This is my own blog - it isn’t FDPR-related, apart from the fact we are the same person.
It’s the start of a kind of life story featuring real characters.
And it’s all true.
I have called it Faye’s Book - see what I did there?
It is a work in process, for that is life.
A very modErn family
When a whole host of Otherness decided I wouldn’t be having a child, the thing that upset me the most was ‘what will I leave behind?’
What about me and my Husband creating that little bundle of joined-up genes to which we could point and say: “Ooh s/he’s just like your/my Mum/Aunt/Brother/Uncle/Sister/Dad”?
I knew I needed to make a kind of peace with this ‘decision’; not to try and make myself eternally happy about it, but rather to ensure I wasn’t eternally unhappy about it.
Ultimately, after getting over the ordeal of a couple of pregnancies and a couple miscarriages, there was about a year of talking, crying, a bit of anger, some pain and a great deal of thinking; I never stopped thinking, it was exhausting.
But it was worth it when I finally made some sense of it.
It had, in fact, been staring me right in the face for years.
It was the thing I loved most in my life; the thing I celebrated; the thing about which I couldn’t wait to tell anyone-who-would-listen.
It was my very own Family.
One must only glance at my immediate family to see a hotchpotch of people; an almost-peculiar range of ages and a multitude of relationships each with stories that beg to be told.
Here’s a brief overview:
My maternal Grandparents met and fell in love as young teens.
My Grandma had my Mum when she was 38; my Mum had me when she was 20.
Mum had my brother 14 years later.
I am a stepchild; my Stepdad became my Stepdaddy when he was 18 and I was eight.
My Husband is five and a half years younger than my Stepdad.
My Husband and I got married at 38 (me) and 44 (him); it was the first time for both of us.
I am a Stepmother; my Stepchildren were eight and 15 when I came in to their lives.
My Stepdad (I call him Pops, which probably ages him way past his 56 years) has had a profound effect on me. He has celebrated me, loved me and parented me; he has helped shape who I am today – and there’s not a joined-up gene to blame!
Well maybe not a joined-up gene as such, but one could be forgiven for saying that when Mum married Pops she kind of married a version of her own father.
I’d like to introduce you to my Grandad. (He’s not around anymore so you can’t actually meet him which is a Great Shame as I think you would have liked him.)
My Grandparents lived in a three-bed council house in Leeds; pebble-dash exterior, big garden at the back, bit of lawn at the front. Built in the mid-50s, they were the first family to move in; they never did get to own it - but they did make it their own.
Grandad was a very gentle man.
A beautiful human being.
He was something of an Artist.
A Creator of Things.
He was a taxi driver.
On his cab he had made his own taxi sign from a plastic washing-up bowl lit with something of his own design. The Council made him take it down.
On the approach to my Grandparents’ house I would be incredibly excited to see his feet from under the bonnet of his car (he loved cars – I believe he was one of the first in Leeds to have one). He had attached some castors from an armchair to a bit of wood and would roll out to greet us wearing one of his trademark outfits – blue overalls – and waving an oily rag.
In their kitchen Grandad had created a beautiful and busty half-naked woman - using a sculptural technique called ‘in relief’, she was moulded from plaster and emerged from the wall. Just next to the fridge-freezer.
Hanging in the spare bedroom was his vast oil painting of two pre-historic, ape-like men, naked and squatting. Large and fleshy they overlooked the Subbuteo table with an eerie presence.
(I was about nine years old and was desperately trying to learn footballers’ names to impress my older cousin and Uncle, but I felt I had to keep an eye on that painting; to this day I can only remember Frank Stapleton.)
Hanging randomly around the house were his own perfect imitations of The Flintstones and Tom & Jerry; Sergeant Bilko and Hawaii Five 0’s Steve McGarrett; they were mounted on cereal boxes and wrapped in cling film. His own version of ‘framing’.
In the bathroom was another beautiful woman carrying a jug of water on her head, again in relief, again half naked.
