There is a soft sweet connection with my Grandpa calling me his gingerbread-girl and the Scrappy Girl I now find myself to be in mid-life. One that’s wholly different in its tone to anything else in my big rock-pool of relationships but resonant nonetheless.
Let me tell you about crucial memories of childhood- about dinner, bath and bed.
This triptych of the family album still takes up much of my time. I used to be a part of it, now I orchestrate it. Now for me and us in my home it’s a ritual of early dinner, dessert offered to the sprog while the bath runs, into the tub with toys and tall tales, then a mad final dash of little limbs, squeals, monster-tickles then coercion into the bedroom for a final half-hour of three stories and certain things said: “ I love you all the way to the moon and back, my good boy, go to sleep my good boy, goodnight, goodnight.”
Here are my Scrappy girl’s memories of:Dinner
The kitchen had a big pine table with yellow vinyl chairs to match the yellow vinyl benches. The room had the warm 70s glow of brickwork and wood-panelled walls, of dark vinyl floors and the crocheted brown owl on the walls. And yeah we had those two-toned orange-and-brown biscuit barrels and the set of canisters labelled ‘rice’, ‘flour’, ‘sugar’ and ‘tea’ with the little gold knobs on top. Mum cooked plainly-well and to a cycle (Oh no its chop day!) with roasts, snags, cutlets, chops and mash all featuring in with her early attempts at curries and pasta sauces. Mum grew a chilli plant on the balcony in 1978, and nearly killed us all with her first ever ‘chilli-con-carne’. Back then she was a plain good cook. But even then were nights when bro and I would be sent to bed at 7.30 despite the incredible excitement of Dad preparing the drinks-trolley with small bottles of colour and tall bottles of spirits, with ice buckets, tongs and an array of garnishes. I recall Mum wearing a floor length Grecian gown of the most beautiful powdery deep blue. It had a wide rhinestone belt to hug her slim waist and it draped off one pale shoulder. Her dark hair with auburn lights would be teased up all 70s, and she would let me watch her put on perfume from a bottle with a puffer.
Dad had sideburns and a wide silver tie against a dark shirt. They were a couple being glamorous and entertaining ‘the boss and his wife and some work-people’. My bro and I would eventually sleep (having helped serve nibblies in our PJs- so CUTE) to the sound of giggly drunken adult-hum and the smell of Cigars and Stuyvesants. And in the morning we would wake and find those tiny square ‘after dinner mints’ on our pillows where Mum had popped them. For those times she cooked lavish concoctions involving shrimp entrees and beef wellington mains. She was bloody good at it all. She looked gorgeous, made cocktails, cooked and served all whilst doing a flirty banter. She was a child of the 40s who was taught her womanhood in the 50s who discovered her own kind of feminism in the late 70s. By the 80s she was telling Dad “to take them out for Chinese!”. But I love my memories of their glamour…
At the main table though, on most days, I recall arguing. Both parents trying to talk to both kids, but just too much heat and tension between them because she was a Thinking Housewife in her mould and he was a Cocky Provider in his mould too. I would eat half of my food, secretly pass half to our Jack-Russell pup, then skiv off to hide in my room with kids-own-adventure books like ‘Famous Five’, ‘Trixie Belden’, then later as the years passed and décor changed, ‘Sweet Dreams’ high school- romances. I don’t think I read anything serious until about age 13, and then it was the discovery of poetry. All the classic and literary stuff. I found it through my Grandpa Ken, the Scotts one, who would read Robbie Burns and Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson but also Percy Shelley, Judith Wright and Robert Lowell.
Looking back he read from popular anthologies of the Romantics, Renaissance and 20th century; they were his bents. So I got my first reading of ‘The Wasteland’ at his side, nodding off. He read magnificently. He was tall with a full quiff of white hair. He didn’t have the burr of Scot but he had that depth of voice and he took real pleasure in reading. I was spoiled. He was a bit posh, looking back. Or old-school educated at least, with a learning that covered the classics. Years later in my mid-teens he would play me opera only after he’d told me the story many times so I could enjoy it: ‘Rigoletto’, ‘Il Traviatore’, ‘ La Traviata’, and ‘Carmen’.
But I’m digressing (aint it grand to digress?). Dinner at home was good food and bloody foul company from which I wanted only to escape. Here perhaps is where a love of aloneness began, and in its ‘tent-and-torch-reading’ where the writer began.Phew! Bath and Bed may have to wait for next time…