Saturday, 18 December 2010


Oct 18, 2008 9:34 PM

by Moannie

Memories come to me in pictures. A scent, a phrase, a snatch of music and I see, as if in a photograph, a moment captured and pinned to my memory board. Ask me what we had for supper last night and I would have to think very hard, but I can tell you what a plush covered seat feels like against my bare legs when I am nine years old, riding a roaring dragon of a steam train away from Clevedon, my home for the past five years. It prickles like tiny needles, irritating my skin.

Mother is sitting opposite me, her blonde head resting against the window. She is beautifully made up, her full lips very red and her dark lashes lying against porcelaine cheeks. Her eyes are closed and I watch her, afraid to look away in case I am dreaming. Mick is sitting close to her, his head resting on her arm and I see him watching me in the window. He smiles and strokes her hand, watching me watching him; I did not understand it then, but that smile was saying 'she's mine'.

We are travelling towards London and I finally tear my eyes away from mother and look out of the window, full of wonder at the huge world that sweeps past us, drugged with excitement, giddy with the speed, and bemused at the turn my life has taken in a day. 
This time just yesterday I was at school, following the usual timetable of school and St. Ediths. Now here I was, going HOME, wherever and whatever home was, I was going there. Our wishes had come true and we were going to have a new daddy .Harry is not his real name, I cannot bring myself to write it down and even giving him an alias make him real, but Harry will have to do. We met him once when mum brought him to meet us for 'the test'. Of medium height and build, well dressed, looking a little like George Raft, he wore hornrimmed glasses and walked with a limp, the result of an accident in the first World War.

The phrase “Be careful what you wish for” must have been coined by a vicious God, especially for Mick and me. Harry was, without exaggeration an evil and malign man who, having finally captured Mum was intent on making her and us regret the day they met. His presence in a room created a black cloud of fear and it was not long before we stopped pretending that he was the new father who was going to give us the family life we dreamed of. He was a morose man, proud of his Yorkshire dourness. He seldom smiled, never laughed in my hearing and lived to create a divide between mum and us. His favourite homilies; “Never do owt for nowt ‘an if tha do, do it for thee sen”. And, “Ne'er let thy right hand know what thy left hand does” illustrates his thinking. Often quoted they were words that he truly lived by. Do I paint an unfair picture of this man? I think not. We were innocents, coming from an environment that, though hard, protected us from life. Why would I, how could I even think to steal the silver sixpences out of mum’s bracelet? Yet there they were, secreted in my book box. Her Ronson lighter disappeared and Mick was blamed. We were nasty, secretive children, we lied and stole…we should be sent straight back to the orphanage. And this all happened before they were even married. When it was just the three of us in her tiny attic flat at No.8 Brondesbury Road, Kilburn, we were so happy. Just two rooms and a broad landing that served as a kitchenette, with a table and stools and a small child sized door that led under the eaves; a heavenly hidey hole for play. We slept in what had been her bedroom, which contained a chest of drawers, two narrow single beds set end to end in the long narrow space and a corner cupboard upon which I once saw a family of fairies when I was ill with a fever. [Earache, I think] Then there was a smaller room, with a divan where mum slept, a small chest of drawers and, wonder of wonders, a radiogram. This was a large piece of furniture on four legs. It had a lid and when you lifted the lid marvels were revealed. At the turn of a switch wonderful music came out of the front; you could put an ear to the fabric and feel the vibrations. There was a turntable that played any one of mum’s four records. Phil Harris singing Woodman Spare that Tree/Smoke Smoke that Cigarette, Jean Sablon singing Sur le Pont de Avignon/The Carriage Song, [which I loved so much. Did it foretell my future?] The Warsaw Concerto/ The Dream of Gerontius, and Richard Addinsall playingTchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.I. What riches for a child who had only ever heard hymns or the ringing of church bells.

The terrible days of the Blitz had passed, and apart from the blackout at night, and the Barrage Balloons that floated above the towns and the city, it did not seem, to us at least, that there was a war on. Mick and I were free to roam as we pleased. He soon found his own friends and left me to my own devices and I would wander into the town and wonder...a word I know I overuse, but that is what I did. One saturday I met Rupert. He was a pavement artist. He wore an army overcoat and boots and sat outside Boots the Chemist and drew pictures which he coloured in and sold for pennies. He would have a profound effect on a good way.


  1. Yet another one of your wonderfully told stories. I love the way you mix the happy and sad, all parts of life.

  2. Left me wondering - and wanting more...

  3. MoAnnie, you always leave me wondering how you recall such detail of your lives, my darling. I am in awe at the beauty and les douleurs...

    Much love to you xox

  4. I remember Rupert, but Harry's leaving me wondering.

  5. Beautifully told....I could almost see your mother and you in that train.....and Harry.....what a monster. Love the depiction of your apartment with the little grandparents had a little door in their upstairs bedroom that was just the was actually a door to the attic that was over their front porch. I see why your blog was recognized. You have a new fan!

  6. I still remember the small door at the top of the stairs of Aunt Millie and Uncle Lloyde's house. All the cousins would peak in, see darkness and monsters and dare the next one in line. Such fond memoiries of Christmas Eve. Loved your story. Terry or my alias Tankene. Please visit us at