Out in the back garden he built a pond and, while the cement was still wet, he stuck marbles and metal bottle tops around the sides for decoration; in the middle of the pond he created a feature-piece that sent ping pong balls dancing on jets of water.
Grandad’s creative energy also fed his love of gadgets which meant my Grandparents had all the mod-cons of the time, often before anybody else did and certainly way before we got them at home. VCRs, a Cinecam, satellite TV, huge television screens; it was like an IMAX in that living room.
Grandad was a taxi driver and Nanna was a hotel chambermaid so there wasn’t a great deal of money, but their priority, after family and food, was gadgets. (And Bingo.)
If he didn't make it himself Grandad believed he could improve on everything he bought. This resulted in coat-hangers, gaffer tape and rubber bands being attached to a whole host of household implements.
The door of the brand-new fridge-freezer opened in the opposite direction to the one they had previously; after opening it onto his own head more than once, Grandad added a black, gummy strip of gaffer to the brilliant white appliance so as to remind him of which way to go in the future.
He burnt his hand on the lid of the new deep fat fryer so fashioned a lever out of a coat-hanger, wrapped it in rubber bands and attached it to the lid; heat-proof.
He made a potato-peeling machine out of two plastic bowls, a few sheets of sandpaper and a hosepipe.
We used that machine for years.
I think only ready-made chips and Smash put an end to it.
Gadget Food also featured highly at my Grandparents’ house; cream in an aerosol tin, mint-flavoured runny chocolate that solidified when squirted onto ice-cream, canned macaroni cheese - my Grandparents had lived through rations, it was clear they didn’t intend to live like that again.
The piece de resistance though was his burglar alarm – specially made for those burglars that might enter via the side door.
We never used the front door, only ever the side; the Pools man came to the side, the milkman too, so it would, of course, make sense that if a burglar was to use a door it would be the same one that we all used.
Grandad wired his reel-to-reel tape recorder up to a light switch and placed the switch on the interior ceiling above the door. He attached a coat-hanger to the top of the door so that when the thief came in, the coat hanger flicked the switch which set off the reel-to-reel, which in turn played a recording of dogs barking and growling viciously.
It wasn’t actually dogs.
It was my Grandad.
He had recorded himself barking.
He had made multiple recordings of himself barking and put them all onto one track.
There was a pack of hounds in that house.
It went off every time we opened the door.
So pleased was he with this invention, he made a doorbell in much the same guise; it was wired up to another reel-to-reel so when pressed it set off very loud music of him playing the piano. (Grandad had taught himself to play piano. He couldn’t read music, so we often heard the gag: ‘Do you play by ear?’ ‘No! I play with me fingers!’)
Then he took it even further so that when a visitor stood on the rubber mat at the doorstep the music went off.
Before they had even pressed the bell.
You couldn’t go anywhere near that part of Leeds without setting off music at my Grandparents’ house.
The high point though was when he did the same with the letterbox, unbeknownst to us.
One day we were all crammed around the tiny red Formica kitchen table playing cards (a common activity along with Doing The Pools) when a very loud, very sudden and very sharp noise blasted into the kitchen.
It was a split second of a noise.
A noise that is hard to put into the written word.
To write it phonetically I’m going for ‘wagh’; a deep, nasal sound, a bit like when you play a record on the wrong speed; too slow. ‘wagh’.
My Nanna didn’t look up from her cards when she said “t’ newspaper’s here”.
Well why go hunting for your mail in the general letterbox area when you can have a reel-to-reel telling you it has arrived? Everybody else must be mad, wasting their time repeatedly getting up to check on the post.
For a clever man it was a bit of an oversight for Grandad to not consider the speed with which an envelope – or newspaper – would move through the letterbox.
Too fast for any of his favourite Frank Sinatra songs to get going.
So he made do with ‘wagh’.
Had he met my Grandad, Sinatra might have said “He Did It His Wagh”.
So, whilst I might still, on occasion, cry into a glass of Bourbon at the lack of the bundle of joined-up genes, I will always know this; my regrets are too few to mention.
