Wednesday, 24 August 2011

In the beginning

In the beginning there was an eye patch - or as they are called these day an eye pad. There were cowlicks, a seventies style void filled with manmade hand me downs, there were tortoise shell NHS specs, and there were fish fingers, mash and peas.  (Well actually in the very beginning there was a stripy sausage, num num and  nim nim but more on that in the 2nd pressing perhaps.)

Later came Snantneys (otherwise known as St Anthony’s), swimming, buck teeth, Cornettos, bicycles, Rise and Shine and Adrian, not necessarily in that order and still with the cowlicks and the NHS specs.

So I had cowlicks, I had specs, I had nasty knitwear and I was fed, but how did I get about? Even fashion orphans need wheels. Well, though I was only 3 I did in fact have a very flash car indeed, which went by the moniker of ‘Tommy Rally’.

Tommy Rally was a very special racing car, with a very special chauffeur. Although I liked to think that I was the driver, I was really only the passenger, although most definitely the back seat driver (Royal blood don’t you know). The real driver, pit manger, fuel attendant and mechanic, nose blower and ice cream buyer was Clare, (Great) Aunty Clare. 

Tommy had quite a thirsty engine and I would regularly direct Clare to top him up with petrol. This would usually take place at the filling station by the hedge of no. 26.

The sketchy stories I have been able to piece together about Clare, mostly from my Mother, spotlight a life of highs and lows with a key final position as my chief assistant and team Tommy manager. She had been a housekeeper in fashionable swanky hotels in central London through and after the war. She had been married, her surname was Hastings, and had a son Kenneth, who she had to give up. He came looking for her later in life but was shooed away by her family - probably my Gran - Clare’s sister, so they never reunited. It was all a very sad tale, and so no wonder she liked a drink.

When she came to Leamington in later life, pretty much without anything I think, looking after me filled a void, gave her something to do, and distracted her from the Gordons. 

Mrs Franklin’s

In the mornings I went to Nursery. Mum was working in Birmingham forging signatures for a charity trying to help young ladies up the duff not go the termination route, but instead provide them with jobs and homes, leaflets on marriage and priority access to nuns. We had many such young ladies come and live with us throughout my youth and they were all lovely. One, Carol, her mum used to do the hairdressing on the Carry On films!  Patsy was a model, Laura had a lovely son Daniel and a guitar or was it an accordion, Margie was Irish, very tall, and had the straightest long hair, Suzie had bleach blond hair with black roots, platforms and smoked. She came to Widemouth with us I happily recalled when I was there last year.

My only real memory of Mrs Franklin’s was of being ‘evacuated’ to a hall in Trinity Street and having milk and biscuits in a line, in beautiful sandals. Although as with most things this might all be down to false memory syndrome, ‘you in a wood in a hood’, and be based on a photograph I may have seen of one of the others when they were at nursery. But suffice to say I have never required the services of a therapist in order to deal with my time there, and although I have no real memories apart from the afternoons, I believe it all to have been warm and appropriate, with lots of colouring outside of the lines and tissue paper glued onto sugar paper. I don’t remember any of the other kids, although I do remember two friends from that time who could have been from there or they could have been the kids of people Dad worked with or played golf with. One was Victoria Selby, who lived in Landsdowne Crescent and had a red plastic tomato with ketchup in which I remember thinking was the height of advancement and excitement. We probably didn’t have ketchup at the Gables as it was a bit ITV. I don’t remember anything else about her. The other person is Charles Budd. Again I can only remember one thing about him, and that was being in the back of mum’s car - Triumph Toledo I think, and he wouldn’t stop talking. My early onset impatience had obviously taken to tire of this and I uttered the immortal line, repeated by my Mother ad infinitum for years, hence the clear memory, ‘You are too speaking Charle Spud.’ Bless. 

FYI - this gorgeous child I write of was referred to later in life by my sister Mary as ‘rat on a string’ but I imagine I was wearing a bright jumper and looked half presentable following bath night. ‘You were lovely when you were asleep’ I was oft told.

