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Author - Marjorie Kirkpatrick.
(c) October 24th 2002
THE RHUBARB TREE.
Link to Chapter1
Link to Chapter 2
to Chapter 3
to Chapter 4
to Chapter 5
LINK TO LAST PLace
Oil Painting by Greg Olsen,
When I was a baby, my mother used to bath me in the kitchen sink. My mother firmly maintained that she abandoned this practice when I was about eighteen months old and I became too big to fit in the big old fashioned, white stone sink.
Yet I can clearly remember sitting in the sink, being bathed by my mother and - looking out of the kitchen window at the moon.
I would point to the bright shiny object in the black night sky. Longing to ask my mummy what it was, why did it hang there each night, getting bigger, smaller, then bigger again but I did not know enough words. I remember my frustration at being unable to make myself understood.
I would struggle with mounting exasperation as my mother followed my pointing finger, saying patiently.
“Yes dear its the MOON.”
If I had been able to talk properly I would have said,
“Yes Mummy, I know
its the MOON. I should know, you tell me every night. But WHAT IS THE MOON?
Why is it there?”
I did not have the
skill to make myself understood, at least not by the grown-ups in my life;
only my brother could translate my baby talk to them. Yet I could understand
everything my family said, as long as it was to me, that they were talking.
When they spoke to other grown-ups, they might as well have been speaking
a foreign language.
I remember listening
to Mum and Flangie; she took care of us while Mum was busy in Dad's ironmongery
shop or in the office, of the small building and contracting business.
My Great Grandfather John
Kirkpatrick started the business in 1880.
He began working
there as a plumber in the 1860's, after leaving his eighteen brothers,
arguing over the family blacksmiths firm in a small Scottish village. To
save money he walked all the way, looking for work in the industrial North
West. Eventually he found a job, with a plumbing firm in Manchester.
Plumbing was a growth
industry, with the recent invention of the flush toilet. Then the discovery
that a municipal pump, was responsible for a cholera epidemic in London,
created a rush to have indoor plumbing installed. In time, John married
the boss's daughter, had three sons and inherited the company which he
ran till he died aged ninety six. He left the firm to his eldest son, John
junior. My Grandfather (William Henry but always called Harry) was the
The business was
almost bankrupted after the depression and the excesses of my great uncle
John, who inherited the firm as the eldest son. The story was that he was
desperate to keep his beautiful young wife, in the style, to which she
had rapidly become accustomed.
In these 'post millennium'
days, we would say it was 'a mid life crisis', when a middle aged man falls
for a girl half his age and throws everything away, that he spent his whole
life working to achieve. In the old days, though he'd be called 'a silly
When his own finances
were in shreds from showering her with expensive gifts, building
her a luxury home and a country cottage; he began spending the firms money.
In the end it all got out of control and to escape the consequences, he
took his own life by jumping off a cliff in a North Wales beauty spot.
My Grandfather worked
for his father, then for his brother, as a bricklayer but took over as
'the boss', after Great Uncle John killed himself. At first, he earned
less than his workers, until he had paid back every penny owed to the company's
creditors. When my Father left school he stared working for the firm, as
an apprentice plumber.
My Dad was happy
working with his dad during the week and spending the weekends with his
motorbike. He joined the Territorial Army to go on motorcycle scrambling
races so when the second world war broke out, he was among the first to
be called up. Granddad was left to run the business alone.
Mum, (Ann Easten)
was working as a NAAFI. canteen manageress, when she met a handsome sergeant
and fell in love. She was actually in the temporary latrines, (a bucket,
in a little square tent) when Dad, (also Harry Kirkpatrick) tripped over
the guy ropes and practically fell in her lap so you could say, he fell
for her 'literally'.
They were married
in 1943 but couldn't live together for another two years, when Dad was
demobbed. They had my Brother in February 1947 and I followed in September
1948. Mum had bought a little house, in Stretford, near Old Trafford but
just after my birth they sold the house and moved into the flat over the
They used the money
to set up and restock the business, ready to make the most of the post
war building boom. Dad promised to buy her another house within three years,
in time for John starting primary school. That is why my story begins in
Jackson Street. Dad kept his word.
My mother, to quieten
us down for bed would sing a little song.
“I see the Moon,
the Moon sees me, up in the top of a rhubarb tree.
Please let the moon that
shines on me, shine on the one I love.
Over the mountains, over
the sea, that's where my heart is longing to be.
Please let the moon that
shines on me Shine on the one I love.”
When I had my own
daughter, thirty four years later, I found that my
ability to remember being a toddler was a huge help to me. I'm convinced that it is the main, reason why we had so few tantrums to cope with.
However to answer
my daughters many questions and clear up a few mysteries I have written
Dedicated to my parents, who gave us love and support and a wonderful childhood. They gave me the strength to be the person I am. They taught me that true happiness comes from within. It comes from our own accomplishments and being proud of ourselves, our achievements and everything we do.
Our eternal search,
for fulfillment, happiness and love will begin and end inside our own hearts.
Knowing where to begin is the key to any search.
A visit from Sandy Paws
T 171 webring
Page 1 - 20
Artist, OU. and ex.T171 student,
Link to Chris Lockwood's site
The sky was still pitch, black outside when my brother, John, woke me up.
