Because of mother’s profession (junk shop owner, in the guise of antique dealer), we often had some very unusual things come into our house. One such thing was a miniature oriental funeral procession. It lived on our book shelves for months, until mother found a buyer for it. I thought that it was the most beautiful thing that I’d ever seen. It reminded me of the Queen’s coronation parade, only with more bling — and yes you read that right, even more over the top than the royal procession. Not that I was around then, but like everyone else I’d seen footage of it. All of the characters in this miniature parade were in oriental dress, they even had real hair pigtails sticking out of their tiny bamboo hats. Instead of the dignities riding in horse drawn carriages, they were carried in tiny rickshaws. There was what looked like a tiny coffin in the only carriage, this was pulled by oxen. Then there was what seemed like hundreds of mourners on foot. I was under strict orders not to play or even touch this most valuable of objects, and as far as I can remember I obeyed and left it well alone — which is a shame; because it would have made for a far better story if I’d had got up to my usual mischief. At this point I do have to confess that I did take one of the rickshaws for a spin around the hearth rug, but it was so incredibly delicate and fragile that it took all of the fun out of it. Plus, although it was delightfully beautiful, I did find it a little creepy. Where it came from — who knows? And the same can be said for where it went.
The other thing we acquired was a full sized slate bed snooker table; minus legs. It took father, uncle Jack, my two brothers and a small army of friends to get it into the attic. When they did, they covered an extended dining table with tasseled, velvet throws and placed the snooker table on top. As a child that snooker table brought me and my imaginary friends hours of fun and adventure. Not because I played snooker on it; I was too small, but because the throws draped over the table almost touched the floor, it made the most magical of dens. I would sit under that table for hours imagining far away places, drinking imaginary tea from my china tea set, surrounded by my dolls. I often hid there when it was time for bed, until mother called up.
‘If I’ve to come up there and get you, you’ll get a slap young lady. Now come down and get into bed!’
She never did slap me, in fact, I only got a slap once in my life from mother. But that’s a story that I’d rather not tell. Well, not until we get to know each other better, dear reader.
My imaginary life under that snooker table often spilled over into my real life. Fact and fiction held no limits for me. Some people would have called me a little liar, I would have said that at that young age I had a fertile imagination. Only in later years would the former be a true evaluation of my character. So fertile an imagination had I, that my first week at school when they called my name out at registration, I point blank refused to answer.
“Johnny?” the teacher called out without looking up.
“Yes, Miss,” came the reply.
And on it went, until it came to me. “Annie?” no response, “Annie?” Silence.
The teacher looked up from the register, “Annie, you say, ‘Yes Miss’ when I call out your name.”
“That’s not my name, my name is Julie!” I insisted.
“But we have you down in the register as Annie,” the teacher replied.
“It’s not my name, I’m Julie.”
After a week of stubborn insistence, and refusing point blank to answer anyone who addressed me as Annie, the teacher decided that she better have a word with mother. So, that was the end of dear Julie and I was back to Annie, much to the amusement of the other children.
Years later when I had my own daughter guess what I named her; Julie? No way, that name makes me cringe with embarrassment to this day.
It was under that snooker table whilst having my dollies tea parties that I learned the art of eavesdropping. I’d listen to my brothers boasting to their friends and then use it as ammunition against them to let me stay up late.
On one occasion I’d sneaked out of bed and gone into the attic to play, then I overheard mummy and daddy coming up the stairs. I held my breath and sat very still.
I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but I imagined that they were telling one another jokes, because they never stopped giggling. Then they started to play fight on top of the table, at least in my innocence, that’s what I thought they were doing. Looking back, I rather think that they were playing their own form of snooker, if you get my drift!
When I read back over the pages that I’ve written, it looks like my childhood was full of fun and mischief. Like all families we have had our ups and downs, but do you know what? I’d rather look back at the fun times and remember the good things. It’s so easy to focus on the negative and dwell there. When my mother passed away, I spent months beating myself up over the things that I’d done wrong and for not being around for her at the end. Then it came to me, that as long as I looked back at only the bad times, I was missing out on the wonderful life we had together. I was actually doing my mother a disservice. She was a loving, fun, generous mum and deserved to be remembered as such.
Months after her death I had a dream about her. We were on the beach, and she was carrying me piggy back. In my dream I said to her,
“You can’t keep on carrying me like this.”
She turned her head, looked me in the face and replied,
“I will carry you all the days of your life. Although I have to admit, it’s rather like carrying a baby elephant!”
I woke up and realised that my mother will always be with me, and I will always be with her. She’s looking over me from heaven, laughing when I laugh and weeping when I weep.
Like God, my mother chose to forget the wrongs I’d done and just focus on loving me and now I’ve decided that I should do the same.