For light reading, Dad read the Daily Telegraph every day, except on Wednesday or Thursday, when he pored over the pink Financial Times as well. When he had finished with the Telegraph, he passed it over to Mum, who usually managed to complete the cryptic crossword before washing up the breakfast things.
My father and uncle ran the ironmongery business as it was called then, Dad running the sales and marketing, and Uncle John keeping the finances under control. When Dad first started in the company he rode his bicycle all round the country villages taking orders. Later he went in the car, and Nigel often went with Dad on his Monday ‘journeys’. I might have gone a few times, but winding country lanes did not agree with my stomach and I was probably an unpleasant liability.
Dad always kept a bag of sweets in the car, and he was fond of clove-flavoured humbugs that I didn’t like much, but ate anyway. Sometimes we were lucky and found some sticky sherbet lemons. The best thing was sucking on that hard sour exterior until the fizzy sherbet started oozing out and bubbling its way simultaneously down your throat and through the top of your head until your scalp prickled.
Dad produced a steady flow of home brews for the duration of their time at Delapre. It was both a hobby and an outlet from the pressures of his business. It’s still a mystery to me who can have drunk it all, because Mum hardly touched alcohol and Dad was very disciplined. He ritually poured himself one small glass per evening, which he sipped while going through his trade figures.
One of Delapre’s features was the cold dark cellar initially accessed through a trapdoor from the kitchen. Later Dad had an electric light and a staircase put in because it became too hazardous for him to climb up and down through the trapdoor with large containers of fermenting wine or flat beer while holding a torch under one arm. In addition to the several 100 litre plastic containers of beer he always had blipping away in the airing cupboard, he made wine out of anything he could lay hands on. We had elderberry and elderflower, rose-petal, gooseberry, parsnip and something Dad called Jungle Juice, which was probably pretty potent as it caused our large Uncle George to perform a memorable forward roll across the coffee table one Christmas.
The cool cellars seemed to be the right temperature to store the wines, while the warmth of the large airing cupboard fermented the beer. We probably went to school some days with an interesting yeasty aroma hanging over us, as every item of clothing was aired in the walk-in airing cupboard before being put away in the unheated bedrooms. In winter we children used to race to be first out of the bathroom so we could get dressed in the airing cupboard.
Rather than carry the heavy containers of frothy beer downstairs to decant into bottles, Dad hauled them from the airing cupboard into the adjacent bathroom. That was until the flood that caused the kitchen ceiling below to be replaced for the third time.
We were all downstairs when we heard a shout from the direction of the bathroom. Running upstairs to see what had happened, we were greeted with the sight of Dad wearing only his underpants, knee deep in foaming beer. When he knocked the beer over, he had whipped off his trousers, which were now floating out towards the landing, hoping to save the dry cleaning bill and the beer, but alas, saved neither. The beer drained straight through the floorboards on to the kitchen ceiling, which soon started to disintegrate again…