The Rhubarb Tree
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Author - Marjorie Kirkpatrick. (c)  October 24th 2002

Link to Chapter1

Link to Chapter 2

Link to Chapter 3

Link to Chapter 4

Link to Chapter 5



Oil Painting by Greg Olsen, "Confidant"


 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 youngest son.

 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 old fool'.

 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 shop.

 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 this book.

  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.

    Link to Preface


A visit from Sandy Paws

T 171 webring

Page 1 - 20
Images water-colours
Artist, OU. and ex.T171 student,
Chris Lockwood
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 I've got.”

His dark brown eyes shone and sparkled with excitement and joy as he proudly held up a shiny red object.

 “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 before.

 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.” He said.

 “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 them.

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 beautiful.

 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 were waiting.

 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 loud whisper.

 “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 queue.

 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 her head.

 “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 his age.


 ‘‘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 end.

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 fairy princess.

 Flangie believed 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 net.

 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 it.

  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 crowd.

 “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 Mother.

 “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.

 Secretly though, 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, wouldn't she.

 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 and fight.

 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 still missing.

 “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 day.

 “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 again.

 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


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