It’s tedious, monotonous and infinite! I resent the fact that Hagar doesn’t do as much as me and has somehow managed to morph a relationship founded on equality to one of segregated conjugal roles! How did this happen? At the same time, I know that I lead a privileged existence and inside my soul I should be pleased to serve my family and create the nest that they all need to function to the optimum. Yet, I can’t help it – it really pisses me off that it’s me that has to be the slave!
My gran, Betty, was the guiding light of my life. She was one of 14 children. She grew up in a country village near Peterborough. My great-grandfather was a drunk, and had drank, and gambled, his father’s fortune away. Gran lived in a tumbled down cottage, she and her siblings would have to collect the family’s water from a pump in the middle of the village square. At 14, she left home and moved to Coventry to live in lodgings with her sister Pearl. She worked as a secretary to an army officer.
At 16 she met my grandfather, Ginge, (a redhead – the clue is in the nickname), he had been dragged up working on the docks in York. His father was murdered with a dockers claw for his wage packet. He slept rough around York docks until he was 15. When the war came he was called up and enlisted to the RAF as a rear gunner. According to my very uncharitable father, he was a big boozer and spent most of the war in the brig for drinking offences, hence the reason he managed to survive a role, where death was almost guaranteed.
After the war, Ginge and Betty married, and moved to York, where they were issued a council house at 49 Tenent Road. This is where they lived until they both died. They had four children. My mother was one of them. She was the eldest and born in 1947. Life at 49, as it was always known through my raising, was pretty turbulent. Gran and grandad had come from nothing and they had nothing. The house was furnished with filth, orange boxes and love. Grandad was now working at Rowntrees Macintosh as a painter and decorator; a job he held until he retired at the age of 60. Ginge was a drinker – he loved his booze. He could open his throat and pour the amber nectar down his neck in voluminous quantities. His greatest achievement was that he could drink a pint in under 5 seconds.
He could be found in The White Rose most nights, drinking and playing dominos. My mum quite often would have to pull him, and his bike, out of the hedge in the morning and make sure he got to work on time. Betty kept the home fires burning, stoically and cheerfully – held together by tots of brandy and many fags. He was a womaniser as well. When Ginge’s fancy women would turn up at the back door, gran would shriek, “Gin-ner! There’s a women here, says you are leaving me. Are you going?’
“No Bette,” would be the sheepish response.
“Did you hear that?” Gran would spit at the doorstep dalience.
“Now sling yer hook.”
Betty’s darkest day was when my mother died at the age of 26. She could never speak of it. She put it in a secure vault and buried her grief deep inside her soul, never to be unlocked. In fact it took until I was 18 years old before she could put a photo of my mum, amongst the collection of family memorabilia, framed and set amidst the vast array of porcelain birds.
Through this rollercoaster of a life, my gran served her family and her grankids and others as well. She cleaned, washed and ironed – singing terribly, crooning. She fed every stray dog and child in Tennent Road. Many kids sought refuge from life at Betty’s house. You would never know who would be living there and for how long. She couldn’t bear to see a child in pain.
She worked as a barmaid in The Mania Bar at York Station Hotel. She was straight out of Andy Cap – lacquered blonde hair, bright pink, powder and paint, back skirt, white shirt, with an ample cleavage and killer patent leather heels. How she worked shifts in these shoes, I have no idea. On day shifts, she would sneak me in and hide me from the management. Whenever, the bosses came down I would scuttle behind the crisp boxes, under the bar and wait for them to leave. My reward for silence and stillness was 10p for the fruit machine, that would often multiply magically into a £1.
All she did was work, smoke, sing, dance and celebrate life. She waited on all of us. She said she was born to serve. ‘You come to my house to relax’, she would say to me. She was proud to serve her family. Her house was a real refuge. My refuge. I called it the ‘bosum’. The bosum of Betty.
Like a shining star,
A blooming flower,
Early morning and a face that is sour.
She can be bright and gay,
Like a sunny day.
She has a twinkle in her eye
And a sparkle in her smile.
She is loaded with love,
She is armed with style.
With a life full of pain,
It is from her that I gain,
That at the end of the day,
When it is all said and done
And push comes to shove
There is no one like Betty
She defines the word love.
I think of my gran and the spirit she inspired me within me. I give myself a little pep talk. I am blessed to have such a wonderful gift with my life, two gorgeous children, the handsome Hagar, a beautiful nest to raise my kids and yet no matter how much I try I still can’t help hating housework!!! It’s so boring and pointless!!! When Hagar comes home and I have cooked a fabulous home-cooked meal, with fresh ingredients, from scratch, and then I end up doing the washing up, and putting the kids to bed as well. The nagging ‘I am not born to serve’ battle unleashes itself. I blame Thatcher! She was a false icon – she had staff and a millionaire husband! I need me some of those. It’s no good, I can’t help it – I hate housework. Right, that said I have to go and make the beds. The battle continues on…….
“Someday I’m going to do and say everything I want to do and say, and if people don’t like it I don’t care.” – Scarlett O’Hara