As a child my school was just a hop, skip and a jump away from our house. I only had to cross one street, and that wasn’t a problem as we were the only family with motorised transport, (read — motorbike and sidecar), then walk a short way down a cobbled road and past the allotments. I used to do the journey alone; all the local kids did, something that would be unheard of in this day and age. You wouldn’t be able to do the 300yards now without being plowed down by a four-by-four. Having said all of that, that’s how I ended up meeting Polish Peter and his paedophile father. But perhaps we should leave that for another time.
The motorbike and sidecar was my father’s pride and joy, our families favourite mode of transport by far. We even used it for a few years to go on our family holidays.
“Come on kids, two in the back and one in the front,” father would say.
After several minutes squabbling about who sat where, daddy would start to pack the camping equipment around us. Every inch of that sidecar was filled. A folding table was placed on the roof, then the tent was placed on top of that, and the whole thing was fastened down with rope. (Usually a bit of old washing line, health and safety wasn’t big back in the day!) Mother perched herself on the back of the bike, then after what seemed like an age we were off. It usually wasn’t long before I needed the loo and the whole thing started again. We even took the dog on those holidays, it must have looked like The Clampits had arrived when we pulled up on site.
Once we’d reached our destination father would pitch the tent, mother would take me to the wash rooms and attend to my ablutions. She would then put the kettle on the little camp stove and make us all a nice cup of tea. Tea drank and pots washed, we would all go off to explore the campsite. Mother and father would always make a beeline for the club house and my brothers and myself would invariably find the amusement arcades.
In the mid sixties, purchasing alcohol was restricted to a couple of hours over the lunch time, and then the club house would close until the evening session. So after a couple of drinks mother and father would come and join us.
“They’re holding a talent competition this afternoon, why don’t you kids take part?” mother asked.
My oldest brother just rolled his eyes and walked away in disgust, but my other brother and myself were well up for it.
Mother took us over to register, then my brother and I rushed back to the tent to rehearse our act. I was always singing and dancing around the house, acting out little plays for my parents and their friends. I was the entertainment at all of our Christmas parties and there wasn’t a school play that I didn’t try for a part. I used to mime to the records of the day; one of my favourites was Frank Sinatra’s ‘In Olden Days a Glimpse of Stocking’.
I adored being the centre of attention, until some years later one of mother’s friends paid us a visit. I was pretending to be a ballerina pirouetting around our front room. Mother told her friend that she was thinking of letting me join the dance classes held on a Saturday morning down at the Mission.
Her friend looked at me with distain, sniffed and said, “What as, a dancing baby elephant?”
Another nail tapped into the anorexia coffin. I point blank refused to join the class after that and nothing mother could say would change my mind.
My brother and I decided that we should perform the song ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’. It was a big Harry Belafonte record that had been in the charts that summer. There was a long list of kids up before us, and some of them were very good. One boy played a guitar, a little girl danced and another child performed magic tricks. They all looked very professional and well rehearsed, but that didn’t bother us, we just liked to do it for fun; we didn’t take it very seriously. Some of the parents were very dedicated; ours, I have to say, weren’t.
When it came to our turn, we were well up for it. I stumbled over my words and at one point, got the lyrics completely wrong. My brother gave me an over-enthusiastic nudge and I almost fell off the stage into the audience below. We finished our act to peals of laughter and tremendous applause, thinking that the slip-ups were all part of the act. We’d made it into the quarter finals, then over the next week we made it to the semi finals and then onto the finals. We were up against a girl who did aerobics, a ballerina and a kid that sang some kind of opera. The big day of the finals came and went — unfortunately without us. We had to go home a day before the finals because daddy had a shift at work. The organisers of the talent competition said that if we stayed another day they would foot the bill. But daddy, being daddy and loyal as always to work, back home it was. To say that we were disappointed would be the understatement of the year. But we looked back at that holiday as being fun, and we all decided that if we had managed to be there, we would have won hands down.
Our next holiday was a trip to Blackpool with mummy and grandma; this time in the luxury of a boarding house, whilst daddy stayed at home. We hadn’t been in Blackpool two minutes, when mother noticed that they were holding a talent competition at Blackpool tower ballroom. So my brother and I were once again under the spotlight. This time it was very professional and we were up against some very classy acts — kids that attended stage school and even some that had been on the TV. Again the show lasted a week but this time as well as a panel of judges, they also took votes from the paying audience. Once again we sailed through to the finals only to find out that it was held on the day that we were due to go home.
“I’ll book to stay another night,” mother reassured us.
