Theatre – Week 19 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I may have a long standing reputation as a drama queen.

As a child I was rather good at flouncing; at throwing up when cross or crossed, and at storming out of classrooms when peeved by a teacher. My second and third years at primary school were spent sitting on the swings in the playground, singing to myself.

My big brother called me Sarah Bernhardt. I went to my Mother for an explanation. She said it was a compliment and to be grateful that he didn’t call me Sarah Heartburn. It took a few years and many books before I understood that insult.

In my fourth year I met my match. Mr Williams was a legend. He was stern; he used an old plimsoll on naughty boys, he reduced naughty girls to tears, he loved music, drama, poetry and he was determined to sort me out.

I think I threw one wobbler in that year and it was very quickly nipped in the bud by Mr Williams steely glare.

He cast me as the Artful Dodger in Oliver. I had a top hat and built my part up until it almost eclipsed Oliver himself (cast because he was a sweet looking waif with blonde locks but couldn’t sing for toffee).

I was a hit; Mr Williams was over the moon, the caretaker told my Father that I was ‘a card’ (I had to get a parental explanation for that one too but I felt that it was complimentary).

Our next production was a dance drama about Hell – guess who played the devil! There were hosts of tormented souls writhing rhythmically in leotards and me – clad in pink cord jeans, a black shirt and a fetching pink cord cap with devil’s horns (made by my Mum). It was received so well that we were invited to perform it at a competition held at the local teacher training college – run by nuns and attended by naive young ladies from the Channel Islands. Some of the mothers were a little unsure about how the nuns would take it.

We were supposed to be on first due to our tender years – everyone else was eighteen years and over – but there was a mix up with the time our coach was supposed to arrive and we got there in time to be the last – and apparently most classy – act.

It was my primary school swansong. Mr Williams went off to be a deputy head teacher at another school. I nagged my parents into letting me attend a private school with two of my friends.

It was not a success. The long bus journeys made me throw up on arrival at school every day. At my previous school I had been considered ‘snobby’ because my Mum would not let us speak in the idiom of the estate – ‘I goes to ‘im and ‘e goes to me’. Glottal stops abounded at our school. At my new school however, I was considered to be ‘common’ because I lived on a council estate and wasn’t driven to school by my parents or the au pair – the what?

Half a term later and an interview with the school head, who told my mother that I spent most of my school days crying, being sick and drawing pictures.

Private education was not for me and I returned to the safety of the local education system but to a different primary school as it was felt that returning to my old school without Mr Williams to guide me, would be a bad idea.

Not quite as bad an idea as attending a school where the headmistress and I took an instant dislike to each other. Where Mr Williams had brought out the best in me – she brought out the worst. I came very close to being expelled for my insolence and lack of respect. My Mum hadn’t helped by insisting to all her children that respect had to be earned.

A change in family circumstances meant that we relocated to other side of town and I started at a senior school – for girls. No boys at all. Just girls.

Due to a mix up in education records, I was put in the remedial class in Green or bottom band; Green, Turquoise, Emerald and Emerald (R)emedial. For three days I had a lovely time drawing pictures for my classmates and helping them colour in. Boredom set it then and I complained to my Mum.

Another head teacher’s office interview and the sneering, balloon-like head teacher who said that ‘all mummies think their gals have been put in the wrong class’. A quick call to my previous school and I was promoted to the Red band – not just the top band but the top class of the top band. Colouring became a thing of the past. I maintained my hatred for the head teacher however, and had fantasies about jumping up onto the stage during assembly and pushing her off – just to see if she really would bounce down the aisle. I controlled the impulse however, but did have a book running on which of the usual suspects would faint or throw up during assembly.

Established drama went out the window during my senior school days, and with it a possible career in singing after the miserable music mistress told me that I shouldn’t bother auditioning for the choir.

I concentrated on being a rebel without a reason and a dead loss at games – except for hockey where I was a whizz at the bully-off. My school uniform had reached total anarchy level by the time I was fifteen.

