Sunday, 6 April 2014

Daft as a brush

The torpor of Sunday afternoon was sometimes broken by an unexpected vist. My parents were suspicious: "Who's that outside our house in a Jag?" Excitement from the kids, "It's Uncle Charlie!" The big fat car purred to a halt and from the passenger side emerged Aunty Ivy, in best frock, dripping with marcasite and diamante, her asymetric face a palette of pink and blue. Ivy had the unusual but pleasing habit of addressing us as if we were adults and though we recognised that eccentricity for what it was we nonetheless relished the attention and her conspiratorial confidences.

"My Charlie loves me. He bought me this beautiful brooch. Look at my lovely brooch, that's my Charlie bought me that." As we examined the shiny confection pinned to her bosom - our mum wore no jewellery at all - she would turn and bellow "don't you Charlie. You loves me don't you Charlie."

"Be quiet woman."

"See?" her lopsided mouth smiled crookedly " he loves me my Charlie does."

Uncle Charlie smoked fat cigars and looked pleased. His wealth was evident from his camel coat and the primrose waistcoat that stretched over his expansive belly, fob watch and all.

"Come on our Brian, let's have summat to drink. Not bleedin tea that's women's drink." He would survey us kids from a height and jingle coins in his pocket. "Here, go and get youselves some sweets and keep the change." Other adults might flip you a threepenny bit or a tanner, but Uncle Charlie handed out five bob. That was two weeks' pocket money.

From somewhere drinks of port were procured and the women drank tea, while children crunched, sucked and chewed as we resolutely eavesdropped on the grown up conversation, hearing snatches of ......he's lovely my Peter, oh you'd love him now I told him the bleeder, I said not on your life........... Yeah bloody long hours what can you do with five she courting yet?.......NO she's too young for all that and she's got her studying to do...........when are you coming over to see us.....

He was the archetypal lovable rogue, Uncle Charlie. He generated warmth and laughter. Both of them seemed to us like travellers from another world and we felt proud to be connected to people who were so visibly prosperous. The adults used to say oh Charlie, he's a villain, he leads her a bit of a dog's life but then again she's as daft as a brush.

Decades later I bumped into one of their sons at a family party. Charlie and Ivy were both gone. I shared my memories with Terry, who laughed and sighed as he told me how they had lived in a council flat, that most of the time they were in poverty while their dad chased one dodgy get rich scheme after the other. Oh his poor mum! He remembered the day she came home from work and found every piece of furniture had been sold to pay off a debt.

But I still remember her in finery and fur, getting me to stroke her cheek as she announced how young she was looking and how smooth her skin was, while Charlie kept half an eye on her from the other side of the room, feigning not to hear as she said again,

"He treats me like a queen my Charlie."

I like to think that in his way he did.

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