“Work wonders and S**t cucumbers!”

Descend

It seems that Sylvie and Larry had always had a somewhat tempestuous relationship. They had always argued, shouted and swore at each other. Then eventually, they would make up, they would go off on holiday together and then things would seem OK for a while.

Gradually, it seemed to worsen and they appeared resentful of each other, they argued more, wouldn’t speak to each other, and tension constantly hung in the air. Sylvie would talk disparagingly about Larry, openly using terms such as, “He’s a fat, lazy B*****d!”, often when he was within earshot.

For a long time Larry didn’t work due to his arthritis and his sickness benefit didn’t amount to much. This obviously impacted on the upkeep of the home. “He’s about as much use as a chocolate f*****g teapot, ” would commonly be heard whenever Sylvie was annoyed or had a another bill to pay.

Larry would occasionally attempt some sort of DIY,  but invariably, it didn’t get completed or would even make things worse. Time and time again I can recall Sylvie’s shouting and swearing, adding “F*****g typical of him, going to ‘work wonders and shit bleeding cucumbers’, he reckoned. Look at the bleeding mess he’s left again; worse that when he f*****g well started!

As tense as things were at these times, Sylvie’s many phrases and the way they just spilled out of her, would always have us all laughing. However angry Sylvie was, she would delight in our amused responses, continuing to swear and come out with more of her sayings, laughing to herself along the way.

Over time, and so slowly I didn’t notice it then, things were changing. Looking back, it seems that things were slowly winding down within the house. Sylvie’s son Christian and his friend, the lodger, were long gone, and Lily, who was now in her mid to late twenties, was living her own life more and more. Her life working in the nightclubs, her social life and her many love affairs were gradually taking over.  The monopoly that Sylvie seemed to have had on her previously was evaporating.

The dog grooming was still going on but on a much lesser scale, and the dog breeding and boarding had all but ceased. The financial impact was obvious in many ways, but none of it occurred to me at the time.

Over the years, slowly and gradually, everything started to descend.  The house started to become jaded; the investment put into it ten years previously was worn away with time. The carpets became faded and worn, the decor dated and aged, cupboards falling apart and windows old and rotting.

The house was permeated with the smell of dogs.  Years of grooming, breeding and caring for them, had caused the odour to become ingrained into the wallpaper, the furniture and the carpets. As well as the dog aroma,  was the ever present whiff in air of the Larry’s cigarettes and pipe tobacco, which had also caused yellow staining to the walls and ceilings of the main living rooms.

Any jobs that needed tackling were immense in labour or finance. It seems that there simply wasn’t the money, the capability or the inclination any more.

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Notorious – ‘A Meat Market.’

Notorious

Among the women who traveled to RAF Alconbury regularly each week, for some time in the early to mid-sixties, was my adopted mother, Sylvie.  Seeking some excitement and glamour away from her typical working –class lifestyle, she would often travel with her long-time friend, Josie, who lived close to Sylvie on a large council estate.

During the early 1960’s, The Airman’s Club at  RAF Alconbury became known as the ‘Aquarius Club’ , and  was said to be one of the best nightclubs in the UK. Every week on Friday and Saturday evenings, two to three coach loads of women, mainly from Huntingdon, but also from the outlying areas, would make the trip to the airbase to socialise with the airmen.

They were able to make this journey for the affordable sum of fifty pence for the round bus trip. Doubtless many had romantic notions of handsome American Air Force men, who would whisk them off their feet, marry them and take them away to the USA.

Some regulars made the trip every weekend,  but most weeks would see several new faces appear, enticed by their friends with promises of romance and excitement. This was despite the fact that the ratio of women to men was two to one at weekends. For this reason the club became notorious, as many saw this as a ‘meat market’ with women freely available, and making them ‘easy pickings.’

The Aquarius Club became extremely popular, and every weekend there was standing room only.  Most of the people there were in their twenties but there were some groups of slightly older members in their early and mid-thirties.

They went along to enjoy the atmosphere, music and dancing, to indulge in cocktails and pizza, and to play the slot machines. Undoubtedly, the biggest attraction would have been the chance to enjoy the company of the opposite sex.

Many did go on to meet their future spouses and make the move to the USA and some US airmen married and remained in the UK.

For many though, the attraction dwindled over time, and for many there were illicit affairs, on either side, leading frequently to heartache. The result for some women was to be abandoned with an illegitimate child, the father long gone back to the USA , and no chance of tracing him, the repercussions of this extending for generations.

The Coal Man had Called In!

Qualm

My natural mother’s sister, Bessie, was very much like Sylvie in that she liked to talk, and so the conversation flowed once they started chatting.

Having become friends, Bessie sometimes visited Sylvie at home. It was on one of these visits that Sylvie was wearing a white skirt. As she turned around to put the kettle on, Bessie noticed black hand marks on each buttock of the skirt.

“Sylvie, what on earth have you done to your skirt?” she said. Sylvie looked down and without a hint of a qualm, just laughed, saying, “Oh nothing, that was Nutty Slack, the coal man, he just called in!”

Bessie had told me this story as one of her memories of Sylvie and I was unsure if it was completely accurate. When I repeated it to Sylvie’s older daughters they burst out laughing and straight away confirmed it.  On seeing my face, they added,  in between fits of laughter, that it had always been well known, gossiped about, and absolutely typical of Sylvie.

Not that she had any qualms!

Mum; the person I know least.

Maze

Writing about the circumstances of my early life and my upbringing, has caused me to think long and hard about the maze of people involved, the memories of them and the stories I have been told.

It has struck me, with a great deal of sadness, the realization that the person I know the least of all about is my natural mother Pam. Due to the eight year age gap and very differing personalities, Bessie, her sister,  has told me as much as she can, but she and Pam were never close and did not mix in the same groups of friends.

Bessie left the UK for the USA when Pam was twenty and although she did make a few trips back to the UK, they did not see much of each other. The trips were often several years apart and other than writing letters and the occasional telephone call, communications systems were virtually non-existent compared to today.

Unfortunately, I never met Pam as she is no longer with us, having died in strange circumstances in 1980. There are very few photos of her, but of the ones I have, I am able to see that I look like her, taller and slimmer, big busted and fair haired. A prominent nose and a fondness for the odd gin and tonic I also inherited.

It seems that like her own mother, Pam was a quieter personality, and so am I. It is hard to know if this ‘nature or nurture’. Was I born that way, or is it a result of my upbringing?  Was it the constant suppression of any attempts to express an opinion, to defend an argument and the physical repercussions if I persisted?

Much of what I was told about Pam when I was growing up was, to say the least, unkind and uncomplimentary. Unfortunately it has to be said that a lot of the stories have turned out to contain some truth.

In my head I know these facts and have to face them, but they hurt tremendously. Deep within my heart I feel a need to almost speak for her, to justify her actions of that time and the circumstances involved.

Perhaps it is because she hasn’t been able to speak for herself, to tell me how she felt, or if she had regretted giving me up. Truthfully though, I think it is more of  a desire within me, to see my beginnings through rose tinted glasses and ignore some of the glaring truths.

Unfortunately,  her death robbed her of the chance to have her say, to put forward her side of the story or even to just to be able say ‘Sorry’.