In my final year the games mistress suggested that I should take the opportunity to attend drama lessons at the local Tech College. This meant no more games, no more black nylon leotards and faded red wraparound gym skirts. No more inept tennis, netball or rounders lessons. No more miserable trudging round the 440 yard running track. Thursday lunchtime saw me on a bus to town and a brave new world.

Andrea Morris saved me. She saw something in me that Mr Williams had seen. Andrea encouraged me and instilled a lifelong love of the theatre and of Shakespeare. I lived for my Thursday afternoons and the more adult atmosphere of the Tech College, where I got to rub shoulders with gas fitters, bricklayers and very worldly ‘A’ level students.

Needless to say, the plans for me to attend Girls Grammar College to take my ‘A’ levels were abandoned and I became a full-time (ish) student at the Tech the following September. Signed up to study Drama and Theatre Studies (‘O’ and ‘A’ level), and English Literature and Sociology ‘A’ levels.

Sociology got bumped in favour of Art  ‘A’ level which also prevented me doing any more ‘games’ as Art was considered to be aesthetic rather than academic and took place from 1300 hours to 1800 hours on Wednesday afternoons – when we were supposed to be doing circuit training in the college gym.

I went on to drama school  after the Tech – to Andrea’s old drama school in Birmingham – and the drama queen became an assistant stage manager on every production I could wheedle my way into. I loved doing the lights, building sets, making props and finding things from obscure sources. I did a bit of acting too and some spectacularly bad dancing.

The unemployment rate for female assistant stage managers who couldn’t drive, didn’t have a family connection and weren’t prepared to have sex with an ‘important’ person to get a job and an Equity card, were about 98% at the time I left drama school.

So I worked behind a bar and when that ended catastrophically, I became a social worker.

“All the world’s a stage”

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)

All the world’s a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances; 
And one man in his time plays many parts, 
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, 
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; 
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel 
And shining morning face, creeping like snail 
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

18-3

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‘Pandora – Memories of a free spirit’

 

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Our Lovely Friend and I were talking about the old times yesterday; about people who had touched our lives and left a mark before moving away.

Some of the memories we shared are best pushed aside, for the feelings they evoked were not conducive to happiness and harmony – but anger and an awareness that there are some people who will never be satisfied with what they have.

It is my opinion – and mine only – that they should just do one and stop whingeing about their self-centred and self-imposed lot.

There was one person however, that we both remembered with huge fondness, a person who touched our lives briefly like some marvellous multicoloured bird, who flitted in, wove some magic in our lives and then disappeared again leaving us with only rumours of what had happened to her.

Let’s call her Pandora – for she opened a box of new experiences and ideas that surprised and delighted some of us but irritated and created envy and resentment in others.

At the time we knew her, Pandora was married and had five children, the youngest two from her husband, one of his and two of hers from other relationships.

She was flamboyant.  Tattooed and pierced but not in a way that made you think she was doing it to gain attention or punish herself. They were just a part of Pandora.   Her dress sense outraged the mothers at the school gate but she smiled throughout and rarely expressed negativity about their attitude, nor about those in our little group who did not exactly seek her company.

Like Hub and I, she had lost babies and it was a piece of common ground that we shared almost immediately when we started to talk.  Under the trappings, Pandora was warm. kind and understanding; I think that LF and I warmed to her right from the beginning and were pleased that she wanted to become a part of our ever-extending circle. Our children were of a similar age and we shared the delights of parent and toddler group, and playschool as well as coffee mornings, lazy lunches and girls’ nights in.

Over time,  even some of those who had been put off by Pandora’s style  began to realise that although she was different, she maintained the same core values as the rest of us.  She loved her children and would do anything for them, affectionate and always interested but defensive as a she-lion should anything or anyone threaten to harm her brood.

Pandora was a natural and very funny raconteur.  Her life hadn’t always been a happy one and I think that we knew that although she laughed about her past, events had left their mark on her and there were some issues that she could never fully open up about.