Jack Powell: April 4th 1916 to March 4th 2000
THE STEPFATHER AND THE PEAS
My Stepdaughter often asks me to tell the story of My Stepdad and the Peas; the one where, when impersonating a dramatic American actor, my Stepdad slammed his fist into his precariously-balanced plate which somersaulted into the air, firing peas all over the living room.
She had me tell her it again recently; we laughed hard as always and I said ‘can you imagine growing up with a mad Stepparent?’
I won’t tell you her response.
The first time I met my Stepdad I didn’t know he was going to be my Stepdad. I was around seven years’ old and my Mum was studying Art at college (she worked nights selling clothes with her best friend; they went to people's houses - a bit like Anne Summers. But denim.) One winter’s day, the Leeds streets heavy with snow, we went to the college and a young bearded man, wearing a red and black striped jumper and woolly hat, passed us with a group of his friends. He saw Mum, looked excited and turned to wave. His feet went up in the air and he landed flat on his ass. His woolly hat flew off. He laughed at himself. I was delighted.
Pops’ ability to laugh at himself and have others in hysterics is a wonderful gift. If you met him you might not realise that he is quite a shy man; a shy man with a very unique way of thinking; of seeing the world; of just being.
Pops is very creative; he’s a great artist, he loves photography, he has made jewellery (he and Mum did it together and we sold it on a market stall; we had many a market stall – I was brought up in jumble sales and auctions), he has created beautiful sculptures (I once bought him a lump of clay for Christmas; I was a generous child), screen-prints, made things from glass - all sorts.
I have benefitted from his creativity by having a host of home-made stuff including a kite, a huge framed Rolling Stones picture and the Best Sledge in Beeston.
(That sledge had lino on its runners. I took out a few small children on one outing to Cross Flatts Park.)
I have also been on the less-successful end of his creativity having been practically blown-up more than once. (He made me a lamp which blew up and turned my hands black; he fitted a dimmer switch in the living room of one house which, when he switched it on at the mains, exploded with a bang; flames leaped from the switch spraying me with sparks as I sat innocently eating my beans on toast while watching Screen Test; he bought us singularly the oldest toaster I have ever seen; it didn’t even pop - you had to watch it - AND you had turn the bread around; I have no idea of the point of it but it did give me a right belt one time.)
Pops is one of Life’s Wonders in many ways.
In one single walk to work he got chased by a horse, a dog and a cow - all in the space of half an hour.
That was in real life.
In his dreams he has been known to run around the bedroom being chased by a horse with a knife in its hoof; he has kicked Mum up the arse whilst taking the winning goal for England and broken his toe by kicking the wall in another similar dream. Once when asleep he was making very peculiar faces, opening his mouth really wide; Mum asked what he was doing – ‘eating a square pig’ was the unconscious response.
(He did once eat a Dr Who Annual. He and his sister were hungry.)
When we didn’t have a lawnmower or the money to buy one, Pops decided to make one.
Naturally he first made a prototype.
After much banging and swearing he emerged proudly from the cellar.
In his hand was a plank of wood with a plastic flagon attached (there was a shop in Leeds called The Ale House where you could get take-outs of draft ale; they came in these plastic flagons – Pops had obviously saved this knowing it would come in handy for a project. I’m not sure if he had known it would be a lawnmower).
The flagon was protecting the rotating motor from grass. Attached to it, on the underside of the plank, was a cut-down Swish curtain rail; this was to be the ‘blade’.
All this was fastened together with branded sticky tape; Pops worked for Pumping Services at the time.
He plugged his creation in to the mains in the kitchen, where Mum was cooking, and gave us instructions: “When I shout ‘now’ turn it on. Count to five and turn it off – unless I scream before.” We all chortled.
He went to the garden.
Mum and I counted to five.
We flicked off the switch.
Pops returned smugly, “It works!” says he and he put it on the concrete kitchen floor (this wasn’t fashionable we just had no flooring).
He went to take out the plug and, as is, I guess, a matter of habit, he flicked the switch.
Before taking out the plug.
The contraption set off around the kitchen at a rate of knots.
