In complete contrast, Ruby was larger than life. At
twenty stones she was big in both size and personality.
Shaped like a huge beach ball, she described herself
cheerfully as ‘well built in all the right places
and most of the wrong ones as well’. Ruby’s
round face was always red and flushed and her bright
orange caretaker overall was a massive Extra-Large Double
X, the largest size in the school equipment catalogue.
Even so, the overall had to be adjusted to provide extra
vents under the armpits to allow ease of movement.
Ragley village had been Ruby’s home for all of
her forty-four years. She regularly boasted that she
had never set foot out of Yorkshire. Apart from the
annual family bus trip to the seaside, Ruby had never
left the village. ‘London is full of scarlet women,’
she declared, ‘and southerners can’t make
proper fish and chips.’ The thought of going abroad
had never crossed her mind.
Ruby always did her shopping at the General Stores
in the village High Street and if she ever needed anything
from York, her eldest daughter collected it for her.
Ruby’s six children comprised two sons and four
daughters. The eldest, Andy, was twenty-six and in the
Army. Racquel was twenty-four and living ‘over
the brush’, as Ruby would say, with a warehouse
man in York. The other four children, Duggie, Sharon,
Natasha and Hazel, lived with Ruby and her unemployed
husband, Ronnie, in their three-bedroom council house
at number seven, School View. The youngest, Hazel, was
four years old and had just started full-time education
in the Reception class.
Each day Ruby would clatter noisily into school carrying
a mop and bucket and an assortment of brushes and set
about her work. As she swept, scrubbed and dusted she
would sing songs from her favourite musicals. Her special
favourite was The Sound of Music, which she had seen
seven times, including once with a reluctant Ronnie,
five times on her own and once with the whole family
as a birthday treat. After listening to Ruby singing
each afternoon as I did my paperwork after school, I
was almost as word-perfect as Julie Andrews. Until,
one day in the middle of September, the singing had
suddenly stopped and Ruby starting writing letters!