Uni Boy and Pandora’s youngest son went to playschool together.  The two of them flooded the boys toilets by blocking up the urinal outlet ‘to see what would happen’.  They both had enquiring minds and given UB’s subsequent leaning towards scientific research, this early exploration is unsurprising.

Playschool staff tried to put the blame on Pandora’s son – he was a few months older and besides, she was a tattooed biker chick and I was conventional by comparison.  UB could stay but his partner in crime had to leave.

Pandora defended him admirably and once I’d got the explanation from UB, I was able to point out that it had been UB’s idea and that Pandora’s son had just been an admiring audience.  The threat to expel one child and not the other disappeared at this point.  I lost my respectable reputation at that point though and had to washing up and cleaning tables in reparation.

At the end of term Pandora and I were allowed to take our sons on the playschool summer trip to an adventure farm  – but only if we promised to supervise them constantly.  In the end it was Pandora and myself that were badly behaved as we giggled and snorted at the tackiness of the run down farm. The trailer ride round the farm was smelly and bumpy; perched on damp hay bales you either laughed or cried.  The trip through the trees had us both in hysterics as our straight-faced fellow mummies failed to see why we found the pieces of female torso posed artistically in the branches so amusing.  Well, you had to be there.

I’ve been back since and the trailer ride hasn’t changed, the hay still smells and the tree decorations remain the same. Hub found it highly amusing too.

At one girly night in, Pandora had me convinced (she didn’t have to work too hard) that Glayva (whisky liqueur)  would be very good for my ropey chest.

I had previously avoided whisky-related products since an unfortunate New Year celebration with one of my uncles.  Bad idea to try and match him drink for drink anyway but we were drinking whisky.

I didn’t eat for three days.

On the fourth day I could just about cope with tomato juice and worcester sauce – no vodka either thanks.

But Glayva tasted of honey and slipped own SO easily.

I vaguely remember being transported home in a minibus taxi at the end of the night, and being the last one to be dropped off.

I was very, very drunk but after Hub had helped me indoors and held back my hair as I hurled, my chest did indeed feel better.

My stomach did not,

Pandora was very apologetic and kept the Glayva locked away in the cupboard after that.

I tried to practice moderation in all things after that.

During the summer, Pandora and her family went off to the seaside in a caravan for six weeks.

It was idyllic for the children as their father only came down on the weekends  this lovely gregarious soul was starved of adult company during the week.

Hub and I took the boys down to visit for the day.  They were in their element and soon borne off to the beach by Pandora’s tanned and agile brood.

She was obviously pleased to see us and a good time was had by all but Hub and I both felt that there was a sadness in her that we’d never witnessed before. She clung to me as we left and I wish I had been less distracted by my own children’s bickering.  I wish that I had stayed a little longer and asked her how she really felt.

Other friends went down to visit and expressed their concerns at the effect the isolation was having on her.

They came back at summer’s end.

Pandora had changed.

She was always interested in alternatives, and this curiosity was probably another aspect of her appeal.

When she came returned to us, her talk was of paganism and witchcraft.  She’d become friendly with a group of people on the caravan site who were seriously into wicca.  There was little of the Pandora that we knew and loved left and the two younger children seemed clingy and no longer carefree.

Within a month,  Pandora and her husband had separated.  He moved out of the house and Pandora stated that she was in a relationship with one of her pagan friends, and that she would be moving away with the two youngest children to join them soon.

She left without telling anyone in the end; we were never sure if we had ceased to matter to her or whether it was because she couldn’t bear to say goodbye.

We hoped it was the latter.

There were lots of rumours and who is to say what was true and what wasn’t?

It was said that Pandora’s new partner was involved with drugs.

It was said that he went to jail for a brief spell but that due to the information he passed on to the police he was let out early.

It was said that Pandora and her children became a part of the witness protection scheme as a consequence of her partner’s information, and had to change their identities.

It was said that Pandora had another baby.

