Little Women Revisited…

With her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, off he cycled towards home with her riding pinion. Home, back then to both was in the Lane at Kent House. It was always a blast when Laurie met her outside the school gates and took her home on his shiny metallic blue Chopper bike. Chopper bikes were right on trend in the early to mid 70s. The other girls always looked a little envious, either because she got a lift or maybe because it was on a Chopper. If her Mum had known, she would have had her guts for garters, and most likely Jo would have been grounded indefinitely, or at least until she got round her Mum with a nice warming cup of tea or some other such bribe. Chopper bikes were decidedly dangerous contraptions, some would say death traps but they looked good, and were fun to ride but the handle bars were lethal, a visit to casualty in the waiting. He, Laurie lived at number 4 with the mustard yellow door with his Dad John, Mum Doreen and younger sister Sarah. She, Jo lived a little further along the lane, on the same side of the road five doors up at number 14, where the front door was a sort of muted red, not quite scarlet but lighter than crimson. At Jo’s house were Dad Hew, Mum Mary, and her three sisters Meg, Beth and Amy. Jo and Laurie were friends, childhood friends, and had been since 1974 or thereabouts when Jo and Laurie were heading towards puberty. Between 1970 and 1974 they saw each other but that was all.  Their friendship when it started was platonic, nothing more, nothing less, and if it was more than that they never said a word. Sometimes words can spoil a friendship, sometimes words can spoil a marriage. Words have been known to bring down governments and make complete fuck-ups of families. Can boys and girls ever have a platonic friendship? Some, maybe many would say no but who are others to judge? Sometimes things are left unsaid, and one day everything changes because kids become adults and childhood gets lost somewhere in the archives of time. It was the early 1970s, and they were just children learning how to live, learning how to love and trying to fathom things out as they muddled along the road that is life. There was a crowd of boys and girls who lived in the Lane who sometimes hung out and sometimes did not, each with stories to come and histories to make. These were the kids of Kent House Lane.

Jo was actually Joanne Mary Huett, the Mary being named after her mum. Being somewhat of a tom boy she liked to dispel with the ‘anne’ bit and just be called Jo. Short and to the point, just like Jo who was petite in stature, and down to earth in character, always saying what she thought, often without thinking but never meaning any harm. Her rosy cheeks demonstrated a love of the outdoors. She had a mass of wild unruly raven curls, and preferred to wear washed out jeans and tee shirt given the choice.. She had no airs or graces, loved being out in the fresh air, and sometimes wished she had been born a boy as they seemed to have all the fun, or at least more fun than their female counterparts.They never got stuck with girl stuff  like washing up, sweeping and tidying, though in truth when there were any chores to do Jo  somehow  always managed to sneak out of the house and back to play. Meg, the eldest also always managed to evade household chores. Amy was still too young to be expected to do much around the house, so poor Beth, who was always so helpful and  so responsible got stuck with being the helping hand of the family. Beth was the second eldest. There were just eleven months between Meg and Beth. Then came Jo, three years after Beth, and then two years later came dear little Amy, the baby of the family. They were the Huett girls;  four little women of the 20th century.  Jo was just seven when she moved to the Lane. Before the Lane she had lived with the family in Sydenham in a rather large caricature of a ground floor flat in a large red brick Victorian House but that’s another story. 

This is Jo’s story as seen through her eyes. 

1970 The Move

“Come on girls…it’s time to leave” Daddy called out with that beautiful precise diction that was Daddy’s . It’s what my Mum, Mummy had initially fallen in love with!

