The English Patient

The English Patient

Thursday, 7 October 2010

On Saturday I saw my Mum

Although my parents lived at Rose Villa I only saw them once a week. They both worked very hard on the night shift, at a frozen food factory in Great Yarmouth. It was a fishing town and the local catch was taken straight to the factory ,to be transformed into what we Brits call Fish Fingers. Elsewhere they have been given the name Fish Sticks.

My mother often described the conditions of the factory where she worked so hard.. It was cold wet and the job of gutting the fish was smelly and revolting.She stood for hours in cold water and was allowed a few minutes break to go to the bathroom where she had a few sly puffs on her cigarette, a high point of the day.  However working the night shift  put more pennies into the wage packet.

 Mum worked a six day week. All week from Monday to Friday I maybe saw her for 30 minutes, when she came home from work. We sat by the fire and I got a cuddle and was able to talk to her. She wore her factory uniform. White trousers, white shirt and knee high rubber boots. Her beautiful black hair was hidden under a hairnet and hat. Of course she smelled of fish, but I worshipped my mum and it didn't matter, so long as I was able to have some time with her, it made my day. Then she washed and went upstairs and literally fell into bed. Then slept till long after my bedtime, so nanny tucked me in.

My mother's name was Shirley, she shared this name with a famous child actress called Shirley Temple a great favourite od my grandad at the time of her birth.. My mother was beautiful. As a baby she was so attractive her photo had been used on the front of Glaxo Babymilk. She was slim, with violet eyes and long tumbling gypsy curls. Such a shame they were covered by her factory hat. She had trained as an artist at Great Yarmouth Art School. She was so creative. Many of her oil paintings graced the wall at Rose Villa. However she was married by 19 to an American Air Forceman, Jay Morgan from Clinton Oklahoma and before she knew it she had 2 small children to feed. She took the highest paid job she could find.

We had one day together, Saturday, it was the best day of the week. Dad worked weekends at an amusement park in Great Yarmouth  mending the penny slot machines. So I saw even less of him. He was a shadow in my early childhood.

First thing in the morning I would run to mum's bedroom and snuggle under the quilt with her. She would tickle me and I would tell her about my week. We even had breakfast together. it was magical. Then Mum, my sister Debbie and I all took the bus to Great Yarmouth. I was so proud to walk down the road with her holding her hand. Filled with pride because she was beautiful and had such a warm smile. Everyone smiled at her and she had so many friends.

Once we arrived in Yarmouth our first stop was the bakery. She always bought poppy seed bread and grandad's favouite macaroon cakes and vanilla slices. The slices came in a cardboard box as they were so fragile, layers of choux pastry, fresh cream and pink icing. The bakery always smelled  wonderful and made me so hungry. If we were good Debbie and I were given a cake of our choice. We were never allowed to eat in the street, it was thought to be the height of bad manners. Later when we went to the market for chips and sat on a bench we were allowed to eat our cakes.

Window shopping was a great thrill. Looking in Palmers window to see the latest fashions. I remember seeing a pair of shoes I thought were fit for a princess. They were bright yellow with a plastic white and yellow daisy on the front. I wanted those shoes so badly it hurt. Mum explained to me that I had to wear sensible leather shoes because of my childhood Polio. My feet were important and I had to take care of them. I hated those heavy leather sensible shoes I felt so ugly, but I would do anything for my mum. When Palmers had their summer sale these shoes were reduced in price and I begged my mum to buy them for me.. The story never changed I was lucky I could walk .Then I was reminded yet again that "some children" who had suffered from polio never walked and  had to be in a wheelchair. I had to promise mum I would always take care of my feet.

I always wanted to meet those "some children" mum talked about. They sometimes did not have a meal to eat for days. They didn't have parents who loved them and worked as hard as my parents to give their children a good life.  Of course they did not have the luxury of a TV in the house. Worst of all they did not have a mum. This was so profoundly sad to me, that all my life I have given money to charity for hungry, lonely, children who had no mum. I thought not having a mum was the worst thing that could happen to any child.At night I always  silently prayed for the "some children" in wheel chairs, hungry alone and scared.

After chips on the market and a cake if we were lucky we went to visit our father. He worked on what was called "The Golden Mile" of Yarmouth sea front. Facing the sandy beach were tourist shops, cafe's, restaurants and penny slot machine amusements. Dad worked at "Marshal's" amusement arcade. It had a small bowling alley and dad Debbie and mum played a game together. Because of my polio I had weak arms with no muscle at all and I couldn't pick up the bowling ball. Debbie was so different to me. She was pretty and sassy and full of energy. Dad adored her. She ran and jumped ,climbed ,trees rode a bike. Of course she was ashamed of me.She hated it that we were made to play together because I was no fun and slow. I still have arms like spaghetti and Debbie still hates me.

When we got home to Belton there was so much to tell nanny and grandad. Everything I had seen and done. Of course I stuck as close to my mum as I could. I would sit quietly near her while Debbie got all the attention twirling and doing something cute. I would look up at my mother and pray to God that she would always be safe and be there for me...two days a week would be nice.

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