Pandora’s boy would be 21 now and her girl would  be 19 – the same ages roughly as our own boys.

I often wonder where they are and what they are doing.

Where is Pandora and is she happy?

Does she ever think of us and does she realise how much of a warm glow she spread through our little community all those years ago?

 

 

 

 

 

‘Bacon and Egg’

This story takes place in the days before mobile phones and smoking bans.  Local authorities had a policy of placing children in small group homes staffed by male and female houseparents.  Sometimes the staff and the children had a good time, sometimes it was hellish. There were some very dedicated staff who genuinely wanted to make a difference but there were also those who saw the job as a good skyve, or worse still, the opportunity to work out their own issues on children and young people who deserved far better.

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Management usually appointed houseparents based on experience and how the candidate dealt with the interview but on this occasion the manager had invited one of the junior members of staff to attend the interviews and have a say in who got the job.

He was torn between two candidates; both men were experienced in the field of children’s residential care, both interviewed well but  one had considerably more charisma than the other.

The other staff members that had been on duty whilst the interviews were being held had made their own assessments when  showing the candidates in and offering refreshments. One of the men had been charming and pleasant, the other looked nervous and uncomfortable.

In the end the manager and the staff came to a stalemate over who should be appointed.  One of the male staff joked that at this rate it would have to come down to star signs.  Some of the staff scoffed at this but a quick list was drawn up nevertheless to establish the astrological make up of the team.  The quieter candidate was a Sagittarius, the other was a Taurus and in the end the dearth of earth signs was the clincher.   ‘J’ –  the happy guy in the cowboy boots was appointed and the balance of the heavens was restored – allegedly.

J worked out very well to start off with.  The kids seemed to get on with him although it was noted that some of the older boys were a bit hostile, even wary but this was put down to the alpha male effect.  The teenage girls were all over him like a swarm of bees and certain members of the female staff weren’t far behind, but he dealt with it sensibly and made it quite clear that he was very happily married.

There was something about him that made her feel uneasy when she met him but she did her best to ignore the feelings and concentrate on the job and the course that she was studying for. She was still one of the younger members of staff and didn’t want to make waves this early in her career.

Holidays with a group of ‘maladjusted adolescents‘ were not easy and the inevitable behaviour issues and subsequent damage often prevented a second visit. J suggested a week at Butlins because he had taken kids from his previous home there,  and a succession of coffee mornings, bring-and-buy sales and a sponsored silence (not very successful) raised enough money to subsidise the paltry holiday fund that the local authority provided.

Not all the staff wanted to go on the trip so it was easy enough for the manager to choose enough people who actually wanted to go.  J was amongst them. A couple of the kids couldn’t or wouldn’t go on the holiday but they had staff who were happy to take them on day trips and rent videos to keep them busy during the holiday week.

She had to admit that she enjoyed that week and the opportunity to get to know the children who stayed at home better.  The cook took the week off whilst the home was half-empty, and both staff and children had a chance to take over the cooking, introducing a healthy change from the usual fish and chips, Sunday roast and spaghetti bolognaise.  The high ratio of staff to kids, and the relaxed attitude of both groups during that week strengthened relationships as well as cooking skills.

The holidaymakers returned; high on a diet of cheap takeaway food, fizzy drinks, late nights in the ballroom and long days on the fun fair or watching the wrestling and knobbly knees competition. No one died or even got into a trouble as far as they knew, they weren’t thrown out and staff had even been offered a discount if they booked for the next year.

J was undoubtedly the hero of the moment and riding high on a wave of popularity.

That was when his guard dropped.

Prior to the holiday she hadn’t worked with J much, but when one of the male staff got promoted to deputy manager in another home, she found that her shift pattern had been changed to his.

Sleep-in shifts in a children’s home were often a flash point for staff to embark on short-lived flings or long-term relationships that usually led to one party having to work elsewhere.  She usually had a boyfriend in tow and hadn’t worked with anyone she even remotely fancied – J included.

