our Hilda 


 

Sit you down. You’ll find me here most days, specially if the sun’s out. This was my idea. When I were a lad, I lived in one of those back to backs that used to be all over this part, and in the fine weather when they’d finished their work, the wives used to bring out a chair and sit by their doors. It was like a row of swallows on a telegraph wire. All the way down the road they’d be out there waiting for someone to pass, or chatting to their neighbours, and there was always something going on. You never saw the men though: they’d be down the pub or up on the moors.

So when I retired and moved here, I thought I’d get a porch put on the front door, big enough for me and anyone who wanted to sit with me for a bit, and plenty of glass so that I can see out and folk can see me. So this is it and it’s the best thing I’ve ever had. Being at the top of the street and on the corner, I can see right down to the shops and in that direction round the bend into Rathbone Lane. You might remember there used to be Rathbones, the machinists there, but that’s been closed many a long day, even before I stopped. So I’ve got my bit of garden to look at and the whole world before me: and the best part is, as you can see, I’m facing south so I get all the sun that’s going and if there’s nothing else to do I can just have a quiet snooze. There’ve been times when I’ve been sleeping and someone’s had to wake me up. It’s a bit warm today isn’t it? Just reach up and open that window above your head will you?

See now. That youngster with her baby in the pram and a toddler, and a terrier pulling ’em all along. Her husband’s on an oil rig and it would be a good idea if he came home more often than he does. That’s the thing you see. Sitting here, minding my own business, I notice a lot more than most folk, because I begin to build up patterns. They come; they go and after a while you can tell that they have habits. Now I’m not saying anything against her, but my mother would have done! Still, I will say, from what I’ve heard, the dog is definitely his: but I’ll say no more. Talking of the dog, it’s going along there, yards from her on one of those new-fangled leads, and I bet it hardly knows it’s on a lead. But it is, and when she wants, she can wind it in just like a fish on a line. I often think that’s just like us. We go about the world and we think we’re as free as air, but all the time we’re on a line and one day we’ll get the call and we’ll be reeled in and finish up in a room somewhere just as though it has been reserved for us. We’ll be in a plastic covered chair on a rubber ring with some young thing to wash us and put us to bed. Whoever we are, wherever we go, we still get dragged back.

Then there’s next door, you know: the ones down there. Now they’re an interesting family. Not from round here. He’s in machine tools and she’s a teacher in the local primary. They’ve got two teenage boys at the college. When I were a youngster we didn’t have that type of family. There were no bosses lived round here and there were no real down and outs scraping and scratching around on the breadline. What we had were local families who all knew each other and they were either solid, respectable working class with no expectations or even aspirations for anything more, but still with a good life compared with what their parents had had: and then we had the elite tradesmen. The cream of the craftsmen, like the engine drivers and the loom setters and the cabinetmakers: they knew they were top of the pile. They’d arrived and you could tell. Just little things perhaps that you wouldn’t notice, like they set off in the morning with their little curly brimmed bowler hats while the rest just had caps.         They lived in a better sort of road: still semi-detached, but with bay windows and a bit of garden at the front. They were confident because they knew they would never be out of work. They’d served their time and knew their trade and nobody could replace them. They didn’t want anything more. In fact to them there wasn’t any more. They’d got it. So they didn’t move on: they didn’t go on holidays to exotic places: they didn’t bother with London or what went on outside this part.

Now those next door, they couldn’t be more different. They haven’t been here for more than five years. Came from somewhere in the Midlands and to listen to them you’d think they’d been here all their lives. He’s joined the cricket club and the allotment society; she’s in classes at the Evening Institute and the tennis club and neither of ’em seems to feel like strangers. The boys are just boys like anywhere else: homework all week and out in the town at the weekend. But what I can’t get over is that they don’t seem to mind about starting again in a new place, and wherever they are I’m sure they’re just as comfortable. If you met them, you wouldn’t think that they’d been affected at all by where they’d been because I don’t think they have. They’re just like the rest of ’em round here now. You wouldn’t believe how often they’re off somewhere or other; not to the seaside but to Thailand, Peru, South Africa. To me it’s like a disease. They can’t stop moving: the doctors will have a name for that! What beats me is that when they come back from exotic wherever, they’re just the same. They don’t come back changed people. So all the money they’ve spent, all the foreigners they’ve met, all the sights they’ve seen has left them just like they were before they set off. It must be that all the joining of clubs here and all the travelling round the world are to get them away from who they are and where they are. Me: I think you grow if you stay where you are and get to know it better and better and learn more about your people and what makes them tick. I’ve never wanted to be anywhere but here. So I mustn’t grumble, for I’ve never been anywhere else but here: except for the war that is, and I didn’t choose that part.    .          

