1973. Age 8
Although Mam is ill she works cleaning three mornings a week for Mrs Cook. She says she has ‘No bloody choice if we want food in the cupboards as well as home brew she has to clean’
She has done this for as long as I can remember.
Mrs cook and her husband Norman live in a big posh house on Rain Rd facing the crematorium. Its two bus rides to get there and its like another world.
A huge semi detached house with a double garage bigger than our house. I love the smell when we walk through the front door Mam says its clean washing smell but i think it smells of happiness because that’s what Mrs cook is happy. She is a big lady she is always pleased to see me. Everything about her is just lovely.
We stand together in the huge leaaded bay window polishing brass ornaments watching the big black cars go down the long driveway to the crem sometimes we see smoke coming from the chimney. There goes another one she laughs. When it’s my turn they won’t need a car they can carry me across the road! I wish she wouldn’t say that I dont ever want her to die.
She and her husband own a string of butcher’s shops and a factory across town they have posh cars an E type jaguar I love and they had motorbikes huge ones that their son rode at the Isle of Man T.T. races when we polish the brass we polish the cups that he has won. But for all the money and money they are as down to earth as anyone.
Mam would go to do her weekly shop in the market she trapses across town for the cheapest of everything. Lennon’s supermarket then to Mrs cooks butchers Next door to the butcher is Jim Chorley’s toy shop.
It is packed with every toy imaginable. So whilst Mam stands at the counter getting her half a pound order. Half pound of stew, half pound bacon, half pound braising steak. I press my nose on the window of the toy stall working my way around the stall making a list in my head of all the things I’d like bikes and prams hanging from the ceiling. Action man, pop and spud guns, spinning tops, hoopla hoops, Spiro graphs, Lego, mechano.
I love this stall and stand there as long as possible picking what I want for Christmas or birthday or whatever is next. Then I see it, a Pippa doll, everyone in school has them apart from me and Wendy, they are on the telly I stand there singing the advert from telly in my head where ever you go Pippa goes too!
I don’t ask for it because I know what the answer will be. I am jolted back to the real world by Mrs Cook’s arms around me from behind. Hugging me smelling of clean cotton overall and fresh meat.
’Now then my little shy girl she smiles what you looking at?’ I smile and pointed through the glass at the Pippa doll.
‘What’s her name?’ I feel my face flush. ‘Come on tell Dolly! Whisper in my ear no one will hear.’ She bends down next to me. ‘Pippa’ I whispered. I hear Mam sigh behind me ‘she doesn’t need it don’t be bloody cheeky you!’ shes saying. I look down at the floor. ‘She’s never cheeky are you my doll,’ Cupping my face in her hands I love her smile and twinkling blue eyes.
‘Come on then!’ She says taking me by the hand. I look back at Mam shaking her head as we disappear into the Aladdin’s cave of Jim Corley’s toy stall.
Mrs. Cook asks the lady for the Pippa doll. ‘And some clothes,’ wow clothes as well.
She passes me the little doll it will fit in my pocket, and then she asks me which of the two sets of clothes I want. A pink suit or a red dress and boots I stand there staring! ‘Oh we’ll have them both!’ Says Mrs Cook
She pulls some money from her overall pocket pays the lady and passed the clothes to me. ‘Thank you’ I whispered, she wrapped me in a huge hug ‘your welcome doll,’ and she kisses me on the cheek.
And with a cheery wave she goes back on the stall to cheerfully banter with another customer. Me and Mam walk out of the market towards the bus stop Mam giving me a telling off telling me she’d told me before about asking for stuff when Mrs Cook was about.
I dont answer i’m too busy pulling Pippa out of her box! We sit on the back of the fifty five bus Mam chats to a lady from the top shops and I singing to myself dressing Pippa in her new red dress and boots. Before I know it Mam is ringing the bell and steering me down the bus with my hood its zip pinching into my neck. ‘Ouch Mam’
I hold onto the bars with one hand and hold Pippa with the other. The bus stops at the end of the street as we walked down I can see our next door neighbor Mrs Lewis is brushing the pavement outside our house.
I run down to show her my new doll. I sit on her step as she sweeps the pavement. She leans on the brush smiling at me.
‘What have you got there then chick’ she asks in her lovely cockney accent.
I hold out Pippa. She takes her from me stroking her hair; ‘well she’s almost as pretty as you!’
I smiled up at her. Mam catches me up wheezing and puffing on her inhaler. Shes always had a ‘bad chest but I look after her when shes not well.
‘Do you want to come and help me later when our Fred gets home?’ I’ll give you a shout and we can go clean his coach.’ Fred drives coaches taking people on holidays when he is home the coach would be parked across the street.
I looked at Mam ‘don’t you look at me she says back ask your bloody Dad!’
’Wont he be in the pub?’ Mrs. Lewis laughs. Mam scowls.
‘You know one day your going to answer me with your mouth instead of those big brown eyes! Fred will give you a knock soon.
True to her word after tea there was a knock at the door its Fred.
‘Come on then I hear you’re the new coach cleaner!’
‘ Go on then’ laughs Mam.