He had seemed to be unusually friendly and talkative throughout the shift.  They parted ways around nine o’clock in order to get the kids through their baths and settled for the night. Around ten-thirty, she came back downstairs to write up the logs in the office, J joined her and instead of making himself a coffee as usual, he pulled two cans of lager out of his rucksack and offered her one.  She declined politely and carried on writing.

J finished the can, chucked it into the bin and opened a second, then a third and finally a fourth.  She knew that drinking on duty was frowned upon but she also knew that it was the unwritten rule not to tell anyone – there wasn’t anyone else on duty to tell anyway.  She finished up the logs and went into the kitchen to make sure everything was washed up and for Friday morning.

J followed her and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle as he leaned on the work top next to her. She could smell his breath; lager and cigarette-tainted.

He was far too close.

She moved away from him and busied herself with sorting out the cereal packets.

He put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her towards him.

She shrugged him off and told him that she wasn’t interested, that she was tired and wanted to go to bed.

He told her that she was obviously frigid then and stomped off into the front room to roll himself a cigarette.

She ran up the stairs and pulled the chest of drawers in front of her door, her heart beating wildly.  She heard the distinctive sound of his cowboy boots clumping up the stairs and turned out the bedroom light.  The footsteps approached down the girls wing corridor and she held her breath as he tapped quietly on the door. The sound of her heart was deafening and she was sure he could hear it.

He tapped again but receiving no reply, cursed and stomped off down the corridor.

She lay on the bed fully dressed and dozing but woke at every sound, so she gave up around six o’clock and got up.

One of the boys was sitting on the landing.  He looked very pale.  He told her that J had come into his room and pushed him around a bit, then stormed off to the sleeping in room in the boys wing.

The boy told her that they were all scared because J had been crashing around in his room and shouting.  He managed to get onto the landing when the noise stopped and had been there curled up behind the bathroom door ever since.

She took him downstairs and decided that she should call the manager.

The phone  line was dead.

She could have gone out to the phone box to call for help but that would have meant leaving the children alone and unprotected.

They drank coffee and talked, the boy and herself, until the cleaners arrived at seven am.  They both lived nearby and one of them ran home to phone the manager.

There was still no sign of J, but when the manager arrived he went up to check with both the cleaners creeping behind him; they said they were there for his protection but they were just being nosey.

The room was wrecked: littered with more lager cans, the phone wires ripped out of the  socket and  heel marks all over the wall where J’s cowboy boots had kicked out again and again.  J was lying in a drunken stupor on the floor.

Other staff were called in; she was sent home and J’s wife came to collect him.

The official line was that he’d had a nervous breakdown due to stress.  She was disciplined for not contacting the manager when J started drinking, and her protestations that she had been too afraid to report her colleague fell on deaf ears.

J was suspended for six months but for most of that he was ‘off sick‘.  He was given a phased return with no sleep in duties and no working alone with female staff.  She did her best to be empathic toward him but the very sight of him made her skin crawl.

The local authority had instituted a policy of closing down most of their children’s homes, and over the next couple of months there were no replacements when children and staff left that particular establishment.

J kept his nose clean  for a while and his working restrictions were lifted.  The manager was replaced by a middle-aged woman who was not prey to J’s charms and had very strong feelings about staff drinking – or even smoking on duty. Addicted to his roll ups, J would find any excuse to take the one remaining girl out for a walk so he could satisfy his habit. She was a quiet bookish girl who prefered to stay in, watch videos and make things.

He became very solitary and those who would still do sleep in duties with him reported that he would sit downstairs for most of the night and cook meals that were found in the bin next morning, barely touched.

She was working with the last resident during the day; they had been painting glasses with stain to sell at a craft market.  The table was covered with newspaper and they’d had a lovely messy time of it.  Tidying up rapidly before getting ready for the evening meal, she had dumped the newspaper in the kitchen bin intending to empty it in the morning. She went home after the meal, leaving J, another female member of staff and the girl watching the TV.