I’m lucky really. I don’t have to go looking for the world; it comes to me. I’m never lonely. Sometimes I get some post, only what they call ‘junk mail’ but even that can be interesting because if you read it carefully it tells you what people are wanting to buy and you can learn a lot from that. You can’t tell me that the folk that sends this stuff out don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t send out all these adverts without being sure that someone is going to buy. Mind you, what they do with half of it God only knows. I’ve been getting rid of half my stuff: I just don’t need it. They say that’s a sign of growing old: the older you are the less you want. Well, it’s true when you’re dead!

When he comes with the post, he’ll stop for a chat if he’s not too rushed. He’s been doing this round ever since I moved here and he knows it like the back of his hand. Now he can tell you a tale or two. In the summer when he’s hot he’ll have a cup of tea sitting in that chair where you are. I can tell he’s a bit anxious because he always has half an eye open in case someone tells on him and he gets more roads to cover. But as I keep telling him, he’s no need to worry. Who wants his job? He’s been doing it that long he’s got a curved back from humping the mail bag round the streets and he can hardly look up to see the numbers on the doors. But he doesn’t complain: says he looks forward to meeting people. It’s always a bit of a disappointment when he goes by and just waves but I know he can’t always drop in.

Now the milkman’s different. Have you noticed how they’ve changed? They always used to come round in the middle of the night and then I only saw him on Fridays when I paid the bill and then he was always trotting up the path; they were so busy. Now he’s got all the time in the world; or that’s what it looks like. And it’s not just milk and cream. Ours sells bread, groceries, vegetables and at Christmas you can get your pudding and your turkey .So he comes to me every other day. I must be his best customer. I don’t need to leave the house because I can get all I want from him.  This one’s new. Been doing it for a month or so. He’s young: not long out of school I’d say. No, but it’s not the same. Once, everyone had the milkman; now there’s not more than six have him in this road, if that. So he comes in and we have a smoke and a cup of tea before he trundles on. He’ll be typical of them today. He doesn’t seem to think he’s different, so he won’t be. He has two jobs; the one I see him doing and he’s a security guard as well- what I call a night watchman- on that new industrial estate. He says that one’s a doddle. You turn up at ten, sign on, walk round and test the system and then he goes to sleep. If anything goes wrong, he can only lose his job and there’s plenty that pay what he gets, so he’s not worried. ‘Can’t complain’, that’s what he says.

It’s a long time ago now, but when I was eighteen I had a better life than he has now. I think it’s amazing that he doesn’t complain when he looks around this town and sees the life a lot of them are having. When I was in the army we were all in it together, and when I got out we were still all in it together. If the mill shut we were all out. If there was work, we all had work. Times were never that good, but we didn’t know that they could be better and at least round here it seemed fair. Nobody would say that my Dad and Mam were warm and tender, but the life they’d had would make anyone hard. There’s many a time when he took the strap to me before I was big enough to give him a tap. But whatever happened, home was home. It had its rituals, like always eating together on Sundays, or never interrupting your father-’Your Dad’s your Dad, I’ve told you before’ It was more than a home: it was a sanctuary where our family was all one against the rest; if it came to that. I would no more leave it than fly, until I met Ruth and then nature made sure I couldn’t choose

