Friday, October 8, 2010

3. Grandpa Archie Shaw

A long time after my grandmother Cecelia died, Grandfather Archie retired to a little village called Thundersley, where he had built several houses in a row to rent out for his retirement income. “Bricks and mortar,” he used to say. “Bricks and mortar, that is the only safe thing to put your money in”. This he declared many times after losing all his money in the American talking movie business during the depression. He was such a clever man and made everything from the knee high leather boots and costumes his cyclists wore, to the bicycles they rode, even the huge penny farthing bicycle I admired so much. He had a large shed in his garden and I would watch him for hours as he worked at the lathe. Whenever I visited him, which was not very often because he refused to see my father, he would make me a new spinning top and whip. His shed smelt of wood shavings and the trays of home grown apples stored in the roof. He could make or repair anything as long as it did not involve electricity, which he feared and would not touch. His garden was full of interesting things, fruit trees, canes of berries, flowers and tall grasses so sharp that they could cut ones little fingers. Inside the conservatory he grew the sweetest grapes which hung down from the roof in thick bunches, too high for thieving little fingers to reach, and these were sent to London to be sold. My grandmother had died before I was born and grandfather later married a farmer’s widow named Emmie, who was a good, kind woman but the opposite from my beautiful, glamorous grandmother, whom Archie had idolised.

The Christmas when I was five, grandfather made a bagatelle for me, and I was fascinated by the obstacle course, created by the nails and holes for the little ball to run into. The Christmas tree was huge and laden with decorations and presents. That was the time he showed us the home movies of himself with Charlie Chaplin and other stars playing leapfrog and fooling around in Charlie’s garden. In Grandfather’s lounge there was a windup gramophone and a collection of rude gramophone records. At least, Jane and I thought they were rude because one began “Halleluiah, I’m a bum. Halleluiah bum again, halleluiah give us a handout to revive us again”. Of course to us bum meant ones behind, not a tramp, so we really got the giggles. Our other favourite was called “Barnacle Bill the sailor”, which began with a girl singing, “Whose that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door?” cried the fair young maiden.  Then a rough man's voice replied, “It’s only me from over the sea; I’m Barnacle Bill the sailor. I’m old and rough and dirty and tough, I’m Barnacle Bill the sailor”. “I’ll come down and let you in. I’ll come down and let you in. I’ll come down and let you in!”’ cried the fair young maiden. I cannot remember what happened to the fair young maiden but we listened to those two records in secret whenever we could. Another very shocking thing I found around that time was a pile of books, seemingly hidden at the back of my parent’s wardrobe. I couldn’t read then but there were pictures in the book and one was of a young lady with one foot on a low stool, adjusting her garter! A man stood watching her. I did not know why, but this picture made me feel quite awful.

We did not see much more of grandfather because we left Thundersley and moved to Raynes Park in Surrey and, as there was this serious rift between my father and my grandfather, and because travelling by bus and train was complicated, visits were rare. But, we did stay there when my aunt Doris was married, and Jane and I were to be bridesmaids. That was so exciting. We wore primrose satin dresses with little circles of golden flowers in our hair. The night before the wedding Albert, Doris’s husband to be, came into our bedroom, prayer book in hand, and prayed over us! That scared the hell out of us because we had never been prayed over before and he was so stern and serious.

No comments:

Post a Comment