Friday, 25 July 2008

Living over the shop, part2

When you run a B&B you have to be at home until all your rooms are filled, unless you can afford (a) not to fill them all, or (b) to get someone else to be there on your behalf. Since my mum couldn't afford option (a) but had to go out to work as well, I spent alot of my school holidays being option (b), this was quite a responsibility for an 8+ year old, especially as it also included bed-sheet changing and a bit of cleaning up for incoming tenants, not to mention a fair bit of washing up! Not all the time, I hasten to add, adult neighbours and friends did the bulk of it, but i was proud to be made to feel a key member of the team.

During the summer we all 3 shared the same bedroom, which was the front downstairs room - what would have been the 'parlour' once upon a time, the back downstairs room being our living room/B&B breakfast room, so that all the 'real' bedrooms could be let. This meant all our possessions had to go into the front room, too, and when i came home from boarding school, I could never be sure where all my 'stuff' was, or even that it had all survived all the moves in my abscence! This gave me a very confused attitude to possessions, craving to have lots of them, since this seemed an unachievable impossibility, but also becoming very fatalistic about letting go of things - after all, if they were gone, crying and getting upset wouldn't recover them. As I was unable to take much to school with me, I learnt to treasure more ephemeral things, like ideas and to enjoy libraries, where unlimited amounts of such ephemeral things could be found. Being at home only for school holidays, and my little sister frequently being in the care of adults other than the ones I was at home with, meant my friends at home were mostly adults and I became a rather odd, withdrawn and lonely child. Don't misunderstand, I wasn't particularly unhappy, though it would have been nice to see more of my mother and sister, but even at that age, I understood that all this was necessary and not personal - simply one more of those unfortunate facts of life I had to get to grips with.

Just down the road, on the corner of Castle Street and Rosemary Lane, was the local Post Office and shop, run by Mrs Livingstone, rapidly known to us as "Mrs L", who frequently cared for my sister while mummy worked, and provided a base for me, too. Again, we were 'living over the shop', but more literally, this time. This shop was a treasure trove of good things to a child of that era - rows of boxes and jars of sweeties! Mrs L was very kind to us, but those sweeties didn't come free, any more than any other goods in the shop - I well recall the excitement when someone gave me a whole threepenny bit, which I hurried down to Mrs L's with and bought a Mars bar - such extravagence! Penny sweets were the order of the day then, my favourites being Blackjacks, which my memory says were 4 for a halfpenny in the late 50s (I may well be wrong, it was a long time ago!) Thank heaven for Mrs L, she was there for me whenever I needed someone, a secure rock in a confusing world, and remained so till she died, a big 'Thank you' to Duncan and Douglas, her sons, for sharing her, she was vitally important to a lonely little girl, and I hero worshipped you both to a scary degree!

We had many memorable guests, including a vastly tall black American, who bought Mummy an enormous box of chocolates and put them on top of a wardrobe, where only he could reach them, to make sure she had them all and didn't give them to us! A lovely man, who brightened our lives with much laughter. Then there was the lovely couple, he English, she American, who stayed often and became dear friends. One Christmas, when I was about 12/13, they found Mummy weeping in the kitchen at night, about 2 days before 'the great day'. It turned out that she had so little money that she could afford any presents or even a special meal - if any at all. It turned out to be the most extravagent Christmas we had ever known - including our first taste of turkey! What wonderful people, and we would never have met, but for 'living over the shop'.

1 comment:

alex said...

God how much I wish you'd done this years ago.