The influence of a Crippled Old Lady, Canvey 1940s

Memories of Stan Pierce, Brisbane, Australia

In Northfalls Road during the 1940’s and 50’s there lived an elderly lady by the name of Mrs.Laws. She was a cripple. She was a very ‘alone’ lady, but I wouldn’t say ‘lonely’ because she was an educated woman and had a very alert perceptive mind and was extremely well read. In fact, she was the one who made me aware of the difference in these two different states of being. I got to talk to her a lot as a boy by a strange roundabout way of meeting her. My parents thought she was odd and didn’t encourage me to stop and talk to her.

But, what Mrs. Laws used to do, though she was crippled, was to crawl on her back from the house, all along Van Diemans Pass when it was a grass road (well, sort of, with all the ruts) and up to the wall at the top of Southfalls Road where the concrete pillbox is and she would get down on the other side of the wall and get ready for a swim. The whole process of getting from her house to the wall would take about an hour. She did it by digging her very stout shoe heels into the grass and push herself along for about six inches for every push. She would do this every day during the summer as long as it wasn’t raining, and she knew the tide was in. No-one took the slightest bit of notice of her doing this ritual crawl every day. In those days anyway there were not many people around to notice.

Ginger and I were always there swimming and diving off the groins, and we’d just say hello and horse around while she disrobed under her coat and edged down awkwardly to the water. And she’d just ease herself in and paddle around on her back. If a ship went by and the bow-waves came racing across we’d gleefully watch in our school boyish way to see how she would turn her head to the wave and stop being dumped like a whale on the rocks. After half an hour she’d crawl out backwards again and painfully edge herself up the stone facing and get under her overcoat to get her sopping wet black wool costume off. Then she’d go through the same crawling ritual all the way home to an empty house.

If I were up there swimming alone she would talk to me. She told me how she got crippled. She was a secretary in a travel agent’s office before the war and after she had married, and one day someone in the office had playfully pulled the chair away from behind her as she went to sit down and she fell awkwardly and chipped her spine.

This lady had a very interesting effect on my life by telling me about books and what sort of things to read about. It’s the kind of thing you don’t think about in life until you start getting old and go back over things and wonder what made you go down a certain path. Then you start tracing back. She gave me two books when I was 14. One was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book of Essays, and the other was Machiavelli’s The Prince. She must have thought it out to make sure I was influenced by opposites… the kindly altruistic Emerson and the harsh pragmatist Machiavelli. It’s taken me all of 50 years to realize how a little crippled old lady prepared me mentally to cope with life.
Stan. Brisbane.

Read Graham Stevens memories of Mrs Laws HERE

Comments about this page

  • What an incredible story, I wonder if anyone else remembers this remarkable lady? She certainly did wonders with Stan’s writing skills!

    By David Bullock (05/06/2008)
  • A very human, humbling and touching story that should be read by today’s youngsters in every school. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, or in today’s language, the knife. It would be interesting to know what Stan Pierce did with his life. Robert

    By Robert Hallmann (07/06/2008)
  • I lived in Canvey from 1963 until 1980. I am 47 now and I miss those times in Canvey when I had great fun on the Concrete Barge. I would have liked to have met this lady, what an inspiration! I thank Stan for his wonderful memories, they are a pleasure to read.

    By Teresa Harrison (05/07/2008)
  • I remember Mrs Laws very well, I saw her making her slow way to the waters edge many times. I used to wince watching her, thinking she must scrape her legs on the sharp shells and stones. I never once spoke to her though. I used to think though that the cold water must have done her good or she wouldn’t have put herself through that every day.

    Does anyone remember the African dancers who put on a fire eating show, complete with wild dancing etc. Their show was in a shack down a street off the seafront, but I don’t remember which one. They used to be dressed in grass skirts and feathers and carried spears and shields and had bare feet. They would dance along the seawall whilst banging their bongo drums and when they had a crowd round them the people would follow them back to the hut to watch the show.

    By val phillips (nee Sparkes) (20/07/2008)
  • I am Stan Pierce. I would like to ask Val Phillips if she was the lady who lived near the corner of Southfalls road facing the wall during the war.

    The reason I ask is because I remember a lady I think was called Val Sparks who was married to an airman. He got shot down over Germany and I remember her getting that awful telegram. She came running out from that house on the corner and over to see mum and Mrs Maltby next door and was in a bad state.

    I do remember she did get married again after the war.

    Her son, about the same age as me went into the merchant navy and did runs out to the West Indies.

    By Stan Pierce (03/08/2008)
  • Yes.I remember Mrs Haws very well. Although not many people actually knew her, many people were aware of her. and her predilection for swimming in all sorts of weather, winter too I might add. I knew Stan well when I was a kid, in fact it was he who taught me to swim from the groyne in front of their house. I may even be the Ginger to whom he refers in the above piece. I last saw Stan in about 1958 when he and I were sort of friendly rivals for the attentions of a young lady whose name I won’t mention.
    I lost track of him then because I was a seaman myself on the Orient boats to Australia. I am delighted to know he is well and in Brisbane, Myself I live in Sokane , Washington State in the Pacific Northwest of the USA.
    Canvey seems long ago and far away now. I have not been there since the early eighties now and it had changed so much then that I did not like it much.
    When I first knew Stan I lived at No 1 Park Road, behind the bus garage (1943-1946) I later lived coincidentally in the newly converted Northwick Camp until 1950 when we moved abroad.
    Geoff Graydon

    By Geroff Graydon (08/09/2008)
  • Hello – I remember Mrs Laws very well. We lived in a bungalow called Glenroy which was opposite Mrs Laws in Springfield Road and on the corner of Northfalls. My name then was Pat Bones and I lived with my mum Stella, dad Sid and sister Barbara during the 1950’s. Another sister Helen was born in 1963. I remember a Mr Laws too. He used to wear a black suit and a black bowler hat. I also remember that one of them used to blow a police whistle from time to time. Not sure why though.

    By Patricia Marshall (31/10/2008)

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