We were all enormously excited because we were moving house. It was a big new adventure! Up until now we had lived in a flat, a big flat but still a flat. We were moving to our new house, and we would be occupying all of it, not just one floor. Just us and nobody else. The new house was in Beckenham which was considered so lardy da!  Just a couple of miles away,  so not too far to go.  Mummy and daddy had got a GLC Mortgage in order to buy it, though at the time we did not even know what a mortgage was, let alone a GLC Mortgage.  We just knew we were moving to a brand new house. Well, not a brand new house as it had been built during the 1930s, another thing we were not really aware of at the time, as children do not tend to dwell on such things too much when they are very young but to us it was brand new. We had never lived there before, so it was to all intents and purposes as new as they came. We were to have our very own front door, a front garden and a back garden,  just for us. I do not really recall being sad when we left the old house in Hillcrest but children look at things differently to adults. Looking back, I am sure leaving Hillcrest must have been sad to some degree for mummy and daddy as they had history there, and it had been their first home without Nana, and Aunties May and Connie. It had been a compulsory order for us to leave the old house, as the remaining old victorian houses in Hillcrest were to be demolished to give way to new flats to extend the nearly new  Hillcrest Estate which was full of high rise flats, all granite grey and concrete.

When we arrived at Kent House we all piled out of the car, crashing unceremoniously through the garden gate, down the short path, and all but stumbling into the house, all trying to be first in, and not quite managing it. Meg and Beth were to have the back bedroom that overlooked the back garden and and an expanse of land beyond the garage and back alley. Me and Amy were to have the small box room at the front of the house which looked out into the lane so we would be able to see the comings and goings on. We were the little ones so it was the little bedroom for us. They were the big ones and got the big room. Of course Amy and me had bunk beds. Me on the top and Amy on the bottom, though sometimes Amy  would join me in the top bunk as siblings often do, at least until she fell out and really hurt herself, and then she stopped coming in to my bed.  Mummy and daddy took the front bedroom with the bay window which I guess was the master bedroom. There were no ensuites in those days. There was a compact, some may say tiny bathroom with a toilet next to Meg and Beth’s room, and there was no downstairs toilet as there are in many of today’s houses. So if someone was having a bath you had to check to see if they needed to go to the loo first, or they would just have to wait but you never really thought anything of it as it was just the way it was. It was just lovely having a new house. We were all going to be very happy here. When you go into a house or any building you can often feel if it is a happy home or an unhappy one. Kent House was the former. We were home now and you know what they say. Home is where the heart is and all that mushy stuff that us sentimental types tend to fall for, hook, line and sinker whatever that may mean. So what’s the story behind the girl? 

Jo

Sometimes you have to go back to before the beginning of the story.  It’s a lie or maybe not a lie but a fib,  when they say a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Most stories have lots of beginning, lots of middles and many endings. It just depends on who is telling the story.  The Storyteller gets to pick and choose, and tell or not tell but the Author gets to show.  Jo wanted to write, did write and wanted more than anything to become a published Writer. She wrote poems, stories, snippets and anything else that ignited her rather overactive imagination. At the age of 5 or not quite 5 but nearly, Jo had started primary school and could already write her full name which was considered an achievement for a child at Kelvin Grove. Furthermore, she knew the alphabet off by heart. Yes, Jo loved to write, loved the language with all her being and wanted to get what was inside her out onto the page. 

Jo was the third daughter to be born to Hew and Mary. 

©. Liola Lee 2019

One of my favourite novels/books  as child/teenager/adult was ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott. Being one of four sisters, I was able to identify with the characters in the story to varying degrees. My plan is to revise/combine the story with my own, so a mixture of fact and fiction. Whether I complete the project or not is another matter but it is an idea in my head just now….and I mean just an idea but maybe it could lead somewhere or maybe not…would love to know your comments on my idea!

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Today is the day ~ Glad

Today is the day when I shall focus on being glad. This is easier said than done as I am sitting here in my dining room, organising the wage run for our subcontractors, which if I am to be honest does not make me glad. The recent recession has meant that each Friday I have to practice my circus skills as a juggler, and rob Peter to pay Paul so for that reason I am not glad but if I am to practice being glad about other things I am sure I can manage that.