Fred holds my hand and we cross the road to his big blue coach. Pippa is safely sitting in my pocket. We clamber up the steps onto the coach Mrs. Lewis is at the back picking up pop cans and sweet papers loudly cursing school kids.
‘Come on then don’t just stand there! You can fit under these seats much easier than me.’‘ She hasn’t got a fat arse like you’ Fred laughs. Handing me a plastic bag. I crawl in and out of the seats picking up papers, cans and a couple of magazines. Fred follows me with a brush and a mop
By the time I get to the front of the coach I’m covered in dust and my knees are black! I sit in the driver’s seat putting my new doll Pippa by the windscreen swinging my legs pretending to drive. Across the street the front door bangs and Dad here striding down the path rollie in his hand smart jacket on. I watch him walk towards the coach.
He strides over stands by the door, ‘Look at me Dad I’m driving,’
‘Driving be buggered your bloody rotten dirty!’
‘ Sorry. Have you seen my new doll Pippa like my friends in school!’
‘ Yes! I’ve seen her. Bloody ruined you are.’
’She’s a good little help’ said Fred carrying the rubbish bags off the coach.
‘Going down the club Jimmy?’
‘ Aye for an hour you watch yourself crossing the bloody road and behave yourself for your mammy!’
‘ I’ll walk her over now’ says Mrs Lewis wiping her hands on her apron then taking my hand and helping me down the steps. Dad bends down for a kiss. ‘See you later think on now be a good girl.’ I will Dad I promise.
‘See you in the morning cock. Remember he winks!’ he squeezes my hand three times. I squeezed him back. That is his secret. Three times means I love you. See you later he says. I feel sick I hope not.
He stands finishing his cig while Fred locks up the bus. As we walked over to our house Mrs. Lewis mutters about men i don’t think she likes my Dad much.
‘ Ale and bloody fags!’ She stands at the gate while I knock on the door. Mam opens it ‘Look at the bloody state of you lady!’ ‘Sorry’ I hear Mrs. Lewis say behind me. she pushed a twenty pence into my hand. ‘ Go get in the bloody bath its run for you.’ I run upstairs into the bathroom undressed and jump into the warm water. The landing window is open and I can hear Mam still talking to Mrs. Lewis. I wash quickly then lay back and put my head under the water I can hear my heart beating. Its the school holidays now maybe Mam will let me sit up later? I pull the plug and wrap myself in the towel. Mam has left on the sink. My hair is all wet but I pull on my red slacks blue night dress and socks. Jump down each stair. Mam is sitting in the living room watching TV and knitting. ‘Where’s Dad gone Mam?’ ‘Now where do you bloody think? Down the bloody pub! He’ll be back when he’s run out of money. Drunken pig! He should bloody move in there!’
‘ What you knitting Mam?
A cardigan. For you!’
‘Can you teach me to knit?’
‘ Your bloody kitty pawed! I cant teach you’.
‘My sister was left handed and she can’t knit either!’ she continued.
‘ Can I stay up with you Mam there’s no school in the morning?’
Mam looked up from her knitting. ‘What the bloody hell have you got on? Get them bloody slacks off!’
‘ But I like wearing pants in bed Mam!’ then if the monster comes I can run fast and Its cold in my room!’ ‘You look a bloody state no more talk of monsters and its summer’
I sit on the sofa cross my legs under me and put a cushion over my trousers.
Lady jumps up beside me.
‘Get that bloody dog down.’
Lady pushs against me and we sit there together united!
‘I bloody give up!’
‘There is something bloody wrong with you.’
‘You can take them off before you get in the bed.’
’Go make me a cup of tea and you can stay down for a bit.’
I jump up running into the kitchen lady close at my heels.
Pull out the big box of matches and lite the kettle.
Wash Mam’s cup and put tea in the pot.
I quickly made a cup of tea and pour some milk into a cup for me, pouring some into a little into a dish for lady.
.’Shhh! Don’t tell Mam’
She looks up at me lapping the milk and I’m sure she knows what I say to her.
I carry Mam’s tea in put it next to her on the Cornish sit down with my milk.
Lady pushs the door and jumped back up beside me.
I lean over the sofa and picked up my book. Then snuggle down with lady. I turned the page and before long I;m lost with Peter Pan and Wendy.
Mam sips the hot tea looks over at us and shakes her head. she shakes her head a lot.
‘Okay you lie on there and read .Let me watch are you being served.’
Mam sits knitting I drink my milk and lie on the sofa with lady. I fall fast asleep with my book Mam shakes me telling me its time for bed.
‘ Come on get up. Your Dad will be in soon.’
‘Come on up the bloody dancers.’
I get up and sit on the stairs waiting for Mam to let lady back in.
Its raining she comes back shaking herself and runs upstairs before me. I shut the bedroom door, as Mam shouts ‘Don’t let that bloody dog on the bed!’ ‘I wont! Night Mam.’
‘ And take them bloody slacks off!’
‘ I have Mam’
I lie sliding into bed. Lady jumps up and settles by my belly.
As soon as she lies beside me I fell warm and safe. Me lady and Pippa.
If any monsters come Lady wont let them in she will bark and growl and wake Mammy up.