Vera’s yarns have knitters in stitches

November 30 2014

THE NEWEST recruit to a Knitteer Natter group is proving age is no barrier when it comes to meeting new friends.

vera knitter natter

THE NEWEST recruit to a Knitteer Natter group is proving age is no barrier when it comes to meeting new friends.

In fact, 93-year-old Vera Pitman is keeping her fellow knitters enthralled with lively stories from her past.

Vera, who lives in Downend, was encouraged to join the weekly group at Downend Library by parish councillor Martyn Poole.

And now she is so popular she is sorely missed if she doesn’t turn up for a session.

Vera’s parents, Elsie and Tom Cockram, lived at the Artillery Grounds at Whiteladies Road, Clifton, as Tom was in the army but after Vera was born the family moved to Kingswood and had two more children, Alan and Joan.

After finishing her education at Two Mile Hill School, Vera’s first job was at an opticians called Hyde-Bain in Broad Street, Bristol where she ran errands and fetched meals for the staff.

“When the war came, I didn’t want to go into the forces so I went into the Women’s Land Army,” Vera said.

“I milked cows and saw to the animals - I did everything and anything!

“One day the farmer went to the market with his wife and left me on my own but that day the bull got out and ran off to the railway line. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, someone’s got to get him in’. So I got up the railway line and tried to put a rope through the ring in his nose. I couldn’t do it because he kept lowering his head and puffing and blowing. In the end I took a chance and pushed my fingers through the ring to grab him. He came like a lamb! I took him back to the cow shed and that was that!”

Vera kept catching colds and her doctor warned her the job was no good for her health so she went to work for Robertson’s Golden Shred Works in Brislington, where she was to stay for 18 years.

“I worked in the finishing room where the jars were brought into us. We picked them up, put them on the belt and the first girl labelled them, the second girl whacked the Golly on the back and the third girl put the covers on. Two girls at the other end then cellophaned six jars in a parcel. We all took turns at doing the different jobs.”

Vera was 35 and now living in Knowle when she married Grantley, who came from Staple Hill. His occupation was a painter and he worked for the corporation doing up houses.

They were married for three years before the couple had their only child, a son also named Grantley.

Vera left Robertson’s to look after her son, but finding it a strain living on one wage, she went to work in the kitchens at Manor Park Hospital through the night so her husband could stay at home with Grantley Jnr.

The next few years saw the couple move home and settle in Downend but Vera and Grantley were to be married for just 15 years before she was widowed when Grantley senior sadly died of a heart attack.

Further tragedy struck when Grantley Jnr was killed when he was hit by a double decker bus.

“He was with a crowd of people waiting at a crossing on the centre. Everyone crossed but Grantley had to be the one who got hit. 

“They came and fetched me and told me Grantley had an accident and was in Frenchay Hospital. When I got there I asked the sister if he was going to be alright and she said, ‘No, I’m afraid he isn’t’.”

Finding herself on her own, Vera turned to the Catholic Church for a job and became housekeeper for Father Daley at St Augustine’s Church in Boscombe Crescent where she stayed for 40 years until her retirement just two years ago.

“One day, the priest asked me if I could make sense of a letter he received. He threw the letter at me across the table and I read it and shrieked. He asked me what the matter was and I said ‘You know what the matter is!’ The letter said I was to be honoured by Pope John II in a citation for serving so long as a priest’s housekeeper.”

But Vera could never imagine that she would actually meet the Pope. 

“We went to Lourdes to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of one of the men in the church,” she said.

“The man who was taking us round told me to stand in a certain place saying if I did that I wouldn’t miss him. I stood right up against the fence and he actually walked by me. As he did he caught hold of my hand. I said to him ‘God bless you, Holy Father’ and he asked me to pray for him.

“I had a lovely life as at housekeeper at St Augustine’s. I loved it and met some wonderful people.”

Vera eventually had to leave the job she loved so much because health problems were causing her to lose balance.

“The priest told me I was becoming a liability. So being smart I replied ‘But Father, I’ve always been one of those!’ He didn’t think it was funny. I still pop in to see him when I can. He’s a darling.”

These days Vera keeps busy by knitting baby shawls so she found a natural home at the Knitter Natter group.

“They’re a lovely crowd of women,” Vera said.

“The first week I wasn’t sure I’d like it but I gave it a try and you’d think I’d always known them. They’re just so friendly.

“I heard a lady mention she was 85 so she’s still got a little way to go to catch me up.”

Knitter Natter takes place at Downend Library every Monday from 10am.