She got a call at three in the morning.

The house was on fire. they all got out safely but J was ill because he ran back in to grab a fire extinguisher.

The female member of staff was hysterical after having had to get herself and the girl out of the house via the fire escape.  Desperate to do anything to help she was given special permission  for the girl to come and stay with her for the rest of the weekend.

They were allowed back in to look at the house on the Monday.  She walked through the smoked damaged rooms with the manager.  It transpired that J had decided to cook himself bacon and eggs after the others had gone to bed.  He also had a roll up which he threw  in the kitchen bin.  A bin very obviously full of newspaper.

The fire service couldn’t say for certain whether it was arson or an accident.  The contents of J’s stomach – barely digested bacon and eggs – were deposited outside the front door when he threw up after inhaling smoke.  He survived. The home was closed because it would have cost too much to repair the damage.

The girl and the staff were sent off to other homes, with the exception of J who was advised to resign quietly whilst off sick. His wife laid the blame for his decline at the door of the staff member who had rejected his drunken advances, but she walked out on his herself a couple of months later.

The young houseparent didn’t know what happened to him after that.  She didn’t want to.

It took a long time before she could stomach the smell of bacon and eggs.

‘Express Holiday’

She tried so hard to be a mum to her husband’s children.

It didn’t help that their own son Michael Junior was a handful; younger than his half-siblings and testament to his father’s wandering eye. The boy wore a jumper with ‘Rebel’ written on it for good reason.

She found her stepson Lennie easy to deal with; the poor little soul had physical disabilities and was very small for his age.  He was compliant and sat at the table without any complaint – but then he had little choice.

His older sister Miranda  was a tough nut to crack.  A blonde, beautiful seven-year old; maternal towards her own brother but openly hostile to the small, loud intruder who claimed her Daddy’s attention so efficiently and bore his name as well.  She largely ignored her new stepmother, another intruder who was younger, prettier and happier than the Mummy they had left at home for the weekend, and who would inevitably be crying because she missed them both – and her ex-husband.

Michael Senior returned to the table empty-handed.  His wife and children looked hungry and crestfallen.

“No rice crispies but they have got cocoa pops. Are they allowed to have cocoa pops? Lennie, do you want toast?  I’m having the full English. Can they have fruit juice?”

She sighed.  Eighteen months ago Michael Senior had been living in the same house as his two eldest children.  She was aware from her own experience that he was not what you would call a ‘hands-on’ Daddy but surely he knew what his children liked to eat?

“Miranda can have cocoa pops…..”

“I want muesli. I don’t like cocoa pops.  Mummy never buys cocoa pops.  Mummy says they make your teeth go rotten and then Daddy will have to pay out for us to have new teeth.  Mummy says.”

Miranda’s face was set.  Michael Senior recognised that expression.  It was the one that drove into the arms of his sweet young receptionist and led to the birth of Michael Junior, a divorce settlement that he could ill-afford and the low-key shotgun wedding that mollified his new wife’s irate and somewhat shady brothers  – but only just.

“I’ll get you some muesli darling, and some toast for Lennie and Michael Junior. Shall I bring it back before I get my breakfast?”

“Yes please Michael, and can you bring some cutlery too? Michael Junior! Sit down!”

“Daddy! I want Daddy!”

“Daddy will be back in just a moment with some nice toast.”  How she prayed that Michael Senior would have the forethought to put the toast on plates and bring butter and Marmite too.

He hadn’t.

Miranda got her muesli.

The toast was piled up on one plate; no butter or spreads, nothing to spread them with anyway and two glasses of fruit juice that Miranda appropriated for herself and Lennie, leaving Michael Junior to set up another banshee wail.

“Juiiiiiiiice!  I want juiiiiiice!”

Michael Senior had already left the table at speed after spotting that a fresh tray of bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs had just been put out.

“Miranda?  Could you please keep an eye on your brothers while I get a knife and some spreads please?  Don’t let Mikey get down off his seat?”

