Monday, 29 June 2009

Family Secrets 2

Pat and Mary Reagan were outwardly proud and privately relieved when their youngest, Barry, joined a religious community. Barry was never likely to follow his brothers into the family firm. His first attempt at hod-carrying had ended in tears (his) and a broken foot (his father’s). He suffered from asthma and vertigo, so his Uncle Tom’s scaffolding firm was equally denied him.

He was not one for a drink or a bet, and on family occasions would be found with the women, listening to them bemoan the moral standing of friends and neighbours. Barry sat quietly by, eyes sparkling, taking in every nuance of the feminine pecking order.

The women set him up with Maureen from the post office. A large girl with thick wavy hair and no obvious impairments, she watched him weep inaudibly in the bus shelter on the way home from their first date, and consigned him, loudly, to the role of Village Nancy.

Barry finally secured a part time position in the Chemists, where he dutifully doled out mouthwash, haemorrhoid cream and sanitary wear to the small community. The younger women objected to his whey-faced involvement in their intimate requirements, but the elder forbore with him, such a nice boy, if a worry to his mother.

Finally the parish priest, Father Nigel, arranged for Barry to become a lay brother at a small religious community in the back country. It would give him a purpose and keep him out of trouble, Father Nigel opined.

“My own son a bride of Christ,” grumbled Pat Reagan over a pint of porter, as Barry was shipped out to his vocation.

“Bride of Father Nigel, more like,” muttered his brother, Tom. “Still, good luck to him.”

Barry had kept Maureen out of the family; they could afford to be charitable.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Family Secrets.

Nobody would ever talk about Auntie Irene. She appeared as a teenager, ghostly thin and with protruding teeth, at the edges of black and white family photographs, staring into the camera with lop-sided intensity. She wore shapeless floral frocks and sandals, seemingly in all weathers. Sometimes she stood beside her sister June, whose dazzling smile and extravagant perm cast her into shadow. There was one faded photograph of Irene as a baby, squinting in disbelief at the lens, from her mother’s lap. There were no pictures of her in adult life.

If Auntie Irene remained peripheral in family photographs, she was entirely absent from family conversations and history. Something happened during her teenage years that effectively wiped her off the map; although her death certificate, nestling beneath the same photographs in a battered biscuit tin in the attic, showed her to have died, of pneumonia at the age of forty seven.

At first Penny thought her auntie was a spy, leading a romantic double life far away from dull family routine in Tring, where June, Penny’s mum, had ended up the wife of a dyspeptic dentist. Every time Penny asked her mum about Auntie Irene, she was brushed off with a terse, “We don’t want to go into all that, now.”

But Penny did want to go into all that. The less she knew about Auntie Irene, the more she wanted to be like her. Until one day she heard her mum and dad arguing, and her dad capped a particularly heated altercation by yelling, “You’re as mad as poor old Irene!”

“You leave my sister alone!” her mum screamed back.

“Pity your dad didn’t,” retorted her father at the top of his voice. “She might have had half a chance.”

After that, Penny didn’t talk about Auntie Irene either.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Old dog, new tricks 4

Mariusz had always been a carpenter. His father had been a carpenter, and his grandfather. He’d been through every conceivable state certificate and qualification and had worked with his father, as soon as he was able to hold a saw. If you asked Mariusz about himself, the first thing he’d tell you was that he was a carpenter, born and bred. He may not have been much of a conversationalist, but he could do wonders with wood.

Until he came to England, to work in the building trade. In England he found there were more than enough carpenters. They weren’t as good as him, young men with slapdash ways, but they took precedence with the gangers, because they had been there for longer. So Mariusz worked as a labourer while the carpenters bodged jobs in front of him. He was earning money, true, but gradually despondency overtook him.

Jerzy, the site foreman and an old friend from home, had a great idea. “Mariusz, you’re a shit labourer.” He told his old friend one day. “And you look like shit, too.”

“I’m a master carpenter,” Mariusz moaned. “I wasn’t meant to shovel.”

“We got too many fucking carpenters,” replied Jerzy, “Be an electrician.”

“I don’t know anything about it!” protested Mariusz.

“Who the fuck does over here?!” laughed Jerzy. “Follow the fucking diagrams. Long as you’re not colour blind, you can’t go wrong.”

So Mariusz became the gang electrician. His first job burned to the ground two days after the plasterers had finished. A month later he shorted out High Wycombe. After that, three scaffolders died when a Chelsea renovation went suddenly live.
Jerzy, site foreman on each job, was dismissed for an unacceptable level of delay. Mariusz is site foreman now. He’s really taken to it.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Old dog, new tricks 3

Rosemary got her grandson Neil to bring her knitting machine down from the attic. It was going to be the source of a much needed second income when her husband was alive and, as her pension dwindled, it looked like it was going to have to fulfil the same function again.

She went through all the patterns in her instruction book, still safe in its plastic bag after all these years and saw, sadly, that the cardigans and jumpers of a bygone age was about as attractive as the room dividers and lava lamps that the models wearing them were posing beside. Some jumpers had motifs knitted into them. One even boasted something like a Smurf or a Troll, she couldn’t remember. Even so, they simply wouldn’t do. Rosemary looked out of her flat window in search of inspiration, and saw that someone had spray painted “Pussy Posse” on the wall by the garages down below. That sounded modern and something to do with cats and cowboys so it should appeal to girls and boys alike. She rummaged through her bags of wool, saved over the years and pushed to the back of the cupboard beneath the stairs. She chose apricot and rose and set to work.

Rosemary’s oldest friend June modelled her new creation at the Community centre where she went for senior citizens yoga. Everyone was very taken. Glenda from the Bowling Club said she’d like four in team colours (Lilac and pale grey) and Enid ordered two as Christmas presents for her nieces in Australia.

Word soon spread amongst the elder ladies in the area and Rosemary was kept very busy with the demand. Her housekeeping increased considerably. Now, all she had to do was produce something that appealed more directly to the men.