Mum was leaping about with a frying pan; I ran for cover, squeezing myself down by the side of the washing machine.
Pops was flailing around trying to catch it before realising he just needed to flick the switch off.
(Which reminds me of the time he laminated his tie; the machine was pulling his head ever closer and he was trying to undo the knot; it was his colleague who came running over and turned off the laminator. Using the switch right by his head. He also guillotined his tie once. Took the end clean off.)
Once we’d gathered up all the bits of flagon, curtain rail, sticky tape and screws, Pops made The Real Thing.
Remember how when you made anything with wheels – a go-kart or a skateboard – you used the wheels from something else? Yeah. Pops made the wheels.
They were like 50 pence pieces.
The whole frame was wooden, the rotating motor and curtain rail remained, but the flagon was replaced by a bean can.
We used that lawnmower for some time.
But it really was a lot less bovver with a Hover.
Stepparents often get a bad rap. I’m sure there are some terrible ones out there, just like there are some terrible parents, but parents don’t naturally come with a bad rap; people don’t automatically assume a parent is going to be unkind - they have to kind of earn that.
My own Stepdaughter has told me of friends reacting in disbelief to our positive relationship, instinctively assuming she would dislike me. I was so proud when she put them straight.
It is often assumed that Stepparents aren't even parents. What tosh.
Because I don’t have children born of me I have been told when holding a baby that it didn’t suit me; that it must really annoy me that my Husband loves his kids; I have heard ‘they’re not even hers’ said about me; I have been excluded from parent conversations and I know all too well The Look. The Look that says – they have a mother, how dare you get involved.
They do have a Mum. And I'm not her. Nor am I trying to be her. We all understand that they can love both of us. I’m not their sister or aunty and I’m not just Dad’s wife. We accept it’s a unique relationship; we celebrate it as such and work at the harder bits.
I am not suggesting for a second that it has all been plain sailing; it hasn't. And I am certainly not suggesting that I have been perfect - I really have not; I have made some awful mistakes and I carry the guilt for them.
I am aware, too, that I'm very lucky - my Stepchildren are fabulous and they welcomed me quickly. I know this isn't the same for all in this situation; but if we can just lose a few stereotypes, open our eyes and ears and quit the ignorance it's surely a better starting point for any form of parenting.
(And I must add that I'm not saying Stepparenting is the same as having 'your own'. I haven't had babies, but I have seen the trauma and challenges they bring as well as the delight and love.)
Pops works in a school as a technician and I often feel that, like Grandad, he kind of missed his way, being so wonderfully creative and all. But I know that, like Grandad, he put his family first.
And for six years, until my wonderful little brother came along, that was me and Mum.
Me. His Stepdaughter.
That’s a parent.
For Philip Neary. A wonderful father and human being.
The woman in the film is in her early 60s and has brilliant white hair styled in fashionable, 1970’s waves. She wears a large-print dress; orange swirls on stiff, cream polyester; a V-neck with long pointed collars and sleeves that stop just above the elbow. She leans out of an upstairs window of the pebble-dash house and waves at the camera smiling.
She leans too far.
Head first and fast. The camera jerkily films the fall.
She lands; a heap of orange and cream on the unkempt lawn.
The woman gets up, looks directly into the camera lens and rubs her behind making a comedic ‘oooh’ face. She laughs and aims her smile at the camera operator. The clicking film whirrs to an abrupt end.
On first appearances my Nanna was quite an unassuming stunt woman – Mother, Grandmother, a cleaner for most of her life, a regular at The Bingo; she was a marvellous baker of bread, an avid knitter and she possessed the enviable skill of being able to peel an apple in one go so the skin was one long, wiggly coil. And she made the best pancakes ever (‘bicarb, Faye. Bicarb’) - but when I stop to think about her in some detail, I realise that the little film in which she stars is very much reflective of the strong, good-humoured woman that she was.
I don’t know how long it was before I realised it wasn’t Nanna falling out of the window in the film. Of course, Grandad was the brains behind it; he made the dummy by stuffing some tights with rags, tying them together to create the appearance of a torso and finishing it off with Nanna’s orange-print dress. He threw it out of the window and carefully edited it in with the real Nanna. He was also the camera operator.
