Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chapter 2

An Imperfect Life contd.

2. And then there were four.

  It was Uncle Bill's fault. Dad's older brother was our favourite uncle. He always had toffees in his pocket for us - even if they were usually covered in fluff.

Dad's six brothers and his cousins formed a cricket team and Bill was the popular wicket keeper - which accounted for his corncrake voice - all those 'HOWZAT'S!'

  He was very proud of the cricket bat given to him by Constantine the famous cricketer. 

He had a brown leathery face and deep set, dark brown eyes in which – if you looked hard enough - you could spot a twinkle.  His big bluff exterior hid a very gentle man.

He was Dad’s favourite and, out of all his brothers, Bill was the only one Mum never found fault with.

  Like us he belonged to the Unitarian Church and for years - before WW1 - he had been friends with three spinster sisters - the Misses Taylor - Ethel , Edith  and Florence who although no blood relation became our honorary aunts. 
  When he went to fight in France I imagine he became their hero and he was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry near Ypres.  Maddie still has the beautiful embroidered cards he sent from France to 'my dear friends' - the Taylor sisters.

Maddie and I used to speculate about the relationship he had with the aunts.

‘I think Uncle Jack’s in luv with Auntie Ethel,’ I suggested to Maddie.

‘Yeah but he’s probly too shy to say so an’ anyroad Auntie Edith and Auntie Florrie are always with’em.’

‘Well Auntie Florrie does go away on ‘oliday wi’ Missus Mackie.’ 

‘But Auntie Edith is alus there.  They’re never alone,’ insisted Maddie.

‘Auntie Ethel and Auntie Edith even sleep wi’ each other.’

In those days it was not unusual for sisters – even adults - to share a bed.

 The Aunts were pillars of the Chapel and must have got to know Uncle Jack at Sunday School.  I can imagine how they felt – especially Ethel - when war broke out and he was sent to France along with his older brothers.

The three sisters were quite tiny in build but commanded great respect.  Ethel was the driving force and outwardly appeared cold and judgmental, Florence had austere good looks and as a trained chiropodist had her independence.  She used to have separate holidays with the local widowed post mistress.

Edith was just a satellite of Ethel.  I found her easier because I could make her giggle; I only had to mention Rennies - the well known aid to digestion and she was off.

She seemed to look more kindly on me than the other two.  Uncle Jack used to take Maddie when he visited them and this gave Mum a break from having three small kids under her feet.

 They lived in Waterfoot about a mile away.

I’m not sure how it came about; we kids were meant to be ‘seen an’ not ‘eard’ but I expect Mum –little more than a girl herself -was quite pushed with three small kids and as Uncle Jack took Maddie more and more frequently down to the Aunts and they all had happy times together I surmise that the time came when they suggested it should become a permanent arrangement.  Obviously Maddie would then have more opportunities and it would allow Mum and Dad to give Evan and me a better life - in theory.  In the end all three of us won scholarships to the Grammar School and had a good education. I suppose if there had been the three of us we would have had to leave school at 14 to get jobs like a few others on the estate.  Mostly the ones lucky enough to get to the Grammar School left at 14 to start earning.  

Whatever the reason when Maddie was six it was decided that she would go and live with the honorary aunts. Maddie was excited and happy; the aunts were well off and had a shoe shop and a telephone and Ethel and Edith were skilled seamstresses. Maddie would have corn free feet, shoes galore, exquisite dresses AND a telephone - a rarity in the thirties. 

Now that I’m a great grandmother I wonder how my parents could have done that: given up their eldest child to three maiden aunts of no relation, but at the time - with the mind of a child I thought ‘Oh Maddie’s t' lucky wun!’

I remember when I was at the grammar school racing home one day – very excited

‘Mum, Mum there’s a school trip to ‘arrogate at th’end of term.  It’s VERY EDUCSASHONOL an’ we stay there a couple o’ nights.  PLEASE Mum can I go?’

‘We’ll ‘ave to see.’  This was Mum’s usual response which drove me mad!

