Sir: I must be one of the oldest surviving "latchkey kids" ("Working lives bring back the latchkey kids", 12 February).
In 1924, for economic reasons, my mother went back to work. She was one of only about 9 per cent of married women who did paid work outside the home at that time. At the age of 10, not only was I responsible for the latchkey, which I carried in a purse slung over my shoulder along with my dinner money. I was also in charge of my younger sister and two other younger children on our mile-long walk to school (no school buses then).
My mother left the house before we did. Sometimes my father, whose work was irregular, was able to see us off, but often I was responsible for seeing that the front door was securely latched.
We were able to get a bus home from school and arrived home at about 4.30pm to an empty house. It was my job, as the elder, to light the gaslight (no electricity then) and the fire (laid by my father before his departure in the morning).
It was then our job to lay the table for tea. We took pride in doing this correctly. There was no sliced bread in those days and I was not allowed to cut the loaf, so that task had to await my mother's return at about 5.15pm. We filled in the short time before her arrival by reading comics (Tiger Tim or The Children's Newspaper) or starting our homework (no television or even radio to entertain us). When my mother arrived we had a light tea, helped her with the washing-up and then finished our homework while she prepared our evening meal. We had a family supper when my father came home.
This routine continued until my father obtained permanent work abroad and we accompanied him. My mother enjoyed working so she continued to work until retirement age, but was able to afford help in the home.
All is not doom and gloom for latchkey kids. The home atmosphere is what matters. Ours was a cheerful home and we all mucked in when necessary. I do not think we suffered from our experiences. My sister and I received a better education than would have been possible had my mother not worked, and are glad that she did so.
Woodford Green, EssexReuse content