Edna Hunneysett, a published author and great grandmother, is delighted to have completed in lockdown her latest publication ‘Greener Pastures and Brown Blazers’. Edna challenged herself last Christmas to finish the book in time for her 80th birthday at the end of July and found that being self-isolated for four months, helped. Edna lives in Middlesbrough with her husband, a retired teacher, and is looking forward to their diamond wedding anniversary next April. Marrying at aged twenty and having eight children, it wasn’t until she turned fifty that Edna began studying for a degree. It took five years distance learning to gain a BA and she followed this by doing an MA before writing three books about mental health and the need for support.
This book is a heart-warming story of growing up in the early 1950s. It continues the semi-biographical account of the life of Emma Holmes immediately on from the very popular first novel ‘Greener Beyond The Hill’ which spans the first eleven years of Emma’s life.
When Emma passes the eleven plus exam in nineteen fifty-one, giving her access to a grammar school, she is thrust into the rigorous discipline and structured life of boarding at a convent grammar school in Scarborough, separating her from her five siblings. She also leaves the idyllic setting of the isolated farm, Bankside, on the North Yorkshire moors where she has spent her childhood in a happy and carefree environment, in spite of poverty, hardship and stark living conditions of life without electricity and where the only access to water is a cold water tap in the back kitchen fed from a spring in the field. An outdoor small brick building contains a wooden board and lavatory bucket that is emptied manually. The children walk two miles in all weathers to the nearest school in Windrush village. The family’s means of transport is the red David Brown tractor, known as ‘Moorbeck Express’ by the villagers, Moorbeck being the hamlet in which Bankside farm is situated. Emma’s dad, Tom, makes a small wooden contraption, a link-box, to fix onto the back of the recently purchased tractor, to enable him to give his children a ride to church along with his wife, Mary, who sits beside him on the double seat, nursing their latest offspring.
The reader is given the experience of an eleven-year-old on a winding journey from leaving her farm and beloved family for the first time, to venturing out into the wider world of boarding school life. Emma is excited at the thought of flush toilets and baths with hot running water unlike their outdoor lavatory and the tin bath that is dragged out once a week. She’s read about lights that automatically come on at the press of a switch, this in comparison to taking candles to bed and with the light downstairs being from a Tilley lamp suspended from a water-stained wooden beam in the kitchen, the stains still evident from the snow that dripped from the attic in the winter of 1947.
After arriving at the boarding school, how does Emma adapt to not seeing her family for seven weeks? Will life be the same when she returns home? Will two-year-old Jacob remember her? What of her twelve-year-old sister Martha with whom she is closely bonded and who did not pass the second half of the eleven plus exam and who remains at the village school. Will their relationship be affected? Will Emma’s expectations of a more exciting life be fulfilled? Will Emma’s ability to achieve academically help her overcome her lack of confidence and the scrutiny from day pupils, who find her broad Yorkshire accent amusing, who are amazed that she isn’t a regular attendee at a local cinema, that she has never been to a swimming pool and who are curious as to what she does in the evenings.
Over the first years, Emma strives to fit in at school only to find she no longer feels that she is comfortable when returning to her home life at holiday time and doesn’t seem to fit in either place. What will her friend, Faith, with whom she is bonding, make of Emma’s home situation, if she invites her for a holiday? Faith has her own issues with her mam being a single parent and no knowledge of her father. Will Emma’s family be a substitute one for her?
Eventually, Martha introduces Emma to local dances and rides on motorbikes, in stark contrast to bedtime at eight-thirty that the boarders are accustomed to. Emma’s dad introduces Emma to smoking woodbines, alongside her sister. Emma delights in feeling grown-up, having a cigarette whilst taking a break from forking hay when Mary brings the mid-morning flask of tea to the hayfield, but how does Emma explain the nicotine stain on her finger to her questioning peer group when back at boarding school?
The mystery surrounding Jack Netherfield was revealed to Tom and Mary in the previous book but why are Emma and Martha astounded when Tom finally tells them who he really is? After meeting Faith, Emma’s friend, why does Jack ask Tom to try and find out about the parents of Faith? What is Jack’s interest?
This book gives a personal insight into the challenges of living a life of total contrast between home and school and how five years of studies as a boarder with its strict routine, is balanced with helping at home with the ever-expanding family on the isolated farm. Readers can experience first-hand the many adventures that include solving a long-held secret involving Emma’s best friend. The book tells of lasting friendships, learning to swim, passing exams and the inevitable boy interests, but does passing the eleven plus exam improve Emma’s quality of life and enable her to come through academically and become a confident sixteen-year-old? Will she sink or will she swim?
This book is a most enjoyable read and heartily recommended. Copies are available from the publishers: Chipmunkapublishing.