“Gaga! Wake up and
look, he's been. See all those parcels he has left for us and look what
His dark brown eyes shone
and sparkled with excitement and joy as he proudly held up a shiny red
“Who bin Donny?”
I asked sleepily, I could not pronounce ‘J’s. Gaga was as close as I could
get to pronouncing Marjorie. It was the middle of the night and I was more
interested in the Moon. I had never seen it shine through the bedroom window
I knew it could move
because on the way home from Blackpool after visiting my Grandparents,
in their caravan, I had watched it. As Daddy drove us home, the Moon had
followed us all the way and there it was, waiting for us in its usual place,
outside the kitchen window.
“Sandy Paws, of course,
Sandy Paws has been.”
“Dandy Paws?” I asked.
“Not Dandy Paws!
Sandy paws, you remember Sandy Paws. He brings toys at night if we have
been good. Well! He's been, look.” John said, holding up a shiny red object.
I put out my podgy
two year old hands to take hold of the shiny red thing and noticed how
hard and cold it Felt. I put it to my mouth
“No Gaga! It isn't
food, its a Fire engine. Watch.”
He pushed it along the floor saying.
“Ding, ding, ding.”
as the shiny golden bell tinkled.
I squealed with delight.
In the late 1940s
no-one had invented the term ‘Hyper-active’ but they should have because
it was not fair to call Johnny naughty or even mischievous. He was always,
so well meaning and tried so very hard to be good. Usually when he got
into trouble, he had only been trying to help.
One day, he overheard Mum
saying it was a shame that our white hens, would only lay white eggs, as
she liked brown ones better. Johnny asked her why and she explained to
him, that white hens lay white eggs and brown hens lay brown eggs.
A short time after
that, Dad painted the hen house brown, using a tin of creosote, from our
ironmongery shop, which was below our flat. After Dad put the brush to
soak he went inside, to wash his hands warning John not to touch the wet
paint. Johnny however, had had what he thought was a brilliant idea. I
watched, as John levered the lid off the tin.
“Donny Daddy said
no!” I shouted, knowing he was being very naughty.
“Gaga! Daddy said
‘not to touch the paint’. Well I'm not going to touch the paint am I? I'm
just going to touch the brush and daddy didn't say anything about not touching
the brush, did he”?
I had to admit that Daddy
had not mentioned the brush and my ability to argue was severely limited,
by my lack of vocabulary which was the bane of my life at the time. John's
problem was the hens, the ungrateful things apparently, didn't want to
be painted brown.
“Here Gaga hold her
still for me.” He said. I did not want to get involved, not at all but
in the absence of grown-ups, Johnny was the boss. Unwillingly, I tried
to grab hold of the terrified chicken, while my naughty [but well meaning!]
brother came at us with the dripping loaded brush. The hen fought, squawking
and pecking and of course all the other chickens joined in the fight.
Luckily for the chickens,
we were not strong enough or quick enough to succeed. The only things which
were painted, were my brother and I. Poor little Johnny got in terrible
trouble when Dad came back to see what was causing all the noise.
Scrubbing with turpentine
substitute and an industrial hand cleanser called “Dirty Paws,” eventually
removed the brown stains and restored our pink colour. We both, developed
a lifelong fear of birds in confined spaces, I expect the chickens developed
a lifelong fear of toddlers and tins of creosote.
“Let's see what Sandy
Paws has brought you.” John said, pointing to the end of my big old-fashioned
cot, where my empty stocking had been the evening before. It was bulging
now and all sorts of strange shaped parcels were poking out of the top
of a pillowcase.
Johnny picked the
biggest of the colourfully wrapped parcels and showed me how to undo the
knots in the string. ‘Sandy Paws’ had thoughtfully, tied the string with
bows. He must have known that Johnny loved string, he saved every bit he
found and we never cut it. [Nobody did in those days, just after the war.]
Johnny was only three
years old but thrift came naturally to him. Carefully he showed me how
to remove the coloured paper, without tearing it. I wondered excitedly
what could be inside. The paper fell away and I was amazed, to see two
huge amber eyes looking at me. Two furry yellow ears and a furry face.
I thought it was alive.
“What is it Donny”?
I whispered, in awe.
“It's a teddy bear.”
“What are you going
to call it?”
“Teddy, of course!”
I said. I loved Teddy instantly and I cuddled and cuddled it.
Now I would have
someone to play with me, when Johnny went to Nursery School. I did not
know what Nursery School was but it sounded wonderful and I could not wait
to be old enough to go.
Suddenly the door opened
and there was Daddy, shiny black hair dishevelled from disturbed sleep.
Standing in his dressing gown with his outline framed by the doorway, he
surveyed the scene.
Dad was our hero
and still is. He was a sergeant in the Royal Signal Corps, during the second
World War. We believed he won the war almost single handed, although he
was very modest and dismissive of his part in the war. He was a motor cycle
dispatch rider, riding his army motorbike, all alone through occupied Europe,
to deliver intelligence between divisions of his regiment.
In full uniform with only
his silk map sewn inside his tunic, to guide him. It only needed an enemy
vehicle to go past and see him and he could have been caught must have
taken great courage. He made light of it by saying that if he saw them
first he would cut through the woods to avoid them, and come out behind
If they saw him, he could
turn off and vanish in a cloud of dust because our British army bikes were
much better built and faster than theirs.
