Monday, 16 January 2012

The Dilemma (Part One)

Until I reached the age of 18, my Mother and Father would not allow me to stay at home on my own when they went away, even for a night.

“The child can stay with Granny.” I would hear them say, as I skulked in the hall, almost crying with rage at the prospect of missing out on two weeks of mediterranean sunshine and a fabulous tan.

“You can’t take two weeks off school with you’re A-levels coming up.” They would tell me, as I scowled mutinously at their bulging suitcases.

My vociferous protests were in vain. I was despatched to Granny’s house, with orders to behave myself or face the dire consequences on their return.

Yet despite my indignance at what I perceived to be an unjust and unfounded lack of trust, my outraged chuntering and subsequent stony silence was just a foil.

I absolutely adored my Granny.

She lived five minutes away from my School, in a quiet street in The West End of Colwyn Bay. She scorned public transport , eschewing buses in favour of walking (God gave us legs, not wheels!) A green fingered Conjurer , she produced an endless supply of delicious things from the garden and green house, including the most fabulously juicy and flavoursome tomatoes I have tasted before or since.

Although it was considered the height of uncool to to choose to hang out with one’s Granny, I sloped off to 12 Kings Road at every opportunity.

After Hockey Practise, when everyone else congregated at the back of the cricket pavilion for a few illicit cigarettes, I would scamper off in the direction of Granny’s house, kicking up the mounds of reddy brown leaves, my breath hanging on the wintry air. As I turned into the drive of 12 Kings Road, my heart would lift at the sight of the smoke curling from the chimney, and Granny, having invariably spotted me from her armchair by the window, would greet me at the front door and pull me into her warm, Je Reviens scented embrace. Having kicked off my muddy boots, she would usher me into the living room, where I would sit down by the roaring fire and warm my mottled legs, while made a pot of tea and assembled a tray of food which I would devour with the crazed enthusiasm of the permanently hungry teenager.

She would sit in her chair, as I stuffed myself with Scotch Eggs, Buttered Crumpets, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, Iced Rings, all washed down with gallons of sweet tea in a warm, dimly lit room, heavy with the smell of leather bound books, and coal, and furniture polish.

When I couldn’t eat any more, and had slackened the waistband of my hockey skirt, Granny would put down The Times Crossword, and we would talk. We whiled away whole afternoons chatting in front of the fire, lulled into a soporific haze by the warmth and the hypnotic tick of the Grand Father clock.

Time would slow down, the world would narrow and deepen as the sky darkened outside, and the street lights flickered on, until the clock chimed and I would reluctantly tear myself away and run back to school along the empty streets in time for last lesson.

Staying the night at Granny’s was an adventure in itself. Granny’s beds didn’t have duvets. They had sheets and blankets and big heavy eiderdowns. The mattress on my bed was a pre-War, feather stuffed relic. I counted down the hours until I could clamber up (it was quite high), slide underneath the layers of soft wool and crisp linen, and sink with a blissful sigh into its warm and cosy depths. It was almost impossible to get out of in the morning.

If it was a weekend, I’d lie awake, and listen to the sounds of the house coming to life. The bangs and thumps of the hot water pipes, coal being shovelled into the bucket outside the back door, the rattle of china as Granny assembled her morning tea in the kitchen.

If I lay in bed after 9.30 am, Granny would instruct Old Bob, the Gardener to mow the lawn beneath my window until I opened the curtains. If it was raining, she would hoover outside my bedroom door until I emerged yawning and wandered off to brush my teeth.

My Aunt Margaret (or Mim, as we called her), would often come to stay. She was one of the most profoundly kind and gentle people I have ever met , and I adored her. Endlessly patient, she read me stories for hours on end when I was younger, encouraged my love of reading by buying me a book every week, and never tired of my relentless quest to make cakes, biscuits and buns.

Mim smoked B&H, in the Study where Granny couldn’t see. When Mim retreated to The Study and shut the door behind her, Granny wouldn’t go in and neither would I. It was an Unspoken Rule.

This all changed when I was sixteen. Inevitably perhaps, I succumbed to peer pressure and started smoking Marlboro Reds. Tentative little puffs at first, that made my throat constrict and my eyes water. I grimly persevered until I could smoke a whole cigarette without retching. I didn’t inhale for the first six months. By the time I went back after the Summer Holidays as a fully fledged Lower Sixth Former, I’d cracked it.

Staying at Granny’s one night, I was walking down the hall to the kitchen, when the Study door opened slightly and Aunt Mim peered out.

She put her finger to her lips and beckoned me in to the smoke filled den.

I didn’t need asking twice. She perched against the desk, and watched with an expression of fond amusement as I nonchalantly extracted my battered packet of 10 from my Blazer pocket and attempted to light one with a match from a damp box. Then another. On the fifth failed attempt she took pity and offered me her lighter. We stood in silence, puffing away like a pair of witches, united in delicious naughtiness.

The following night I was once again permitted entry to The Study, only this time, there was a bottle of Gordon’s Gin on the desk. My eyes lit up. Drinking at home was confined to special occasions; a Bucks Fizz on Christmas morning and the odd glass of wine with Sunday dinner. Auntie Mim poured me the pub equivalent of a triple and topped it up with ice and tonic. Lounging in a leather wing back chair by the fire, with a cigarette in one hand and a Gin in the other, was utter hedonism. Suddenly, the sheer drudgery of the school day became more bearable. The excruciating agony of double Maths was alleviated by the spirit bolstering prospect of an impending tryst. I became inured to the humiliating horror of litter picking in the Quad, in front of a jeering group of Upper Sixth Form boys, smug in the knowledge that I would soon be ensconced in the study, listening to the ticking of the grand father clock and the clink of ice against glass….

