Weekends



Aunty Jessie used to say, ‘By Friday night I make sure I've got all my jobs done, so the only thing I have to do at the weekend is get my bread from Giddings on Saturday morning’. Weekends were small havens of freedom between working weeks. Our family and friends didn't enjoy regular holidays, so a weekend, especially a bank holiday, was often a chance for us all to get together. But even an ordinary weekend was a time to be enjoyed. I’d come to appreciate weekends ever since I joined the infant’s class at Queen’s Road Primary School. I was very happy at school, but school days were predictable and hedged about with ‘allowed’. Weekends brought much greater freedom.


On Saturday mornings My Dad and I went food shopping for the weekend and in the afternoon he took his books and his paper to The Kenilworth. The pub smelt like one of my parents' parties - a mixture of Sherry and beer and cigarettes. Children weren’t allowed in, though my dad would sometimes take me to the off-licence section and buy me a Britvic orange juice and a packet of crisps. Crisps were the only food our pub sold.

The off-licence was a tiny dark room with a very high hinged counter. Underneath the counter was a door which was almost permanently left open, so I would drink my orange juice looking through into a smoke-filled, wooden-floored room where men were playing darts. The room echoed with deep voices and heavy footsteps – silences followed by gusts of laughter and shouts of delight or disappointment. To the right of the off-licence The Kenilworth had a snooker room, much quieter with just occasional clicking noises. The manager required to see a customer play before they would be trusted on the sacred green baize. (My mother was quite offended by this. She had been playing snooker for years.) The pub’s Lounge, where my father sat, had no background music, no fruit machines, no televisions and on a Saturday afternoon was filled almost exclusively with older men sitting alone. It was a quiet haven for someone like my father who just wanted to do the Telegraph crossword whilst he sipped his pint of bitter.


My Mum would often go shopping in Manchester or Stockport on Saturdays, and I would play in one of the other flats. My friends and I were free to roam just as we did in the school holidays. Sometimes I would call at another friend’s house and, after playing together for a while, we would decide to walk over to see if a different friend would like to join us. It was a kind of snowball effect and meant it was perfectly possible to end an afternoon with a group of children in the garden of a family we barely knew. But with the exception of a ‘Be back for your dinner at five’ curfew, no adult felt the need to micromanage their child’s activities. Sometimes I was in the flat alone which was lovely, except when I needed music to dance to and the only thing available was the radio. On a Saturday afternoon there was only Latin American music by a man called Edmundo Ross. All his songs seemed to be exactly the same and his voice sounded as if he were very old and needed to clear his throat. A record player would have been perfect but owning a record player and buying records was an option open to very few people I knew. My Uncle Bert (my mother’s younger brother) was really lucky because he was a headteacher and in the holidays he would borrow his school’s record player. Playing records was really the only way for anyone to listen to their music of choice. The BBCs Light service did offer some popular music programmes, but there was no way to record any personal favourites.


Occasionally a fair would arrive in Stockport and set up on waste ground near the viaduct. My mum hated fairgrounds so my dad and I would go along with Uncle Arthur and see if we could win a goldfish or a coconut or one of the big glittery prizes that hung at the top of the stalls - unlikely. The smell of spun sugar and frying onions and the distorted sound of pop songs played beyond bearable volume drifted through the darkness towards us as we clambered over the rough ground towards the fairground lights. Dad and Uncle Arthur would always try to outdo each other on the rifle stall whilst I watched, eating a cloud of candy floss as big as my head, trying not to get splinters from the stick. The toffee apples looked enticing, but I only made that mistake once. The bright red toffee coating was brittle, almost impossible to break; the apple inside was well past its sell-by date – sludgy soft and horrible. My dad did once win a coconut. He said I should try coconut milk and spent ages with a hammer and a nail trying to beat a hole into what was probably a really poor quality fruit. I took one sip of the watery liquid inside and spat it out. The taste was truly disgusting. I had seen adverts for Bounty Bars in Reader’s Digest, smiling people with straws stuck into coconuts were sipping happily. I think I expected coconut milk to taste like liquified chocolate and coconut.