“What are you two
children doing up at this time? It's only 5 a.m., come on back to sleep
for a bit.” He tucked us in and turned out the light but he must have known
we would be too excited to go back to sleep. He did try to sound stern
but we knew he was not really cross with us.
We lay very quietly,
until we heard the sound of grown-ups snoring. Really we did try to go
back to sleep but it was no use, there was a big pile of parcels calling
to us. Waiting to be opened and played with how could two toddlers resist
the call of presents on a Christmas morning?
I watched in envious
admiration as Johnny crept from his bed and quiet as a mouse, dragged the
chair over to the light and climbed up to reach the magic switch that worked
the light. Putting a finger to his lips, he tiptoed back to the bed with
a parcel in each of his hands.
The three of us,
Johnny, Teddy and I, took turns to open our presents, whispering and giggling,
as the pile of brightly coloured paper and string, got bigger and bigger.
As the sky went from
black to purple and red to gold, we stopped and Johnny helped me to escape
my cot to come and watch the sunrise over the city streets. I do not know
if it was the first sunrise I had ever seen but it was one of the most
Johnny peeled a tangerine
for us, I wondered wistfully if I would ever be as big and clever as he
was. He passed me half and warned me to be careful of the pips. Showing
me how to pull them out of the sweet segments with my teeth and spit them
into my hand.
“Donny, what would
happen if I swallowed the pips? Would a tambourine tree grow in my tummy”?
l asked him.
“Not tambourine Gaga,
TANGERINE. I don't think so but better not to take a chance.” He replied.
After the fruit, Johnny said it would be all right to eat some of the chocolate
so we opened our ‘Selection boxes’ and carefully selected one bar each.
“We don't want you
being sick, all over your new Teddy.” Said Johnny, with wisdom far beyond
his age of three and three quarters.
“Donny, who is Sandy
Paws, why did he bring us all these tings”? I asked my older brother, who
I believed knew everything.
“He's a man. Do you
remember when Mummy took us to town to see the Christmas lights and we
went in that big shop, with the lifts and the staircases that went up and
down and we met the old man in big black wellies”? Johnny reminded me.
“The old man in the
red coat, the one who smelt of mints? I tort he was called Farder Tismas.
He gave you a ‘bar of soap’” (I was not very good at pronouncing ‘th’ sounds
and ‘s’s sounds)
“Not a bar of soap
Gaga, ‘A GYROSCOPE’; it was good wasn't it?” He said as he remembered the
shiny spinning orb.
“So was he Farder
tismas or Sandy Paws”? I asked confused which was nothing new at that age
I spent most of the time confused.
“He's both of them
but there is only one of him” Johnny tried to
explain it to me but he just confused me even more. I had not been very impressed, when we were taken to the big department store in Manchester. Mummy marched us past all the wonderful toys, that I wanted to see in the toy department and insisted that we went straight to a long line of other Mummies and children.
We stood for hours, at
least it seemed like hours to me. I did not really understand about Father
Christmas. I thought we were going to see our Father and wondered why we
did not just wait for him to come home. Johnny had told me, his friends
from nursery who had been there already, had told him there was a real
fairy in the grotto; who walked around talking to the children while they
This is what I was
excited see, I was just learning about fairys from the stories Mummy and
Flangie had read to me. I thought they sounded wonderful, I could hardly
wait to meet a real one with wings and a magic wand. At long last, we were
taken behind a curtain by an enormous girl dressed like a fairy. Surely
this was not a real fairy I thought.
From what I had learned
of fairys in the stories, they were supposed to be small and incredibly
pretty with diaphanous wings, that were part of their body, with which,
they could really fly. This ‘fairy's’ wings were clearly stitched to the
back of her dress, sticking out but hanging limp. I had plenty of time
to see them 'close to' while we were standing in the queue.
If she was a real
fairy then it was no wonder I’d never found any looking under flowers,
at the bottom of Grandma's garden or in the park. If they were this big,
they would not fit under a flower and with wings that could quite easily
fit under a coat, you could pass one in the street and never notice them.
As for being pretty, well
I dare say she was alright for a human but fell a long way short of 'The
Fairy Princess' category, I was expecting. Perhaps fairies came in different
sizes, the same as children, maybe she was a very old fairy but she just
didn't look like a fairy to me. Her ears were not even slightly pointed,
all the fairies in the picture books had pointed ears and her hair was
short and straight under her tinsel crown.
“Is she a real fairy
Mummy”? I asked in a loud voice but she did not understand my baby talk
and shushed me so I pointed to the fairy and repeated the question in a
“Shush! She will
hear you, it's rude to point and whisper.” Mum said, beginning to get cross.
Over the years, there have been many occasions, where reality has fallen
short of the promise but this was one of the first and worst examples I
had experienced. I could not contain my bitter disappointment.
“She's not a real
Fairy.” I grizzled, feeling utterly cheated. I may have only been two but
I was not stupid. Mum, the coolest, most patient soul I ever knew was losing
patience with me. Taking me away from the rest of the queue she gave me
a stern warning.
“Marjorie! You are
being very naughty, pointing your finger at the lady and wispering. Now
behave and stop showing me up.” She dried my eyes and took me back to the
When we eventually
got inside the grotto to see Father Christmas, I was amazed to find that
although he had put on his Wellington boots, he was still in his dressing
gown, I couldn't believe my little eyes; he had come to see all these people
and had not even bothered to get dressed.