One stormy day, we were puffing away in companionable silence, when we heard a noise outside the door.

“It’s Mother!” hissed Auntie Mim, leaping up and shoving me into the corner behind the door. I flattened myself against the wall. The door opened.

“Have you seen Jessica?” asked Granny.

“She’s gone for a walk.” Auntie Mim replied airily.

A rumble of thunder overhead was followed by a deafening crack of lightening. The rain was drumming against the windows.

“ A walk? In this weather?” asked Granny in an incredulous voice.

Mim nodded.

“Extraordinary girl. She gets it from her Father.” She muttered, as she closed the door.

During the Summer of 1995, I had attracted the attention of two Upper Sixth formers from the Boys School a few miles away. It was all very exciting and I lived for Saturday nights in the Pub in town. If I saved my tuck money all week, I could afford to buy 10 Marlboro and three bottles of Budweiser.

One Weekend, three friends came to stay during their exeat. We spent the day shopping for clothes, and having spent a good two hours in front of the mirror perfecting our outfits, hair and make-up, we linked arms and tottered off into town in a haze of Strawberry Concorde.

Arriving at the pub, my friends gleefully pointed out that both of my admirers were already there, sitting at different tables. I didn’t have to buy a single drink that night. I’d simply drift by each of them alternately, clutching an empty bottle, and they would leap gallantly to their feet and replenish it.

I thought it was marvellous. They were both very good looking and great company. The problem was, I just couldn’t decide between them.

During the course of the evening, they asked if they could take me out for drinks next week. Immensely flattered, and slightly tipsy, I accepted both invitations with gay abandon, and arranged to meet them at the Pub near Granny’s house at 7pm the following Saturday. The idiocy of arranging to meet both boys at the same time in the same pub on the the same day, didn’t occur to me until I woke up the next morning. With the optimism of youth, I assured myself that everything would be alright on the night. I would cancel one of them during the week. It was just a matter of deciding which one.

By Thursday, I still hadn’t made up my mind. The relentless merry-go-round of gatings, lessons, prep, essays, hockey matches, house drama competitions left little time for deliberation. A hectic schedule combined with my pathological inability to make a choice, precluded any decision making.

Saturday arrived. As night fell, and I lay soaking in a deep steaming tub of Granny’s Rose Scented bath salts, I suddenly realised the brevity of my predicament. I considered staying at home, but quickly dismissed the idea. No one stayed at home on a Saturday night, I thought gloomily, as I shaved my legs. Yet the potential ramifications of turning up and meeting both boys were too terrible to thinking about.

I dried myself off and hurried down the passageway to my bedroom. My nerves were jangling, so I hung out of the bedroom window and lit a cigarette. I smoked it too quickly and swayed slightly from the head rush. Feeling slightly nauseous, I lay down on the bed for a few minutes trying to compose myself, and find a solution to my predicament.

In a moment of vain hope, I leapt up, seized my School blazer, and emptied out the pockets, willing the miraculous discovery of a forgotten five pound note, with which to pay a taxi fare to the next town, thus avoiding both suitors altogether. A sticky five pence piece, a cigarette end and a Chewit fell onto the eiderdown.

Swearing under my breath, I sat down at the dressing table and begun the deliciously elaborate ritual of hair and make up that preceeded a night on the town.

An hour later, I was all dressed up, with a potentially very dangerous place to go.

After prolonged agonising over a choice of outfits, I had decided upon a fitted black cashmere jumper, paired with a scarlet suede mini , thick black tights, and knee high black leather boots. I had blow dried my hair until it fell around my shoulders in a silky golden mane. I had kept the make up to a minimum; a touch of rosy blusher on the cheekbones, one coat of mascara, and a slick of clear lip gloss. I admired the effect in the full length mirror. The demureness of the top half contrasted gloriously with the salaciously short skirt and raunchy boots.

I descended the stairs in a cloud of Coco Chanel, feeling like a femme fatale.

Auntie Mim peered out from the Study. I slipped inside and leant against the desk as I took the proferred G&T and lit a cigarette, feeling the epitome of decadence and glamour.

Mim examined me beadily through a cloud of smoke. “You’re sprouting.” she said fondly.

I spluttered on my gin and felt myself turn crimson.

“Little bosoms developing. How sweet. Do you wear a bra?”

“Uh, yes.” I replied, curling my toes. Utterly aghast, I drained my glass and hurried to the door,

“ Now I’ve embarrassed you. I’m sorry my little chickabiddy. Have a lovely time, and be home by ten o clock.”

The hall light bulb had blown. As I groped my way blindly down the hall way to the front door in the dark, I grimly reflected that she wasn’t sorry at all.

I could still hear her tittering as I stepped out into the frosty night…..


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  2. Just beautiful, I loved every word. You were very fortunate, cared for and loved. Thanks for writing this piece. Katie x

  3. only just seen these comments, thank you both so much. Glad you enjoyed it XX