Sunday, 4 August 2013

From my memories: Saturdays

Looking back I see how we changed gradually from extremely polite well behaved children into feral nuisances. Money was always tight and as soon as I was deemed old enough I was left in charge of the house on Saturdays while Mum worked as a waitress and my Dad put in half a day's overtime. He would be the first one home, at about two o'clock. But if he had dropped into the bookies or visited one of my aunts on the way, it would often be more like 4. Mum would be back, exhausted, at 5. When times were really tough she would only have time to wash out the feet of her tights, smoke a couple of fags with a cup of tea, then go back out to work in the evening as a barmaid. My dad would normally go to the pub himself, so we were unsupervised for much of Saturday, into the night.

And our wildness certainly began on Saturdays. At first we were just a bit cheeky. We used to have fresh bread delivered from the Co-op, by a man we called Sid the Baker. When Mum was there she would say "Here's the baker. Go and ask him for one unsliced and half a dozen crusty rolls." We would beg for jam doughnuts and she might relent. Sid was nice and friendly so when she wasn't there we thought he would see the funny side of being ambushed. Every week that we were left to our own devices we would listen out for poor Sid, hide in the trees, behind doors, on the shed roof - and jump on him. In turn he would tickle us girls and shadow box my brother. In those days it was considered quite normal for a grown man unrelated to us to be free to tickle us until we were helpless. As I hurtled blindly into puberty I 'm sure I also flirted with him in quite a provocative manner.

Lovely Sid in his white coat, holding the big creaking basket full of goodies and smiling.

After the doughnuts housework had to begin in earnest. My job was to be in charge and allocate tasks according to age. There were always quarrels. This one hated dusting, that one shoved the vaccuum cleaner around in a huff. I would be puffing at one of the cigs I had stolen from my mum, or blagged from Mrs Cordell next door and drinking coffee while talking to friends on a phone. While there was often insufficient money to buy food pr pay bills, we nevertheless at one point had a telephone in every room. In those days many households did not even possess a phone and in the village the phone box on the high street was a vital community asset. But my dad worked for the GPO (general post office, later British Telecom) and had very flexible notions of property and ownership. Hence there was a red phone, a trim phone, a phone on the wall, phones with push buttons, phones with dials. Once I distinctly remember he climbed up the telegraph pole closest to our house and diverted our line to someone else, as we couldn't afford to pay the bill for all the calls we had made.

To my school friends I seemed to live a free, almost bohemian existence and as a teenager with pretensions to artiness I cultivated the lie. To be left without adult supervision for the whole day, seemingly at liberty to smoke, play loud music and generally run wild, I found myself at the centre of my friends' social map on Saturdays. Their homes tended to be chilly, quiet and regimented, ours was warm, noisy and busy. Some of them loved my power and joined in the general bossiness of playing mum, invoking rebellion from my sisters and brother, who could barely tolerate it from me. Others, free of parental restrictions, just came to our house to unleash themselves and caused me untold headaches. While they went back to the calm order of their homes I was left to conceal, explain and dissemble the series of breakages, alcohol related escapades and complaints from neighbours.

As long as the coffee, smokes and music could be kept in good supply, I went to great lengths to hide from my Saturday visitors that the cupboards were generally bare, or that we never bought washing up liquid because it cost too much, or that there was no dishcloth so spills would be wiped up with a pair of my dad's old underpants. Thus all my Saturdays seemed to be marred, first with the burden of responsibility and the inevitable guilt for not complying fully with my mum's instructions, then with the excruciating sensation of panic that came with the anticipation of being found out and humiliated by the shame of poverty - not so much the fact of it as its visibility through enactment in domestic detail.

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