The only two footballer’s names that I knew were Stanley Matthews and Bert Trautman. Football wasn’t really a part of our lives, except late on a Saturday afternoon when the weekly match results were announced. Earlier in the week, my mother did what she called ‘my Pools’. She spent hours poring over sheets of paper headed ‘Vernons’ and covered with tiny squares which she carefully filled with X and 0 opposite a list of names. It all looked very complicated. Early on Saturday evening my mother would get out her copy of her match predictions and sit by the fire following the broadcast results carefully. I had to be extremely quiet whilst a television presenter droned through the list of results so that she didn’t miss any as she checked the accuracy of her predictions. The prizes could be thousands of pounds and my mother and I were always hopeful.


Sometimes my parents went to the pub together on Saturday evening which was great as I would make myself jam sandwiches, draw, paint, generally make a mess or read until the dog and I fell asleep. I think that the family in the flat below was supposed to listen out for me. Sometimes I was still awake when my parents arrived back with friends – all very merry and funny. They would try to get the dog to do tricks until she ran around and barked and we had to tell her to be quiet because of the Doleman family, Jack and Minnie and their two children, in the flat below who were much quieter than us.


On some Saturday nights, my parent’s friends would come around for eats, drinks, cards and dominoes. This would sometimes to degenerate into the men playing really silly games. They were always betting one another as to who could stand jump further or hit the lowest note or hold their breath for the longest. My dad said this was because he had spent a lot of time with Australians in the prisoner of war camp. He said that Aussies would bet on two raindrops running down a window. On one famous occasion, my dad bet Uncle Arthur that he couldn't roll along on the pouff like a circus artist. Well, that was irresistible and of course, it ended in disaster. My uncle Arthur turned the pouff on its side and tried to get balanced to start rolling along. He seemed to hover for a second, throw himself sideways, crack his head on the table and the rest of himself on the floor. Aunty Jessie laughed so much she cried. She just couldn't stop. All she could say when she had enough breath was ‘Bloody fool!’.


Sunday was the day for visiting relatives or having them visit you. Visitors would come either for Sunday lunch or tea and sandwiches later in the afternoon. Lunch was roast beef, lamb or pork but never chicken. My father, who was not generally a man to entertain conspiracy theories, had read somewhere that mass-produced chickens were fed female hormones to promote artificial growth. In those days, well before the rigorous standards of animal husbandry which are now in place, he may well have been right – who knows. Anyway, chicken was banned from our home and our Sunday's guests were fed roast red meat, roast and mashed potatoes and whatever vegetables were in season with lots of gravy. We would often have tinned fruit of some sort topped with evaporated milk for dessert. I loved the syrupy sweet tinned fruit, especially sliced cling peaches because they were easiest to cut with the side of a spoon. Tinned fruit salad was my least favourite. The cherries often had stones which only revealed themselves when bitten down on; the apricots successfully masqueraded as peaches until chewed. Apricots had a weird fuzzy texture and they were quite sour. Teatime guests would usually be offered cold meat sandwiches and shop-bought cakes and biscuits to eat with their cups of tea. Whenever visitors came there was always some sort of walk or outing to break up the time. Our flat was very small and there wasn’t really a great deal of space for a lot of people to sit comfortably.


Unless there was a visit to or from relatives, Sunday was the worst day of the week. It marked the end of the holiday feeling. It was a horribly quiet day. For some reason or other none of my friends was allowed out to play. All the shops were shut except for the newsagents and that was only open until lunchtime.


Sunday evening was the worst part of the worst day. It had a sort of doom-laden atmosphere because I had probably forgotten something important for the following week or not done my homework. My dad struggled manfully to help me with my maths but I was always a lost cause. Sunday evening also meant bath and hair wash ready for the school week. Hair washing was a painful process. There was shampoo but no hair conditioner. Tangles were removed swiftly by force and whining cut no ice with anyone. I think that’s why practically all the girls in my class had the same hair style; a short bob clipped back to one side with a slide that fell out when we did handstands or skipping.


It was always hard to get to sleep on Sunday night partly because I'd got up late but mainly because I wasn't allowed to read. Instead, my imagination ran riot, joined forces with all manner of unpredictable monsters, and left me, as Aunty Jessie would have said ‘As far from sleep as a fish is from feathers’.