‘Oh PLEASE Mum - our Maddie went last year,’ I whined.

But the whining didn’t work.  We couldn’t afford it and that was that!

There was a bit of envy flying around.

 Maddie was given a beautiful doll’s pram with a big pot doll named Shirley.  Shirley was dressed in hand sewn clothes and when you turned her over she said ‘Mama.’

I on the other hand had a moth- eaten dog called Mona.  I experienced both envy and disgruntlement.  Evan just took the whole thing in his stride; he was the youngest and when he was a toddler he almost died with double pneumonia.  Consequently he was cosseted; having his chest rubbed with goose grease at the first sign of a cold and daily fed Fenning’s Little Lung Healers.  He could have turned into a spoilt brat but fortunately he was a sweet natured child and a very happy little boy.

My memory comes in snapshots and whilst writing about this period – the period when I was about four, I got a snapshot I wasn’t expecting.  I was walking on the top road coming home with another child – possibly Elsie from next door.  A tall  lanky lad – about 18 - with hair the colour of fresh horse manure and a face spattered with freckles called out to us..  He greeted us as if he knew us and said he would give me a piggy back.  He lifted me up onto the stone wall by the side of the Co-op, stood with his back in front of me and told me to put my hands round his neck.  Being tiny for my age I was used to people making a fuss of me - ‘Eeeeh in’t she bonny?’ they would say - so I did as I was told.  He carried me just as far as the corner shop and then put me down.
 He had touched me. 
 I didn’t tell anyone and managed to banish it from my mind until I started writing about this period.  Who knows if it had any subconscious lasting effect on me?  It certainly got me thinking about the times when I was accused of being ‘an ice maiden‘in my teens  and even Jamie saying I was scared stiff of men the first time he kissed me.  It seems strange that the memory lay dormant all those years.

   We always seemed to be short of money but Dad kept chickens so we could sell eggs and Mum did hair dressing in the evenings.  They were both very conscious of keeping within their budget and: ‘Never a borrower or a lender be!’ was a bit of a mantra in our house.

  I’m certain that everyone acted from the best of motives - believing that our lives and opportunities would be enhanced by Maddie being brought up by the Aunts. I‘m also certain that my parents regretted it till the day they died. Initially life did get easier; one day Dad came home with a big smile on his face.

‘Cum outside May an’ see what I’ve got.’

We all trooped out, down the steps to the road and there was the most beautiful Swallow side-car attached to a Rudge motorbike.  Mum’s face was a picture but when Dad kicked the motor bike into life she gingerly sat on the pillion whilst Evan and I got in the side-car. We knelt up on the seat facing backwards so we could see more and wave to everybody.

With Mum clinging on to Dad we roared off over the Fierns.  No more Wakes Week at Blackpool - now the world would be our oyster.

  Our first big trip was down through the South West to Land’s End.  It was like going to the end of the world and we kids found it very exciting.  The first night we stayed at a B&B (bed and breakfast)  at Weston Super mare and saw a fantastic sunset on the beach.  Then Ilfracombe, Torquay and Newquay which was very posh and Evan and I had a room with pink walls and a big pink jug in a basin for us to wash ourselves and we met a really nice couple who had two dogs – a Pekinese and a Chow.  We loved those dogs and had our photographs taken with them.  Everybody made a fuss of us and I’ve never seen Mum and Dad so happy.

Lands End was pretty frightening; there were gigantic rocks and the thundering waves beat against them - so loud you couldn’t hear yourself speak. 

I was always the mischievous one and Evan my willing follower.

 ‘Evan let’s ‘ide from Mum an’ Dad behin’ this big rock. They’ll think we’ve drownded.’

We giggled as they frantically shouted our names and searched for us but when we saw how upset they were my conscience pricked and we showed ourselves.  What a horrible child I was.  Dad was furious and Mum cried.  Dad grabbed us,

‘Y’little buggers!  That‘s last time we’re cumin’to this bloody place,’ he roared.