We watched that film a lot when I was a kid, and each time Nanna would laugh her breathy, chesty laugh until she almost cried.
Mary Elizabeth Wood was born in April 1914 – just before the First World War - and was one of four children. She was the only girl; her twin brother died at birth.
She was brought up in South Leeds where her one-legged Mum sold ale from a hatch at their house . (Her Mum had knelt on a rusty nail and developed an infection; her father gave the go ahead for her to have her leg amputated but nearly didn't as he feared she would never marry having only one leg. One leg too few to quote Pete & Dud. She did go on to marry. Nanna didn't like her father. She spoke of him rarely so all I think I know is that he was likely an alcoholic, had a metal plate in his head ‘from t’ war’ and was unpleasant. She left home aged eight and was brought up by her Grandmother.)
She met Grandad in 1930, aged 16. The story goes that he took her to meet his parents and when he got to their door, and made to introduce them, Nanna was nowhere to be seen. She had run away. She was really quite shy, but covered this by being pretty damn bolshy; something for which she became famous within the family; in our house she was fondly known as The Gobshite.
Nanna was an incredibly stylish woman; quite bold in her dress. When I think of her, I see a striking vision of brilliant white hair and a powder blue two-piece with block-heeled, ankle-strap shoes. She regularly told us the story of her and Grandad getting dressed up to walk down Dewsbury Road in Beeston; she in a blue velvet hat and coat, made by her Grandmother, and he in a white suit. People would stop to watch them pass.
It was very clear that she adored Grandad but any visitor to the family could be forgiven for thinking otherwise given her particular way with words.
A regular conversation at my Grandparents’ would go thus:
Nanna, softly saying to me: “Hello, love! Do you want something to eat?”
Me, naturally: “Yes please.”
Her, full belt from living room to kitchen: “JACK!! Get our Faye a sandwich!”
Grandad would duly oblige.
In later years, when Grandad was losing his hearing he made himself a badge from the back of a Cornflake packet on which he wrote ‘Hard Of Hearing Not Daft’ so that people might be understanding of his difficulties with conversation.
“Hard of hearing?” she said sarcastically. “You’re not hard of hearing, you’re bleedin’ DEAF!” And then she would laugh her raspy laugh and have everyone joining in.
Grandad once famously sighed “Every conversation in this house ends with ‘you deaf sod’.”
He was right.
Nanna: “I said MORRISONS - you deaf sod”; “I said CUP OF TEA - you deaf sod”.
In his 70s, my Grandad wrote a memoir called ‘My War; From El Alamein to Age Concern’; 90 pages of stories about his experience of the Second World War which I am lucky enough to have in my possession.
This is the opening paragraph.
“It was my intention to show the lighter side of a tragic event –namely the war. But, as Charlie Chaplin claimed, comedy and pathos go hand in hand. My army life started off with a bit of pathos. My young wife left tearful as I walked down the road away from home in 1940 to catch the train to Salisbury Plains and in to the unknown.’
We all knew how the war was for Grandad (or at least what he opted to tell us because we also know he used humour to block out the trauma) but I’m embarrassed to confess that I hadn’t really considered how it had been for Nanna; her husband, her love, left and she had no idea if he would return.
I cannot begin to imagine how she felt, and I’m sad that I never asked her, but I think I’m safe in saying that that kind of thing changes a woman.
At the start of the war my Grandparents already had a young son, my Uncle Roy, and at some point, when most were evacuating London, Nanna went there, with Roy, to be with Grandad. I don’t think she was fearless; I think she felt the fear but couldn’t bear being away from her husband; all the ‘deaf sods’ in the world can’t hide those feelings.
Nanna’s favourite story from this time was when Uncle Roy – aged four – went to a shop and asked for ‘a quarter of spice’; in Yorkshire, if you asked for ‘spice’ you were asking for ‘sweets’, in London you were asking for, well, spice. Roy was handed something quite bizarre and Nanna had to take it back. She found this language barrier hilarious. Fancy them Londoners not knowing what spice was!