Miranda scowled.  Mikey was Daddy’s name when Mummy was being nice about him and remembering the happy times.  She did not and would not recognise that screaming baby as her brother.

Michael Junior got down off the chair seconds after his mother had walked the few yards to the service counter and ran towards his father.

A lady and man were sitting at the next table.  The lady caught Miranda’s eye and said “Your little brother has got down from the table.  He’s gone that way.” She smiled but Miranda didn’t.  Her face was inscrutable as her stepmother returned dragging  a screaming Michael Junior by the hand.

Toast was buttered and anointed with Marmite, cut lovingly into soldiers for Michael Junior and Lennie.  Miranda listlessly chased her muesli round the bowl, her face coming to life when her Daddy reappeared with a loaded plate of food, a serviette and a single mug of coffee.

“There’s no room at this table; I’ll sit over here.”

Michael Senior seemed oblivious to the fact that his desertion had reduced his youngest son to tears and caused quiet disappointment to the other two.

His new wife, hungry and now unable to leave the children until Michael Senior had finished his breakfast and was free to mind them, took a deep breath and forced herself to stay silent.

The couple at the next table got to their feet; the lady waved at Miranda and smiled.  Surprisingly Miranda smiled back.  So did Lennie, and Michael Junior waved his soldier with a Marmite grin. His mother blushed.

“I’m sorry about all the noise. I hope it didn’t spoil your breakfast.”

The lady smiled again.  “It didn’t.  Our children are nineteen and nearly twenty-one.  They used to wander off and kick up a hell of a racket. It will get better, I promise you.  You have lovely children.  Have a good day but don’t forget to get some food for yourself.”

The words were the first drop of  praise she had heard all weekend.  Praise from a stranger.

Michael Senior was on his feet.

“Is everything alright?  Were the children making too much noise? Do I need to go after them and apologise?”

“No, the lady just said how lovely they all were.  Can you move back to this table please Michae,l whilst I get some breakfast too?”  She got to her feet .

“Of course.  Silly me. How could I forget about you my darling?” he said as he moved his breakfast back to the children’s table.

“You won’t again.” she said to herself as she walked slowly across the hotel dining room and picked up a coffee cup.

The lady stopped by the door and turned around just before leaving the room.  Their eyes met.  With a nod and a barely perceptible wink, the strength of ages was passed over from one mother to another.

She drank hot coffee for the first time in months whilst she waited for her toast and watched Michael Senior struggle to control his children.  Perhaps it was going to be a holiday after all.

 

 

‘Seconds Away! Round Two’

Saturday afternoons. ‘World of Sport‘ in the mid 1960s.

Curled up on the sofa next to her beloved Daddy for a whole three-quarters of an hour that seemed to go in a flash.

A fair-haired tomboy who lived for the moment that her Daddy came home from work mid-afternoon, reveled in the joy that was British wrestling, then stole quietly from the room so as not to disturb him whilst he listened to the final scores and checked his pools coupon.

Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki, Big Daddy (why would anyone call a boy Shirley?) and best of all, Les Kellett.

It never occurred to her that anyone got hurt when they wrestled; they seemed to be made of india-rubber, and although there were times when her funny hero Les appeared to have been worn out and in pain, she learned quickly that this was just part of his act.  He would be on the verge of collapse but once his opponent had been lulled into a false sense of security, Les would come back with a vengeance and wipe the floor with him.

Together the child and her Daddy shouted encouragement and hissed at the designated ‘baddy’ who in turn was hurling mild insults at the umbrella wielding grannies ringside. It was real and scary and exciting; at that time there was little talk of fixing matches and the limited black and white camera shots showed only what the producers wanted the public to see.

It was bliss. It belonged to a time when she was Daddy’s little ‘Chuckles’.  A time when she first encountered the consequences of choice.  Coming home on the bus from her Auntie’s house in the early evening.  Should she fall asleep leaning against the warm cloth of Daddy’s coat sleeve, then be carried home in his loving arms and put straight to bed.  Or should she stay awake, enjoy the ride, skip home holding his hand and have  the luxury of a few extra minutes before it was bedtime?

