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Coming In, Going Out, Kept There

By Ashleylister @ashleylister

Coming In, Going Out, Kept There

Definitely 'Kept There'

Yes, women and housemaids did go down on their knees to scrub the doorstep; streets were dirtier in the old days, boots were stamped on the step to knock off dust, shoe-scrapers to remove debris, and what would your neighbor say about a dirty doorstep? Women had their pride. Steps still do need to be cleaned, especially the well photographed; does Carrie do number 10? Or Ursula the EU building when visitors are expected such as the vaccine delivery man? Skirts hitched up, a pail of hot soapy water, scrubbing brush and pumice in hand.

But two things mostly come to my mind: the image of Old Mother Riley and the dreadful words of a strict Victorian father throwing his errant daughter outside, ‘Go, and never darken this doorstep again.’His cruel words aimed at daughters who have raised his displeasure by such things as falling in love with the wrong man; consider Elizabeth Barrett (how much, well more than my father) or the truly repugnant unmarried pregnant offspring.A book I can recommend about disgruntled unforgiving fathers which I have had close to my person since childhood, is Maggie’s Message written by Emma Leslie published around 1920. It tells the story of little Maggie whose mother’s actions have angered Grandpapa in the past; marrying the wrong guy. Mama has died but has left Maggie with a message to deliver to her grandfather. The child finds this difficult but eventually succeeds. It is both sad and heart-warming as well as instructional as to how to mend family rifts and make your granddad feel a right swine.

Coming In, Going Out, Kept There

Maggie's Message

For the fallen women no longer able to conceal their pregnancies stepping across doorsteps for the last time there is a poem by Thomas Hardy which may be of some comfort, it is The Ruined Maid in which Hardy tells us that being ruined does have its compensations. Fans, feathers, fine clothes and a five bedroom house.As to Old Mother Riley, washerwoman and icon of Lancashire/Irish femininity, sitting on her doorstep, legs akimbo, usually in despair. As a child I discovered her and loved her character. Are they now on Netflix?

Coming In, Going Out, Kept There

Old Mother Riley

A sort of early Mrs Brown and forerunner of Danny La Rue, ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep.’ Created and played by Arthur Lucan , he/she was a star on stage and screen; music hall, pantomime, film and as a comic strip in Film Fun. He was a double act with his wife Kitty, who apparently in private was very disparaging of him, who played the part of his sweet daughter, Kitty. Quite why I associate her so strongly with steps I don’t know. Perhaps because she was also a charwomen and, like Carrie and Ursula, spent a great part of her time scrubbing them.

The Humorous Scrubber
a humorous scrubber
long skirts and shawl
on her knees
with rolled sleeves
skeletal frame
bony elbows and all
with a little black hat
white hair escaping
a poor Irish mother
scrubbing the step
charring for others
taking in washing
an undomesticated lady
carving doorsteps
in the kitchen
to feed daughter Kitty
always in trouble
throwing up her hands
in despair
shrill and hysterical
then drying her eyes
on her pinny
comforted by Kitty
slapstick her forte
pathos her charm
downtrodden woman
turned heroine
Thanks for reading, Jeanie B.

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