But this lad, he works all hours and he’s had to find his own home; and he can’t be more than eighteen or nineteen. They quarrelled at home and his Mam chucked him out on the street. Can you believe that a woman would shove her own out like that? He went to his girlfriend’s mother’s place and now they’re living together in a bed-sit over a pet shop. That’s the world we live in today. Talk about problem families. That lad’s been chucked out of a problem family and I’ll bet he’s well on the way to making another. And the thing is, he’s a nice enough kid.  They talk about giving them parenting skills! My Ma, with hands like a bunch of bananas, knew more about bringing up a family than that lot. We didn’t talk about love, but we knew about loyalty and sticking together. Yes, he’s a likeable lad in a funny sort of way. Very frank and open like I would never have been. He’s got no guile and that can be fatal in this world He’ll tell you anything without a second thought as though he doesn’t have any secrets and in a funny way that makes me wonder. Can anybody be so straightforward?

Now my Hilda’s different again. We only had the one, but if it’s only one, she’s what you want. We did try for more, but it wasn’t to be, so she’s been everything to us and now Ruth’s gone: well, what can I say? She lives over at Eastgate, you know the other side of town. That’s a nice part that is. But they’ve worked hard for it. Her husband, Brian, well you met him the other day didn’t you? He’s got a haulage business and till they started doing really well she used to work in the office. Then she was at home for a while and I sometimes wondered if she’d want to be doing something with her time. She’s got a head on her shoulders and if she puts her mind to it she could make a go of a business of her own. I knew she’d got a few ideas going round in her mind and there was a place vacant near here that would be the right size for a one man business.

What I like about her: no that’s wrong because I can’t say what I like about her. She’s my daughter and I like everything about her. But if we’re talking business, and I was, what I like about her is that she’s straight as a die, shrewd and good at dealing with people. I think she’s like her mother. We brought her up in the old –fashioned ways but we had more to spend on her than our parents had, so she lacked for nothing and she’s paid us back a thousand times. It just shows; you get back what you put in. Most of all we gave her a sense of values. For years she’s been coming round to see I’ve paid my bills and the money side of things is straight because she knows I’m never very sure about that. And while she’s here she’ll just check up on the pantry to make sure there’s some tins in. Oh, she’s always thinking of me. I’m sure I see her at least every fortnight or so and if I don’t she’ll phone and say she’s sorry and she’ll be round soon but she’s had things on her mind. And I understand: I know what it can be like.

 So this is where we’re at.  She’s come to me and said ‘Dad, I’ve got my eye on a nice little property in Mill Lane and I want to start an estate agency there. Nobody knows this town better than me. You don’t need stock: you need integrity and know-how and people trust me.’ Well as I said, I thought she had something going on, but I was still a bit backed up I can tell you. Then, no beating about the bush, she said she and Brian had been thinking there was a lot of capital locked up in this place and they wanted to put this proposition to me and I was to be quite honest with them. They would sell it for me and make sure they found me the very best residential care home, and they would pay the rent and all expenses and once the business was on its feet I could be a partner if I wanted.

I’ve never been one for business. I’ve just had a wage or a pension so that I always knew what was coming in and I’ve not wanted more than I could afford. But, you see, Hilda’s different: she’s to-day’s generation and they’re not like that; and between her and me trust doesn’t come into it. She’s my daughter and we’ve always been close.

So I’m glad you came round to sort out the move tomorrow. As I said, there’s not a lot of stuff to shift and Hilda tells me I can take some of it with me: you know the pieces that remind me of Ruth and her when she was a little girl. She says I’ll have company: there’s another chap in with me and he wants someone to share with. They’ll give me all my food and I can choose what I want to eat. There’s a window looks out onto a lawn at the back and some of the residents get wheeled out there so I’ll be able to see them. Altogether, I think she must be right. This house will soon be too much for me and it is a waste to have a place like this with just one old man living in it, so I’m grateful really and my house was the first one she sold!

Well, you’ll be wanting to get along and I’ve a bit of tidying up to do while it’s still light. I’ll be gone before you start the sale tomorrow, of course, but I hope it goes well. Do they still buy old pots and pans and shoe brushes and suchlike?    

 

    

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