Never mind that we were
all dressed up in our best clothes, to come and see him. John and I looked
in disbelief but of course, we were both too polite and shy to say anything
out loud and no one else made any comment or even seemed to notice.
I desperately wanted
to ask Mummy, why the man was still in his pyjamas in the middle of the
day but I was still in disgrace after the ‘fairy faux pas’. I did not want
to risk further admonishment. I had already been told, ‘that I would not
be told again’.
I loved my Mother,
as all children do, absolutely and would never deliberately provoke her
into giving me ‘a stern talking to’; she never smacked us. Except for one
time, when we about four and six, we both must have provoked her more far
than usual. After fair warning, she took the back of the hairbrush to us,
giving each of our backsides a sharp paddling, of one stroke each cheek.
The smack had not
hurt. She didn't have the heart to do it hard. What did hurt far more was
later, when I went say sorry and found her in tears because she had hurt
her babies. The realization, that we had made our Mummy cry shocked us
so much, we both vowed to never ever be naughty again.
I would love to say
that we faithfully kept our word and for the remainder of our child hoods
we were both as good as gold. We did try though, honestly we did. The funny
thing is that however hard I tried to be good, there was always a minefield
of naughtiness waiting to get me, that sometimes, somehow just got the
better of my determination.
Mummy lifted me onto
Father Christmas's knee, where I sat wondering what I was there for and
would happen next. He had long white whiskers, down to his waist and long
white hair. I was surprised that he smelt of peppermints.
“Well aren't you
a pretty little girl, what is your name?” He said.
“My name is Marrdorwee
Turkpatwick.” I answered, as best I could.
“Have you been a
good little girl?” Father Christmas asked. I looked at Mummy for help because
I was not certain that I had been a good little girl. I had always tried
to good but how good did he mean? I had just been told off for being rude
to the fairy.
It seemed I was going
to have to own up, I didn't want to be the little girl that lied to Father
Christmas. I looked at the floor, I was close to tears when Johnny, seeing
my plight and impatient for his own turn chipped in.
“Yes she's been good
and so have I, haven't we Mummy?”
“Of course you have,
you are both very good children.” Mummy said, with a proud smile. I looked
at my Mother in disbelief that is not what she had said in the queue. Surely,
Mummy would never lie so perhaps I was a good little girl after all.
“What would you like
for Christmas, Marjorie?”
“I want a bootafool
big dolly pease, with gold hair an a pwetty pink dwess wiv wosebuds all
over it. Fankoo.” I prattled off, in perfect baby speak. And waited for
him to give me my dolly.
“What did she say”?
Asked a puzzled Father Christmas to my equally puzzled mother, who shook
“She said, she wants
a beautiful big dolly with gold hair and a pretty pink, dress with rosebuds
all over it please, Mr. Christmas and I want a big red Fire engine please”.
Said my brother, who understood my baby talk and knew what I wanted.
Mum often did not
understand my baby talk in fact, my brother was the only reliable translator
even though he had never used baby talk himself. He did not say a word
until he was well past two.
I was just about
nine months old when I started to try to talk. John's continued silence
was worrying our parents, could he be deaf they wondered or even worse,
brain damaged. The doctor told them not to worry. Johnny was bright and
quite advanced for his age in all other respects. Children develop different
skills in their own time, he was probably concentrating on less obvious
abilities and would talk when he was ready.
I think he was enjoying
the attention of his parent's efforts to get him to speak. When he saw
the fuss they made over my first words, he soon found his voice. He said,
he just had nothing to say before that. Our Dad had lost his favourite
pipe and was turning our flat upside down hunting for it, while Johnny
watched with interest.
“You don't know where
my best pipe is, do you Johnny?” Dad asked, not really expecting an answer
after months of silence.
“It's on the mantelpiece
in the front room, Daddy.” John answered, with perfect grammar and faultless
pronunciation. From that day he spoke with as much skill as a child twice
‘‘Well here is a
little present for each of you and have a happy Christmas.” Said Father
Christmas and we each thanked him, politely as we had been taught.
When we un-wrapped
the brightly coloured little parcels, I was very upset to see a box with
12 coloured bricks instead of the dolly I had asked for and wanted. I remember
wondering what on Earth I was supposed to do with a dozen bricks, it was
not enough to build anything. Why had he asked what I wanted if he was
going to give me these bricks, perhaps he gave me the wrong present.
It was the second
disappointment in one day. I can remember as I watched Johnny, playing
happily with a shiny silver gyroscope, I felt my first, feelings of envy.
I remember thinking that, if that was Christmas, they could keep it.
Of course, I could
not put any of this into words at the age of two and a quarter. Mummy just
thought I was over tired, she had no idea of the thoughts going through
my tiny brain. The roller coaster of highs and lows when in the end, bedtime
comes, it is all water off a ducks back. Hearing Mummy say in front of
Father Christmas, that we were both GOOD CHILDREN, very good children in
fact, was all that mattered to me.
“So, the day we went
to town, wasn't Christmas day, Gaga! Today is Christmas day.” Explained
Johnny, when he realized my mistake and he told me all about Sandy paws
(who of course was Santa Claus) coming down the chimney and leaving presents
for all the children who had been good. I asked him, how good did you have
to be and how naughty would be too naughty to get any presents.