The afternoons

Now the afternoons were the jewel in the crown. Aunty Clare would pick me up from Nursery and we would go the 300 yds back to her flat in Bertie Terrace. There she would finish preparing lunch,  and we would wait for Gran to come back from mass. Then we world sit at the big table me in the middle, Gran to my left and Aunty Clare to my right and we would have, thank the lordy lord, always and everyday and without fail we would have fish fingers, mash and peas. And I think for pudding it might have been tinned fruit and cream (carnation). All served on blue Beryl.

After lunch we would go to the Dell, which was a sunken garden, more like a hidden valley in the middle of town, where there were swings. Why were swings such nectar of the Gods, the holy grail of activity? We would then traverse, all in Tommy Rally I think, but again, that might have been earlier and some of these journeys might have been on foot, to the post office for sweets - cherry drops are pleasantly burnt in my memory. We would then get a bus, yes a bus, to the Parish Church - Anglican but we asked for the other menu. From there we would meander to the Jeffs and gardens (also known as the Jephson Gardens). Here was a magical world of adventure and intrigue. As a toddler it was as big as a theme park and the rides were just as various and mind blowing. Oh my, what fun. There was the stone fountain, which allowed for paddling in the hot weather, there was the drinking fountain where you could get a drink (strange that), there was a mausoleum stylee building with a statute of some old bloke (Mr Jeffs And I believe) there were box hedges in squares with park benches in between which acted as my house/office, there were animals - parrots and bunnies, all in great Victorian animal houses, there was a lake with huge dancing fountains and ducks to feed,  there was a clock tower, and a clock flower bed,  there was a huge glass cafĂ© which sold ices and minerals, there was a mammoth tree with branches snaking down to and across the ground which made them easy to climb even for mini adventurers, and importantly there were ice creams - rectangles of ice cream in rectangular cones. Oh the joy and the excitement, the exhilaration and the fun. My heart is racing just remembering it all which means the joy must be deep etched in my subconscious.

It was a world of adventure and exploration and Clare and I made the most of it, as often as possible. The gardens were split both by level and by a lovely iron bridge, brightly painted blue with a mesmerising weir you could lean through the bridge and watch as the water passed from the lakes down to the pump rooms and the river Leam. On the other side of the bridge were the mystical and far away swings of Mill Gardens. We didn’t venture there too often, it was another world and ‘miles away’.

Once back in the flat the afternoon had other delicious routines. First of all there was treasure. Aunty Clare had a great big treasure chest filled with lots and lots of treasure (old cigar box with a few trinkets in) which we would go through like pirates examining the day’s spoils. Then there was the musical box, which I still have! A glorious red lacquered box from Singapore I believe which played ‘Comin’ through the Rye’. I would happily wind this up and listen to it over and over again. All these bacchanalian treats, adventuring and discovery would finally tire out this intrepid explorer, who would settle down for a nap on the bed in the sitting room which was topped by a firm green cover so it looked like a sofa without a back rather than a bed, with ‘hundreds’ of bright yellow satin cushions. A lambs wool cardigan would be placed over me which smelt sweetly of Clare and I would rest, while she had a B&H and maybe a sneaky G&T. My Gran would also take a nap in her room so it was probably golden time for Clare.

Then it was back home and to the madness of the family - my other life. But the secrets and the treasures of my afternoon with Clare would come round again, tomorrow whilst the others were back at school, and mum and dad were back at work. The magic would be played out once more and further adventures would be had and more fish fingers and ice creams would be eaten. Oh the sweet joy!


Michael Patrick McKinley said...

‘You are too speaking Charle Spud.’ Bless.

And bless you William for this absolutely delightful journey through a time a world full of rectangular ice cream cones and cigar boxes full of of magical loot. I absolutely loved it.

Anonymous said...

darling william

we love this.

especially the bit about "tinned fruit and cream (carnation)" - took us right back to the bamboo effect bowls (weren't dark bowls awfully prominent in the 70s? we always use a nice set of bright white plates from Conran as a result, of course, now we're grown ups) and the room divider with the anniversary glassware.

keep writing.

we're going to be coming to your book launch sooner than you think.

loving you madly from the country-across-the-wide-expanse-of-water.

_team gloria. xx