Tag Archives: Family

My mother and World War Two.

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My mother Bess was always a bit of a floozy.  She met my dad around 1921 when they were each ten years old and flirted with him even at that tender age.  They attended Acocks Green Junior School where after only a few days of knowing one another my dad wrote on a piece of orange peel in black ink, `I love you` and threw it over the school wall into the girls` playground where my mother picked it up.  With the exception of the war years, theirs was to be a life time`s commitment but it wasn`t always a happy union.

When they were young, they had a fabulous time together.  They were both sporty and enjoyed cycling, my dad loved to swim especially in the sea and they were both very good tennis players.  Dad did a little amateur boxing too and won a number of medals for his sport.  Sometimes they would get on their bikes and cycle all the way to Stratford and stop at what was then The Bird in Hand and have their lunch and a pint of cold beer.  My mum loved beer and would think nothing of drinking four or five pints to keep up with the lads.  Ma told me that in their day, the popular drug at the tennis club was opium although I don’t think either of them ever indulged, drugs were not their style but alcohol certainly was.

Mum and dad were engaged for twelve years until my mother reached her mid-thirties.  Then she must have put her foot down and stated, `Jack it`s now or never.`  So they were married, I believe at St. Mary`s church in Acocks Green, I shall have to ask my dad`s sister Val.  It has just struck me, I don`t actually recall ever being told about the wedding, I certainly don`t have any photographs.  I do recall my mother telling me that my dad`s best mate Charlie came to join them for some of their honeymoon, sparking speculation that my dad was a closet homosexual.  He may well have been for I do know that intimacy between my parents became sparser and sparser until by their late forties, they were pretty much in a celibate relationship.  So I`m lucky to be here!

Because of the late start, my mother didn`t have her first child, my sister Susan until 1947 after my father had returned from the war.  So she didn`t have me until she was forty two, very nearly forty three and consequently when she died aged eighty one I felt bereft, it was far too soon, I felt orphaned so it`s a good job my sister took over where mum left off.

When dad went away to the war he was in his late twenties and was stationed initially in North Africa, most noteably Cairo and later in Famagusta in Cyprus.  Brought up in England, he was placed with the Scottish Regiment and when he left our shores was an incredibly handsome man, tall, slim, with a shock of wavy dark brown hair and flashing white teeth he was really striking. It must have been devastating for everyone to lose their loved ones to they knew not what fate.

During the six years my father was away, he wrote many loving letters to his large family of four sisters and two brothers and of course to my mum who he affectionately called Bodie. It was obvious he missed her greatly and thought of her often.

My mother on the other hand was a different kettle of fish and having been with one man since she was ten, while my father was away she decided to have herself a ball.  She had a number of men friends right through the war, trading kisses for extra rations from the local butcher she never went without meat and butter which she would save until she had enough to slather generously onto hot toast.  My mum told me that during the war she had affairs with both father and son of an army family called Major. Major Major was aware of her relationship with his son who was a sergeant and he would discreetly slip out of the back door when his son visited while sergeant Major, completely unaware would enter via the front.  This may all be urban myth of course for my mother was a great story teller.  One thing I do know to be true though is that of her love affair with a well- known local funeral director.  He would often call and pick up my mother for a day out.  Arriving at her house in his hearse, he would have a picnic basket in the back filled with good things to eat, a fur rug for them to (ahem) sit on, a couple of bottles of wine and a wind up gramophone.  They would drive out to somewhere in the country and have a lovely time.  He was married too but I believe my mum fell in love with him and it was all the more poignant that upon her death many years later, it was his grandson who made the arrangements for my mother`s funeral.

I don`t think dad was ever aware of it, it would have gutted him, although I find it hard to conceive that my father spent six years away and never slept with another woman or in my dad`s case possibly another man. I shall never know!

When dad returned from the war he spoke with a broad Scottish accent.  He had lost all of his teeth through being kicked in the mouth in a match of rugby.  He weighed about eighteen stone and was almost completely bald my mum said it was like a stranger had walked into the house and got into bed with her.  Her affairs with Major Major and his son if indeed they really happened must have long since ceased but it was ending the relationship with the funeral director that must have hit her the hardest.