“I'm not sure really
but Patty says she has always had presents every year so we would have
to be even naughtier than Patty and we would just never be that naughty
so don't worry about it.”
When we were picnicking
on the beach, my Brother and I like all kids, would get well covered in
sand. In between sandwiches we would return to our sand castle building.
Mum was forever saying -
"Get those sandy
paws out of the sandwiches. Look you're getting all that sand in the picnic."
So Johnny, when hearing the words 'Santa Claus' and making no sense of
them, logically changed them to sandy paws which to him made sense.
Patty Pollock was
six and the mischievous grand daughter of our nanny, the amazing Mrs. Flanagan.
Nanny Flanagan was Irish and catholic, she had looked after children her
entire life starting with her twelve younger brothers and sisters, then
as nanny to many more then she married and had ten children of her own.
When they were old
enough, she returned to being a nanny. In between she also helped her many
daughters, with the raising of seventy grand children and countless great
grand children. Now she was helping my mother to cope with my hyperactive
brother and my angelic self.
Mum with two toddlers
and a business to help run, found the laid back Mrs. Flanagan an absolute
treasure. She held a sincere belief, that if all else failed, God would
always keep us from serious harm. We toddlers, unable to say Mrs.
or Nanny Flanagan, called her Flangie and so did everybody else, in the
Flange's daughter, Dolly
was a professional ballroom dancer. I loved it when Flangie used to take
me next door to her flat over the empty shop, which Dad used to store all
the firm's building materials. In the flat was Flangie's sewing room, where
I was only allowed to go as a special treat if I was with Flangie.
This room was magical place
to little girl. There were dozens of beautiful, ballroom dresses. All awaiting
various alterations and repairs hanging on rails, bursting out of cases
cupboards and boxes. Layers of bouffant, net shimmering with sequins and
beads; lying across sofas, chairs, tables, and ironing boards.
Everywhere and anywhere
that 5000 yards of sequin encrusted lace, organdie and net, could be contained.
On the table was a huge assortment of boxes and pots, filled with sequins
and beads, in every shape, colour and texture. Rolls of coloured ribbons
and trimmings of different widths and fabrics stood on stands. The impression
was of a fairies grotto [a real fairy's grotto not like the one Father
Christmas had in the big shop].
Flangie like any
mother, was very proud of all her children but Dolly had achieved more
than mere happiness. Dolly had truly, achieved success and had the cups
to prove it. Flangie's pride in Dolly, knew no bounds and she was pleased,
that as Dolly’s dressmaker, she had played a major part in that success.
Flangie would spend
every spare moment, stitching thousands and millions of beads and sequins
onto Dolly's dresses. Embroidering them with brightly coloured silks. Flangie's
fingers flew up and down, as she trimmed them with satin or lace and every
kind of decoration imaginable. I watched in fascination.
Sometimes if I was very
lucky, Dolly herself, would turn up to try on the latest creation. Collecting
or delivering dresses or to show off the latest medals or cups. Dolly (Delores
was her real name), wafted in on a cloud of exotic perfume, which she wore
every day, not just on special occasions. She seemed very beautiful to
me and larger than life, dressed like a film star.
She always looked
as if she just had her hair done, I never saw her wear it the same way
twice. When she put on her ballgowns, to me she looked just like a real
in letting children have a go. If they wanted to try something they would
soon, find out, if they were too young. As long as it was not dangerous
so when I asked if I could help, she showed me how to count the sequins,
into little piles for her. I soon learned how to thread and knot the end
of the silks, onto a tiny bead, to stop the thread pulling through the
This would keep me
quiet for ages and through it I learnt to count and concentrate; it also
helped to develop my eye for colour. I must point out here, the obvious
dangers of giving very small children, sharp needles and very small objects
to choke on or poke in eyes and ears. I suppose because there was no television,
people went much more by instinct, in the way they treated children.
The constant mention
on television newscasts or in magazines, of kids being the victims of horrible
accidents, both inside and outside the home may after 50 years, have made
parents almost paranoid about safety issues.
Who would be brave enough
to take a chance, once warned and then have to live with the guilt, branded
as a ‘bad parent’, after hearing or reading in the news, about - “Little
what's his name? Who poked his own eye out, while his thoughtless, neglectful
mother was watching the telly.”
Our Mother however,
had no need of television to make her worry about our safety, she was the
original Worrier Princess. If we went near water, she imagined us drowning.
If we climbed up anything, she would have visions of us lying on the ground
with our poor little necks broken and if we were within six foot of anything
sharp, she would imagine that at any moment, we would stab ourselves with
She was constantly
asking Flangie to be careful and not to take her eyes of us for a second.
At which Flangie would gently remind Mum that she had raised ten and nothing
horrible had ever happened to any of them.
“Thanks be to the
Good Lord. You will mither yourself to death, Mrs. Kirk so ye will, to
be sure.” Flangie would say in her Irish brogue.
My Mother was thirty
six years old when she had my brother and thirty eight, when she had me.
I suppose she was conscious of the fact that if some mishap befell us,
we would not be easily replaced. Not that any child can ever be replaced
but you get my drift.
One of Mums worries,
came from Flangie's habit of dropping everything to run and answer the
phone, if it rang while Mum was out. Flangie had never mastered the switchboard
so if the phone rang, Flangie would run down three flights of stairs to
answer it, leaving us to our own devices in the meantime.
