Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The "Visit"

back to back 
Wiping the condensation from the upstairs window, I peer curiously down at the passing streets, as the double-decker bus slowly heaves and inches out of town.

Seated behind, laughing and animated, Ma and Auntie Agnes are happily engrossed, interrupting each other’s sentences, they tut and exclaim over the latest scandalous family outrage, and never being ones to gossip, remember to seal each other to secrecy, before stripping the next skeleton from the flesh.  It holds scant interest to me, as most of the names are faceless. Ma being one of ten, and with the majority of them scattered, there are scores of relatives I've yet to meet. 

As the shops fall behind us, the route opens on to sprawls of residential landscape, high rise housing schemes, splattered in colourful graffiti.  Farther along, the skyline widens, the modern developments giving way to their older counterparts, squat structures erected around the 1900’s.
Everything is built in red brick, capped by sloping roofs of grey tile. The houses are joined all together, side by side, as well as from the rear, creating seam upon seam of double rowed, flat-fronted (no yard or garden) terraces, which (I was soon to learn) are locally known as, “two-up/two down, back-to-back’s”.

A prod in the back jolts my eye from the road.  Our stop has arrived.

Moisture coating our suitcase, we lug our way over the damp cobble-stoned streets, to follow Auntie Agnes past row upon row of houses, up the steep hill, to Enfield Place.

“Here we are, c’mon in, dearie, and say a hello to your cousins!”

The door opens straight in to a cluttered living room, filled with a crowd of tall, and not quite so tall, some little, and some down-right toddler-sized, children.  A lanky youth greets us, vacating a seat for my Ma, as his younger brother takes our coats.

Once the introductions are through, Auntie Agnes calls up from the foot of the stairs for my Uncle to come on down and welcome us in.  (Apparently, Uncle Ray takes to his bedroom for a slice of peace and quiet.)

Auntie Agnes tugs a child out of her space, to settle her ample girth on the sofa, “Fiona, girl, go and stick the kettle on, we’re fair gasping here for a cuppa’.”

Ma had said Fiona was the same age as me.  She sure doesn’t look it.  I’m a good head taller, and no where near as skinny.  She’s a bonny lass, though, and I take an instant shine to her lovely smile.

I go into the scullery to lend a hand, and we chat as I rinse a few cups through.  I find I don’t care too much for the Yorkshire clipped accent, where no-one bothers to finish their words.  Auntie Agnes still holds her broad Aberdonian brogue, much as she ever did,  but her husband and kids are all English, born and bred.  I am excited when Fiona promises to, soon as we can decently escape, take me round to meet up with her friends.

And thus it was,  how my two week “visit” properly began.             

Although she was rather quiet and somewhat timid, Fiona could fall into giggles at the drop of a hat.  This earned us frequent punches (to settle down)  in the night, from her two elder sisters, who also shared the same bed with us.  Barring the fact Sandra pee’d the bed of a night, I didn’t much mind this sleeping arrangement.

Aside from a cold water tap in the scullery, there was no indoor plumbing, and the only lavatory was located outdoors, shared between five other households.  Once the lights were out, it was either the pail at the back of the room, or nothing.

(Unless you happened to be called Sandra.)

Too shy to go in the pail, I took to emptying my bladder last thing at night, and held myself in ‘til the morn.  Even during the day, I’d only use the outhouse if Fiona posted  look-out, because it was dank and smelly and crawling with spiders, and the rough, wooden seat speared splinters in my bum.  Besides, there is nothing less conducive to a leisurely dump, than having an impatient neighbour outside, rattling the door frame.

Nevertheless, I found myself having a fine old time.  It being the school summer break, we were more or less given free reign to do as we pleased, and we found no end of adventures to keep us occupied.

Some of the houses had taken a direct hit in the war, and their gutted, bombed out carcasses stood gaping and empty, the exposed foundations visible still, some thirty-odd years on.  Although bricked up at the front by a chest-high wall, if you cared to  jump up to sit  on the ledge, and swing your legs round, a fifteen foot scramble would drop you down to the rubble-strewn belly, below.  Certainly, climbing out again proved more of a challenge, usually requiring the firm yank from a friend, (which you’d hopefully) pre-stationed above.   Deemed too dangerous to play in, we were banned from going anywhere near these places, which of course, made them a natural magnet for us to congregate. 