This trip had a lasting effect on Evan and me.  He followed the same route when he was grown up and went on his honeymoon and I eventually chose to end my days here in the South West.


  Maddie was also taken hither and yon by the aunts but travelled in a more up - market mode.  They went on the Queen Mary- not on a cruise but just to look round it.

Uncle Jack went too but as Maddie said – like the poor - Auntie Edith was always with them

Maddie would come home for tea every Sunday and we would swap experiences.

 After tea Madddie and I would give a concert, much to Evan’s dismay and Mum and Dad’s delight.  Maddie had been given piano lessons and played really well.

Deanna Durbin was our favourite artiste.

‘I’ve got t’music to Deanna’s latest film Pat.’ 

 ‘Just play it through once Maddie to remind me o’ tune then I’ll sing it wi’ you.’

‘Waltzing, waltzing high in the clouds.  Only you and I in the clouds.’

No-one will hear when you call me your dear one.

Whilst waltzing in the (high note) clouds.

I still remember all the words but sadly the voice has gone.

Mum and Dad thought we were very talented and should have been on the wireless.  I had quite a sweet voice and longed to have it trained but instead Mum and Dad scraped the coffers to get me piano lessons; the aunts had given Maddie piano lessons so they would do the same for me. A TOTAL waste of money in my case.  Why would they NEVER listen to me?

  Now we had transport the Lake District became our favourite place. We camped in a tent on the edge of Lake Windermere and hired a wooden rowing boat - I was nine, Evan seven..

Dad would row us all over the lake but I persuaded Evan to ask Mum if we could take the boat ourselves and have an adventure.  Dad had gone to get some petrol so there was a chance she’d say yes

‘Mum can me an’ Pat  tek t’boat out an’ go fishin? ‘

 We had one of Mum’s long pauses whilst she weighed up the possibilities.

‘Oh please Mum- it’ll ‘elp Evan when ‘e joins t’ Sea Scouts.’

‘Well alright then but mind y’keep in sight o’tent al’time.  Think on!’ 

Our tent was right on the edge of the lake so we had a wide area of safety

We took the rods down to the wooden boat

‘What’ll we use fo’t bait Evan?’

‘Go and ask Mum for a jam - jar an’ sum bread.  I’ll show you ‘ow we can catch minnows in’t stream and then we’ll stick ‘em on th’ooks and there’s yer bait.’ 

‘OK Evan but just don’t expect me to stab them little beggars wi’ th’ook

Later he laid the jam jars on their side in the brook and before long we had quite a few minnows.

Considering Evan was two years younger than me he was quite bright – for a boy.

‘Once we had the bait we rowed out to a large rock and tied up to the rusted notice that said DANGER – KEEP OFF.

 Fortunately it was too far away from Mum for her to read it but it was almost opposite the camping ground and well in sight of our tent.

It was so exciting when the coloured floats attached to the rods bobbed under the water; this meant we had a bite. We caught perch and once Evan caught an eel. Mum cooked them on the primus in the evening – I can still hear the roar of the flame and smell the metafule.

I’ve never tasted fish since that tasted so delicious.  We were the providers!  Yay!

 That first week we had another big adventure and climbed two enormous mountains - Helvellyn and Skiddaw.  Going up was made easier because there were some other folk with us and they couldn’t get over these two little kiddies climbing so high and we were bolstered by their praise.  At the top our paths diverged and they were continuing on along Striding Edge – too dangerous for us Dad said and it did look pretty scary – like a knife edge with sheer drops either side.  So coming down without our admiring audience was quite arduous and there was a bit of moaning and groaning.

Still Dad said there weren’t many kids who had done that at our age and we swelled with pride.  Our legacy was a life-long love of lakes, mountains and our blessed country-side 

  I loved waking in the morning and smelling the damp grass beneath us.  Sometimes Mum would let me stay reading in bed till late morning.

Favourites were Angela Brazil – all boarding schools, jolly hockey sticks, sucked lemons and midnight feasts; another was Richmal Crompton’s glorious ‘Just William’ and my all time favourite 'Little Women.' 