One day when Dad
had taken Mum shopping, we were watching a parade of military bands marching
along Jackson Street towards the city of Manchester. Flangie opened the
front room window so we could hear the music better. Just as the band of
the Royal Marines went past, the phone rang, telling my brother to look
after the baby, Flangie ran downstairs.
My weight soon became
too heavy, for my brothers little arms so he rested my bulk on the broad
windowsill, while he kept hold of my arms so I would not fall; when the
band got closer I got very excited.
I began jumping up
and down to the music, as my brother fought to keep hold of me. The struggle
became for too much for him, as I managed to wriggle free and began to
crawl along the ledge, to get a better view.
At about this point,
my parents arrived home from the shops. To see the crowd had stopped watching
the band and were turned the other way round. They were looking up, towards
our third floor front room window, pointing to what my horrified parents
saw was me. I was crawling along the sill, with my brother half out of
the window, trying to drag me back in.
My Mum rushed into
the shop, past an oblivious Flangie who was still on the phone and up the
stairs; leaving Dad to stay below to catch me in case I fell. Quick thinking,
Dad pulled down the awning in front of the shop. Mum got to the window,
just in time, to stop Johnny falling out of the window too, as he bravely
tried to hold onto my leg.
As I fell from the
ledge, I bounced gently onto the striped canvas awning and landed safe
and sound in my Dad's arms to the rousing cheers and applause of the watching
“Now to be sure,
isn't all well that ends well and not a mark on either of them. Praise
be to the Good Lord and all the saints Mrs. Kirk, you should have more
faith in the Lord and you wouldn't worry so much.” Said Flangie, when she
was told about my flying lesson. Luckily for Flangie, my Mum and Dad were
just glad we were safe and they hoped Flangie had learned her lesson over
leaving us to answering the phone.
Johnny and I had
been promised a glass of lemonade; a rare treat in those days of sugar
rationing, which remained on ration until about 1952. Flangie opened the
cupboard to pour us a glass each when the phone rang, downstairs. Forgetting
her promise Flangie rushed to answer it, leaving Johnny watching me.
All of the windows
were locked and the fireguard was in place so what could happen? What did
happen was that I started crying for my drink so Johnny, trying to be helpful
as usual, decided to save Flangie a job by pouring our drinks. Being very
careful not to spill any, he opened the bottle end poured a drink into
each glass. He replaced the top, on the bottle and put it back in the cupboard.
When Flangie came
back both glasses were empty again so Flangie got the bottle out and poured
us each another glass, Johnny put his finger to his lips to warn me to
be quiet, so I was. When Mummy came upstairs she was very worried to find
that, although I had been walking well, for an 18 month old toddler, I
appeared to be unable now, even to stand up.
My Mother called the doctor,
she was convinced I had been struck by some dreadful illness and had visions
of me, bravely being pushed around in a Wheelchair for the rest of my life.
When the doctor arrived and tried to examine me, I was lying in a heap
giggling, then I threw up all over his shoes. The doctor looked at my distraught
“What is wrong with
her doctor? Is it serious?”
“It is very serious
Mrs. Kirk, this baby is drunk. She will need careful watching for the next
few hours but she should be fine in the morning, when she has slept it
off.” The doctor answered.
My poor Mother was
mortified and Johnny was in trouble again, even though he had meant well.
He was not drunk because he had not liked the taste of the twelve year
old Scotch whiskey so I drank both his and mine.
Both my brother and
myself had been warned many times.
"Do not go near the
fire or touch the poker, because it was hot and would burn you." The problem
was that at the age of two, I did not know what ‘BURN YOU’ meant. It was
spoken in the same tones, as -
“Don't tease the cat because he will scratch you!” Now I knew what
“Scratch you.” meant because
Ginger Pudding, our old ginger tomcat, would scratch us anyway if he got
chance, whether we teased him or not.
I would watch as
Flangie pulled the red glowing poker from under the burning coals and left
it on the hearth to cool down. As I watched it go from red back to black
my curiosity became too much to fight. I had not forgotten the warnings,
in fact, they echoed in my head as seeing my chance, I picked up the poker
by the handle, then, with my index finger extended, I slowly and fearfully
touched the red hot end.
I knew it was going to
hurt but for some reason, I still had to do it. I screamed in pain and
Flangie grabbed the iron poker and put it back on the hearth. She carried
me still screaming to the bath room and turned on the cold tap. I thought
being made to stand for ten minutes with my hand under the icy cold water
was just punishment for my naughtiness.
behind my tears and in spite of the pain I had suffered, I was satisfied
and happy. I had faced my greatest fear and won and I was still in one
piece, with one question answered, at least I now knew what ‘burn you’
meant. Children need to experience things for themselves, even when they
know that it will hurt. All any parent can do is warn their kids, then
be there, to turn on the tap and dry the tears.
One day a new batch
of paint arrived in the shop, downstairs. The makers claimed that that
it would cover any surface, wood, glass, metal or ceramics. Mum was curious
to see if the claim was true so she dug out an old earthenware pot, to
test it before she sold any of the paint.
Johnny was out playing
with Patty, his six year old friend from next door. I was in the kitchen
playing on the floor. I watched in absolute fascination as Mummy open the
tin of paint. Using a little brush like a magic wand, she changed the colour
of the pot from brown to a lovely shade of blue. When she was done she
put the lid back on the on the tin, cleaned the brush and left the pot
on the table to dry.
