came from Liverpool, but at the outbreak of war they decided to leave the city for the relative safety of the Wirral, across the Mersey in Cheshire. They moved with me and my brothers – Charles, then eleven, and Tony, eight – to a two-bedroom semi-detached house in a small seaside village called Hoylake. My father worked for GEC, selling electrical appliances to shops, and had to travel into the city each day to make his rounds, but at home we were away from the worst of the relentless bombing that ravaged so much of Liverpool. When the bombers flew overhead my mother would scoop us into the cupboard under the stairs, where the force of the explosions jolted us off our seats.
I grew up with rationing as a way of life. Like all the other families around us, we dug for Britain, with an allotment where we grew our vegetables and a little hen coop in the back garden. As in so many households in those days, the boys generally took precedence over the girls. When my brothers got bacon, I got the rind, and when they got scraps of meat from a bone, I got the bone to chew. It was my job to clean their shoes and help my mother look after them and Dad. I was a quiet, timid child and I accepted my role in the house, as the youngest and the only girl, without question.
Rationing went on for some years after the war, so for most of my childhood scarcity was normal. I used to shop for two old ladies in our street and in return one gave me her sweets coupons and the other gave me old clothes that had belonged to her children. Both the clothes and the sweets were rare treats. My brother Charles left when he was sixteen and I was five, so I have few memories of him living at home. He went to work for GEC, first in Birmingham, then London. He was a wonderful pianist – the whole street used to listen to him.
I was closer to Tony, and when he was called up for national service in 1950, at the age of eighteen, I missed him dreadfully. After the army he joined the police to please his girlfriend, who wanted the accommodation that went with the job. He hated being a policeman and was relieved when she left him and he could resign.
By the time I was ten it was just my parents and me at home. They were opposites in many ways, but they loved each other and I never heard them argue. My father, also Charles, was easy-going, kind, robust and jolly. I remember him losing his temper with me only once, when I came home from school and used a swear word. I adored him and after I got into the junior art school I traveled into Liverpool on the train with him in the mornings and evenings. He used to carry a bag of sweets for his customers, and he'd slip me a couple on the way home.
My mother, Lilian, was unusual for her day: she had no interest in housework and cleaned our home about once a month – the rest of the time it gathered dust. But Mum had a strong artistic streak: she always had a vase of flowers in the window, which she took pleasure in arranging, and she knitted fantastic Fair Isle sweaters. Her real passion, though, was the auction rooms to which she would head every Monday to spot the latest bargains.
On Monday evenings Dad and I would arrive home to find the front room changed. There might be a new sofa, carpet, curtains, table or even all of them, the old ones already dispatched to the same sale rooms. We didn't mind: it was always fun to see what she'd done and, most important, it made Mum happy.