There was also the time a Zeppelin came down in the London streets when young Roy was playing out. Here we see a slight glimmer of panic and concern in the retelling of the story, a hint of how she might have felt at that time, but Roy was found safe and well and isn't that a great story to tell?
So, because I foolishly never asked her, I neither know what Nanna did nor what she felt during the war, I only know she brought up my Uncle Roy and I can only imagine her delight when Grandad returned safely.
Post-war they went on to have my Mum – Linda - and my Uncle Terry, though tragically there was another daughter, Jean, who died at the age of seven months. Again I say these things change a woman, and I know only too well that she will have carried that pain with her constantly. I wish I’d have asked her about that too.
She was fierce about her family and indeed about others; she had been know to wallop people with a bag of frozen chicken or a handbag when she found it 'necessary' - i.e when someone tried to take her purse in Leeds Market and when she saw a young black lad being attacked by five white youths (I feel it necessary to mention colour here; these were different times we were living in and not everyone would have sided with the black youth regardless of numbers -though it's fair to say that I feel sure few lone, older women would have addressed the scene at all, regardless of colour).
Nanna would do anything for her husband, children and grandchildren. She loved to provide for us all – working extra hours at Christmas to ensure we all had lovely gifts, giving the grandchildren regular pocket money. And food.
There was always food.
She was famous for her gorgeous homemade bread and self-titled ‘New Cakes’, large, flat bread cakes with a small hole in the centre – these, served warm with real butter and Golden Syrup, were incredible. She baked every day; there was always a washing up bowl filled with dough, covered with tea towel, standing on a paraffin heater. The smell of fresh baked bread, mixed with paraffin and Germolene, is the smell of my childhood; I can be catapulted right back to that kitchen with the mere whiff of a soft bread cake and some antiseptic cream.
The aforementioned pancakes were served with gravy (something I didn’t realise was strange until I was an adult); she would give me and my cousin Mark toasted Shredded Wheat with butter on – I’ve no idea what prompted her to put a Shredded Wheat under the grill but I could happily eat it right now.
And always lots of sweets; creamy toffees, coconut mushrooms, pink wafers, brittle chocolate limes (my favourites), pear drops, Dolly Mixture, Jelly Tots – we had the lot. For Bonfire Night she always made toffee apples with her 'secret ingredient' (we suspect it was the famous Bicarb again) and Bonfire Toffee with dark treacle.
I can’t quite believe I have all my own teeth.
The sweets all came from varying stalls in Leeds Market; Nanna loved Leeds Market- it was her favourite place to shop and she went often. I remember being with her; small - just head height to her string bag - in awe of how many people she chatted with; they all knew her. She must have cut a quite a dash with her colourful clothes and white haired glory in those markets; I'm not surprised they all knew her.
Her favourite stall - after the sweets for us lot - was the tripe and onion stall. This is another area in which we differ.
I really tried but it's like the underside of a gym mat - and I ain't particularly fussy.
I did however eat cow's tongue and haslet - all served up by Nanna. I honestly didn't realise tongue was actually tongue and I have only now, for the purpose of this piece, looked up haslet and realised it contains pork offal.
As I say, I ain't fussy.
Nanna worked exceptionally hard all her life; at the age of 13 she started work at a factory in Hunslet and on finishing that shift would go on to clean at the Copperworks where her Grandmother was the caretaker.
She perhaps wasn’t always above board in her jobs, for when she worked at a hotel the cupboards were always full of tiny sachets of things; coffee, sugar, sauce, vinegar, little jars of jam, single teabags, sweeteners and biscuits that came in twos.
I also have a very clear memory of going to work with her once, a place that shall remain nameless, and shouting ‘oooh look Nanna, they have towels just like ours!’ Nanna had to cup my mouth and rush me away – it was years before I understood why.