I am glad I have a roof over my head, and I am glad that I am in good health which is always something that one should be glad about. I am trying to think what else I can be glad about today. Well, the sun is shining and I have managed to pay everyone, and so far nobody has annoyed me. Mind you it is still early, and my daughter has yet to arise from her bed, and as on most mornings she is likely to get up on the wrong side of the bed and be grumpy. It is 8.30 on a beautifully sunny morning on the 21st May 2010, and by now you will most likely have come to the conclusion that my daughter is not an early bird who catches the worm, although on the subject of worms, the wriggly ones which can be found in the garden, and not the type that you catch from animals where you need to be wormed, I can recall a time when my daughter was four, and used to subject me to worm patrol on the way to nursery. You may by now be wondering what exactly is worm patrol? Let me explain. 

In order for worm patrol to take place, there had to be wet conditions. It had to have been raining overnight so that next morning worms would be out and about, worming along on their daily business which tended to be winding along the pathway through the park. The walk to nursery was always an eventful time as four year olds tend to be curious little things, and for most of the time rather sweet. Back then my daughter was a morning person, still in awe of the world around her and saving worms from hungry birds was the order of the day. At that time I was temping for Lewisham Council as a cashier. I would drop my daughter off at nursery, and then run to catch the number 75 bus. I was late most days, only by minutes but nevertheless late, and the head cashier would let me know it by looking up at the clock as I walked in, and then at his watch. He never said a word but the look on his face said it all. I always just said that the bus was late again. After all how could I explain that I was assisting on worm patrol. The things we do for our children, and the trouble we get in to for them!  Back then there was not even the slightest inkling that my darling daughter, saviour of worms would evolve into a tempestuous teenager as most children eventually do. That said, I am glad that we shared such times, so yes today I shall focus on being glad for the times I shared with my daughter when we were on worm patrol and be proud that I too was instrumental in the saving of worms. 

What else shall I be glad about today? 

Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…

© Liola Lee 2010

Today is the day ~ 1970s…

The 1970s were crazy and colourful! Chopper bikes, curly perms and clackers were all the rage. For those of you who were not around in the 1970s, clackers were a toy that was on trend, basically two small balls on the end of strings which made a sort of clacking noise. We certainly had some strange toys! Hem lengths were confused with the mini, the midi and the maxi all vying for top position. The hippies of Woodstock back in 1969 left us confused and unsure as to which way now, not that I went to Woodstock as I was only 7, although I bet it would have been fun! In 1969 I was just 7 years old, a little kid just starting out on the journey of life, no real life experience as yet, just the enthusiasm and innocence of childhood. Glam Rock, Punk, Rock ‘n’ Roll, pop…all taking the stage. The 60s may have been swinging but the 70s were electrifying! My idol was David Cassidy, brown eyes, husky voice and a smile to die for. Here just thinking about him makes me sigh like a teenager. It did n’t even matter that he was in the Partridge Family who to be honest were a bit square, and not in the least bit funky but David sang to my soul with Could it be forever and How can I be sure?  This guy, who was 12 years older than me, somehow knew how I felt, knew who I was, and somehow spoke to me in a way that no one else could. My relationship with David was deep and meaningful. Then years later Robbie Williams came along who incidentally is 12 years younger. I wonder, if like me they are Tigers in Chinese astrology which moves in 12 year cycles. Umm that’s an interesting thought. I’ll have to check that out. Robbie took me through my adulteens and dare I say it my adulthood. Oh yes, Robbie went through everything with me, through his music of course. I am probably dwelling on the 70s just now as this was the timeframe in which I was 16 and in all honesty my daughter is now 16 and I am feeling at a crossroads. It really does not seem that long ago that I was the same age and going through the same experiences that she is just now. I am sure that she would be horrified at the very thought that I may have been as she is now. I am sure to her it does not seem descent that a woman of my 48 years should have ever experienced the first flush of youth. To my daughter, all I can say is just you wait until you have a daughter or son of your own.