If not out skinning my shins down the shells of these bombed-out playgrounds, I was busy teaching the neighbourhood kids how to speak Scottish (slang), or boning up on my newly acquired competitive skills.  I was delighted to discover the English were not only brilliant at football, they also weren’t too adverse as to cluing me in on some manoeuvres, such as how to deliver a blinding "dead-leg" to the opposition, from behind.

I learned a lot from my new friends, such as how a stolen pot of my eldest cousin, Maggie’s, clear nail varnish, could harden the most apologetic of conker’s, transforming it into a sure-fire, winning missile, every time.  Also, I’d never played a game of “Find the Lady” not in the entire span of my eight, long years, but well before the end of that glorious, first week, I found myself not only adept, but nothing short of a gifted genius, in the ancient art of sleight of hand.

We came and went pretty much where the fancy took us, only calling by the house when our bellies growled. 

Granted, meal-times were a bit hit and miss at my Auntie Agnes’, served on the basis of “first come, first serve”, as they were.  Those turfing up last had only themselves to blame.  Even when we did catch the odd hot meal, in truth, it was usually more of a challenge than a pleasure to digest.  Ma confided, if she ever saw a butterless, boiled-to-mush potato again, she might have to take up refuge with the Pakkies, next door. 

(I didn’t like to tell her, I already had.)

Yasmin’s family were from Bangladesh, and she was the most beautiful girl on the face of the planet.  I had no word for it at the time, but today I would say she completely entranced me.  She wore a rope of thick, dark-brown hair, plaited down the centre of her back, and owned a collection of hand-embroidered doll-clothes to die for – all of which her mother had taught her to hand-stitch, by herself.  She was a couple of years older than me, and although she wasn’t allowed to run the streets with us, she was always happy to have us call over.  Her mother, ever gentle, kind and welcoming,  seemingly never saw cause to raise her voice.  Both she and Yasmin dressed in luscious, brightly coloured satin, and I felt sure they were directly related to Aladdin.  No matter what time we cared to show up, we were always offered a much appreciated something delicate and tasty to snack on (even if we were made to wash our hands first).

I’d never seen, much less met, any dark skinned person before.  I’d heard about them.  They were called “Darkies”, and ran about eating each other.  Least, that’s what I’d been told.  But Yasmin wasn’t like that, and neither was her mother.  Maybe her Da was.  He worked shifts down at the local biscuit factory, and was always asleep when we called. Perhaps it was only the men-folk who were savage?

A trick of Fiona's was to rise early, and sneak out of the house.  The milk-man delivered to the doorsteps before dawn, and whilst the streets were still desererted, we were able to lift the bottles with little fear of being caught.  The main thing to remember was to never take from the same doorstep twice in the one week, for the second time around, someone might be there lying in wait for you.  

All too soon, the first week flew into the next, and long before I was anywhere ready, the last of our holiday burned close to an end.

Well, so I had thought. In fairness, it came as a shock to us all, when Ma announced we were staying.

Not least of all to my Da, and the sib’s waiting for us at home (never mind to my poor Auntie Agnes).

In truth, the holiday really had come to a close, from here on out things were set to turn a wee bit strained.


mrsnesbitt said...

Your rich dialogue took me straight into the action. I can well picture the whole events. Didn't you just love the way our parents, when gossipping always did so in a hushed voice but EXAGERATED E A C H WORD so any body with a faint ability to lipread could easily make out what was being said! Loved it!


Rock Chef said...

I love these posts of yours - really takes up back there, life as it really was complete with terms that are not considered correct any more...

I think I would have taken refuge next door too, even if you were forced to wash your hands!

TechnoBabe said...

Great story through the eyes of an eight year old. An adventure is now turning into a disappointment? I look forward to the next part of the story.

BRUNO said...

Gee, even I enjoy reading this one---an' ah hain't even edjumacated as YEW-all is...!☺

Sabi Sunshine said...

I was lost in the story in good way felt like i was there and keep looking at the pic you posted felt so real.. Awesome job done writing this post.

Sabi Sunshine

RA said...

I do like the way you make a story so vivid! Please, hurry to continue. :)

The Blue Zoo said...

Ive been waiting and wating for this! And now I have to wait some more. I love the way you write.


