Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.
One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time.
While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.
Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.
*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.
All sickness is cruel but dementia has got to be one of the cruellest of them all, robbing the victims of their very essence. Sadly, we’ve been rather touched by dementia in recent times. Now my brother-in-law is raising money to help rid us all of this terrible affliction. If you can spare a few coppers for the cause, well you know the drill. Cheers!
It was the calm before the storm. We flew out just before Storm Ciara barrelled across the flatlands on the Jet2 poofs and pensioners express to Gran Canaria with an all-male crew who minced up and down the aisles dishing up relentless jollity with the booze. We fitted right in and celebrated with fizz.
For our fix of winter sun this year we’d gone a bit more upmarket, staying at the Canary Garden Club, a well-appointed collection of whitewashed bungalows set in lush, beautifully-tended gardens. The sparkling pool was gorgeous though somewhat marred by the assortment of old fossils drying out in the sun. Still, it made us feel young again.
This was intended to be R&R gig and so we only ventured out once to the Yumbo Center – the epicentre of gay nightlife in Playa Del Inglés – with its trashy bars with their trashy boys flaunting their trashy bits. A likely lad emerged from the shadows and offered us Charlie, and I don’t mean my mother’s favourite fragrance from the seventies.
The gay scene has evolved down the years from the small intimate bars of my youth, partially hidden from view so as not to offend the easily offended, to cocktail cafés spilling out everywhere, in-yer-face drag shows banging out the show tunes and brash cruising establishments that do exactly what they say on the signs, and more – Sodom and Gomorrah in sequins and leather. We left it to the wide-eyed and lustful, and were in bed by midnight.
Most days we dined early and watched the sun go down over the Atlantic – just what the doctored ordered after an over-eventful year.
We arrived back at Stansted late – too late to travel back all the way to the middle of nowhere – so we’d pre-booked a budget hotel, or so I’d thought. To my surprise and total delight, Liam had upgraded us for Valentine’s. And on the train back to Norwich the next day, the guard hole-punched our tickets with a heart. Who said romance is dead?
Now we’ve moved on to fresh fields, my five-day-a-week gym routine is no more. Whereas I was once able to stroll to my city centre torture chamber, I’d now have to bus it – so that’s that. But, I still need to help my circulation by power-pushing my ageing legs, and avoid diabetes by keeping the pounds off. So we’ve invested in this monster.
No longer am I able to leer discretely (or not so discretely) at the sweaty fellas squatting and pressing around me. No. My view has been replaced by classic episodes of Coronation Street from the eighties, weekdays on ITV3. The tattooed talent in tight togs have given way to dreary Deirdre’s dreadful perm, wooden Ken’s unlikely sexual prowess, bottle-blonde Bet’s gravity-defying hair do, blue-rinsed Phyllis’ hopeless pursuit of flat-capped miserable old fart, Percy Sugden, Jack and Vera’s endless bickering and Betty’s nuked hotpot. I love it. The script is glorious and my guilty secret is out.
A few months back, my old girl turned ninety and we threw her a bit of a do. Family and friends pitched up to make a fuss and shower her with gifts of cards, cash, flowers and scratchcards – she’s always liked a flutter. Sadly, she only won a tenner. Just as the party was drawing to a close, an old friend – or rather an old flame – of mine videoed us smooching on the dance floor. I thought I’d lost the footage but have just found it on my smarty pants phone. Mother looked suitably regal in the girly crown I picked up from the Pound Shop. I see my bald patch is getting bigger.
Normally at the gym I’m encircled by beefy blokes in tattoos and tight togs getting down and sweaty with weights and pulleys, squats and presses – an orgy of exertion. Only the high-octane musak drowns out the clanging and grunts. This week, though, was different. An elderly couple – in their seventies I guessed – ambled to the row of exercise bikes which are my torture implements of choice. While I watched from a discreet distance, he helped her onto a seat, carefully placed her dainty feet on the pedals, tightened the restraints, pressed the button and selected a mild resistance for her workout. She began cycling while he rested on an adjacent bike, holding her handbag. After about ten minutes, he helped her from the bike and they toddled off together, arm-in-arm. No words were spoken. It was as if they were one. I was incredibly touched by the scene. Let’s hope Liam and I will be the same in years to come.
Once upon a time a long time ago, a pretty girl from a small Ulster town was swept off her feet by a dashing young squaddie in a smart uniform and a devilish twinkle in his eye. Army life on the move quickly followed with babies dropped in married quarters here and there – Ireland, Germany, Malaysia, England, Malaysia (again). Sadly, her military man died young – way too young – and the pretty girl soldiered on alone as a single mother. She recently turned ninety and we had a bit of a do. Apart from being a little mutton and frail, Thursday’s child has still far to go. As they say in the Emerald Isle…
The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.
I inherited my Father’s devilish twinkle. I just hope I’ve inherited my Mother’s genes.