Granny was less than enthused. I think that if she heard ‘There’s a Hole in My Bucket’ one more time, she’d find a bucket without a hole and drown herself in it!
The talent competitions were the equivalent of today’s X Factor, only on speed. Mothers would crimp and preen their children for hours, especially for the big shows like Blackpool. The prizes were spectacular and it would seem that every mother had their eye on that prize. Every mother except ours — she would drag us off the beach twenty minutes before the show started, spit on her hankie and clean our ice-cream covered faces with it. Then send us on stage saying, ‘Let the show begin”.
People paid proper money to see the final show and the build up over the week was tremendous. Some of the contestants traveled miles to enter their kids into the show, and made it very clear that they were there to win. To us it was just a bit of fun.
Once again we were billed last in show. Mother and gran found themselves sat next to one of the other mothers.
“My daughter is classically trained you know, your children don’t stand a chance of winning. I think that the judges have only kept them on for the entertainment value, if you know what I mean.”
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we!” mother replied as kindly as she could muster.
Gran just looked the woman in the face and said as loud as she could muster, “Snotty cow!”
If you’d have asked my brother and I, we would have agreed with the other mother. We couldn’t think why everyone voted for us to stay, but there you are. The other kids did everything so well, we just mucked around, they all had professional outfits, we looked like urchins.
Then before we knew it, it was our turn. We walked out onto the stage to the most tremendous applause. The ballroom was packed, every seat was taken and my heart skipped a beat. I thought that I was going to faint when I looked out over that sea of faces. The pianist struck a cord and I sang; except I didn’t, for the first time in my life I had stage fright. My first line was meant to be ‘Fetch some water Henry” but nothing came out. Then my brother gave me an almighty push and I went staggering across the stage. The Audience roared with laughter and it seemed to bring me round to my senses. I was back on track, until the middle of the song, where once again I missed my cue because I was busy waving and blowing kisses to mother. I received yet another shove from my brother and again the audience roared, thinking the kissing and shoving were part of the act.
The build up to the prize giving was tense to say the least. Third prize winner was called onto the stage, then second place, then our names were called. We sat for a moment wondering what was happening; then it dawned on us, WE’D ONLY GONE AND WON FIRST PLACE! Mother patted the heartbroken lady sat next to her on the leg, only to receive a barrage of insults and abuse. The woman finally screaming, “It’s cost her father hundreds of pounds in singing lessons, and she looses to ‘There’s a Hole in My Bloody Bucket’ ” and with that she left.
We, on the other hand left the stage to a standing ovation, taking first prize of a substantial cheque; plus gents and ladies solid gold cocktail watches. Neither of which, I might add, my brother or I ever saw again! For the life in me, I couldn’t work out why they would give children adult gold watches, and still can’t to this day, but they did and that’s that.
My adult life was often like that song, going round and round in circles and getting nowhere. As a small child I loved to take centre stage, filling my bucket full of fun and laughter. But as the years went by I started to loose my innocent look on life and fill my bucket with the negative things that people said about me. Fat, stupid, ugly; and the more I listened, the more I started to shrink back. My bucket was full to the brim with self-doubt and the fact that it had a great big hole in it didn’t stop it getting full to overflowing. It overflowed into other peoples lives with my sharp words, my judgments, my gossiping, my alcohol, drug and sexual sin; and the most damaging of all, my unforgiveness. That bucket was full of pain and condemnation, its contents hurt not only me, but they also hurt others.
But do you know what? When I met with God, He first of all emptied the bucket of the negative, unforgiveness and pain, then He made good the hole with His healing power, and finally He filled my bucket with confidence and knowledge of Him. Notice that I didn’t say self-confidence, because I know that in myself there is nothing good. But in Christ Jesus I’m restored, made new and ready to take centre stage, if I have to. When God told me that He wanted me to write, I laughed. ‘I thought, you must be joking, I’m stupid, how can I write anything?’ Then He held me in His Word and I knew that all things are possible in Christ Jesus.
Now, I’m no theologian by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that I’m to read His Word, believe His Word; and then walk tall in it and live it in freedom.
For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ and by Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of the blood on the cross. This includes you who were once so far way from God. You were His enemies, separated from Him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now He has brought you back as friends.
He has done this by His death on the cross in His own human body. As a result, He has brought you into the very presence of God and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand in it firmly. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the good news.
Colossians 1: 19-23 NLT
Amen and Amen..
P.S. I’ve just had a revelation; the expensive watches and large amount of money were a hook to catch the parents. Derrr…..!