I was there..right there with you..great story telling

Leslie: said...

I can hardly wait to read more! Why did your Mom leave your Dad - or did she? Is it just you who will be left?

Pat Tillett said...

I loved this story (and photos). You are very talented in both areas...

Nancy said...

On the edge of my seat, here...

Ms. Anthropy said...

Beautifully done and worded so different than where I'm from.

Cheeseboy said...

Impressive stuff. The story was so rich, I was entrenched.

Pauline said...

oh cliffhanger, thy name art Shrinky!

Shrinky said...

Ha, so true, Denise! They seldom gave credit for flapping ears (smile).

Rock Chef, I look back now with my mother's eye, and simply shudder at how slap-dash parenting was back then! Guess we all survived though (grin).

Hi TechnoBabe, not so much disappointing as confusing, really. People rarely explained to their children what was really going on, back then.

Hey careful, Bruno, you might swell my head here! And you don't fool anybody, I'm still laughing over your latest blog offering, you're a natural!

Aw Sabi, what a lovely thing to say, thank you hon, that's made my day!

RA, I had fun writing this, though I sometimes get a bit too wordy for a blog-post, I'm so glad you enjoyed my offering!

Ha, Blue Zoo,I think I'll give my readers a break from this for a post or two - but there will be more - there always is..

I saw you Jackie, didn't you see me wave (grin)?

Hi Leslie, my ma was always leaving my da - it's just the cussed old sod would never let her go!

Hello Pat, ah I can take no credit for the photo this time, but it IS taken on the year and in the Town that I'm talking of, which was quite a find.

Hi Nancy, that's put a smile on my face!

Hello Ms. Anthropy, I've lived 42yrs outside of Scotland now, and my speech is very different from when I was then eight, I'm glad I was able to recall it in my younger voice, and even more happy that you noticed (smile).

What a cheesy thing to say, Cheese Boy (wearing my happy face)!

Shrinky said...

hahaha, Pauline - oh, I am sooo delighted you came back (woo-hoo)!!

chewy said...

Too wordy? No way! I love all your words. They paint a rich description of the places, people and events of your younger days. I had no idea your Mum was one of ten. Please keep on remembering and writing, we totally drawn into your stories.

Akelamalu said...

You described the two up, two down I lived in until I was 11 years old in Manchester! The the council compulsory purchased them and we moved to an overspill estate and a house with a bathroom with hot and cold running water and an inside toilet - luxury!

Joanna Jenkins said...

Jeez, I just love the way you write. You paint the picture so perfectly I can actually see you "lifting" the milk bottles and playing together.

Thanks for another great story. More please.

~Babs said...

Aw, man,,,I so love your turn of a phrase,,what a gift you have, Shrink!
"a slice of peace and quiet".
Completely in the moment, I can't wait to hear the outcome.
Your stories always take me back,,to another place, a different time,,called youth.
What a grand and glorious place to revisit!
Thank you, talented girl!

Shrinky said...

Dearest Chewy, all this drivel up here is soley down to your blasted nagging and relentless encouragement (smile). You gave me the belief that what I write might be worth the reading of, and for that I can never, ever thank you enough. I simply love your bones, girl. ((x))

Shrinky said...

Ha! Akelamalu, I KNEW I couldn't be the only one out here with memories of outdoor loo's (giggle). The irony for me then, was we'd just been re-housed, that past year, from the slum tenaments of Aberdeen, to a fancy new council estate that came complete with indoor plumbing and gardens all to ourselves - I knew and appreciated how priveliged we were - last thing I wanted was to turn back the clock!

Shrinky said...

Hey there, JJ, I re-live these those days (maybe a sign of old age?) when I settle in to write of these times, and I am always hesitant of the reaction to come when I post. A comment like this means the world to me, thank you, bonny lass!

Shrinky said...

Babs, my heart always does a little flip when I find you in here, because I know I ever come away with a huge smile planted across my face for your visit. You always "get it", for which I am so delighted!

The Urban Cowboy said...

I could visually see this unfolding the way you weaved this tale of an eight year old. It will be interesting to find out what happened.

deb said...

I'm not going to lie,
I skimmed this ,
enthralled , and awed .
i will read it again, word by wonderful word in the quiet.

just unbelievable.

Shrinky said...

