Wednesday, October 17, 2007

While we're on the subject...

While we're on the subject of elderly relatives I need to mention the lady three from the left in that photograph of my family on a beach holiday with their butler...my Auntie Beattie.

She was actually my great-aunt, being sister-in-law to my grandmother - the two blokes in cricket flannels to the right of the photo are their husbands, my grandad Richard (good guy) and his brother the bastard Victor, as he is forever known.

To be fair to Victor for just one sentence I never knew him for he died when I was too small to care, but the story of how he cheated on my lovely auntie Beattie has earned him the title "Bastard" for ever more - maybe he'll be the next one to visit me to put the record straight ?

Thats enough of being nice to Victor, the bastard thing that he did was to have an affair with a brazen hussy in Leeds where they both worked, at the time Victor and Beattie were both living in Horsforth, a village outside of the Leeds environs at the time (now swallowed up by the metropolis) and the big city may as well have been a million miles away to Beattie but the suspicion that her husband may be playing away convinced her to follow him to work one day, and so waiting around the corner from the bus stop one morning she waited until he boarded and went upstairs for a smoke then jumped on the platform and took a seat downstairs - I can only imagine her despair as she stayed on the bus when it arrived in the centre of Leeds to see him being greeted by his scarlet woman.

Despite this revelation and his subsequent admission of guilt she stood by him and long after he had died spoke of him as if he were a saint, I never heard her say a bad word about him, the bastard.

Her house was a small one bedroomed stone built terraced cottage in a row of identical cottages, all of whom were rented by elderley widows just like my auntie Beattie, and the strange thing about that terraced row of twenty or so cottages was that the old ladies therein never referred to each other except by their formal surnames, so my great-aunt Beattie was always "Mrs Atkinson" to her next door neighbour of god knows how many decades, and likewise her next door neighbour was always "Mrs Williams" to my great-aunt.


Their cottages were "through" terraces which means that they had both a front garden and a back yard, each pair of houses sharing a communal back yard in which were a pair of outside toilets, a stone wall bordered the back of the property beyond which was a narrow rocky back lane which had never seen the benefit of tarmac and then the allotments, plots of land rented out to keen gardeners for the growing of produce thereon.

The outside toilet was the scene of my most embarrassing incident of my small childhood when I somehow managed to lock myself in there one afternoon while visiting with my mother, like most women they sat in the living room chatting away for hour upon hour completely ignoring the fact that I had not yet come back from the toilet hours ago. Meanwhile I sat there in the darkened cubicle in complete despair at my inability to unlock the latch which I had so cleverly locked on my way in.


Eventually I heard the sound of a "choo-ooo" from the back door of the cottage as Beattie came to look for me, I ignored her as I was in a big sulk by then and the big sulk continued for the next hour as they tried to cujole me from outside into tipping the latch and freeing myself, and more importantly allowing my mother to use the toilet after drinking several cups of tea while I had been incarcerated.

After most of the afternoon had expired I finally released myself to find most of the street standing in auntie Beatties back yard, some concerned, some finding the whole episode hilarious, I bet they still speak of me today, if I showed my face down that back lane today, forty years later, some centegenarian would point, laugh and cry out "you're the daft kid who locked himself in Mrs Atkinsons lavvy".

Other than that it always seemed to be a nice little community to grow old in, the local shops were just a few minutes walk away (and I never knew my auntie Beattie to use a supermarket), and the old blokes who tended the allotments would often leave a clump of carrots or potatoes on the widows back wallls as they made their way home, these were folks who had been raised in the Edwardian era of the start of the 20th century and they still seemed to all be living in that ethos of help yourself but help others too - if one of them was going down to the shops she'd call in on a neighbour and ask if they wanted anything bringing back and my auntie Beattie was the designated fetcher of the Friday lunchtime fish and chips for half a dozen of them.


It was the sort of neighbourhood where people would wave from the allotment and neighbours say hello over the back walls when you walked down the lane, it was timeless, a throwback to a more polite age, and in the school summer holidays of the late 1960's I often rode my bike the handfull of miles down to her house for a cup of tea and a piece of home made cake, for my great-aunt Beattie, unlike her sister-in-law my grandma, could actually cook properly and very little of her food ever came out of a can, on these visits I'd be shown off to her neighbours with a "oooh look Mrs Williams, my nephew has come to see me", even though I was actually her great-nephew, we all seemed to drop the "great" moniker off in our family.

Those are good memories, sitting in her huge armchair in her front room, budgie in its cage chirping away, me munching on a huge slab of cake and a pot of sweet tea wondering why my auntie Beattie's house didn't smell like my grandma's, and she using the word "love" at the end of every sentence as in "have you got enough cake love" to which the standard reply was "well if there is just a bit more auntie Beattie"...

Those memories contrasting quite starkly with the day she died, which I think I'll leave until tomorrow...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love is unconditional...

Grannymar said...

I am really enjoying this little series of family memories.

I knew of a community like that. They were further up the road in Co Durham.

All very caring of each other.

Gary said...

I'm using this blog as a sort of notepad for the "biography" at jerrychicken.co.uk - its something I love doing but sometimes the little snatches of memory don't justify a whole chapter, hopefully all of these will stich together at some point in the future !

Tomorrow is sad - and funny

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gary said...

Last "Anon" ... thank you for the comments :)