Any time spent with my busy mother was a pure joy. But her trips to Leeds, visiting the salesrooms where she’d buy furniture to then resell in her shops, were extra special. If I got wind that a trip to Leeds was on the cards, I’d suddenly develop a tummy ache, headache or any other ache I could think of, any ache to get me off school. Father used to say that I was a better actress than Jane Russell, my performances were that good. Lying was something that I excelled at, big or small they just tripped off my tongue.
I loved those trips to Leeds. We always went by train and then stopped off at the market for fresh oysters, before going to the salesrooms. Once there I quickly became bored and would start to fidget, something I’d promised faithfully that I wouldn’t do before we set off.
Then a ‘lot’ (an item that was being sold) would catch my eye and I’d beg mother to bid for it. I remember once getting her to bid for the most beautiful doll’s house, full to the brim with victorian furniture and little doll family. The price kept going up and up, until mother said, “That’s it, I’m out.”
But one look at my sad face made her raise her hand and bid again. I loved that doll’s house and spent hours decorating and making curtains and rugs for it. I totally devalued a very expensive collector’s item within a matter of days, but to me it was beautiful. Mother had paid over the odds, but it was one of the toys that gave me the most joy. The little dolls that lived in the house may have had make-believe lives, but I was right there in the middle of them. In my overactive imagination those little people had lives that I was part of, they were the friends that I didn’t have.
Years later when our children had grown up, I persuaded D.H to take out a subscription to a magazine that offered a doll’s house one piece per week. It took two years to get all the parts. We decided that it would be good to wait until we had all of it, before we started ‘The Big Build.’ That must have been about twenty years ago, and to this day it’s on top of my wardrobe in its original packaging, destined never to be built or have a little family of dolls live in it. Two years at £4.99 per week! (You do the maths.) Again I had talked somebody into buying me a dolls house that cost far more than it was worth.
Anyway, back to Leeds, mother, and the auctions. On one of our trips we were heading back to the train station after a particularly long day, when a small boy called out to mother, “Would you like a puppy missus?”
“No thanks,” she called back, whilst gripping my arm and trying her best to drag me away.
Alas, to no avail. I was on those puppies like a rash.
“Please, mummy, please let me have one!” I pleaded.
“No way, I’ll end up having to look after it, cleaning up its mess, feeding it and taking it out for walks.”
“I’ll do all those things, PLEEEASE!!!” I begged.
“Absolutely not, under no circumstances are we getting a dog!”
On the train mother hid the puppy in her shopping bag.
“I’m not buying a ticket for a bloody dog!” she protested.
Father was cross, but it didn’t last long. The dog was loved by everyone that met her. She looked like she was a cross between a miniature whippet, and only the Lord knows what else! That dog could dribble a football better than any professional footballer, the only problem was that once she got the ball, nobody could take it away from her. If the kids were playing football on our street and we let the dog out, that was game over!
One of mother’s shops was a short walk from our house, with only one main road en-route. The dog used to go to meet her from work every evening; it never ventured onto the busy road, but just sat and waited until mother crossed, then they would walk home together. One rainy afternoon mother arrived home without the dog.
“Where is she?” mother asked.
Just then, one of the neighbours knocked on the back door and walked in, (as was the custom of the day) weeping and unable to talk at first. He eventually pulled himself together to say that he had seen the dog get run over by one of the trucks that was working on the nearby building site. Our house was in silence for what seemed like days. We were just about over the shock, when my uncle (who was on leave from the army) called in.
“Where’s the dog?”
When we told him she’d been run over, he almost went to pieces before our eyes. That was the first time I’d seen my uncle show any form of emotion, he was usually a real cold fish. The house was once again thrown into mourning over the dog. That dog was talked about for years on our street. We have had many dogs since then, but none of them could live up to her memory, that is, until I once again used my powers of persuasion on D.H begging him to buy me ‘Gizmo’ the Chihuahua, but that really is another story for another time.
If mother couldn’t get the boys to sit with me while she was at work in the shops, she would take me with her. On our way we would call into the butchers and buy something for lunch. I always chose a pork pie; I’ve since heard it said that you are what you eat — if that’s the case, then I’m definitely a pork pie with brown sauce. On one such day mother asked the butcher for half a pound of boiled ham trim ‘for the dog.’ “But we haven’t got a dog, mummy,” I piped up. The tight squeeze on my arm, told me to be quiet. When we left the butchers I asked mummy about the dog. “I don’t want the butcher to know that I give your father ham trimmings for his pack up,” she told me. Grown ups are very strange, I thought; although looking back that might be where I got my gift for lying from.
After the butcher we would go to the off licence and buy a bag of broken biscuits, some loose tea, and if I’d been a good girl, a bar of chocolate. I must have been good a lot, because I can’t remember a time that when we visited that shop and didn’t come away with chocolate. It was like walking into an Aladdin’s cave; large black and gold tins lined the top shelves. Below them were smaller tins ornately decorated, again in black with gold leaf. Each tin had a number on it and was filled with teas, sugar, flour or dried fruit. Below those were glass jars filled with boiled sweets, lollypops and liquorice sticks. The floor was stacked with tin boxes, and each box had a glass lid so that you could see the biscuits inside.
I loved that shop and not just for the chocolate; it was magical to a small child. On one occasion, so taken was I by the splendour of it all, I walked away from mother into the depths of the store. Mesmerised by all the bottles of spirits etc, I suddenly found myself in the pitch black. I could hear mother screaming, “My baby, my baby!” but I couldn’t see her. After what seemed like forever, (but could, in reality, only have been moments), things started to come into focus. Shelf upon shelf of bottles; and not one of them with the words ‘drink me’ on them, plus crate stacked upon crate, came into view. I realised that I was sat on the floor, but I couldn’t work out where. Mother’s screaming voice kept coming and going in and out of my consciousness, and then from what seemed like nowhere I was scooped up into her arms and carried up a flight of wooden steps. It turned out that in my state of utter bliss looking up at all the beautiful jars, bottles and elaborately decorated tins, I hadn’t noticed that the trap door to the beer cellar was open. I’d stepped out into thin air but, even then I believe that God was looking after me. I came away from falling 10 feet onto a stone slab floor with nothing more than a few bruises, a free bar of chocolate given by a very shaken shop owner, and nightmares of falling into black holes for years to come. Apart from that — no harm done!
In adult life, that feeling of falling into the depths of darkness often came upon me, and in my thirties after a family trauma, I plummeted into extensive drug & alcohol abuse ( both legal and illegal). I slumped into a deep depression, and I can honestly say that I have stood at the edge of that black hole and thought there was nothing left for me to do except jump.
In 1999, our daughter brought Jesus home with her. She’d been on a walk to raise money to go away with Raleigh International, when someone she knew asked her if she wanted to let Jesus into her life. She said yes, and the aftershock hit our household like a tsunami. He was for us, so no-one could be against us.
I remember our daughter telling me that God says in His word (the bible), that He will restore all that the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25) He has, and that’s a story for another day.