Hi Urban Cowboy, aw, thanks for that!

Hey Debs, how nice of you to want to come back, I really appreciate that (smile).

BugginWord said...

I'm swooning for the accent. Again. Way to get that nasty Pat taste out of my mouth!

Fen said...

We came and went pretty much where the fancy took us, only calling by the house when our bellies growled.

My childhood was a lot like this, sometimes our parents would have to come out and find us and drag us in! Your writing is superb m'lady.

secret agent woman said...

What a great story, It sounds like it could have been from much longer ago.

secret agent woman said...

What a great story, It sounds like it could have been from much longer ago.

Velvet Over Steel said...

Wow, I love your writing & the name of your blog! :-)
So glad I found your blog to follow. I can learn so much from you!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Shrinky said...

Awww, Elly lou, I confess I am a total sucker for the American accent, myself (grin).

Hi there Fen, my children's childhood today is spent in a far more structured and more supervised way - guess there are plus's to that, but there is also a price for it, eh? Oooh, that reminds me, I have something for you, in my next post!! (grin)

Secret Agent, sometimes it feels much longer ago, too. My youngest, when she ever asks about my younger days, always prefixes her question with, "Mum, back in the olden days.." (And the tragic thing is, she is deadly serious!)

Hello Corrine, what a lovely surprise to find you in here, thank you for popping over, and for the encouraging words (smile)!

lime said...

quite a picture of a childhood summer you paint. i was skipping around with you. definitely something surprising to lead to the next chapter though...

thank you for dropping by my place.

G-Man said...

What a GREAT story!
Wonderfully written, and so real life...
Thanks for stopping by...G

Parabolic Muse said...


vertiginous me! Lovin this. a pure delight. back for more, soon.

Once, I asked someone if she was from Manchester. She said, 'born, bred, and buttered'.

Mickle in NZ said...

We are only a very, very few years apart in age but, oh my, what so incredibly different childhoods we had.

Mine was in suburban NZ - all houses detatched and with land around each. The standard land section for a house being the "Quarter Acre" (now a dream).

Even the land with my wee one bedroomed flat is larger than the actual flat - but then I have the bottom flat and all of the bottom of the section is exclusively for my use - and up keep. It is City Council "green belt" below that.

Now you live on a green isle with jevunile deliquent chickens at the bottom of the garden (I bet thay don't even leave decent eggs) and garden with "rampaging in growth" veggies! N.B. the courgette paste does really freeze well, but in the Summer it is dangerously good to pull out of the fridge and snack upon - you have be warned, darling Shrinky.

Sending mumbling almost purrs from Zeb and much care and love from me, Michelle xxx

Skunkfeathers said...

You tell a story so vividly. Granted, the part about the outhouse didn't require vividity ;)

Mushy said...

Most excellent!

Stephen Tremp said...

Very good..glad I stopped by. I liked, "Some of the houses had taken a direct hit in the war, and their gutted, bombed out carcasses stood gaping and empty, the exposed foundations visible still, some thirty-odd years on."

I can picture myself there walking down the streets and surveying the damage. Love some of the terminology. Sculler, the pail, etc. Good stuff.

Stephen Tremp

Joy Palakkal said...

Really i lost in your story ..
exciting way of narration..
With All Best Wishes..

Donna Hole said...

I love the easy voice in this. It was playfully adventurous, yet so accepting of new challenges. Awesome.

So many catchy phrases too. I like how you're not changing the verbiage to fit the new times, and the section on "Darkies" was so intriguing. So real. I could just see your grandmother staring at the folks, making up her own minds. Just lovely.


Middle Child said...

Am usure of your age but you would have to be within a few years of my age from what you are writing about - it is amazing that those of us in our age group are now the link between old times with outdoor toilets, and no hot water etc no mod cons and an age of hightech gadgets that we could never have imagined - I enjoyed your story - my stories are so different coming form country NSW Australia but have the same flavour... you did no go home from playing till your tummy was growling or in our case till it got dark - that was one offence we got thestrap for..

Shrinky said...

Hi Mushy, I'm so glad you stopped by (smile).

Hiya Skunk, aw why hold back, eh (giggle)?

Hello Lime, thanks for coming over. Yeah, put a bunch of kids together and they always find the fun, where ever they might find themselves.