“Hello Mummy. What's
for tea?” Said Johnny, when he came in. Patty had gone home with Dolly
so Johnny had come in for his tea.
“Oh! I must just
nip and get a loaf, your Father's in the front room, tell him to help you
wash your hands and don't touch the things on the table, the paint is still
wet.” Mummy said as she put on her coat and dashed out of the door. Johnny
looked at the newly painted pot on the table.
“What has Mummy done
to the old pot it has turned blue ?“
“Mummy an me bin
paintin”. I replied, still playing with my baby toys on the floor.
“I like paintin”.
I added. I did not mention that my only input had been to keep away from
the wet pot.
“Johnny! Mummy said
NO!” I shouted as Johnny opened the pot of paint.
“Hush Gaga, Mummy
must be going to paint the kitchen that's why she has all this stuff out;
she only said no because she thinks I'm too little to help but it's easy
even you could do it.”
I had to admit that
it did look easy, anyway I could not talk well enough to argue and if he
was right and he was sometimes, Mummy certainly would be pleased when she
came home and Found that we had finished painting the kitchen for her,
I watched in wonder
at his cleverness as he began to paint the kitchen blue, it certainly looked
like Fun. I wanted to join in but there was only one brush, until Johnny
found another one in a draw.
“We can do it twice
as fast if you help Gaga.” So, I helped. We painted the walls first, at
least as far as we could reach, then we painted the doors. I made a start
on the floor but Johnny said he didn't think we needed to bother with the
floor and so I painted the draining board and the sink and the knives,
and forks, and plates.
We were so busy,
we did not notice that we were getting quite a lot of paint on ourselves,
as well and then we ran out of paint. We supposed that must mean it was
finished. At this point Daddy, who had been having a well earned rest in
the front room reading his paper, came in the kitchen to see what was keeping
us so quiet. He looked at our handiwork in stunned amazement.
“Oh crikey!” He roared.
(It was something like that)
“Harry! I'm home.”
Mummy called from downstairs. As she walked in the kitchen Johnny and I
beamed proudly at her astonished face. I do not remember what her immediate
reaction was but I will never forget the trouble she had cleaning the blue
cellulose paint off our little bodies.
Using every household
cleaner available, from butter to turpentine but the blue paint would not
come off. We had to stay blue from the paint and pink, from the scrubbings,
for days until it wore away.
I have no idea how
they sorted the kitchen out. In the end Dad obtained a solvent, from the
makers of the paint. Even the earthenware pot was restored to its original
brown colour. Strangely enough,Mum had decided blue was no longer her favourite
colour after all.
While we were being
bathed one night, Johnny was already in the water, happily splashing away.
Mummy tried to lift me in too but I screamed. I tried to point out that
she had forgotten to remove my socks. Mum thought I was crying because
the water was too hot. Every time she tried to put me in it I would scream
Mum could not understand
what was upsetting me so much, surely the water could'nt be scalding me.
Johnny was in the bath and he wasn't being scalded so what on Earth was
the problem? I can still remember the frustration I felt at being unable
to make her understand that she had forgotten to remove my socks.
She only saw when
she came to wash my feet and she still could not understand why I had got
so upset. After all it could not hurt me to be bathed with my socks on,
could it? It was only when I had a little girl of my own, that I finally
realized why it had upset me so much.
It was not the socks
themselves but the fact that my Mother could make a mistake! Mummy was
fallible, if she could forget to take my socks off, what else might she
forget. It was a terrifying realization for a toddler and I could not explain
it to my Mummy or even understand it myself.
Mum had no way of
knowing what was going on in my baby mind and even if she had understood,
it would have made no difference. Like any child though, the important
fact was I knew my Mummy loved me, even if she could make a mistake, there
was no mistake about that.
One day, Johnny and I were
next door in Flange's flat, when Dolly brought Patty over to spend the
day with her grandmother. Patty was six years old. She was allowed to play
outside and Johnny and I could play outside with her. This was highly exciting
for a two year old.
On the other side of the
back alley was a huge bomb site and we were warned to stay in the yard
or the alley but not to go near the bomb site. I was told to stay with
Johnny and Patty and on no account to wander off on my own.
With our little hats
and coats buttoned, we set out on our great adventure. For a while we played
happily within the confines of our back alley but Patty, who I have already
mentioned was the naughtiest child we had ever met, soon tired of the back
alley and wanted to go and explore.
“Patty I don't want
to get into trouble, I'm supposed to be looking after Marjorie.” Johnny
never called me Gaga in front of other kids.
“Come on Johnny we
won't go far, just to the gardens, lets go exploring.” She kept on until
my brother weakened and agreed to go as far as the backyards of the bombed
out houses but no further. I had no choice but to go with them. When we
got there, I began to pick some pretty yellow flowers. Then I saw some
pink ones and wandered away to pick them too.
When I came back
Johnny and Patty were collecting bits of wood, piling it up against the
wall of an old shed to build a den. Patty said she was hot in her hat and
coat and took them off, Johnny took off his coat too and his jumper, putting
them in a heap. I was too little to undo my buttons and I did not want
to; I wanted to take my flowers back to show Flangie.
“Look! Pretty flowers.”