As we grew older and she recollected these stories we all of us used to say,  `Mum why didn`t you leave the marriage?`  We loved them both but neither of them were ever properly happy together especially towards the end of their lives.  My mother always replied, `Because you didn`t do that in those days, you didn`t do a `Dear John` on the men who were fighting so bravely for us all.`  I can`t help wondering from time to time how things might have been had she taken a different path.  Well I wouldn`t be here for one thing! Hah!

My mum celebrated the end of the war along with millions of others across Europe by drinking solidly for three days and then sleeping it off for a further two.  There were changes ahead and it would take her a long time to acclimatise herself to them.

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Growing up in the nineteen fifties.

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I was born the year the Queen came to the throne, 1953.  My mum was 43 when I came into this world, she told me she had “wept buckets” into the Belfast sink when she found out she was pregnant with me.  Not a great start.  She went to see Dr Hernan to see if he could do anything about it but he was Catholic and sent her away.  Thanks doc, I owe you one.

Like so many of us in the fifties, I was born at home.  My aunty Mary helped deliver me, my older sister Sue was brought to see me at two thirty in the afternoon.  Gazing sniffily at me in the blue Moses basket she said,  “Nanny made me eat cabbage for my dinner,” before wandering downstairs again.

My grandfather on my dad`s side was called Edward.  I never met him; he died some weeks before I was born.  He was a greengrocer and ran a high class, double fronted green grocer shop on the Warwick Road in Acocks Green called E.Pitt and sons.  My dad ran it when he came back from Cyprus after World War 2.  One side of the shop sold fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, the other side sold corn seed, sacks of spuds and animal foods.  It was great living in the huge flat above the shop.  The Midland Bank was next door providing occasional excitement when people tried to break in and steal money.  This happened twice in my childhood and I remember the police at night with dogs all over our back garden, shining torches at the terrified faces of the young, would be thieves, telling them to come down off the bank roof or they would send the dogs up.

In the flat`s kitchen we had an iron range.  Mum would bathe me in the big old ceramic sink before bed.  She still used to do the weekly wash with a dolly and put the clothes through the mangle outside.  In winter the shirts would freeze like stills in a photograph, all along the washing line.  My brother Martin used to like to try and mangle my fingers when I was a child.  As I grew up mum had a helper, Nelly Stone who used to walk me to the infants school when I was four.  I didn`t like the smell of her hands, I think it was probably carbolic soap, that florid pink stuff do you remember?  Uncle Albert used to help out in the shop, he would gather me up in his arms and bear hug me after school and pretend to punch me, I guess he must have loved me.

I hardly saw my mother and father when I was little, mostly we were looked after by our Nan as mum and dad were busy in the shop all the time.  In the early mornings dad would be off in his lorry at five thirty to the market in Birmingham for fresh vegetables.  At the back of the shop were the stables where my grandfather kept his horses, he used to go to market in a cart.  As kids we used the barn space upstairs as our own private roller skating rink.  We had those silver adjustable skates you could buy from Woollies with the pretend red leather straps.  We could lean through the upstairs stables windows and pluck pears from the trees that grew in the bank garden.

On Sunday evenings we were allowed to stay up late to watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium on the black and white TV.  We used to go down the stairs from our sitting room into the shop and help ourselves to peanuts, all sorts of exotic fruit like bananas and lychees which most people hadn`t even heard of in those days.  Dad would peel the lychees and pop them into our mouths telling us they were sheep`s eyeballs, we never believed him but would giggle a lot, every time.  I also had a penchant for dog biscuits and munched my way through many a Bonio as a child.  I still have great teeth and I`m nearly sixty.  Sometimes dad would hang hare and pheasant up for sale at the front of the shop and he was bitten twice on the hand by banana spiders who had hitched a lift over here in the crates, all the way from Africa.  My dad`s hand swelled up like a football.

At four in the afternoon schoolkids would pop their heads in through the shop door and shout out to mum and dad,  “Got any spec`s mister?”  and dad would toss them all a bruised apple or a tangerine.

Happy, happy days.