Nanna retired at 82 and only because she was forced to; she’d have carried on, of that I’m sure. She was incredibly fit even then. She had been a very successful runner as a young woman and believed in keeping moving; she joined keep fit classes and took swimming lessons, but her favourite activity was The Bingo - this was one of the few places women could go on their own. She went every week, with her friend Bessie, until she really could no longer manage it (way in to her 80s I think).
The only thing I remember her winning at The Bingo was a pink bike that had ‘Sarah’ written on it (which was given to my little brother), a digital watch that I wore in my late teens, despite it being hugely unfashionable by that time (I remember telling someone that Nanna had won it and they responded ‘she was done’) and a really small amount of cash – so small that they didn’t cash it in; they found it so funny that Grandad framed the cheque (on a Cornflake box, wrapped in cling film) and wrote something along the lines of ‘Mary Wins The Jackpot’ above it.
As a child I spent a lot of time at my Grandparents’, usually ligged out on their sofa watching the recordings Grandad had made me; back to back cartoons, The Munsters and The Beverly Hillbillies, until Nanna would shift me so she could watch her favourites; snooker, football, boxing and quiz shows. I didn’t share her passion for sport but I still have a penchant for quiz shows to this day. (If I'm ever off sick I will be sure to watch Eggheads.)
In much later years, after Grandad had died and Nanna was housebound, we’d visit and go through photo albums asking her to tell us who everybody was and share stories – this was really to keep her mind ticking over, but we also loved to hear the same little tales.
"Your Grandad’s uncle owned a right old fashioned sweet shop in York” – given Nanna was born in 1914, that shop must have been something else.
“Uncle Roy’s nickname was ‘Bubbles’ because of his curly hair and the reason his face is cut out of that picture is because Grandad took it with him when he went to war” (that always makes me cry).
“Our Terry was a marvellous footballer and could eat a whole chicken to himself at teatime; he knows the answer to every quiz question - apart from pop music - he should go on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but he’s too shy”.
“Our Linda could have been a professional dancer but she got knocked over – she still dances though, even now! Isn’t that marvellous?”
“Do you remember that time we went to visit X? They were right rich but they offered our Linda and Terry an egg to share. Share an egg! They had a fridge door full of eggs. I said ‘they will not, they’ll have one each or we’re off!’”
“I’m 97 you know. They don’t believe me. I swear by Cod Liver Oil and cabbage water – finest thing you can take for your skin.”
And she did indeed have amazing skin.
On these visits we’d also paint her nails, put her some lipstick on and a bit of ‘rouge’ and Mum would ensure her hair was done regularly; all of that was important to her, even though she no longer went out, even though the only people she saw was us and The Carers, it was important to her to look and feel good and that wasn’t about anybody else, it was about her.
I learnt a thing or two from My Nanna.
Dedicated to Mary Powell.
My Mum has a saying; “JFDI, darling; JFDI.”
Just Fucking Do It.
Unfortunately I tend to JFD all the wrong stuff leaving me as the world’s greatest procrastinator who is slightly overweight, has an almost-permanent hangover and no savings.
It took her a while to get to JFDI to be fair, but when she got there boy did she JFDI. This is a little introduction to Mama.
It has been me and her all my life. That is not to undervalue my stepdaddy, my brother (he comes later) or anyone else – it’s just that she is the one person that has been with me all my life.
Up to the age of seven, my memories of my Mum are:
Me being so small I held on to the hem of her fur coat that smelled of Estee Lauder; her sticking little glitter stars to her face for a night out; the smell of rouge and lipstick; her soothing my night-time worries by playing the guitar singing ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ and ‘Mary’s Boy Child’; her telling me about the fairies that lived at the bottom of the garden and reading me Enid Blyton stories whilst stroking my cheek with her thumb; her teaching herself Beatles songs on the piano and singing ‘Here, There and Everywhere” whilst I sat at her feet.
She was 20 when we she had me in 1971 which led to her and my father marrying a little before they had planned to. He was 21.
She had a shit time with him.
To make a long and personal story short and less personal, she stayed with him for me; the idea being that every child needed their biological parents to be together in order to create a healthy child and adult.
And then she left him.