Mum sniffed - ‘That’s our Pat,’ she said, ‘bed, book an’ biscuits!’

Looking back I feel sad that Maddie missed out on those trips. Although no expense would be spared on her upbringing she would be an only child with just the ageing aunts and occasionally Uncle Bill for company.

We were quite an emotional family and there would be the odd Sunday when Maddie was upset about something or other and Dad would say:

‘Right!  Yer cumin’ ‘ome then!’

But Maddie, although she often had the chance, never wanted to.

 I suppose - depending on your point of view - you could say she had the best of both worlds.

This idyllic childhood was about to change.

 'Storm clouds were gathering over Europe.' It was 1939 and by September we were at war. 













OldLady Of The Hills said...

It is all so wonderfully interesting, dear Pat......I know the War brought many challenges and I look forward to reading about that time, once again. I can see how in retrospect, you wonder how your parents could agree to the arrangement of Maddie living with the three so-called Aunts....But it sounds like she had a happy childhood. Did you ever talk about that time with Maddie, when you were both much older and had children of your own? I am so looking forward to Chapter 3, my dear!

kenju said...

Pat, you just have to publish a book!! Such good reading!

angryparsnip said...

Again I am transported and I am standing right with you.
Are these some of the stories that are in your book ?
They are wonderful.

cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Naomi: Oddly I don't remember ever discussing it with Maddie. It was just accepted as the norm. As I mentioned she was given the chance to come home on occasion but didn't choose to.

Judy: I'm so glad you think so:)

Parsnip: this is the book - as it now stands:)

Exile on Pain Street said...

Pat, this is fantastic. You are a gifted writer with a compelling story to tell. Thank GOD I'm tuned-in. I feel sorry for the people who are missing it.

The aunts remind me of the auntie in Graham Greene's "Travels with my Aunt." Not sure why. There aren't any similarities. Perhaps I'm just painting with a very broad brush. Well done. Can't wait for more.

Ms Scarlet said...

This is so interesting, Pat, in comparison with my Mum's upbringing... she witnessed the glamour and glory of her three much older sisters, whilst her own upbringing was fairly sparse due to her father being very ill and no longer being able to work. Fascinating.

Kim Ayres said...

"...he was quite bright – for a boy."

The kind of praise I can only aspire to... ;)

Anonymous said...

Just loving this Pat

Pat said...

Exile: I'm content to be mentioned in the same sentence as Graham Greene
- never mind the context. I'm so glad you are enjoying it.

Scarlet: there is never enough time. I do adjure you to talk to your mother at every opportunity so you can build up an accurate memory of her life. We all seem to do too little too late.

Kim: don't worry - you'd be right up there with him:)

Helen: that's what keeps me going in the barren periods:)

SDC said...

This is exactly the kind of memoir I love reading. It's well written so as not to be confusing, and easy to get lost in. I hear these kinds of stories from my female relatives and they are my favourite kind.

I had the same kind of experience you did, touched as a child and did the same thing. It was traumatizing so I just didn't think about it again. In hindsight, I think it was my childhood fix. I had no experience, no ability to cope or understand. It simply didn't compute. So I banished it and years later while talking to someone, all of a sudden it was there and I remembered. So many girls have this happen to them and react the same way. But there is a part of you that never forgets. i appreciate your sharing this with us.

Pat said...

SDC I wasn't at all sure whether to write about it or not but I'm glad I did. It seems extraordinary that one can forget something so traumatic. The climate then was not at all conducive to speaking out so a child instinctively makes it not have happened.
Initially I felt some rage but have come to terms with it as I hope you also have been able to.

rashbre said...

It makes a lovely read and is very evocative of the time. I'm enjoying this and you've certainly got your own style and 'voice'.

Pat said...

Rashbre; thank you very much. It's always good to hear nice things from a fellow writer.

LL Cool Joe said...

Wow this made fascinating reading Pat. You have a great story to tell and you tell it so beautifully. :)

Pat said...

joey: so glad you like it.