© Liola Lee 2010

‘Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…

Girl in me…

However old we get, our inner child is always within us. If we look closely in the mirror we will see her…

There once was a girl,  a long time ago,

Where she is now, I do not know.

I wish I could find her, ask her to stay,

Where she is now, I cannot say.

I call her name, there’s no reply,

Where is she now? I wonder why?

I look in the mirror, what do I see?

Someone familiar, looking at me.

I look again, I stare, then see,

Looking back, is the girl in me.

I look again, I stare, I see,

The girl in the mirror,

Inside of me.

Memoirs ~ Class 9, 2 Davids, Isle of Wight & a smack

In numerology nine is the number of completion and so it was I completed my primary school years in class nine. There were three classes at the top end of the school; classes nine, ten and eleven. I was in class nine taught by Mrs Shelbrook formerly Miss Marcham, my favourite teacher. Class ten was taught by Mr Orford who I think was a hippy or new ageist in the making or something that came close to either. He used to play guitar and sing, had longer hair than the other male teachers and a long shaggy beard, both brown. In my book that made him a hippy or at least it did in my eleven year old eyes. In reality he was probably just a man who enjoyed sporting a beard. As a child, I was always thinking about the whys and wherefores of things, and coming to my own conclusions as do we all but children see things in a different light to adults. The funny thing about Mr Orford was that his own children attended the free school further down the road in Kirkdale, towards Cobbs Corner. The free school looked like it might have been fun, at least that is how I perceived it. Every time you went past, there were children looking scruffy, carefree and happy, I mean really happy! You always heard laughter coming from the free school. Perhaps Mr Orford taught at Kelvin Grove to pay the bills. Finally, there was class eleven which was Mr Phenong’s class. Mr Phenong was scary, I mean really scary!. He was Chinese or appeared to be from that part of the world. He was tall and he took no nonsense. His was the quietest class in the school. You never heard any commotion from his class. I was glad I was not in his class. His class was at the top of the cast iron steps in the old Victorian building. I was always so happy that I never had to ascend those steps  into Mr Phenongs domain. Class nine and class ten were based in the new pre-fabricated huts that were built a little distance away from the main school building. When I think of the huts in my minds eye, I see the colour yellow. They were light and airy, a far cry from the old Victorian classes that I had been accustomed to. When I see those classrooms I see the colours red and brown, lots of glass, really high ceilings and dark corridors. 

Class nine probably made more of an impression on me than any other class at Kelvin Grove. I was growing up and everything was preparing us for secondary school. I had pretty much stuck with the same group through school. The group consisted of Ruth, Angela, Debbie, Ken who joined the school later than the rest of us but fitted in with us all, as if he had always been one of us, and then of course there was David. We all sat on one desk. The others in the group were Perry, Tina, Dawn, and Lillian who sat on other desks but were equally part of the group. 

At playtime the boys would chase the girls, the girls would squeal as young girls have a tendency to do if they were caught, and then they would run away again only to be chased and caught again. That’s just how the game went. It seemed the girls had the most fun, or maybe we were typically stereotypical for  that period of time with the boys being the hunters and the girls being chased. We were all in the first flush of youth approaching puberty but not quite there yet, and so were still enjoying the freedom associated with childhood. A couple of the girls had paired off with a couple of the boys, Ruth and David and Tina and Perry. The funny thing is that all the girls in the class had a crush on David . Whether he knew it or not is a mystery. I kept my feelings on that score to myself. It was a secret crush that had he have known I would have died of embarrassment. I remember wearing a David Cassidy t-shirt one day for PE and David  telling me that it really suited me. I am sure I blushed brilliantly but was thrilled, as him commenting meant that he had noticed me. I wasn’t invisible after all. That was as far as my relationship with David went. It was innocently sweet. 