Aw G-man, that's really lit a smile on my face, thank you for that!

Hey Parabolic Muse, Manchester is the neighbouring town to Leeds, the one this post is based in. I finished up spending many years there, and soon lost my scots accent to the Yorkshire one. "Born, bred and buttered" made me laugh, it's been years since I heard that phrase!

I know Michelle, my life now couldn't be more different from those days back then - funny how things turned out (smile).

Stephen, how wonderful to see you in here, and thank you for those encouraging words, they really do mean a lot to me.

Hello Joy, I am so glad you enjoyed the tale, I had a lot of fun writing it.

Ah Donna, there was no such thing as polital correctness then. I did hesitate slightly to include that paragraph, but I wanted the recounting to ring true, warts n' all, so decided to let it stand. I'm glad you read it in the spirit it was written.

Middle Child, I turned 50 this year, and I couldn't agree with you more - my goodness, how the world has changed. My kids feel deprived if they run out of credits for their phone, seeing it nothing short of child-abuse!! (I often feel tempted to lauch into a Monty Python spoof, of "Kids of today! Why, we used to have to live in a hole in the road..!" (Wink)

SJ said...

"English were not only brilliant at football..."

Brilliant writing!

Brian Miller said...

wow shrinky...been a while since i was over here...a fabulous have me hooked...i will be back for more...

Fen said...

oooh sounds exciting :)

Putz said...

you are all so english>>>i wrote a dialouge on my dead and then my living cousins and had fun with it, and you as i said before, you typifie so well all the english i met in birmingham, salford, bromsgrove, great yarmouth, spending 7 years altogether in my romantic years, age 17 to 24 in those afore above mentioned places>>>you are a GREAT writer, i never acehieved {i meant to say it that way}that high level of writing in all my 500 posts even though trying so hard

otin said...

It was very interesting, but the end threw me for a loop. You stayed? Did your mom and dad split?

Shrinky said...

SJ, well, back in those day's they were (grin)..! Thanks, hon.

Oh Putz, you never fail but to put a smile on my face - I had no idea you had lived in England! Nice to see you back here again.

Yeah Otin, well, for a bit. Poor woman was always trying to leave, but he would never actually allow her to.

Paul C said...

You bring flesh and blood to a significant moment in history.

mac said...

How coincidental.
Thhere was a time when my mother moved us all in with her sister. It wasn't anywhere near a city (read VERY rural) however.
Like you, we had no indoor plumbing.

To this day, nearly 40 years later, I don't care much for my cousin Dianne. She was just so mean to us. Now, I ignore any mention of her. That's the best revenge ;-)
I enjoyed this story. Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier.

Shrinky said...

Paul, funny how much more vivid things in the past become with age (smile)..

Hey there Mac, good to see you in here! Your cousin sounds charming (wink)- I'm sure her Karma's caught up with her by now. I didn't know it at the time, but it turned out poor Fiona had a heavy burden to carry. I lost touch with her down the years, have no idea where she is now.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

You are a great telling story writer!

Shrinky said...

Thank You Phivos, for the kind words.

Sabi Sunshine said...

stopping by to say Hello. waiting for your new adventure post..


The Kid In The Front Row said...

You're a big great. And I love the picture.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Meant to be 'a bit great' not a 'big great'. That would imply you need to lose weight. I am certainly not implying that.

Nor, 'bit'-wise, am I implying you're only a bit great as opposed to a lot great, which you may well be, especially if you like drinking tea, in which case, you're a lot great. i'm going to stop typing now.

flaubert said...

Fantastic read!

Shrinky said...

Hi Sabi, ah, I'll work on it, but don't hold your breath (grin)!

Hahaha, Kid in the Front Row, I'm raising my cuppa' tea to you - cheers! I'm delighted you have found your way in here, because I have a good feeling we are set to become firm friends.

Hey Pamela, how lovely of you to drop by, welcome to my humble abode (smile)..!

Saz said...

that is fantastic writing and you pulled me right in...again...
saz x

Shrinky said...

Hey Saz, welcome back, how was the trip?

Jingle said...

skillful write!

Jingle said...

pick one or two awards from my place if you want,
enjoy a fun day!

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bill lisleman said...

wow you have impressed quite a number of readers including myself. Very glad you reposted the links to this.