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Barbara

 

Sometimes when we get old, people don’t realise that normally most people ignore you... or they just give you the bare word... and then when somebody does start talking to you and you can let go some of your feelings and say what you haven’t said for donkey’s years... well, it all starts to come out... things you didn’t even know. People are just not interested in the knocks.

I was born on the first of the first 1924... so Christmas and birthday presents together. Not fair really. I was the youngest child... the youngest of my two brothers was eight years older than me... and my oldest brother was thirteen years older than me. I was always told I took after my dad.

Elijah... that was my Dad’s name... his brother in Suffolk was Mack... M-a-c-k... or Max... and his sister was Nancy... everyone used to call him Fred. They always called him Fred in the shop... so that must have been his name. His brother, Uncle Mack, brought him up... M-a-c-k... Uncle Matt... M-a-t-t... Max.

I had bronchitis as a child... we had very great friends of Dad’s down in Brighton, where I’d go to recuperate... they had a big... we had everything done for us... you really couldn’t have had a better childhood.

My father was wonderful... he bought cars for my brothers when they were 21, and a boat... the Kingfisher... and horses for me. All the money he had he gave to us kids. We even had people in to wait at table, and Dad was only a greengrocer... it wasn’t what you think of at all, not a little backstreet greengrocers... it was massive... they had grapes... pineapples... cabbages stacked half way up the wall... bananas in the ripening room. My dad did everything... he even did the washing and the cooking and making cakes. To my mind my dad was a wonderful man. It was my mother always let me down. 

My very, very first memory might be at the seaside, at Brighton. I think there’s a snap of us... my dad holding my hand while we walked along the pier. I used to have a ride on the ponies. I remember my father in his striped swimming costume... always that striped one... my mother never had a swimming costume. She never played much of a part.

I used to go to the Memorial School... a church school divided in two with a fence... one half for the girls and one half for the boys so we couldn’t mix. I was very naive about boys. I ended up being the head girl. I had to stop the fighting when they’d start. There was always a lot of fighting and calling names.

There was a big hall at the end of the playground... and we used to go in there for dances on a Friday night and I used to take mum to the theatre on Edgware Road... we used to go to the front row so my mum could see and hear easier... I think dad had already gone... or he was in the nursing home? He was a fair bit older than my mum. I couldn’t stand to see him in the home after the man he’d been.

The drummer at the theatre started to speak to mum... we’d come out of the theatre and go to the pub opposite... that’s how we got to know him... he used to come home and see us... and we started courting...  mum didn’t know. He used to play for one of the army bands... he asked if I’d go up to Birmingham with him on Friday and Saturday and come back on Sunday. I didn’t know what to expect.

It was my sister-in-law told me I was expecting... mum had never explained anything at all about sex... I just didn’t know. When I told him he said, “I can’t marry you I’m already married”, and he got up and ran out. I never saw him again from that day. I believed everything he told me... he’d given me an address where he lived and said to come down... and that he’d sort things out but he disappeared. It wasn’t a real address.

I brought up my son Peter myself and he never seemed to miss his father but it was a blow to me. It’s funny, my father wasn’t there for me and his father wasn’t there for him. I’d had such big plans but nothing came of my life. Somehow the years seem to pass so quick and you’re doing things you had to do and you don’t stop to think, and then you’re in a blasted nursing home and your life’s all used up. I never really noticed moving until I got here. I really thought they wanted me to help the old people. I had no idea I was one of them. It was my son told me that I was here to live... that I wouldn’t be going back home again... it had all been done without telling me, I said to him, “Why the hell didn’t you tell me? You’re not being honest.” Useless, just like his bloody father.

 

Barbara had little to do with Peter until he was in his forties as his father brought him up. Her own beloved father walked out on the family when she was less than ten years old.