Mummy was home; laughter and mock anger, the shaking fist whenever they tried to take a photograph of her, the steak and kidney pie which always had a little bit of pastry left over so that the child could make a grey and grimy jam tart.  Mummy was the one that read books and answered questions.  If she didn’t know then the four handsome blue and gold-bound volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica did.

It was a time of few complications. Of a large and loving family, of sunny evenings playing out with her friends, of learning to ride a friend’s bicycle, despite it being too big and the cause of her falling off often only to get straight back on it again.  The fearlessness of this action impressed her Daddy so much that he walked five miles to the nearest bicycle shop, bought a bicycle that they could ill-afford and proudly walked it back home. To see the look of joy on the child’s face and watch her, wobbling at first but growing in confidence as she rode round and round the grassy triangle outside the house, it made it all worthwhile.

Halcyon days with no indication of the storms to come.

In any relationship between two people there will be issues and challenges. Opposites may attract but the strength of a relationship depends not on the ability of one person to change the other, but on the desire to adapt to each other, to grow together or to part before any real damage is done.

Take a volatile woman with ambitions; with a need to acquire knowledge and experiences.

Take a man with a tendency to dark moods; with a history of war horrors and a need for quiet domesticity.

Take a child who loved them both dearly and who was growing distressed by her Daddy’s constant pleas that she would stay with him and always be his Chuckles, and by the increasing amount of time that her mother was spending at work .

The storm broke late one night. Her Mummy had been out at work, her Daddy had been particularly sad and demanding when she had wanted to be left to read her book.  She had felt resentful towards both of them and went off to bed early.  Raised voices from downstairs woke her and the child was witness to the sight of her Mummy, knife in hand, being strangled by her beloved Daddy.  The presence of the screaming child brought them to their senses and they backed away from each other, not realising that the scene would be imprinted in the child’s memory for many years, and that she would always feel that she was the cause of their separation.

Bags were packed, a taxi called and the child left with her Mummy in the middle of the night. She was shocked by the sudden change of circumstances and guilty because she felt that somehow, it must be her fault for having been cross with her parents.

She saw her Daddy once but the visit was spoiled by his insistence that her Mummy was a bad woman who had split the family up.  She wanted reassurance from him but all she got was anger and hurt.  She concentrated on her relationship with her Mummy from then on and her anger became focused instead on her Daddy.

The child stayed away from him for five years. Her Mum remarried and the child became a resentful and truculent teenager.

Adolescence raises many questions and circumstances led to a reconciliation.  An unspoken decision between the girl and her Dad meant that they never discussed her Mum.  The girl visited him once a week and ate his overcooked meals and eye-watering pickled onions with a love that repaired their separation.

There was no need for choice anymore.  She loved them both and the passage of time had mellowed the hurt for all of them.

The girl became a woman and after a series of wrong turnings, she found the right man.  Her Mum loved him and so did her Dad.  She knew she had made the right choice and was determined that if they had children, they would never have to experience the sudden shock of separation as she had, would never be frightened  by the murderous anger between two people who once loved each other.

Both parents are gone now but they lived to see their children make happy marriages and to know their beloved grandchildren.

For a long time the woman continued to blame herself for the events that led up to that night when she so nearly lost both her parents.  Eventually, and with some help, she realised that her parents – as adults – were  responsible for all that happened.  How could she, as a child, possibly have influenced their actions?  Her presence had not caused the split but it had certainly prevented a potential death and incarceration.

She broached the subject with her Mum some years after her Dad’s death, only to find that time had eroded the details of that night and been minimised to a minor spat, engineered by her Mum because she needed to escape the marriage so desperately.

The woman was glad that she had never discussed it with her Dad.

Saturday afternoons. Seconds Away!  Round Two.