These children were such an integral part of my junior school years,  and yet secondary school saw us all separated and going off in different directions on our next phase of life. All us girls went on to Sydenham County School for girls, and the boys went to Dacres Road, which was actually Forest Hill Boys School. Even though us girls were in the same school we were split into other groups, our new groups. That’s how life often goes with us going from one group to another as we travel through life on our journey with destination unknown. I only ever saw David (not Cassidy) once more in my life, and that was years later when I was working in the local record shop Treble Clef. Working at Treble Clef was my Saturday and holiday job. It was poorly paid at just £5 for the entire day but I loved it. I got to listen to music all day, and for the most part I got to choose the music. It did not seem like work at all. I never went home with any money as I spent it all on records. Anyway, it was here I last saw David. He was with who I presume was his girlfriend. Strangely she reminded me of me with her dark curly hair and bright eyes. David had not really changed much but I no longer had butterflies in my tummy when I saw him.  I never knew what became of him after that.

Class nine was a good class to be in apart from when we had Mr Hog (what a name! Is n’t hog another name for pig?). Mr Hog was a supply teacher who covered for Mrs Shelbrook when she was away. He had a red face and had straight oiled hair with a side parting that was slicked back and stuck flat to his head. I have a feeling he was Welsh but could be mistaken. His mouth was crooked as were his teeth that were stained dark yellow bordering on green.  It’s strange how we can see people so clearly, and in so much detail even though it was such a long time ago. If I were to annotate any colours to him it would be red because of his ruddiness, and green because of the various greens of his clothes which seemed to be muted together in a mass of coarse fabrics that sat awkwardly on his sturdy frame..  He wore thick glasses and had spiteful eyes. He was quite stocky, not fat but solid. He took a dislike to our class who were by this time quite well behaved as we had the greatest amount of respect for Mrs Shelbrook. One afternoon he was teaching, and said something that the class found funny. There were sniggers all around but the person who was more obvious, and louder than the others was David. He was just ten or eleven and had n’t done anything terrible but the teacher had other ideas, clearly felt belittled and wanted someone to pay. Mr Hog went up behind David and I am sure  if my memory serves me right, thumped him hard in his back. It must have hurt terribly, as well as feeling humiliated. David’s face reddened to a deep crimson. I am sure he reacted by running from the classroom as a way of escaping such a traumatic situation, although I am not altogether certain. We remember things to suit our own perception of events and situations. 

David  was n’t the only David in my life and he was n’t to be my last.  I secretly admired David, he was decent boy with a head of fabulous brown curls. I was also a fan of David Cassidy who had a string of chart hits in the 1970s including Could it be forever; How can I be sure and Breaking up is hard to do. Maureen, my older sister knew that I liked David Cassidy and that he was my favourite pop star but that did n’t stop her from going to his concert. Maureen was four years older than me and was allowed to go to concerts with her friends. While she was at the concert she even bought a David Cassidy pillow case and pendant. I ended up with a t-shirt, although I am sure she wore it a few times before letting me have it. Maureen was so lucky to be allowed to go to concerts. I was just too young at the time. 

Now that we were in our final year at Primary School it meant that we could go on the annual school journey to the Isle of Wight. The school journey was to be both educational and fun, and like the other children I couldn’t wait to go. We were only to be away from home and school for a week, which before we went did n’t seem that long a time but when we were actually there it seemed an eternity and I was horribly home sick.. The teachers that were to accompany us on school journey were Mrs Tuppenden and Mrs Shelbrook who were both teachers, and Mrs Atkins who was actually a lunchtime supervisor who kept an eye on us at dinnertime, and made sure that we ate our school dinner. If there were any other teachers on the trip I don’t recall. I remember much of that journey, not the actual travelling which was by coach and ferry but the actual trip itself. We stayed in chalets in San-down, four to a chalet on bunk beds I think, although I don’t remember if I took the top bunk or the bottom bunk. At night time on that first day we were to bathe and clean ourselves. I soon realised that mummy and daddy had forgotten to pack a flannel. I told the teacher and was given a J-cloth as a substitute. An adult would simply see that as improvisation. That would have been fine but a couple of girls in class eleven had overheard my dilemma, and for the rest of the holiday repeatedly sang the song from the J-cloth advert. I tried to laugh it off but it seriously got on my nerves in the end. They just didn’t know when enough was enough. So that was the first thing on the trip that got me down. 

