“We used to call it having your bread and cheese,” said Ted. In the 1940s and 1950s this was a way of referring to chewing the berries from a hawthorn tree for sustenance, but you could not swallow them or you would fall ill.
Staying warm and staying healthy are priorities for all of us during the winter. This was more challenging in Ted’s youth when poverty and scarcity were widespread, especially if you worked on the farms like Ted did. You survived back then by living off the land. Ted recalls catching the water, which flowed out of the clay pipes in the fields, into his hands for a drink when he was thirsty, and being willing to partake of anything that grew out of the soil when he was hungry.
As well as hawthorn berries, he ate roots, gooseberries, and his personal favourite, sugar beet. On a bad day Ted was willing to experiment with different varieties of mushroom – if he didn’t get sick, he ate more of them! On a good day he found a farmer who would let him have an apple or two in return for tidying up his orchard.
Nowadays, wheat is grown solely for its value as a cereal crop. However, back then straw was also a valuable commodity and was used to keep both farm workers and farm animals warm on the coldest of days. Indeed, when Ted was on shepherding duty, he had to sleep in the field with the animals overnight in a hammock that he made using a pump sack and straw.
Farm buildings lacked the amenities we take for granted today; there was no running water, no toilet, and no sewerage. They did have stoves which were a vital, lifesaving source of heat. Ted recalls arranging bales of straw around these buildings to keep them sheltered from the icy winds.
No one wants to fall on the snow and ice, which is why we have grips on the soles of our shoes and boots. Ted’s shoes didn’t have any grips; he wore his socks over his shoes to stop him from falling over; and he also used socks as mittens to keep his hands warm.
Looking back at past winters, Ted said they were terrible, but he is glad that he had the “ways and means” to survive them.