‘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.