Being homesick I wished that I was back at home but there was nothing I could do. I would just have to hope that the days went by quickly. Being on the Isle of Wight we made various trips to the beach. Allum Bay was one place where we went because of the variety of coloured sand. As children we were encouraged to play and run around to work off our excess energy. I remember Mrs Tuppenden and Mrs Atkins lifting me by my hands and feet and mockingly acting as though they would hurl me into the sea. I struggled, screamed and cried, and got quite aggressive, threatening that I would tell my dad and that they’d be sorry. They were just playing but I didn’t like that game, and felt scared. I did tell my dad when I got home but he could see that no harm was intended, and said that I was far too sensitive and should n’t take everything to heart. 

On the trip we would all eat our breakfast together. My favourite breakfast was Kellogg’s cornflakes with a rather large sprinkling of sugar. After breakfast we were told what we would be doing and where we would be visiting that day. One particular excursion that I remember only too well was a daytrip to Carisbrook Castle. Now, either on the estate or maybe on route to the estate we went to visit a windmill. Before entering we were told not to touch anything as it was very old. I obviously either did n’t hear that point or maybe switched off and chose to ignore it. It does n’t matter as the result would have been the same. I touched when I should n’t have touched. What it was I touched I could n’t even now say, some sort of cog I think. What I remember is how much my leg stung as Mrs Shelbrook’s hand came hard across the back of my leg. There was no warning, it just happened spontaneously. Suddenly, my favourite teacher was no longer my favourite teacher, and I was no longer the good girl I had always strived to be. Not only did the smack sting but my pride was in pieces. I never saw Mrs Shelbrook in the same light after that, and I never touched anything that said don’t touch again. With that in mind, it’s true how they say history repeats itself, and that each person can only learn from their own mistakes. Two years later on the same school trip, while on the same excursion my younger sister got smacked by the same teacher for doing the same thing, in exactly the same spot. 

One of my friends on the trip was Linda. Linda was only in my life briefly, and for a short time we were good friends. Linda was an only child, and lived on the Hillcrest Estate, known to us also as the flats at the back because they were situated down beyond the Orange Moon at the rear of our houses in Hillcrest Road. Linda had dark brown hair and sky blue eyes, and was confident and self-assured. I wanted to be like Linda. Linda lived with her mum and her dad when he came home on leave. Linda’s dad was a soldier. Linda’s   mum drove a bight red convertible MG Spitfire. Linda’s mum wore her shoulder length blond hair in a flick. Linda’s mum was young and fashionable and did n’t look like a mum at all at least not in my eyes. 

Once during that brief time that Linda was a part of my life, I was invited to stay over at Linda’s for the night. I had never slept away from home before, and I am sure my parents had reservations as sleepovers were not the done thing back then but I managed to persuade them that I would be fine, reminding them that I really was n’t going very far. I had to sleep with Linda in her bed. The only recollection I have of that sleepover was her mum asking what drink we’d like to have on the bedside in case we should become thirsty in the night. Linda chose orange juice and I chose milk; milk was a bad choice as it curdled over night. To this day I have never left milk out overnight. You learn all sorts of things from the people you meet in life; sometimes we learn simple things and at other times not so simple things. 

Linda went out of my life as quickly as she had come into it. Where she went I don’t know. I never saw her or heard from her again. Linda was just one of many people I befriended or who befriended me during my life, and who made a lasting impression on me. They say that people come into your life for all manner of reasons so that we can learn something from them or vice versa. Sometimes we see the lesson immediately, and sometimes we don’t see it at all. Perhaps it was Linda’s parents who were learning something from me being with Linda. Perhaps they went on to have another child so that Linda would have a playmate and companion. Of course this is just conjecture but it is a possibility.