The old dear handed me a bag of old photos last week that she had come across whilst having a clear out and I have spent a week in scanning heaven; simple things. I’d asked her to dig out my first school photo so that I could participate in a Twitter anti-bullying campaign. The photo in question shows me as a truculent and sullen four-year old who clearly didn’t (and still doesn’t) enjoy having a photo taken and also bears a strong resemblance to the children from the cult horror classic “Village of the Damned”. Mum still hasn’t been able to locate said picture (probably burned it not wanting a reminder that her child was the Devil’s spawn) but whilst searching she came across some other hidden gems including this one of my sister, Beverley Big Pants modelling one of my hand-made outfits!
Back in the day when I was a hard-up student, I decided to put my dressmaking skills learned at school to good use. As I was so dire in the cookery class my harassed teacher had been relieved to offload me and school chum, Louise onto the dressmaking teacher and rescue my poor family from potential salmonella poisoning when they were constantly forced to eat my latest incinerated culinary offering. To be fair I can follow any dressmaking or crochet pattern to this day and my ability with both smocking and ruffles was the envy of the class, however, none of the above qualified as “high fashion” statements at that time. In my limited and immature view, an abundance of sequins including various other adornments compensated for a lack of cutting edge style.
My mum gave me some old material and lining which she thought might just keep me busy and out of trouble and fortuitously my sister became the recipient of my needlework endeavours. There was just one small problem in that I lacked any talent in design or creativity. However, I clearly thought I was going to be the next Stella McCartney whilst I threaded my mum’s old Singer sewing machine with shirring elastic and frankly in my opinion any missed stitch could be resolved with a shedload of sequins.
Fortunately for Beverley Big Pants, my dressmaking hobby was short-lived as I discovered boys. However, trawling through these pictures I think it might be time to dust off the old Singer as the duvet set I have bought for my sister for Xmas is just sat here begging for some sequin lovin’, in fact if I started now I could have completed the first two letters of her nickname by tea time. Happy Days!
When I was at junior school one of my fellow pupils and arch-rivals was a small motherless child called Tanya who was the youngest member of a large noisy family which usually had one or two members detained at her Majesty’s pleasure at any one time. She regularly arrived at school fairly dishevelled in her sisters’ scruffy hand-me-downs and spent most of her time asleep on her desk where for the most part she remained undisturbed by the teachers. We had eyed each other warily on the very first day of term and since then there had been an air of antagonism between us.
I had a severe attack of the green-eyed monster when my mother at the bus stop one afternoon invited her to tea as if she were one of my best friends. I pleaded with her to withdraw the invitation but she was adamant and scolded that if I couldn’t be a gracious host I could remain in my room until it was bath time so begrudgingly I joined in the tea party pulling faces at Tanya whenever the opportunity presented itself and the old dear wasn’t looking. Naturally, I was too young to realise that this unloved child’s animosity was merely a shield against the harsh world in which she lived.
Imagine my disappointment when Tanya became a regular visitor for tea at Dyson Abbey. Despite this she was no less hostile with me even when I was forced to share my toys and meals with her and to add insult to injury she was always given a bag filled with my mother’s homemade baking treats such as butterfly cakes or maids of honour to take home with her.
Of course, what my seven-year old heart couldn’t understand was that my wise old mum knew this poor child was sorely in need of a good meal and it would be unlikely her proud family would accept charity so by inviting her for tea each week she was ensuring that this small neglected youngster would have not only a substantial meal but also for a short while a little compassion which was otherwise lacking in her young life.
Unfortunately, for Tanya her circumstances changed when her wayward father was incarcerated once again but on this occasion social services stepped in and just as fast as they started our shared afternoon teas came to an abrupt end as Tanya was despatched to live with a distant relative a few miles away.
It wasn’t until many years later that whilst queuing up at a supermarket checkout as a young twenty-something the woman in front of me said that she knew me and it took a while for me to realise I was standing in front of my old adversary, Tanya. We exchanged rather formal pleasantries but as she finished her transaction at the till, she made to walk away but then turned around and surprised me by saying “thank your mum for me, I’ve never forgotten her kindness; those tea parties with the delicious cakes and trifles were the only thing I had to look forward to back then”. And just as quickly she was gone from my life for the second time.
I cringed as I walked home reprimanding myself for being so mean-spirited and as I walked past a gift shop window I noticed a hand-painted sign which was part of the pretty shabby chic display. It simply said “Kindness begins with me“. It was inevitable that I bought it and it still hangs in my kitchen as a constant reminder that a simple act of kindness is like your fingerprint on the world and years later you can still hear its echo if you listen very carefully.
Beverley Big Pants, Prince the Pup & Yours Truly
After watching one too many television programmes extolling the benefits of renovating your house on a shoestring, I grabbed the bull by the horns and decided somewhat naively that I would move back into the old cottage that I had shared with Serial Shagger and practise my limited interior design skills; after all they made it look so easy! Temporary insanity (I blame it on the fever) had convinced me that I could transform the fleapit into an oasis of sumptuous luxury using just a couple of rolls of wallpaper and a faux fur throw. Unfortunately, only two nights into the project I became ill with blinding headaches and nausea. I googled all my symptoms and became convinced that I needed to write my last will & testament pretty damn fast; a little bit of information can clearly be a dangerous thing! Obviously the plaster dust combined with the old horse hair used to bind the walls when the house was originally built had not helped my condition any.
So when my mother called she reassured me that I was not going to be expiring any time soon and I could cancel my funeral arrangements post-haste as she was on her way. So I shelved all thoughts of gifting my Yankee Candle collection to the local animal shelter charity shop for the time being. Arriving with her bag of tricks wrapped in a Marks & Spencer carrier bag, she laid all the items out on the table; Menthol Crystals (not to be confused with crystal meth), a rather dubious looking cough mixture (in the same coloured box as rat poison but minus the skull & crossbones logo) and the most important ingredient of all; a bag of frozen peas. Although to be honest it was peas & carrots picked fresh from Dad’s allotment at the end of the season and then frozen but you get the gist!
Protesting that I had no appetite,“Deborah, just listen to your mother” she sighed and filling a bowl with hot water she instructed me to put my feet in it whilst placing the frozen peas on the back of my neck. I have to admit that the throbbing pain in my head began to subside. The next remedy involved another bowl of hot water infused with a pinch of the menthol crystals and draping a towel over the back of my head I began to inhale one of the old dear’s “cure-alls” followed by the most popular one of all; a cup of tea.
Feeling substantially better I realised that as my demise was no longer imminent I now had to reassess the DIY situation because no amount of floating shelving or discreet lighting could transform my surroundings from dump to Des Res. This was going to be somewhat of a mammoth challenge and required a superhero in a red cape with blue “go-faster” stripes!
Choose Your Poison