I said to Patty and Johnny, holding them up to their noses to smell. I
wanted to go back, I was thirsty but they wanted to stay and play so I
toddled back alone.
“Look what I got
Flangie!” I said as I went into the kitchen. Flangie looked at my flowers
and put them in water for me.
“Those pink ones
are ‘cinder roses’ because they always grow on land that has been burnt,
they are lovely to be sure but you should never pick the other ones. They
are really called dandelions but if you get the white sap on your hands,
it will make you wet your bed.” Flangie told me the old country name for
them was ‘pee the bed’. As a two year old, I don't suppose I was too worried
about wetting the bed.
I knew that Johnny
and Patty were being naughty but I would not tell on them so when Flangie
asked if they were still in the alley, I looked at the floor and nodded.
I settled down to help Flangie, and very soon forgot all about Patty and
Johnny outside. When Mummy came to fetch us for tea, Johnny and Patty were
“Where is Johnny?"
She asked, looking round the little room.
“He is still out
playing with Patty; I’ll go and fetch them.”
Flangie went outside “Johnny! Patty!” She called, then she came back in alone.
“Mrs. Kirk there
is no sign of either of them I have looked all over the yard and the alleys
and there is no sign of them at all. Where could they be?” Flangie said
with a worried look. Mum asked Flangie to watch me while she went to search
for them herself.
I knew where they
were. However, I could not understand why they had not answered Flangie
when she called to them. A while later Mummy came in, carrying a bundle
of Patty and Johnny's clothes.
“Flangie! Look, I
have found their clothes, all of their clothes, hats coats, pants, even
their shoes and socks. What on Earth could have happened to them? Where
could they be without their clothes on? Someone must have taken them somewhere!
I have looked everywhere and called and called; there is no sign of them
anywhere, except for the pile of clothes. If they have been kidnapped,
they could be anywhere by now, we must call the police.”
When she asked me
where they were, when I had last seen them, I took her hand and led her
to the little shed on the bomb site and showed her where they had gone,
to play, hours before. It all became clear when we reached the door to
find that it had jammed shut, trapping them inside for the rest of the
“Mummy! Mummy!” We
heard, from inside the shed, as the two miscreants called for help. They
had been playing ‘You show me yours and I’ll show mine’.
Mum soon managed
to force open the door and two cold, hungry, tearful little faces looked
out at us. They should both have been in for a major telling off for serious,
disobedience but Mum was just so glad to see them alive and safe that she
forgot all about the fact that they had been very naughty, saying that
being locked in a shed (which was really an old outside toilet) for all
that time was punishment enough.
Later she had a
long talk with Johnny about the dangers of bomb sites and the trouble they
could have put themselves in by playing on them.
Not all our time
was spent in the Flat above the old ironmongery shop, in Jackson Street.
There were visits to Grandma and Pop, (Which is what we always called our
Grandfather) at their house in Sale, Cheshire. Or the little holiday caravan
at Squires Gate, Holiday camp in Blackpool. As well as a little caravan
in Knutsford, Cheshire. The scene of one of my earliest memories.
I was playing in
a little sandpit with two other little girls, who were a bit older than
I was. I suddenly became acutely aware of something in my knickers and
as the other girls began giggling and pointing at me. I was overcome by
embarrassment and shame and ran home to the caravan so that Mummy could
sort me out.
Mummy was very disappointed
in my slip up and sat me on the potty to contemplate, while she found me
some clean knickers. I remember sitting on the potty, thinking to myself
that it was a bit late to have me sitting here as the deed was already
done. I hoped she did not intend to leave me there until I was able perform
When I was clean
and changed, Mummy decided that I had best stay close to her for a while
(In case I slipped up again I suppose). So I tagged along with her when
she went to empty the Elsan Bucket, which was what people used on caravan
sites in the absence of flush toilets.
When we got to a
little clearing in the woods, Mum put down the bucket and dug a big hole,
into which to empty the bucket. Then she filled the hole and patted down
the freshly covered spot. I wanted to help my Mummy so as she turned to
pick up the bucket and spade. I tried to help, by patting down the soil,
with my little wellie booted foot, the way Mum had.
I stamped a bit too
hard and before Mummy could stop me, I had sunk down into the hole up to
my poor little armpits. She tried to pull me out but I got in even more
of a mess. She left the bucket and spade to take me to the tap so she could
hose me down, before she could clean me up.
There was a queue at the
taps, we had to stand and wait our turn. While we waited in the queue,
the same two little girls went past us. Looking at me in amazement, I overheard
one little girl say to the other.
“I don't think I’ll
bother having babies when I get married; I think they are too much trouble.”
The other little girl just looked at me and nodded and they both held their
noses tightly as they walked, quickly away.
Before I leave Knutsford,
I must tell you about Billy the goat whose job, was to keep the grass down
neatly around the caravans. For this reason, he would be tied up in a different
place everyday so we never knew where he was going to be from one day to
the next. Of course he was tethered but as ‘toddlers’, we had trouble gauging
where we were safe.
Billy would wait
and watch for us to wander within range, then he would charge, butting
us sharply up into the air. We tinies were terrified of him. If we managed
to escape his horns, we dared each other to stand just inches out of his
reach and giggle, gleefully as he charged towards us, only to be pulled
back by his rope inches from us. It was great fun.
Back to Chapter One
Link to Chapter 2