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Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: The hop years of our lives

This photograph of hop-picking was taken in 1924 in Paddock Wood in the Weald of Kent, where my gran, Annie, (pictured, on the left) moved after her marriage. Like many generations before her, she was born near Cranbrook, deep in hop‑growing country. Her father and both grandfathers worked on hop farms, and probably their fathers and grandfathers did too.

This is the area where it is thought Flemish weavers first introduced hops to England in the 1300s, and I like to think that our family may have been involved even then. Sadly, the hop-picking tradition in our family finished with my sister and me in the 1960s, when mechanical harvesting was introduced, and there was a new fashion for lager, which needed fewer hops than traditional English beer.

My dad, Bert, at the time of posing for this photograph, wouldn't have known that later on, as a teenager selling sweets to hop-pickers, he would meet his future wife, my mum, as she was picking hops with friends. You could say that I owe my life to hops. Dad never left Paddock Wood, where he was born, and neither did his younger sister, Dorothy, also known as Babs, who is beside him in the photo. As well as hop-picking, one of the jobs she regularly did as an adult with other local women was hop-tying, done in May to train the new bines.

The other hop-picker, their cousin, Ethel, was probably dreaming of a new life as she picked. Not long after this picture was taken, she sailed for a new life in Australia, where she died in 2006, aged 100.

September was hopping month and schools didn't restart after the summer break until all the hops were harvested. My sister and I still refer to those times in late summer, when misty dawns develop into warm sunny days, as "hop-picking weather".

We remember the canvas-covered folding wooden bins, into which we put the picked hops, and the bushel baskets that measured them. We also recall hands blackened with picking, the call of "Pull no more bines!" at the end of the day, and the pay packets collected from the farmer's kitchen at the end of the harvest. It's well known that Londoners flocked to Kent every year at hopping time, crucial to the harvesting of hops, but the farm where we picked just employed local people, so we were surrounded by friends and neighbours. My first new bike was bought with hop-picking money.

I was born in Paddock Wood, too. Then a village, it is now a town, with houses built in the former hop fields. The only reminders of the past are a few roads named after varieties of hops, and oast houses, formerly used to dry hops and now converted into dwellings. Even the Hop Pocket pub, named after the large sacks in which the dried hops were stored, has now gone. My dad's work took him on a daily commute into London, but he remained a country boy at heart. In his last years, he and I made an annual pilgrimage to a hop field, even though it became increasingly hard to find one.

I now live by the Bristol Channel, but in my garden is a hop plant. I only have to crush a hop in my fingers for the familiar scent to transport me back to Kent, the hop gardens and my roots. Liz Youngs

Playlist: Easy money from the Seekers

I'll Never Find Another You by the Seekers

There's a new world somewhere / They call The Promised Land

Many years ago there was a wonderful theatre in Glasgow called the Alhambra. My mother, sister and I had the good fortune to run a snack bar backstage for three years – up until its closure in 1969. During our time there, we met many famous artists such as Frankie Vaughan, Max Bygraves, Marlene Dietrich, Betty Grable, the Shadows and my favourite group, the Seekers. Each night as they performed, I would stand at the back of the wings and listen to their music.

One night, the theatre housekeeper asked if I could help out. Apparently, the Seekers' manager was fogbound at the airport in London and wouldn't be able to get back to Glasgow. The manager usually helped Judith Durham, the lead singer, to change dresses halfway through the act. The housekeeper asked if I could lend a hand. I can remember how excited I felt. I was told to wait until the end of the song I'll Never Find Another You, and then rush along the corridor to the dressing room.

As Judith Durham came off stage, I followed her into the room and opened the wardrobe. There hung three or four beautiful, sparkling evening gowns. I can remember commenting that it must be wonderful to wear such glamorous clothes. She was such a lovely person and very friendly.

I did this for two nights and the housekeeper handed me an envelope with 15 shillings in it as a thank you from Judith. That was quite a lot of money in those days – but I would happily have done it for nothing.

Consequently, every time I hear that song, it brings back memories of the easiest money I ever earned. Elizabeth Nicholson

We love to eat: Doorstep elevenses


One doorstep

A tin of Brasso


Several old rags

Two soft yellow dusters

A good friend (most essential)

In the early 1950s, to get my weekly pocket-money, I had to clean my mother's brass collection – a job I loathed so much that I offered Kathleen from next door half my earnings if she would help me. As she didn't get any pocket money she jumped at the 6d.

The brass collection itself had begun, unwittingly, during the war, when we children one day gleefully picked up from the pavement shell-cases that had rained down from German planes, as we walked to Sunday school – the target was a bus factory opposite Garner's bakery, where we sheltered (a shop with little more than bread on sale in those days). Like a fool, I would go on to give my mother brass knick-knacks for birthdays, Christmases and even holiday souvenirs. There was far too much of it.

Our back doorstep faced Kathleen's, and dividing us was a low wire fence that dipped where Kathleen would climb over and join me once the brass was set out on opened newspapers. From the moment we dipped our rags into the Brasso, while all the time talking and sharing confidences over our week's happenings, this normally loathsome task was transformed into a really pleasant one.

We didn't rush, for we knew that by the time we'd rubbed and polished all the assorted brass objects until we could see our mirror images in them, my mother would return from shopping – her last port of call having been Garner's bakery.

As she pushed her laden bicycle up the path, we knew what was in the greaseproof bag she carried teasingly over our heads and into the kitchen. We heard the kettle boil and cups rattle. Mother then appeared and handed down to each of us a cup of tea and a tea-plate. Spread across the entire surface of the tea-plate was a huge choux pastry cream-filled bun topped with soft, sweet chocolate. One bite and we were in heaven as cream oozed and clung to our lips, cheeks and chin. Should Garner's be out of choux buns, we were just as happy with a many layered, jam and cream-filled vanilla slice topped with pink and white soft icing.

My mother's home-baked cakes were to die for, but these Saturday morning indulgences were actually bought! And somehow that made them special. There was as much pleasure in sharing the hated task with Kathleen as there was in sacrificing half of my one shilling for such a treat. Sheila Isherwood © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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