For it was her belief that to create a healthy child and adult what one didn’t need was a parent that was angry, violent and rarely able to show love.
People can be vile to others; starving them of love, of attention of respect and then throwing them morsels for which they are truly grateful and will dine on for some time while they await the next offering.
The starved person can go without for quite some time, for when the scraps come they are so wonderfully delicious the memory alone can sustain them. The starving part is pushed down, gulped back, ignored, hidden away until the person believes they don’t need anything more.
They are not worth anything more.
During the starving period they will be given things that are hard to swallow; kicks and punches both physical and verbal. The verbal are dropped in carefully.
Little references to ugliness, stupidity and pokes at the areas they know full well are already sore.
And then, just when the person thinks they can go on no more – pow – something lovely is dropped in which keeps them hanging on in there.
I know this because later in life I would put myself in this very situation for almost 12 years. But that really is another story and one I’m not sure I will ever put to paper any more than the above.
That said I live by the phrase ‘never say never’.
One day in 1978 when my father was out at work, my Mum’s best friend Kay took us in her lilac Hillman Imp to collect our belongings and move us out of our home for good (we had left before and returned having being assured he would change).
It was a fraught day for all.
Kay has since told me that she was frightened my father would unexpectedly return and was admiring my Mum’s calm in the midst of the madness that was her stuffing her life into a Hillman Imp, when she suddenly thought that I, aged seven, sitting waiting, may be upset.
Carrying our few belongings Kay ran back to the lilac car and was was met by me jovially playing ‘Lord of the Dance’ on my recorder.
“Dance, dance wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be, and I lead you all in the dance said he.”
Were we of a religious persuasion we might have read something into it.
So Mum and I set off on our new life path with the funny man who fell in the snow.
Mum, aged 28, would go on to be the woman she always knew she was; funny, clever, brave, bold, bonkers and a wee bit punk.
I would stop wetting the bed, stop crying and start to laugh.
I owe my life to my Mum.
I want to be like her when I grow up.
It has taken me a very long time to put this together because there is so much to say; this is a woman of many layers, a lover of life, a giver of love, a constant.
I felt quite overwhelmed about where to start, what to include and where to go with it so instead I did nothing.
And Mum said ‘JFDI darling, JFDI.’
I wrote loads of little bit of stories.
But I really wanted to introduce the centre of the family; the heart.
For me, this story is an important one as I think it displays her remarkable strength and character, but it is only a tiny excerpt from her life and I don’t want it to be the definition of who she is, as it would be a great disservice to her.
She would marry my stepdaddy and wear trousers and a shirt on her wedding day (much to my Nanna’s shame); she would be a maid (yes, a maid) for landed gentry in North Yorkshire enabling us to live in a cottage in the sticks, away from Leeds for a while (and from which we would do a moonlight flit); she would run her own businesses selling bedding in people’s homes; she would have a child when she was told she was too old; she would return to education and, aged 40, become the first person in the family to hold a degree (she remains the only person in the family to hold a degree); she would work in TV researching for Richard and Judy (the time she asked a Tarantula owner if he had a big hairy one is family gold), floor managing on the soap opera Brookside, she would be a researcher for an independent TV company that made the Asian programmes for Yorkshire Television – I would work there too and we would travel to India and Pakistan together (where I found out that as much as I adore her, sharing a room with your Mum for six weeks is difficult – how many questions can one person ask on a morning?!) and she would stop sleeping with sellotape on her head, stop cropping her hair, stop being embarrassed of her curls and grow the most amazing hair of which I am eternally jealous. It also helps you find her in a busy place.
So there will be more from Mama.
My Mum went to The Rolling Stones’ 1969 free gig in Hyde Park. How cool is that?
Mum and Kay are still the best of friends.
In their 30s they went clubbing in Manchester and Mum was asked be a shady gentlemen if she wanted a lifter. She replied, in best Leeds, ‘oh no thanks, we came on t’ coach.’ Less cool.
For Linda Neary whose fabulousness can only be described by the lack of words somebody who likes words was able to provide.